Thursday, November 10, 2011

Quotes of the day

The larger point is that we don’t just eat to fill the void in our belly. Instead, we eat excessively to fill all sorts of empty spots, one of which is a chronic lack of status.--Jonah Lehrer

The conviction among OWS activists is that the rich have improved their lot by taking money from the not so rich — that wealth has been cruelly redistributed upward. What they overlook is that the real gains come from the creation of new wealth. Steve Jobs did exceptionally well for himself, but he made the broad mass of consumers, here and abroad, better off in the process. Same for Sam Walton. What Oprah Winfrey created made her rich, but without her, those creations wouldn't have existed to entertain and gratify her audience. Ten years ago, the richest person on Earth couldn't buy a device that does what the iPhone does. Today, anyone can get one free upon signing a two-year carrier contract. Entry-level cars are vastly better in amenities and reliability than your father's Cadillac decades ago. Lifesaving and life-changing medicines and therapies once unknown are now commonplace. Food costs a fraction of what it once did. TV viewers used to have three channels to choose from. Now they have hundreds.
The wealthy are far better off than they used to be. But their improvement has not come at the expense of those down the economic ladder. Economists Bruce D. Meyer of the University of Chicago and James X. Sullivan of the University of Notre Dame find that over the past three decades, both the poor and the middle class have made substantial material progress. "Median income and consumption both rose by more than 50 percent in real terms between 1980 and 2009," they reported last month in a paper for the conservative American Enterprise Institute in Washington. Those in the bottom tenth of the income ladder enjoyed comparable gains.--Steve Chapman

Jobs, we learn, was a bully. “He had the uncanny capacity to know exactly what your weak point is, know what will make you feel small, to make you cringe,” a friend of his tells Isaacson. Jobs gets his girlfriend pregnant, and then denies that the child is his. He parks in handicapped spaces. He screams at subordinates. He cries like a small child when he does not get his way. He gets stopped for driving a hundred miles an hour, honks angrily at the officer for taking too long to write up the ticket, and then resumes his journey at a hundred miles an hour. He sits in a restaurant and sends his food back three times. He arrives at his hotel suite in New York for press interviews and decides, at 10 P.M., that the piano needs to be repositioned, the strawberries are inadequate, and the flowers are all wrong: he wanted calla lilies.
In the eulogies that followed Jobs’s death, last month, he was repeatedly referred to as a large-scale visionary and inventor. But Isaacson’s biography suggests that he was much more of a tweaker. He borrowed the characteristic features of the Macintosh—the mouse and the icons on the screen—from the engineers at Xerox PARC, after his famous visit there, in 1979. The first portable digital music players came out in 1996. Apple introduced the iPod, in 2001, because Jobs looked at the existing music players on the market and concluded that they “truly sucked.” Smart phones started coming out in the nineteen-nineties. Jobs introduced the iPhone in 2007, more than a decade later, because, Isaacson writes, “he had noticed something odd about the cell phones on the market: They all stank, just like portable music players used to.” The idea for the iPad came from an engineer at Microsoft, who was married to a friend of the Jobs family, and who invited Jobs to his fiftieth-birthday party.
Even within Apple, Jobs was known for taking credit for others’ ideas. Jonathan Ive, the designer behind the iMac, the iPod, and the iPhone, tells Isaacson, “He will go through a process of looking at my ideas and say, ‘That’s no good. That’s not very good. I like that one.’ And later I will be sitting in the audience and he will be talking about it as if it was his idea.” Jobs’s sensibility was editorial, not inventive. His gift lay in taking what was in front of him—the tablet with stylus—and ruthlessly refining it.
Jobs was someone who took other people’s ideas and changed them. But he did not like it when the same thing was done to him. In his mind, what he did was special.--Malcolm Gladwell

No, I still haven't forgotten Gladwell's ineptitude for the massive 'igon' typo when describing 'eigen' values. But he's a good writer.--Cav

We do not admit the [SEC] allegations. But if it’s any consolation, we don’t deny them.--Brad Karp, Citigroup attorney

Even rank-and-file members are getting fed up with their unions' political spending. So last spring, as part of a package of controversial union reforms, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker gave government workers the right to opt out of paying union dues.  Reformers have tried to encourage that right elsewhere, claiming that many union members aren't happy with how their dues get spent -- and that claim is bolstered by a recent poll. Taken over the summer by Harris Interactive, the poll found that 62 percent of Americans, and a remarkable 47 percent of respondents from union households, believe that union members don't get their dues' worth from their unions.  One reason, clearly, for the dissatisfaction is the unions' expensive investment in political campaigns. In the Harris poll, 60 percent of those in union households said that labor groups were too involved in politics; 72 percent of all Americans agreed.  These views suggest that many union members must really be unhappy about the staggering resources that unions pour into politics -- or, better put, Democratic politics. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the dozen biggest unions have spent some $384 million on federal political campaigns alone over the last 20 years, and only 3 percent of that money has gone to Republicans. By contrast, about 40 percent of union members typically vote Republican.--Steven Malanga

... it became suddenly, vividly clear: democratic governments cannot do even obvious right things if the public will not tolerate it. Even dictators have interest groups whose support they must buy. This has come home to me forcefully several times over the last few years, but never more than now. The leaders of the eurozone have a dual mandate to keep the euro intact, and to not do the things which could keep the euro intact. They cannot fiscally integrate to the extent necessary because, as I wrote for the Daily the other day, the Greeks do not want to act like Germans, and the Germans do not want to share their credit rating with anyone who won't.--Megan McArdle

There is mounting capital flight, and multinationals are seeking to repatriate capital.  A confiscatory devaluation may be in the works.  Yes I do know all the good numbers they have put up in the last few years, but I also know Austro-Chinese-Soya business cycle theory!  It’s also the case that Argentina will send economists to jail for trying to calculate the correct rate of inflation.  In short, I am crying for Argentina.  File also under “Yet another reason not to take IS-LM models too seriously.”--Tyler Cowen

In all of American history I can think of only one example where punitive trade barriers against foreign countries were appropriate; Japan and Germany during WWII. Otherwise sanctions usually make problems worse, not better. In WWII we wanted sanctions to hurt their economies, but that shouldn’t be our policy in anything but the most dire scenario. ... The only even semi-respectable argument against China’s [capital account] surplus is the Keynesian paradox of thrift argument used by Krugman. What’s so comical about this situation is that the average “man on the street” China-basher would be totally perplexed by the claim that saving is bad. “You mean we are attacking the Chinese for being too thrifty, not following the foolhardy low-saving policies of our government?” Yup.--Scott Sumner

Western Civilisation is unlikely to go out of business any time soon, but the neoimperialist gang might well face redundancy. In that sense, [Niall] Ferguson’s metamorphoses in the last decade – from cheerleader, successively, of empire, Anglobalisation and Chimerica to exponent of collapse-theory and retailer of emollient tales about the glorious past – have highlighted broad political and cultural shifts more accurately than his writings. His next move shouldn’t be missed.--Pankaj Mishra

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