God is a Capitalist

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Entrepreneurs in the Big Short

Michael Lewis is the bestselling author of many books, but the first one I have read is The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine, which is about the financial crisis of 2008. Lewis’ economics is terrible, but I still recommend the book.

First the terrible part: Lewis doesn't understand good economics, by which I mean Austrian. From the book I would guess he doesn't know much mainstream economics either. If readers really want to understand the mechanics of how the crises unfolded I would recommend Slapped by the Invisible Hand by Gary Gorton. In a nutshell, it was an old fashioned bank run in which depositors got scared that their deposits were in danger and pulled their money out of the bank. Only in this case the depositors were money market mutual funds, pension funds and insurance companies and the banks were the large investment banks like Lehman and Bear Stearns. But what even the Slapped authorGorton doesn't tell readers is that the run began because of the collapse in the price of housing. It wasn't lightening out of a blue sky.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

A Viennese Waltz vs a Stumbling Drunk

Mark Skousen is one of my favorite living economists because of my bias for the practical. Skousen has a PhD in economics, but he chose to pursue a career in the private sector as an investment adviser rather than one in academia or government. We need more great economists like Skousen. Their impact will be much greater than that of academics because those of us who need practical advice are much greater than the number of people who will major in economics in college. Also, if you wander through the blogs of Austrian academics you’ll find that academics spend a great deal of time on Quixotic efforts like trying to change Fed policy or reform mainstream economics.

Laissez Faire Books has released a collection of essays by Skousen with the clever title A Viennese Waltz Down Wall Street: Austrian Economics for Investors. It answers the classic book A Random Walk down Wall Street, by Burt Malkiel that promotes the mainstream vision of the Efficient Market Hypothesis.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Ghost of Ricardo Haunts Europe and Japan

The ghost of David Ricardo must be sending chills up the spines of the economists of Europe and Japan. They may not understand what causes those chills because of the poverty of their education. The US may soon experience a similar visit. Here is how the Wall Street Journal put it in email newsletter:
Can the U.S. go it alone? All of a sudden, economic data from around the world is looking decidedly worrisome. China on Thursday showed stark, sudden slowdown in lending and home buying in July, while Europe’s second-quarter results confirmed everyone’s worst fears, with Germany registering a contraction for the quarter and the euro zone as a whole failing to grow. This comes after a very big slowdown in the same quarter for Japan, the world’s second-biggest economy.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Omens of the fall

In the ancient world outside of Israel pagan priests discerned the will of the gods through omens in the sky and on earth.  Israelis didn’t need omens because they had revelation straight from God in the Torah. Omens came from the movement of planets and from the structure of kidneys in goats sacrificed to idols. Pagan gods would never have considered humiliating themselves by speaking directly to insignificant humans. The more omens a priest collected the more certain he could be of the will of the gods.

Investors today don’t have a revelation about the future. We have the Austrian business-cycle theory that tells us to expect a crash after years of artificially stimulating the economy with near-zero short term interest rates and massive buying of junk bonds by the Fed. But we can’t know the exact date, or even the quarter, when the crash will come. So like ancient pagans we have to rely on omens that suggest we are near the end of the expansion. These omens are what mainstream economists consider good news about the economy. Here are some gleaned from the kidneys of the Wall Street Journal.