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Cheaper Madness

Obviously, the government is going to have to step in to prop up these business which are failing because of changing economic circumstances. California is too broke, but the Federal Government isn’t completely broke, yet.

Marijuana in California costs much less than $2,000 a pound, according to interviews with more than a dozen growers and dealers. But the people who don’t have quality product aren’t selling it, according to a former underground grower who now cultivates medical marijuana…

Won’t somebody please think of the stoners?

(From “Plummeting Marijuana Prices Create A Panic In California : NPR“)

May 19, 2010   Comments Off

Hang together, or just hang

There is so much news to process as things fall apart. I feel like I could spend the whole day reading and by the end of the day events will have rendered half the facts obsolete. Here in Iraq, I spend an hour and a half to two hours teaching math on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and I feel exhausted by the end of those days. I have no idea, none, how I managed to hang on through the same class for six weeks, teaching six days a week, not three last November and December. That whole time seems like a blur to me, and it was some of my busiest time during my “day job” as well.

Well, at least John Ellis has time to read and ask the right questions. He is consistently very good on the financialization crisis. My news reader’s gutter of “to read” articles is consistently of links from his blog.

Looming over the financial crisis of the developed world is the larger question of social cohesion. Given what is coming (higher taxes, sharply reduced services and a much diminished sense of financial security), do countries hold together or do they come apart. Clearly, “social cohesion” is being tested in Greece. The Irish, on the other hand, are holding together well, at least so far.

The social cohesion of the United States will soon be tested. Higher taxes and sharply reduced services are coming soon. Expectations of a brighter future are evaporating. The question that hangs out there is whether we are Greece or Ireland.

(From “Social Cohesion“, via Ellisblog!.)

May 12, 2010   Comments Off

Signal to noise ratio

Some worthwhile thoughts on the European bail-out. Well done, violent protestors!

1. The fundamental cause of the financial crisis has been people and institutions thinking they are more wealthy than they are; this spread to Europe as well and now we are seeing the comeuppance.

3. The major European powers would not have come up with a nearly $1 trillion bailout, also involving de facto loss of ECB independence, unless they were scared ****less.

4. They are trying to do a version of TARP-in-advance-of-the-panic and in my view that panic would have come today.

9. This doesn't solve any of the basic fiscal problems, so ultimately it raises the stakes and creates a chance of even greater financial failure.  Simon Johnson comments.

Read the whole thing. Obviously I don’t have access to news about the finanical system other than what is publicly available, so I have to wonder how the basic market signals about debt and borrowers were misread by so many, for so long. It seems like the system is so full of noise (bad data) that assessing the true value of anything is impossible. Good luck to those who make their living placing bets.

(From “Simple thoughts on Europe“, via Marginal Revolution.)

May 11, 2010   Comments Off

Goldman sucks

Law professor Ann Althouse has an appreciation for words and imagery—one of the reasons I read every post at her site—but I wonder about this derivation. There is no doubt that soak does derive from a word originally meaning suck, but I don’t think that the following necessarily holds true:

But the old expression “soak the rich” was not originally based on an image of dunking the rich in a vat of water or other liquid or somehow hosing them down or otherwise wetting them. The original etymology of “soak” is “suck.” So “soak the rich” is more like suck the rich dry.

There is no mention of when the word soak completely lost its sucky sense, but the first use in the sense of overcharge was in 1895. It seems likely to me that the proto-Germanic sense was completely lost by 1895, so I expect there is a different explanation for this idiom.

The original post, by the way, is about the profanities used in the Senate hearings on Goldman Sachs. I saw excerpts of this hearing on the news. I think that there is plenty of room for argument about how to design and impose rules to prevent over-leveraged investment firms from wiping out the global economy, but I am amazed (truly amazed, not in the sarcastic sense) that the members of the pertinent rule making body, the Senate of the United States, appeared to comprehend banking, savings and investing at a junior high school home economics level. Truly disturbing. So it’s hard not to enjoy the irony of the lead inquisitor being unmasked as voting for the very bill deregulating the firms he wishes to hoist.

In the end, I don’t think that the regulations will matter, in the sense of achieving their designers’ desired effect. Thanks to advances in mathematical modeling, assisted by computerized trades and global financial markets, the smart money is getting exponentially smarter. The demons have jumped out the box, and they’re not going to be persuaded back in by a few rules. I think we end up in a world with some unimaginably strange currencies being swapped trillions of times a day by ghosts.

(From “Althouse: “In an angry hearing peppered with shouts and potty talk, Goldman Sachs brass doggedly insisted Tuesday they have no regrets about dubious mortgage deals that soaked investors.”)

April 30, 2010   Comments Off

Greece and the Euro

From Megan McArdle, links to a couple of articles on the sovereign debt crisis, and how it all played out last time around. It’s worthwhile to read as many of these as you can stomach—the Yves Smith article is especially good.

The Great Depression was composed of two separate panics. As you can see from contemporary accounts–and I highly recommend that anyone who is interested in the Great Depression read the archives of that blog along with Benjamin Roth’s diary of the Great Depression–in 1930 people thought they’d seen the worst of things.

I’ve felt since the stock market started to rebound in the middle of last year that we were just passing through the eye of the storm. If I were a more active investor I might have taken some medium-to-long term short positions on… everything.

(From “Greece and the Euro: Going, Going . . . “, via Instapundit.)

April 29, 2010   Comments Off