Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Quotes of the day

We are living in the first truly global civilization. That means that whatever comes into existence on its soil can very quickly and easily span the whole world. But we are also living in the first atheistic civilization, in other words, a civilization that has lost its connection with the infinite and eternity. For that reason it prefers short-term profit to long-term profit. What is important is whether an investment will provide a return in ten or fifteen years; how it will affect the lives of our descendants in a hundred years is less important. However, the most dangerous aspect of this global atheistic civilization is its pride. The pride of someone who is driven by the very logic of his wealth to stop respecting the contribution of nature and our forebears, to stop respecting it on principle and respect it only as a further potential source of profit.--Vaclav Havel

The church is an institution and it’s incredibly corrupt obviously, but that’s because it’s full of dysfunctional people and people who are hurt and battered and abused. It’s very normal in any institution to have that kind of level of dysfunction. That’s unfortunate. I find it very difficult, I find church culture very difficult you know; I think a lot of churches now are just fundamentally flawed. But that’s true for any institution you know, that’s true for education, universities and it’s definitely true for corporations because of greed, and I think part of faith is having to be reconciled with a flawed community. But the principles, I don’t think the principles have changed. They can get skewed and they can get abused and dogma can reign supreme, but I think the fundamentals, it’s really just about love. Loving God and loving your neighbour and giving up everything for God. The principles of that, the basis of that is very pure and life changing.--Sufjan Stevens

In the 20th century, immigrant Hollywood directors made hyperpatriotic movies that defined American life but found after fame and fortune they were still outsiders. In [The Social Network], Zuckerberg designs a fabulous social network, but still has his reciprocity problem. He is still afflicted by his anhedonic self-consciousness, his failure to communicate, his inability to lose himself in the throngs at a party or the capacity to deserve the love he craves. Many critics have compared this picture to “Citizen Kane.” But I was reminded of the famous last scene in “The Searchers,” in which the John Wayne character is unable to join the social bliss he has created. The character gaps that propel some people to do something remarkable can’t be overcome simply because they have managed to change the world.--David Brooks

I made baseball as much fun as doing your taxes!--Bill James, on an episode of The Simpsons

Art Laffer famously presented his idea that tax revenues are at first increasing, then decreasing in tax rates, on a cocktail napkin, when arguing about the president Gerald Ford's tax increase (ie, 1974). This too is a good idea. This too, is an empirical issue, as we can be either at a point where revenue is increasing in the marginal rate, or decreasing. Even if the curve is increasing, its slope is important, especially because maximizing government revenue is not the same as maximizing societal welfare. Yet Art Laffer will never win the Nobel prize. His idea is as insightful, and has the same empirical limitations, as the modeling of labor search on unemployment or any of the other econ Nobels. This latter work has the imprimatur of 'science' because it generates lots of complicated models. The models are no more predictive or instructive than the Laffer curve, just they lend themselves to infinite amounts of rigor so it can then it looks like physics, which is the end game (looking like physics). Rewarding formalism that is no more precise than a Laffer curve has been really bad for understanding economic systems. The Laffer curve is marginalized by economists for its unpretentious honesty, whereas the dynamic general equilibrium search models are more misleading as to how precise they are or can be. This makes economics less fruitful.--Eric Falkenstein

Finance is like wine in that while experts talk about sophisticated concepts the basics are simple things like clean barrels and clean data. Getting economists back to simple stuff, basic data analysis that corrects for various omitted variables, is the best way to find important economic truths. It's the data, not the process, that matters more. There simply aren't many economic equations, not enough to make the field a science, so it's more of seeing empirical tendencies, as almost everything is 'an empirical issue' with theoretical offsetting effects. Many thought that powerful techniques could avoid these issues, and in fact those concentrating on these adjustments were considered not as productive as those doing yeoman's work with the data. The scientism of economics that Hayek warned about has been very counterproductive to economics.--Eric Falkenstein

Let me give you an idea of how unqualified I am to be president. First, I'm not good at remembering names. Or faces. Or countries. My staff meetings would be a whole lot of "Maybe we should bomb what's-his-face's country. You know, the one that grows the coconuts. Or maybe they manufacture tractors. I remember that their leader had a funny hat. Make it happen." I'm not charismatic. If I were to stop at diners as part of my campaign, people would ask me for coffee. It would be one bad photo op after another. I can't ask people to sacrifice their personal interests for the greater good. It feels evil. I couldn't force myself to spend time doing useless tasks such as visiting victims of natural disasters or working on a peace plan for the Middle East. I would argue that napping would be a better use of my time. And I would make matters worse by showing research to back my point. I wouldn't be able to get through an entire press conference without saying "Blow me." I would declare war on Pakistan because I like truth in labeling. Obviously I couldn't last a full term in office, much less get elected. But that doesn't stop me from imagining that someday the American flag will have my face where the stars used to be. Imagine big. You might surprise yourself.--Scott Adams

Family trees revealed Obama and Palin, the former Alaska Governor and 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee, are 10th cousins through common ancestor John Smith, according to Inc. Smith was Obama’s and Palin’s 12th-great- grandfather. Smith, a Protestant pastor, was an early settler in Massachusetts and was criticized by the ecclesiastical community for supporting Quakers, said Anastasia Tyler, a genealogist for the website. Obama and Limbaugh are 10th cousins once removed through shared connections to Richmond Terrell, a Virginia settler who came to America in the mid-1600s, Tyler said. Palin and Obama have ties to Bush, both through links to Samuel Hinckley. Maybe leadership “runs in the family,” the website said, because Hinckley’s son, Thomas, became the governor of Plymouth Colony before it united with Massachusetts.--Traci McMillan

Why is the foreclosure machinery of our nation’s largest banks suddenly grinding to a halt? ... When a mortgage is securitized, the investors in the mortgage bonds don’t get assignments or notes. The investment vehicle doesn’t get the assignments or notes either. Instead, the physical notes are typically sent to a document repository company. The transfer of interests is noted in an electronic database. But during the height of the housing bubble, investment banks were churning out mortgage bonds in such a frenzy, sometimes the assignments never got executed and mortgage notes never got delivered. Keep in mind that this was during the years when lenders were giving out low-doc and no-doc mortgages. It was inevitable that the fast and loose and slightly documented culture would not stop at the mortgage originator but stretch all the way through the process. For most mortgages, the note probably still exists somewhere. One problem that has arisen, however, is that some of the original mortgage lenders have gone under or been acquired by a larger bank. This can make tracking down the notes difficult, if not impossible.--John Carney

I don't know the ins and outs of the loan, I just sign documents.--Litton Loan mortgage supervisor based in Houston

But I’m drawn to the possibility that [Barney] Frank actually made the problem [of affordable housing] worse by driving up the price of housing via all the government programs and subsidies he championed. Frank is not the only cause of the problem, just one of the least repentant. You can add President Bush and Clinton and other enablers. But no one should believe that Barney Frank or Barney Frank aided by colleagues and their staff in the Congress can remake the mortgage finance market without a lot of unintended (and destructive) consequences.--Russ Roberts

Consumer sovereignty reflects the fact that the ultimate measure of any economy's success is how well it provides for people's needs and desires -- how much access it affords to the particular combination of goods and services (including leisure) that each of us uniquely desires in order to make his or her life as rich and as meaningful as possible. Opponents of free trade are quick to reply, "Yes! -- and that's why free trade is bad. It destroys jobs and, thus, denies people the income to buy the things they want." This reply has an air of superficial plausibility (which, no doubt, is why a recent poll reported in The Wall Street Journal finds Americans' support for free trade to be abysmally low). But scientific truth in this matter, as in all other matters, is not determined by polling or established by popularity. The very jobs that Americans today think ought to be protected from foreign trade are jobs that were either created by foreign trade or made attractive by foreign trade. ... among the very reasons that losing a particular job to trade is so traumatic is that that job is made so attractive by trade. Of course, each of us would love to have our own job guaranteed while we simultaneously exercise the consumer sovereignty that enables us to enjoy a high standard of living. But to guarantee your job requires a sacrifice of some of your neighbor's consumer sovereignty -- just as a policy that guarantees your neighbor his job requires a sacrifice of some of your consumer sovereignty. The only fair policy -- and the only one that ensures long-run prosperity for all -- is a policy in which no one's consumer sovereignty is ever sacrificed.--Don Boudreaux

A steep decline in trading activity is expected to weigh on profits at the biggest U.S. investment banks—Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Morgan Stanley—when they report quarterly results next week. Analysts have been slashing estimates on the investment banks since the summer as businesses such as fixed-income trading, once the driver of profits, dried up. "Mounting anxiety stemming from a waning economic recovery and uncertainty over the midterm elections left clients paralyzed and trading desks fell silent during the [third] quarter," wrote Sanford C. Bernstein analyst Brad Hintz in a recent note to clients.--Liz Moyer And Brett Philbin

Many mining experts point out that, while more hazardous than most jobs, mining safety has increased considerably over the decades. Today, they say, workers are more likely to be hit by a car on the way to work than killed while descending deep into the earth to extract iron ore, coal, and precious metals. The mindset in the past was that “you might get killed,” says Michael Nelson, an associate professor and chair of mining and engineering at the University of Utah. “Fifty years ago, a guy died, and everyone said, 'That´s too bad.' And the company would send a check to the widow.” But in the past ten years the mentality has shifted so much that no accident is acceptable, he says, reflecting changes in societal expectations, worker rights, and the very high costs of fatalities today, including settlements and wrongful death lawsuits. The chance of survival in the wake of a tragedy has also increased. Rescues in a coal mine in Shanxi, China this year, in a gold mine in the Philippines in 2008, and in 2002, in Pennsylvania´s Quecreek Mine, are all examples that have provided lessons for the industry. ... The job entails inherent risks anywhere it is done. For 2010, there have been 59 mine-related fatalities for the coal and metal/non-metal sectors in the US, including 29 killed in an accident in West Virginia in April. Standards have increased greatly over the years, though. The number of deaths in the US stood at 3,242 in 1907 compared to 18 in 2009, according to the Mine Safety and Health Administration.--Steven Bodzin

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