Weekly Roundup 71: A Curated Linkfest For The Smartest People On The Web
I highly recommend scrolling to the bottom of this post and looking at our Infographics Section !!!!!
P.S. I spend 8 hours every Sunday putting this together…If you like this roundup kindly include a reference to SimoleonSense.com Thanks!
Joke Of The Week (Via Econnesur)
“‘Need’ now means wanting someone else’s money. ‘Greed’ means wanting to keep your own. ‘Compassion’ is when a politician arranges the transfer.”
Most Important Reads
NPR Tracks A Toxic Asset - via Planet Money- is committed to following the financial crisis to the bitter end. And what better way to do that than to own a piece of it. We bought one of those things that no one wanted, one of those things that almost brought down the global economy: our very own toxic asset. This one has more than 2,000 mortgages in it. We paid $1,000, with our own money, for our piece. It used to be worth more like $75,000. Click on the timeline and roll over the states to watch a disaster in progress.
Why You Need To Be Happy - via Deric Bownds – Everybody have fun. Elizabeth Kolbert writes a very accessible article (PDF here) having the title of this post in the March 22 issue of The New Yorker. The topic is happiness, how to measure it, and why we are so bad at knowing what will actually make us happy (the paradox of “the happy peasant and the miserable millionaire”). It covers the same territory as the Daniel Gilbert book “Stumbling on Happiness” that I abstracted in MindBlog several years ago (enter Gilbert in the search box in the left column to find those posts).
Our Thirsty World: A Free National Geographic Download - via Open Culture – A little belated something for World Water Day (yesterday): National Geographic has released a special issue that delves into the challenges facing our most essential natural resource. “Water: Our Thirsty World” will be soon available at newsstands everywhere. But, right now, you can now download a free interactive version that includes all of the print magazine content, plus lots of extra online goodies. The free download requires registration and is available only until April 2.
Trying to Tame the Unknowable - via NYT – THE economy is recovering, in baby steps, from the financial crisis and deep recession of 2008 and 2009. A big question still looms on the horizon: What can policy makers do to prevent this kind of thing from happening again?
How Much Can America Borrow - Via True Cost – From a fiscal stability standpoint, the US can manage a national debt up to around $20 Trillion – but paying those debts off will require huge spending cuts and tax increases.
It’s Official – America Now Enforces Capital Controls – via Zero Hedge – It couldn’t have happened to a nicer country. On March 18, with very little pomp and circumstance, president Obama passed the most recent stimulus act, the $17.5 billion Hiring Incentives to Restore Employment Act (H.R. 2487), brilliantly goalseeked by the administration’s millionaire cronies to abbreviate as HIRE. As it was merely the latest in an endless stream of acts destined to expand the government payroll to infinity, nobody cared about it, or actually read it. Because if anyone had read it, the act would have been known as the Capital Controls Act, as one of the lesser, but infinitely more important provisions on page 27, known as Offset Provisions – Subtitle A—Foreign Account Tax Compliance, institutes just that. In brief, the Provision requires that foreign banks not only withhold 30% of all outgoing capital flows (likely remitting the collection promptly back to the US Treasury) but also disclose the full details of non-exempt account-holders to the US and the IRS. And should this provision be deemed illegal by a given foreign nation’s domestic laws (think Switzerland), well the foreign financial institution is required to close the account. It’s the law. If you thought you could move your capital to the non-sequestration safety of non-US financial institutions, sorry you lose – the law now says so. Capital Controls are now here and are now fully enforced by the law.
Video: Introduction to Psychology 101 - via True Slant Online Schools
Video: World of forensic accounting unveils how companies are cheated out of millions – via FraudFiles – Brad Hicks at Fox6 did a bang-up job of showing the world the job of a forensic accountant: Millions of dollars are missing from a Milwaukee company, and an employee is charged with stealing a staggering sum of money. How deep the fraud goes is something investigators are still deciphering. FOX6 gives you a look at how they do it, and how they think one employee made off with millions.
Save Our Short-Sellers – via PsyFi Blogs – Whenever there’s some kind of major market crash and people start looking for handy scapegoats the usual line-up of suspects will include a preponderance of short-sellers, accused of unpatriotically selling stocks they don’t own in order to make windfall profits. It’s as though making a profit when everyone else is losing money suddenly becomes wrong. When times are tough it seems everyone’s a bleeding heart socialist.
Miguel’s Weekly Favorites
Video: Benoit Mandelbrot – Math That Makes You Stop and Stare- via Big Think – When Benoit Mandelbrot first began the work that led to the birth of fractal geometry, there was “an explosion of interest” from his colleagues. “Everybody in mathematics had given up for 100 years or 200 years the idea that you could…from looking at pictures, find new ideas. That was the case long ago in the Middle Ages, in the Renaissance, in later periods, but by then mathematicians had become very abstract.” By contrast, the complex mathematical shapes called fractals were not only available to the senses, they were downright beautiful.
Heading Off the Next Financial Crisis - via NYMag – A public good is something that the free market tends not to provide on its own, to the detriment of society. Pollution laws and police departments are classic examples. In the case of finance — and of the crisis of the past two years — this missing good has been strong regulation. A weak system of regulation allowed Wall Street firms to take on enormous debt. Those debts let the firms make more and riskier investments than they otherwise could have, lifting their profits. But when the value of the investments began falling, the firms had little margin for error. They were like home buyers who made a tiny down payment and soon found themselves underwater.
Physics: What Is Time?- via Long Now- We remember the past but we don’t remember the future. There are irreversible processes. There are things that happen, like you turn an egg into an omelet, but you can’t turn an omelet into an egg.
Feeling Powerful Leads to More Optimistic and Less Accurate Time Predictions - via Science Daily – Power leads to greater errors in forecasts, according to new research led by social psychologist Dr Mario Weick at the University of Kent.
Study shows compulsive eating shares addictive biochemical mechanism with cocaine, heroin abuse - via Eureka Alert – In a newly published study, scientists from The Scripps Research Institute have shown for the first time that the same molecular mechanisms that drive people into drug addiction are behind the compulsion to overeat, pushing people into obesity.
Consumers buy healthier foods for themselves – via Phys Org – Feel like Mom is pushing dessert? According to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research, consumers choose foods that are less healthy when they are purchasing for others.
When “negative” behaviors are positive: A contextual analysis of the long-term effects of problem-solving behaviors on changes in relationship satisfaction. - via Psych Net – How should partners discuss the problems that arise over the course of their intimate relationships? Prior studies have provided inconsistent answers to this question, with some suggesting that partners benefit by avoiding negative behaviors and others suggesting that partners benefit by engaging in negative behaviors. The 2 longitudinal studies of newlyweds described here reconcile these inconsistent findings by revealing that direct negative problem-solving behaviors interact with the severity of the problems couples face in their relationships to account for changes in relationship satisfaction. Whereas spouses’ tendencies to blame, command, and reject their partners predicted steeper declines in their own marital satisfaction when exhibited in the context of relationships facing only minor problems, those same behaviors predicted more stable satisfaction in relationships facing more severe problems. Subsequent analyses revealed that changes in the severity of the problems themselves mediated these effects. By contrast, indirect negative communications were associated with stably lower levels of satisfaction regardless of problem severity. The current findings join others in highlighting the theoretical importance of accounting for the relational context when examining the implications of various interpersonal processes. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2010 APA, all rights reserved)
How the human brain got bigger by accident and not through evolution- via Guardian – Oxford neurobiologist Colin Blakemore tells Robin McKie why he thinks a mutation in the human brain 200,000 years ago suddenly made us a super-intelligent species
“Cream-Skimming” in Subprime Mortgage Securitizations: Which Subprime Mortgage Loans Were Sold by Depository Institutions Prior to the Crisis of 2007? - via Phily Fed – Depository institutions may use information advantages along dimensions not observed or considered by outside parties to “cream-skim,” meaning to transfer risk to naïve, uninformed, or unconcerned investors through the sale or securitization process. This paper examines whether “cream-skimming” behavior was common practice in the subprime mortgage securitization market prior to its collapse in 2007. Using Home Mortgage Disclosure Act data merged with data on subprime loan delinquency by ZIP code, the authors examine the bank decision to sell (securitize) subprime mortgages originated in 2005 and 2006. They find that the likelihood of sale increases with risk along dimensions observable to banks but not likely observed or considered by investors. Thus, in the context of the subprime lending boom, the evidence supports the cream-skimming view.
Video: The Importance of Sleep But Not Over Sleeping- via Tsn
Why Women Don’t Want Macho Men - via WSJ -New research suggests that women from countries with healthier populations prefer more feminine-looking men. Jena Pincott on the science behind attraction and masculinity, and the future for manly men.
Risk, Uncertainty, and Divergence of Opinion - via Journal Of Finance
Video: Venture Capitalist: Steve Jurvetson on Rockets! - via BIL – Steve Jurvetson is a Managing Director of Draper Fisher Jurvetson, a leading venture capital firm with affiliate offices around the world. He was the founding VC investor in Hotmail (MSFT), Interwoven (IWOV), and Kana (KANA). He also led the firm’s investments in Tradex and Cyras, acquired for $8 billion. Current Board positions include Synthetic Genomics, SpaceX, NeoPhotonics, Tesla Motors, and Wowd.
Is the Potential for International Diversification Disappearing - via SSRN _ Since understanding and quantifying the evolution of security co-movements is critical for asset pricing and portfolio allocation, we investigate patterns and trends in correlations over time using weekly returns for large systems of developed markets (DMs) and emerging markets (EMs) during the period 1973-2009. We use the DECO, DCC, and BEKK correlation models, and develop a novel dynamic t-copula which generalizes the normal copula, to allow for dynamic tail dependence. We demonstrate that it is possible to overcome the well known dimensionality problems and compute correlation and tail dependence in international markets using large samples, without relying on factor models. Our results suggest that correlations have been significantly trending upward for both the DMs and EMs. Further, the evidence clearly contradicts the decoupling hypothesis. Although the tail dependence is increasing through time for both EMs and DMs, the level of the tail dependence is still very low at the end of our sample period for EMs as compared to DMs. Therefore, while the correlation analysis suggests that the diversification potential of EMs has largely disappeared, this is contradicted by our findings on tail dependence. Thus, even though diversification benefits might have lessened in the case of DMs, the case for EMs remains intact.
Consumers Know It’s Spam But Click On It Anyway- via Scientific Blogging – Consumers continue to click on spam despite awareness of how bots and viruses spread through risky email behavior, according to the Messaging Anti-Abuse Working Group (MAAWG). Their findings were based on a survey it released today covering North America and Western Europe and said that even though over eighty percent of email users are aware of the existence of bots, tens of millions respond to spam in ways that could leave them vulnerable to a malware infection.
Podcast: Barry Ritholtz, the history of bailouts in recent times - via Russ Roberts – beginning with Lockheed and Chrysler in the 1970s and continuing through the current financial crisis. In addition to the government role in aiding ailing companies, Ritholtz also looks at the role of the Fed in discouraging prudence through its efforts to keep asset prices and the stock market at high levels. The conversation closes with a discussion of what Ritholtz has learned from the crisis
Podcast: Meyer on the Music Industry and the Internet – via Russ Roberts – Steve Meyer, music industry veteran and publisher of the Disc and Dat Newsletter, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the evolution of the music industry and the impact of the digital revolution. After discussing his background and experience in marketing at Capitol Records and elsewhere, Meyer argues for the virtues and potential of the internet in enhancing the music industry. He points out that the internet allows numerous artists to make money through their music and particularly enhances revenue from live performances. He describes the challenges facing record companies as a failure of imagination and suggests that the full potential of the internet as a distribution channel has yet to be fully exploited.
It’s Official: 2009 Was Worst Year for the Newspaper Business in Decades - via NYT – It’s no surprise that 2009 was the worst year the newspaper business has had in decades, but the scale of the damage, shown in figures released Wednesday by the Newspaper Association of America, is stunning.
Security Watch: Beware the NSA’s Geek-Spy Complex - via Wired – Early this year, the big brains at Google admitted that they had been outsmarted. Along with 33 other companies, the search giant had been the victim of a major hack — an infiltration of international computer networks that even Google couldn’t do a thing about. So the company has reportedly turned to the only place on Earth with a deeper team of geeks than the Googleplex: the National Security Agency.
Those Wall Street Gamblers Might Not Be Bad After All - via NYT – In ancient Rome, speculators were sentries who looked out for signs of trouble. By the 17th century, “speculate” meant “to consider, examine, or reflect upon with close attention,” seemingly an activity to be encouraged.
The World’s Strangest Tax Laws - via FP – As April looms and the tax man cometh, everyone’s looking for an exemption. But some taxes and exemptions are more defensible than others.
No Stock Recommendations here; move along – via Ultimi & Abnormal Returns – Anyway, this post is only a bit about Jim Cramer and Damien Hoffman. The exchange got Baruch thinking about the differences between journalists/bloggers (or whatever you want to call them) and investors, and what it means to communicate about investments with the public. Baruch finds this terribly interesting, because of course as an amateur econo-blogger and a professional investor, he has a foot in both camps.
Are Idle Hand’s the Devil’s Workshop? Incapacitation, Concentration, and Juvenile Crime - via Criminally Rational – look at the effect of “incarceration” of children in school on crime rates by comparing crime rates on normal school days to crime rates on days off from school. They identify the effect from teacher in-service days – weekdays students have off in order to give teachers time for staff development and training. This avoids comparing normal school days with weekends or holidays.
How Much Do Professors Get Paid? Find Out Here - via Collegiate Times – This is the Collegiate Times higher education salaries database. We currently maintain a database of Virginia public university salaries and are expanding our listings to include Virginia Tech SCHEV-Approved peers. Please use the above input boxes to specify your search request or select a school from the list below.
Do Doctors Really Lose Money on Medicare? - via True Cost – The media often reports that doctors are dropping Medicare patients because they are “losing money on Medicare.” Given the vagaries of the Medicare fee-setting process, it’s definitely the case that certain medical procedures are under-reimbursed, and that others are over-reimbursed, creating winners and losers within the medical profession. More generally, do doctors really lose money by simply seeing a Medicare patient for an office visit? This American College of Physicians blog post claims that is the case.
Texts Without Context - via NYT – In his deliberately provocative — and deeply nihilistic — new book, “Reality Hunger,” the onetime novelist David Shields asserts that fiction “has never seemed less central to the culture’s sense of itself.” He says he’s “bored by out-and-out fabrication, by myself and others; bored by invented plots and invented characters” and much more interested in confession and “reality-based art.” His own book can be taken as Exhibit A in what he calls “recombinant” or appropriation art.
Investing & Finance
Short Sellers and Financial Misconduct - via AFAF – We examine whether short sellers detect firms that misrepresent their financial statements, and whether their trading conveys external costs or benefits to other
investors. Abnormal short interest increases steadily in the 19 months before the misrepresentation is publicly revealed, particularly when the misconduct is severe. Short selling is associated with a faster time-to-discovery, and it dampens the share price inflation that occurs when firms misstate their earnings. These results indicate that short sellers anticipate the eventual discovery and severity of financial misconduct. They also convey external benefits, helping to uncover misconduct and keeping prices closer to fundamental values when firms provide incorrect financial information.
Cov-Lite Loans Make a Return – Wall Street Journal - via Wall Street Folly – Banks arranging the deal for Lyondell, which is based in Houston but owned by LyondellBasell Industries NV of Rotterdam, the Netherlands, had first tweaked the $3.25 billion package on Tuesday, when they removed all of the covenants, or financial-performance standards, from the $500 million term-loan portion.
How to Run Your Business Like a Somali Pirate – via Atlantic – Somalian pirate operations are becoming increasingly sophisticated, according to a March 10 UN Security Council report, with a funding and incentive model that could double as a business school curriculum.
Do credit card minimum payments make people pay less than they might otherwise? - via Bakadesuyo- New research by the University of Warwick reveals that many credit card customers become fixated on the level of minimum payments given on credit card bills. The mere presence of a minimum payment is enough to reduce the actual amount many people choose to pay on their bills, leading to further interest payments.
Why is Netflix Afraid of Mobile Streaming? - via Atlantic – With mobile platforms on the rise, and almost half of Netflix customers streaming movies online, the company is taking its sweet time to bring the two together.
Gary Gorton vs. Michael Lewis - via Falkenblog – I earlier blogged about Yale economist Gary Gorton’s model of the financial crisis here. He put several papers into a new book, Slapped in the Face by the Invisible Hand, which is a quite helpful distillation of several of his papers. Unfortunately, while the book has hardly any math, it still reads pretty much like an academic paper, and there are no conspicuous villains, no gobsmackingly stupid errors. So, it will never be very satisfying to most people, who like to think it was all hubris, a bad formula, greed, meanness, or lack of sufficient regulation.
JP Morgan in 1895: The Golden Touch - via American Heritage – On February 5, 1895, the Jupiter of American banking, J. P. Morgan, took the train from New York to Washington to see the president. He had no appointment but came to discuss matters of grave national interest. The crash of 1893 had thrown the country into deep depression, exposed a schizophrenic monetary policy, and now the nation’s gold standard stood on the brink of collapse.
The Pain in Spain … And What It Means for Europe and Beyond - via Wharton – Spain’s rapid decline from one of Western Europe’s fastest-growing economies to one of its most troubled has left many looking for blame. How could the country, a poster child for the benefits of European economic and monetary integration, suddenly find itself lumped together with smaller, more sickly economies like Greece, Portugal and Ireland?
Inverting Cause And Effect: Do Asset Prices (And Stock Market Bubbles) DetermineThe Economy And Monetary Policy? - via Zerohedge – What the Fed’s fatally flawed policy does create, are asset bubbles of historic proportions, which lead to ever-accelerating boom and bust periods, whose amplitude get bigger and bigger. Yet so far the only person who seems to realize this at the Fed is Kansas Fed President Tom Hoenig. Alas, he is a lone voice as even he acknowledges.
Bruce Berkowitz: After the Apocalypse- Via Barrons – Bruce Berkowitz founder of Fairholme Cpaital (FAIRX), has a very straightforward investing approach. He looks for undervalued companies — preferably ones that throw off a lot of cash — and he runs a concentrated portfolio.
Videos & Media
Geostrategic Consequences of the Economic Crisis - via Fora.Tv
Harvard Comes to iTunes U – via Openculture -
The Credibility Revolution in Empirical Economics: How Better Research Design is Taking the Con out of Econometrics – via NBER – This essay reviews progress in empirical economics since Leamer’s (1983) critique. Leamer highlighted the benefits of sensitivity analysis, a procedure in which researchers show how their results change with changes in specification or functional form. Sensitivity analysis has had a salutary but not a revolutionary effect on econometric practice. As we see it, the credibility revolution in empirical work can be traced to the rise of a design-based approach that emphasizes the identification of causal effects. Design-based studies typically feature either real or natural experiments and are distinguished by their prima facie credibility and by the attention investigators devote to making the case for a causal interpretation of the findings their designs generate. Design-based studies are most often found in the microeconomic fields of Development, Education, Environment, Labor, Health, and Public Finance, but are still rare in Industrial Organization and Macroeconomics. We explain why IO and Macro would do well to embrace a design-based approach. Finally, we respond to the charge that the design-based revolution has overreached.
The global financial crisis: Why were some countries hit harder? – via Voxeu – Despite the global reach of the financial crisis, some countries fared better than others. This column argues that this was due to differences in trade or financial openness, underlying vulnerabilities to external forces, or the strength of their economic policies.
Other Fascinating Reads You Probably Wont See Elsewhere
Luxury Brands: Recession Proof or Not? - via News Week – As the experience of a few deft brands show, the financial crisis hasn’t killed the luxury market. Buyers have just become more discriminating, moving away from timely glitz and toward the tried and true. As Bernard Arnault, the chairman of LVMH puts it, “with the crisis, bling bling is passé.” Yes, there have been high-profile losers, but the smart companies have capitalized by getting back to basics.
Wireless Technology: The Birds and the Bees … and 4G - Via Wharton – Just when consumers thought they had their 3G wireless gadgets all figured out, it’s now time to start getting a grip on the fourth generation of wireless technology — which will be much faster and far more disruptive than anything we have experienced before, according to Scott Snyder in his recent Wharton School Publishing book titled, The New World of Wireless: How to Compete in the 4G Revolution. In an interview with Knowledge@Wharton, Snyder, who is president and COO of consulting firm Decision Strategies International, predicts 4G will revolutionize the way we work and play by creating “one giant wireless ecosystem” that buzzes with innovation.
Wider Smile, Longer Life? - via Discovery – The broader your smile and the deeper the creases around your eyes when you grin, the longer you are likely to live, according to a study published in Psychological Science this week.
Wal-Mart Moral Lessons - via Deric Bownds – John Tierney describes cross cultural studies of sharing and fairness (comparing, for example, hunter-gatherers with midwestern Wal-Mart shoppers) that found: …the strongest predictor of fairness was the community’s level of “market integration,” – measured by the percentage of the diet that was purchased. The people who got all or most of their food by hunting, fishing, foraging or growing it themselves were less inclined to share a prize equally….Markets don’t work very efficiently if everyone acts selfishly and believes everyone else will do the same…You end up with high transaction costs because you have to have all these protections to cover every loophole. But if you develop norms to be fair and trusting with people beyond your social sphere, that provides enormous economic advantages and allows a society to grow.
Fairness & The Bottom Line- via Social Pysch Eye -What determines the importance of fairness, particularly to strangers? There are no incentives to play fair when dealing with people we don’t know, aren’t related to, and will never interact with again. Evolutionary psychologist might point to carryover effects of living in smaller communities in our distant past. A recent study led by Joseph Henrich hopes to clarify the issue postulating that there is more to it than simply inheriting fairness attitudes. The research team implemented a Social Dilemma like game called Dictator and administered it to a wide variety of populations. They found that modern living Missourians were most likely to share while hunter-gatherer societies, such as those in the Serengeti or the Amazon, were less likely to do so. One might think that these smaller communities would foster a greater sense of social responsibility and be more willing to share but the researchers point out that while there are clear rules and norms for sharing among kin or ingroup members, a sense of responsibility to the other may be absent when dealing with strangers. Practices and norms emphasizing fairness to strangers have developed in other societies and this research points to “market integration” as a possible explanation as this factor was the strongest predictor of fairness attitudes. Market integration was operationalized as the amount of food purchased. In communities where food is hunted, found, or grown people are less likely and willing to share with strangers. But when food is purchased it makes sense that systems would need to develop where strangers (consumers and sellers) can trust one another. The consumer market can’t function is everyone acts selfishly and treats others as if they will act the same. Oddly enough it seems that trust and fairness develop in some cases because they are economically advantageous.
How Blind is Double-Blind? - via Neuroskeptic – The blind may be compromised in a variety of ways, however, beginning with differences in medication taste or smell. Of particular concern may be the emergence of adverse effects, particularly when those adverse effects are known to be associated with a specific medication … Indeed, when the degree of unblinding is assessed in antidepressant trials, multiple reports suggest that it is extensive: at least three-quarters of patients are typically able to correctly guess at their treatment assignment.
Motherhood Appears to Protect Against Suicide, Study Finds - via ScienceDaily — Motherhood appears to protect against suicide, with increasing numbers of children associated with decreasing rates of death from suicide, found an article in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal).
Sociology and the Census – via Everyday Sociology – Today my 2010 Census form came in the mail, and I excitedly filled it out right away (it took less than a minute). If you are interested in sociology, the Census Bureau’s work is incredibly important. Its director, Robert M. Groves, is a sociologist who was previously a professor at the University of Michigan. Without the census we would have far less valuable information about American society. (Click here to see the 2010 Census questions).
Mind over matter? How your body does your thinking”: Another article about embodied cognition research – via Brains On Purpose -As those of you who read this blog may recall, I sometimes post reminders that we “know” with more than just our minds and brains. Conflict does not just happen between brains. (See my post We think with more than just our minds: Conflict reaches clear down to our toes.) -
The Great Baseball Card Bubble - via NYT – Dave Jamieson’s new book (excerpted at Slate) covers the history of the baseball card, including the baseball card bubble of the 1980s and early 1990s. In the 1980s, “As prices continued to climb, baseball cards were touted as a legitimate investment alternative to stocks, with the Wall Street Journal referring to them as sound ‘inflation hedges’ and ‘nostalgia futures.’” The baseball strike of 1994, and declining interest on the part of children, marked the end of the bubble, and no doubt dashed the secret hopes of many an amateur collector.
Our microbes, ourselves - via Boston.com -We are home to whole worlds of bacteria. New research suggests that they can tell our history and, perhaps, our future.
Infographics (Fascinating Visualizations !!)
Learning From Insurance Losses
America’s Worst Banks