Categories
linked down

“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)

Categories
linked down

Managers as servants

http://www.kottke.org/09/02/managers-as-servants

Another Google Reader shared item from Patri that relates to group behavior (and the work environment), a discussion of “non-hierarchical management in the workplace:”

Instead of the standard “org chart” with a CEO at the top and employees growing down like roots, turn the whole thing upside down. Employees are at the top — they’re the ones who actually get stuff done — and managers are underneath them, helping them to be more effective. (The CEO, who really does nothing, is of course at the bottom.)

Swartz also quotes a friend who believes that people who act like jerks in the workplace are not worth the trouble.

I have a “no asshole rule” which is really simple: I really don’t want to work with assholes. So if you’re an asshole and you work on my team, I’m going to fire you.

I have worked with (and near) several assholes in my time and I’m convinced that firing one unpleasant person, even if they perform a vital function, is equivalent to hiring two great employees.

This hits on two points. One reminds me of how leaders, as central decision-making nodes in a system, tend to have considerably less “freedom” than many think. They work within a delicate eco-system of employees/followers, resource/time constraints, personal and system goals, etc. Thus even as it appears the manager may do very little “work,” he/she is spending a great deal of time balancing a slew of complex demands.

Enter in this great advice I read last night from William Glasser in Control Theory regarding child-rearing (Chapter 18, Control Theory and Raising Children):

Try as hard as possible to teach, show, and help your children to gain effective control of their lives.

Apply that concept to managing employees (or team members). You want to empower your employees to have more control. You do this by teaching them how to substitute their own good judgment for yours. This makes the hierarchical system less centralized and more robust. The worst managers I have seen strip control from employees. It’s not that any manager should just tell their employees to go buck wild and do what they want, rather they should mentor and teach them which will give them greater control, and more freedom to you, the manager to spend time considering more important decisions.

Which brings me back to all the talk about regulation and centralization (and how I think decentralization makes more sense).

Less related is the comment on “assholes;” moving fast and eliminating bad apples from your group is a good way to improve the odds of success. I know that has been the case in my own experience.

Categories
linked down

Paul Volcker: “Not an Ordinary Recession”

http://www.ritholtz.com/blog/2009/02/paul-volcker/

Paul Volcker recently gave a speech that has gotten a lot of replay action on the blogosphere. I believe most are saying that Volcker is calling for a return to “narrow banking” (see Jesse).

A lot of people listen to Volcker as he led the charge at the Fed over taming inflation back in the late 70s and early 80s. I wonder more if he wasn’t just at the right place at the right time, doing what had to be done — raising rates. I’m convinced that most people give entirely too much credit both on blame and accolades. Don’t get me wrong, the Fed has enormous power, but my estimation is that they are almost always messing things up. The Fed is reactionary always and almost always reacts too far.

Therein lies the problem. The Fed fails at regulating. Hardly surprising, really. Is it not a joke to pay lip service to free markets, which are incredibly dynamic decentralized systems, and then use a central body to regulate the blood of the system, money? It’s a sad joke.

I could go on, but I’ll hold off. There are two pieces of Volcker’s recent speech I want to quote and comment on briefly. First:

One of the saddest days of my life was when my grandson – and he’s a particularly brilliant grandson – went to college. He was good at mathematics. And after he had been at college for a year or two I asked him what he wanted to do when he grew up. He said, “I want to be a financial engineer.” My heart sank. Why was he going to waste his life on this profession?

A year or so ago, my daughter had seen something in the paper, some disparaging remarks I had made about financial engineering. She sent it to my grandson, who normally didn’t communicate with me very much. He sent me an email, “Grandpa, don’t blame it on us! We were just following the orders we were getting from our bosses.” The only thing I could do was send him back an email, “I will not accept the Nuremberg excuse.”

There was so much opaqueness, so many complications and misunderstandings involved in very complex financial engineering by people who, in my opinion, did not know financial markets. They knew mathematics. They thought financial markets obeyed mathematical laws. They have found out differently now. You know, they all said these events only happen once every hundred years. But we have “once every hundred years” events happening every year or two, which tells me something is the matter with the analysis.

So I think we have a problem which is not an ordinary business cycle problem. It is much more difficult to get out of and it has shaken the foundations of our financial institutions. The system is broken.

The system is broken. The system was too opaque. Finance is incredibly complex. It is here where I actually started wondering if Volcker “gets it” as far as understanding that our system is far from robust as centrally controlled and designed. As it is, Nassim Taleb is the only person I’ve seen who seems to glimpse the complexity of the financial system. However, I’ve seen even Taleb defer in theory to people “who saw this coming,” like Nouriel Roubini, for potential ways to “fix” the system.

Volcker’s comment about his grandson also hits home with me as I went into finance/accounting. When everyone you know is running into a field, that may be cause to rethink your choice of education (Everyone I knew in college was getting into Real Estate — this was back in 2001). Then again, I still wish I had gone and pursued computer science, but the dotcom crash (2000) scared me away.

More from Volcker:

What do I mean by different? I think a primary characteristic of the system ought to be a strong, traditional, commercial banking-type system. Probably we ought to have some very large institutions – or at least that’s the way the market is going – whose primary purpose is a kind of fiduciary responsibility to service consumers, individuals, businesses and governments by providing outlets for their money and by providing credit. They ought to be the core of the credit and financial system. …

What has happened recently just underscores that. And I think we’re at the point where we can no longer fool ourselves by saying that is not the case. The government will support these institutions, which in turn implies a closer supervision and regulation of those institutions, a more effective regulation than we’ve had, at least in the United States, in the recent past. And that may involve a lot of different agencies and so forth. I won’t get into that.

So just as soon as I thought maybe Volcker “gets it,” he goes and says we should have a strong core (read: centralized) system of banking that is heavily regulated. He wants this core to be firewalled from entrepreneurial finance to eliminate conflicts of interest.

I’ll be brief. Regulation has failed. The Federal Reserve is a monstrous regulatory body that has repeatedly exemplified failure, and I’ve already mentioned its innate centralization. The SEC? Failure at every turn. More regulation? More centralization? How many examples do we need whereby larger organizations display a need for more regulation, and when more regulation is presented, said regulatory agency is either captured by the body it intends to regulate or is inept?

What we need are decentralized banking systems that are free enough and unencumbered enough to fix themselves or self-destruct without taking down the entire network.

The great centralization experiment has failed. Let’s move on (and follow the example of the internet, which exemplifies the power of decentralization).

Enough for now.

Update 2/24/09: Saw a youtube clip of Volcker’s speech. Wanted to get this quote down:

The description of a fat tail reflects a kind of analysis that isn’t appropriate. They think that financial markets follow normal distributions. pattern like the law of physics. The one remark I’ll leave with you: if you think the financial world follows a normal distribution pattern like the laws of physics. If you think that you’re a financial engineer but you’re not a very good financial analyst.

So he recognizes how inherently unpredictable financial markets are but then goes on to suggest that the Federal Reserve can fix imbalances that present themselves.

Cognitive dissonance.

[video:youtube:O3ROf8ln9rg]

@ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O3ROf8ln9rg