Right now, those numbers come from computers. A handful of mutual and hedge funds use proprietary computerized algorithms, and these programs perform the vast majority of stock trades. They hedge stock prices up and down in accordance with formulae based on previous market activity. The stock market is just a conversation between these computers, an economic debate in a UN of Skynets. For a modest management or processing fee, you too can own stocks, and then you can watch the nightly news and see your investments jump up and down, rolling and pitching like hapless little boats. It’s very exciting.

These computers will twitch the numbers up and up and then they’ll collapse and you have nothing. And then the computers will twitch the numbers back up again. If you sell at the right moment, and if you have at least several hundred thousand dollars of equity in the market, then your kids can go to college and you can retire. If you wait too long, act too soon, or have too little, then you can just work into your grave.

You’ll be lucky if you even get crumb of the computer-sliced pie. The top one percent of wage earners captured 92 percent of the income from all those sparkly new jobs and, as of 2007, the top 10 percent controlled approximately 90 percent of outstanding stock. So unless you happen to be incredibly wealthy, these numbers are just passing you by. “Economic recovery” is euphemism for the return to a status quo that nearly broke the nation’s back. The numbers may well be good for the US economy. But the US economy probably doesn’t work for you.

Articles like this are why I like Vice so much (even with its flaws sometimes).

The outstanding student loan balance now stands at about $870 billion,1 surpassing the total credit card balance ($693 billion) and the total auto loan balance ($730 billion). With college enrollments increasing and the costs of attendance rising, this balance is expected to continue its upward trend. Further, unlike other types of household debt such as credit cards and auto loans, the student loan market is incredibly complex. Numerous players and institutions hold stakes at each level of the market, including federal and state governments, colleges and universities, financial institutions, students and their families, and numerous servicers and guarantee facilitators.

The average outstanding student loan balance per borrower is $23,300. Again, there is substantial heterogeneity in balances of individual borrowers. The median balance of $12,800 is roughly half the average level, which indicates that a small fraction of people have balances significantly higher than the median. About one-quarter of borrowers owe more than $28,000; about 10 percent of borrowers owe more than $54,000. The proportion of borrowers who owe more than $100,000 is 3.1 percent, and 0.45 percent of borrowers, or 167,000 people, owe more than $200,000. The distribution also varies by age group: for example, borrowers between the ages of thirty and thirty-nine have the highest average outstanding student loan balance, at $28,500, followed by borrowers between the ages of forty and forty-nine, whose average outstanding balance is $26,000.

Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

The next debt bubble right here, folks.

“The commentary concludes that we simply can’t rely on any fossil fuel to provide a stable and economic source of energy for more than a couple of decades. And, given the economic shocks that result from rapid changes in energy prices, that’s a serious problem. “Economists and politicians continually debate policies that will lead to a return to economic growth,” the authors note. “But because they have failed to recognize that the high price of energy is a central problem, they haven’t identified the necessary solution: weaning society off fossil fuel.””

Does that mean online piracy is harmless? Of course not. But the harm is a dynamic loss in allocative efficiency, which is much harder to quantify. That is, in the cases where a consumer would have been willing to buy an illicitly downloaded movie, album, or software program, we want the market to be accurately signalling demand for the products people value, rather than whatever less-valued use that money gets spent on instead. This is, in fact, very important! It’s a good reason to look for appropriately tailored ways to reduce piracy, so that the market devotes resources to production of new creativity and innovation valued by consumers, rather than to other, less efficient purposes. Indeed, it’s a good reason to look for ways of doing this that, unlike SOPA, might actually work.

It is not, however, a good reason to spend $47 million in taxpayer dollars—plus untold millions more in ISP compliance costs—turning the Justice Department into a pro bono litigation service for Hollywood in hopes of generating a jobs and a revenue bonanza for the U.S. economy. Any “research” suggesting we can expect that kind of result from Internet censorship is a fiction more fanciful than singing chipmunks.

“This plutocratic fantasy is, of course, just that: no matter how smart and innovative and industrious the super-elite may be, they can’t exist without the wider community. Even setting aside the financial bailouts recently supplied by the governments of the world, the rich need the rest of us as workers, clients, and consumers. Yet, as a metaphor, Galt’s Gulch has an ominous ring at a time when the business elite view themselves increasingly as a global community, distinguished by their unique talents and above such parochial concerns as national identity, or devoting “their” taxes to paying down “our” budget deficit. They may not be isolating themselves geographically, as Rand fantasized. But they appear to be isolating themselves ideologically, which in the end may be of greater consequence.”

Unlike Mr Ford, Dr Brynjolfsson and Dr McAfee are more sanguine about the impact smart technology is having on the job market. As they see it, those threatened the most by technology should learn to work with machines, rather than against them. Do that, they suggest, and the shake-out among knowledge workers becomes less of a threat and more of an opportunity.

As an example, they point to the way Amazon and eBay have spurred over 600,000 people to earn their livings by dreaming up products for a world-wide customer base. Likewise, Apple’s App Store and Google’s Android Marketplace have made it easy for those with ideas for doing things with phones to distribute their products globally. Such activities may not create a new wave of billion-dollar businesses, but they can put food on the table for many a family and pay the rent, and perhaps even the college fees.

In the end, the Luddites may still be wrong. But the nature of what constitutes work today—the notion of a full-time job—will have to change dramatically ..

The Economist summarizing the part of Brynjolfsson and McAfee’s “Race Against the Machine” I liked. (via cacioppo)
“As a revenue source, spectrum auctions are a particularly pernicious tax on wireless innovation. They pick the wrong technology for wireless infrastructure by regulatory fiat, and strengthen the market dominance of already-dominant players.”

Yochai Benkler: Selling Our Wireless Future (via fred-wilson)

Short-term regulatory thinking wins again, to the detriment of our society/economy. Also, this reminds me how lucky I was to learn from Prof. Benkler at HLS.


A lot of boomers have become insufferably smug and complacent.

Paul Campos explains why baby boomers are clueless about Occupy Wall Street.

Some nice quotes in this one, including: “Since I went to law school in the 1980s, the cost of legal education has quadrupled in real terms, thereby ensuring most current law students will graduate with six figures of debt from law school alone. Meanwhile legal employers are downsizing and outsourcing, to the point where the ratio between new lawyers and new jobs for lawyers is approximately two to one. And most of the new jobs don’t pay enough to allow even those who are lucky enough to get them to pay their educational debts.”

“The U.S. faces many “structural impediments” to growth. The real unemployment rate in the U.S., including workers who have given up looking for jobs, is closer to 20 percent, El- Erian said.”
El-Erian: Risk of Extreme Market Outcomes Has Increased -
“The internet’s openness fosters two of its great virtues. First, it has encouraged innovation. In rich countries the internet has generated as much as 10% of GDP growth over the past 15 years, according to the McKinsey Global Institute, a think-tank. Second, because nobody controls the internet, it has proved hard to censor. And despite (or perhaps because of) this lack of governance, the network has proved surprisingly resilient. More than two billion people are now connected to the internet. The many predictions of collapse have not yet proved correct.”
“[E]conomics is not a science that only describes, measures, explains and predicts human interests, values and policies — it also evaluates, promotes, endorses or rejects them. The predicament of economics and all other social sciences consists in their failure to acknowledge honestly their value orientation in their pathetic and inauthentic pretension to emulate the natural sciences they presume to be value free.”
Chin-tai Kim and Yeomin Toon, in a letter to The Financial Times via The New York Times.
“A job seeker is looking for something for a well-defined job. But the trend seems to be that if a job can be defined, it can be automated or outsourced. The marginal product of people who need well-defined jobs is declining. The marginal product of people who can thrive in less structured environments is increasing.”
“The two-year-old recovery’s terrible tale of the tape: A 9.1 percent unemployment rate that’s probably closer to 16 percent counting the discouraged and underemployed, the worst income growth and weakest GDP growth of any upturn since World War II, a still-weakening housing market. Oh, and a trillion bucks down the tube. Oh, and two-and-a-half years … and counting … wasted during which time the skills of unemployed workers continue to erode and the careers of younger Americans suffer long-term income damage. Losing the future. Next, add in healthcare reform that Medicare’s chief actuary says will not slow the overall growth of healthcare spending. (Even its Obama administration godfather, Peter Orszag, warns that “more drastic measures may ultimately be needed.”) And toss in a financial reform plan that the outspoken and independent president of the Kansas City Fed says he “can’t imagine” working. “I don’t have faith in it all.” Indeed, markets continue to treat the biggest banks as if they are still too big to fail.”

James Pethokoukis, Reuters.

Whatever your political affiliation, it’s hard to argue that the current administration’s economic policies have had a long-term positive impact (setting aside any short term gains from inflating the economy with government cash).

“Those who advocate that job creation rests on corporate tax reform (lower taxes) or a return to deregulation of the private economy always fail to address dominant structural headwinds which cannot be dismissed: 1) Labor is much more attractively priced over there than here, and 2) U.S. employment based on asset price appreciation/finance as opposed to manufacturing can no longer be sustained. The “golden” days are over, and it’s time our school and jobs “daze” comes to an end to be replaced by programs that do more than mimic failed establishment policies favoring Wall as opposed to Main Street.”

Bill Gross of PIMCO.

His observations about the ever-decreasing utility (versus cost) of higher education in the US do hit home, but the problem seems to be a misallocation of resources more than anything - if our colleges produced more mathematicians, scientists and engineers, we would structurally be much better off than we are now.