Shared Links for Feb 23rd

  • Goodbye to the Age of Newspapers – I just don't buy the lament of the newspapermen. If the papers were subsidizing the collection of "real" news with ads, how sure are we that people ever wanted news? Why exactly should we believe that there ever was some public interest at heart in journalism? I'd say it's just as likely that the fragmentation of digital media, and the trend toward tabloid fluff, is an indication that nobody (or at least, not enough people) really cared about the "serious" news in the first place. Disaggregated, opinionated, (truly) non-profit journalism will certainly be different than the muckrakers, or Big Media, but it's unclear to me that it will be worse in any way for government transparency, or democratic interchange. (tagged: technology media government transparency democracy )
  • The Crisis of Credit Visualized – Another great popularly accessible explanation of how we got into this mess, this time in cartoon form. Too bad there weren't any regulators in the story! (tagged: economy crisis financial animation mortgage subprime )
  • Bank insolvency: tips & tricks – Never, ever, feed a zombie bank. The great thing (or, one great thing) about blogs is that you can talk about serious and technical issues, using analogies to zombies. Try that in the Economist, or the WSJ. (tagged: economics finance stimulus bailout fed banks zombie )
  • Ann Druyan Talks About Science, Religion, Wonder, Awe, and Carl Sagan – Musings from Ann Druyan (Carl Sagan's partner) on how we might apply the wonder of the cosmos, as revealed by science, toward the creation of naturalist spiritual communities. (tagged: science religion sagan atheism naturalism cosmos spirituality )
  • There's no reason for non-recourse – Options are valuable. That's why we have markets for them. The trillion dollars worth of non-recourse loans (cf pawnbroker) which the Fed is apparently about to offer up to the finance industry, will, because they are non-recourse, lead to a misvaluation of the assets being bought, even if they're being bought by private entities, because the penalty for non-repayment is simply forfeiting the asset (which might very well end up being worthless). The Fed is acting like a pawn shop, but a dumb one: what pawn shop in its right mind would let you exchange your cubic zirconia for half the value of a diamond? (tagged: finance economics crisis bailout fed geithner bernanke )

Not All Capital is Fungible

There are only two real pools of capital: alternatively natural or human, external or internal, material or informational.

Natural (external, material) capital is the pre-existing wealth of the world, which was not dependent on our organization or existence: the metals we mine, the trees, the fresh water, the fisheries, solar energy, the fossil fuels, the potential for agricultural produce (as a co-location of soil, water, and climate).  Human (internal, informational) capital is the value inherent in technology, skill, organization, understanding, and knowledge.

Continue reading Not All Capital is Fungible

Shared Links for Feb 20th

Shared Links for Feb 18th

  • Do the British love their children too? – Two girls run over while biking to their school 3 miles away. British (and probably American) "solution": re-allocate a school bus to their area (removing the bus from somewhere else). Dutch/German/Danish solution: provide better cycling infrastructure for everyone. Guess which one I think is better. (tagged: bicycle transportation infrastructure accident bike )
  • MIT open prototype initiative – A project to produce modular, open (freely available, non-proprietary) prototype designs for energy efficient buildings. MIT is so awesome. (tagged: green architecture design building )
  • LEED Platinum Prefab Home Now Available – Taking all the design work out of building zero energy homes should make it a lot easier to build them, but the contractors doing the actual construction still need to understand what they're doing, and how their application of building techniques will affect the end performance of the building (and their profits need to be tied to that performance somehow) (tagged: green architecture leed construction buildings )
  • Kidnapping Chrysler – Of course Cerberus (private equity firm that owns Chrysler, not three headed dog guarding hell) has a "fiduciary obligation" to seek a handout from the Feds. And by Jove, the Feds have a fiduciary obligation to refuse to give it to them! (tagged: bailout chrysler cerberus crisis economy gm )
  • Where data goes when it dies – Following from the Ma.gnolia implosion, Chris Messina muses on data loss and recovery… kind of an information grieving process. What are we going to do with all of this information anyway? 100 years from now, all historians will have to be AI. (tagged: data archive backups loss microformats recovery )
  • What really happened at Ma.gnolia – The social bookmarking service Ma.gnolia was, despite its surprisingly large user base, basically run like Ideotrope – one guy with a server, and some (in retrospect) pretty janky backups. A couple of weeks ago, the 500GB MySQL database file got corrupted, the backups failed, and the site imploded. Lessons to be learned indeed: number one is don't do your own IT, now that S3, EC2, the Google Apps Engine, and other such scalable enterprise systems are available. We gotta get that server retired… (tagged: backups magnolia data servers hosting )
  • Baseline Scenario for 2009-02-09 – A rundown of the current global financial situation, and governmental attempts to get things under control. These guys aren't particularly optimistic at the moment about our ability to acknowledge just how beholden our supposedly powerful and developed governments have become to the banking industry. We're acting like Indonesia or Russia with their oligarchic overlords. (tagged: finance economy economics crisis )

Shared Links for Feb 12th – Feb 15th

Shared Links for Feb 11th – Feb 12th

Barnett’s Department of Everything Else

I first came across Thomas PM Barnett via his TED talk last year.  He’s an engaging speaker (PowerPoint performance artist might be more accurate), and he has interesting ideas about how globalization works, and what the US military’s role has been, is, and should be.  I’ve followed his blog on and off ever since.  I’m fascinated with him because a huge amount of what he says rings true, and unusually frank, but a little bit of it seems jarring. Last night I watched his full-length brief and took notes, to try and figure out what exactly it was that I disagree with.

Continue reading Barnett’s Department of Everything Else

What is the Fed doing?

Trying to keep track of all the shenanigans innovation going on at the Federal Reserve is difficult.  Econbrowser and Interfluidity among others have been trying to help…  but every time I read about how our money system works, I find my head spinning in incredulity.  And that’s just when I’m reading about how it’s “supposed” to work.  It’s been getting more confusing lately.

Continue reading What is the Fed doing?

Rearranging vs. Reinventing the Global Economy

The US road to recovery runs through Beijing says Asia Times Online, and Thomas Barnett emphatically agrees.  Everyone is talking about how to reorganize the global economy, but mostly the discussion is about how to most efficiently export our recently collapsed model of growth to the developing world.  Better this time around for sure, we say, but not fundamentally different in any way.  The Chinese need (and want, it turns out) more domestic consumption and consumer debt.

Continue reading Rearranging vs. Reinventing the Global Economy

Too big to fail is too big, period

With the collapse of Bear Stearns and the US automakers and airlines tanking, and the prospect of a trillion dollar bailout of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and who knows how many other large lenders, all because they are, putatively, “too big to fail” (by which is meant, obviously, not that they are so large as to be incapable of failing, but that they are so large as to make the consequences of their failing worse than the immediate, visible consequences of bailing them out), I’ve started wondering if perhaps what we really need is an update to our anti-trust laws, to the effect of: if you’re too big to fail, you’re just plain too big.

Instead of allowing corporate juggernauts to form, and then eventually being “forced” to save them from their own follies, why not just keep these captains of industry small enough that we never need to save them. The Feds already have to approve the bigger mergers and acquisitions – they already have this power by-and-large. Keeping our companies a little smaller would increase competition, and diversity within the corporate ecology of our markets. GM doesn’t want to make fuel efficient cars? Fine – their small-cars division can spin off and do its own thing. Sink or swim in its competition with Toyota, while GM itself just sinks, into an ever shrinking ocean of $150 oil.

Instead, we give taxpayer cash to large companies that have made bad business decisions, and absolve them of their obligations to pay the pensions they promised to their lifelong employees. We inflate the dollar and erode both our spending power, and our savings, while simultaneously crippling the long term competitiveness of our biggest industries. I don’t think the marginal increase in productivity from economies of scale that happens between being a $20 billion company and a $40 billion company is really worth it, if it means we’re all eventually on the hook for bailing out the $40 billion company, when we wouldn’t have to shovel mountains of cash at the two $20 billion companies… one of which might actually have made some good business decisions.