Links 7/29/09

Scientists sound Oceania extinction warning ABC (hat tip reader Skippy)

Blue M&Ms ‘mend spinal injuries’ Telegraph (hat tip reader John D). I guarantee more of you will read this one than the more important story above.

‘No doubt’ sunbeds cause cancer BBC

Robotic firefighting team debuts BBC

City Aids Homeless With One-Way Tickets Home New York Times

CFTC: Speculators caused 2008 oil price crisis Raw Story. We said something considerably more cautious at the time, but did say it repeatedly, namely, that the price runup could not be explained fully by fundamentals, and we got yelled at a lot, both here and elsewhere.

State Construction Surges on First Day in Shanghai Bloomberg (hat tip DoctoRx) Content is better than title. An overview of state of markets in China.

U.S., China Pledge to Sustain Stimulus, Rebalance World Growth Bloomberg. Um, a lot of talk about more US savings and less China export dependence. But how will the US get manufacturing back? The inattention to the real economy is striking. And the piece make much of US consumer savings rising, when the government debt has risen by a corresponding amount. Earth to base: the US will not delever unless we have a trade surplus or default. Those are the options. We could default through inflation, but we just promised the Chinese we won’t do that.

Three Pictures: China’s Exchange Rate and Trade Balances Menzie Chinn, Econbrowser. Another view.

Japan Retail Sales Fall for 10th Month on Job Losses Bloomberg (hat tip reader DoctoRx)

Subprime mortgage companies warn on U.S. foreclosures Reuters. They are trying to dress it up more nicely, but basically, it isn’t worth their time to do mods. We did say early on the servicer incentives were inadequate. Not that I am keen about bribing them, mind you, a quick kick in the rear would be better.

Wars, plagues, and Europe’s rise to riches Nico Voigtländer, Hans-Joachim Voth, VoxEU

“Why had Nobody Noticed that the Credit Crunch Was on its Way?” Mark Thoma. I take exception to that.

Antidote du jour (hat tip reader Kevin S):

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. attempter

    The Malthusian article is a heck of a commentary on "creative destruction". No doubt it's partially correct in its historical explanations.

    Once again we have occasion to lament the perversity of man, who could long ago have acheived paradise on earth if he only truly were rational and intelligent instead of greedy and stupid; like in this example, if only people could have rationally sustained a reasonable population level, instead of the self-indulgence which forces this endless boom-bust cycle.

    Economic cycles are only the epiphenomena of biology.

    I always love seeing the Harry Lime quote; it's my favorite from all movie history.

    Still, it's not quite accurate. Swiss history from the Middle Ages through the Reformation is often pretty tumultuous and intense.

  2. Anonymous

    A lot of people saw the credit crunch coming, it was the mainstream media that mostly ignored it and so most people saw no warning even if there were plenty.

  3. ggm

    Nice blast from the past re: the credit contraction piece. I distinctly remember July 2007. I was living in Chicago at the time. One afternoon I became so concerned about the potential for widespread financial disruption that I walked over to the Fidelity branch on Michigan to transfer most of my money into a treasury market account. An internet trade wasn't good enough, I wanted a physical receipt of the transaction, just in case. It may seem paranoid, in hindsight, but the point is that people who were paying attention saw something coming.

    One other thing: the man who handled the above transaction was eager to advise me on my portfolio, insisting that I make an appointment with him. He must have assumed that keeping most of my money in money market funds was an act of passive investing. I wasn't about to take him up on his offer, but I thought of this interaction during the market crash.

  4. mattw

    I read the Oceania extinction story because of your comment after the Blue M&M story (which I would have read if I hadn't seen it yesterday).

    But there was nothing interesting in the Oceania story that I didn't already know, whereas the blue dye story was new, so I think I would have been making the right decision. Probably lots of other people would be in the same position.

  5. Anonymous

    Once again we have occasion to lament the perversity of man, who could long ago have acheived paradise on earth if he only truly were rational and intelligent instead of greedy and stupid; like in this example, if only people could have rationally sustained a reasonable population level, instead of the self-indulgence which forces this endless boom-bust cycle.

    FYI, this was the scientific explanation used by the Nazis on why their actions were perfectly fine in a scientific sense. Think about it, they reduced certain populations of Europe down to a "reasonable population level". They were acting fully "rational and intelligent" by realizing that the State they wished to create would be overpopulated and so wished to reduce said overpopulation. Pol Pot made the same calculation in Cambodia, so he agrees with your argument as well. Do you think certain parts of society should be sterilized? Which parts? Is it the people from parts of society you don't like or don't have a high living standard, because some people would consider that racist.

    Just be careful on what intellectual friends you make. Your argument reminds me of Jonathan Swift's "A Modest Proposal", although you're not talking in satire.

  6. skippy

    @mattw said…But there was nothing interesting in the Oceania story that I didn't already know, whereas the blue dye story was new..

    Mattw, the reason I sent the link was to point out the rapid escalation in these processes, not beat an old drum. The researcher's name was given in the article and with a cursory search, better information reveals its self.

    Having been here since 96' I am appalled at the die off, speed at which it is occurring. I have lived in the same area the entire time, where there were once large flocks of native birds (red, green, rainbow parrots) now there are only pairs or very small flocks, same goes for ring tail possums, snakes, butterfly's etc.

    Australia has a small population compared to it's landmass and makes for some disturbing observations with regards to our activity's and their effects on living creatures, both land and sea, its even worse for the Islanders.

    Skippy…the "new" thing I'll take as innocuous, lest their is an underlying obsession.

    PS. Life, if it's not me or mine, is so passé eh.

  7. attempter

    @anon 8:53

    I hardly made a specific "proposal".

    Actually, I said the opposite – if people were rational and moderate in their demands and behavior, and did not indulge greed, including procreative greed, then we'd have far fewer problems, none of the biggest problems, and no one would ever have cause to call for solutions like the examples you gave.

    IOW, for once I wasn't proposing anything in particular but expressing a utopian lament.

    (Although I would like to modify one thing I said. It wouldn't be "paradise", to be sure. No one could ever achieve that. But it would be so much closer than what we ever have achieved. Certainly with the technology we now have there's no reason anyone in society should have to work more than a few hours a week.

    So why are things the way they are?

    There the problems very much are political, and there I do have some very definite proposals toward alleviating the problem.)

  8. Peripheral Visionary

    The "one-way tickets" article actually highlights one critically important, but often-missed point: homelessness is not necessarily a problem created by the cities, it's just a problem that the cities who have to deal with. Now that I live in an urban area, I see all too cearly that homeless people don't necessarily come from the city. In many, many cases they come from outlying areas that have no homeless services at all; they end up in the city because that's where the homeless services are.

    The urban areas are often the subject of much tut-tutting from suburban and rural areas on the problems of homelessness ("we don't have homeless people wandering around our subdivision!"), but the reality is that cities have homeless people because they do far more for them than outlying areas, who do next to nothing for them.

    So while the one-way tickets may sound cruel, it's simply sending the problem back to where it came from. The question should be why the places where the homeless came from don't have services in the first place.

    P.S. Loved the homeless guy named Hector who had two sons–both named Hector!

  9. Peripheral Visionary

    OK, whoever coined the phrase "procreative greed" clearly does not have any children. Having children is one of the most selfless things people can do–after all, none of us would be here if not for the sacrifices of those who have gone before.

    Having children isn't greed, it's an investment in the future. Not having children is greed, as resources that would have gone to investing in the future are instead spent on current consumption.

    Case in point is Europe, which redirected resources from investing in the next generation to spending on the current generation. The consequences of that move, what I call demographic borrowing ("demographic dividend" is a horrible misnomer if there ever was one) are just now starting to come due.

    (And I find the general premise that humanity's problems are caused by the presence of humanity to be ridiculously simplistic, if not dangerous–what's the solution, reduce the number of people, and if so, who goes, and how?)

  10. Bob Goodwin

    regarding "Scientists sound Oceania extinction warning" it is clear that through the interglacial great moderation we have created a species bubble.

    Rather than trying to stimulate our way to sustaining species, we should allow "price discovery". A bottom will naturally happen and this will clear the deck for greater bio-efficiency in the future.

    This eco-con has got to stop.

  11. mxq

    re: oil speculation

    the cftc has a ton of info (presentations, charts, graphs, etc.) from yesterday's hearings that can be found here.

    More hearings are scheduled for today.

    btw, strictly guessing, but i think Gensler is in charge on the surface, but i think chilton is actually running things behind the scenes.

  12. Charles

    "We could default through deflation, but we just promised the Chinese we won't do that."

    You mean "inflation", right ? Defaulting with deflation is just defaulting…

  13. freude bud

    CFTC yesterday afternoon put out statement saying "News reports that the CFTC will release a study reversing the agency's position on energy speculation are both premature and inaccurate."

    FSA reportedly exonerates "speculators", whoever "they" might be.

  14. Slappy

    "CFTC: Speculators caused 2008 oil price crisis Raw Story. We said something considerably more cautious at the time, but did say it repeatedly, namely, that the price runup could not be explained fully by fundamentals, and we got yelled at a lot, both here and elsewhere."

    I'm not a trained economist by any means, but, even *I* saw that there had to be speculation based on my reading of the newspaper and such, why is it such a surprise to others?


  15. Dan Duncan

    Attempter writes:

    "…if people were rational and moderate in their demands and behavior, and did not indulge greed, including procreative greed, then we'd have far fewer problems…"

    That is some compelling stuff there. So, let's distill shall we?

    "If people weren't human the world would be a better place."

    And BTW Attempter, do you really believe your posts on this thread are "rational and moderate in their demands"?

    Do you…really?

  16. Yves Smith


    You are correct re the error, thanks for catching it. Have fixed the post.

  17. attempter

    @ peripheral:

    Ugh. I would've thought it was clear from the context and from the definition of "greed" that I wasn't against having children as such, but rather doing so to excess.

    DanD:And BTW Attempter, do you really believe your posts on this thread are "rational and moderate in their demands"?

    From the pov of the baselines of ecological balance and human justice? You bet, buster.

    From the pov of the deranged greed fundamentalism and concentration of social wealth in the hands of a handful of gutter parasites, the circumstance you espouse and which unfortunately has been prevailing for the last few ticks of historical time?

    From the pov of that ideology I suppose not. Very much not.

  18. autodidact

    Reply to Yves in a comment from yesterday, who wrote: "If you had been reading climate news, instead of merely following headlines and looking for reasons to object, you would know they HAD been predicting cooling for the next few years, then an acceleration of warming. I have older posts that mention this."

    With respect, Yves, while I have only been reading this blog for a few months, I think I have followed climate news with some care for a bit longer. In defense of my point that proponents of anthropogenic warming did not predict this cooling, I point to page 11 of the IPCC Climate Change Synthesis Report 2001: Summary for Policy Makers, and also on page 20 where they estimate the effects of various levels of CO2 reduction, I don't see any scenario out of all those considered which predicted any period of cooling. In fact the word "cooling" appears only once in the entire report, and that is not in reference to a predicted short term drop in global temperature. This was only eight years ago. Their models are so incomplete and weighted toward the effects of greenhouse gases, they could not conceive that warming could do anything other than continue and accelerate.

    True, once the temperature curve turned decisively downward, the "consensus" of climate prognosticators started scrambling to get in front of the parade. But the situation is not unlike our financial downturn. Relying on complex mathematical models and unproven economic postulates, our most esteemed economists could not see a bubble right in front of their eyes, and therefore failed to perceive systemic risk.

    The greenhouse gas theory of warming might have merit, if we could nail down large uncertainties in the cooling effects of aerosols, clouds, land use, and solar cycles. Hasn't happened yet.

    You may want to look up last year's article in Nature Reports, "Quantifying Climate Change: Too Rosy A Picture?" — which directly addresses these uncertainties. Climate is essentially a very complex equation of chemistry and physics. The physicists are beginning to address the problems of modern climate prediction via computer modeling, and I wish them the best, but not only are there unknowns in the current attempts at prediction, I am quite certain there are even unknown unknowns.

  19. Hugh

    As someone who beat the drum on the oil speculation story as it was happening, I find the CFTC story similar to a lot that goes on in government and media, that is the belated declaration, after the horse has died of old age, that it may have bolted.

    What I would like to have seen is more action on the current round of oil speculation.

  20. Anonymous

    There is no such thing as over- population. Technology will cure everything. Just ask Thomas Friedman of the New York Times who knows.

    Moreover, people only have children for selfless reasons–to bring joy to the world. Never by accident, never for their own sense of wanting a family, never for some cultural or religious reason (except for totally selfless ones like honoring God).

    With population doubling time of 40 years, in another 80 years there will be a mere 24 billion people. With our great technology, they will all be driving hummers and eating 3 cows, 65 chickens, and a pig or two each year, each in their own suburban McMansion. That's merely 2 trillion livestock animals worth, and only about twice that many barrels of oil consumed.

    And, in another 40 years, God willing, we will double the earth's human population again to 48 billion, and then to 96 billion, and so forth for all eternity, until there are trillions and gazillions of us selfless little critters driving the highways!

  21. Gulbenkian


    People buying or selling derivatives who are not in the oil biz are not speculators, mere punters.
    The speculator is the trader who hoards in times of shortage.

    Up to end june 2008 the WTI futures were in backwardation, ie traders taking delivery were ready to pay more in order to stock.

    One of the main culprits was G Bush, who kept adding to the strategic reserve up to july. The other was China because of the Olympic games.

  22. Anonymous

    The Oceania extinction article was filled with statistical nonsense. Just some numbers pulled out of some scientist's rear-end, almost certainly created to help increase his grant money to study the purported problem. After all, if extinctions aren't really happening his funds would dry up.

    How about an actual list of the names of all those thousands of species that have gone extinct? Let's make it easy – just give 500 of them. Or even 100. Or 10.

  23. Hugh

    Gulbenkian, such activity would have barely created a blip. It simply doesn't account for what happened in oil markets last year or again this year.

  24. skippy


    You'll be happy to know that whilst other species are diminishing, looking off the cliff of extinction, others are taking their place like feral pigs (we have reached par, humans vs pig in population numbers 22 million or so.)

    PS. verification is…Gread

    Feral cats and dogs aside, pigs can backhoe the soil at a pace and depth only a plant operator could love. Our soil is already poor in nutrient content do to the age of this land, so both farming and fallow areas suffer. On top of that we have the problem of agricultural run off straight on to reefs, the breeding grounds/epicenter of life in the seas surrounding this fragile environment. How many more generations can enjoy this limited/finite resource, a few more probably then bang game over.

    Side note: the Government has a long standing policy to achieve a population of 50M to insure economic projections, productivity, taxes, competitive stance, where the recorces of this land can only support 8M, if things globaly went poof.

    Skippy…Find someone about 70 years old and ask them what they saw as a kid, most of the developed world is so far removed for the natural, they think they don't need it anymore..sheez.

  25. Paul

    "In the six months before prices spiked, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the world oil supply rose from 85.24 million barrels a day to 85.72 million. Over the same period, world oil demand dropped from 86.82 million barrels a day to 86.07 million."

    So demand, though falling, was still greater than supply, yet the writer thinks prices should have fallen. I remain unconvinced. According to the EIA, US oil consumption fell last year, while the non-US total rose. That seems to say that most of the world wanted more oil, even at those prices. A remarkably inelastic demand, combined with a remarkably inelastic supply, should lead to large price volatility. Some of that demand could be called speculation, but might more accurately be called hoarding, which seems rational to individual actors, but raises the cost for all buyers. In the absence of such tight supplies, hoarding would be less likely and less costly.

    Of course, I have speculated in oil, but only by buying when it is cheap. As the housing bubble has shown, an overvalued item sometimes attracts more buyers than an undervalued one. Speculative demand shows up as inventory. Oil storage is at high levels now, so there was some speculation/hoarding, though much of that may have happened after the price declined. It seems to me that a tight market was still a necessary ingredient in all this. I also think that oil markets will get tight again, making speculation a rational activity.

Comments are closed.