Meandering the Interwebs 12/23/2019

Posted: December 23, 2019 in Meandering the Interwebs, Uncategorized

I started this up last week, and I’m already a couple days behind in publishing this one. Oh, well… Maybe it’ll just be a when I have time thing. This is the rundown of the most interesting things I found online in the last week. Merry Christmas, hope you enjoy the week with your family!

The Stereogram

Rusty Guinn writes for Ben Hunt’s Epsilon Theory. His writing is every bit as thought provoking as Hunt’s. Great piece on how to think about the complex problems that China has stirred up since America discovered China wields way too much power over American culture. Of course, most people probably forgot since all this went down a month ago or so, but I still think it matters.

The free world has been dunking on LeBron James for more than a week now and it has not gotten old.

Still, something about it has made me uneasy.

Am I uneasy because King James requires some special grace, because I’m worried that we aren’t being full-hearted enough in our criticisms of him? No. Good God, no. Knock yourselves out, y’all. I’m uneasy because once you see clearly the influence the Chinese Communist Party can wield arbitrarily over you and me as citizens of the free world, you see that same power in a million other places. It is like a stereogram, one of those pictures for which our eyes must conquer their natural tendency to coordinate focus and vergence functions to see anything but a series of repetitive dots.

And once you see it, you cannot unsee it…


I, for one, am conflicted.

On the one hand, I can’t unsee what I’ve seen. It isn’t just unsavory or undesirable that China be in a position to so directly influence (and punish!) the free exercise of rights in the United States. It is untenable.

I also believe in freedom of action, thought and association. I believe in those freedoms as ends to themselves, untroubled by the need to justify them by evaluating their second-order effects. I don’t stop believing in those ideals when they concern the private commercial interactions between individuals and/or corporations. Not because I have some fanciful belief that unregulated, unrestricted trade across borders will always lead to universally optimal outcomes. Of course it won’t. But because I earnestly believe in rising tides, and in the generally superior function of the informal, unplanned, spontaneous features of markets to organize our collective activities.

I also believe that allowing companies formed by Americans to do business wherever they want will generally lead to better aggregate outcomes than some Very Smart Person with every incentive to parlay their $175,000 public servant salary into a multi-million dollar net worth who believes they have the prescience to dictate which domestic industries ought to be subsidized and retained and which oughtn’t to be. I will always be concerned that the cure for concentrations of power will be worse than the disease.

Yeah, It’s Still Water

I’m a big believer in markets and freedom, so I guess that makes me a capitalist although I’m not particularly fond of the term for some historical reasons. The problem with our current system is we really don’t have “capitalism.” We have financialization and the oligarchification of our society.

Great note from Epsilon Theory on the topic.

Financialization is profit margin growth without labor productivity growth.

Financialization is the zero-sum game aspect of capitalism, where profit margin growth is both pulled forward from future real growth and pulled away from current economic risk-taking.

Financialization is the smiley-face perversion of Smith’s invisible hand and Schumpeter’s creative destruction. It is a profoundly repressive political equilibrium that masks itself in the common knowledge of “Yay, capitalism!”.

What does Wall Street get out of financialization? A valuation story to sell.

What does management get out of financialization? Stock-based compensation.

What does the Fed get out of financialization? A (very) grateful Wall Street.

What does the White House get out of financialization? Re-election.

What do YOU get out of financialization?

You get to hold up a card that says “Yay, capitalism!”.

The Age of the High-Functioning Sociopath

Why should we care about anything when nothing matters?

Because you’re not a sociopath.

Because you care about your Pack.

Yes, this is the Age of the High-Functioning Sociopath. Yes, this is the Age of Sheep Logic. Yes, this the age where scale and mass distribution are ends in themselves, where the supercilious State knows what’s best for you and your family, where communication policy and fiat news shout down authenticity, where rapacious, know-nothing narcissism is celebrated as leadership even as civility, expertise, and service are mocked as cuckery.

Stipulated. What, did you think this was going to be easy?

These clowns don’t deserve us. And it will take decades of a persistent, bottom-up social movement that rejects and negs and ridicules them … ALL OF THEM … before we have the opportunity to reclaim our world.

[WEBCAST + TRANSCRIPT] Danielle DiMartino Booth: Trouble Ahead For the Fed And Economy?

One of my favorite market commentators is Keith McCollough. He is CEO of Hedgeye Risk Management. If you have any money in the stock market, you should be following him. I subscribe to a couple of their premium products and have found them incredibly helpful.

I don’t subscribe to the just BUY STAHKS! and hold them philosophy.

There’s a saying that you’ll read, especially in any mutual fund prospectus you may invest in: past performance is not indicative of future results. Well, if you turn on CNBC or Fox Business that’s exactly the crap they feed you, and there’s going to be a lot of people blow up a Hell of a lot of money when this market finally turns. And, oh, it’s going to turn someday.

Anyway, he recently had on Danielle DiMartino Booth. For those that don’t know who she is, she’s a former Federal Reserve insider and she knows current Fed Chairman Jerome Powell quite well. And, despite the layman’s view of politics, it’s not congressional policy but Fed policy that matters more than anything else that happens in our economy. They drive the business cycle which in turn drives the economy.

It’s not Trump. It’s not the Republicans. It’s not the Democrats.

They tinker around the edges. It’s the Fed.

The interview is absolutely worth listening, too. Normally they release these on their YouTube stream, but you’ll have to visit the website directly, link HERE or above.

One of the things in the conversation they talked about, and it’s an important thing, is how the Fed fought inflation underneath the leadership of Paul Volcker. As Central Bankers go, Volcker at least understood the Fed policy should actually try and benefit the common man (it’s mostly futile, but intent matters).

I know that the Fed wants to tell you they have it under control, but the current policy regime is going to lead to massive inflation. We’re seeing inflation rising right now (and for anyone really paying attention, we’ve seen pretty painful inflation in housing and healthcare for some time now), but it’s nothing compared to what may (and probably will) happen in the future.

Important advice on the Fed: If they’re saying something is happening, assume they’re either lying to you or too stupid to understand what’s really going on in the real economy.

Team Elite doesn’t know how you or I live.

McCullough: Yeah. What’s really interesting about Volcker, and we’ll get into why this matters today, but what Volcker did has been long forgotten. In 1982, his choice was to raise interest rates and strengthen the dollar and tame inflation. For those of you that don’t know, through Volcker’s brute force inflation went from 12% to 3%. Inflation is now below two and everyone on Wall Street is begging for is the literal opposite. That’s the literal opposite of what Volcker would have believed. He’d say if you devalue the dollar, the cost of living of the people goes up. Why would we do that?

DiMartino Booth: Exactly. Volcker wrote this great Bloomberg op-ed in 2018 about the fallacy of the 2% inflation target and how idiotic it was. It’s like targeting failure. It makes no sense. Volcker was bold enough to come out and say that what Bernanke did was wrong.

McCullough: Bernanke devalued the dollar to a 40-year low in 2011 and said that there was no inflation. This is where the inequality gap really started to widen. I don’t think that there’s anyone who could unpack that and say the Fed had nothing to do with it.

DiMartino Booth: This goes to the smoke and mirrors of the Fed’s inflation target using PCE. That’s not what anybody on Planet Earth pays.

I’m intrigued that the Fed says, “Maybe we can let inflation run a little hot.” I’m like, if you actually counted inflation correctly then you’d find out that we’re already on fire. If you were to bring into account, Oh, I don’t know, apartment rent and home prices and stocks and bonds, but no, no, no, no, no. But maybe we should let the bad inflation metric run hot.

Oh the Fed, how I despise thee…

Dalio’s Analogue and Mauldin’s Commentary

There’s so much in this one to read. Two of the greatest minds in all of finance IMHO.

Regarding the above template and where we are now, in my opinion, the most important things that are happening (which last happened in the late 1930s) are

a) we are approaching the ends of both the short-term and long-term debt cycles in the world’s three major reserve currencies, while

b) the debt and non-debt obligations (e.g. healthcare and pensions) that are coming at us are larger than the incomes that are required to fund them,

c) large wealth and political gaps are producing political conflicts within countries that are characterized by larger and more extreme levels of internal conflicts between the rich and the poor and between capitalists and socialists,

d) external politics is driven by the rising of an emerging power (China) to challenge the existing world power (the US), which is leading to a more extreme external conflict and will eventually lead to a change in the world order, and [Ian Bremmer calls this the return of a bi-polar world but with significant differences in the goals of the powers—JM]

e) the excess expected returns of bonds is compressing relative to the returns on the cash rates central banks are providing.

As for monetary policy and fiscal policy responses, it seems to me that we are classically in the late stages of the long-term debt cycle when central banks’ power to ease in order to reverse an economic downturn is coming to an end because:

• Monetary Policy 1 (i.e. the ability to lower interest rates) doesn’t work effectively because interest rates get so low that lowering them enough to stimulate growth doesn’t work well,

• Monetary Policy 2 (i.e. printing money and buying financial assets) doesn’t work well because that doesn’t produce adequate credit in the real economy (as distinct from credit growth to leverage up investment assets), so there is “pushing on a string.” That creates the need for…

• Monetary Policy 3 (large budget deficits and monetizing of them) which is problematic especially in this highly politicized and undisciplined environment.

More specifically, central bank policies will push short-term and long-term real and nominal interest rates very low and print money to buy financial assets because they will need to set short-term interest rates as low as possible due to the large debt and other obligations (e.g. pensions and healthcare obligations) that are coming due and because of weakness in the economy and low inflation.


The Future is Faster You Think

The future is going to be fascinating.

We have now found clear evidence to believe that the rate at which technology is accelerating, is itself accelerating.

And maybe a little spooky…

Sensors explosion & the rise of IoT

Within a decade, we will live in a world where just about anything that can be measured will be measured— all the time. It will not be your knowledge that matters, but rather the questions you ask.

It’s a world of radical transparency, where privacy concerns will take on a whole new meaning.

From the edge of space to the bottom of the ocean to the inside of your bloodstream, our world’s emerging electric skin is producing a sensorium of endlessly available information. And with rapid advances in AI, it possesses the machine learning required to make sense of that information.

Welcome to the hyper-conscious planet.

Nevertheless, I still can’t help be encouraged. The greatest irony of our time is we’re awfully worried about solvable problems, but we spend little time worried about the financial problems that are going to harm all of us.

The Future of Food: 3D Printing, Vertical Farming & Materials Science (Part 1)

And converging exponential technologies—from materials science to AI-driven digital agriculture—are not slowing down. Today’s breakthroughs will soon allow our planet to boost its food production by nearly 70 percent, using a fraction of the real estate and resources, to feed 9 billion by mid-century.

What you consume, how it was grown, and how it will end up in your stomach will all ride the wave of converging exponentials, revolutionizing the most basic of human needs.

VR is going to be pretty cool, too.

VR’s leap into the disruptive phase

Interesting report on teen usage of technology.

U.S. Teens Spend More Than Seven Hours A Day In Front Of Screens—Not Including Schoolwork

This stood out to me:

A third of all teens say they read for pleasure less than once a month or never.

Contrary to general opinion, the vast majority of tweens and teens do not routinely use their devices to create their own digital content. Only one in ten say they enjoy “a lot” making digital art or graphics. And only one in twenty say the same about creating digital music or coding or modifying video games. So let’s keep the post-Millennial TikTok revolution in perspective:It may not be as widespread as many imagine.


I Got Access to My Secret Consumer Score. Now You Can Get Yours, Too.

I’m honestly not sure what I think about this. I can say that I am not surprised. There will be no privacy in the future.

As consumers, we all have “secret scores”: hidden ratings that determine how long each of us waits on hold when calling a business, whether we can return items at a store, and what type of service we receive. A low score sends you to the back of the queue; high scores get you elite treatment.


Why U.S. Death Rate From Heart Failure Is Surging

Not good…

Starting around 15 years ago, however, the U.S. HD mortality decline began to decelerate. This bad news was not due to anything wrong happening among the elderly (their HD death rate has continued to fall), but rather among the nonelderly. The HD death rate for midlife adults age 45 to 64 has actually been rising since 2005.


How California Became America’s Housing Market Nightmare

How did we get here? Simply put, bad government—from outdated zoning laws to a 40-year-old tax provision that benefits long-time homeowners at the expense of everyone else—has created a severe shortage of houses. While decades in the making, California’s slow-moving disaster has reached a critical point for state officials, businesses and the millions who are straining to live there.

And if you think Kansas City will never get to this point… LOL. While not near as bad, the direction is absolutely towards more expense caused by stupid regulation.


Snake Hunt

Great article on the problem Florida is having with Burmese Pythons. The stupidity of some humans never ceases to amaze me. Gee, who could have ever imagined that dumping a pet that you had no business owning in the wild would have severely negative consequences for the environment?

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