Welcome. This here blog offers what I learn, in commentary for all its worth. Know that I try to know best, when I know anything at all.

Journey onward!!!

Friday, January 30, 2009

Bonus Time! The Party on Wall Street Isn't Over JUST Yet

Despite having run the economy into the ground, bankers still know exactly how important they are. Ironically, the TARP bailout has all but reinforced their self-importance instead of slapping them on the wrist. Why? Wall Street understands that we need them more than they need us.

It's 3:30am, the party isn't over yet. They know they can get their huge bonuses today for precisely the same reason they've always deserved disgustingly huge bonuses.

Ever since manufacturing left our shores for China with its smokey factories, almost two-thirds of our national GDP has come from the service sector. While Wall Street does not comprise the majority of the service sector, they do provide the lifeblood for the majority of its activities: credit for consumption. Our retail industry is the envy of the world not because of how many Fortune 500 retail companies we have, but because Americans on the whole can seemingly buy anything they want whenever they want without worrying about saving a penny. If you find yourself stranded overseas but want the latest toy from Apple, or the latest and greatest from Nintendo? Just import it from the indomitable USA; we'll always have it before anyone else.

Only the magic loom of Wall Street could have made this post-industrial feat possible. Whether it's in the form of 12 month 0% APR credit cards, hedging to give us the world's greatest wealth concentrated in the form of the NYSE casino, or leveraging sub-prime mortgages to give us straw in the form of gold, it's always been Wall Street that enriched all of us. Not to mention our big retail outlets probably couldn't have made payroll consistently without Wall Street's magic either.

Their good bonuses are our good fortunes in turn, as it were.

Although we are now in economic free fall, this long-held tenet in the American political economy has not changed. Not yet. But before it does change (and it will), Wall Street is going to hoard every last bit of bonus money they can because they can. It makes no difference to them whether their bonuses are comprised of tax money from their fellow citizens or deposits from far off Asian savers, and why should it? They deserve their bonuses because they gave us our lifestyle, albeit one that eventually drove us into the ground. But what's that got to do with them? Nothing. After all, they're just mere bankers merely doing their job.

Of course Wall Street knew they would be bailed out. Banks like Wells Fargo or Bank of America probably acquired absolutely toxic waste dumps like Wachovia or Merrill Lynch just so they can strengthen their case as a TARP recipient. Congress knew that; they're not stupid, and that's why they're smart enough to know they have to bail out the banks to protect the American Dream. Or what's left of it, anyway, and if only for a little longer.

The party isn't over yet but it's about 3:45am and ticking, and all poor Obama can do is play the angry father role to appease the common man. While Wall Street won't have the biggest bonuses this year, it's good enough for sixth place overall. Not bad for last call. But for me, in spite of all the doom and gloom of 4am, kicking out a bunch of disgustingly rich bankers onto the merciless streets of unemployment would hardly be the worse thing imaginable today.
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Sunday, January 25, 2009

Are You Wii-Fit to Run? I'm Not

I have this nagging suspicion that running in place in Wii Fit might actually be more strenuous than actual running around. Now, I disclose that I'm terrifically out of shape, but surely I should be able to run around for six minutes before collapsing in a fit of exhaustion more or less completely drenched!

I realize I'm not comparing apples to apples, but please entertain my conceit. Could it be that, while running in place, you actually run faster than you actually would in real life because there is no real reference to which to you may judge your pacing?

Perhaps "running" in place is actually closer to a brisk sprint speed in real life?

I may just be trying to moralize my fitness to be unfit, so feel free to call me out on this. But if you do, you had better be fit yourself, and I would ask that you join me for a two player Wii Fit run to prove yourself. Scared aren't ya?? ^_~
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Friday, January 23, 2009

2007-08 NY Giants: Loose Threads, and a Tapestry of the Lost Post Season

You may consider this post therapeutic, a catharsis of sorts. With the Super Bowl fast approaching, it's high time for me to reconcile the 2008 Giants and let go of what could surely have been. Throughout the football season, the Giants showcased themselves as a team more tightly-knit than most others in 2008. As I asserted in my previous post, they were standard bearers who proved their mettle in tough regular reason play.

But like every other team in the NFL, the tapestry of the Giants had loose threads dangling from its seams, and at season's end we find ourselves asking: by tugging at just a few of these loose threads, is it possible the entire tapestry of a team can become unraveled?

Like most things in life, just one tug at the right loose thread can be all that's needed, and there is little argument that the tapestry of the Giants indeed became unraveled as the playoffs approached. In a vain attempt to explain to myself how they managed to disintegrate (yet again), I realized you can't look just at the loose threads (Plaxico, Jacobs, Osi, etc) without also considering the tapestry into which they were woven. Otherwise, you would know 'how' the Giants collapsed, but you wouldn't know WHY 'how' happened. In any case, here are the results of my inquiry, if you would hear them.

If you're still searching for answers as to why the Giants are sitting this Super Bowl out, look no further than to the 2007 Giants of Super Bowl lore. That's where you'll find our lost post season of 2008. Everything the Giants were in 2008 was an extension of that magical post season run, and ironically that is the basis on which their tapestry became unraveled.

With that said, let's connect the dots.

In 2007, the Giants limped into the playoffs not expected by anyone to beat anybody. You really can't blame anyone for taking that position. Although our defensive prowess was never in doubt, no one is going to pick you if they think you can't score enough points to keep up. In a year when Tom Brady played the way he did, how was anyone to substantiate faith in the Giants?

There were doubts abound. Our receiving corps was not particularly distinguished, although Plaxico Burress is a noted playmaker and well-accounted for by opposing defenses. On the other hand, our prowess on the ground was well-documented and respected. But while a good running game is necessary to win championships, it alone does not (witness the Titans, Panthers, Falcons, Ravens, and Giants of 2008). At that point in time, Eli Manning's effectiveness was constantly doubted and criticized, and his ability to utilize the Giants' potent ground attack was in question.

Yet, by learning to use such strengths and wits as they had about them, the 2007 Giants perfected themselves at the right time and found a way to win out in an indomitable blaze of glory. They used a perfect combination of good coaching, sound fundamentals, and consistent execution. The end result was a compact playbook that relies primarily on balanced team play, a successful formula achieved through the fragile management of a flat talent pool. And by flat, I don't mean the Giants' talent level was low, just relatively underpowered and undistinguished. This is a point underscored poignantly by the record number of Pro Bowlers the Giants nurtured in 2007, namely one defensive end by the name of Osi Umenyiora, a statistic unprecedented for any Super Bowl champ.

2007 ran into 2008, nothing about the Giants changed nor should they have. As any reasonable ball club would have done, the tapestry of the 2008 Giants was woven around the winning formula as pioneered by the 2007 post season Giants. They doubled down on their reliance on balanced team play and got a very memorable 2008 campaign out of it. We achieved success; the 2007-08 tapestry was working great and why shouldn't it? It was fully vetted by fortitude, confidence and most of all, stealing Super Bowl rings from the 18-1 Patriots (HA!). The Giants learned their lessons well, namely in just how perfect an imperfect team can be (themselves) but more importantly, that perfection is incidental.

Those were important lessons. The talent pool of the 2008 Giants remained flat but thanks to the 2007 Giants, they now knew how to transcend inherent limitations in their roster by fully utilizing it in a particular way. They had found a perfect winning formula for an imperfect team that all teams covet, and hence the 2008 tapestry was woven.

But for all the success they enjoyed this season as a result, perhaps even the founding weavers in the Giants organization could not foresee just how precariously imperfect their tapestry was until it was too late. So precarious, as I will argue here, that even one fateful tug at the right loose thread can lead to a full-bodied unraveling.

Plaxico Burress happened, and with him one of the Giants' scarce offensive talent spikes was lost for December, and perhaps forever. One man, one loose thread, and the tapestry of reliance on balanced team play began to unravel. I do not speak to the defense because they were always stout enough to save our butts, but the offense failed utterly. They could not score and they didn't. In the final five game stretch, we managed just three passing touchdowns (only one of any consequence--against the Panthers); it's hardly fitting for the high-powered Giants. This might be considered good for the pitiful Cleveland Browns, who went six games without a single touchdown altogether.

Without Plax, the Giants' receiving corps was reduced to mediocrity relative to our high-powered playoff peers and did not scare anyone. Their vaunted running game also became much less effective, barely cracking 100 yards a game as was routine throughout the season. This latter stigma was doubtless precipitated by the intermittent loss of Brandon Jacobs, unsurprisingly another loose thread in the Giants tapestry; the only surprising thing was that he was not injured much earlier. In any case, this all culminated in our thorough beating at the hands of a hungry Eagles team in January, but it certainly didn't happen overnight. It all took one month.

We went from 10 wins to 1 loss with Plax on the field to 2-4 with him in handcuffs. That's a drop from a 91% win percentage to 33%. Capable teams took the time and adjusted their schemes to find new ways to pressure cook the Giants' offense and it worked. Suddenly their once-indomitable offensive line was forced to block in ways they hadn't had to all season long and wondered why the holes/gaps didn't open/close. At a time when season-long wear and tear begin to take its toll, the Giants' defense, one predicated on speedy power rushing, got consistently gassed because the offense couldn't stay on the field. Or else the defense became demoralized because no matter how well they played, the offense could not score enough points to stay in the game. Remember how inept the defense made the Eagles look in the first half of their playoff meeting? In that game, they really only gave up 11 of the 23 points scored against us, and the offense still couldn't get it done.

Opposing defensive coaches probably had a lot of fun scheming against a Plaxico-free Giants team. I know I would have. Eli Manning's audibles were off or ineffective, probably because he was seeing coverages he hadn't seen all season long or worse, coverages that he thought he had seen before but really hadn't. The play action pass was completely neutralized because the pass could not set up the run and thereby, the run could not set up the play action pass. This is a critical staple of offensive success for any team subscribing foremost to the philosophy of balanced team play, and it was something Eli and the Giants excelled at executing. The play action pass simply disappeared from the playbook.

To reiterate: all this didn't happen overnight, it took exactly one month for the 2008 Giants to unravel. Yes, we lost a star player, but I wasn't the only Giants fan out there who was frustrated by the complete lack of game plan adjustment for Plax's loss. All they did was throw Domenik Hixon to the dogs, unproductively so I might add.

In hindsight, however, I came to realize that there wasn't much anyone could have done. The tapestry was already ripped; the Plax loose thread was able to unravel the Giants precisely because the team tapestry allowed it to.

By December, the offense without Plax was showing serious cracks and Kevin Gilbride, our offensive coordinator, seemed to have done very little about them. I came across many Giants fans in the blogosphere who would love to smite him or cast him out or something. But I don't think there was very much he could have done. As I've argued here, the dynamism of the Giants offense was willingly and pre-meditatively restricted into a playbook built upon personnel balance, experience, and execution. As such, the 2008 Giants playbook was limited by a fragile balance of responsibility between their key playmakers, as evidenced by their heavy use of the play action pass; frankly, it was not a deep playbook that explored the full playmaking possibilities at every position. I suppose you can say that the Giants ran out of operable plays to run when Plax bowed out. However, this was THE implicit caveat for weaving the 2007 post season Giants into the 2008 tapestry, and I believe it was a strategic risk the coaches chose to take. After all, they did win a Super Bowl with this strategy.

Moreover, I suspect that when an offense relies heavily on a quarterback's pre-snap decisions, the influence of an offensive coordinator on the sideline is somewhat diminished, headset or no headset. As we know, a big part of the Giants offense is predicated on Eli's pre-snap adjustments, something that did not change much in December. Now, I'm not criticizing the Giants' faith in Eli, as I believe he has deftly proven his quarterbacking smarts and should be trusted as the Giants have done. But when the parameters in his offense changed as quickly as a gunshot to Plax's stupid thigh, there is little he can do for all his football IQ prowess. Maybe even brother Peyton couldn't have pulled the Giants out of this one. Or maybe he could have.. ? Peyton with the league's top ranked running game would be.....


In any case, Gilbride knew he couldn't just draw up a new playbook in December and expect it to work miracles. Slants, screens, flares, draws, checkdowns? Sorry, not in 2008. I'm not trying to be a Gilbride apologist, but it's my belief that he could not overcome structural limitations that were imposed by the 2007-08 Giants tapestry. And it is precisely from this tapestry that hung all the loose threads I've spoken of thus far.

It was a systemic issue. Plaxico Burress may have been 'how' the Giants collapsed, but it was the overall strategy of the 2008 Giants that allowed him to have a ripple effect throughout the team. In other words, there was nothing anyone could have done to prevent the December collapse, that is unless Derrick Ward could run 200+ yards in every game like he did against the Panthers. By the way, it was Ward's outlier performance that squeaked us by that game to secure the #1 NFC playoff seed. Lucky!

(Ward is now a free agent, and I think we're going to keep Jacobs and part ways with Ward. This will be a painful loss for the Giants offense because Bradshaw is not quite as versatile yet. Jacobs definitely won't be the one catching passes out of the backfield.)

Anyway, this is why loose threads such as the loss of Plax and Jacobs had the power to singularly unravel the entire tapestry of the 2008 Giants. You can blame the unraveling on the loose threads if you want, but by association you would also have to blame the winning formula as pioneered by the 2007 Giants, the one that directed us so well for much of the 2008 campaign. If you're a true fan, I bet you're not quite willing to do that. We doubled down on an imperfect winning formula that we perfected but went bust at the end, but not before forging a memorable 2008 regular season.

If you want to find our lost post season of 2008, put in a tape of the 2007 playoffs. Pick any game; you will recognize a lot of what you saw all season long, certainly more than you would have recognized in the recent Eagles debacle. For the Giants, December 31st 2008 should have turned into January 1st 2007. This is the only way I could make sense of this season and be at peace.

As to the future..

If Coughlin chooses to reelect the incumbent 2007-08 Giants tapestry, there's a lot already there for us to build on for 2009, but issues remain. We need to get a repentant Plax back or else draft/trade for an equivalent talent (how about Kenny Britt???), preferably one without man-child issues. We should start addressing the speed limit on our linebacking corps, and we can definitely use better depth at lineman on both sides of the ball. Install cybernetic implants in Jacobs' long ass legs and pair him with a better developed Bradshaw, keep sure-hands Boss involved, and consolidate the replenished secondary.

But most of all, we need to hire new coaches and coordinators who truly understand the tapestry of the Giants as I've laid out in this post. Even if they decide to ax it and build a new team identity, they nevertheless have to understand who we've been in order to facilitate who we will be. To do otherwise would be to utterly waste the lessons wrought from the 2007-08 tapestry and probably spiral us back into the throes of mediocrity.

This responsibility falls squarely on Tom Coughlin and I'm pretty confident he can make the right choices. I should send him a letter to make sure..
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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

George W Bush? Fail, but There's More

I don't think the subject of this post requires a preamble but if you want one, Reuters can help.

Although his presidency doesn't expire for another week, I've long been done reflecting on Bush the man as we've known him for eight memorable years. I suspect many of you have as well, if for nothing else than to turn the page sooner than fate allows. Even the media got a clue and avoided Bush stories like the plague, instead plastering on every Obama story whether it was newsworthy or not. Anyway, this should be the last week we'll have to experience a substantive Bush newsflash, even if the repercussions of his presidency will be with us a long, long time.

At least this should be the last time I have to think on Bush directly, and I'm thankful for it. My bag is foreign policy, so you can imagine just how thankful I am.

For both good and ill, Bush's character has been remarkably consistent throughout. Like the prototypical American, he is a high risk high reward kind of guy, the sort of president who requires a whole lot of political capital up front and operates by spending it in huge chunks. That's all fine, all the great presidents probably do that. But the problem with Bush is, he doesn't seem to understand how to earn that capital without resorting to brash politicking and frankly, he doesn't understand how to spend it strategically either. He got away with that approach on domestic issues up to a point, but he never stood a chance on the world stage once our political capital reserves got burned up. That happened fairly quickly after our engineering venture in the Middle East got underway.

What struck me most of all about his mostly inept foreign policy is that he seemed to react to things that weren't quite there, or things perhaps he wanted to actually be there. More often than not, either it turned out there was no there there, or in reality there was actually something else there there. I call this the preemptive reactionary syndrome, and it seems to be a weakness that the world caught on to real fast after it became all too apparent. It's entirely plausible someone, whether friend or foe, would preemptively plant something in Bush's mind just for him to react to in order to advance their own agenda.

Even if Iran really isn't weaponizing plutonium, they already know Bush is going to act as if they are. Moreover, it's easy for them to surmise specific actions he might take, because Bush is like an open book whose rhetoric is so idealistically removed from harsh realities that it constrains his choice of actions irrevocably. Under this condition, certainly Ahmadinejad was not afraid to pit his wits against Bush, and it's arguable Iran has gained both political and geopolitical capital from that confrontation. At the presidential level, politicians are about as savvy as they come and for savvy politicians, knowing what your opposition is thinking is tantamount to stealing a commanding advantage. That's a dangerous disadvantage that I simply cannot tolerate from my president in these dangerous and changing times.

It's a deathly glaring weakness that I don't expect in Obama. Despite his imminently accessible rhetorical stylings, Obama deftly disguises the true depth of his idealistic core, something that Bush nakedly paraded throughout his presidency as if he still needed votes or something. Haven't you ever felt that although Obama seems to reveals so much in his rhetoric and writings, he still exudes a certain veiled mystery nonetheless? It's this masterful simultaneous disguising and revealing of his inner mind that earned Obama frightful labels from political enemies like the socialist moniker which, in its absurdity, he was actually able to turn around and use to his advantage. It suggests that Obama subscribes to a brand of political subtlety at least one level beyond what Bush demonstrated through his sophisticated campaign style of governance. That's what my gut tells me, and it's given me a certain hope for competent leadership I couldn't feel for a long time

Actually I kind of have a grudging respect for Bush. Quite frankly, if I were him I would have probably hung myself dead by now after having looked the goat so profoundly so many times. Instead, over the years this man has had to carry his goat baggage all around the country and world at large, forced to take himself seriously when much of the actions taken on the basis of his rhetoric has proven anathema to reality (exhibit shoes). His ability to do that is not just savvy politicking, it's the mark of a real man who would stay true to his course in spite of anything or anyone who opposes him (for better or worse). Of course I know this trait is prerequisite to high office, but the magnitude of his worst blunders is so large and sustained that I can't help but admire his handling of himself. After all, I suppose there was a reason why he was twice elected. I can't help but think if another president had Bush's character but actually wasn't Bush, he might have turned out a successful presidency.

Sadly that wasn't the case. It's easy to blame Bush for everything, but to do so would be to miss the big picture. No one man or even administration could have accomplished the spectacle of failures that Bush has. Rather, it was as if Bush and company represented a certain archetype of Americanism that is no longer effective in our country or applicable to today's changing world, and it was the culmination of this particular cultural bias that failed Bush and all of us in turn. That is my belief (Paul Krugman explores this subject in some depth).

I may be stating the obvious, and nothing affirms that more than the pasting Bush's party candidate got in the electoral college in 2008. Speaking of which, don't let people write the election off by saying it was a referendum on Bush any less than those who said it was a referendum on Obama, and even less than the people who suggest an African American could not have been elected if it weren't for Bush. They don't know what they're talking about. The election was bigger than Bush and Obama, namely the respective biases in American culture that culminate in their world views.

In any case, the whole Bush episode has reminded me of one thing that's intrinsically beautiful about our nation: through grey skies come blue and through darkness come light, the promise of democracy in so many words. Our course has the potential to be fundamentally recharted if the need be great enough, and certainly that fact has contributed mightily to the longevity of the United States. I do not speculate on our future successes, but perhaps we can credit Bush for playing his part in forcing us to reflect on our weaknesses that have probably been incubating for a long, long time.

Well anyway, farewell Bush, thanks for doing all that you could have done. Here he is in his final press conference addressing the subject of this post.

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Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Eagles vs Giants: As Fate Would Have It

Boy the Giants are spoiling us this season. On wild card weekend, I was able to just kick back and delight in eight teams demolishing each other. Pure football fun, without the anxiety that comes with being a fan. Don't get me wrong though, fandom is great but I could really use a break after the past couple months of Giants football. That's probably just what the Giants players were thinking too, as they settled comfortably into their expensive ass couches to await the unlucky team who would survive to face them this weekend.

Of course, I wouldn't have been able to watch those game as contented as I was if the Giants hadn't earned the top conference seed and enjoyed a crucial week off. Thanks guys, it's tough being a fan you know. Please heal well.

Actually, I haven't been able to settle into my couch easily on Sundays since week 7 way back in October. The Giants had just wrapped up their cupcake campaign against a bunch of this season's struggling teams. Although we were tested a few times, for the most part those games were just target practice. But ever since that week, each one of our eight remaining regular season opponents owned winning records. It's no coincidence that six of those teams ended up reaching the playoffs. After wild card weekend, five of those teams still remain in contention for the Super Bowl and to my great delight, the Giants boast a regular season victory over each one. Of those teams, the only one that we cannot boast complete victory over is the Philadelphia Eagles, our division rival that we faced twice in the regular season: that series is at an even 1-1 split, a tense score that will be settled come 1pm this Sunday.

The Eagles.

Early on in the season, I watched a few of their games and came away with a general fear. Confiding this fear in a few of my informed football buds, I discovered through being ridiculed that I was the only one who felt that way. At the time, the Eagles were dead last in our division and heading downhill, a months-long situation that culminated in the benching of Donovan McNabb in a week 12 blowout loss against the Ravens. I let out a sigh of relief then, because I realized then it was McNabb alone that had struck fear in my heart. And now they're in the playoffs, hyped by the media as the "hottest team right now", and they're gunning straight for the Giants.


Though some won't realize it, McNabb is probably the prototypical quarterback that every team wants (oh and how about this pic?). I might catch heat for saying that but in his games I watched this season, McNabb covers the qualities that are expected from top-tier quarterbacks. When he's on, McNabb is one of those guys who can make you feel better on third-and-long pressure situations, even if his receivers are mere average. He has that elusive third-eye mobility in the pocket, routinely robbing pass rushers of their precious sacks by throwing accurately on the run. That's a quarterback who (on a good day) can make up for a big part of a team's inconsistencies all by his lonesome, and that's precisely the storyline the Eagles embody as they gear up for the Meadowlands showdown this weekend.

This past Sunday, I had hoped in vain that the pathetic Vikings would knock the Eagles out for us but as expected, we were fated to beat them ourselves. If it weren't for the Vikings loss, we would have hosted the Arizona Cardinals instead, a much less threatening opponent given the circumstances.

At first, I resented what fate had destined for us by this Giants-Eagles match up, and in fact I'll probably get an ulcer from it. But on second thought.. I WELCOME IT. Faced with a daunting schedule, we conquered eight teams with winning records and five playoff-bound teams to reach the playoffs as the number one seed, and I would not have our lofty distinction of a toughness supreme be tainted by a possible cupcake victory over the Cardinals. Let the Carolina Panthers play that enviable yet inconsequential role as they expose the Cardinals this Saturday for the pretenders that they are.

We'll take on the Eagles ourselves and earn again, perhaps, the respect that we should be given. Then, come the week after, we would in turn expose Carolina for what they are: an inferior mirror image of the Giants (except for Steve Smith, he's nasty good).

I hope so anyway.. I have a damn good blog idea in the pipeline in case the Giants go all the way!!!!!

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Monday, January 5, 2009

Part 1: Our Anemic Economy, the Question of How Versus Why

In his inspired article the anonymous columnist Spengler at Asia Times Online looks at why the state of our economy is as it is. His commentary is refreshing because he examines the question of 'why', not the mainstream question of 'how'. For instance, most people today understand that our economy ran on a hollow and deep sub-prime housing bubble, and that's -how- our lifeblood of capitalism had been draining out (well before it went primetime in 2008). But -why- did this happen? Without understanding that, we're bound to repeat the same mistakes.

Spengler offers this answer: it's because people run the markets, but in turn the markets ran the people. That's why everything happened, plain and simple. Before the explanation, let's beef up the context some.

  • How: the sub-prime real estate bubble;
  • Why couldn't they see there was no there there? (i.e., investing so much into something that can innovate very little beyond the balance sheet nor create new products. By contrast the tech bubble yielded much good, that's how you're reading this post.)
  • How: complacent regulation and monetary policy, whereby they spun gold from straw;
  • Why do that, when it's obvious that gold one day reverts to mere straw?
  • How: a sophisticated financial playbook that can pad balance sheets;
  • Why do that, when you're just scrupulously transferring your problems to another part of the ecosystem?
  • How: an entire generation of borrowing for mass consumption, a spree with the world's savings to spend;
  • Why do that, when you probably knew that credit was leveraged by fatally sub-prime assets?
  • How: Wall Street, Alan Greenspan, Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, GWB (for the masses haha), Bill Clinton, bankers;
  • Why guys, why?
Notice that each 'how' explanation begs the question why, and that you can endlessly revolve around these mainstream explanations and still gain little insight into why it all happened.

Mr. Spengler is a pro at doing just that. Among the most big-picture conservative commentators I've read on this subject, his conceits are exquisite enough to warrant attention. Spengler would say that up to this point, we've been looking for the reason -why- in all but the most obvious place, which is in the mirror. For him and like-minded peers, the reason why our economy gets anemic lies in the basics, in how people behave and interact with the market.

If you ever thought that well, maybe everyone was just greedy, then you're on the right track. Chances are you probably have (duh), but it's a bit more complicated than that. Actually we all know and accept that greed is part of the capitalist game, and in fact can inspire great productivity. And so with eyes wide shut, we institute greed as our market incentive structure with the singular purpose of spurring better and higher profits. Through all our ups and downs, it's worked so well so long so many times.

And here's the catch: the market can't natively tell right from wrong. In fact, if the wrong-thing-to-do results in the fattest profit margin, the market will go ahead and call that a winner. Markets only know how to punish incompetence and inefficiency; their only job is to organize and mobilize resources as efficiently as possible according to the rules of the road. So by design, markets are morally neutral and can't control if good guys or bad apples set those rules of the road, and nor should they if you want to make real money and/or stay in business (think Chinese sweatshops).

You see where this argument is going. As Spengler succinctly puts it, "if moral rot has taken hold of a society, the market mechanism will take it to hell faster and more efficiently than any of the alternatives." In other words, even a market economy that's fundamentally sound (a la McCain) can become a race to the bottom very quickly. It happens because people run the markets, but then in turn the markets run the people.

Let's say you are the boss of a top-tier investment bank who exhibits impeccable moral integrity. And let's go out on a limb and say that you responsibly foresaw the disaster of 2008. That is to say, let's give you the benefit of the doubt and say you surmised that some Wall Street geniuses figured out how to supercharge their balance sheets. Those geniuses were then able to claim profit margins far fatter than they could in an alternate universe called Reality. Because you knew this was the wrong thing to do, you willingly chose not to supercharge your own balance sheets because it was the right thing to do. You knew that things would turn out to be a race to the bottom, because you knew that gold spun from straw is still straw. You just didn't know how much time that scenario would take to unfold.

But before you can see your prediction play out, you will be punished by the market because that's what markets do: punish inefficiency and incompetence as measured by profit. Pretty soon, you, your staff, and your shareholders would be out of decent payouts because your margins couldn't hang with the big boys. Soon thereafter, pressure will mount for you to get in the game or hit the road. You are forced to realize that your duty to compete in the market comes before your moral discomfort. Telling yourself that you're not breaking any laws anyway, you supercharge your balance sheets like everyone else and just hope that things will work themselves out in the market as they always have. In the meantime, all your subjects seem to be happy and your job is secure. What else can you do anyway?

And just like that, the race to the bottom has a new entrant and thereby propagates itself to live another business cycle. And the market is happy it did its job.

That's how when people run the market, the market ends up running them. To Spengler, this systemic interaction between people and the market is -why- things came to a head in 2008. And so he joins the chorus of conservative voices today that blames our anemic economy on the moral rot of individuals, rather than concede anything is wrong with their economic fundamentals per se. Some would say that this is just a politically expedient explanation, but the conservatives do have a point (especially at the pen of Spengler). In the year of Bernie Madoff, moral rot in the market is probably something that conservatives and liberals can agree on. Their eternal conflict is in how we go about fixing it: do we fix the people, or do we tweak the system? (I say both)

Spengler elegantly lays out his prescription in said column, and I find myself in full agreement. Nonetheless, in Part 2 of this series I'd like to pick a bone with his prescription, namely that it cannot possibly work. Stayed tuned! It's coming whether you like it or not.

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