Links 6/13/09

Reflektionen von Nassim N. Taleb und Daniel Kahneman zur Finanzkrise Blick Log. Taleb and Kahnemann together in one place. 60 minute video clip

Chart of the week: Roubini and the VIX Felix Salmon

Deflation v. Inflation Sudden Debt. Forget the math here. This article makes the point that asset prices have declined while debts have remained constant. As debt has to be serviced out of earned income, we are likely to see a long period where the ‘D-process’ is at play.

Ban CDS as ”instruments of destruction” – Soros. Personally, I’d like to see the CDS market regulated, not banned.

Ireland: More people dip into savings for daily spending. “Women are more likely to raid their savings to compensate for lost income, the research, sponsored by EBS Building Society, found.”

Latvia is ‘saved from bankruptcy’

Quantitative stealing? Sam Jones, FT Alphaville. I love this story.

The fiscal black hole in the US Willem Buiter

Antidote du Jour:

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About Edward Harrison

I am a banking and finance specialist at the economic consultancy Global Macro Advisors. Previously, I worked at Deutsche Bank, Bain, the Corporate Executive Board and Yahoo. I have a BA in Economics from Dartmouth College and an MBA in Finance from Columbia University. As to ideology, I would call myself a libertarian realist - believer in the primacy of markets over a statist approach. However, I am no ideologue who believes that markets can solve all problems. Having lived in a lot of different places, I tend to take a global approach to economics and politics. I started my career as a diplomat in the foreign service and speak German, Dutch, Swedish, Spanish and French as well as English and can read a number of other European languages. I enjoy a good debate on these issues and I hope you enjoy my blogs. Please do sign up for the Email and RSS feeds on my blog pages. Cheers. Edward


  1. Scott

    I've written a bit more on this story here; I think the main point of interest is that the amount seized coincidentally is the same as the amount of unallocated TARP funds at March 30, 2009.

    This is either the biggest counterfeiting bust in history or a significant international incident.

  2. Richard Kline

    Here is a spun-cocoon scenario to consider, neither more nor less than that:

    Consider an econmically torpid/repressed next three years during which the primary issue will be dissoliving some of the insolvent money center banks, with the few winners in this game of musical coffins being largely recapitalized by direct (if hidden) grants of public money to the private wealth holders. Likely that will occur via a some form of credit/price guarantees for purchases made by those 'winners' to buy up a sorry asset class, with their inherent lossess later made good by some monetization conduit from the Treasury. Follow this by fifteen years of high inflation, warbling between 5-15% per annum, but never lower. Add a moderate size bubble along the way, likely not in real property but more likely in some kind of public debt instrument/publically funded 'development' scheme. Add in one mid- to large size war somewhere. Spackle with a single right-of-center pro-business party hand in hand with concupiscent media—call them the Republicrats—harassed by a lunatic Tinfoil Right. This in a context of continuing production decline as monetization and not believable prices for equities and corporate debt lead to gradual investment shifts and certain 'dodgy premia' increased costs of financing the activity which happens. Increased expenditures for education and health are promised and begun, but streaky, high inflation actively erodes the effectiveness of the programs attempted, and those attempted are anyway smaller than touted, 'pilot programs' whose chronic less-than-real-costs funding smothers their breadth and effectiveness. An increasing social divergence between those who can access credit at a price they can afford—very few—and those who can afford the unlimited credit they can access, paid for by an angle on government guaranteed/funded largess.

    To me, that is our next twenty plus years. Argentina twenty times larger. After that, it gets worse. (Ribbons and bells and bows could be added to this description, but it's long enough to serve as a placeholder, and so sufficient to my purpose.)

    'Predicting' the future is a fools game, as game changers regularly crop up. So I wouldn't call this a prediction. But if one wants to look at probable trajectories of behavior based upon the present problem set [range of options and responses together with conditioned social responses] and policies, what is just described is the core current of such an anticipatable trajectory. If we make no major changes to the situations and responses we have now, that is straight-on-toward-morning course. The future, in a word.

    . . . Can't say that I like it. And here's the kicker: that's the best case scenario. The if-nothing-blows-up scenario. And the moral? We have other choices, but our 'choosers' won't chose them.

    . . . Sheeple.

  3. Edward Harrison

    Scott, I would definitely like to see what develops here because these are enormous sums. It is one of the more bizarre unexplained stories I have yet to see during this crisis.

  4. DownSouth

    @Richard Kline

    I think perhaps your role in this is not unlike that of Joseph Chamberlain, who served as Britain's Colonial Secretary at the beginning of the 20th century. As Friedberg noted:

    Chamberlain believed that, in order to call attention to the nation's problems, he had to issue a spectacular challenge to conventional wisdom. He might have been right, but in doing so he all but destroyed any chance that his warning would be heeded. Viewed in this light, Chamberlain appears as a truly tragic figure.
    –Aaron L. Friedberg, The Weary Titan: Britain and the Experience of Relative Decline

    Jimmy Carter met a similar political end. In trying to warn the nation in his "Crisis of Confidence Speech" in 1979, he sealed his fate, and at the same time opened the door for Ronald Reagan. As Lord Courtney wrote some 80 years earlier, in regards to another nation trapped in similar circumstances: “Our national vainglory will not easily acquiesce in being second; and any quack who professes to have a remedy against this loss of supremacy will attract the support of a great many…” So a great stag does not surrender its leadership status without a fight. It must be totally prostrated, its outsized ego obdurate to the end. As Friedberg observes:

    Kenneth Boulding has speculated that the citizens of a country as a whole may come to share a historical "national image" that extends "backwards into a supposedly recorded or perhaps mythological past and forward into an imagined future"…

    The literature on perceptions suggests that, however they come to be formed, the beliefs of national leaders…are slow to change. Boulding argues that such adjustments occur rarely, if at all, while John Stoessinger asserts that change is possible only as the consequence of some monumental disaster.

    American exceptionalism therefore will most likely not die an easy death, and the U.S. will not be spared that final humbling, and destructive, drubbing.

    The good news is that, for persons like ourselves, it's not all that terrible a fate. Thoughtful people can find refuge, as long as some basic biological needs are met, by turning to an inner world of solitude. And it’s our good fortune to have been born in a philosophical tradition that disparages the mundane. As Arendt explains:

    In the entire tradition of philosophical, and particularly of political thought, there has perhaps been no single factor of such overwhelming importance and influence on everything that was to follow than the fact that Plato and Aristotle wrote in the fourth century, under the full impact of a politically decaying society, and under conditions where philosophy quite consciously either deserted the political realm altogether or claimed to rule it like a tyrant.

    Plato taught that “it is not the merely living and hence mortal body,” Arendt continues, “but the soul, precisely because it is intangible, that could attain immortality by partaking in true reality, the reality not of the objects of the senses but of the ideas that are seen and grasped only with the eyes of the soul.”

  5. Hugh

    I have no problem banning CDSs. Alternately, regulate them as insurance and ban naked CDSs.

    Basically, if an investment needs to be propped up by CDSs, then it probably isn't a very sound investment. Why encourage moral hazard? I am sure someone will say but this is a great way for an exciting start up to get the funding it needs to be the next big success. This ignores the problem that this almost never happens but gaming bad and marginal investments happens all the time (at the recent meltdown attests).

  6. LeeAnne


    Thank you for an interesting read. From Testimony of M. McIntyre & R. McIntyre, pg 5:

    "…This evasion was intended to benefit U.S. borrowers by
    allowing them to borrow from the tax cheats at a reduced interest rate." The interest differential would seem to provide an unending risk-free profit loop.

    There aught to be a law like 'slipping stuff into bills to benefit special interest groups secretly is treason.'

    I'll be looking for more on the fantastical Japanese suitcase saga. Soooo -it got to the press accidentally?

    Hope you'll continue to pass on every little clue to this very interesting mystery until it is cleared up to our satisfaction.

  7. Richard Kline

    So DownSouth, I was going to make a long reply to your remarks, but the comments box wasn't functioning where I was last night, and this post of Yves is now below 'the watery horizon,' so I'll be brief.

    I agree with Boulding very much. Not so much because I'd read him, I didn't until my thinking on these issues was developed, but due to reading common sources, I think. To me, large groups, especially societies, for conceptual aggregates which are quite enduring. I call them 'macrogestalts' myself for some forms of them. Now one really decides what goes in or what comes out which is a large part of how they are so enduring. But once the matrix of concept, custom, and belief is formed, even if not expressed in all its particulars portions of it are only deleted or added very slowly. More often, new things are 'over-written' really, rather than truly changing what went before. More than that but that's enough. I have wanted to develop this approach at an extensive theoretical level. I'm not sure I'll have time to get there, now, with so much else to do. The framework is in my notebooks. We'll see.

    As an interesting aside, when I was very young I was in the same Quaker Meeting as Ken Boulding and his brilliant wife for a number of years. It's certain that I met him on numerous occasions, but I was too young to remember anything of it. A profoundly insightful man. Read Boulding and Myrdahl and Sahlins; _don't_ read a single thing in economics; and one will be far better educated thereby.

  8. skippy

    @DS and RK, I would sit at that campfire too. Whilst I still play catch-up on the reading/knowledge component. I have through my youthful miss adventures, saw the totality of what you speak, fire branded memories, in many places and country's.

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