Sunday, December 30, 2012

Haunted Forest of Bretton Woods


What if we never were the economic power we thought we were?  What if the dollar really held up on its own?  What if the three largest economic powers of the past 60 years all suffered from failing one of wisdom's oldest admonitions recorded as the words of the Patriarch Moses.

"… And it will be, when the Lord, your God, brings you to the land He swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you, great and good cities that you did not build, and houses full of all good things that you did not fill, and hewn cisterns that you did not hew, vineyards and olive trees that you did not plant, and you will eat and be satisfied.  Beware, lest you forget the Lord, Who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage."  

Devarim 6:10-12.  The Fifth Book of the Torah (Deuteronomy for Gentiles).

In July 1944, it was not certain that the Allies were going to win the Second World War.  The winds were blowing in their favor to be sure.  The Allies were regaining territory on the west with France and on the east in Russia.  One month earlier, the success of D-Day had buoyed confidence that the German juggernaut was vulnerable and that the Allied powers may indeed prevail.  The U.S. economy, barely functional save the frenetic ultra-nationalist industrial orgy supporting the war machine with a dollar untested since the Great Depression, had no evidentiary power save the aspiration wafting on the breezes of imagined victory.  U.S. Secretary of State Cordell Hull pleaded with is colleagues for free trade as a remedy for a world at war.  Thinly veiled post-colonial score settling placed the U.S. dollar above the British pound in large part due to the linking of the British Parliament accession to Bretton Woods one year after its negotiation as a condition of $4.4 billion in much needed reconstruction aid.  A similar inducement forced the Franc to bow to the Dollar in exchange for a Dollar denominated billion dollar loan for French reconstruction. 

A cunning convergence of levers conspired to create the illusion of U.S. dollar hegemony.  The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD, later the World Bank) were carefully constructed to reinforce what, at the time was merely an illusion.  The great concession - linking the U.S. dollar to a gold rate of $35/oz - was half the commodity illusion; the other being the growing global demand for oil conveniently financed with dollars.  But, to reclaim the prophetic warning referenced above, we must consider the Marshall Plan and the U.S. occupation and MacArthur administration of Japan.  The fiat currency - in the form of the U.S. dollar - was instrumental in rebuilding Europe and Japan and building infrastructure (and dollar trade dependency) for the manufacturing base of the subsequent economic booms in both regions.  By August 15, 1971, President Nixon realized that the illusion could be maintained no longer.  Slamming the gold window closed and, with Executive Order 11615, instituting a last gasp effort to preserve the Adam Smith inspired economic employment doctrine, Nixon sealed a fate that would have come fully due in the early fall of 2001 had it not been for a certain distraction.

Without the world's credit tolerance - a much ignored though vital policy that Nixon crafted to allow expansion of foreign ownership of our dollar-denominated debt -  we would have lost our Bretton bet long ago.  With Treasury Secretary Geithner's recent announcement that we are once again at a debt ceiling - one side or the other of $16.394 trillion - we continue to bet that the foreign 'others' and our pensions will keep us going.  But what we seem to overlook is the $1.26 trillion in debt that we have to repay this year!  That's in addition to the new debt we have to raise. 

Now, I'm warning you, I'm about to introduce a concept that you may think is entirely unrelated; but please indulge me. 

In 1993, Richard M. Auty introduced the term "resource curse" to describe the phenomenon in which countries rich in natural resources were typically locked in grinding poverty.  He and hundreds of economists and social scientists have pretended to be puzzled over this phenomenon in faux sincerity.  But this "curse" is an illusion derived from disingenuous monetary myopia.  While Bretton Woods broke the literal colonial trade controls of Britain, and to a lesser degree France, by imposing the U.S. dollar reserve and trade dominance, it merely traded a sovereign colonial force for a monetary one.  To participate in the global economy, a single currency hegemony insures that local collateral (in the form of extractable resources) will be denominated in a debt-based currency (the dollar).  The country capable of selling resources, unable to develop them with direct investment in local denomination is pressured to debt-finance its minority equity participation in its OWN resource development thereby forcing two monetary inefficiencies from which escape (sans corruption and despotism for the few in power) is impossible.  The natural resource, which in the ground could serve as the basis for sovereign wealth, becomes the alienated collateral for international financiers who, with no thought for development, extract rents in excess of the resource commodity sales yield insuring instability and ultimate unrest.  By removing domestic enterprise and commodity optionality through compulsory dependence on a debt-denominated currency financial utility, the country is incapable of sustainable development. 

Which leads me to a couple of conclusions.  By betting the U.S.'s future not on our productivity, industry, or innovation but rather on our money, we removed our own optionality to recover from our present fiscal maelstrom.  Money, in and of itself, is not productive and has no natural yield.  It is optionality constrained.  If its flow is directed towards assets with future productivity, it can serve an important purpose.  However, if money is its own productive cycle in the form of capricious usury, it is unsustainable.  Our perpetual debt growth cycle - fueled in the U.S. and Europe by our complete unwillingness to evidence economic will to: a) live within our productive means; and, b) reduce our Federal employment and procurement market dominance; insures our dollar's ultimate demise. By financing our trade empire with a dollar backed by debt rather than by resource or productivity-linked value creation, we've cut off our own economic and wealth-creating future options.  Ignoring productivity and assets, we've implored the world to continue the illusion for its own sake.  But we've failed to recognize that our dollar was never entirely what the world wanted.  We used our power to create the mandate making it what everybody needed.  When that illusion breaks, well… let's go back and look at the Children of Israel and see how they faired in the "promised land."

Recitation of a lie, no matter how loud and often, does not make it true.  But for the Commonwealth (Anglo-Iranian Oil Company later to become BP which globalized oil production ahead of the Rockefeller's Standard Oil; Anglo-American, De Beers, Rio Tinto; etc.) the U.S. and Europe would have been incapable of enacting Bretton Woods because it was through dollar debt denominated commodity pricing and industrial production - not acclaim and desire of the nations - that the dollar had its ride.  While the World Bank's International Finance Corporation perfected the natural resource piracy still alive and well in Papua New Guinea, the Pacific Forum Secretariat nations, Southeast Asia,  South America and Africa, it did little to improve upon the debt slavery extractive industry model that was quite well entrenched by the Commonwealth and other colonial powers before the Second World War.  

So where am I going?  Very simply put: the U.S. and Europe are currently trying to fix a central bank-enabled problem hoping that, in so doing, they'll reassert their will on the world.  They're hopeful that today's pensioners-in-waiting (a polite way to say modern labor) have total financial and historical illiteracy and, as a result, continue to buy growing debt.  But that's where InvertedAlchemy seeks to be a bit of a spoiler.  The clarion call that emanates once a week from Charlottesville, Virginia (home of the fiscal incompetent but globalist Thomas Jefferson) explicitly reminds you that productivity-linked economic models are, and will be, the ONLY way for We The People to actually build sustainable systems.  If we allow indebtedness to stand as a surrogate for our unwillingness to be productive, we all lose.

Allow me to leave you with the most compelling statement made in this year's volume on June 10, 2012. 

wealth = utility x retained optionality

where ∞ = ∫ of all users across all value dimensions

When one considers this formula, one can readily see that the greatest wealth is experienced when the maximum benefit can be derived (in number of participants) from the least phase and state alteration (for more on this, take a look at my previous postings on Phase and State Coherence).  And the more value (in terms of integral accounting) dimensions can be simultaneously appreciated by the more participants, the greater the momentary and residual wealth.  So use 2013 to align your assets with wealth of the form that lasts!  Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Waiting for the Sunrise


This morning, I saw the first rays of the sun hitting the palm fronds of richly laden coconut trees; the golden coherence dancing off the respiring branches and warming the nubile fruit clutching closely to the trunk.  The light this morning was particularly precious by virtue of the date:  December 23rd, 2012.  Regardless of the calendar employed - Mayan, Gregorian, or Lunar - today's light is the shortest and most fleeting for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere and most abundant for those of us in the Southern.  And, as with every other circumnavigation of the solar plane, we anticipate the pilgrimage to the north with spirits of our Roman ancestors who celebrated this moment religiously until, in the 4th century A.D. when a replacement "son's" celebration required the practice to be outlawed.

Waiting in line at Customs at the airport in Cancun, I was thrilled to see the Mexican economy benefiting from a host of pilgrims who had come to the Yucatan Peninsula to be present for the eschatological puzzle that was to unravel (or ravel) on December 21, 2012.  Waiting for nearly 45 minutes in that line, I reflected on the 25 years that I had been married to my wife: our anniversary on December 19th being the proximate cause for our sojourn among our friends in Mexico.  As I often do, my mind tried to piece together the marking of time (my anniversary) and the anticipation of the end of time held by many around me (the end of the Mesoamerican 13th b'ak'tun).  "Time is money," a saying attributed to Benjamin Franklin in his 1748 Advice to a Young Tradesman, appeared to have some phenotypic truth given my surroundings teaming with tourists.  Addressing his friend, A.B., Franklin wrote:

"Remember that time is money. He that can earn ten shillings a day by his labour, and goes abroad or sits idle one half of that day, though he spends but sixpence during his diversion or idleness, ought not to reckon that the only expense; he has really spent, or, rather, thrown 
away, five shillings besides."

In our collective trips to Mexico during this winter solstice, had we all "thrown away" something of value?  Was our sixpence of diversion or, in my case, sun-soaked idleness, worth our lost days' wages?  What purpose is there in marking temporal milestones - say, anniversaries of vows and covenants?  

On December 21, 2012, the History Channel's multi-year marketing march towards the solar ejection at the galactic alignment foretold by aliens visiting Mayans joined the Long Count of confident predictions of that which was not "meant to be".  And while I've commented in several preceding missives on the error of metrics, what struck me on this morning was the even greater error:  not knowing our point of departure.  Were archeologists correct in assuming that August 11 or 13 of the year 3114 B.C.E. was the beginning of the last deific punch of the stopwatch marking the race to the end of days two days ago?  Are astronomers and 'officials at NASA' more or less correct than their antiquarian colleagues in observing the precessional dynamics of the gyroscope we call our home in the incalculable expanse of the cosmos?  On this solstice, are we going to experience a "transformation of human consciousness" on a scale unseen before?

My humble answer to all of the preceding questions is an unambiguous, "No".

Recognizing that I've: a) committed a heresy punishable by death under the Holy Roman Empire's Christian rules making questioning the calendar a capital crime;  b) had the unspeakable audacity to question the supremacy of prevailing 'scientific' dogma; and, c) thrown a tuning fork of dissonance in the emerging global harmonic; allow me to explain a bit more.

Together with our Mayan and Olmec sojourners, we are plagued with a disease far worse than the conquistador-bequeathed small pox and influenza.  That which defies our limited capacity to understand and our even more limited temporal inquisitiveness is relegated to our priestly classes:
-  religious 'scholars', funded by the tithes of the lost they seek to lead, who treat Greek, Hebrew, Sanskrit, Arabic, and Hieroglyphs as the infallible statement of a disembodied divine fully subject to construction by…, well,… uh, humans;
-  scientists who confidently state - through grant-sponsored research - that we understand about 2% of that which is within us and surrounds us while confidently telling us that the 98% rest is 'Dark Matter' or 'Junk'; and,
-  pop-philosophers who, with the cunning use of prefixes like "morpho", "bio", or "trans", get millions to buy their books and spend thousands of dollars to attend their seminars on emergence.
Oh, and can anyone see the thread that links each of these groups with one another?  And lest the agnostic, secular, or atheist reader thinks they've dodged the bullet, take a look at the 12.12.12 Wall Street Journal (does that date 'mean' something?) in which we were simultaneously told to have "Faith" in banks (pg. C4), ignore the Treasury's "Losses" on taxpayer funded "investments" (pg. C2), and told about the $51 trillion college of cardinals who gather every two months in Basel who are guessing their way through a financial apocalypse created and administered by the SAME individuals (pg. A1 and A16).  Oh, and the economy is obviously too difficult to understand so, thank god someone knows what they're doing.

"If the central bankers are correct, they will help the world economy avoid prolonged stagnation and a repeat of the central banking mistakes in the 1930's.  If they are wrong, they could kindle inflation or sow the seeds of another financial crisis."

For those of you who are not paying attention, that 1930s risk was resolved with a world war killing over 50 million people.  How's that for an apocalypse?  Wow, pardon me for not being impressed!  Harvard economist Kenneth Rogoff (co-author of This Time is Different) is quoted as offering the following collegial reassurance.  "Will history decide they did too little or too much?  We don't know because it is still a work in progress."  Kenneth Rogoff is a fascinating fellow.  He is Professor of Economics and Public Policy at Harvard University and was the 2011 Deutsche Bank Prize winner in Financial Economics.  In his December 4, 2102 blog post on Innovation or Financial Crisis, he acknowledges the merits of the question if we have become victims of our own innovation crisis.  While he concludes that our problems are of an economic nature rather than a secular innovative failure, he at least has the decency of contemplating a biocular perspective.  What I find noteworthy in his writing is his accessible candor and clarity.  While I find the bias of his institution and discipline embedded in much of his work, he tenaciously holds open the space for multi-disciplinarity which is a endangered attribute among many in our time.

What happened on December 21, 2012?  Did we end something or begin something new?  In fact, only you and those with whom you interact will know.  Here's why.  We're not waiting for an ecumenical convergence, an eschatological resolution, or a great unified theory that explains "it all".  Because if you're among the 'waiting' there's one thing that is certain:  until you animate yourself with purpose, your world will look pretty much the same with each new sunrise.  No winged serpent, cosmic collision, sword-wielding horse, or karmic butterfly will save you.  But if, on this winter solstice 2012, you chose to become an informed, sentient being, one refusing to allow for a surrogacy of life and accountability, then welcome to the New Age which, with each rising Sol Invictus, is ever new!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Drive By Shootings: A Call to Arms


I was driving on I-84 in Portland, Oregon on Tuesday afternoon after meetings in Beaverton.  The AM radio station - for some reason the only one I could access in my Hertz rental car - broke into the talk-radio rant with the news that a shooting was taking place at the Clackamas Town Center just a dozen miles from my precise location.  In moments, Steve Forsyth and Cindy Ann Yuille were dead, Kristina Shevchenko was seriously injured before Jacob Tyler Roberts ended his own torture.  Hours later, I boarded a red-eye flight from Portland to New York's JFK via Los Angeles.  In the early morning on Wednesday, I was met by a wonderful driver who was to drive me to business meetings in Southeastern Connecticut.  A terrible accident on I-95 forced us to divert and we traveled north.  Passing young children waiting for their school buses in the early, cold morning, I reflected on the tragedy in Portland.  We turned right at an intersection which indicated that a left would take us to Newtown.  I couldn't have known that within 24 hours, on opposite sides of the country, I would be in the immediate vicinity of two horrific tragedies.   Young children and adults at the Sandy Hook Elementary School - now 26 people we'll never meet, know and love - were within range of the Christmas vacation.  Now candle-light vigils, rants on the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and myriads of blog posts across the ideological spectrum serve as the reflexive catharsis which will wax and then wane until we're 'shocked' again.

As I rode through frigid Southern Albemarle County this morning, I felt visited by those whose lives had been extinguished this week.  Young and old, they seemed to ask, "How long will we join the ranks of those who die for no reason?"  In the empty woods, up and down the hills marking the interface between the ancient Blue Ridge Mountains' edge and the James River, the empty cold, punctuated from time to time with a small flock of birds, one sentinel redheaded woodpecker and the odd squirrel seemed to reply, "Yes, how long?"  This experience wasn't new.  Since I was introduced to murder with the stabbing death of my then-best friend at the age of 6, I've been invited to ponder this question thousands of times.

The lives that were extinguished this week were sacrificed for ideology.  Ideology born of a legacy that stretches back at least 1,111 years.  Defenders of the Second Amendment merely recite the liturgy from the nadir of Europe's Dark Ages that citizens must both defend their king and be defended from tyranny defined by King Alfred around 886 A.D.  This good Christian King of the Anglo-Saxons edited the Golden Rule to state that, "What ye will that other men should not do to you, that do ye not to other men."  Rather than calling for elevated human morality, he defined the defensive posture that survives to this day.  Among his other elevated achievements, Alfred and Pope John IX also came up with the precedent for church-sanctioned sex trafficking of nuns with their brilliant scheme of fining 120 shillings those who take women with the revenue split between the King and the Bishop presiding over the convent!

"How long must we die?"

How long will we accept murder as a means to resolve ideological disputes?  How long will we promote murder - in the name of sacrifice - as a means to better social ends?  How long will religion insist that through murder comes love and life?  How long will we accept social systems which give preference to the lives like 'us' while blindly accepting the murder of those not like 'us'?  A classroom of kindergarten students, courtesy of our contempt for humanity, will never be able to ask these questions.  A small cadre of teachers will never be able to impart a more enlightened thinking.  Because our ideology adherence was more valuable then their lives.  And the lives of millions before. 

Today, we mark the 221 anniversary of the adoption of the Second Amendment which, for those of you who don't read the history you debate states:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

I recite this both for the informational value it serves as well as the ideology it presumes.  The infallible canonical truth infused in this amendment is that security comes with violence and the capacity to visit the same on enemies.  But James Madison's logic for the amendment had more to do with the political points scored by assuring Anti-Federalist militias that they would not be disarmed.  Against the back-drop of a rejection of a standing army, the preservation of arms by the militias was a high-stakes bluff showing that the Federalists had nothing to fear from the conspiracy soaked Anti-Federalists who were certain that they would face tyranny equal to or worse than that which they'd just rejected from Britain.

Let's dig deeper.  The Amendment assumes:

-  force is a companion to security;
-  security is a necessity of a free State,
-  armed citizens will keep and bear arms for the benefit of a secure State, and,
-  that Evangelical Christians, who place their absolute faith in God, will protest most loudly - to the point of using violence -  if the government ever steps foot on their property which they bought with their hard-earned money that came from… well, uh oh, the government… so they need their assault rifles for hunting, abortion clinics, and terrorists!

O.K., the last one was not contemplated by Madison or Jefferson, neither of whom had much use for the dogma embraced by today's Evangelicals who insist that the founding fathers were Christians like them.

These assumptions are born of fear and dogmatic adherence to our religious narrative requiring murder.  People displease God - kill them with a flood.  People live in the place that 'chosen people' would rather live - kill them with the sword.  People promote heresy like letting women read - burn them at the stake.  People question any authority - drown them, burn them, rip their flesh… and do it publicly so that there's no question that others will learn to fall in line.  And here's the pièce de résistance:  it's either the celebrated murder of a Nazarene by the Romans or your eternal death!  Oh, and that one, we actually call an act of love!

We're still in the European Dark Ages when it comes to our engagement with humanity.  Robert K. Merton, in his 1949 publication Social Theory and Social Structures brilliantly describes: 

"…a false definition of the situation evoking a new behaviour which makes the original false conception come 'true'. This specious validity of the self-fulfilling prophecy perpetuates a reign of error. For the prophet will cite the actual course of events as proof that he was right from the very beginning."

It's not arms that secure us.  They never have and they never will.  Karl Popper's Oedipus Effect explained the social and scientific effect of expectations derived from dogmatically held perspective (derived, not tacit truth) which in fact played a role in bringing about that which was the "fulfillment of it's prophecy."  If we assume armed security from certain violence as a predicate to freedom, we'll have arms, security, violence and will never achieve lasting freedom.  Why?  Because we'll observe those conditions in which our perspective-based assumptions exist (or fail to exist) and then causal links between those conditions and the events manifest therein.  We will not contemplate an alternative to Freedom, the State, Security, or Force.

Because after all, who would want a land filled with people at Liberty?  Who would want a social order in which the citizens actually understand their interdependence oblivious to ideology, race, color, or creed?  Who would want to have a society so compellingly inclusive that the impulse to horde would be replaced with the impulse to be conduits of abundance benefiting oneself and those with whom one interacts?  Who would want the grace and mercy to be the ideal to which we are striving?  Who?  Well, for starters, twenty eight of our fellow citizens who lost their lives this week.  Use your arms - I really mean your arms - and embrace someone you don't know.  Then ask yourself if a More Perfect Union would be possible if you pointed a gun in their direction.  The truth is staring us in the face.  And 28 souls are waiting for you to show up and cast off the shackles of an ideology born three centuries before we sent 30,000 children to their death in the Children's Crusade in 1212.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Twelve Men on the Field


No serious sports fan or athlete can forget the contest in which a game was decided by an egregious call made by the referee.  It's worse when the referee has called a lopsided game and rewards a deficient team with a favor that creates the illusion of victory where defeat was the merits of performance.  If this analogy doesn't land on some field in your memory, you've never played (or cheered) hard enough.

Favored by aggressive credit intervention by China Development Bank, China's ZTE is surging into global dominance in an industry once defined by American and European innovation and engineering.  The announcement of a $20 billion credit facility from CDB has drawn the consternation of the U.S. House of Representatives' Intelligence Committee and equally protectionist-minded EU critics.  Global network equipment sales leaders now are exclusively Asian and European and, with Alcatel misfiring on all cylinders at the moment, America's Bell legacy is on the verge of extinction.  So, having lost the game in the fourth quarter, we're hoping for "fair" to become "favored" and we want a ref to make up a call.  Block contracts.  Block sales.  Make up excuses like national security to restrict free trade.  C'mon ref, give us a call!

Amusing or pathetic?  So long the evangelist for capitalism and "free trade", all our chickens are coming home to roost and just at the wrong time for the U.S. economy.  Before we can have any hope of emerging on a competitive pitch, we have to realize that our offense is out of shape and our defense has become lazy.  While the rest of the world has been scrapping it out, we were drinking modified corn starch-laden beverages all the while ignoring our obese complacence.  Now that it's time to compete, we're off our game.  And we're off our game, in part, because we cheated so long that we forget the actual rules.  Let me explain.

Modern protectionism has introduced a particularly insidious virus into global markets.  Born of the UN's 1947 General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), war ravaged countries realized that trade and commercial interdependency may serve as a partial prophylaxis to avert future global conflicts.  In principle, this impulse was laudatory.  However, in practice, signatories to GATT and its handicapped spawn, the World Trade Organization (WTO), failed to evidence genuine commitments to what all agreed would be "fair".  Ironically, in the 1986 Uruguay Round (from which WTO actually emerged), some of the players called their own foul - led by the Cairns Group including Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Brazil and Indonesia - when they insisted that agriculture must be subjected to fairness too. 

Agriculture subsidies - some of the most extreme distortions to market forces - continue to wreak havoc on global food and energy economics and, regrettably, among the chief abusers are U.S. policy makers who continue to enrich less than 2% of the population with billions of dollars of subsidies on corn, cotton, soy, wheat, tobacco, dairy, and rice.  Promoted as "farm income stabilization" in Congressional appropriations including the Depression Era 1929 Agriculture Marketing Act and the 1933 Agriculture Adjustment Act, these multi-billion dollar vote-buying manipulations pump billions of dollars into states like Texas, Iowa and Illinois (can anyone say politics?).  What the U.S. and parts of Europe means by the term "fair" has to often meant 'the stuff that harms our advantage'.  So predictably, when we realized we were losing our competitive edge on technology (having seen agriculture dominance wane) in 1986, we decided to force our defunct scheme of intellectual property (mostly patents) on the world.  In Doha, Qatar in November of 2001, the world did the unthinkable: it pushed back.  Realizing that we can't admit to our own hypocrisy on the global stage in front of the lights, for over a decade, the U.S. and parts of Europe have adjusted trade strategy to favor obscure bilateral agreements where we can preserve our will without having to come to terms with our incapacity to play by our own dogmatic rules.

So ZTE is getting a banking break from the CDB.  So what?  Does anyone remember May 21, 2007 when the General Electric Corporation sold its crown jewel, GE Plastics, to the Saudi Basic Industries Corporation (SABIC) for $11.6 billion?  This sale was inevitable not because GE wanted it to happen but because Japan's Asahi Kasei, like ZTE, had benefited from Japan's aggressive credit financing of its plastics operations.  Without the ability to compete on the cost of capital, GE's selection of SABIC was inevitable as the Saudis could compete on the cost of benzene and petroleum derivatives through, you guessed it, de facto subsidies.  Some of you may appreciate the irony that Asahi Plastics just this week won the "Most Innovative Use of Plastics" award for its work with Ford Motor Company in some of their cars that are supported by, you guessed it, subsidies!  And how many U.S. corporations have buoyed investor returns by Fed and Treasury interest rate interventions artificially pricing borrowing at such low rates that companies are raising debt to pay dividends!  We're losing because we're not playing - not because China's deploying the same distortions that we've used for the last 80 years. 

When the European Council convened 21 years ago this month in Maastricht, Netherlands to codify the economic and monetary union, one would have imagined that, informed by the Uruguay Round, pragmatists would have recognized that the idea of economic interdependence for the common good would require an end to protectionism and market distorting behavior.  By then, there had been over 40 years of evidence that the wrench in the machine of global trade was the disingenuous impulse to laud free and fair markets out of one side of the mouth while placating parochial interests at home with the other.  Self-evident or not, alas, this pragmatism failed to rear its intelligent head and now, the European Central Bank (ECB) is hopelessly flailing in its attempts to execute its chief objective: stabilize price and labor.  Having reached the age of majority (21 years old), we have to seriously consider whether we're dealing with an adult or a genetically modified organism with the appearance maturity but limited cognitive capacity.  Judging by the reflexes triggered by system shocks of late, it appears that this Frankenstein clone of the post-war U.S. is more GMO than organic and, as a result, one wonders if it would be legally sold within the EU.

Watching the U.S. Congress and Executive bicker over taxes and austerity and watching Chancellor Merkel tip-toe between integrity and electoral expediency is making for cheap theater.  Court jester economists and pundits pretend that we're on the verge of breakdown or breakthrough with a staccato that turns equity and debt traders into clunky marionettes.  In the first few months of 2013, over $2 trillion in maturing U.S. debt will come due (a topic conspicuously absent from any conversation coinciding with inevitable additional debt demands).  The U.S. and Europe are engaged in theatrics in the smoke all the while ignoring the fire.  The inferno is being fueled by our abject failure to address the root of our current economic woes.  Using hegemonic monetary distortions to market economics, we subsidized ourselves into a gluttonous stupor ignoring those we derided as "poor" and "underdeveloped".   Now, these objects of our neglect and contempt are running circles around us and our response is to cry foul.

It's time that We the People stop falling for this ruse and tolerating policy makers who seek to continue the manipulation.  Sport teaches us that if a competitor is gaining advantage, a true athlete learns, adapts, and plays harder.  Timeless martial arts teach us that, in times of extreme adversity, the master actually absorbs the energy from the opponent and redirects it to his benefit.  Reemerging wisdom of the Commons suggests that the duality of competition - together with all of its necessary market manipulations - may serve more harm than good and, at times, we may need to develop new narratives of aligned interest rather than archetypes of conflict.  The one thing that we most assuredly know is that the condition in which we find ourselves is NOT the fault of bad officiating - it's the fault of lethargy born of complacency.  I hope you find plenty of ZTE network switches upon which you forward this message!  Let the games begin!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

'Fiscal' Cliff or Crushing Rocks and the Treaty of Westphalia


On October 24, 1648 a Christian, Universal, Perpetual, True and Sincere Peace settled across the conflict-torn map of Europe insuring placement of all previous Trouble into "perpetual Oblivion".  In a mere 128 Articles, the Treaty of Westphalia set forth the conditions under which the future of Occidental humanity would operate.  While today's post (written 364 years from the condemnation of the Treaty by Pope Innocent X who declared it "null and void, invalid, iniquitous, unjust, condemned, rejected, frivolous, without force and effect") will address a few of the legacies of this momentous agreement, I would like to remind us all of the fact that today's headlines portend the conclusion of what Westphalia sought to promulgate.  The dogmatic aspiration of the nation state - an organization of humanity where sovereigns lord over their citizens in exchange for certain illusions of stability, peace and protection - has been weighed in the balance and found wanting.  Looming 'fiscal cliffs' facing the U.S. economy and the federated interests of Europe invite a comparison of historical cliffs: the Symplegades and Wile E. Coyote (yes, look it up so you get the comparison).

Sequestration is not a crisis; neither is it new.  So for those of you who are inclined to fear (or masochistically revel in) the wistful apocalypse now upon us, here's a bit of a spoiler.  The Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Deficit Reduction Act of 1985 which used sequestration as a fulcrum to impose federal spending constraints, was not only survived but, many would argue, contributed to the Clinton-era economic health illusion.  We'll have a sunrise on December 22, 2012 so that Quetzalcoatl can warm his newly minted feathers, and we'll have a Congress and Executive rife with dysfunction and enmity on January 2, 2013.  For most of us, gravity will still mysteriously hold us to the spinning globe; we'll still eat, drink, and by and large get along.  But the reset of the Mayan Long Count may actually inaugurate a change - one that will introduce subtle shifts that, in the long view of history, may be of profound consequence.  And, the $1 trillion belt-tightening exercise, if experienced, will be a tiny blip on this larger scope of human evolution kind of like the declaration of Pope Innocent X:  full of sound and fury signifying nothing.

The Treaty of Westphalia is a fascinating read.  Trying to make it through the grandiose titles bestowed upon the exalted egos is a feat of endurance.  However if you do, you might find the shortest Articles to be some of the most interesting and relevant in our present condition.  Articles 38 - 40 set forth the fiscal preconditions of the fledgling nation states.  Article 38, the shortest of all, is the codification of financial contract law.  This simple Article states that, "… if Debtors have by force got some Bonds from their Creditors, the same shall be restor'd, but not with prejudice to their Rights."  Article 39 sets forth revenue claims (a proxy for taxes) which shall be clearly articulated within two years or, failing to do so, be "condemn'd to perpetual Silence".  How many of us would benefit from financial rules which are either clearly articulated or perpetually silenced?  Ah, for the good old days! 

While lazy historians teach their students that the Treaty of Westphalia is the basis of the modern nation state, this uninformed apology masks its more pragmatic substance.  To end tyranny, social unrest and economic exploitation, the Treaty actually:
  • Set forth principles of religious and cultural tolerance and co-existence (the reason why the Pope hated it);
  • Set forth a model of pragmatic, pay-as-you-go economic accountability; and,
  • Set forth a clear statement that the regent and sovereign, at the end of the day, seeks self-preservation and wealth accretion over the interests of the citizenry.
While we may rail against the undesirability of any of these (notably the last intention), there is a certain elegance in the prima facie transparency of self-interest that does not hide this third intention behind the façade of public benefit.  The fiscal cliff we've been asked to fear allegedly threatens our national security illusion with defense cuts.  However, last time I checked, our multi-billion dollar bloodlust has more to do with ideological imposition than it does with defense.  Oh, and how can I forget that we'll also have discretionary reductions which will deflate the bloated corpses of bureaucracies that have inefficiently preserved their own existence rather than becoming sacrosanct by virtue of self-evident competence?

So which rocky metaphor is apropos:  the crashing rocks of Jason and the Argonauts that will crush the illusion of our failed systems of organization and governance or an animated cartoon created for entertainment and distraction from which we will recoil in fear only to realize that it wasn't real in the first place?  Well, that's where it becomes a bit more complicated… and interesting.  

When one considers these two contrasting themes, a few observations are noteworthy.  The Symplegades served as an invitation to courage and navigational precision.  To survive the crushing rocks, a skillful navigator had to understand the rhythm of the rocks and enlist the full compliment of crew.  Jason, according to the story, sent a dove to fly ahead of the ship.  The bird, flying between the colliding boulders, lost only a tail feather.  Observing this foul, Jason could time his own transit.  And thus informed, he encouraged his men to lean into the oars mightily and, in so doing, they too made it through losing tail ornamentation but not the rudder thus allowing further navigation.  Wile E. Coyote, in contrast, runs off the cliff in complete ignorance to his surroundings and devoid of any appreciation for gravity.  His splat coefficient is a function of his neglect for his environmental conditions times the singular myopia animating his frenetic pace.  The greater his ignorant frenzy, the more debilitating the injury.

We have an opportunity to consider our modern heirs of the Treaty of Westphalia.  At present, there's more Wile E. Coyote than Jason being evidenced in what passes as leadership.  In light of this, we may be well-served to realize that the celluloid passing before our eyes should be seen for what it is.  It is a cartoon derived from a series of crude drawings moving in rapid succession creating the illusion of animation and life.  The animators of today, like their Westphalian ancestors, have neither your interest nor mine in mind.  And this is not bad.  It simply is the present condition.  So in this moment, we would be well advised to step back from the cliff illusion and see the movement of the rocks.  We do have challenges ahead and we need to understand when to apply our backs to the oars.  The fiscal cliff is NOT that time.  But the time is now!  It's time for We The People to realize that a More Perfect Union is derived from tolerance, transparency and trade.  For this, we do not need divine right claimants but rather need to fearlessly engage in productive ventures.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Mind the GAAP


When William Hewlett filed U.S. Patent 2,268,872 for the HP200A resistance-capacitance audio oscillator, he and his buddy David Packard unwittingly set in motion one America's most powerful illusions.  There's no small irony in the fact that it was Walt Disney's Fantasia that put HP on the map and World War II communications that provided the fuel for the "rocket" that Hewlett would describe in the following manner.

"We just happened to be on top of the rocket when it took off.  We were here with electronic products when electronics became a big thing.  We went up with it.  We don't deserve one damn bit of credit for the success of Hewlett-Packard."

The garage-to-icon myth is one of the most told, most misrepresented, stories of our modern economy.  RCA's David Sarnoff saw the value in Hewlett's technology and integrated it into Walt Disney's epic visual orgy set in motion in late 1930s.  But it was the war, and more precisely, MIT's microwave signal engineers which moved the duo out of the Palo Alto garage and solidified a government procurement cash-flow that would go on to support the enterprise.  It was 30 years between the garage and the first calculator in 1968, the HP9100A.  Hardly the 'overnight' entrepreneurial success that so many have chased into the Silicon Valley mirage.  So, this week when Illusionist-In-Chief Meg Whitman announced the nearly $8.8 billion charge-off, she was doing a lot more than swallowing the ipecac of the misguided Autonomy acquisition.  At the end of day, she was further indicting an economic model that she and her predecessors, though lauding at every turn, have failed to rationalize.  Growth, for its own sake, is to corporations what malignancy is to cancer.  While radical therapy can, on occasion, save the organism, this latest erasure of 'asset' value is but a whisper in light of the nearly $75 billion of market capitalization that has been vaporized in just the past few years from this once unassailable behemoth.  Ms. Whitman is probably correct in writing off Autonomy - itself an illusion created by a myriad ofcompliance and 'big data' noise - because it really wasn’t worth what HP and its investors paid.  But to blame the multi-billion crater on the impact of an accounting discrepancy (true or not) is still an illusion of gargantuan proportion.

What Meg (to say nothing of her unhappy colleagues like Ben Verwaayen at Alcatel and Stephen Elop at Nokia) doesn't get is that it's not GAAP accounting that is the enemy.  Revenue recognition audited by PricewaterhouseCoopers may be aggressive and wrong in the Autonomy deal.  But let's face it, the board (including Meg) should have been independent and inquisitive long before pen ever hit paper on the deal - not now that the target's name has become one of the greatest Icarian jokes of all times.  For Autonomy to work, it requires a bunch of dependencies!  HP, Alcatel, Nokia and others have the short term governance pathology of boards and management who live in the echo chamber of the past 30 years of public market lies.  Being at the top of the equity food-chain, growth through acquisition is favored above organic innovation.  Ironically, HP killed much of its true innovation about the time it adopted the "Invent" brand campaign.   And, when faced with the looming specter of presiding over the death of iconic brands, the same markets that celebrated the growth orgy stand more than willing to indebt the organ donor for one last gasp at profiteering.

For a bit of a digression, consider this week's announcement that Lloyd Blankfein's Goldman Sachs is looking at financing Alcatel in its hour of need.  Generous?  A real corporate citizen helping out another ailing giant?  Not so fast!  According to the press, Goldman is seeking to "stabilize" Alcatel's balance sheet.  This coming on the heels of Verwaayen's announcement that he's looking at selling many of Alcatel's patents to the Sherman Act-testing RPX.  Is Goldman's deal a stability play, an intellectual property collateral land grab, or a bit of both?  Does Goldman, RPX, or Verwaayen know the value of the assets once built in another innovation icon - Bell Labs?  Out of the firm's combined nearly 64,000 patents, slightly under 25% would stand up to validity challenges.  With over $150 billion in revenue generated by parties who are likely infringing a few thousand of the firm's legitimate IP, neither Alcatel nor its investors have any visibility into the assets of consequence.  Having one "too-big-to-fail" bank step into finance a "too-big-to-fail" company isn't going to shed more light on the matter.  However, if Blankfein plays his cards right, he'll get nearly $7 billion worth of collateral for a few hundred million.  And, like the HP story, investors will have their collective pockets picked by a system that has failed.

After 1999, 2001, and 2008, aren't we supposed to be more transparent, more informed?  Don't we have accounting and reporting requirements that are supposed to protect investors from these colossal blunders?  Don't we have oversight from the SEC, L’ Agence Nationale de la Sécurité des Systèmes d'Information, Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, the UK Serious Fraud Office, and other agencies who are watching out for the stated interests of States and their citizens?  Haven't we learned our lessons about assuming that someone, somewhere is actually paying attention so we don't have to do so?  If this week's news is any indication, the answer is an unequivocal "No".

But let's get back to the GAAP.   In our fervor for consolidating small enterprises into cumbersome polyphemes we do grave harm to the economy and rend our social fabric.  In the Small War Plants Corporation Congressional Act of 1942, we once acknowledged that agile small businesses were vital to employ the population and innovate in times of need.  Justified by an innovation-filled war machine in the Third Reich, the U.S. recognized that tactical response to economic, social, and technological demands required a fertile infrastructure to support the formation of new enterprises.  However, in less than a decade, this impulse had been infected with tax and debt incentives that favored a view that small enterprises were, in the end, part of a food-chain ending with the very large corporations they were formed to out-maneuver.  The utility of enterprise - including the gainful employment of millions - when it comes to merger frenzied financial predation - is seen as an inefficiency.  Efficiencies of scale erase livelihoods in the name of profit.  GAAP doesn't cost-account for the social burden of unemployment and underemployment, of failed cities and towns, of lost spirit of enterprise.  After all, those are masked by tax advantaged corporate practices which domicile costs in one jurisdiction and shield profits in another.

What the G-20 need is a peacetime version of the SWPC of 1942.  And, to be sure, failure to address this will cost us more than iconic names like HP, Nokia, and Alcatel.  When the Glencore Xstrata merger actually closes (which looks like it may finally happen), the resulting over $200 billion revenue entity will loom far above the GDP of many of the countries from which the combined firms extract minerals and other resources.  And, like BHP, Vale, and Rio Tinto, this powerful size will attract new challenges.  In a world where being large has run into powerful social and practical headwinds, the ecosystem upon which titans depend is becoming more fragile.  When the industrial incumbents weaken, opportunistic impulses surface.  Nationalization of assets occurs on the margins.  Trade barriers are built explicitly and implicitly.  And in the end, we see fragmentation.  We can either preside over, and participate with, it in an orderly fashion or allow it to happen to us.  The former requires genuine accounting for the things that we value.  The latter will allow us to wax nostalgic for values we failed to explicitly acknowledge.  We could benefit from the recognition that innovation and enterprise is a pathway for purposeful engagement - not an inefficiency from which capitalist pressures should extract every dime.  We benefit from William and David's first impulse - not Meg's last one.  We benefit from a wire stretched between two rooms which made remote communication possible - not from Goldman's final leverage.  It's time that we revisit our myths and divine the truth that they've masked.  We've been weighed in the balance sheet and have been found wanting.  It's time that we mind this integrity gap.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Big Data, Small Imagination


When I wrote my novel, Coup d'Twelve, in the Spring of 2011 the idea that a project with the code name "ORCA" would show up in the U.S. elections during November 2012 in reality and in my fiction would seem to be a rather creepy coincidence. In my novel, ORCA was a system that was used to coordinate massive financial data transmission resulting in unfathomable wealth transfer. In Mitt Romney's failed Presidential election bid, ORCA was a poll and voter watcher that was supposed to coordinate massive data which would have resulted in unfathomable wealth transfer. My personal favorite association of the giant sea mammal and data is the Hamamatsu CCD camera used to photograph cosmic rays… but I digress.

Reviewing the patchwork of contracts that are disclosed in Federal Election Commission filings, Targeted Victory appears to be one of the architects of ORCA and, quite to their chagrin, their name seems to have delivered Defeat to clients Mitt Romney, Floridian Connie Mack, Virginian George Allen, Massachusetts' own Scott Brown, and Wisconsin's Tommy Thompson. Their concoction of text messaging, social media blizzarding, keyword optimization and the like looked more like a penguin diving into the yawning jaws of a hungry sea lion than the silent lord of the deep. Targeted Victory did a nice job of lining their own pockets with campaign cash but, beyond that, they delivered a forgettable performance. The obsession with watery names persisting, Rockfish Interactive also siphoned some of the campaigns' sea lettuce with their "be the first to know" digital campaign apps. Together with MindShift Techonologies (run by former COLT Telecom Group's management team) and SCM Associates (established by Stephen C. Meyers in 1991), it appears that the one thing that the campaign can reasonably be expected to produce is generous donations to Babson College in Wellesley, Massachusetts. Why? Because more Babson alum were at the Republican trough slurping up campaign cash than many if not any other school. U.S. News & World Report gave Babson high marks for entrepreneurship education and they did the French word proud. Their alum stashed the cash while presiding over a national big top circus. Well done! Probably a good idea not to overplay the Technology, Operation, and Information Management degree as the tech side of the story is not quite so rosy.

Why did Romney's whale beach? In part because of the same arrogance promoted by IBM's pronouncement that "90% of the data in the world today has been created in the last two years alone." Daily dozen terabytes of tweets, 500 million phone call records, billions of pictures, videos, and documents - how couldn't they be right? Well, the answer is digital. No, really, I mean digital. Romney's campaign and IBM both think that the only thing worth counting is discrete variables: yes or no; black or white; on or off; red or blue. Complexity (like two or more dimensions) is the enemy of this illusory world. It's best if we ignore the fact that the world we inhabit and the cosmic expanse through which we travel are analog with continuous flux. When you over-attribute confidence to one-dimensional perspectives framed in digital reality, you lose. And when it's done at scale, we all lose.

So… after Mitt and Paul were sent packing in favor of Four More Years, pundits, still trapped in digital flatland decided to blame ORCA - the killer app that, well, wasn't so killer after all. Oh, and in the interest of fair-and-balanced, Charles Pruitt's A.B. Data Group (armed with a lot more money), delivered what WPP's advertising heft couldn't lift - a win for their candidate. Macalester College in Minnesota better be getting a bump in their endowment too! And by the way; good on ya' Macalester (Pruitt's alma mater)! I think that your college website is the only one that promotes Sauropod expeditions and anybody cool enough to have 65 million year old fossils on a website gets cool points in my book!

But the other reason why Romney's sea creature was more blubber than sinew was the failure of imagination. When one seeks to understand a complexity - like emotional human behavior - it's pretty important to start with complexity. Race, gender, socio-economic status, and the like are blunt instruments. With them, you might remove the overburden of mud to unveil the site of dinosaur bones but you'll never get into the granular details with digital classifiers. What's the difference, for example, between fossil and the surrounding dirt and gravel? Well, in truth, probably a few million years. The fossil is just earth dust with its geometry preserved. And that's where Romney, IBM and all the "big data" evangelists miss the point. They forget that signals (both digital and analog) are produced in words, pictures, embraces, dances, emotions, reflexes and mediation all the time and they emanate from impulses in context. Any attempt to decipher one without the other - to say nothing of the greater harm in concluding that one is of greater or lesser importance - is madness.

When Herman Hupfeld wrote "As Time Goes By" in 1931 (sung unforgettably by Louis Armstrong), he wasn’t expecting a literal interpretation of "A kiss is just a kiss." Tell this line to Jesus of Nazareth the night he was kissed by Judas. Tell this to your bride at the consummation of nuptials. Tell this to your son or daughter the first time they plant a slobber-filled smooch on your cheek. You see, when you take words out of context, you can fill in a thousand contexts in which they don't apply and then you can form an argument with one of the more romantic, lilting songs from the 30's. The impulse in context is not a "big data" challenge - it's actually something that neither Romney nor IBM can wrap their head around. It's an invitation to realize that by pretending to communicate signals through "social media", we've actually constricted the dynamic range of our communication. And in so doing, we've shrunk the complexity of context thereby generating more meaningless signal devoid of humanity.

Here's a simple way to confound the social spiders crawling every signal to infer meaning from your every move. Don't feed them. If you like this blog post, after you've shared it on your Facebook page, Tweeted it to your friends, and "Liked" it as many times as you can, think of someone you really love and actually READ it to them. You know, that good old-fashioned concept of actually letting your voice resonate with the poetic magic of words. When you do this, do me the favor of imagining me sitting with you and smiling. Imagine that we're starting a conversation that will last long into the night in front of the hearth or to the relentless crashing of the waves on a beach. And then choose to tell your version of this story to others. In so doing, you'll reconnect with a bit of your humanity and enter the realm of cosmic data - a realm too big for campaigns and computers. A realm through which a silent ocean mammal slides quietly waiting for the migration of the perpetually moving seas.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Bribes at the Supreme Court for Thermodynamics


Spending two days in Hilversum (Netherlands) at the Global Breakthrough Energy Movement Conference provides ample cognitive deuterium to power cold fusion reactors for the foreseeable future.  All kidding aside, Global BEM did a phenomenal job of doing something I last saw elegantly executed by John Petersen's Arlington Institute.  With an aptitude somewhat unique to the Dutch, they assembled one of the most improbable of audiences from all corners of the globe and exposed them to content as dimensionally complex as the attendees.  Under the moniker of "Breakthrough Energy" - a more suitable term than the ecosystem disrespecting term "Free Energy" which fails to account for the constituents contributing to the system - they appealed to an expansive consideration of how we animate our future.

I couldn't help but marvel at the allegedly uninvited guest that seems to haunt gatherings such as this.  From Foster and Kimberly Gamble's Thrive: The Movie to the coffee breaks in Hilversum, the ghosts of Bretton Woods, the IMF, and David Rockefeller were running amok again.  The evidence of the homicide of alternative energy efforts seen to threaten the global financial system was presented by speakers ranging from Canada's Honorable Paul Hellyer to George Bush's Former U.S. Assistant Secretary for Housing, Catherine Austin Fitts.  While in years past, these voices were seen as fringe and discounted as conspiracy theorists, in the wake of the continued accountability and performance failure in the global financial sector, current headlines lent a certain credibility to what is very old news.  This post is NOT about the fact that, since 1913 and unquestioned since Bretton Woods cum International Monetary Fund, the current monetary system is controlled by and for private interests at the expense of public interest.  Rather it is about the apparent cognitive dissonance that should disprove the First Law of Thermodynamics.  By observation, in an isolated system (the passionate advocates for alternative energy paradigms), energy expended in blaming the global financial cabal for non-adoption of vital technical solutions is infinite. 

Why the title for the post?  Well, for a bunch of reasons. 

First, according to the practice of law in the U.S. and its thermodynamically constrained allies, perpetual motion isn't.  In one of the landmark cases that struck down perpetual motion as a "violation of the first and second law of thermodynamics" and therefore an "incredible utility", the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit actually did not conclude that Joseph Newman concocted a scam.  To the contrary, the actual case recites a report stating that, "evidence before the PTO and the district court is overwhelming that Newman has built and tested a prototype of his invention in which the output energy exceeds the external input energy; there is no contradictory factual evidence."  But, it goes on to say that since the evidence "seems contrary to recognized scientific principles" the results are "impossible".  Cold fusion researcher Dr. Mitchell Swartz's patent application efforts have been held up as irreproducible and therefore added to the Hall of Infamy by those who accept that science articulated in 1850 is the constraint with which we should all be hobbled today.  Having reviewed neither of these actual devices or the data associated therewith, I have no ability to comment on what the individuals did or didn't do.  What I can say is that the adherence to an 1850's mathematical assumption conveniently cloaked in the ominous designation of "Law" doesn't auger well for our social or scientific "advancement" illusions.  And to declare violations of thermodynamic "laws" to be "incredible" (in the pejorative use of the term) is incredible.

But equally incredible is the insistence that, with adequate financing (do we recall that the money is distributed by private institutions for the benefit of their shareholders?) we would be able to unleash alternative energy that would economically harm the shareholders that actually mint the thing that we "need" to destroy them.  If this sounds like the convoluted logic replete in the iocane powder laced Vizzini scene from The Princess Bride, good.  It should.  Because it is.  If we need distributed power available at each home, office, and human point of electrical consumption to rid ourselves from our vampirish monetary overlords, asking them for permission is more illogical than, "getting into a land-war in Asia or matching wits with a Sicilian when death is on the line." (For those of you who haven't seen the movie, you won't get this but you can click the link above and catch up.)  Which is only slightly more illogical than our continued addiction to our 60 Hz matrix unto which we've sworn unqualified allegiance.  We're blaming the poppy grower while the diacetylmorphine (a.k.a. heroin; a.k.a why we're really still fighting a land-war in AfghanistanAsia?) needle is pumping the drug into our arm at our own hand.  If I were James Carville, I'd probably say, "It's the electricity addiction, stupid."  If we're serious about cutting the literal and metaphoric cord, we need to examine all of our dependencies we've placed on our electrical grid and figure out how to amend our technological entitlements which reinforce the incumbent system. 

If we spent as much of our time coming up with empowered appliances which actually address human needs and desires as we do trying to force gravity, fluid dynamics, toroidal fields, magnetism, light, and biodynamics into the 19th century utility grid, we may find that we need a lot less of a lot - including conflict metals, scientific ego reinforcement for "finally being recognized", money, and corporatization of energy.  We say that we want humanity, justice, peace, liberty, and countless other aspirations.  We say that these ideals can be achieved with distributed energy (or free software, or free medicine, or any of a number of other 'causes').  Yet we pave the road to our own demise with the sticky sludge of our refusal to emancipate ourselves from our reflexive preconditions that keep us enslaved to the very system that we claim is harming us.

The only perpetual motion machine that has clearly violated the Second Law of Thermodynamics is our fractional reserve currency system in market application.  What we've seen is clear evidence that trillions of dollars representing the notional value of hypothetical credit default and other synthetic instruments actually moved into dis-entropy between 2007 and the present.  This phenomenon, by the way, actually challenges Newton's Laws of Motion as money in motion actually suspended in an invisible cul-de-sac in the face of the clear violation of the Antoine Lovoisier Law of the Conservation of Mass in which the isolated system actually just created more ex nihilo.

Let's review.  You don't use the only perpetual motion machine that is embraced by governments and private elite alike (fiat, debt-based currency) to replace coal-fired electrical generators with gyroscopes, water screws, photonic or acoustic cavitation, and the like.  You start with what the Global BEM did well.  Bring together an eclectic, yes, at times, somewhat erratic crowd.  Let them share perspectives and interdisciplinary thinking.  And then, after all the energy condenses into infinite mass in infinitely small space, you spark the birth of a star by changing the paradigm that you perceive to be your principle constraint.  This cosmic process is, by its very nature, volatile.  But what you know is that somewhere on a planet far, far away, what will be seen is Light.  And that is what I wish for us all!  Pure, undefiled, LIGHT.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Austerity: Progress in Retrograde


Bernard Mandeville's Fable of the Bees, first published in 1705, served as one of the many philosophical underpinnings for Adam Smith's, John Maynard Keynes', and numerous other economists' causal economic models.  For those who have the time, I commend the 1714 full text for edification.  For those who don't, I've quoted the fable's moral below.

"Then leave Complaints: Fools only strive 
To make a Great an honest Hive. 
T' enjoy the World's Conveniencies, 
Befamed in War, yet live in Ease 
Without great Vices, is a vain 
Eutopia seated in the Brain. 
Fraud, Luxury, and Pride must live; 
Whilst we the Benefits receive. 
Hunger's a dreadful Plague, no doubt, 
Yet who digests or thrives without? 
Do we not owe the Growth of Wine 
To the dry, crooked, shabby Vine? 
Which, whilst its Shutes neglected stood, 
Choak'd other Plants, and ran to Wood; 
But blest us with its Noble Fruit; 
As soon as it was tied, and cut: 
So Vice is benefcial found, 
When it's by Justice lopt, and bound; 
Nay, where the People would be great, 
As necessary to the State, 
As Hunger is to make 'em eat. 
Bare Vertue can't make Nations live 
In Splendour; they, that would revive;
A Golden Age, must be as free, 
For Acorns, as for Honesty.

Despite the conspicuous absence of a "Finance Minister", the G20 have convened in Mexico for what undoubtedly will be one of the most stupefied assemblies to date.  The missing minister happens to preside over the economy of greatest magnitude currently careening towards a self-imposed fiscal cliff with no driver at the wheel.  On Tuesday, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) correctly stated that we can't "tax our way out of it."  It turns out that revenue sufficient to be a nation "Befamed in War..." living …"in Ease" where "…Fraud, Luxury, and Pride must live; Whilst we the Benefits receive," is as illusory today as it was in 1705.  Britain's continental conflicts were then what our War on Terrorism is today - an imposition of uncommon values at the end of a gun.

Mandeville paints an entirely hopeless picture of the struggle for the State to encourage the populace to "conquer (rather) than indulge his Appetites".  To encourage citizens to "disapprove their Natural Inclinations, or prefer the good of others to their own," while admirable, is futile as there are not enough rewards suitable to encourage such an ideal body politic.  And so Congressman Cantor eludes courageous unpopular leadership like his English lord forebears just 300 years ago.  Correctly describing the untenable without once evidencing the courage required to deliver the sober message:  We the People have become Entitled to the point of Sloth and that's what's got to change.

Befamed in War and Living in Ease (a dubious expenditure-to-GDP ratio distinction shared by the U.S., Saudi Arabia, Israel, Oman, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates - all luminaries of human excellence and...well,...) is an ironic paradox given the U.S. insistence on being dedicated to Freedom and Liberty.  "Physicians valued Fame and Wealth Above the drooping Patient's Health," while we spend over 15% of our GDP on disease management suggesting that the "Living at Ease" ideal is not adding to our well-being.  Between war, disease and debt, we spend more on these three than we do on all those things that would add to our benefit.  And this is the "big government" that the Democrats are accused of supporting and the same "big government" that the Republicans are unwilling to challenge.  Tragic, when you think about it!  Both sides sharpening their teeth on the same pestilence that will devour all in the end and no one willing to call either side's bluff.

Which is why I'm so fascinated by the much ballyhooed scourge of "austerity".  We've been conditioned to see ourselves dependent on Defense, Health, and Money - the sovereign duty of the government under the current paradigm.  Yet we enjoy neither safety, wholeness, nor productive value exchange!  So when we hear that the conditions under which government is operating are not sustainable, what precisely do we find so repugnant about this prospect?  Isn't this a time to celebrate the natural end of a failed experiment of nation-state intervention and a time to embrace the personal and community accountability we've been conditioned to eschew?  A world with fewer self-incriminating corrupt political actors incentivized to duplicitous behavior through opaque indulgences brokered through graft - now that's some austerity we could all use.

Rather than swooning under the popular fear of the terminal condition of a system wracked with the cancer of corruption, I suspect that we'd do ourselves a favor for examining the value of that which we're warned we'll lose.  Sure, the transition from public funding to community values may be bumpy but maturation is always a bit messy.  Think about it - were your teenage years your best?  While I'm sure one of you passed through puberty with nary a pimple, most of us had more than our share of the generalized plague-like appearance that no amount of Noxzema could fully tackle.  But, for most of us, this was a passing state and we came out the other end with a character that learned to accept that which was uniquely our challenges and release the emotional scars that were skin blemish deep.  We the People are now invited to join our European brothers and sisters and realize that the pruning that is upon us is not our enemy.  We are confronted with an opportunity to engage an accountable life at scale.  And this may form a More Perfect Hive.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Indemnify Us From Evil


Tragedy struck civilization on Monday when six scientists and one government representative were sentenced to six years in prison for manslaughter.  The seven were convicted for failing to predict, and communicate the severity of, a 6.3 magnitude earthquake that lead to the deaths of over 300 people.  This verdict – including the €7.8 million fine – represents an indictment not on the scientists but on the state of humanity.  And as I write this blog post on the eve of the Mid-Atlantic’s much heralded “Frankenstorm”, I am struck with the chilling commentary this case elucidates on where humans go when they perceive themselves “victims”.

Before I get into the meat of my comments it’s helpful to put some context around the data.  The years 2004 and 2010 hold the recent decade’s record for earthquake attributed deaths (228,802 and 320,120, respectively).  The 2009 L’Aquila quake came in a year of relatively few earthquakes worldwide (14,825 or nearly half the annually observed number) and a year of quite low deaths (1,790).  So, in any year in which “science” and “experts” were relied upon to forecast anything, betting against tectonic plates was a safer bet than fear-mongering.   And let’s be clear, it is relatively rare for earthquakes to actually kill people.  Rather, it is the failure of human infrastructure built to “protect” humans that actually is the culprit.  Following the illogical impulse of the Italian court, the long, blind arm of justice could have equally embraced building code urban planners, architects, builders, building supply enterprises, and the institutions that finance and incentivize the creation of them all.  China, which holds the dubious record for the deadliest natural disasters of the past 150 years (most of which were floods killing as many as an estimated 4 million in 1931), shows us that nature’s mortality statistics have more to do with how many people live in zones of dynamism than they do with the forces of nature.

But what is of far greater import in this week’s story is the “perfect storm” of three idolatries which shake far more foundations than a plate on the earth’s crust.  And while I’ve addressed these tangentially in many previous posts, the meteorological mantra on the Eastern Seaboard of the United States seems to be inviting their revisiting.  They are:

  • The Idolatry of Prediction: the notion that we can use observed metrics of our own creation to foretell that which we fear or covet;

  • The Idolatry of Experts: the notion that through deepening inquiry into a single field one becomes more useful than by embracing the intuition borne of generalists; and,

  • The Idolatry of Culpability:  the notion that identifying a nexus of blame serves to inform others of the gravity of responsibility.

When one considers the data used to understand asset allocation, it is fascinating to see the consensus that industry participants accept when they replace modeled, adjusted, or index data for actual market observations.  These approaches, subject to selection and subjective biases are used to explain past events and prognosticate expectations about the future.  As seen with the credentialed economists of the past decade who neither understood, predicted, averted, nor remedied the economic dislocations through which we’re still passing, the reliance on models built on self-fulfilling assumption justifications is remarkable.  The “raw data” upon which many models are built are neither “raw” nor “data”. Upon this foundation, advisors rearward "model" historical market events and then forward cast lines drawn from modeled observations.  What’s most disconcerting is the belief system which allows anyone to presume that sufficient understanding of measured phenomenon (to say nothing about the accuracy of the metrics) is suitably complete to have confidence in a linear assembly of data.  The notion that, by placing heterogeneous data in a two-dimensional projection (all of which are constrained by user bias and selection preference) one can express confidence in tomorrow is an affront to the experience of life.  To take money from others for the “service” of purveying such approaches is dubious in the best of days (to say nothing of the possible FINRA violations which, while prima facie, are neglected because FINRA’s own enforcers are among the perpetrators).

When seismologists in Italy were asked to comment on the likelihood of an earthquake a week hence, they were not invited to consider the structural engineering of the buildings in L’Aquila.  Their responses didn’t include the covariance of the buildings and infrastructure and its predisposition to fall – earthquake or not.  When meteorologists are asked to comment on the path of a storm and its likely rainfall, they are not asked to contemplate the agrarian cycle which may expose tilled soil to erode worsening the horrific floods in Johnstown Pennsylvania in 1889, 1907, 1924, 1936 and 1977.  When we have “100 year” weather and seismic events every other year, shouldn’t we call into question the value of narrowly focused experts in favor of the broad swath of observations made by generalists well informed?  Most notably, the indictment of our expert idolatry is the Stockholm Syndrome which pervades our cultural behavior.  Having failed to anticipate the cataclysm, we turn to the very same sources to explain their surprise rather than calling into question our blind subjugation to their “expertise”.  Whether it’s the revivalist preacher selling heaven by being an expert is the torments of hell or an economist promoting job creation having never signed a paycheck in his life, expertise is killing us yet our adherence and faith is growing.

Until it breaks…

And then, rather than reflecting on the fact that we built the pedestal from which the diviner of models and statistically robust science made expert proclamations which were falsified by reality, we decide that the priest must be killed.  Six scientists and a government official did not commit manslaughter.  Alan Greenspan did not create the global financial dislocations of 2007-2008.  And the sordid disclosures in her tell-all book notwithstanding, former FDIC Chair Sheila Bair, was neither the Oracle of Delphi nor the collaborator for consensus that she’s been portrayed.  Investors in Bernard Madoff’s scheme were first greedy for unrealistic returns before he was the opportunistic predator he’s been made out to be.  The SEC, the FBI, and the Department of Justice had plenty of time to stop the crimes at a much smaller scale but the system fueled by greed and complacency prefers meteoric super-villains more than it calls for pre-emptive accountability and adherence to law.  “Truth commissions” have never exterminated the root evil – they merely inform the future perpetrators how better to bury their trails.  

In the time that it takes you to read this blog, the World Health Organization confidently states that 382 people will be dead due to our collective disregard for suitable water, food, housing and infrastructure.  More people will be quietly killed by our economic adherence to Adam Smith this year than were killed in the bloodiest year of World War II.  A decade after our Millennium Development Goals were lauded, we’ve done precious little to alter our thoughtless predation on the minerals, forests, chemicals, and labor of the poor while we rush to our Wal-Marts to get the lowest price deal on the things we don’t need.  And as long as we wait for an expert to give us a model to teach us how to end Poverty by 2015, we’ll quite merrily go about living without making any difference. 

Which gets me to the point.  Data, models and experts are, at best, inputs.  At worst, they provide an indemnity (an insurance) against us ever taking responsibility for the roles we all play.  Burying ourselves in statistics and evidence means that we’ll never have to take responsibility for the decisions and actions we take each day.  Millions, on this day, recite what is called the Lord’s Prayer which goes like this:

Pater noster, qui es in caelis:
sanctificetur Nomen Tuum;
adveniat Regnum Tuum;
fiat voluntas Tua,
sicut in caelo, et in terra.
Panem nostrum cotidianum da nobis hodie;
et dimitte nobis debita nostra,
sicut et nos dimittimus debitoribus nostris;
et ne nos inducas in tentationem;
sed libera nos a Malo

Today, let’s pretend that the diety to which this prayer ascends answers, “You got it.  I’ll give you a heaven as you’ve done on earth.  I’ll forgive you like you forgive those you hate and have offended you.  You’re doing fine on your own with the temptation bit without needing me to not lead you there.  Oh, and I did deliver you from evil but it seems you’ve taken it back on yourselves.”  

And then, let’s stop pretending and start living like there’s no tomorrow!

*Note:  This post was edited November 7, 2012