Corpania Ideas

CAVEAT! I'm an amateur philosopher and idea-generator. I am NOT an investment professional. Don't take any of my advice before consulting with an attorney and also a duly licensed authority on finance. Seriously, this my personal blog of random ideas only for entertainment purposes. Don't be an idiot.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

New Predictions: Fiscal Cliff Deal will Cap Deductions Thus Hurt Real Estate

After watching the "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" today (11/25/12) as well as my standard sources of news (Rachel Maddow, TYT, NPR and regular random samplings of FoxNews) it is becoming increasingly clear to me that the deal to avert the "Fiscal Cliff" will likely include a capping of tax deductions (especially including mortgage deductions).

If that first prediction is correct then my consequential second prediction is that Real Estate prices will continue to stagnate or may even fall again.

The reasoning is pretty straightforward (assuming mortgage deductions are indeed capped):

1) Owners of multiple properties (especially those who have rental properties) will be hit very hard by the capping of such tax deductions (because it is conceivable that there could be no such cap on one's primary residence). Such a substantial increase in taxes (by virtue of the fact that less rental revenue will be offset by these new, smaller deductions) will result in those owners taking home less profit which will result in marginally profitable rental properties becoming unprofitable. 

2) These newly unprofitable rental properties will encourage sales of those properties (especially for those owners who are highly leveraged).

3) This downward pressure on sale prices will be in effect for at least as long as those new tax policies (capping deductions) are in effect thus limiting price rebounds (perhaps more so than the upward pressure of slow to moderate economic growth in America).

4) Secondarily, those considering buying another house (especially as a rental property) will have substantially less incentive to do so. This reduction in profitability of rental properties (due to less deductions) will further depress prices because the sellers will have fewer & less-motivated buyers than they would have had under the current tax code.

CONCLUSION: Be very careful about buying a rental property until after the fiscal cliff deal is set (unless you're massively low-balling on the price - because, of course, if the property is cheap enough there may still be worthwhile profit to exploit).

BONUS PREDICTION: I suspect this new path (of capping deductions) will most personally hurt those making between $200k to $1mil per year who have a lot of property loans. But it will also make mansions (high end real estate) substantially less attractive because they will cost buyers/owners much more money to own (in the form of more taxes due to limited deductions) compared to the current system. This will likely reduce the amount of loans taken out to buy such properties going forward. This will probably place some significant downward pressure on high end real estate prices for the foreseeable future (IMHO).
CAVEAT: It is not clear to me if this downward pressure on high end real estate prices will overtake the upward pressure that results from the increasing income inequality dynamics (i.e. when the "rich get richer" there is necessarily a greater than average pressure to bid-up high end real estate compared to the rest of the real estate market).

SIDE NOTE: This all ties in to one of my grander theories that most lobbyists (and by extension virtually all non-progressive politicians) have the greatest incentives to protect the top "1/100th of the top 1%" and not actually the top "1%" (let alone the top 5%). A lobbyist (like Grover Norquist, who I truly believe has hurt America) doesn't primarily make money from the top 5% or even the top 1% - even if he most associates with people in those echelons. Instead he gets direct payments from hectomillionaires & billionaires and logically thus considers them to be his bosses. Consequently, policies that would benefit the the top 5% or 1% (like not capping deductions) are sacrificed in order to protect the hectomillionaires & billionaires (who would be most "hurt" by increases in tax rates increasing to 39.6% like they were under Clinton and like those tax policies that Obama specifically campaigned on - which is what the current GOP is most fiercely fighting against).

If those in the top 1% (and especially all those in the top 5%) were smart they'd recognize the danger of superpacs & lobbyists who primarily protect the hectomillionaires & billionaires. Without the superpacs & lobbyists, our elected officials would likely be more influenced by those with whom they most associated (i.e. those in the top 5%). This likely would result (IMHO) in more steeply progressive taxation that collects massively more from hectomillionaires & billionaires (like America did in the 1950s through the the 1960s). There would thus be a greater counter-balance against the insidious & as yet unmitigated increase in income inequality (which I have long preferred to refer to as "income extremity").

MOST IMPORTANTLY: This are just my amateur musings. I have no financial or legal bona fides. Be sure to consult with your financial services professional before making any investment decisions. Remember that just because my previous predictions have proven correct a high percentage of the time doesn't mean they all will. I could easily be wrong. We'll see.


Friday, October 05, 2012

Different Kinds of "False"

When considering who deserves your vote in any election you are bound to encounter "False" statements (those not reasonably considered true based on current evidence). But there are many different kinds of "False" and it's crucial to understand the differences.
1) Lies
2) Incompetence
3) Errors
4) Deception
5) Broken Promises - further split between Failures & Betrayals.
6) Predictions
7) Counter-factuals
Anyone who has taken a college-level course on Logic or Semantics can skip this post. Many other people may read this and consider it completely intuitive or even obvious. This is for everyone else (maybe someone you know who isn't likely to read this).
I will be as non-partisan as possible here…
1) "Saying something false when the speaker knows it to be false" - This is the most egregious kind of false and is best described as a "LIAR TELLING A LIE".
2) "Saying something false when the speaker, erroneously, believes it to be true AND he reasonably should be expected to know that it's false." - This is the second most egregious kind of false and is best described as an "INCOMPETENT PERSON SPREADING MISINFORMATION".
3) "Saying something false when the speaker, erroneously, believes it to be true and the listener has no valid reason to believe the speaker should know the truth." - This is simply an "IGNORANT PERSON MAKING AN ERROR" and should be forgiven so long as the speaker diligently makes an effort to stop the spread of his misinformation.
Related to objectively disprovable falsehoods are "Deceptions".
4) "Saying something that leaves a reasonable listener with an impression or inference that is false." -  That is a "DECEPTION" (regardless of the fact that the statement might be "technically accurate"). Most human language is imprecise because we are a combination of lazy and striving for efficiency. In order to speak without any ambiguity then all communication would take many times longer than they do now (and require a level of education and intellectual rigor well beyond that of the average American). It's simply not practical to be that precise all the time. So some leeway must be possible.
I think the measure of egregiousness of a given speaker's deception should be the "benefit the speaker gets from the naturally erroneous inference made by a reasonable listener". If the speaker does well from the erroneous inference then he should not be given the benefit of the doubt and instead should be admonished for the self-serving "Deception" (which is just as bad as outright "Lying"). Whereas if the speaker gets no benefit from the erroneous inference then there is less culpability and it should be treated as either "Incompetence" (if the speaker should've known better) or an "Error" (if the speaker couldn't be reasonably expected to know better).
Separate from those are three more categories "BROKEN PROMISES" and "PREDICTIONS" and "COUNTERFACTUALS" (the definition used in Philosophy & Logic).
5) Everyone knows what a "Broken Promise" is. Culpability in the broken promise is entirely dependent on the circumstances. It is, in any event, not a "Lie". And, at worst, a broken promise is only a "FAILURE" (provided the promise-maker didn't actively pursue an action contrary to the promise, which if he did, would constitute a "BETRAYAL").
6) Predictions are simply stories until the results come in. A prediction or forecast is, by definition, unprovable at the current time. Later, with the benefit of hindsight, you can test the accuracy of the prediction. But in the moment a prediction simply can't be held as fact. At best, a prediction can be considered relative to the predictor's previous track record with predictions. If the predictor has previously made a lot of "bad calls" relative to his "good calls" then his current predictions must be viewed with skepticism. Don't forget that anything can be created in a fiction. Reality need play no role until the prediction is either confirmed or rejected by the subsequently encountered objective evidence.
7) "Counterfactuals" are simply the fictitious "woulda happened" timelines in a parallel universe. Less valuable than "predictions", counterfactuals are stories that never have to interact with reality. Counterfactuals are actively unhelpful in political debates because any side can make up any fantasy they like of how things would've been better if their politician was in office or, alternatively, that things would've been worse had the opposition had its way.

CONCLUSION: Let's stick to the evidence and reasonable applications of logic.


Sunday, July 15, 2012

Provocative Hypothesis Why Republicans Vote Against Their Interests

My Provocative Hypothesis Explaining Why Most Republicans Vote Against Their Own Interests

I was enjoying CurrentTV's relatively new progressive news show "The Young Turks" and one of their reporters was doing a "man on the street" segment
To be fair, the questions were pretty loaded/biased: 
"What do you think about Romney hiding his wealth in secret offshore accounts and paying a 14% effective tax rate?"
The multiple responses from Republicans were tantamount to:
 "Good for him. He's smart. So long as it's legal he should pay less. if it's legal then anything goes."

Now it's gotta be obvious to everyone that the more Romney pays in taxes the less the rest of us have to pay (less national debt) and the less Romney pays in taxes the more the rest of us have to pay (more national debt). 

So for those thinking purely selfishly, shouldn't they want him to pay more? If you are looking out for your own self-interest then you want others to pay more so that you have to pay less. Ceteris paribus, that is necessarily true. Right?

But the Libertarian/Republican mindset is popularly understood to be more "selfish" in the Ayn Rand sense of the word and therefore necessarily less altruistic. So why should an Ayn Rand-Libertarian/Republican be so comfortable with a policy that is against his own interests?

Perhaps these people are so very principled that they think, for the meritocracy to work, the rules should be set in stone for all and if the system can be "gamed" then that's part of the meritocracy (i.e. the clever who outsmart the system deserve their rewards).

But as attractive as that may be to the Libertarians/Republicans who see themselves as principled, that doesn't really square with their fundamental philosophy. If you are truly selfish (i.e. living only for yourself) then there should be no system that you endorse that has negative results for you. 

Think of the varying rules for boxing matches or negotiated formats for political debates. Any specific rule may give an advantage to one side (e.g. a knockout artist might want no "Standing eight count" and an uncharismatic politician might want to outlaw "audience applause"). It's nearly a tautology that the setting of the rules necessarily affects the outcomes.

Aha! There's a way to explain this phenomenon (where Libertarians/Republicans advocate for a rule that works against themselves) after all. Maybe such people think that they are "better" and, if given a fairly meritocratic system, they will therefore eventually succeed. 
Richard Nixon's head: I promise to cut taxes for the rich and use the poor as a cheap source of teeth for aquarium gravel!
[The audience applauds.]
Fry: That'll show those poor!
Leela: You're not rich.
Fry: But someday I might be rich, and people like me better watch their step!

However, the real data shows that "economic mobility" in the United States is now pretty terrible compared to many European countries. This means a modern American man's earnings is more closely tied to what his dad earned compared to a Swede, Canadian, Fin, Dane, Norwegian, German or Frenchman. Only the British have slightly worse (more stagnant) economic mobility.

Ok, so is it that simple? 
Is it that most Libertarians/Republicans are simply deluded into thinking they're "better" and simultaneously hoodwinked into thinking they have substantial economic mobility? When the truth is that Americans really don't have good economic mobility (compared to other countries and especially compared to America in the middle of the 20th century).

Maybe so (IMHO).

But I'm now going to pose a very provocative and largely unsubstantiated hypothesis
I deliberately don't even call it a "theory" out of respect for the scientific method.

Ok,here it is - it's the infamous adage: "Honor Among Thieves".

First of all: Why is there "Honor Among Thieves"?

Sure one can validly argue that the expression is actually false because, when it comes right down to it, criminals will rip each other off and snitch to save themselves. 

Nevertheless, that concept feels at least intuitively true. And why is that? I assume, at its most basic, the answer is "kinship". Criminals simply recognize commonality in each other even if only in the form of a "common enemy" (the police, sucker citizens etc.)

The "Honor Among Thieves" concept made me think of my previous post about "Defining "Good" via Descendants' Prosperity" - 

Maybe take a minute to click on that link to my blog post and skim it as a refresher.
Ok, you got it?
You back now?
Sweet. Then let me continue my potentially libelous (but at least somewhat falsifiable with further research) hypothesis.

If you're used to "gaming the system" yourself and especially if you think you're good at it (or similarly if you think you'd do worse under a less-gameable system) then you're invested in the status quo. You wouldn't want the rules or enforcement to change because that might hurt you relative to the current situation. 

It's just like the boxing and debate analogies. You think you've got an extra advantage with the current rules (which allow for gaming/hacking/tricking the system in certain ways) so you'll tolerate others doing similar tactics. 

Here's another analogy: if you think you're a good bluffer in poker then you certainly don't want to outlaw bluffing. And you can rationalize it because everyone has the same opportunity for bluffing so it can reasonably be defined as fair for all.

Of course, this all circles back to the first explanation - most Libertarians/Republicans are still wrong. 
The regular Libertarians/Republicans actually can't game the system remotely the way the Romneys of the world can because such complex tactics require substantial investments in lawyers, accountants & lobbyists (which the regular people simply can't afford, let alone amortize for a good ROI).

So even if there exists something like "Honor Among Thieves" which motivates some or most Libertarians/Republicans, in the end they're still voting against their own interests.

For those who doubt that most Libertarians/Republicans vote against their own interests please review these books (or at least some relevant Wikipedia links) before attempting to debate with me:

 - CurrentTV -
 - Futurama Episode -
 - Economic Mobility Poll -
 - Economic Mobility Data -
 - Economic Mobility Overview -
 - My previous post about "rigging the system" for one's descendants -


Tuesday, June 05, 2012

"My Prediction: Greece Won't Exit the Euro" / and the "Slacker Son Scenario"

Quick update about a couple of my previous predictions: 

Romney and Obama are virtually in a dead heat in the polls (remember that I previously predicted that Obama will win reelection and I maintain that view). But I think the polls are currently close because the general public is not yet paying significant attention to the election (which is why polls 2 to 9+ months before any election can vary & swing so wildly). Right now Romney is the "Not Obama" vote and benefiting from ignorance about his record (Romney's Massachusetts  was 47th in job creation, and at Bain, on anything other than ROI for investors & low-taxed "carried interest" compensation for himself, his record will look bad to the voters because of massive layoffs & bankruptcies.) .
NOTE: I have to give my standard caveat that my political predictions are not only biased (I'm a proud Liberal/Progressive) but seem to be less accurate that some of my other predictions because of my biases (I tend to predict futures that trend closer to what I want to see in those cases).

MY NEWEST PREDICTION (as of 06/05/12)...

Call me a "Pollyanna" but I predict that Greece won't exit the Euro.

My main reasoning is based on the fact that any other alternative (of which I'm currently aware) is WAY worse.

All of the major players in the Eurozone (EU) are highly educated and well aware of decision theory. This is not to say that it's impossible for them to make mistakes because of course they have and they can in the future. They're human and biased and have competing priorities and assumptions (we're all flawed).

So here's my thinking when I game-out possible scenarios:
(those who work on Wall Street can jump to "Alternate Scenario#3: The Slacker Son Scenario" where I might have a potentially interesting perspective compared to the well-tread terrain of scenarios#1 & #2).

        a) The EU holds together and doesn't expel Greece from the Euro.
        b) Germany and the rest of the EU countries (especially those other than the PIIGS) subsidize Greece, as necessary, to prop it up to the minimum degree they can rationalize for the foreseeable future.
        c) Everyone "whistles past the graveyard" and hopes we all grow enough to be able to support our current and future obligations.

ALTERNATE SCENARIO#1) "The EU Expels Greece from the Euro Publicly & Outright":
        a) As soon as any word of this leaks out (and it basically must): "Bank runs" happen in Greece as customers transfer their cash primarily to German banks (but perhaps, even worse, literally under mattresses which is the most economically unproductive way possible).
        b) The rest of the PIIGS fear for a similar fate. Consequently, citizens of Portugal, Italy, Ireland and Spain soon after have similarly terrible runs on their banks.
        c) The German banks do very well but now the holders of PIIGS' debt (primarily the banks & investors) are holding horribly precarious (or virtually worthless) paper. If you were the (significantly Socialist) government of Greece why would you pay back your creditors? Why not simply default completely? Life is currently crap in Greece and paying back that debt makes life worse (at least in the short run) for Greek citizens. BTW - Everyone should read "The Shock Doctrine" by Naomi Klein.
        d) The Greeks create their own currency and are instantly subjected to insane inflation (since they've ruined their credibility by getting expelled from the EURO and now there's no "German brother" to bail them out).
        e) The EURO loses value worldwide because of the rest of the Eurozone countries lose credibility for embracing and then so soon after expelling Greece. A currency is attractive because of its stability & credibility.
        f) So the downside is comprehensible and there's no upside since the creditors get burned anyway (likely worse then would had Greece not exited the Euro).

ALTERNATE SCENARIO#2) "The EU Attempts to Surreptitiously Expel Greece from the Euro"
        a) The EU takes some preliminary (shady) steps towards this plan:
                - Flagging Euros/Accounts with an asterisk of sorts denoting the country of origin or the holder's nationality.
                - Enacting (likely opaque/incomprehensible) legislation "under the radar" that enables all of the other EU countries to "freeze & isolate" (quarantine) bank accounts of Greek citizens.
        b) Now when the inevitable "bank run" happens in Greece the Greek citizens get burned the most because their money (which they thought would be safe in German banks) gets confiscated to pay off creditors.
        c) The rest of the PIIGs still suffer the same terrible fate of bank runs (albeit at a slightly slower pace).
        d) Some Creditors do better then they currently fear because they confiscate Greek's investment (but creditors still lose principle).
        e) German banks do less well because "flagged currency/accounts" will encourage Greeks to transfer their cash to other countries (especially those in Asia).
        f) Greeks more certainly default on the rest of their debt (because they were just robbed and aren't concerned with paying their robber even if the robber was previously the creditor and there is debt outstanding).

ALTERNATE SCENARIO#3) "The EU Expels Greece but Simultaneously Gives Stipends & Guarantees (to prevent Greek bank runs)" - aka "The Slacker Son Scenario"
DESCRIPTION: This scenario is a bit like parents who let their slacker son move back into the house after college but he's been such "a pain in the neck & a drain on the finances" that they gotta kick him out. If they simply kick him out on the street there's a chance he'll become an actual bum or criminal (which is bad for the parents). So instead, while the parents do kick the kid out to live on his own they also generously give him a stipend to cover his living expenses. The understanding is that the kid has to start to make it on his own and the stipend will eventually decrease to zero. In this way the rest of the EU publicly promises to subsidize Greece for the foreseeable future.
NOTE: This could also simultaneously be done with the shady elements of "Alternate Scenario#2" to flag & quarantine Greek accounts.

        a) Since this third scenario is so functionally similar to the current course of action (continued inclusion in the EU) there is the possibility that it would indeed prevent Greek bank-runs (and those ensuing bank-runs for the rest of the PIIGS). However these subsidies & guarantees would have to be gigantic and rock-solid to prevent panic (and bank-runs in Greece). This third scenario would basically makes explicit, ironically in expulsion, the implicit promises it made to Greece by means of inclusion in the Euro. It's the same (or a better) level of protection & support with a largely semantic/paper distinction that paves the way, eventually, for a return to entirely separate currencies.

        b) Such gigantic & rock-solid subsidies and guarantees would not be at all politically popular in any EU country that is not one of the PIIGS (especially Germany). This generosity would be unambiguously seen as "zero sum" (good for Greece and by extension the rest of the PIIGS and bad for everybody else, especially Germany).

        c) Since this is still a big change it adds "unpredictability" and thus "risk" to the situation and in so doing enables greater unforeseen potential outcomes. All of that, ceteris paribus, is bad for investors & creditors.

CONCLUSION FOR ALTERNATE SCENARIO#3 = Not so terrible in results for the EU (compared to "the current course") but quite terrible in political "optics" for the subsidizing nations in the EU. Why would a non-PIIGS politician pursue this course of action if there's no clear net benefit?

Alternate Scenarios #1 and #2 would have terrible results and #3 has no clear net benefit. Also, not insignificantly, there is always gigantic inertia in these matters so making a big change would ordinarily require a "shock" to scare people into changing course assuming such a change would make things better (side note: seriously, please read about Naomi Klein's "Shock Doctrine").

Consequently, I predict the EU stays on "the current course" for the foreseeable future and keeps Greece in the Eurozone/using the Euro.

Let's see how well my prescient streak continues.
I do hereby promise to not delete this post out of embarrassment even if I'm ultimately proven wrong.
I sincerely hope to maintain my intellectual integrity by keeping track of my bad calls as well as my good ones.
And I hope others do the same (and not "cherry pick" there accurate predictions like deluded psychics & astrologists).


Monday, April 09, 2012

Exit "Short Oil Position" = Lock in your profits now

 On Sunday, March 25th, 2012 - I posted my recommendation to short oil at $106.87 (NYMEX CRUDE FUTURE) and now it just dropped to $101.30, so I now recommend you exit that position and lock in your profits (even though I then send to exit at $101 exactly).

Another profitable trade = 5.2% in two weeks is pretty good, right?

BTW - I still stand by my old (May 2009) prediction that Oil "should" be between $70 and $90 a barrel (ceteris paribus).
But I'd rather you make a quick and modest profit by my recommendations.


Sunday, March 25, 2012

Short Oil at $106.87 and Buy BP at $45.59

Even though Oil has been over $100 for a while I chalk that up mostly to saber-rattling with Iran. I still stand by my old (May 2009) prediction that Oil "should" be between $70 and $90 a barrel (ceteris paribus). 

So I am issuing my newest (UNLICENSED & UNPROFESSIONAL) advice to SHORT OIL NOW.


I) Oil is at $106.87 (at Friday's close 03/23/12) which is really high.
NOTE: I am no "gold bug" and thus I don't believe there should be a magical relationship between gold and oil in relation to the dollar. Sure those are factors to consider, especially because of the fact that so many people believe in such a magical correlation makes it a self-fulfilling prophecy.

But fundamentally Oil, like anything else, "should" be a function of supply and demand. With a finite resource and expanding demand, particularly from China & India etc., prices should trend upwards. But that trend is tempered by two reasons:
REASON#1 - Tar sands/oil sands, while terrible for the environment, are ridiculously abundant in Canada and worth extracting (only from an economic view) so long as Oil costs at least $70 a barrel. Hence my range for oil prices to be around $70 to $90 because any higher and that necessarily opens up a massive new supply (perhaps bigger than Saudi Arabia's oil reserves) which should bring prices down. If prices are close to $70 then those Tar Sands/Oil sands lay dormant because they wouldn't be profitable to extract.

II) Oil Production is UP (especially in the US and also consider that Obama is already signaling that he'll ultimately approve the new and horrible pipeline from Canada) -

III) Oil Demand is DOWN in the US (and also to a degree internationally, mainly due to the global recession) -

IV) Speculators (factoring in a conflict with Iran) have already pushed up prices by an estimated 30% (and they may/should be satisfied taking profit now) 

V) The saber-rattling with Iran "should" subside...
(Reuters) - "The United States, European allies and even Israel generally agree on three things about Iran's nuclear program: Tehran does not have a bomb, has not decided to build one, and is probably years away from having a deliverable nuclear warhead.
NOTE: Now that it's apparent that Romney will be the GOP's nominee the likelihood of a U.S. war with Iran drops (albeit not as much as when everyone finally realizes that Obama will be re-elected).

But you may ask: Wait a minute? Isn't that counter-intuitive?
I reply: It's a hedge (to reduce risk) but also I'm considering basic fundamentals.
For Example: BP is trading at a ridiculously low P/E ratio of 5.65 (when 10 to 15 would be more reasonable by historic standards) - Add to that the fact that no one seems to be clamoring for the heads of executives over there anymore. I also suspect their actual payout on damages to the Gulf will also be substantially less than most feared/projected (IMHO).
Royal Dutch Shell is also pretty cheap (P/E ratio of 7.10) and so is Chevron (P/E ratio of 7.92).
Whereas Exxon has a P/E ratio of about what it should be = 10.16

NOTE: Keep in mind that oil prices have gone up considerably in the past quarter and new production is ramping up big. Both of those factors bode well for Big Oil revenue/profits.

• Short Oil at $106.87 and then take profits if it drops to $101 and cut your losses if it spikes to $112.
• Buy BP stock at $45.59 and then take profits if it climbs to $51 and cut your losses if it drops to $41.

Let's see if my prescient streak continues. We'll see.


Sunday, February 05, 2012

My prediction: OBAMA WILL WIN REELECTION and the Democrats will regain control of congress (while retaining the Senate).

I'm normally impressively accurate with my predictions but I have a notorious blind-spot. When I really want a political prediction to come true I tend to overestimate its likelihood.

So with that caveat in mind, here's my most recent prediction: OBAMA WILL WIN REELECTION AND THE DEMOCRATS WILL REGAIN CONTROL OF CONGRESS (and retain the Senate). It won't be as dominating as 2008 but it also won't be a "squeeker-close" election either.

That doesn't mean we Democrats can slack-off because the GOP will have an obscene amount of corporate-sponsored SuperPac money with which to obfuscate/lie in endless ads. Not to mention pernicious GOP-led voter-suppression of Democratic-leaning constituencies coupled with assorted other shady variables unfortunately could make it go the other way. But I really think, in a fair campaign, the GOP has virtually no win this year primarily because of the following factors:

1) Obama's record is objectively pretty good: ending Iraq war, killed Bin Laden, saved GM, economy is improving, etc. (especially compared to GWBush's trajectory). Americans know that it takes time for policies to take effect. I like Rep. Xavier Becerra's line "even Superman needed some track to stop the train."

2) The current crop of GOP candidates (Romney/Gingrich/Santorum) and their donors/puppeteers have become too extreme and far too Right-wing for Americans to stomach. Their bubble-living world is too far removed from the current voting public. It's crazy that the GOP are publicly advocating for the 1% and against regulations in the wake of the Wall Street meltdown on GWBush's watch.

Old School/Previous Republicans had largely similar views (though they were much more willing to compromise) but they had the political savvy to LIE and put forth progressive-sounding platforms that included "Compassionate Conservatism". Being too blatantly anti-progressive puts today's extremist Republicans at odds with the truly progressive majority of the American public (defined using policy positions not self-identifying bogus "branding" at which the GOP is so effective).

3) The Liberal American population has become (and will continue to become) more Liberal (e.g. embracing democratizing technology, not offended by pornography, ever more pro-science/anti-religion, accepting of gays, tolerant of drug use, anti-corporate power etc.).

Also the American population has become more Black and Latino. Over the past few decades, conservative old white Republicans die of old age. Meanwhile Democrat-leaning Blacks & Latinos have been giving birth to more and more American children at higher rates than Republican-leaning whites do. Since the GOP continues to be so blatantly anti-minority (re: immigration, help for the poor which disproportionally affects minorities etc.), the GOP necessarily is giving up an increasingly significant slice of the electorate.

Now Obama has foolishly taken the Latinos for granted (so far abandoning his promise on immigration reform and shockingly increasing deportations compared to GWBush). But luckily for Obama, the GOP is so much worse for Latinos that he can and will get away with it. Nevertheless, I think Obama, in his second term, should create a "path to citizenship" for undocumented immigrants who have been living here for over a decade.



a) Conspicuous absence of "Tea Party" protestors and overall lack of GOP enthusiasm in the public square. Especially compare that with the highly motivated and undeterred OWS movement.

b) Low voter turnout in GOP primaries & caucuses.

c) Anecdotal evidence in my personal life: Fewer and fewer instances of previously Republican-leaning friends protesting against Obama and predicting his defeat.


CAVEAT: My prediction is based "ceteris paribus" on the forseeable future. If unemployment somehow spikes or if there are some other unpredictable events (terrorism attack etc.) then my prediction should be weighted and evaluated accordingly.


FINAL NOTE: The only realistic hope the GOP will have is if they nominate Marco Rubio (American-born from Cuban parents) and he is somehow able to moderate the GOP's anti-immigrant stance in the campaign (perhaps with the support of Agri-business and other industries which substantially rely on illegal workers to function).


Friday, February 03, 2012

Don't Let Your Side Use Deceptive Arguments

Don't Let Your Side Use Deceptive Arguments

2,000 years ago (heck, maybe only 200 years ago) it was possible for a single human being to know virtually everything there was to know at the time. One could be expert on everything because there simply wasn't so much to know.

Since then there has been an increasing "division of labor" which has enabled accelerated advancements in ever more subjects.

Today it's impossible to know everything (the world has just grown too complex). So humans rely on "Experts/Authorities", "Paradigms" (mental assumptions & models) and "Heuristics" (mental short cuts) to navigate life and solve problems.

But avoiding critical thinking and relying on such experts, assumptions and short-cuts leaves us vulnerable to fallacies.

If a person has survived (and especially if he has thrived) he naturally assumes his paradigms and heuristics are effective. Consequently, when he encounters evidence that is contrary to his predictions he must naturally first assume that evidence is somehow flawed. This is as it should be. It would be untenable for people to immediately abandon their world views whenever they first encounter contrary evidence. Because, after all, that particular piece of evidence could indeed be flawed, fabricated or insignificant compared to the preponderance of evidence at large.

We should all agree, however, that it is therefore continually necessary for all of us to ensure we are using the most effective experts/paradigms/heuristics available. If we repeatedly encounter evidence that is contrary to our paradigms then that should lead us to question their effectiveness and require us to consider other possibilities. If another paradigm is more effective at explaining the world and, most crucially, better at predicting the future then we have a duty to accept it (until an even more accurate system arises). Indeed that is the essence of "The Scientific Method" which has brought humanity such amazing progress.

All of the above is so intuitively obvious and proven and unanimously accepted by literally all reasonable people that this post may seem superfluous.

But now I ask you to take a bit of a (hopefully somewhat original) new leap with me:

Given the above is true, I contend that those who repeatedly make bad predictions or speciously argue claims that are ultimately disproved should necessarily be distrusted. And, perhaps more importantly, the paradigms held by such people should be questioned first and investigated most thoroughly because they are highly likely to be wrong.

In short: If your "side" has a disproportionally large percentage of liars and ineffective prognosticators then you should probably question the "side" itself and whether you want to be on it.

The people who have an honest and accurate view of the world and consequently make better predictions needn't lie nor make deceptive arguments in political debates.

OK, I tried to make the above as non-partisan as possible so that my Republican friends would be willing to consider it (and its ramifications).

But now I'm gonna get "Liberal/Progressive"...

Somebody should make a website with video clips & pictures of all of the presidential campaign ads with crucial follow-up.

Show what Obama promised in his ads and what he delivered (also noting where he fell short). Then show the crazy "doom" the GOP supporters predicted in their ads if Obama won (e.g. "3am Phone Call", "Kenyan/Muslim" etc.) and how virtually NONE of that happened.

Do the same for GWBush vs. Kerry and also GWBush vs. Gore and also Clinton vs. Dole and also Clinton vs. GBushI.

NOTE: It is practically worthless to fantasize about "counterfactuals" (fictions about how someone thinks history "would have gone" in an alternate timeline where a different choice was made). A counterfactual is utterly unprovable in any direction (for the reality-based delorean-less population).

What would be the result of this glorious website?
I would bet the majority of its visitors would fairly recognize how relatively terrible the GOP is at predicting the future (with results often going entirely opposite of their predictions) and how the Democrats are substantially more effective (albeit too timid when governing and overly optimistic about the efficacy of its policies).



A very smart and successful friend of mine is an active member of the Republican party in notoriously conservative (and wealthy) Orange County, California. He earnestly believed that "government regulation" is the biggest problem for Americans. He cited an SBA report that absurdly claimed that regulations cost America $1.75 Trillion (out of our $14.5 Trillion economy) and so I actually read the entire report.

That SBA report was embarrassingly specious on the whole. While it validly mentioned $281 Billion for environmental regulations (conceivably higher than it "should" be), $75 Billion for OSHA (which didn't seem crazy high IMHO) and $160 Billion for "Tax Compliance" (which seems to me to be way higher than it "should"), it then laughably added $1.23 Trillion in "economic regulation cost" by magically multiplying the World Bank's Regulatory Quality Index (which itself doesn't even claim to measure the regulatory costs other than "Environmental/OSHA/TaxCompliance") by the size of our economy (i.e. they used their own dubious and complex equation, that includes an artificial variable derived from another dubious & complex equation, and then basically multiplied by $14.5 trillion = WTF?).

That fundamentally flawed SBA report makes no effort to discount "double counting" (q.v. how can it determine the $1.23 trillion of artificially calculated costs doesn't already include Environmental/OSH/TaxCompliance costs?). But those aren't even the most flawed parts of the SBA's conclusion.

Get this: In that SBA report's very first paragraph it writes - "Regulations are needed to provide the rules and structure for societies to properly function. This research, while mindful of this fact, does not consider the benefits of federal regulations…" <<<That's in its own words!

Don't forget: Many, if not most, of those trade tariffs clearly HELP American businesses profit by making their international competition more expensive.
That SBA report speciously cites "Economic Regulations (based on the WB's RQI)" and yet makes NO EFFORT to calculate how much those regulations help American businesses.
It would be like saying Apple is a poorly run company because its Liabilities totaled $40 Billion and ignoring that its assets totaled $116 Billion.
In every remotely fair analysis of literally anything one must count the "PROs" and also the "CONs".

If one only measures one without the other then the conclusions must be viewed hyper-skeptically until the flip-side is fairly researched. This is so shockingly obvious that I feel like I'm condescending to you, dear reader. It should be the most basic "given" that having a trial where only the prosecution is heard from and the defense gets no say is fundamentally ridiculous. Even attempting to argue your point without at least citing the counter-arguments must be seen as sophomoric and not worthy of serious attention.

If I'm the first to write this then I hope I get quoted with the following: "Public policy debate should not be like advertising a fashion product. Art & Fashion are subjective so its marketing can't practically be "falsified". Whereas Public Policy Debate requires knowable truths and must actively eject deception."

And, of course, anyone who "knows better" but still deliberately makes deceptive arguments or promotes provably-false information should be ignored in public debate by all reasonable people. There must be a price for such damaging deception and in a free society that price can't be literal censorship because "Shunning" by other authorities can be just as effective.

Everyone should understand the difference between the following concepts...
"Lie" = an untruth told by someone who knows the truth
"Error" = an untruth told by someone who doesn't know the truth
"Broken Promise" = an unfulfilled action by someone who predicted he would complete it
"Bad Prediction" = an eventuality that runs contrary to someone's prophecy
Consequently, Obama didn't "lie" when he said the stimulus would drop unemployment to 8%. He simply made a bad prediction (albeit one that is not so terribly far off all things considered). Contrast that with GOP doom predictions if Clinton's tax hikes were enacted (which were followed by massive economic growth) and GWBush's predictions about what would happen if supply-side economics were further enacted (tax cuts for the top and the resulting Great Recession of 2007/8).




Friday, January 27, 2012

Liberals Do Not Oppose Capitalism

SUBJECT: Liberals Do Not Oppose Capitalism
FAIR WARNING: I meander into a bunch of different points with this post. I hope to polish it later and repost. (So your feedback in requested and appreciated).

A very well-educated conservative friend of mine sent me a link to a Cato Institute essay by Robert Nozick entitled "Why Do Intellectuals Oppose Capitalism" (1998).

I'm always glad to get a thoughtful invitation to sample my political opposition's sources first hand. Too much "echo chamber" is terrible for a productive debate.

I question the very premise of that essay. I contend that it's unfair to frame this debate as "intellectuals (liberals) opposing capitalism". I'm very liberal by most standards and I run in such left-wing, Hollywood circles that it's virtually a cliche. So I hope that lends me some credence when I strongly state this: I very rarely encounter anyone who is opposed to capitalism full stop. I think that population is microscopic even among self-identified Liberals.

Much more prevalent, by at least an order of magnitude, is the typical liberal who opposes "Unregulated Capitalism" or "Laissez-Faire Capitalism" or "Free Trade". I think that is a massive distinction. You are free to argue that anything other than an extreme Libertarian's definition of capitalism is "not capitalism". But if you do then be prepared to be alienated from the overwhelming majority of Americans. 

You can try to make your case that life would be better overall if we embraced "Unregulated Capitalism" and entirely rejected any social safety net. But you won't win any wide elections admitting that you want to abolish Social Security, Unemployment Insurance, SNAP, Public Education, FDA, EPA etc. 

Heck, as of 01/27/12, Ron Paul can't even win a plurality of the GOP vote in highly conservative sates.

NOTE: I previously made a similar point about the GOP's politically-expedient shifting definition of "Socialism".

That established, I think that Nozick's argument is flawed and falsified by the facts. 
Here is my perspective...

1) Liberals (and especially Liberal Intellectuals) rarely begrudge undeniably productive/innovative icons like Larry Page (founder of Google) or Steven Spielberg for their wealth. There is very little envy and instead there exists substantial appreciation of or pride in their achievements (if not motivating inspiration). The same respect cannot be said of Philip Knight (q.v. Nike's overseas child labor problems) or the average Wall Street banker (primarily because of the bailouts that are seen as "reverse Robin Hood" taking taxes from the underpaid school teachers to subsidize the bankers unmerited bonuses).

Why can Liberals draw such a distinction between Larry page and a Wall Street Banker? If Nozick's argument were perfectly true then there would be no such distinction. However, Nozick may be on to something regarding the very fact that liberals make such distinctions at all. 

2) Nozick makes a layperson psychological assessment of Intellectuals feeling "entitled" to success they have not achieved and resentful of the less-inteligent who become successful. To be sure, if that were the case then that would be difficult to defend assuming we, as we generally claim, aspire to a meritocracy. "Potential" shouldn't be rewarded because what you do with that potential is so much more important. Consequently, it is "Achievement" which should be rewarded (in order to encourage more achievement, not to mention the obvious morality of it).

And so, the bigger issue presents itself: Have we created a truly meritocratic system that best encourages achievement?

If we haven't done so then some people's gains, by definition, are inherently illegitimate (at least compared to the ideal). 

This is summed up with the legendary Chester Karrass book title: "In Business, as in Life, You Don't get What You Deserve. You Get What You Negotiate."

Since we must conclude that not everyone is a master negotiator, some people must be getting more than they deserve and other less than they deserve.

• Is the $150k per year Bentley salesman really providing triple the utility to society compared to the $50k per year Fire Fighter?
• How can it be good that the School Psychologist (Guidance Counselor) with a Masters in Social Work makes less than the Dog Groomer to the Stars?
• Why should the Mutual Fund Manager looking after $1 Billion in investments make over 100x what a US Air Force Pilot makes flying a $1 Billion Stealth Bomber?

One idealistic solution is to turn everyone into a better negotiator. This would be tantamount to making everyone a better poker player until the skill differential reduced to virtually nothing and the game became purely one of luck. Though with negotiation skills more equally distributed, the person's actual benefit to society should be better represented in her compensation. But how much effort work would that take and wouldn't that energy be better used in "growing the pie"?

SIDE NOTE FOR YOU: For your own good you should know the essentials of negotiation (which is much more than mere brinksmanship).
My quick negotiating tips: 
i) Research (what others pay for a similar thing and what your negotiating opponent normally prices it at)
ii) Sell (get your opponent excited about making the deal, initially go for "win-win".)
iii) Know your range (best case / worst case) before you meet.
iv) Give away as little leverage as possible: Try to get them to make the first offer but if that's impossible, always lowball when buying or ask big when selling and then demand either acceptance or a counter-offer. 
v) Don't negotiate against yourself: (don't compulsively fill the silence, make them fill the silence).

But who wants the whole world haggling all the time on literally everything?
Arguably, capitalism particularly thrived with the advent of the "standard price" (as opposed to the inefficient, slow & tailored-the-customer Bazaar pricing).

A more effective solution, IMHO, is to evolve our economy to become ever more meritocratic. This requires us to recalibrate & redirect incentives and few systems are equipped to handle that better than the Federal Government.

I am in the process of formulating a grand theory that is not yet ready for its own post. 
In short: Because economics shapes policy by what it measures, I think there should be a new measure of productivity/prosperity beyond GDP (Gross Domestic Product and its outdated Agricultural/Industrial/Service sectors troika) that specifically excludes "non-productive" sectors (like War, which actually benefits no one, and "zero-sum" businesses like Wall Street & Insurance & SNL's Commercial Parody about ROBOT INSURANCE).

In a less pejorative economic paradigm all businesses could be classified into these 3 groups: 

a) Productive (e.g. Farms, Manufacturers, Creative Pursuits, & Services that tangibly increase happiness >>> that which "grows the pie")

b) Protective (e.g. Police, Military, Security, Lifeguards, & some Healthcare >>> that which"preserves the pie")

c) Partitioning (e.g. Lawyers, Courts, Accounting, Banking, & Insurance >>> that which "divides the pie")

THE BENEFIT OF THIS KIND OF PARADIGM: By concerning ourselves with these different kinds of productivity we can better identify (and thus defend against) the growing problem of being an unproductive society overly reliant on Wall Street instead of actually making things. Ideally, we would be reducing "Protective" and "Partitioning" sectors down to as small as possible while directing resources (human resources & investment) into "Productive" pursuits.

FACT: "From 1990 to 2006, the GDP share of the financial sector in the broad sense increased in the United States from 23% to 31%, or by 8 percentage points." -


3) Given the following:
a) it is inevitable that China's economy will surpass America's (because they have triple the population and a faster growth rate)
b) America's advantage over the rest of the world in education has slipped with no evidence it will change direction
c) America's advantage over the rest of the world in manufacturing has slipped with little evidence it can change direction
>>> We should take a serious look at our approach to the concept of "Comparative Advantage" and what works best for Americans ("Free Trade" vs. "Fair Trade"). The goal of government must be to protect & enhance the lives of its citizens. Increasing the profitability of nationless corporations should only be pursued insofar as it enhances the lives of the nation's citizens.

4) Let's assume, for a moment, that generally the smartest kids go to Harvard. It should then scare us all that such a shockingly high percentage (30% to 45% depending on the year) go to work on Wall Street. Assuming they do it for the money, wouldn't it be better if we created more lucrative incentives for the smartest to become inventors, innovators, engineers, scientists, researchers?

NOTE: That is related to my old refrain that "Free Market Capitalists" should stop taking credit for American prosperity when it was the inventors, engineers and scientific researchers who actually made life better (in the form of computers, air conditioners, medical cures etc.). Because almost no one would give up their current life of technological advancement if given the choice to go back in time and be Pharaoh of Egypt. Sure you could roll around in gold and have women worship you (which is understandably desirable) but one infected cut could kill you. Life keeps getting better because of technological progress.


ALSO NOTE: This is all substantially related to my still inchoate concept of "Productive Wealth".

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