Since Amazon has deleted Amazon blogs as a feature on the book page, I’m reproducing some of my blog posts that I had the foresight to save. Unfortunately, I don’t think I saved all of them, but I’ll be trying to add whatever I can find, while also getting Amazon to check if they can find any archives or copies of the missing posts.
I made about 20-30 of them in 2008-09. Some are just republication of articles available elsewhere, but there’s also a lot of original material, some of it now showing up in other people’s writing
Amazon Blog: Government of PR flacks, by PR flacks, for PR flacks
February 20, 2008 // No Comments »
Where you get your words from doesn’t matter. That was the verdict of pundits and newsmen last week on the charges of plagiarism flung back and forth between the candidates.
But. in a time when words are increasingly going astray, a man or woman who makes his living with them can’t afford to fool around. He’d better stick with the ones he picks. And they’d better be his.
Four years ago, the country went to war for words later proved false. Word provided by politicians, pundits and newsmen… who should have known better. Who had a duty to their words – to keep them honest, unadulterated, and organic.
Because we swallow what they tell us.
We live or die by their words.
When words don’t anchor themselves in reality, then they’re only slogans…memes. The stuff of PR. We are dying by PR in this country.
It’s a major theme of Mobs, Messiahs and Markets.
The slogans that drive the mob crazy and pollute the conversation in our country.
If the point of words is to get what you want, then you can pitch them anyway you want. That’s the bottom -line.
But bottom-line thinking isn’t really what a conversation among citizens is about.
That’s what corporations do.
If our country is a business – even a not-for-profit business – run to achieve a social goal, however noble, or meet a production quota, however magnificent, then it doesn’t really matter whether anyone plagiarizes. It doesn’t matter how words are treated. It only matters that they do what we want them to do and take us where we want to go.
But if your country is not a corporation but an association of individuals, then words have to mean something more than slogans to move your listeners this way or that. They have to be more than tools to get your way.
You have to treat them with respect, like the people who speak them With care.
Like fine cutlery at a dinner. You don’t bend them or break them and you don’t pinch them, even from friends.
Real words are an exploration of the changing truths of the heart. They express what we are. They take us to places we did not know existed and let us become what we never dreamed to be.
They make up a conversation between individuals.
Not a script crafted by PR flacks.
AMAZON BLOG POST
After a wild orgy of spending, rate-cutting, war-’n-waste, what’s the responsible thing to do?
Why, more of the same!
Here’s the bill text of HR. 5140, called The Recovery Rebates and Economic Stimulus for the American People Act of 2008.
Yep. Seems what the American people need is more stimulation…not less.
And to think all along, we’ve been laboring under the delusion that the population was already as overstimulated as a cage of parakeets. We thought they needed haldol, not simulation.
There was too much lending… too much spending… too many houses… too many mortgages… too much debt… too much speculation… too much war… too much waste… too much consumption… too many deals…too many Goldman Sachs bankers on the fed payroll… too many orange alerts…too much patting down at airports… too much fear-mongering…too many Trump mansions…too much celebrity blather…too many Brittany Spears court appearances…
But now we know better.
There weren’t enough.
As always, the devil is in the details.
Thus, CNN tells us that it was quite the love-fest down on the Potomac:
“House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, said, “The House gave a little, the Senate gave a little. I think that’s what the American people expect of us — to find some way to come together and deal with the problems the American people are facing.”
Indeed. Coming together for the good of the people. That’s how these things work.
“The package, which passed the Senate 81-16, will send rebate checks to 130 million Americans in amounts of $300 to $600 for people who have an income between $3,000 and $75,000, plus $300 per child. Couples earning up to $150,000 would get $1,200
So say we all come out of this with about 500-1000 bucks in our hands. Now, tell me again, what’s the level of debt in the country?
From the same article:
“The crushing weight of Americans’ debt load was underscored Thursday when the Federal Reserve reported Americans owed a record $943.5 billion in credit card debt at the end of December. Including loans other than mortgages and home equity lines of credit, Americans are shouldering a record $2.5 trillion in debt….”
Two point five trillion, dear friends — T, not B.
But it’s OK, say the experts, because the population is going to go and pay off its debt with this here tax-rebate-recovering-and-yet-stimulating-some-more package.
“The money will go into the hands of lenders rather than retailers,” said Mike Niemira, chief economist of the International Council of Shopping Centers.
In other words, the “people” whom our Congressmen are helping are the very people – the lenders – who got us into this mess in the first place.
“A survey found that about one in four Americans (26 percent) said they would spend their tax rebates. Nearly half (46 percent) said they plan to use the rebate to pay off debt and a quarter (28 percent) would save the money, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers and UBS Securities, which jointly commissioned the study of 1,005 households between January 31 and Sunday.”
UBS Securities conducts studies with shopping centers?
That’s right. Union Bank of Switzerland, UBS, if you didn’t know, is Europe’s second largest bank and despite its name, the world’s largest manager of private wealth funds. Private, as in, nothing whatsoever to do with “the people,” “der volk,” “national interest,” “homeland,””public good” and other spin put out by spin-meisters for the consumption of said public.
UBS, dear reader, is a “diversified global financial services company” headquartered in Basel and Zurich with a major US presence in Manhattan, so says wiki.
Not content with wiki, we of course supply you with further details from the bank’s own website
which tells us engagingly- if alarmingly – that it operates “everywhere — and next to you.”
You’re at the casino, losing your shirt…and UBS is…..doing you a service because it’s twisting the arm of the croupier to spot you a few grimy dollars so you can go back to losing money at his table and don’t have to stagger out and throw yourself under a passing trolley?
And then we learn that the chief deal- maker behind this financial roulette of gargantuan proportions is none other than Henry (Hank) Paulson, former chief of Goldman Sachs and current chief of US Gov. Inc.’s personal ATM machine, the Federal Reserve.
What this proves, says the government’s main money man, is that we need…..more government money men!
“Today’s meeting gave us the opportunity to discuss policy responses to these downside risks as well as the need to craft effective policy and regulatory responses that institute sounder frameworks better able to withstand risks and stresses,” said Hank, according to Bloomberg.com.
But back to that shopping center group that ran the study with UBS.
A google search takes us to its website, which tells us that the ICSC (International Council of Shopping Centers) is “the global trade association for the shopping center industry” and that “its 70,000 members in the U.S., Canada and more than 80 other countries include shopping center owners, developers, managers, marketing specialists, investors, lenders, retailers and other professionals as well as academics and public officials.’
That’s to say, ICSC is a big player on the international commercial real estate scene, not just an unbiased observer checking the pulse of the consumer.
You’d think that CNN might stop and mention that before quoting its studies like scripture.
A ‘regular’ member of ICSC “develops, owns or manages shopping centers” continues another page of the ICSC website, or “is a merchant located in a shopping center,” or – get this – “is engaged in business as a lending institution that provides equity, interim or permanent financing shopping centers from its own funds.”
At ICSC’s New York National Conference and Deal Making conference last year, December 4-6, at the Hilton New York Hotel & Towers, the speakers included Matt Fassler, retail analyst & managing director of Goldman Sachs, and the focus was on the trend in mixed-use development and public-private partnerships. Speaking on that topic were experts like Barry Dinerstein, deputy director of Housing, Economic Development and Infrastructure Planning of the City of New York.
The widely used ICSC-UBS US retail chain store sales index is a weekly publication of ICSC and UBS Securities, LLC, a unit of UBS. UBS Securities “is considered something of a barometer for the fortunes of foreign firms trying to build a presence in American investment banking,” according to this NY Times piece (February 8).
The piece describes the recent, unexpected resignation of UBS Securities’ Victor Cohn, co-chief of its investment banking division. Cohn’s departure followed on the heels of the dismissal last week of UBS Securities’ Government bond trading chief, J. Patrick Rothstein.
The exit of these two reinforces “longstanding doubts about the ability of foreign banks to break into the American investment banking market,” says the Times owlishly. Translation – this major European bank lost its derriere trading US financial markets – $14 billion in losses in the housing market, according to another NY Times piece ……..with more to come.
Would UBS have an interest in a US tax payer bail-out of its losses? We guess so.
Would it have any credible way to get it unless it managed to hoodwink the American public?
We think not.
Meanwhile, UBS has also turned to the foreign reserves held by tax payers elsewhere. It’s sold a 9% stake to the Government of Singapore Investment Corp. (a sovereign wealth fund of the Singapore government), following on the sale by Citigroup (C), the largest U.S. bank, of a 4.9% stake to the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, a sovereign fund owned by the government of the United Arab Emirates.
So when CNN quotes a study about all the nice things consumers plan to do with the tax rebates handed to them by Hank Paulson you’d think it would mention that it was quoting a study conducted by the trade association of the business (commercial real estate) in which both Paulson’s former firm, Goldman Sachs, and UBS are elbow-deep. And that’s the very business now reeking with the stench of loans gone bad (some analysts think bank losses in the housing market might be around $800 billion.)
And that the banks being bailed by the taxpayer are now – as a result of their own blunders – partly owned by foreign governments.
So much for the national interest and the public good.
Note also that the ICSC economist quoted in the CNN study above, the one describing just how consumers would spend their tax rebates, is the same Michael Niemira who noted on January 29 that the weekly ICSC-UBS index was showing a flat to negative reading of consumer sentiment.
Outside the circle of the “public good” this would normally be considered a major conflict of interest.
The banks make the diagnosis: consumer spending down. The banks suggest the remedy: more money. The banks grind up the medicine: a tax-rebate. The rebate goes via the consumer back to the banks.
Result: Gain for Paul (banks, debtors, and borrowers). Loss for Peter (tax-payers, savers, and creditors).
Lesson learned: Ever a borrower or a lender be in these United States of Debt and Delusion.
AMAZON BLOG POST
Posted in Economy, Globalization, Lila at The Daily Reckoning, Writing Edit |
Amazon Blog: Do-Gooding Do-Do
March 5, 2008 // 2 Comments »
“Those who now speak of decoupling used to talk of globalisation. This is oxymoronic, you can believe in one or the other but not both,” says analyst James Montier.
Montier thinks that the world is bound to go the way of the American economy – down. If you pumped for globalisation and global growth when the going was good, he says, you can’t now argue for decoupling. You can’t now say that the global economy doesn’t depend on what happens here. That would be cognitive dissonance.
Here, I’ll take the part of cognitive dissonance. It’s what makes the world go round.
Mobs, Messiahs, and Markets is chock-full of it.
Critics have called that a terrible thing…..or terrific, depending on where they stand,
But if our detractors rested their case against us only on this, they’d have a non-starter on their hands. Anyone who’s sniffed a grand theory up close knows better.
Because the real world is a jungle and logic cuts only a very narrow track in it; we’d be foolish to mistake our little wayward path for the woolly thickets our machete didn’t get to.
There is no logical structure that doesn’t rest on a blind spot….there is no sense that does not have a foundation that is nonsense. (That’s from a piece I did on Tom Friedman).
In fact, a bystander watching the way we mangle language could be pardoned for thinking it our original sin. He’d see that we’re fooled not just by our theories, but by words themselves. Their sense and their nonsense.
“Mobs” is a book about words.
On my part, it started from my critical work on language; from studying propaganda and from my popular writing on the subject .
In “Do Gooding Do-Do” and “Developmentally Disabled,“ two pieces used in the book (incorrectly attributed in several places), I took a look at some common words used about economics … and got into trouble with progressive and conservative friends.
What did I say that was so bad?
I said that “free market” language is used a lot to support what’s essentially managed trade. And that “social uplift” language is used the same way.
But how can you not take a position, asked the critics, a la Montier. Isn’t globalisation
A Very Good Thing? Or A Very Bad Thing?
Perhaps it’s neither…or both….
Perhaps it’s sometimes one thing..sometimes another.
Perhaps it’s just too complicated for slogans. Sometimes government regulations are the lesser evil. And sometimes the greater. Perhaps you can talk about globalisation….and also talk about decoupling. Perhaps, on most things with any complexity the best response is not the one the mob wants to hear – Yes or No.
The best response is – It Depends.
“It has tried to kill me,” he said. “But I will kill it.” And he did.
Should not this creature from Jekyll Island, for all its manifold crimes and sins against the republic, also be summarily put to death?”
Patrick Buchanan, “Should We Kill the Fed?”
It’s a defense of honesty.
That’s the commodity most in short supply today, not IQ. Words should be accurate,
and they should be even more accurate when they’re being hurled at someone, if only to make sure you hit them in the jugular. Otherwise, they boomerang…. or hit everyone around. And, what hurts everyone usually hurts the target hardly any. We should have learned that from our little skirmish with Osama.
We can do better by Mr. Krugman.
We need more honesty.
But we also need more morons.
Because, the way I see it, if Krugman is an intellectual heavy-weight, being a moron isn’t such a bad thing, after all.
Psychologically, being a moron would just mean you were somewhere between the ages of eight and twelve. Now, what you think of 8–12 year olds depends on whose they are, but the tantrums of the worst middle-school brat never did any damage that a mop and judicious paddling couldn’t take care of. But even Noah couldn’t get us out of the tidal wave of red ink flooding the planet today.
Likewise with IQ. Just 51–70 points would qualify you for “moronity” – one step above “imbecility” (IQ of 26–50) and two above “idiocy” (IQ of 0–25). But the village idiot….or even a village crammed to its gills with idiots…. could never have got us to this point. An idiot wouldn’t have been able to spell “mortgage derivative” let alone create a pile of them, package them, and Fedex them around the globe. That takes honest-to-goodness intelligence quotient of the most high-powered kind, a full 145 points or more.
You see, a moron with all his God-given simplicity picks up an apple and he touches the thing and he knows it in his moronic way for its red-shiny appleness. He has no other use for it but that. He sniffs it, he licks it, he takes a crunch out of it. If he saw a mortgage loan, he would want to do about the same. He might be slow with the numbers, he might want to paw through them first, but in the end he couldn’t have done much more than just take a bite out of your pocket…
(Or, if he were moron enough, out of his own.)
But your 24-carat, Triple A-rated, gilt-edged, blue-chip, too-big-headed-to-fail, Ivy League meddler will not leave a fruit alone without torturing it with much weightier schemes and devices, such as only old Beelzebub could’ve put the human race up to.
“Idle hands are the devil’s workshop,” they say. Well, put those idle hands on a PhD-wielding structured-finance-professing expert and you get an industrial revolution of devilishness. Your garden variety apple turns into an orchard of diagrams, quadratic equations, risk models, and algorithms all intended to prove only one thing – that homo bureaucratus in his Garden of Sweden can do better than Mother Nature, the Great Spirit, the hidden hand, common sense, Jahweh, or anyone less….
The right blames Fanny and Freddy for setting off the financial tsunami. Naomi Klein says it’s the Chicago boys and capitalism.
The left denounces private sector greed. The right, public sector do-gooding.
Overpaid CEO’s, overdrawn borrowers, underestimated risk. There’s enough blame to go around.
The only problem is that a half-baked understanding of a problem leads to half-baked remedies. And half-baked remedies are worse than no remedy at all.
Nationalization is the cry now. Nobel winner Paul Krugman at the New York Times says it’s as American as apple pie. I daresay that’s the first time Krugman ever appealed to tradition to sell anything.
Even Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke floated it recently, and then backed off when the market tanked in response. But by now we know that our rulers speak not just from both sides of their mouth, but out of both mouths of their two-faced tyranny…and from its derrière too. We can confidently predict that in the days ahead Republicans and Democrats, private and public sectors, will join the breadline for nationalization
Now, in a different country, in a different context, nationalization might make sense. But trotting out Sweden’s history as a model for the U.S. is disingenuous. Sweden is about one-twentieth the size of the US and it has around one-thirtieth of the population. It’s not an empire with a vast portion of its economy dependent on its defense department. And it’s also one of the least corrupt and peaceable countries in the world, by standard measures.
Knowing exactly how corrupt this system is, how deceptive, and how out of control, we would be fools to place our faith in nationalization in America. Or in any other panacea pushed by the state. None of them stands any chance of being anything more than a change of label, a PR face-lift. A jackass in a wig and stilettos can kick all it wants, it won’t turn into a chorus girl…………..
….Law-abiding socialism is better than crony capitalism and it’s infinitely better than a kleptocracy. But only a political simpleton would believe that a vast and corrupt empire of this sort is going to turn into an earnest cooperative of social democrats simply because the New York Times says so.
Ask yourself: With the government firmly in the pockets of giant businesses, whom would we trust to oversee a central bank?
And what would prevent it from becoming anything more than an instrument of private interest, with the power and the purse of the public added?
Supporting nationalization, Robert Teitelman at The Deal writes,
“Finally, the People can get control of the powerful forces of finance that have, in the past, fed only private moneyed interests.”
(“The Many Strands of the Nationalization Argument,” The Deal, February 3, 2009).
This is gobbledygook.
Every class and group has a different interest and none of them is in any position to take direct control of anything, least of all policies being hatched in half-light and shrouded language behind the scenes.
Lobbyists and activists have appointed themselves spokesmen for some (poor) people, whose approval they’re busy buying, and they’re enacting the policies of some other (rich) people who are financing them. The rest of it is smoke and mirrors meant to confuse anyone who might object to the robbery.
The rest of the “people” do not count. Listen to the language being used. Have you heard anyone suggesting returning money to savers (American and foreign) who were cheated out of the market return on their money for decades? Or to creditors (American and foreign) who’ve been stiffed by depreciating currencies for decades? None. Is anyone offering quantitative easing to people who pay their bills but have to endure higher rates and tougher requirements because of other people’s sins? Is anyone talking about workers who retrained themselves at their own expense? Is anyone bailing out healthy businesses whose stocks have been hammered mercilessly along with the toxic financial sector? Or supporting the pensioners whose Triple-A bonds turned out to be junk?
The “forces of finance” are going to serve the people instead of “private moneyed interests”?
Then what happened to the trillions created during the bubble years by the “forces of finance”? Even if all of it was froth, who skimmed the froth? What happened to the tax revenues on it? Or were there no taxes because the money was siphoned off? We know that ex-Nasdaq chief and high-society swindler Bernie Madoff took part in Primex, a digital auction platform intended to rival the New York exchange, and we know that he was joined by Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, Morgan Stanley, and Merrill Lynch. Primex seems to have been a front intended to legitimate “internalization” – which is the matching of customers’ buy-and-sell orders in house, rather than on the public exchange. It would have made a perfect cover for any of the participants who wanted to hide profits. Is that why it was conveniently set up in 1998 at the height of the stock market bubble and why it quietly disappeared in 2004, just before the shoes started dropping in advance of the current market crash?
The “forces of finance” on the side of “the people?
You might as well wait for Obi-Wan Kenobi.
The plain fact is that it’s only private moneyed interests that are getting the biggest helpings of government money. Especially private interests that have friends in high places, like Goldman Sachs and Citigroup.
Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner is the protégé of Robert Rubin, former chief of Citigroup and former US Treasury Secretary. Geithner’s close advisers include Goldman Sachs alum Gerald Corrigan and John Thain (ex-chief of the New York Stock Exchange), as well as Alan Greenspan (the leading architect of the policy of cheap money and derivatives) and Larry Summers (who is the head of Obama’s National Economic Council, as well as a former chief of the World Bank and former Treasury Secretary).
Both Summers and Rubin were deeply involved in the Clinton administration’s bail-out of Mexico and Russia during their currency crises. In practice, those were bail-outs of the bond-holders, among them, Goldman Sachs. In addition, Summers has taken Citigroup perks (including free rides on its corporate jet) and lobbied for the removal of caps on executive pay at firms which received stimulus money (among them, Citi). And he also defends the impeccable economic logic of dumping toxic wastes in low-wage under-populated regions like Africa.
That doesn’t sound like the record of someone likely to hand over power to the powerless. But it’s what you’d expect from finance capital in the seat of power.
First, it creates debt everywhere until the capital base of the economy is destroyed and production is in tatters. Banks become bankrupt, except for those that have government connections and can consolidate. The monopolies have nothing to restrain their anti-market behavior and push their own agendas in concert with the state. With no limit to cheap credit, the money supply swells. Workers can no longer keep up with inflation. The lopsided development of the state sector crushes savings and production in the remainder of the economy. Jobs dwindle.
To supplement them, the corporate-state creates make-work programs on the domestic front. When bad times and discontent persist, it looks abroad.
Then comes war.
That is where nationalization in a time of monopoly will take us.
Read the whole piece atLew Rockwell.
I can smell it. The nation’s preachers are out in full force. First, there was President Obama telling us we needed to have a great race healing. Now, Attorney-General Eric Holder comes out to tell us we’re still segregated. We work together, but then we live and play by ourselves in segregated groups. We’re all cowards when it comes to race, says Holder.
Holder might have had a point and so might Obama had they spoken at any other time…and in any other way. But frankly the only segregation that really matters now is the segregation of the political class and its clients from the rest of us. It doesn’t matter which neighborhood you live in, black, white, brown or parti-colored – they all spell b-r-o-k-e the same way.
Barack Obama is a likeable guy. Not for one minute do I believe that he’s doing anything but the best he can. He’s sincere.
That may just be the trouble. It seems to be the delusion of societies to think they lack precisely what they have too much of. C. S. Lewis said as much. Cultures awash with hedonism believe themselves puritanically repressed; societies long lost to any orthodoxy fear religious dogma; and now with race at the center of talk shows and college seminars, of gym etiquette and prison protocol, we’re told that more race-talk is what we need.
Do we really need to spend more time spewing what we think of each other like inbred cousins on a Jerry Springer show? Jerry used to be my vacuum time, so I actually know how those things ended – in a scrum of tattoos and ripped shirts, fake hair and flying cusses.
If that’s togetherness, a bit of segregation might be more civil.
And a bit of proportion might be more sensible.
We can call it segregation today, but I wonder what people segregated a century ago would think about that. Students clustered in groups of their own choosing are not terrified men and women fleeing dogs and police batons.
Actually, you don’t need to go back a century. You can find the same thing today in prisons, at non-violent demonstrations, wherever people are rounded up and snatched out of their houses. The victims are black, brown and white. And they’re not where they are because we don’t talk enough about race in this country. They’re there because we don’t talk enough about the state.
That’s from my latest piece at Lew Rockwell.
No better time than now, as the world enters what looks like a depression, to look back on the euphoria about globalization peddled by none other than Thomas Friedman. Empire never had so genial….or so fatuous…a defender as the portly pundit. Thumbing through my scrapbook of faded sketches of the clowns of yesteryear, what do I find but this valentine to everybody’s favorite NY Times columnist:
Flat is the metaphor that drives the world’s most talked about book on globalization, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman’s The World is Flat, which claims that information technology and the internet have connected the world so much that the Renaissance discovery by Columbus that the world is round has given way now to the postmodern discovery by Friedman that it is really flat.
And right there, you have your first inkling of the flat swill sloshing between the two covers of the book. Columbus never proved the world was round. It was well known by then among the educated classes of Europe. (See Jeffrey Burton Russell’s 1992 book, Inventing the Flat Earth: Columbus and Modern Historians, New York: Praeger, 1991). And it had been well-known for thousands of years earlier to many other cultures — the Greeks (Pythagorus, Aristotle, Eratosthenes, Ptolemy), a good part of Medieval Christianity (the Latin fathers and the Alexandrians among the Greek fathers of the church), Arabs (during the 9th century Caliphate of Mamun) and the Indians (the Aitereya Brahmana among the ancient Vedic Classics). But, affirming popular delusions has never yet hurt a writer’s popularity. And it’s taken Friedman straight to the top of the New York Times Best Sellers list.
Meanwhile, if you are wondering why a connected world should be flat and an unconnected one round, you won’t get an answer, except that Friedman has declared it so . . . although even by his own account his epiphany originally came to him worded rather differently. What the CEO of the Indian IT company Infosys, Nandan Nilakeni, actually told him in Bangalore one day was that the playing field had been leveled. Leave it to the Times sententious scribbler to turn a level field into a flat world, when what Nilakeni really means is a small world.
In fact, Friedman could well have called his entire opus “It’a a Small World (And I Know Everyone Worth Knowing In It),” for the whole book is nothing more than an album of fuzzy anecdotes over-seasoned with quotes from celebrity CEOs. It purports to testify as to how Bangalore, Bethesda and Beijing are now, as he puts it, connected at the hip and shoulder by silicon chips and fiber optic cables. If the book left it at that, you would have no quarrel with it. You might find the observation trite and belated by at least a decade, but you could forgive it and put down the girlish enthusiasm for bits and bytes to Friedman’s virginal life at the Times — where he is doubtless sheltered from anything remotely resembling reality.
But as anyone who has had the misfortune to puzzle their way through one of his columns knows, Friedman is never one to merely make trite observations. No, what raises the man’s work to legendary status is his uncanny ability — in fact his pure genius — at hammering metaphors into shapes so preposterous that whatever cogency they might have individually, dissolves after a time into sheer lunacy.
Take a look at The World is Flat if you doubt it.
On page 4, Friedman is reenacting Columbus in search of the Indies . . . today’s algorithms and transmission protocols, he says, are only yesterdays spices and pepper. On page 7, the spices have been tossed overboard Friedman’s Pinta. Nilekani’s revelation about the playing field now has the poor man staggering around in circles, muttering, “The world is flat, the world is flat, the world is flat . . . ” Then, on p. 8, he runs into a ghost from globalizations past, out of his earlier tome, The Lexus and the Olive Tree (1999). The mascot of the brave new world of computer connectedness, he declares, is a Lexus . . . but hold on, here comes page 10 — it is not merely a Lexus but a flattening Lexus. Or is it a shrinking Lexus? We are never quite sure. On p. 11, the global game goes from a size 3 to a size 2, like a super model with a thigh-master, but it turns out the numbers are not sizes at all anymore. They are versions of Windows . . . 1.0, 2.0, and now 3.0.
If your head is spinning by now, just take a few more sips of Friedman’s cocktail of cockamamie comparisons and it will come right off.
Your mere homo sapiens, for instance, might expect windows to come attached to a house or at the very least a wall, but homo surrealensis Friedman manages to have them opening out of collapsing walls. The fall of the Berlin Wall on 11/9 gives Friedman a metaphor he just cannot pass up, and he goes for it like a pit bull terrier for a chicken, mangling it into a sickening pulp.
But let the master speak for himself. He begins unobjectionably, if clumsily:
“The walls had fallen and the Windows had opened, making the world much flatter than it had ever been — but the age of seamless global communication had not dawned . . . . Some thought that Ronald Reagan brought down the wall by bankrupting the Soviet Union through an arms race; others thought IBM, Steve Jobs, and Bill Gates brought down the wall by empowering individuals to download the future. But a world away, in Muslim lands, many thought bin Laden and his comrades brought down the Soviet Empire and the wall with religious zeal, and millions of them were inspire to upload the past. In short while we were celebrating 11/9 the seeds of another memorable date — 9/11 — were being sown.”
So far so good. Even here, though, the chintzy fabric of Friedmanese unravels when you pick at it, revealing a heaving tangle of collapsing walls, free-floating Dali-esque windows and flattening-out globes. For one thing, Bin Laden’s quarrel with the United States goes back more than a decade before the fall of the Berlin Wall. And the plotters and executors of 9-11 might have been nostalgic for an Amerikaner-frei Middle East, but they seem to have been firmly anchored in the Americanized present. Many were engineering students and technical graduates, were regulars at night spots and enjoyed their liquor unislamically. And a final point: In 1989 at least, Bill Gates was thoroughly uninterested in the Net.
But wait, Friedman has only begun.
A mere 48 pages into the book, the flatteners have turned into convergers . . . the convergers have turned into platforms . . . and the platforms are on steroids and ubersteroids. And then the brave new digitized world morphs in front of our eyes . . . into a giant ice cream sundae. Friedman warns us that there is no future any more in “vanilla” software companies and that only the most cutting-edge ventures — those dripping in chocolate sauce, whipped cream and cherries — will survive. We are alerted to the reality today of “flatburgers” in Missouri and the possibility tomorrow of discounted sushi at Wal-Mart.
Once he catches it, the gastronomic metaphor breaks out like hives. And by Flattener number 6 — offshoring — we have left the Friedman deli altogether and are racing down the Serengeti checking out the dietary habits of lions and gazelles:
“Every morning in Africa a gazelle wakes up,” begins an African proverb quoted on the walls of an American-owned factory in Beijing that Friedman visits,
“It knows it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed
Every morning a lion wakes up.
It knows it must outrun the slowest gazelle or it will starve to death.
It doesn’t matter if you are a lion or a gazelle.
When the sun comes up, you better start running.”
And so, for 483 sophomoric pages, that’s just what Friedman does, lumbering clumsily through the thicket of globalization, hot on the spoor of a dozen mammoth companies foraging abroad, while he trails behind him the glistening thread of manifest destiny, like sludge from a giant snail.
The Y2K bug, high school math, the Mexican economy, chest x-rays, Belgian immigrants, Yasser Arafat, it doesn’t matter what, Friedman has an opinion on it — mostly hackneyed and mainly wrong, but it never prevents him from rushing in where the heavenly cherubim would be queasy to tread.
Ham-handed and flat-footed he may be, but he seems to know one thing:
In a flattening world, the flat-wrong pundit is king.
Ruminations on Thomas Friedman I-IV (Dissident Voice)
used in “Mobs, Messiahs and Markets,” posted here solo by courtesy of the copyright holders.
Copyrighted in 2006 by Lila Rajiva.
It’s no longer available online but can be accessed at the archives by subscribers.
November 24, 2007:
Stand aside as the herd thunders byBYLINE: Araminta Wordsworth, Financial Post
SECTION: FP WEEKEND; Pg. FW7
MOBS, MESSIAHS AND MARKETS: SURVIVING THE PUBLIC SPECTACLE IN FINANCE AND POLITICS
William Bonner and Lila Rajiva, John Wiley
It has been more than 25 years since gold hit the kind of highs we have been seeing recently and widows and orphans lined up round the block to get their hands on an ingot. Now, the yellow metal is building for another run-up and gold bugs, who’ve been holding on for just such a day, are saying, “I told you so.”
But canny investors with money burning a hole in their pockets are looking elsewhere — to ethanol stocks, say, or farmland in Argentina. Or, if they insist on having a piece of this action, gold mining stocks, even though Mark Twain described a gold mine as “a hole in the ground owned by a liar.”
Yet gold will still find buyers at these prices, though logic and commonsense should quickly show the foolhardiness of the “investment.”
Why does this happen again and again, with those least able to bear the losses throwing away their money?
William Bonner and Lila Rajiva provide the answers in this exhilarating — if somewhat depressing — book. Although their insights will often make readers laugh out loud, they will also find themselves wriggling uncomfortably at the manifold idiocies of human behaviour.
The authors’ hope is that some of their advice will stick, enabling us to stand aside as the herd thunders by — and prosper.
Which is tough, as they admit humans are engineered to want to be part of a group. We are more comfortable when “everybody else” seems to be thinking along the same lines, whether it is investors stampeding into a sure-fire money earner or mobs of 17th-century New Englanders being convinced that harmless old ladies who lived by themselves were witches. Or Americans believing the world is being made safe against terror by invading Iraq.
As the Japanese proverb notes, “The nail that sticks up gets hammered down.”
Take real estate. In the past decade, as housing prices have risen like a cake baking in the oven, pushing many properties into the unreal category, buyers have been encouraged to purchase ever-larger and more expensive houses, taking out equally large mortgages. The belief is that you can always sell a house for more than you paid for it.
But as the subprime mess south of the border is showing in spades, this is just not true. Although Canadians have been protected to a large extent by tougher lending rules here — insistence on a down-payment in almost all cases, for example — we should not imagine we are insulated from any aftershocks.
It is clearly a global concern. For the first time in several years, house prices in England have stopped their meteoric rise. Many British house owners will be vulnerable to any fall in value as they have been able to borrow 100% of the purchase price. Canadian banks are also among those caught up in the disaster, thanks to their purchase of mortgage-backed securities, sliced and diced portfolios of mortgages often of doubtful quality. Massive write downs are already the order of the day south of the border.
As historians, the authors also provide some valuable alternatives to accepted accounts of past events. Among many examples is the first invasion of Kabul in 1842. This is usually portrayed in British history books as a valiant expedition that ended in unforeseen tragedy. In their hands it becomes a study in bungling ineptitude, with the tragedy being all too easily predictable.
Government types are also high on the Bonner/Rajiya list of betes noires. These range from the usual suspects, such as Hitler and Mao, to less obvious targets like the World Bank and Alan Greenspan, the former Federal Reserve chairman. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman also attracts their ire for suggesting that U.S. gasoline consumption would be cut by giving the owners of hybrid vehicles free parking.
Read this book and laugh. But I guarantee it will also provide much food for thought.
said Nicola Horlick, the manager of Bramdean Alternatives, to the BBC. Horlick sank 9 percent of her fund into the Ponzi sch…er.. investment fund run by former Nadsaq ring-master and star of the latest financial flim-flam, Bernard Madoff. More here at AP.
Britain’s HSBC Holdings PLC, Royal Bank of Scotland Group PLC and Man Group PLC, Spain’s Grupo Santander SA, France‘s BNP Paribas and Japan’s Nomura Holdings have all reported taking hits from exposure to the fund. But there’s also a whole Rolodex of toney names that “ain’t saying nuttin'”:
Deutsche Bank AG
, Dresdner Bank AG and Commerzbank AG, Bank of America Corp., Citigroup Inc., PNC Financial Services Group Inc. and Merrill Lynch & Co., among them.That’s on the Wall Street front.
On Main Street, the rumble of thunder grows sharper and loud.
For the week ending December 6, initial jobless claims rose to the highest level since November 1982, as did the number of workers remaining unemployed and more jobs were cut in November than have been cut since 1974 – nearly 2 million so far this year.
Some people say the ‘R’ word is giving way to the ‘D’ word. Or words…
Adding up to — Depression..
We’re on record backing “In” rather than “De’ on the Flationary front.
But we’re willing to compromise. We’re willing to go Stag..
Meanwhile, what’s behind this wave of bad news (besides the revelation that Wall Street managers are (gasp!) sharks in suits)?
It’s the shock from the next bubble to pop after sub-prime: Alt-A and Option ARMs (adjustable rate mortgages). The unloading of that pile of manure is raising a stink….and it’s going to be doing that for some time. Not until December end, as Chairman Bernanke blithely suggested, or even until the end of 2009… or 2010.
But even longer.
Hold on, though, wasn’t all this supposed to have been already fixed by bailing-out the financial industry? Weren’t we supposed to have been throwing that trillion (oops, make that $8.5 trillion) to solve the problem?
After all, the total of all sub-prime mortgage debt in the US is only $1.3 trillion. And the total of all alt-A and subprime that’s in any way in trouble (as of August 2008) is just under another trillion. So you’d think throwing a sum more than four times that figure, a sum that is over 60% of US GDP, would have taken care of the problem by now.
But wait, don’t we also have credit card loans…. and student loans….. and auto loans….and commercial real estate.?
I have another “d’ for you:
(I notice that the trope on “D” has reappeared in certain other publications, not once but twice, since the publication of this piece….)
Mobs: A Citation in ‘USA Today’
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Should have posted this last month when it came out…
As Economy Dips, So Does Customers’ Generosity
Hair isn’t the only thing being trimmed at Head Bangers The Salon in Pendleton, Ind.
Customers searching for ways to fight high gas and food prices are doing some trimming of their own – in tips.
“Even the regulars are cutting back,” stylist Joanna Anderson said. “Usually they are apologetic and say they wish they could give more. But they just can’t right now.”
Many workers depend on tips for a substantial part of their income, and those hairdressers, bartenders, cab drivers and food servers have been among the first to be hit hard by the slowing economy, experts say.
Those workers are feeling a pinch because talk of a recession has consumers putting the brakes on extra expenses.
“It’s simply panic, and people cut back in anticipation of what may or may not come,” said financial commentator Lila Rajiva, co-author of “Mobs, Messiahs and Markets: Surviving the Public Spectacle in Finance and Politics.”
More at USA Today.
(c) 2008, USA TODAY International. Distributed by Tribune Media Services Internationa
Copyright, December 3, 2008, Lila Rajiva
All rights reserved.”When you get right down to it…it’s all about sex.”
That’s what we wrote in “Mobs, Messiahs and Markets” ( with Bill Bonner, Wiley, 2007).
Here, I take up the theme with renewed gusto, as the Great Credit Collapse collapses even further. The trade deficit, the destruction of the dollar, market mayhem…they’re all driven by our ‘lizard’ brains – by the ancient limbic system we inherit from the apes. Which is not the fancy tech brain we think with. We are creatures of instinct, not logic. Sex and status play a bigger role in our portfolios than we imagine. In fact, the mating game and the money world are twisted around each other like the nether limbs of tango dancers.
And now comes hard evidence of it in The Daily Telegraph. The masters of the universe are taking a second look at the mistresses. And they’re finding more than one kind of toxic asset in their households:
“Lawyers and financial advisers have reported a 50 per cent increase in the number of divorce inquiries since the financial markets collapsed in September….”
It seems that in the high-rolling world of hedge-fund managers and investment bankers, a drop in portfolio worth and spending cojones in the man signals a recession in connubial bliss in the female. Or, at least, a correction….in her eye-sight. No longer does she beam at her mate through rose-tinted glasses. Now she squints at him like a New York regulator at an interest-rate swap. The on-going chaos in our paper-money financial system has brought out not only the gold-bugs, but the gold-diggers.
Yes, dear reader, it looks like the limbic brain of many a well-stacked socialite has kicked in with the credit crisis. While her husband is downsizing, she is sizing him up. While he is cutting his expenses, she is cutting her losses. And moving on. Usually, up.
That confirms our own observation that the status of a male is entirely dependent on his ability to support a high-spending female. If he can afford her, the hard-wiring in his brain tells him, he has beaten the competition. If she can snag him, she senses, her off-spring will flourish.
It’s all about going forth and multiplying.
And our limbic system convinces us that to go forth and multiply in the manner to which we have become accustomed, we need to go forth and spend.
And so it is that we arrive at homo consumeris Americanus.
And thus, too, in the great debate between the ‘flations – inflation and deflation, we come down firmly on the ‘in’ side.
Prices may indeed deflate. But no Central Banker worth his salt is going to let himself stew in a deflationary pickle…. sans spending…. for very long.
No. He is going to turn on the liquidity. He is going to pour out the paper money. And with the printing press at his finger-tips, there is nothing to stop him. Out tumble the dollars. The more, the the better.
And why not? It’s what our genes demand.
It’s what everyone wants. That is the secret of the Central Bankers’ success.
They know that no one, but no one, wants honest money. We all want something for nothing. A little take, without give. Income without outgo. We want Saturday night living with Sunday morning consciences.
We all want to be deceived. Not just the G-men at the SEC.
Everyone wants a lift in their shoes, a breeze behind their backs.
Pump away and the hedge-fund manager’s portfolio perks up. His stock goes up. Up goes the price of his mansion. He can borrow more. He can buy more. His credit swells and his debts dwindle, as the gush of paper dilutes the value of his borrowing. His chin sticks out, his eyes regain their twinkle. He trades in his old Buick for a newer, sleeker model.
And then, he takes a look at his wife… and does the same.
It is the mating game. And he can afford it.
And here’s a piece on market manias from “Mobs”:
Of course, on second thought, that might be the perfect resume for the World Bank…..
(held under joint copyright with Bill Bonner but published solo here in response to publication of material in the book without proper attribution and prepublished solo before the term of the copyright)
Lila Rajiva is the co-author with Bill Bonner of “Mobs, Messiahs, and Markets,”
and the author of the ground-breaking study, “Abu Ghraib and the American Media,” (December, 2005). She blogs at The Mind-Body Politic (http://lilarajiva.com/lilrajiva.com). She can be reached at email@example.com.