Posts filed under “Philosophy”
This post was originally published at The Financial Philosopher, by Kent Thune.
“I do nothing but go about persuading you all, old and young alike, not to take thought for your persons or your properties, but and chiefly to care about the greatest improvement of the soul. I tell you that virtue is not given by money, but that from virtue comes money and every other good of man, public as well as private. This is my teaching, and if this is the doctrine which corrupts the youth, I am a mischievous person.” ~ Socrates
Every time I see news coverage of street protests in today’s Greece or of political leaders discussing Greek Austerity, I imagine, if Socrates were living today, if he would be there among the protestors and, if so, what he might say or do. Would he support the protestors? What might he say to the government leaders? Would he approve of Greek Austerity measures?
Luxury is Artificial Poverty
Socrates never recorded any of his thoughts or ideas on paper and all that is known about him comes from the writings of his contemporaries, such as Plato. However, it is clear from these writings that Socrates cared little about money and materiality and he certainly shared no affection with the ruling Aristocrats. Many accounts of Socrates describe him as something of a poor, unattractive hermit wandering the streets of Athens, teaching his philosophies to anyone who would listen. In a time when men labored for a living and spent much of their free time working for the affairs of the city aspiring to political power, Socrates did neither.
In today’s Greece, I believe Socrates would still find himself in the unique position of standing in a corner completely his own–neither with the protestors, nor with the government. While he might sympathize for the struggle of the Greek people against the governing leaders, he would remind the people that money is the corrupting force at the root of all of their troubles and that they would find contentment to let go of their material desires and to end their reliance on government to cure their ills.
Socrates to Greece: Die But Don’t Forget to Pay ‘Debt’
The featured quote at the beginning of this post comes from Plato’s account of the trial of Socrates, where Socrates was accused of “corrupting the youth of Athens” and was given the choice to either denounce his philosophies or die by drinking the poison hemlock. Socrates chose death.
His last words were reportedly spoken to Crito, where Socrates said, “We owe a rooster to Asclepius. Please, don’t forget to pay the debt.” Asclepius was the Greek god for curing illness. Therefore these words are interpreted to mean that death is a cure and a means to freedom.
I would never expect a political body to take the path of a wise philosopher, but Socrates would likely say today that Greece must metaphorically die–to split from the European Union–to be cured of its ills… And, yes, don’t forget to pay your debt to Asclepius…
Why has the economic crisis deepened America’s conservative drift? The trend towards the hard right is most pronounced in the least well off, least educated, most blue collar, most economically hard-hit states. Why? It is a fascinating glimpse into the Human (or is it American?) Psyche — and I am very curious about it: >…Read More
Max Blumenthal’s latest takes us on a shocking and at times bizarre tour of right-wing Pastor John Hagee’s annual Washington-Israel Summit, blowing the cover off the Christian Zionist movement in the process. Starring Joe Lieberman, Tom DeLay, Pastor John Hagee, Ambassador Dore Gold and a host of rapture-ready evangelicals praying for Armaggedon.
“The reason capitalism has triumphed in the West and sputtered in the rest of the world is because most of the assets in Western nations have been integrated into one formal representational system . . . By transforming people with real property interests into accountable individuals, formal property created individuals from masses. People no longer…Read More
More business regulations. That is what survey after survey around the globe shows that the world’s populations wants. Despite a relentless propaganda campaign of misinformation, fabricated data and false narratives, the public has not been fooled by the 1%. The best efforts of a well funded group of ideologues — Free Market absolutists, anti-Democracy and…Read More
Dan Alpert is a founding Managing Partner of Westwood Capital. He has more than 30 years of international merchant banking and investment banking experience, including a wide variety of work-out and bankruptcy related restructuring experience. Dan’s experience in providing financial advisory services and structured finance execution has extended Westwood’s reach beyond the U.S. domestic corporate finance market to East Asia, the Middle East and Eastern Europe. In addition to his structured finance expertise, Dan has extensive experience advising on mergers, acquisitions and private equity financings. He has additional expertise in evaluating and maximizing the recoveries from failed financing vehicles affiliated with a common borrower/issuer.
Principal Plot: Inflation Is Not Proceeding from Large Scale Money Growth as Monetarists Would Expect. Keynesians Are Not Providing a Complete Enough Explanation to Laymen as to Why That Is So. Frustration and Name-Calling Ensues.
And a Subplot: Warren Buffett Walks into a Bar . . .
Over recent months, an intense debate between two opposing schools of economics has reached a crescendo. The relationships—at least in print—among members of the so-called saltwater school of economists (those leaning towards Keynesian fiscalism, and more-managed forms of capitalism) and economists in the freshwater or Chicago school (broadly favoring less-regulated, free-market economies with an emphasis on monetary matters) has never been overly warm. But the degree of name calling and apparent unwillingness to find common ground has come to a head since the beginning of the year—especially following the U.S. economic profession’s annual conference the first weekend after the New Year’s break.
With the World Economic Forum at Davos on tap for this week, providing yet another occasion to read tea leaves and tout theories, it is a good time to consider whether polarization of opinion isn’t as much of a problem as polarization of income and wealth in the developed world. Is the almost complete absence of consensus among mainstream economists yielding drama but paralyzing decision?
To my view, the answer to the foregoing is a decisive yes. So, I have decided to tackle the issue with a bit of humor, together with my own explanation of the underlying problems and suggestions for how to go about reaching a very elusive meeting of great minds.
The debate as it proceeds each week in what I now title Real Economists of the Ivory Tower provides an often amusing diversion for its wonkish audience—but I am afraid it will never be successful mass entertainment.
Its cast—Paul, John, Robert, Brad, Simon, Scott, Tyler, and others—can fling their credentials and arguments at one another, but if you don’t know who I am referring to in this sentence, I doubt you would DVR the series. (Fortunately, we all have a guy named Mark—who happens to be a new colleague of mine in our work at The Century Foundation—to keep everyone honest, so you can always head over to his invaluable blog if you miss any episodes.)
Economist cat fights, alas, seem never to involve sex. There’s money, but no bling. And the typical insults run the gamut from “you weren’t listening during Econ 101″ to “you are so out of it that you can’t even understand what I am saying.”
That economists don’t understand what each other are saying, of course, comes as no surprise to laymen—as everyone else can’t understand them either.
So, with that in mind, and as technical as the subject matter may be (this is, actually, a serious essay), I’ll do my best to present in plain language the problem that is the source of the foregoing drama. For more advanced readers, I will provide a somewhat unconventional explanation of a possible middle ground that I will call, for now, an Exogenous Supply Incongruity (so named as to make certain no one understands me either until they read on).
The Synopsis to Date
In the major nations of the developed world—first in Japan, over a period of nearly two decades, then in the United States, beginning in 2008, and now (however reluctantly) in Europe—monetary authorities (central banks) have been massively increasing the portion of the money supply over which they have direct influence in an effort to revive their economies. In a conventional cyclical downturn, it is received knowledge that looser money encourages additional economic activity (spending, investment, employment, etc.) by making money cheaper and discouraging saving/hoarding.
Cheap and ample money would also encourage lending, and thereby would be expected to increase broad money supply—and, ultimately, to induce inflation across economic sectors.
In response to economic collapse, central banks have now gone well beyond conventional methods of expanding money supply, including purchasing investment assets (typically government issued or insured) in the open markets and pushing cash out to the sellers of those instruments, in the expectation that they will do something with that that cash to improve economic activity. This action is known as quantitative easing, which is a fancy term for what desperate central banks must resort to when they’ve already dropped short-term interest rates to essentially zero (the so-called zero lower bound, beyond which conventional monetary policy is obviously useless).
A limited amount of re-inflation itself is generally regarded as being a net positive to the recovery of an economy, especially after a debt binge such as we experienced in the 2000’s. The principle concern in this regard, however, is not to induce runaway inflation—something that is bad for a whole host of reasons that I do not need to go into here (especially because a majority of Euro-American economists and politicians appear to be preternaturally so afraid of inflation that one must assume that they all must know exactly why that is—or perhaps not, but I digress).
In any given developed nation, along with inflation, one would expect to see the value of that nation’s currency fall in relation to those of others that are not experiencing similar rates of inflation—thus furthering inflation in imported goods and making the inflating economy more competitive relative to those other countries. One would also then expect interest rates to rise in order to maintain levels of real (inflation adjusted) returns, thus getting things off the zero bound and back to normal.
The problem today is that, not only have conventional and extreme/unprecedented forms of monetary easing failed to restart brisk growth in developed economies, but massive monetary growth has not resulted in sustainable inflation, either. To be sure, there have been spikes in U.S., U.K., and European inflation (and slowing deflation in Japan—which is how you need to measure things over there), but they have arisen from expectations that quantitative easing would surely result in sustained inflation—not the actual thing itself.
I started reading The Most Important Thing: Uncommon Sense for the Thoughtful Investor by Howard Marks last weekend. Coincidentally, I come across this great quote yesterday: “I confess, I think about the future. So do my colleagues. If someone who’s spent decades investing doesn’t have an opinion about what lies ahead, there’s something wrong. I believe…Read More
There is a very interesting article in Wired this month, ostensibly about the tribulations of the modern scientific method, big pharma’s drug development approach, etc. But within the article is an excellent digression about the complexities of causation: “Causes are a strange kind of knowledge. This was first pointed out by David Hume, the 18th-century…Read More