“Almost no one regrets having kids.”

http://econlog.econlib.or…ts_and_buy.html

Via a shared Google Reader item from Patri Friedman came this article on EconLog, Parents and Buyer’s Remorse: Lessons from the Lost Newsday Study. The referenced study was done in 1976 on a random sample of Americans “and found that 91% of parents did not have buyer’s remorse.”

Since I am expecting to be a dad in August, this kind of information is good to know. The EconLog post also references a study done in 2003 that indicates that fully 2/3 of non-parents wish they had kids!

This makes complete evolutionary sense—we are biologically programmed to want to reproduce. Beyond it being in our DNA, family is one of the more lasting wealths you can create.

Here’s the relevant data from the post:

What does the Newsday survey say?  First and foremost, the hearsay about the rarity of regret is accurate.  In fact, since some people didn’t answer this question, fully 93% of the actual responses were positive.  Other interesting results:

  • Women had more regret than men: 9% of women had buyer’s remorse, versus just 5% of men.  While many will say this result is obvious, remember that there is virtually no gender gap on “desired family size.”
  • Young (under 25) and old (65+) had the most regret: 15% and 13% respectively.
  • Blacks had much more regret: 19%, versus 6% for whites.
  • Regret sharply falls as income rises.  13% with income under $5000 (in
    1976 dollars) had buyer’s remorse, versus only 4% with incomes of $25k+.
  • Regret sharply falls as education rises.  12% of drop-outs admitted regret, versus 3% of college grads.

Other interesting results: The survey also asked people how many children they would have if they had a “do-over.”  If you read the table, it looks like there is a moderate tendency to want more: Respondents have 2.66 but want 2.84.

OK, so what’s the take-away?

First of all, even though child-free advocates continue to cite the famous Ann Landers survey, it was discredited over thirty years ago. Almost no one regrets having kids.

Second, you might dismiss the Newsday results as mere status quo bias – “Everyone thinks that whatever they did was for the best.” But you probably shouldn’t. The 2003 Gallup study finds that about two-thirds of childless people over 40 wish they had kids. Buyer’s remorse is rare; non-buyer’s remorse is common.

Five tips to lean out from Brad Pilon

http://bradpilon.com/2009…r-shredded.html

— Below is my comment that I left on Brad’s blog

Brad,

Thanks for the post! Quite a response you’ve garnered, which I can only assume is a testament to the truth your words contain! Your #3 comment reminds me of something you have previously said, which I’ll paraphrase as, “Eat to gain muscle and diet to lose fat.”

One method I use to somewhat reliably keep a pulse on my cutting progress is to take on a regular basis a bare chest, mirror snapshot with my cameraphone. Consistency here is important; I usually take mine after working out and before hitting the shower. Consistent lighting and distance from the mirror are also important, but pretty easy to replicate in your own bathroom. This habit (OCD?) is easy to do and hones a dieter’s ability to see where he’s making progress (or not).

Thanks to Eat Stop Eat / intermittent fasting (and heightened carb-awareness) I’ve managed to hack a lot of body fat off while putting on lean mass via kettlebell training, a three month stint with crossfit, and just general weight-lifting. Today, I am noticeably more lean than I was a year ago when I first experimented with fasting even as I only weigh about five pounds less. My weight went from about 182 to 163 and is now around 175. That’s a leaner 175 than 163!

Even so, and as I had alluded to in a prior comment, I have hit a wall on leaning out. I’ve observed firsthand how exercising more has been sine’ed away via larger meal portions, snacking (even on jerky!), cheating, or whatever. I know that with a little practice I can get everything dialed-in and finally see the coveted six-pack. It just takes a little patience. I remind myself that for most of my life (I’m 28) I’ve been soft around the edges, and it’s reasonable to assume that it may take some time and practice to whittle away the fat that’s been hanging on for the past twenty years.

Thanks again!

— And below are the bullet points on Brad Pilon’s 5 tips to get “super shredded:” you’ll have to go to his site for the details! —

  1. Give yourself permission to get “light”.
  2. Give your diet the opportunity to do the work for you.
  3. Avoid using Cardio to Compensate.
  4. Don’t let the Sine Wave get you.
  5. MEASURE, Measure and measure some more.

Another Call for a Gold Peg from QB Partners

http://www.ritholtz.com/b…/adults-wanted/

As somewhat of a goldbug, I can’t help but enjoy reading the following updated article (See the original gold peg call from QB Partners posted in December 2008) from Paul Brodsky and Lee Quaintance, who run investment fund QB Partners. The article is posted on Barry Ritholtz’s Big Picture.

Gold at $3K/oz would be pretty incredible for current precious metal holders. Gold at $9,000? That is hard to imagine.

Yet if history is any guide, when we start seeing gold make a serious run up and everybody starts diving into the asset class, we could easily see some unbelievable prices reached.

The rebuttal is that all of this deleveraging will result in deflation, which will take down commodities and gold. With the Fed pulling all the stops, I don’t see that happening. They’ll overshoot on monetary policy (as always) and the resultant rice in prices will mean hell to pay (to buy anything!).

In our papers last year we established that an equilibrium price of gold (our “Shadow Gold Price”) would be something north of $9000/oz today. We used simple, Bretton Woods-model math (Federal Reserve Bank liabilities divided by US official gold holdings). To save the US and European banking systems and stabilize western economies we believe the US dollar peg to gold should be implemented at a much lower conversion price than its equilibrium price. The following actions should be taken:

1)The Fed announces a public tender for any/all outstanding private gold holdings at $3,000/oz.

2)The Fed prints Federal Reserve Notes (aka US dollars) to fund these purchases

3)As once privately-held gold flows into the Fed, the Fed’s balance sheet de-levers in gold terms

4)The Fed would soon own enough gold to credibly support the newly-designated peg

5)The Fed would also purchase the “people’s gold” currently held by the Treasury Department at the $3,000/oz clearing auction price (Treasury is carrying gold on its books at $42.22/oz.)

Bang – the soundness of the dollar suddenly becomes unquestioned because it has scarcity value. Its hegemony is protected and its status as global reserve currency is solidified.

A three-fold increase in the gold price should be enough to guarantee that the “free market” would drive asset prices up to the point that all toxic and opaquely-marked paper is once more reserved by banks at ratios greater than one. The loss that JP Morgan et al would suffer in their gold/silver short positions (yes we know about those) should be more than offset by the move to Par in all their respective paper assets. In fact, given the current interest rate structure of sovereign yield curves, we would argue that most dubiously-priced paper held by banks would be valued well in excess of Par, as credit spreads would collapse to reflect sharply higher asset collateral coverage ratios.

On an ongoing basis, the Fed would hold public auctions (as a buyer/seller) to maintain the $3,000/oz. peg. The gold market would become the new outlet for the Fed’s open market operations. Other economies would have to follow suit and devalue their currencies to preserve trade relationships (particularly net exporters to the US). This would be a huge transfer of wealth to the US, particularly from China and Japan. No doubt the US would have to negotiate terms with these exporters.

The Power of Blogging (On why I blog)

Blogging, which I define as published informal writing, makes me happy. I blog because I enjoy it. Why do I find blogging so fulfilling? Briefly, blogging provides me with a creative outlet to focus my thinking and share my ideas and interests with others. Even as these are sufficient reasons to blog, there are certain particulars of blogging that make it absurdly powerful, and this post attempts to get at these reasons.

What is so powerful about blogging?

Blogging enables me to write about whatever I want. I can write about the particulars of property rights, ideas for workout routines, the consequences of holding a certain belief, or how best to apply an understanding of human evolution to modern life. I can blog about my personal doings or the book I just finished reading. The informality of blogging provides an enormous amount of creative freedom to speak my mind. This freedom caters to my tendency towards boredom with overspecialization. It allows me to jump from subject to subject as often as I choose.

Seth Roberts described this purpose of blogging wonderfully in a recent comment: “[blogging] allows us to talk about whatever we want without fear of boring our listeners.” With blogging there is little fear of rejection and an empowering feeling of control. Label it “narcisistic” if you want, does it really matter? Blogging provides such a fantastic creative outlet that it is a worthwhile pursuit for this reason alone.

Blogging focuses my curiosity and clarifies my thinking. Putting my thoughts into writing requires a “good enough” understanding of a concept for my written explanation to successfully transfer the idea to others (including me at future date). This put-it-in-writing induced constraint helps clarify my thinking and can also aid my memory. Somewhat related to clarified thought, blogging provides an end-product for my curiosity. Whereas a random interest in parkour may mean running any number of Google queries on the subject only to be done with it, the add-on of blogging creates a deliverable: I can jot down my findings for future reference and produce something tangible and useful from what would otherwise be a passing curiosity.

Blogging results in the mass production of ideas. Creating a blog is cheap, which means that anyone can do it (See below for how). Since bloggers have the power to write whatever they want, an enormous amount of writing is generated. Of course, most of these blog posts will be quickly written and forgotten. And many (if not most) of the ideas generated by bloggers will be duds. Regardless, the raw abundance of ideas presented through blogs is one of the prevailing strengths of the medium. This is because the ideas captured in blog posts are public.

Blogs, whether written anonymously or otherwise, are a means for publishing writing. Whatever I blog about is almost instantly assimilated into the vast bounty of information that is the Internet. Once published, blog posts can be searched and linked. Thanks to search, similarly interested individuals can find my writings and I can find theirs. The public nature of blogging thereby prevents both good and bad ideas from obscurity. Bad ideas are subject to correction from reader feedback. Good ideas are made better by the same. Public discourse on blogs occurs via two pathways. The more basic of the two is that readers are allowed to comment on my blog directly. The alternative, and potentially more powerful pathway is by indirect feedback on a fellow blogger’s site that is hyperlinked to my site.

The resultant combination of blogging and linking is volatile: hyperlinks are the oxygen off which the best blogs thrive. Whether it is simply another blogger sending readers to my site via a blogroll link (a sort of blanket “seal of approval”), linking to a specific post, or through submission of blog posts to the virtual watercooler, social bookmarking sites like reddit, twitter, digg, stumbleupon, del.icio.us or facebook, hyperlinks can provide an immense amount of exposure. Of course, the more linked a blog becomes, the more likely it is to be linked: hyperlinks tend to follow a power law distribution. This means that a blog post containing a good idea (or a good blog generally) has the potential to spread virally. It is through being linked that an idea can go from obscurity to widespread consideration in a very brief time.

Perhaps one of the greatest powers of blogging is how all of the above characteristics provide me with a “home” in the Blogosphere. When I write, even as I do it for my own benefits, the writing is done within a community. Random ideas no longer need to stagnate within my mind: I can publish them on my blog and share them with others who are want to hear what I have to say. I contribute to this community in my own peculiar way, blogging on whatever strikes my fancy. I keep tabs on my neighbors by visiting their sites and subscribing to their feeds. Through this community ideas are freed to germinate, mutate, evolve, or cross-fertilize with each other, producing results that can scarcely be predicted but are almost always eye-opening and sometimes even world-changing.

Indeed, that is the benefit of living in any community, in real space or online. Communities provide the potential for fortuitous opportunities — luck, in other words. That’s why we choose to live with and near other human beings. Its why civilization exists. To share, trade, create, and profit from the resulting opportunities. The main difference between communities in real space and those online is that real space communities tend to be set up based on geographical proximity to your neighbors. In a way, proximity still reigns supreme in the blogosphere; however, it’s the proximity of minds, ideas, and intellect. Blogging eliminates physical barriers to intellectual commerce; as a result, more transactions occur and better ideas and communities are created.

It is for all of these reasons that blogging is one of the most dynamic aspects of the Internet. It is changing the way we learn and the speed at which we create and record knowledge. Despite this immense power, most don’t realize the huge upside potential to maintaining little more than a public journal. The reality is that they don’t have to — like me, most bloggers start blogging because they think they’ll enjoy it, and of course, most do. That the practice results in countless other benefits? Bonus.

Do you have a blog? If not, consider setting one up.

Blogging is nothing more than writing down your thoughts and publishing them. Yet doing so can change your life for the better in ways that you can’t currently predict. Anyone can set up a blog for free using services like blogger, livejournal, or wordpress dot com. If you’re feeling more industrious, you can secure your own webhosting, buy a domain name, and work through setting up a wordpress dot org or b2evolution installation. It’s really not all that hard and probably worth the effort if you want to make the most off your productive efforts. However, if you’re a bit intimidated to go this route, just pursue the free versions — you’ve got very little to lose by starting up a blog, and as I’ve illustrated above, a great deal to gain.

Staying Together by William Glasser

Staying Together by William Glasser

Continuing with my trend of reading books on reality therapy or control/choice theory by William Glasser, I picked up a used copy of Staying Together. This book is subtitled “A control theory guide to a lasting marriage,” and as you might expect, discusses the application of control theory to relationships, specifically marriage.

Dr. Glasser was married to his first wife for 46 years before she died of cancer in 1992. From my perspective, this is anecdotal evidence that control theory can improve the odds that your marriage will be a lasting one.

Having said that, I did not find Staying Together to be as useful as the more detailed and process-oriented Control Theory or the more thought-provoking Positive Addiction. This isn’t to say that there aren’t applicable ideas in Staying Together — there are; however, I’m not sure there is a lot here that can’t be found in Control Theory.

ST is a quick read at around 130 pages. One of the more illuminating quotes from the book is when Glasser discusses “sexual love” and criticism, the latter of which is one of the bigger “no nos” in control theory. First, here is Glasser describing sexual love:

If we can find someone we love who loves us, and if we are able to combine this love with sex, there is a good chance we will enjoy what many people believe is the ultimate intimate experience: sexual love. Finding this is a lot more difficult than just finding sex because it can be experienced only in relationships where the lovers are very good friends. . . .

Friendship is based on sharing common interests, being able to say what’s on your mind without fear of rejection or criticism, planning and building a life together, and most of all looking forward to being with each other when there is nothing pressing to do. And a good friend supports the interests of a partner even when they are not shared. Someone you can talk with anytime about anything is the ultimate in marital friendship. There are too many married strangers.

Glasser goes on to describe how criticism kills sexual love:

More than anything else, hoping yoru partner will change or actively trying to change him or her desroys sexual love. that your dissatisfaction is justified makes no difference. You can be “right” and still kill your relationship. In practice, what this all adds up to is criticism. The criticism may be silent—a look, an inattention, a failure to do something—or it may be open and outspoken. but whatever it is, if your partner perceives it as criticism, your relationship is in trouble.

There is no such thing as constructive criticism. All criticism is destructive, and when it occurs in a relationship, it quickly kills sexual love. . . .

What I try to teach is how to express dissatisfaction without criticizing.

Glasser suggests framing one’s own dissatisfaction in such a way as to put the onus of change on you, not your partner. He says:

This is not criticism because it is not demanding that the other do anything different. It is saying hekllp me to do something better than what I am doing now. . . .

It also says clearly that all problems are our problems; neither of us is perfect, but let’s try to help each other work things out. IT also says what is so basic to control theory: All each of us can do is control our own behavior; I can’t control you and you can’t control me, and I don’t want to continue to waste time trying.

Not surprisingly, the application of control theory is one of two pivotal points in ST. The other pivotal point is that individuals in successful relationships manage to share a commonality in their outlook on the world. This is evidenced in two ways. First, Glasser distills everything down to five fundamental needs that each vary in strength. These needs are survival, love and belonging, power, freedom, and fun. The strength of these needs dictates our personality. Without going into detail, he suggests figuring out on a scale of 1-5 where you and your partner fall in strength on these five needs. From this personality profile, you should be able to discern the strengths and weaknesses in your relationship. It’s an interesting exercise, but I feel like his five categories aren’t exactly right. They approximate our needs, but for example, the need for power and freedom seem to overlap in my mind.

Personality is too complex to be summed up in a five need system. Regardless, our personalities clearly dictate a lot of our compatibility with mates. To the extent we can recognize where we are incompatible and mitigate these differences rather than trying to change our partners, we can strengthen our relationships.

Second, Glasser discusses a concept on which he goes into considerably greater detail in Control Theory: this is the notion that we have certain “pictures in our head,” which combine to form our “Quality World.” Essentially, these “pictures” are things, experiences, activities that satisfy our ever-changing desires. To the extent that we share common pictures with our significant others, we increase our chance of marital success. Thus, successful marriages tend to have partners who actively share common pictures, compromise when one partner has a strong picture the other doesn’t, and creatively seek out new common pictures to share.

I’d also like to note that Glasser writes at length regarding the importance of fun and creativity in a marriage. No doubt the married couple that laughs and plays together will end up staying together.

Finally, I want to include one more quote from the book as it almost sums up the importance of not controlling your partner in your marriage:

Of all tasks we attempt in life, successfully managing another person or other people is the most difficult. In marriage, it should not be attempted at all—it is a marriage killer.

On a more general note, and this pervades Glasser’s school of thought, control theory is not about controlling others. It is about controlling yourself and how you behave in the world.

So in sum, I ask myself: how can I better act to improve my relationships by changing the only thing I have control over — my behavior.

Below are all William Glasser books that I have read to date:

  • Control Theory — the most comprehensive and useful of Glasser’s books that I have read, this one covers the basics of control theory (also known as choice theory and reality therapy).
  • Positive Addiction — a more niche focus on acheiving meditation and creative reorganization via pursuit of positive addictions.
  • Staying Together — focuses on applying control theory, the ideas of “pictures in your head” and quality worlds, and matching up basic needs (or accounting for differences in these needs) in relationships.

MensHealth covers Erwan Le Corre’s MovNat

http://www.menshealth.com…1eac____&page=0

For all things Erwan Le Corre, MovNat, Methode Naturelle, Georges Hebert that I’ve been tracking, be sure to see this Link Repository

Richard first introduced me to MovNat in his post titled We live in a Zoo. Here’s the MovNat website. And be sure to watch the video here: YouTube – click “HD.”

What is MovNat? From the website:

We live in a zoo.

The “zoo” is a modern, global and growing phenomenon generated by the powerful combination of social conventions, technological environment and commercial pressures. Increasingly disconnected from the natural world and their true nature, zoo humans are suffering physically, mentally and spiritually.

Are you experiencing chronic pains, are you overweight, do you often feel depressed or do you suffer from frequent illnesses and general lack of vitality?

These symptoms indicate that you are experiencing the zoo human syndrome. Modern society conditions us to think that this is normal and unavoidable.

We don’t think so. Our true nature is to be strong, healthy, happy and free.

Beyond all of that source material, there is a great article on Erwan Le Corre’s MovNat in MensHealth (H/T again to Richard). It is well worth the read — follow the link above and click on the print icon to get it all on one page.

Some quotes:

“I meet men all the time who can bench 400 pounds but can’t climb up through a window to pull someone from a burning building,” Le Corre says. “I know guys who can run marathons but can’t sprint to anyone’s rescue unless they put their shoes on first. Lots of swimmers do laps every day but can’t dive deep enough to save a friend, or know how to carry him over rocks and out of the surf.” . . .

“Being fit isn’t about being able to lift a steel bar or finish an Ironman,” Le Corre says, watching with satisfaction as Zuqueto finally makes it onto the pole and pumps a fist in the air like he’s won his third world championship. “It’s about rediscovering our biological nature and releasing the wild human animal inside.” . . .

Hebert [A French Navyman who created the predecessor to MovNat, Methode Naturelle] was celebrated as a hero, but he couldn’t help focusing on all of those who’d been lost. When he returned home to France, he looked around and was dismayed to see how many of his country-people reminded him of the victims he’d watched die in Saint-Pierre. How many of these Parisians, he wondered, would be able to carry a child on their backs? Or trust themselves to leap over a 3-foot gap? Or take an elbow to the face but manage to keep their balance and continue running for their lives?

The modern world, Hebert believed, was producing hollow men who focused on appearance and forgot about function. At the same time, they stopped exercising with the wildness of kids and instead insulated themselves from risk. The cost, he felt, was far more destructive than they might think. . . .

“This guy is really onto something,” says Lee Saxby, P.T., a London-based physical therapist and the technical director of Wildfitness, an exercise program built around an evolutionary model of human performance. For years, Saxby had been teaching his clients that the key to overall health is a workout system that mimics the diversity of a hunter-gatherer lifestyle. When Saxby stumbled across a YouTube video of Le Corre (MensHealth.com/LeCorre), he’d found Exhibit A in the flesh.

“What impresses me most about that video is Le Corre’s athleticism,” Saxby says. “It drives me crazy that men think being in shape means being big. But the best athletes don’t look like bodybuilders. They’re lean and quick and mobile. Le Corre demonstrates real functional fitness — the opposite of what they teach you in the gym.” . . .

You won’t have a spotter to ease the bar off your chest, no volunteer handing you water at the 20-mile mark. A group dynamic may be our natural impulse, but in a pinch, count on being alone. The only thing you can rely on is the ingenuity programmed into your system by 2 million years of hope and fear. . . .

“Ah, you learned my secret!” Le Corre calls from down below. “The best secret of all — your body always has another trick up its sleeve.”

Related Link on Human Nature and our Hunter-Gatherer, Non-Specialist Evolutionary Roots

The Money quote on Gold from Chris Wyke

http://themessthatgreensp…gold-price.html

Tim at TheMess has a fantastic quote from Christopher Wyke which, in only a few sentences, pretty much sums up the strength of gold as an asset class (I am unabashedly long gold, and this is not to be considered investment advice!).

Here’s Wyke:

Wyke: I think people have been investing in gold as a safe haven, as an alternative to stocks. But what’s really impressive is that the gold price is up by about 25 percent in the last four months at a time when the dollar’s been strong and no one’s been worried about inflation. I think, when that turns around, when the inflation concerns arise again, and if the dollar is to fall again, then gold could move very sharply ahead.

Warren “The Oracle” Buffett and the War on the Economy

Warren Buffett a.k.a. “The Oracle of Omaha” was interviewed by CNBC yesterday via Becky (Not-so) Quick and Joe Kernan. The interview was apparently three hours long; however, I’ve only watched and quoted about 25 minutes of Buffett via the first two online videos on CNBC.com, listed below:

I have compiled some Buffett quotes from the first two videos and additionally will cite “Oracle” quotes compiled by John Hempton of Bronte Capital, as John’s quotes are clearly from one of the other six videos I have not seen. For a deep-dive into all things Buffett, CNBC has a full transcript of the interview from yesterday as well as all other previous interviews with Buffett. I’m not sure it’s a wealth of information, but it sure is a lot. Find CNBC’s Buffett Archive here.

A great deal of deference is given to Warren Buffett. After all, he managed to eek out steady, 20% plus returns via Berkshire Hathaway for decades. He has won over pundits, believers in efficient markets, and investors worldwide with his folksy charm. You don’t get a moniker like “The Oracle” for nothing!

Full disclosure, I am a former stockholder of Berkshire: I owned a paltry single B class share of Berkshire from 2003 to August 2007 and made a little off of it in the sale. I also use GEICO and have recently become a Wells Fargo customer (via the shell that was Wachovia). Further still, I was a bit of a Buffett junkie in year’s past. From a post on Warren Buffett over at autoDogmatic I made back in July of 2006:

He’s also a hero of mine. Ever since plowing through Roger Lowenstein’s Buffett: The Making of an American Capitalist and subsequently picking up The Essays of Warren Buffett: Lessons for Corporate America, only to go on to read Benjamin Graham’s The Intelligent Investor, I’ve recognized the Oracle of Omaha as an avatar for capitalism.

My take on Buffett has changed and changes still. Berkshire hasn’t been nearly as successful in the past decade: why is that? Has Buffett’s luck simply run out? I can’t help by reread a portion of my autoDogmatic post which included Buffett’s own analysis of his success — look at the bolded bit in the blockquote:

When Buffett announced that he would give his wealth to the Gates Foundation, he said the following:

We agreed with Andrew Carnegie, who said that huge fortunes that flow in large part from society should in large part be returned to society. In my case, the ability to allocate capital would have had little utility unless I lived in a rich, populous country in which enormous quantities of marketable securities were traded and were sometimes ridiculously mispriced. And fortunately for me, that describes the U.S. in the second half of the last century.

In light of what we have seen in recent years, is it not clear that bubbles have dominated the American economy over the past few decades? Commodities reached unprecedented highs in the 1970s. From there, we had a bubblicious double-decade secular equities bull market that began in the 80s and ended with the dotcom bust. Finally, our credit-based bubble economy blew what will likely go down in history as the greatest real estate bubble ever.

Buffett has assuredly been fantastically astute at picking up mispriced assets and he’s also a sort-of folksy philosopher regarding business; however, he also has been fantastically lucky. In the above quote, Buffett isn’t being merely honest, he’s being downright profound: his success was predicated on our finance-driven (“enormous quantities of marketable securities were traded”), bubbling (“ridiculously mispriced” assets) economic system!

Today, Buffett has been struggling to make use of the above one-two punch that served him so well. Even worse, he is starting to seem out of touch if not downright confused. Simply read a few of his quotes below. What should strike you most are his comparisons of our current situation to a war — even though the Obama Administration has yet to take a play from George W. Bush’s book (yet), Buffett has clearly decided that there is a “War on the Economy,” a war that must be won and we should all toe the line! Throughout his interview with Quick, Buffett analogizes the current credit crisis to Pearl Harbor. That’s evocative imagery that may stoke the flames of patriotism and may be appropriate in describing the direness of our current predicament; however, we are talking about banking and finance and not foreign invaders! Haven’t we seen the dangers and fundamental futility of waging a war on an intangible idea? For reference, just look at how things have turned out with the “War on Terror” or the “War on Drugs.”

Donald Ruffkin elaborates further on Buffett’s bizarre War analogy in his post Come on, Buffett! Here’s a quote from Ruffkin:

I noted then, as I will now, that it is disingenuous at best for Buffett to be calling this an “Economic Pearl Harbor”. (1) There is no external aggressor. (2) We are more like a drug addict or an alcoholic than a populus being attacked. (3) His metaphor implies we are not at fault – we just need to fight back against the force which is fighting us. In many, many ways this is not an appropriate metaphor. I understand that he is trying to convey a sense of urgency, and a need to put aside our differences to reach a good solution. But the gaping holes in the metaphor are so large that I am left with the impression that he is simply trying to scare us into following the prescription of Obama.

It would seem that not all out of the CNBC interview with “The Oracle” sounds as crazy as the war analogy. John Hempton of Bronte Capital’s transcript of a portion of the interview (the portion I did not watch) where Buffett discusses the toxic assets on bank balance sheets is worth discussing (See Hempton’s post here). For just a flavor of this discussion, here is Hempton:

[Buffett] says the problem of American banks are not overwhelmingly toxic assets. This is a radical view – but it is in my view correct. The problem with the banks is that nobody will trust them and they have not been able to raise funds. The view that this is a liquidity crisis – and not a solvency crisis – has long been a staple of the Bronte Capital blog. It is radical though. Krugman, Naked Capitalism and Felix Salmon think alike – asserting – seemingly without proof – that the problem is solvency. Buffett doesn’t even think the US banks (on average) require capital – a view that most people would find startling (though again I think is correct provided appropriate regulatory forbearance is given).

It is hard for me to be as sanguine about Buffett’s viewpoint as Hempton, and I question (as does Hempton via his post title!) whether channeling Buffett’s current prognostication is any indication of the insight or accuracy of one’s conclusions.

Quotes from Warren Buffett’s discussion with Becky Quick

Much, much more could be said about Buffett’s interview, but for the most part, many of the holes in Buffett’s remarks are so obvious that they need no discussion but I did emphasize comments worth further thought or questioning.

  • Well we went wrong originally because we had a belief that — everyone had the belief — I had it, the government had it mortgage lenders had it borrowers had it the media had it everybody thought house prices could go nothing but up and or at least they couldn’t go down a lot and once you had that belief and that was nationwide it didn’t make any difference what you lent on a house because if the guy couldn’t pay you’d sell it at a profit anyway or you wouldn’t lose much money. So you had 11 trillion of residential mortgage debt built upon this theory that who was borrowing and what their income was wasn’t that important b/c the house itself had to go up in price. And when that tumbled … a) it’s a huge amount out of people’s net worth and then secondarily all these instruments that were built upon it that people didn’t understand too well started toppling to various degrees in value and then that exposed other things … I mean it was like you know some kid was saying the emperor has no clothes and then after he says that on top of that the emperor has no underwear either!”
  • “If you’re in a war if we really are in an economic war if there is a obligation to the majority to behave in ways that don’t go around inflaming the minority . . . I think I think that the minority really does have an obligation to support things that are clearly designed to fight the war in a big way. . . . Job one is to win the economic war. . . . I would do no finger pointing whatsoever.
  • “We have a system, largely free market, rule of law, quality of opportunity that caused the potential of humans be unleashed . . . but the machine gets gummed up from time to time.”
  • “There was a paralysis of confidence in banks and which is silly now because of the FDIC. . . . If you don’t trust where you have your money the world stops. And they recognized that but it was a little belatedly and they didn’t put in deposit insurance until the start of 1934 with the Glass-Steagall act. We have a system that is far better organized to deal with that. The trouble is that a lot of people don’t believe in the system. . . . No one should be worrying about having their money in a bank in the United States.
  • Patriotic democrats and patriotic americans will realize this is a war; and if they didn’t realize it immediately, it’s not as dramatic as a physical war when the news comes over and you know you’re under attack; but it is virtually as serious and I think that once the degree of that seriousness becomes apparent to both parties overwhelmingly they will behave well.”
  • “We need clarity on the financial system.”
  • “The American banking system is too big to fail.”
  • “We have to deal with all large quasi-financial institutions as well as all of the banks and people can’t be worried about them and we can’t have a contagion like we almost had in September. The world almost came to a stop in September . . . We need to get banks back to banking. . . . we should not be giving lectures to people. . . . [Money]’s cheap its abundant and the spreads are terrific.
  • [In retort to Quick’s comment about whether Wall Street should be profitable given their involvement in creating the crisis] “Well the shipowners made money in World War II. [and nobody was questioning them]”

Additional Transcript from John Hempton

BUFFETT: Yeah, the interesting thing is that the toxic assets [of American banks is] if they’re priced at market, are probably the best assets the banks has, because those toxic assets presently are being priced based on unleveraged buyers buying a fairly speculative asset. So the returns from this market value are probably better than almost anything else, assuming they’ve got a market-to-market value, you know, they have the best prospects for return going forward of anything the banks own. The problems of the banks are overwhelmingly not toxic assets, you know. They may have been one or two at the top banks, but they are not going to do in–if you take those 20 banks that are subject to the stresses, they’re not going to do those banks in. Those banks have the earning power which has never been better on new business going out of this to build capital positions if they pay low dividends which they’re starting to do now.

JOE: Hm.

BUFFETT: Toxic assets really are not the problem they were. Now, when I said it was contingent–I didn’t remember being exactly contingent on TARP, but it was contingent on the government jumping in.

JOE: Right.

BUFFETT: The government needed to act big time in September, I will tell you that.

JOE: So…

BUFFETT: And they did act big time.

JOE: So you are OK with the shift to providing the banks with capital as opposed to the original intention of the TARP for actually getting the toxic assets off the books?

BUFFETT: Yeah, and interestingly enough, they don’t need to supply the banks, in my view, with lots of capital. They need to let almost all of–I mean, the right prescription with most of the banks is just let them pay very little in the way of dividends and build up capital for awhile, and they will build up a lot of capital. The government has needed to say–what the government needs to say is nobody’s going to lose a dime by having their deposits in these banks. They’re going to make lots of money with the deposits.

JOE: Hm.

BUFFETT: The spreads have never been wider. This is a great time to be in banking, you know, if you just get past the past and they are getting past the past. I mean, right now every time a loan is made to somebody to buy a house–and we’re making, you know, making millions of loans–four and a half million houses will change hands this year out of a total stock of less than 80 million. So those people are making good mortgages. You want those assets on your books and you get a great spread in putting them on now. So it’s a great time to be in banking, but you do have to get past this past. But the toxic assets, in my view, you know, if they’ve been written down to market, I’d rather buy those assets from the bank than any other assets they’ve got.

JOE: Hm. OK…

Post-script — In all seriousness, I think it’s time Warren consider laying off the Cherry Cokes (See my post on Ketones and Alzheimer’s) as he may be showing initial signs of senility. That’s a scary thing to say, and I hope it is not true, but after watching these interviews, hearing such a nonsensical war analogy beaten to death, and hearing Buffett blame the crisis on a symptom rather than a cause (bolded quote below), I’m starting to wonder.

Project AminOwings: We’re expecting a girl!


Here Project AminOwings is demonstrating impressive fetal balance — managing an intra-uterine headstand!

Sonal and I found out this morning that Project AminOwings will be a girl. She’s due August 7, 2009. Needless to say, we are excited (and nervous). To date, we’ve thought of no names. Any suggestions may be considered. We don’t plan on deciding for sure until she is born. This is to ensure that the name fits the face — what’s a Beatrice look like, anyway?

And names that start with “B” are highly unlikely to be chosen as there is no reason to put a kid through having initials “B.O.” Though had it been a boy, Albert Owings would have been a serious contender.

“Making money is that easy . . . You make it yourself, with your friends, as you create value for another.”

http://hplusmagazine.com/…on/2009-spring/

An interesting, brief article in H+ magazine titled Hacking the Economy by Douglas Rushkoff speaks to times long gone — centuries ago when barter was the common means to transact locally and centralized currency was scarcely used at all. The author explains that the aristocracy effectively compromised this system by pushing centralized currency, which was “a way to extract value from the periphery and bring it back to the center.”

Whether things occurred as simply as Rushkoff describes is up for debate. Governments (via banks or perhaps its vice versa!) have long been incentivized to centralize the management of currency. Currencies throughout history have been based on gold and silver (as they are scarce, divisible, and uniform). However, via centralization’s corrupting influence (i.e. no checks and balances), the central monetary authority has always slowly but steadily debased the currency spurring inflation and leading to all sorts of unfortunate consequences — the most noteworthy of which is robbing the common man of his wealth.

In our modern days, we’ve gone completely to a credit-based society whereby all money is based on the assumed credit of the centralized authority. Dollars don’t represent gold or silver (though they once did). I won’t go into further detail on this here, but you should check out Rothbard’s What has Government Done to our Money? (Buy it off amazon or grab it free in pdf or audio off mises.org).

What I like about Rushkoff’s concise piece is how it makes two fundamental conclusions, both of which I happen to agree with:

  1. Centralization tends to result in perverse systems — i.e. our productive hours don’t lead to our own wealth. Money is made simply by moving electronic balances around. Finance replaces production in society (I.e. the United States’ FIRE economy).
  2. Money is easy to make. Money is merely efficient barter. No matter what happens to the general economy, the dollar, the yuan or yen or gold or silver, trade will continue on. You just better hope you have some assets to barter around, and if you don’t, you can always get creative and find things that you can trade.

Here’s a summary snippet of Rushkoff’s article found on page 37 / 38 of the online magazine. The rest of the magazine looks fascinating and I only wish I had the time to skim all its pages!

The economy we live in is a rigged game, established around the time of the Renaissance in order to promote the welfare of earlychartered corporations and the monarchs who gave them license to monopolize world business. Until that time, there were many kinds of money in use simultaneously. People used centralized currency to conduct long-distance transactions, and local currency to transact on a more day-to-day basis. . . .

Like most innovations of the Colonial era, centralized currency is a way to extract value from the periphery and bring it back to the center. . . .

A majority of the money earned under our current currency system is earned by people who don’t actually do anything. As such, all this speculation is a drag on the system. Speculators just bet on various companies’ ability to pay back what they have borrowed. . . .

The way out — as I see it — is to begin making our own money again. I’m not talking barter, but local currency. Money is just an agreement. And the more a community trusts one another, the more effi ciently the moneys they develop can function. We can create units of currency based on anything . . .

Thanks to the current economic meltdown, a restaurant in my town called Comfort has been unable to secure a loan from the bank to expand. Instead, John the owner has turned to us. We are buying “Comfort Dollars” at a rate of 1 US dollar for every $1.20 worth of restaurant food. So if I invest $1000, I get $1200 to spend at the restaurant. I get a 20% return on my investment, and — since he’s paying in food — he gets money a lot cheaper than he can borrow it through the bank.

Plus, I have a reason to promote his restaurant, invest in my town, and extend the good will. everybody wins.

Making money is that easy. You don’t get it from a corporation or a bank. You make it yourself, with your friends, as you create value for one another. This is the ultimate hack in a society addicted to the market: pretend it doesn’t even exist, and go about your business.

(H/T boingboing via Ritholtz)

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