From Hero To Zero: How the Feds and a Mafia Wannabe Took a Good Man Down
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Yet the plot is light and fragile. Single pleasing paragraphs do not a sound novel make. However beguiling the decor, however beautiful the carved cornices, the gleaming brass fixtures, if the joists of a building are made of balsa wood it is not a good investment. These are also the backdrop for Owen Matthews's poignant history of his family's battle with Soviet bureaucracy at its most callous and Western officialdom at its most complacent. His father Mervyn was one of the earliest British graduates allowed to study in Russia in the s.
This changed his life. First, he fell in love with Lyudmila, the frail, brainy daughter of a senior communist purged in the s. Second, he flirted with the KGB. They insisted that he work for them. When he refused, he was expelled, permanently, from the Soviet Union. Lyudmila's repeated applications for an exit visa were denied. That could have been the end, among millions of other commonplace tragedies in the decades that the Kremlin devoted to creating paradise on earth.
But it wasn't. Showing great reserves of determination, Mervyn Matthews spent the next five years running a threadbare but relentless campaign to get Lyudmila to Britain. He buttonholed any public figure who could help, harassed the press and infuriated Foreign Office mandarins who regarded the whole affair as an irrelevant nuisance.
He travelled round Europe to try to lobby visiting Soviet bigwigs, and even managed twice to slip into the Soviet Union on visa-free day trips from Finland to see her. In between he wrote daily to Lyudmila in spare but affectionate prose. He carefully kept copies of his own letters and of her replies, which are steeped with frustrated uxoriousness love mixed with fussing about his diet and clothes. Through these extracts the reader can almost smell the longing and the willpower. They also show how the couple's unhappy families—Mervyn's father is absent because he disliked his relations, Lyudmila's because he died in the Gulag—made them seem to match each other so neatly.
The campaign for Lyudmila cost Mervyn his academic career. He did not publish his work on Soviet sociology for fear of offending the Kremlin. After lobbying a visitor to his Oxford college too brusquely, he was eased out and took a job at another university which he despised. In Moscow, Lyudmila was hounded for her love affair with someone from the enemy camp. Astonishingly, the sacrifices were vindicated. In the Matthews case and that of two other couples were bundled up with an East-West spy swap.
Lyudmila came to Britain. The marriage proved less than blissful, although it was saved by dogged loyalty on both sides. Lyudmila adapted poorly to English life; her shy, spartan husband's grit in adversity proved greater than his husbandly capabilities. But the marriage did produce the author, a legendary hellraiser in Moscow in the s, and now a respectable foreign correspondent.
The crisp and admirably self-deprecating vignettes of his own life, both emotional and professional, give his parents' story a fitting perspective. Few books say so much about Russia then and now, and its effect on those it touches. The violent deaths of several political leaders, including General Zia ul Haq and Benazir Bhutto, have never been explained.
One or two wars with India are also a puzzle. A history of military rule and a glorious culture of court intrigue are to blame. Yet, despite this rich subject-matter, and a privileged and voluble English-speaking class, Pakistan has produced little decent literature on its political dramas. A London-based journalist, former air-force officer and, on this evidence, promising satirist, Mohammed Hanif has seized upon General Zia's demise.
Ending a cruel year rule, during which he did much to turn Pakistan towards Islamic fundamentalism, the general's plane fell out of the sky in In Pakistan, at least, it has always been assumed that either his army or America killed him—never mind that the American ambassador to Islamabad died with him. Mr Hanif's hero is a trainee air-force officer, Ali Shigri, who is plotting to kill Zia with a poisoned sword at a national-day parade.
He wants to avenge his father, a renegade war hero, who he believes was murdered by the army's Inter-Services Intelligence ISI. The plot is foiled after Ali and his lover, a fellow recruit, are arrested and tortured. But then they are released: the ISI wants Zia dead too. In his last days Zia is portrayed as a murderous buffoon: bullied by his wife, sobbing to Allah and suffering dreadfully from worms. A cast of almost-real characters from his rule—now synonymous with the American-funded and Pakistan-based jihad in Afghanistan—surrounds him, including OBL, a tall bearded Saudi construction magnate, who wants to be important.
All this is amusing, as is the tale's finale. Yet, for satire to bite, its characters have to be more complex or original than here.
See a Problem?
From its title, vaguely suggestive of Asia, to Osama bin Laden's walk-on role, Mr Hanif's book feels formulaic. Its absurdity, being unsurprising, seems a bit forced. But it is a good enough effort to keep an eye out for Mr Hanif's next book.
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He will have lots to write about. Their authors, all from poor families, fought their way out of their own particular ghettos. As a consequence of newspaper serialisations and leaks, all three have been callously ridiculed. They have become victims of a kind, and the insecurities they carried into adult life have been nourished. These are sad stories. Lord Levy was the son of the shammas in the local Orthodox synagogue, himself the son of a Polish immigrant, who lived in contented poverty.
There was no chance that the clever boy, Michael, would go to university. John Prescott was the son of a railwayman who was an active trade unionist. He failed the plus and when he left secondary school at 15, the headmaster told his mother that he would never amount to much. He became a steward on ocean liners sailing out of Liverpool. Mrs Blair's father was a well-known Liverpudlian actor called Tony Booth, a boozer who abandoned his family before Mrs Blair was ten years old.
Or so we tell ourselves. The leaders of these central banks may not be as charismatic as Robert Preston in The Music Man , but they hold us investors in equal rapture. The Music Man uses communication policy and forward guidance to get the good folks of River City to buy band instruments. Central bankers use communication policy and forward guidance to get investors large and small to buy financial assets.
Michael is crystal clear with her, right from the start. But she wants to believe so badly in what Michael is telling her when he suddenly reappears in her life, that she suspends her disbelief in his words and embraces the Narrative of legitimacy he presents. Ah, well. Events doth make liars of us all. Draw your own comparisons to this story arc of The Godfather , with investors playing the role of Kay and the Fed playing the role of Michael Corleone.
It ends poorly for Kay, of course and not so great for Michael. But like Kay, for now we are married to the Mob … err, I mean, the Fed and competitive monetary policies, as reflected in the relative value of the dollar and other currencies. The cold hard fact is that since the summer of there has been a powerful negative correlation between the trade-weighted dollar and oil, between the trade-weighted dollar and emerging markets, and between the trade-weighted dollar and industrial, manufacturing, and energy stocks.
But this is always what happens when the Mysterious Stranger comes to town: our traditional behavioral rules i. Instead, the company is valued on the basis of non-GAAP earnings, but even there it trades at about an 80x multiple! Not bad. A few ups and downs, particularly here at the start of , although the stock has certainly come roaring back. But when you dig a little deeper ….
There are 1, trading days that comprise this 5-year chart. If you take out those 21 trading days, Salesforce. How does this work? But in a perfect example of the Common Knowledge Game , if you ARE short the stock, you know that everyone else has heard what Cramer and the sell-side analysts the Missionaries, in game theory lingo have said, and you have to assume that everyone else will act on this Common Knowledge what everyone knows that everyone knows.
The only logical thing for you to do is cover your short before everyone else covers their short, resulting in a classic short squeeze and a big up day. Over the past five years there have been 43 days where the FOMC made a formal statement. If you owned Salesforce. Okay, Ben, how about other stocks? How about entire indices? Addition by subtraction to a degree that would make Lao Tzu proud.
Maybe the only subversive act that really changes things. So here goes. What do I take from eyeballing these charts? So what does an investor do with these observations? Two things, I think, one a practical course of action and one a shift in perspective. The former being more fun but the latter more important. Think of it as the equivalent of open source software development, just in the investment world. Good luck raising money on that. Incorporating an awareness of the Common Knowledge Game and its highly punctuated impact makes it easier to do the right thing — usually nothing — in our current investment strategies.
And that gets us to the second take-away from this note. The most important thing to know about any Mysterious Stranger story is that the Stranger is the protagonist. There is no Hero! When you meet a Mysterious Stranger, your goal should be simple: survive the encounter. This is an insanely difficult perspective to adopt, that we either individually or collectively are not the protagonist of the investing age in which we live. We all star in our own personal movie and we all hear the anthems of our own personal soundtrack.
But the Mysterious Stranger is not an obstacle to be heroically overcome, as if we were Liam Neeson setting off again! At some point this sort of heroism is just a reflection of bad parenting in the case of Liam Neeson, and a reflection of bad investing in the case of stock pickers and other clingers to the correlations and investment meanings of yesterday.
The correlations and investment meanings of today are inextricably entwined with central bankers and their storytelling. Portion of original dot map by Dr. John Snow, the founding father of epidemiology, showing the clusters of cholera cases in the London epidemic of A great deal of intelligence can be invested in ignorance when the need for illusion is deep.
It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it. To find out if she really loved me, I hooked her up to a lie detector. And just as I suspected, my machine was broken. Edward Tufte is a personal and professional hero of mine. Personally, Tufte is a hero to me for escaping the ivory tower, pioneering what we know today as self-publishing, making a lot of money in the process, and becoming an interesting sculptor and artist. That one day when the Great Central Bank Wars of the 21 st century are over, I will be allowed to return, Cincinnatus-like, to my Connecticut farm where I will write short stories and weld monumental sculptures in peace.
That and beekeeping. The former is summed up well in an anecdote Tufte found in a medical journal and cites in Data Analysis :. One day when I was a junior medical student, a very important Boston surgeon visited the school and delivered a great treatise on a large number of patients who had undergone successful operations for vascular reconstruction. That would have doomed half of them to their death. Or to put it another way, an information-rich data visualization is not only the most powerful way to communicate our answers as to how the world really works, but it is also the most powerful way to design our questions as to how the world really works.
If you were comparing these four sets of numbers using traditional statistical methods, you might well think that they were four separate data measurements of exactly the same phenomenon. After all, the mean of x is exactly the same in each set of measurements 9 , the mean of y is the same in each set of measurements to two decimal places 7. But when you LOOK at these four data sets, they are totally alien to each other, with essentially no similarity in meaning or probable causal mechanism. Of the four, linear regression and our typical summary statistical efforts make sense for only the upper left data set.
For the other three, applying our standard toolkit makes absolutely no sense. Okay, you might say, duly noted. From now on we will certainly look at a visual plot of our data before doing things like forcing a line through it and reporting summary statistics like r-squared and standard deviation as if they were trumpets of angels from on high.
The fact is that looking at data is an art, not a science. Why is it so important to SEE data relationships? Because we are biologically evolved and culturally trained to process information in this manner. That is the actual, non-allegorical plot of one of the best, smartest books in human history, now almost years old.
Not as a temptation, but as a talisman against the same. Because when I tell you that the statistical correlation between the US dollar and the price of oil since Janet Yellen and Mario Draghi launched competitive monetary policies in mid-June of is But when I show you what that correlation looks like ….
I can hear you lean forward in your seat. I can hear my own brain start to whir with positive questions and ideas about how to explore this data further. Monetary policy divergence with a hawkish Fed and a dovish rest-of-world makes the dollar go up. Monetary policy convergence with everyone a dove makes the dollar go down. I can SEE the consistent relationship between change in the dollar and change in oil prices, and that makes for a coherent, believable story about a causal relationship between monetary policy and oil prices. What is that causal narrative?
In effect, the causal relationship between monetary policy and oil prices is a self-fulfilling prophecy or in the jargon du jour, a self-reinforcing behavioral equilibrium , a meta-example of what George Soros calls reflexivity and what a game theorist calls the Common Knowledge Game. The causal relationship of the dollar, i.
And today that narrative is everything. But I also think the likely duration of that heavily depressed price is pretty short. Because the Fed and China will not take this lying down. Oh wait, I wrote that. Good stuff. But that was a voice in the wilderness in , as the dominant narrative for the causal factors driving oil pricing was all OPEC all the time. So what about that, Ben? What about supply and demand?
Where is that in your price chart of oil? What it means is that the relationship between oil supply and oil prices in a policy-controlled market is not an investable relationship. Certainly this chart suggests a rather definitive answer to that question! I mean … this is nuts. From there the divergence spreads like a cancer or like a cure for cancer, depending on your perspective into commodity-sensitive real-world companies and national economies. Eventually — and this is the Big Point — the divergence spreads into everything, everywhere.
The good Lord giveth and the good Lord taketh away. It never does. But it does give us time to prepare our portfolios for a return to competitive monetary policy actions , and it gives us insight into what to look for as catalysts for that taketh away part of the equation. Most importantly, though, I hope that this exercise in truth-seeking inoculates you from the Big Narrative Lie coming soon to a status quo media megaphone near you, that this resurgence in risk assets is caused by a resurgence in fundamental real-world economic factors. I know you want to believe this is true.
I do, too! It took the development of a new intellectual foundation: germ theory. The bees can wait. So I was happy to see a TV ad saying that the FDA had approved Botox as an effective treatment for chronic migraines, preventing up to 9 headache-days per month. But in the fast-talking coda for the ad, I heard something that made me do a double-take.
Yes, Botox can knock out up to 9 headache-days per month. But a placebo injection is almost as good, preventing up to 7 headache-days per month. So what the FDA is telling us is that a saline solution injection costing what? Per month. Like a fake migraine therapy, the placebos of monetary policy are enormously effective because they act on the brain-regulated physiological phenomena of pain placebos are essentially useless on non-brain-regulated phenomena like joint instability from a torn ligament or cellular chaos from cancer.
In a policy-driven market? The top three investing principles are pain avoidance, pain avoidance, and pain avoidance. The placebo effect of insanely accommodative forward guidance that has zero impact on the real economy is in full swing. Oil prices are driven by forward guidance and the dollar, not real world supply and demand. Anyone else intrigued by the potential of a covered call strategy in this environment?
I sure am. Yes, I have. The Silver Age of the Central Banker gives me a headache. I bet it does you, too. The truth is that the global trade pie is still shrinking and domestic politics are still anti-growth in both the US and Europe. Neither math nor human nature gives me much confidence that the currency truce can hold indefinitely, and I still think that every policy China has undertaken is exactly what I would do to prepare for floating i. What I do know, though, is that an investable rally in risk assets today gives us some breathing space to prepare our portfolios for the even more policy-controlled markets of the future.
We are supposedly living in the Golden Age of television. Maybe yes, maybe no my view: every decade is a Golden Age of television! Because the fundamentals are scary. For central bankers, the payoff from their marketing effort is equally clear. As stock-pickers, we are trained to look for quality management teams, quality earnings, quality cash flows, quality balance sheets, etc.
The precise definition of quality will differ from person to person and process to process Deutsche Bank is using return on invested capital as a rough proxy for all of these disparate conceptions of quality, which makes good sense to me , but virtually all stock-pickers believe, largely as an article of faith, that the stock price of a high quality company will outperform the stock price of a low quality company over time. The Deutsche Bank Quality index? Over seven years. In low quality stocks, of course. The result is that any long-term expected return from quality stocks is muted at best and close to zero in the current policy regime.
So how has that stock-picking mutual fund worked out for you? Probably not so well. I mean … these are just jaw-droppingly bad numbers. For illustrative purposes only. Small wonder, then, that assets have fled actively managed stock funds over the past 10 years in favor of passively managed ETFs and indices. But surely, Ben, this, too, shall pass. Surely at some point central banks will back away from their massive marketing campaign based on forward guidance and celebrity spokespeople. The mistake that most market observers make is to think that if the Fed is talking about normalizing rates, then we must be moving towards normalized markets, i.
Common Knowledge is created simply by paying attention to a Missionary. I mean, of course it matters in terms of mortgage rates and bank profits and a whole host of factors in the real economy. But for the only question that matters for investors — what do I do with my money? So long as we hang on every word, uttered or unuttered, by our monetary policy Missionaries, so long as we compel ourselves to pay attention to Monetary Policy Theatre, then we will still be at sea in a policy-driven market where our traditional landmarks are barely visible and highly suspect.
What we have to do as investors is exactly what this woman has to do: get out of this date and distance ourselves from this guy as quickly as humanly possible. For some of us that means leaving the restaurant entirely, reducing or eliminating our exposure to public markets by going to cash or moving to private markets. For others of us that means changing tables and eating our meal as far away as we possibly can from Creepy Puppet Guy.
No doubt he will try to follow us around from table to table. Look … I understand the appeal of a good marketing campaign. I live for this stuff. And I understand that we all operate under business and personal imperatives to beat our public market benchmarks, whatever that means in whatever corner of the investing world we live in. But I also believe that much of our business and personal discomfort with public markets today is a self-inflicted wound , driven by our biological craving for Narrative and our social craving for comfortable conversations with others and ourselves , no matter how wrong-headed those conversations might be.
You are, in effect, having a conversation with Creepy Puppet Guy. Do ALL actively managed strategies or stock-picking strategies see markets through this lens, as an effort to forego the casino chip and purchase a fractional ownership in something real? If you want market returns, buy the market through passive indices and ETFs. If you want better than market returns … well, good luck with that. My advice is to look to private markets, where fundamental research and private information still matter.
There is one great positive-sum game in all of human economic history — trade. But there are periods of time in human history when this core engine of growth and prosperity falters, when it becomes, at best , a zero-sum game of equal winners and equal losers. We are entering one of those times. Because this is what ALWAYS happens as independent nations struggle with the domestic political consequences of massive debt.
Debt begets wealth inequality. Wealth inequality begets political polarization. So go ahead … ask Nate Silver how well his electoral models are working. Ask any Fed staffer how well their econometric models are working. Democracy is hacked, not in the sense of some Mr. It happened in the s. Under the strain of domestic policy errors and domestic policy uncertainty uncertainty in the technical sense of the word, where neither outcomes nor probability distributions can be known , global trade volumes and global trade prices ALWAYS roll over.
This is the moment where trade activity — in goods, services, and capital — shifts from a positive-sum game to a zero-sum game, where domestic political institutions ALWAYS shift towards protectionist policies. In the modern context, this political shift takes place primarily in monetary policy, specifically monetary policy that impacts currency exchange rates. Because currencies are the linchpin for both trade in goods and trade in capital. Or if it does work, then it worked by pure luck.
It means that the entire econometric toolkit is about as useful as a socket wrench kit is useful in baking a cake. But I can tell you what the process of this game will be. I can tell you what the dynamic of this game will be. What is the dynamic of the Competitive Game of nations here in ? I think I can sum up my views in two pictures. Yellen, on the other hand, has no institutional mandate for international cooperation and swings the meanest stick, by far, in the global economy.
A series of raises in the poker sense! Less metaphorically, that means I expect the ECB to lower its negative interest rates significantly this week, and the Bank of Japan will do … something … of similar or greater magnitude later in March. The US will be dragged from its current tightening bias to a neutral bias maybe as early as the March meeting, but probably not , and then to an easing bias, and then to actual easing. That same dominant strategy exists for the US and China.
Wash, rinse, repeat. The big loser in this spiraling dynamic is China. They have no choice but to go all-in here to spur exports and domestic industrial production, and at some point they will. There are several ways China can shove their chips into the pot, but my guess is that they go all-in by floating the yuan. Negative rates in the US. Where smirking Ph. Ds who have never spent a day of their adult lives outside of the governmental or academic womb, where earringed, pony-tailed apparatchiks who have never managed a dime, who have never counseled a retired couple trying to live on their savings, now unilaterally and without limitation make political decisions that determine the fate of that retired couple.
Not just in Sweden, but everywhere in the world. You have to fight fire with fire until a big structure burns down, with the hope that at that point everyone can get together and rebuild. Or you can surrender. Welcome to the jungle. We all sing along But the notes are wrong. The strong do what they will, and the weak suffer what they must. Come Leonidas, let us reason together.
It would be a regrettable waste. It would be nothing short of madness for you, brave king, and your valiant troops to perish. All because of a simple misunderstanding. There is much our cultures could share. We have no eternal allies, and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual, and those interests it is our duty to follow. Not me! YOU did! As a result, an entire generation of investors we investors live in dog years has come of age in a market where fundamental down is up and fundamental up is down.
Why, additional accommodation by the monetary Powers That Be, united in their common cause to inflate financial asset prices through large scale asset purchases, must surely be on the way. Buy, Mortimer, buy! During the Golden Age of the Central Banker, monetary policy is truly a movable feast for investors. But the Golden Age of the Central Banker has now devolved into the Silver Age of the Central Banker, and monetary policy is no longer the surefire tonic for investors it was even a few months ago.
Why the structural change in the Great Game of the 21st century? Because this is what ALWAYS happens during periods of massive global debt, as the existential imperatives of domestic politics eventually come to dominate the logic of international economic cooperation. Now this chart is showing total value of US exports, not volumes of US exports, but you get the idea. The truth is that we are already in a recession i. This is the root of pretty much all macroeconomic evils. If global trade volumes in Asia, the US, and Europe are contracting simultaneously, then global growth is contracting on a structural basis.
The nationwide decline in US home prices blew up trillions of dollars in AAA-rated residential mortgage-backed securities. When global trade volumes contract, the domestic political pressure to raise protectionist barriers and seize a larger slice of a smaller trade pie becomes unbearable. In Q4 of , the value of German exports as measured in euros was actually up 0.
In other words, the export-oriented sectors of the German economy felt okay in , at least from a domestic political perspective. But if you had not enjoyed that euro depreciation against the dollar, German exports would have felt terrible , and there would have been significant domestic political consequences. To be sure, the depreciation of the euro versus the dollar made everything that Germany imported that much more expensive. Thinking of national governments as just another big company or, in slightly more academic terms, conflating national competitiveness with private sector profit margins is a classic mistake that investors and economists make when they analyze politics.
Neither the German government nor the Bundesbank care about corporate profit margins! They care about economic activity. They care about keeping the factories running, with real people making real things that can be sold in the real world. Now everything I just wrote about the domestic political dynamics of Germany, multiply it by 10 for Japan.
Multiply it by for China. This is a domestic political disaster, and getting those factories humming again is a domestic political imperative. Somehow I doubt that those retirement options are available for senior Politburo members rousted in the middle of the night by a new Chinese regime. To get the factories hiring you need to sell more stuff. To sell more stuff you need to cut your prices. To cut your prices you need to devalue your currency.
This is why China is going to float the yuan. Not because George Soros or Kyle Bass said they have to. Just like the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act was clearly the winning move from a domestic political perspective in Just like the anti-free trade diatribes by both the Republican and Democratic presidential frontrunners are clearly the winning moves from a domestic political perspective in This is … ummm … not good.
They know what happened in the s just as well as you do. There are two Nash equilibria for the Coordination Game, marked by the blue ovals in the figure above. A Nash equilibrium is a stable equilibrium because once both players get to that outcome, neither player has any incentive to change his strategy.
If both players are defecting, both will get rabbits bottom right quadrant , and neither player will change to a Cooperate strategy. The point of the Coordination Game is that mutual cooperation is a stable outcome, so long as the payoffs from defecting are always less than the payoff of mutual cooperation. This is exactly the payoff structure we got in the aftermath of a Great Recession, as global trade volumes increased across the board, and every country could enjoy greater benefits from monetary policy coordination than by going it alone.
As a result we got every politician and every central banker in the world — Missionaries, in game theory parlance — wagging their fingers at us and telling us how to think about the truly extraordinary monetary policies all countries adopted in unison. But when global trade volumes begin to shrink, the payoffs from monetary policy defection are no longer always less than the payoff of monetary policy cooperation, and we get a game like this.
Look, I understand why the Fed and for that matter, important constituencies in the PBOC and ECB want to keep playing the Coordination Game even when the writing is on the wall for a change in the game payoffs. Put in a less snarky way, the IMF and similar entities have an existential stake in promoting the Coordination Game.
And human nature. The Golden Age, per the original Greek myth, was an era of unblemished cooperation and great deeds. The Silver Age, on the other hand, was a pretty miserable time to be alive. Not as warlike as the Bronze Age, and not the war of all against all as in the Iron Age, but the spirit of the age was one of strife and competition.
It ends badly. The banks are Faramir. Negative rates are a punitive command: go out there and make more bad loans where risk is entirely uncompensated, or we will, in effect, fine you. Go ask a US moneycenter bank how things would have turned out in if the positive interest coming in on their reserves had been flipped to negative interest going out on their reserves. Go ask a US regional bank how things would have turned out if they had made even more rewardless risk loans in and under the pressure of negative rates.
And I understand that policy-addicted markets will respond exuberantly to anything that can be described as central bank support for financial asset price inflation. When the ECB instituted negative rates, that was just a point. Now we have a pattern. Now we have a market that expects MOAR! You know what negative rates are? They are the final stripping away of the illusion that central bankers somehow exist above and separately from domestic politics, that they are wise and able stewards of financial stability. Unfortunately for mariners, the total amount of wave energy in a storm does not rise linearly with wind speed, but to its fourth power.
Andrei Bonovia: You arrogant ass. Can you just stop? I say forming … the truth is that this deflationary storm has driven inflation expectations down to levels last seen when the world was coming to an end in the Lehman aftermath. And now the Fed is going to tighten? Are you kidding me? In an existential financial crisis, emergency government action always becomes permanent government policy, reshaping markets in similarly permanent ways.
It just IS. Did QE1 save the market? Not at all. Now we are told that a global recession in the industrial and commodity complex is well contained here in our vibrant services-led economy. You want some fries with that? You do what you always do in a deflationary, risk-off world — you buy long-dated US Treasuries.
Stocks down, USTs up. What else can you do? Because with a Fed hike the currency wars will begin in earnest, magnifying the deflationary storm already wreaking havoc in industrials, energy, and materials. A quick Epsilon Theory email and a quick announcement. Announcement first. Here are two Bloomberg charts that show what I mean.
On the top is a 5-year chart of DXY — the trade-weighted dollar index. On the bottom is a 5-year chart of WTI crude oil spot prices. Does this look like an accidental relationship to you? Can we just stop? Some things will go up, and some things will go down. For a lot of active investment managers, this is great news.
For investors? But it beats getting a lobotomy. I think.
If you see the world through the lens of behavioral economics, however, you come to a very different conclusion. Something IS blocking the effectiveness of QE, but that something is human nature. Behavioral economics suggests that a little QE can change human behavior at the margins, but no amount of QE is enough to change human nature at its core.
And if that assumption holds true, then QE works. You will indeed force productive risk-taking in the real world economy more loans to small businesses, more growth-oriented investments in people and equipment, etc. Yes, we are maximizers of reward. But we are also minimizers of regret. Our investment portfolios are a means to an end, not an end in themselves. Regret minimization is not just for financial investors.
It holds true for investors of all sorts, from a CEO deciding how to allocate cash flows to a general deciding how to allocate troops to a farmer deciding how to allocate land. As the name implies, the goal of Minimax Regret is to minimize the maximum regret you might experience from a decision choice.
Are you listening, Mr. Draghi nor the other High Priests of monetary policy are listening at all. Four times during the first six days they were assembled and briefed and then sent back. Once, they took off and were flying in formation when the control tower summoned them down. The more it rained, the worse they suffered. The worse they suffered, the more they prayed that it would continue raining. All through the night, men looked at the sky and were saddened by the stars. All through the day, they looked at the bomb line on the big, wobbling easel map of Italy that blew over in the wind and was dragged in under the awning of the intelligence tent every time the rain began.
The bomb line was a scarlet band of narrow satin ribbon that delineated the forward most position of the Allied ground forces in every sector of the Italian mainland.
For hours they stared relentlessly at the scarlet ribbon on the map and hated it because it would not move up high enough to encompass the city. When night fell, they congregated in the darkness with flashlights, continuing their macabre vigil at the bomb line in brooding entreaty as though hoping to move the ribbon up by the collective weight of their sullen prayers.
It makes as much sense as knocking on wood or crossing your fingers. Can you imagine? You and I must be the only rational ones left. In the middle of the night Yossarian knocked on wood, crossed his fingers, and tiptoed out of his tent to move the bomb line up over Bologna. Buckley Jr. The cult is not merely a system of signs by which the faith is outwardly expressed; it is the sum total of means by which that faith is created and recreated periodically.
Whether the cult consists of physical operations or mental ones, it is always the cult that is efficacious. At its best our age is an age of searchers and discoverers, and at its worst, an age that has domesticated despair and learned to live with it happily. Man is certainly stark mad; he cannot make a worm, and yet he will be making gods by dozens. Since man cannot live without miracles, he will provide himself with miracles of his own making.
He will believe in witchcraft and sorcery, even though he may otherwise be a heretic, an atheist, and a rebel. One Ring to rule them all; one Ring to find them. One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them. I still love you, oh, I still love you. Only slightly, only slightly less Than I used to. So much of education, I think, relies on reading the right book at the right time.
If X and Y, then Z. But X implies not-Y. If the Fed can use extraordinary monetary policy measures to force market risk-taking the avowed intention of both Zero Interest Rate Policy and Large Scale Asset Purchases AND the real economy engages in productive risk-taking small business loan demand, wage increases, business investment for growth, etc. Are you a Keynesian? Your Y to go along with the Central Bank X is expansionary fiscal policy and deficit spending.
But with the Lees gone, there was no one to pay property taxes, so the American government seized the mansion and land around it. Soon there were the remains of Union soldiers all around the Lee estate. It is now, of course, the location of Arlington National Cemetery, where the fallen members of our armed services are honored. Excessive holiday decorations can make for annoyed neighbors—they bring burdensome extra traffic, for instance—but it takes a special soul to rage back.
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But around , neighbors started to complain about the visitors clogging their small street and tried to get the township to shut down the Christmas display. I mean, you could see it probably for a quarter of a mile when you come off the hill there. Does it seem excessive that Turkey would temporarily suspend diplomatic relations with Israel after the incident, which was commemorated with a photograph? Well, would you look at these seats? Dolan did this!
Most wars are pointless, but a bloodless border dispute between Michigan and Ohio set the bar extremely high or low? The problem arose from poor mapping operations in the recently formed United States. The Northwest Ordinance of drew a line from the bottom of Lake Michigan to claim the area for Ohio, but when Michigan Territory was created in , cartographers realized that the actual southern tip of the lake was farther down.
This created a wedge-shaped contested area of around five by eight miles that Ohio still wanted to fight for. Both sides began to build up militias, but save for one stabbing in a barroom brawl, no one was actually hurt. There are divas and then there is Mariah Carey. She feels like he used her to increase his profile in America and globally to help further his business interests. The suit was eventually dropped. Burt Reynolds died on September 6th, RIP, you petty giant. Throughout the s and until his death in , Generoso Pope Jr. His retribution took a most unusual form in So I took two huge nets and filled them both, and about in the morning, my ranch foreman and I took the helicopter down to the wonderful National Enquirer —which was just down the street here from me in Lantana.
So I dumped it right on top of the tree, and it just cascaded down. It was a beautiful sight! I felt so much better. But YaVaughnie Wilkins did more than stir the pot; she blew the lid right off. This really speaks for itself. Phillips was still married. Curtis Jackson is really an unstoppable force for petty. Tom petty is alive! Ladies with no kids, free admission. Their social media war is ongoing. It will not surprise any viewer of the film Amadeus that Mozart was petty.
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Kapoor, one of the wealthiest artists in the world, ignored the criticism that followed, namely that he was hoarding the color, made of vertically aligned carbon nanotube arrays, all for himself. In addition to the petty behavior detailed below, Michael Crichton has taken a firm position—against the science of global warming. And, perhaps worse, falsely branded me a pharmaceutical-industry profiteer.
In his book The Bad Popes , E. The pretext for the trial was that Formosus, contrary to canon law, had accepted the bishopric of Rome while he was still bishop of another diocese. But few, if any, in the council chamber were impressed by the charge. The story ended badly … for both popes. Pope Stephen, for this part, was not long for this world either; by the following year, he had been thrown in prison and strangled to death. The history of Saddam Hussein and the United States is long and bloody, but it is also petty. In , on the eve of the first Gulf War, the Iraqi president decided to decorate the entrance way of a Baghdad luxury hotel called the Al Rashid with a mosaic of then president George H.
According to Fox News, American soldiers relished their unusual task of installing the piece. Lore has it that in the s, a woman agreed to divorce her husband on one condition: that he build her a house of her own that was the exact replica of the one they already lived in. Her husband agreed—but because she forgot to specify where the house should be, he built it in the worst place he could find: in the middle of a swamp on Plum Island, near Newburyport, Massachusetts, where it was impossible to hook up the plumbing system to fresh water. For now, it appears to be still standing.
Spite is hard to kill. So what happened, exactly? As Caro has detailed, LBJ seized the moment and forced Bobby to accept a crushing squeeze, in full view of the Senate cafeteria. From that meeting came more petty moments. Once, LBJ gave a shotgun with a violent recoil to Bobby, on purpose, just to see Bobby fall on the ground after firing the gun. Divorce lawyers often claim to have seen it all, but this was a new one.
Splitting the assets is one of the hardest parts of any divorce, but some people take reparation to new heights. There is something comforting about the bratty young British rockers from the s becoming middle-aged men but still staying, somehow, children. No brothers have defined petty sibling rivalry quite like the Gallaghers. The Oasis brothers were more famous for fighting than they were for performing, even when the band was at its peak.
Rock-star antics are one thing, but these two seem to go after each other in ways so personal, so petty, that it transcends mere band rivalry. The two were already estranged. Thanks to Twitter, the sibling rivalry has taken on a new, more digital dimension. Not until they stop Twitter.
That cunt will always get it from me. The former New Jersey governor has been the object of much public scorn, much of it unfairly related to the shape of his body. The most famous incident, of course, is the bridge imbroglio.
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In , the then governor took the totally unnecessary and ill-conceived action of retaliating against the mayor of Fort Lee, New Jersey, for not endorsing him in the previous election. It was the first day of school, and there were reports that even short trips were taking longer than four hours. By spring of , whispers about the real reason for the road closures began to leak out. What had started as a minor, if annoying, incident became a multiyear scandal, resulting in the convictions of two top Christie aides.
The man himself avoided being charged with a crime, but his political career never recovered.
A fitting coda of petty, however, occurred in the twilight of his governorship, when in July , another closure made the news. In this case, it was the closure of public beaches throughout the state thanks to a state-government shutdown. Enterprising reporters got wind that Christie was on vacation, and took some aerial shots of the man on one of the shuttered beaches, surrounded by his family and no one else, enjoying the warm day. In , two Italian city-states, Modena and Bologna, came to blows over a wooden bucket.
A group of Modena soldiers conducted a raid to seize the bucket, which was the property of Bologna. Allegedly full of loot, the bucket was just one element of a long-standing feud between the regions over who they believed should head the Catholic Church. The bucket theft prompted a declaration of war by Bologna, resulting in a conflict that claimed over 2, lives.