Weekly Roundup 149: A Curated Linkfest For The Smartest People On The Web
Handpicked to satisfy your intellectual curiosity!
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Special Report: Occupy Wall St Section:
The “Last Place Aversion” Paradox: The surprising psychology of the Occupy Wall Street protests – via Mike Norton & Sciam – Support for redistribution, surprisingly enough, has plummeted during the recession. For years, the General Social Survey has asked individuals whether “government should reduce income differences between the rich and the poor.” Agreement with this statement dropped dramatically between 2008 and 2010, the two most recent years of data available. Other surveys have shown similar results.Our recent research suggests that, far from being surprised that many working-class individuals would oppose redistribution, we might actually expect their opposition to rise during times of turmoil – despite the fact that redistribution appears to be in their economic interest. Our work suggests that people exhibit a fundamental loathing for being near or in last place – what we call “last place aversion.” This fear can lead people near the bottom of the income distribution to oppose redistribution because it might allow people at the very bottom to catch up with them or even leapfrog past them.
Occupy Wall Street: Who are the 1%? – via Sociological Images– You’d be in the top 1 percent of U.S. households if your income in 2010 was at least $516,633. Your net worth in 2007 was $8,232,000 or more, and your average income this year is $1,530,773.
Do you blame inequality on bad luck or lack of effort? Depends on where you are from! – Via Biel, Sheremeta, Uler – We compare the determinants of individual giving between two countries, Spain and the US, which differ in their redistribution policies and their beliefs over the causes of poverty. By varying the information about the determinants of income, we find that, although overall giving is similar in both countries when subjects know the actual role of luck and effort, Spanish subjects give more when they are uninformed compared to American subjects. Using elicited beliefs, we find that this is due to Spanish subjects associating poverty with bad luck and Americans believing that low performers did not work hard enough.
“The Student Loan Racket” – The Complete Infographic– via Zero Hedge
Charts: Here’s What The Wall Street Protesters Are So Angry About… – via Business Insider
Growing Income Gap May Leave U.S. Vulnerable – via Bloomberg– Left unchecked, the decades-long trend toward increasing inequality may condemn Wall Street to a generation of unimpressive returns and even shake social stability, economists and financial-industry executives say.
Mark Cuban gives advice to Occupy Wall St– Blog Maverick -You see, in the real business world there is always a trade off between risk, reward and the law of unintended consequences. If we have learned anything from the past 12 years it should be that black swan events happen more frequently than we like and that the law of unintended consequences has a far greater negative impact than business as usual has a positive impact.
Having a job ain’t all it’s cracked up to be – via Bloomberg– The plight of America’s unemployed is terrible. Yet for the 91 percent of those in the U.S. labor force who do have a job, the numbers also tell a dark story. Take-home pay, adjusted for inflation, fell 0.3 percent in August, the third decrease in five months, the Commerce Dept. just reported. The declines followed news from the Census Bureau that median household income in 2010 fell to $49,445, the lowest in more than a decade, while the poverty rate jumped to 15.1 percent, a 17-year high. Salary and benefit growth “has been going nowhere,” says Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics (MCO) in West Chester, Pa. “One of the key reasons the recovery has stalled is that real incomes have fallen.”
Elizabeth Warren: The Woman Who Knew Too Much – via Vanity Fair– Millions of Americans hoped President Obama would nominate Elizabeth Warren to head the consumer financial watchdog agency she had created. Instead, she was pushed aside. As Warren kicks off her run for Scott Brown’s Senate seat in Massachusetts, Suzanna Andrews charts the Harvard professor’s emergence as a champion of the beleaguered middle class, and her fight against a powerful alliance of bankers, lobbyists, and politicians.
The economics of the Arab Spring – via Aljazerra– Besides repression, the cost of redistribution has also risen significantly in the face of changing demographic structure and growing food prices. Youth explosion has stretched existing welfare systems beyond capacity. A sharp rise in food prices has further escalated the cost of this social bargain even in countries that are richly endowed with natural resources. Arab governments are now spending a vast proportion of their budgets on providing subsidised food items – a policy that is likely to be even more fiscally unsustainable in the face of recent predictions about a long-term spike in food prices. Together with the region’s demographic changes, growing unemployment and media penetration, this provides for a combustible mix.
Too Big to Fail Not Fixed, Despite Dodd-Frank: Simon Johnson – via Bloomberg- Here we go again. Major shocks potentially threaten the solvency of some of the world’s largest financial institutions. Concerns grow over the ability of European leaders to shore up their banks, which are reeling from a sovereign-debt crisis. In the U.S., the shares of some large banks are trading at less than book value, while creditor confidence crumbles.
Video: Joseph Stiglitz and Lawrence Lessig at Occupy Wall Street – via Open Culture– The money quote from his appearance had less to do with economics per se and more with democracy: “We have too many regulations stopping democracy, and not enough regulations stopping Wall Street from misbehaving.” No bullhorns, are you serious?
We are the 99%! – via FalkenBlog– I feel pretty calibrated, in that I’m pretty aware of my many beliefs that are a distinct minority. It doesn’t bother me too much because I believe in meritocracy, which is inherently elitist. This not only is a minority view (at least in public), but it by definition considers ‘common’ to mean ‘crappy’ in most cases. As Aristotle noted, just because people are equal in some respects does not imply they are equal all respects; men are equally free, but not absolutely equal
Too Poor to be broke: poor families are much less likely to seek debt relief through bankruptcy because they often cannot afford to pay the necessary legal fees. – via Contexts.org- The authors claim that poor families are much less likely to seek debt relief through bankruptcy because they often cannot afford to pay the necessary legal fees. In addition, since the middle- and upper-class families are typically extended more credit than low income families, they are also more likely to use debt (say, by using a credit card) when faced with exorbitant medical bills, loss of income through unemployment, or the loss of a spouse. These findings illustrate how bankruptcy laws are yet another way class inequalities are reproduced in contemporary American society. Since most poor families are unable to afford bankruptcy, they are perpetually saddled with debt (plus accruing interest) that they have little hope of paying off.
An “Occupy Wall Street” Primer – via Century Foundation- As the Occupy Wall Street protest builds strength in lower Manhattan, inspiring offshoot movements to “occupy” Boston, Los Angeles, and numerous other cities, the mainstream media are finally beginning to address Americans’ growing discontent over income inequality, debt, corporate greed, and corruption—a conversation dominated until very recently by the Tea Party. Unfortunately, class privilege remains an uncomfortable topic in most media circles, and the hard facts about rising income inequality go largely unreported.
David Graeber: anthropologist, anarchist, financial analyst – via Neuroanthropology- According to Graeber, the crisis of 2008—the crash of financial markets and the bailout by the US and UK governments of major banks—revealed two key principles about the current economic system were myths: 1) that markets can take care of themselves, and 2) that debts are inviolable and have to be paid. Not only did deregulated markets get themselves in serious trouble, but, when push came to shove, the state stepped in to save key institutions by absolving them of their debts. In reality, the bailouts simply transferred the debts from private institutions to the state itself, in essence, nationalizing debt, a kind of reverse, negative form of socialism, where the populace owns, not the assets of the banks, but only their debts.
Occupation: From Wall Street to the university – via Fortune- In the weeks since Occupy Wall Street began, a clearer narrative is emerging. The protesters (mostly) aren’t asking that Goldman Sachs be tried for high crimes and misdemeanors or for the U.S. banking system to be dismantled. Instead, they are upset that the American Dream has become the province of the few, through little to no fault of the many. And Wall Street makes for an easy targe
John Cassidy: Wall Street Protests: Who Are the 99% and What Do They Want? – via New Yorker- But while we are playing this game, let me present my own pet theory. The most striking thing to me about Konczal’s list of popular words is the absence of terms such as “Wall Street,” “bonuses,” “bailouts” and “CEO pay.” None of them feature in the top twenty-five. This absence feeds my suspicion that Occupy Wall Street isn’t primarily an anti-Wall Street phenomenon. It is a generalized anti status-quo protest movement, for which Wall Street serves as the convenient focal point. If you accept this theory, it makes perfect sense that the protesters don’t have short and snappy set of demands. They aren’t sleeping under tarpaulins to support a financial-transactions tax, a return to Glass-Stegall, or a nationwide write-down in student loans, although some of them would support these proposals, to be sure. They are out there creating a ruckus because they think that things in this country are seriously out of whack, and have been for a number of years, with the politics and policies of both parties slanted scandalously towards the rich and powerful.
Is This Socialism on Wall St – via Psy Fi Blog – All governments and nations are built on the basis of a mixed economy, partly free-market and capitalist and partly managed and socialist. Different countries will manage this balance differently. It’s just odd that the American and British governments have chosen to implement a free market based version by providing government funds on a vast, socialist scale to bail out imprudent free market bankers without demanding very much in return. That, of course, is the real issue for the Occupy Wall Street protesters. In the main they’re neither un-American nor socialist, they just feel that something is wrong about the current system. Rightly or wrongly this is inevitable when governments are in thrall to one lobby group above all others, because people will no longer trust the justifications presented when their own self-interest is at stake. Which is a shame because, when all is said and done, capitalism is still the best economic system we’ve yet managed to create.
Most Interesting Reads:
Taleb & Goldstein: The Problem is Beyond Psychology: The Real World is More Random than Regression Analyses – via SSRN– Where the problem is not expert underestimation of randomness, but more: the tools themselves used in regression analyses and similar methods underestimate fat tails, hence the randomness in the data. We should avoid imparting psychological explanations to errors in the use of statistical methods.
The True Cost of Commuting – via Mr Money Mustache– Because these two full-time professional workers currently happen to live and work in “Broomfield”, a city that is about 19 miles and 40 minutes of mixed high-traffic driving away from here. They brushed off the potential commute, saying “Oh, 40 minutes, that’s not too bad.” Yes, actually it IS too bad! … But this misconception about what is a reasonable commute is probably the biggest thing that is keeping most people in the US and Canada poor.After 10 years, multiplied across two cars since they have different work schedules, this decision would cost them about $125,000 in wealth (if they had for example chosen to put the $19/day into extra payments on their mortgage), and 1.3 working years worth of time, EACH, spent risking their lives daily behind the wheel.
Farmland Is Pricey& The Fed is Worried – via Business Week– Farmland prices were 30 percent higher in Nebraska in the second quarter than a year ago, according to a survey by the Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank, driven by elevated crop prices, soaring farm income, and record-low interest rates. That’s the high end of increases in cropland valuations of 8 percent and more in the region stretching from Oklahoma to North Dakota and from Nebraska to Michigan. Last March these increases prompted Yale University economist Robert J. Shiller to call farmland his “dark-horse bubble candidate for the next decade.” Shiller’s warning has the Federal Reserve on guard, based on interviews with Fed regulators, economists, and policymakers. His prediction of a housing bubble in a 2005 edition of his book Irrational Exuberance proved prescient. Regulators missed the risks in residential and commercial real estate that led to the subprime crisis. So examiners at regional Federal Reserve banks and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. are scrutinizing the lending standards, loan documentation, and risk management at the country’s 2,144 agriculture banks. Regulators have highlighted the risks in a series of sessions. The Farm Credit Administration hosted a roundtable in February. The FDIC sponsored a “Don’t Bet the Farm” symposium in March. In July the Kansas City Fed organized a conference on “Recognizing Risk in Global Agriculture.” That conference included officials from the FDIC, the Agriculture Dept., Farmer Mac (AGM) (which functions like Freddie Mac) (FMCC), the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the Farm Credit Administration, the Federal Reserve banks of Minneapolis, Chicago, and Dallas, and the Fed’s Board of Governors. The group considered questions such as what would happen if crop prices fell by half, if government subsidies for agriculture or ethanol disappeared, or if land prices tumbled by 30 percent or more.
E. O. Wilson’s Theory of Everything – via The Atlantic– If one had to give E. O. Wilson a single label, evolutionary biologist would be as good as any. Sociobiologist, lifelong naturalist, prolific author, committed educator, and high-profile public intellectual might all also serve. But amidst his astonishing range and volume of intellectual output, Wilson’s reputation, and most of his big ideas, have been founded primarily on his study of ants, most famously his discoveries involving ant communication and the social organization of ant communities. As I caught up with him, intending to introduce myself, he stooped down low toward the garden’s dirt path to pick one up, pronouncing its scientific name with the raw delight of a boy hobbyist, and exclaiming, “I think I’ll keep that one. Let me go get a vial and some alcohol to put it in.”
Video: How to spot a liar – via Ted.com- On any given day we’re lied to from 10 to 200 times, and the clues to detect those lie can be subtle and counter-intuitive. Pamela Meyer, author of Liespotting, shows the manners and “hotspots” used by those trained to recognize deception — and she argues honesty is a value worth preserving.
Envy May Bear Fruit, but It Also Has an Aftertaste – via NYT- Compared with the control group, the students who’d just finished describing their past envy spent more time studying the interviews and were better at recalling details about these two people. Merely reliving their envy of past rivals apparently caused them to pay more attention to current peers, even though there was nothing obviously threatening about these two people.
The book-cooking index & benfords law – via Economist- Today’s hottest economics blogpost is a fascinating piece of analysis by Jialan Wang, built around the statistical regularity known as Benford’s law. Named for physicist Frank Benford, the law notes that within sets of numbers that span orders of magnitude, the distribution of first digits is strikingly regular: numbers beginning in 1 occur about 30% of the time, those beginning in 2 about 18% of the time, falling to roughly 5% of the time for the number 9. The law shows up across a wide range of number sets—economic datapoints like prices, natural ones like the height of mountains or length of rivers, physical addresses—and persists across units of measurement.
Video: What Is the Internet Doing to our Brains? – via Fora.tv- Dr Paul Howard Jones assesses whether the latest scientific findings support popular fears about what technology is doing to us.
Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 Plan: The Return of Trickle-Down Economics – via The New Yorker– It doesn’t raise enough revenue. Without offsetting cuts in spending, it would send the budget deficit skyrocketing. It would be extremely regressive. Poor and middle-income people would pay higher taxes. Rich people would pay a lot less. Its impact on growth is debatable.
Black Like Me – via Smithsonian – John Howard Griffin had embarked on a journey unlike any other. Many black authors had written about the hardship of living in the Jim Crow South. A few white writers had argued for integration. But Griffin, a novelist of extraordinary empathy rooted in his Catholic faith, had devised a daring experiment. To comprehend the lives of black people, he had darkened his skin to become black. As the civil rights movement tested various forms of civil disobedience, Griffin began a human odyssey through the South, from New Orleans to Atlanta.
Decision Making/ Behavioral Economics/Psychology/ Risk/ Sciences:
Video: The Power of Conformity – via Openculture- One of the most popular scenarios in the long history of Alan Funt’s ingenious Candid Camera programs is “Face The Rear.” An elevator is rigged so that after an unsuspecting person enters, four Candid Camera staff enter, and one by one they all face the rear. The doors close and then reopen; now revealing that the passenger had conformed and is now also facing the rear. Doors close and reopen, and everyone is facing sideways, and then face the other way. We laugh that these people are manipulated like puppets on invisible strings, but this scenario makes us aware of the number of situations in which we mindlessly follow the dictates of group norms and situational forces.
When should you use stories to influence people? -via EJSP– Research has demonstrated that narratives can be effective in eliciting attitude change, especially when recipients become transported into the narrative. In three studies, we addressed whether some people are predisposed to be influenced by narratives and whether narrative and rhetorical appeals are differentially effective for different people. In Study 1, participants read an experimental or a control narrative, and completed measures of attitudes, need for affect (NFA), need for cognition (NFC), transportation, and transportability. The results revealed that NFA and NFC were positively correlated with transportation and transportability. In Study 2, participants read either a narrative appeal or a rhetorical appeal about cervical cancer and completed a measure of attitudes and the individual difference constructs. Study 3 was a replication of Study 2 using a different topic (organ donation). In both studies, the results revealed a consistent pattern of correlations among the individual difference measures. Further, we found that although the narrative and rhetorical appeals were judged to be of equal efficacy, the persuasiveness of the narrative appeal differed as function of individual differences in NFA and NFC. The implications for narrative persuasion are discussed.
Losses Induce Consistency in Risk Taking Even Without Loss Aversion – via Wiley- It is posited that because of the attentional effect of losses, individuals would show more behavioral consistency in risk-taking tasks with losses, even in the absence of loss aversion. In two studies, the consistency of risky choices across different experience-based tasks was evaluated for gain, loss, and mixed (gain loss) tasks. In both studies, losses facilitated the consistency across tasks: the correlation between risk-taking choices in different tasks increased when the tasks involved frequent losses. Study 2 also showed a positive effect of losses on temporal consistency. Losses increased the correlation between risk-taking levels across two sessions that were 45 days apart. Also in Study 2, losses induced consistency between experiential risk-taking choices and self-reported ratings of risky behavior. In both studies, the positive effect of losses on consistency was observed even when the average participant did not exhibit loss aversion. Taken together, the results indicate that losses increase the consistency of risk-taking behavior and suggest that this is due to the effect of losses on attention.
Do Maximizers Predict Better than Satisficers? – via JBDM- We examine the relationship between maximizing (i.e., seeking the best) versus satisficing (i.e., seeking the good enough) tendencies and forecasting ability in a real-world prediction task: forecasting the outcomes of the 2010 FIFA World Cup. In Studies 1 and 2, participants gave probabilistic forecasts for the outcomes of the tournament and completed a measure of maximizing tendencies. We found that although maximizers expected themselves to outperform others much more than satisficers, they actually forecasted more poorly. Hence, on net, they were more overconfident about their relative performance. Decompositional analyses of overall accuracy revealed that differences in forecasting abilities were primarily driven by maximizers’ tendency to give more noisy estimates. In Study 3, participants played a betting task where they could choose between safe and uncertain gambles linked to World Cup outcomes. Again, maximizers did more poorly and earned less, because of greater noise in their choice-based responses.
What Parkinson’s Teaches Us About the Brain – via NYT & Wei – Before Dr. Alberts’s work, there had been few comparable experiments in humans, primarily because no one had known how, ethically, to “force” people to exercise. Dr. Alberts solved that problem by placing volunteers with Parkinson’s on the back seat of a tandem, which had been modified to ensure that the back rider would have to actively pedal; he or she could not just passively let the pedals turn. First, though, he had each volunteer ride a solo stationary bicycle at his or her own pace. Most chose a pedaling cadence of around 60 revolutions per minute, an unstrenuous level of exertion.
Where is behavioral economics headed in the world of marketing? – via Nudge Blog– The Nudge blog sat down (electronically) with John Kenny, Senior Vice President of Strategic Planning in Draftfcb’s Chicago office, to explore whether behavioral economics is just a fad in marketing or a legitimate tool to help the industry perform better. Starting with the Institute of Decision Making, Draftfcb has been one of the leaders in thinking about how to incorporate the discipline of behavioral economics with the practice, and business, of modern advertising and marketing. Recently, Kenny has put together a set of video lessons that serve as a guide to using behavioral economics in their work. The interactive guide, called “Marketing to Crazy People,” can be found here.
Why Threats Lead to Social Identity Lead To Conflict – Situationist– In the study, Jia and his co-authors state that people typically identify with their social groups along different dimensions; importance, commitment, superiority and deference. “In the context of Ground Zero Mosque, Americans who are loyal to the country on the deference dimension are especially responsive to the threat manipulation,” says Jia who explains that Americans wanted to protect the Ground Zero area from any use that might be construed as disrespectful or inappropriate
Jason Zweig: Why We Can’t Let Go of Our Losers – via WSJ- That could be a mistake. Research published in 1998 by behavioral-finance professor Terrance Odean of the University of California, Berkeley, showed that individual investors are 50% more likely to sell a winning stock than a loser—even though, on average, the stocks these investors sell go on to outperform while those they hold onto underperform.
Rollover Risk and Credit Risk – via AFA- Our model shows that deterioration of debt market liquidity not only leads to an increase in liquidity premium of corporate bonds but also credit risk. The latter effect originates from firms’ debt rollover. When liquidity deterioration causes a firm to suffer losses in rolling over its maturing debt, equity holders bear the losses while maturing debt holders get paid in full. This conflict leads the firm to default at a higher fundamental threshold. Our model demonstrates an intricate interaction between liquidity premium and default premium and highlights the role of short-term debt in exacerbating rollover risk.
Art of Business & Science of Economics – via The Browser -The present easy conflation of business and economics is bad for both. Business economics transposes the strategic zero-sum orientation of business competition onto closed-system economic issues. That has little influence on academic economics, of course, but its seductive basis in common sense intuitions gives it a central role in how most people, and most politicians, understand the way the economy works. Business economics also too easily conflates success at the level of individual economic actors with the success of the whole system. Hence such self-serving arguments as ‘What’s good for Wall Street is good for America’ can be sincerely held, though that doesn’t make them any less wrong. The idealisations and simplifications of economic models are not intended as a description of the real world, but the authority of theory is so great and its claims so little scrutinised that perfectly sensible and virtuous business professionals have become convinced that homo economicus is a better description of business reality than their own experience and common sense tells them. As a result, the true and practical virtue of prudence has been sacrificed in favour of the convenient moral ‘duty’ of selfishness.
Understanding How Dilution Affects You at a Startup – via Mark Suster– Everybody knows that when you raise money at a startup your ownership percentage of the company goes down. The goal is to have the value of the startup go up by enough that you own a smaller percentage of a much larger business and therefore your total personal value goes up.
Economic Sociology or Economic Imperialism? The Case of Gary C. Becker – via MPRA– The paper is devoted to a critical analysis of a number of key theories by Gary S. Becker. It is commonly believed that his main accomplishment lies in the extension of the scope of an economic analysis to include numerous traditionally considered as non-economic phenomena. This extension, however, is only feasible at the expense of another extension – this time of the scope of the concepts used. This over-inclusiveness , in turn, makes his theories impossible to falsify, thus calling into question their scientific quality. In the process of considering particular Becker’s conceptions, i.e. human and social capital, the family, marriage and household and the polity a host of other specific drawbacks of Becker’s economic approach to social processes, often related to his ideological bias are indicated.
The Eclectic Mix:
What Happens When Nobody Is Better Off? Pareto Deterioration – via Freakonomics- Is this really a Pareto deterioration—a new economic phrase denoting a change in which at least one person is worse off, and nobody better off? And is the phrase Pareto deterioration the best name for this unusual phenomenon?
Paul Allen: Singularity isn’t near – via Paul Kedrosky- The foregoing points at a basic issue with how quickly a scientifically adequate account of human intelligence can be developed. We call this issue the complexity brake. As we go deeper and deeper in our understanding of natural systems, we typically find that we require more and more specialized knowledge to characterize them, and we are forced to continuously expand our scientific theories in more and more complex ways. Understanding the detailed mechanisms of human cognition is a task that is subject to this complexity brake. Just think about what is required to thoroughly understand the human brain at a micro level. The complexity of the brain is simply awesome. Every structure has been precisely shaped by millions of years of evolution to do a particular thing, whatever it might be. It is not like a computer, with billions of identical transistors in regular memory arrays that are controlled by a CPU with a few different elements. In the brain every individual structure and neural circuit has been individually refined by evolution and environmental factors. The closer we look at the brain, the greater the degree of neural variation we find. Understanding the neural structure of the human brain is getting harder as we learn more. Put another way, the more we learn, the more we realize there is to know, and the more we have to go back and revise our earlier understandings.
New Way to Gain a Clear View of the Brain – via NYT- A group of Japanese neuroscientists is trying to peer into the mind — literally. They have devised a way to turn the brain’s opaque gray matter into a glassy, see-through substance.
Lessons from Sherlock Holmes: Don’t Judge a Man by His Face – via SciAm– How do we perceive someone we’ve only just met? How do we judge him, assign him to some sort of category in our mind, explain to ourselves what he is and what he is likely to be?
Critical Thinker Explains Skepticism vs. Cynicism – via Miller McCune- Professional skeptic D.J. Grothe explores the difference between skepticism and cynicism and describes how fooling some of the people some of the time is a bad idea all of the time.
Visual Journalism & Infographics :
World financial crises visualised: how does Greece’s debt restructuring compare? – via Guardian– How bad is the Euro debt crisis compared to the worst financial upheavals in recent history? Greek visual experts igraphics.gr have taken the key data from a recent paper on the sovereign debt crisis to put everything in perspective
The booms and busts of stockmarkets in the 20th century – via Economist– A mathematically illiterate look at the ups and downs of stockmarkets in the 20th century suggests that gains made during the three great bull markets vastly outweighed the losses made during the bear markets. That is not necessarily the case. It is impossible for returns to fall by more than 100%—the rather frequent drops of around 50% represent huge destructions of paper wealth. If this is gloomy thought to ponder while markets are closed over the weekend, you can cheer yourself up by reading our cheering briefing on asset markets.