Democracy is on fire, and only half the population is sounding the alarm.

October 25, 2016

The alternate title to this article was “Antisocial Leadership: How a Psychopath Came to Lead the Sociopaths”  To be completely fair to vast numbers of ordinary, god-fearing Americans – who have a lifetime of good contributions to society – not all Trump supporters are sociopaths.  However, the point of this article to illustrate that: 1. Trump is a psychopath, and 2. that many in his army are aligned sociopaths, who have led a larger movement that has coopted (either through fear, intimidation or manipulation) unwitting and otherwise GOOD americans, the vast majority of whom, are GOOD people, but who have failed to break the glass and sound the alarm.

Furthermore, I must disclose that I am writing this on limited time, but I will cite all of my references, albeit in an unorthodox format, by color coding direct references, along with links to the original sources.  My time is unfortunately too limited for proper attribution, but I mean no harm to the original works, and only want to have their efforts read and distributed with their original intent.

First, lets clarify the similarities and differences between psychopaths and sociopaths. Key traits that sociopaths and psychopaths share include: 

  • A disregard for the rights of others
  • A failure to feel remorse or guilt
  • A disregard for laws and social mores
  • A tendency to display violent behavior

Sociopaths tend to be nervous and easily agitated. They are volatile and prone to emotional outbursts, including fits of rage. They are likely to be uneducated and live on the fringes of society, unable to hold down a steady job or stay in one place for very long. It is difficult but not impossible for sociopaths to form attachments with others. Many sociopaths are able to form an attachment to a particular individual or group, although they have no regard for society in general or its rules. In the eyes of others, sociopaths will appear to be very disturbed. Any crimes committed by a sociopath, including murder, will tend to be haphazard, disorganized and spontaneous rather than planned. (

My reference here explains the demographic, in particular, of the hate groups that have publicly supported Trump’s campaign (with acceptance by the campaign), to include the KKK, white supremacists, homophobic, anti-semitic, racist and other belligerent anti-social groups.  Consider the types of crowds and violence that has taken place at Trump rallies. Slate has a good list of the generally haphazard violence that has taken place:  The Trump narrative that the Clinton campaign has incited this violence is either 1. a dangerously inept understanding of his own support base, or 2. a frigteningly overt attempt to manipulate the electorate into a frenzied of fear of the establishment, for his own power gain.

Psychopaths, on the other hand, are unable to form emotional attachments or feel real empathy  with others, although they often have disarming or even charming personalities. Psychopaths are very manipulative and can easily gain people’s trust. They learn to mimic emotions, despite their inability to actually feel them, and will appear normal to unsuspecting people. Psychopaths are often well educated and hold steady jobs. Some are so good at manipulation and mimicry that they have families and other long-term relationships without those around them ever suspecting their true nature. …  Intelligent psychopaths make excellent white-collar criminals and “con artists” due to their calm and charismatic natures. (

While we don’t have convictions of Trump’s personal criminal activity, we can look to the countless allegations of connections to illegal organizations and other criminals,and or if you choose to, the growing number of sexual assault allegations, including older ones buried from his first wife. The WSJ outlined ties to the mafia earlier this month: Donald Trump and the Mob:  It’s not much more than common sense that innocent people generally to systematically and willingly associate with known criminals. Countless successful organizations have a web of rules and policies to eliminate even the perception of association with criminals.

The cause of psychopathy is different than the cause of sociopathy (1). It is believed that psychopathy is the largely the result of “nature” (genetics) while sociopathy is more likely the result of “nurture” (environment). Psychopathy is related to a physiological defect that results in the underdevelopment of the part of the brain responsible for impulse controland emotions. Sociopathy, on the other hand, is more likely the product of childhoodtrauma and physical/emotional abuse. Because sociopathy appears to be learned rather than innate, sociopaths are capable of empathy in certain limited circumstances but not in others, and with a few individuals but not others. (

Trump’s upbringing and background is fuzzy at best. His father was alleged to have participated in KKK violence.  His brother died young, and was well noted as having been an alcoholic. Donald himself, is well cited as a person who avoids alcohol.  While its admirable that he was moved by his brothers premature death and lives a life of sobriety, its more likely that alcoholism runs in the family and he is simply being wise and disciplined to avoid it given his wealth and fear of losing it.  Given the wealth he grew up with, it would not be surprising to eventually learn of a number of “surprising” family secrets, but in the absence of more material information, its hard to argue that Donald grew up in a definitively abusive home, lending credence to nature over nurture.

Psychopathy is the most dangerous of all antisocial personality disorders because of the way psychopaths dissociate emotionally from their actions, regardless of how terrible those actions may be. (

Trump has a serial ability to dissociate emotionally from his words and actions. With the count of sexual assaults up to 11 women making allegations, and Trumps commanding response that the allegations are wholly untrue, it makes this point abundantly clear.  However there are countless other words and actions that we have been presented with over the last 18 months, to include how he stiffs contractors, how employees have been mistreated and exploited, how he refers to women and minorities in general, etc….


In the entertainment industry, the word psychopath is pretty much synonymous with murderous madman. Just about all characters described as psychopaths in movies and television are serial killers — Hannibal Lecter from The Silence of the Lambs and Dexter Morgan from Dexter, for example. But in real life, psychopathic tendencies don’t necessarily mean a person is destined to lead a life of despicable crime.

The most important characteristics of a psychopath revolve not around violence, but around lack of empathy, selfishness, and manipulation. True, some psychopaths may use these traits to commit crimes, but others rely on their manipulative nature and ability to charm for other things. Many psychopaths actually find great success in the business world thanks to their ruthless nature — a disproportionate number of CEOs are actually psychopaths. Some other popular career paths for psychopaths include law, media, and being salespeople. (

Well three out of four careers (CEO, media and sales) fit Donald’s success path.  The media angle is interesting given his most recent associations with Roger Ailes and Stephen Bannon and the well documented comments around his family’s interest in starting a media empire.

If we really want to diagnose Trump as a bona fide psychopath, however, we can simply look to Hare’s Psychopathy Checklist.

The Hare Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R) is a diagnostic tool used to rate a person’s psychopathic or antisocial tendencies.  It was developed in the 1970’s by Dr. Robert Hare, a Canadian professor and researcher renowned in criminal psychology, who has spent three decades studying the concept known as the psychopath and based partly on Hare’s work with prison inmates in Vancouver.

Because psychopaths are often repeat offenders who commit sexual assaults or other violent crimes again and again, the PCL-R is used in the courtroom and in institutions as an indicator of the potential risk posed by individuals in psychiatric units or prisoners. (

Let’s create our own score.  Feel free to change my answers.  Some of the definitions, if you need them can be found here (, as a couple require some interpretation.  General defense of my scores are below.

•  glib and superficial charm (2)  – This score should does need support outside of watching him speak for more than 60 seconds.
•  grandiose (exaggeratedly high) estimation of self (2) – This score should does need support outside of watching him speak for more than 60 seconds.
•  need for stimulation (2) – Maybe best represented by his addition to spurring twitter storms, and responding to them.
•  pathological lying (2) – All politicians lie.  Its part of the job. Sometimes its intentional, sometimes its not having full command of the facts.  I think the statistics from all three debates clearly sum up that nearly 3/4 of Trumps statements are bold faced lies, relative to Hillary who is “crooked” but comes out closer to 1/4 to 1/3.
•  cunning and manipulativeness (2) – Trump has a number of dubious strengths.  One of the largest, is his innate ability to command the discourse, but setting stages and redirecting dialogues using a combination of lies, misdirection, and when he’s successful, fear and intimidation.
•  lack of remorse or guilt (2) – Take any of his most offensive scripts.  In the worst of cases it took him days, if not weeks to feebly and half-hearted apologize, which always was followed with a counterpunch, never with remorse or any level of humanity that could be confused for guilt.
•  shallow affect (superficial emotional responsiveness) (2) – Have we seen him express genuine emotion, sadness, remorse, pain, empathy…for ANYONE on his campaign trail? He uses people as cases, there has not been an instance of purposeful reflection for any of the people he has claimed to want to help.
•  callousness and lack of empathy (2) – ibid see above.
•  parasitic lifestyle – I have a hard time scoring this, for lack of easily available evidence. That does not mean he should not score here.
•  poor behavioral controls (2) – Can I get a 3AM Twi-ter?
•  sexual promiscuity (2) – Achem, and we’re not scoring Bill on this one here.
•  early behavior problems (1) – You don’t go to military school for being a poster-child.  That said, I have no evidence of what kind of little shit Donald was before he turned 18, so I’m leaving this at a one.
•  lack of realistic long-term goals – Giving him the benefit of the doubt for the balls to run for president.  The multiple bankruptcies tells a different story that could easily bode for a one here.  He does not have a history of playing for the long-term.  Most business people don’t.  Short term profit, is not a long-term goal.
•  impulsivity (2) – Can I get a 3AM Twi-ter?
•  irresponsibility (2) – How can I count the ways?  Infidelity, enough proximity to sexual assault, failing to allow his campaign to uncover pitfalls in his background, stiffing contractors, damaging perceptions of women, minorities and the sanctity of our democracy with election rigging rhetoric.
•  failure to accept responsibility for own actions (2) – I’m getting tired of explaining myself.
•  many short-term marital relationships (2) – You don’t need a Ph.D. to score this one.
•  juvenile delinquency (1) – You don’t go to military school for being a poster-child.  That said, I have no evidence of what kind of little shit Donald was before he turned 18, so I’m leaving this at a one.
•  revocation of conditional release (1) – This one is harder to interpret for a guy whose not (yet) been to jail. The best we have are the moments he has gotten himself in political trouble via “carelessness, low deliberation, or failing to appear”.  It’s effectively the political analogy to someone on parole (trying to make a better life/ i.e. campaign) falling right back into the trouble that they tried to separate themselves from.
•  criminal versatility (1)  – It’s hard t give him a 2 in good conscience prior to his being convicted of a crime, but in fairness to my score, its not about being convicted, its just representative of a person who expresses diversity in his criminal tendencies (sexual assault, organized crime, violating of housing laws, racketeering, bribery, etc…) as well as the pride that comes along with getting away with them.  Suing your accusers for defamation strikes me as deserving at least a one.

Each of the twenty items is given a score of 0, 1, or 2 based on how well it applies to the subject being tested. A prototypical psychopath would receive a maximum score of 40, while someone with absolutely no psychopathic traits or tendencies would receive a score of zero. A score of 30 or above qualifies a person for a diagnosis of psychopathy. People with no criminal backgrounds normally score around 5. Many non-psychopathic criminal offenders score around 22. (

Scoring the publicly available first hand accounts of Donald’s behavior and history, I get to a 32. What score do you give him.  It’s hard for me to see ANYONE giving the guy less than a 20.

How did “We the People” get delivered a bona fide psychopath as the GOP presidential nominee?  More importantly, why haven’t the majority of republicans raised their arms, hammer in hand, to break the glass and sound the alarm.  Are we, as a nation, more concerned for partisan politics than we are for the best-interest of our democracy?  If so, then Trump has a point, and his rhetoric will continue to divide us.  I only pray that he doesn’t burn the other half of our great citizenry down with him.

History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.

-Martin Luther King, Jr.


iOS6 Upgrade Features Reads Like a Windows Update

September 27, 2012

This morning I woke up to a little red 1 bubble on my iPhone 4 (not the 4S) Settings button.

I was surprised at first and then realized that Apple is at war with Google. Not only has the media reach reporting of their flagship maps changed from Google’s fully functioning and totally sufficient app to Apple’s buggy launch but there is a direct integration with Facebook, a feature I don’t like, don’t want and which will further encourage me not to download iOS 6 or buy a new iPhone. The Facebook integration also strikes me as annoyingly supporting a competing brand within the Apple ecosystem, something that Google Maps artfully dodged by having a mostly OEM feel to it.

I can’t believe Steve Jobs would have approved the tether to Facebook, it cheapens the brand in my opinion and it opens the iPhone up to one more vendors disappointments if Facebook’s integration or support should fail.

I realize as I am writing that the difference to me on this upgrade is that I don’t recall prior upgrades being pushed to me. Apple always had a smart way to compel me to follow the heard voluntarily. This time, however, that simple little push message feels more like an act of desperation rather than a friendly and thoughtful Apple reminder.

In any event, curiosity got me to read the 200+ “updates”, a statement which in and of itself which is anathema to Apple’s success in selling Simple. As if the updates for Chinese users have any meaning to me, and as if I am impressed by a larger number of updates. A larger number tells me there is too much that is new, more than I want to learn, and much that probably remains under developed. Sounds like a Windows update advertisement.

I miss the days of Simple. With the movement into the murky area of Patent litigation and this type of upgrade/launch, I do wonder if the market may eventually become very disappointed. Existing sales and user base can probably support 1-2 more botched launches, but for now this is no longer the Apple I’ve been a fan of.

I wonder if people will camp out for 400+ updates in the iPhone 6? Maybe they will use the time studying all the new changes? Hopefully it will be during a warm month.

For a full list of published updates see below. Decide for yourself after you read it.

This update contains over 200 new features, including the following:
Apple designed vector based maps
Turn-by-turn navigation with spoken directions on iPhone 5, iPhone 4S, iPad Wi-Fi + Cellular (2nd and 3rd generation)
Real-time traffic information
Flyover for photo-realistic, interactive 3D views of major metro areas on iPhone 5, iPhone 4S, iPad (3rd generation), and iPod touch (5th generation)
Local search results with Yelp photos, ratings, reviews, and available deals
Siri integration for requesting directions and finding places along a route
Siri improvements
Sports: scores, player stats, game schedules, team rosters, and league standings for baseball, basketball, football, soccer and hockey
Movies: trailers, showtimes, reviews and facts
Restaurants: reservations, reviews, photos and information
Send a Tweet
Post on Facebook
App launch
Eyes Free in supported automobiles
Local search available in Siri supported countries (availability may be limited during initial rollout)
Additional country and language support for Canada (English and Canadian French), China (Mandarin), Hong Kong (Cantonese), Italy (Italian), Korea (Korean), Mexico (Spanish), Spain (Spanish), Switzerland (Italian, French, German), Taiwan (Mandarin), US (Spanish)
Supported on iPhone 5, iPhone 4S, iPad (3rd generation) and iPod touch (5th generation)
Facebook integration
Single sign-on from Settings
Post from Photos, Safari, Maps, App Store, iTunes, Game Center, Notification Center and Siri
Add location and choose audience for any post
View up-to-date Facebook profile photos and contact information in Contacts
View Facebook events and birthdays in Calendar
Like content and see your friends’ Likes in App Store and iTunes Store
Shared Photo Streams
Share selected photos with the people you choose
Friends can view shared photos in Photos app, iPhoto and Apple TV
Friends can like and make comments on individual photos
One place for boarding passes, store cards, movie tickets and other passes
Barcode display for boarding flights, buying coffee, getting into movies and other actions
Passes displayed on Lock Screen based on time or location
Passes can be automatically updated
Supported on iPhone and iPod touch
FaceTime improvements
FaceTime over cellular support for iPhone 5, iPhone 4S and iPad Wi-Fi + Cellular (3rd generation)
Receive FaceTime calls, sent to your iPhone number, on your iPad and iPod touch
Phone improvements
Do Not Disturb to suppress incoming calls and notifications
‘Reply with message’ option when declining a call
‘Remind me later’ option based on time or location when declining a call
Mail improvements
VIP mailbox to quickly access mail from important people
Flagged email mailbox
Insert photos and videos when composing email
Open password protected Office docs
Pull down to refresh mailboxes
Per account signatures
Safari improvements
iCloud tabs to see open pages on all your devices
Offline Reading List
Photo upload support
Full screen landscape view on iPhone and iPod touch
Smart app banners
JavaScript performance improvements
App Store and iTunes Store improvements
Updated store design
iTunes Preview history
Complete my season
Complete my album
Game Center improvements
Challenge friends to beat high scores and achievements
Post high-scores and achievements to Facebook and Twitter
Friend recommendations based on your Facebook friends
Accessibility improvements
Guided Access to limit device to one app or restrict touch input on certain areas of the screen
VoiceOver integration with Maps, AssistiveTouch and Zoom
Support for Made for iPhone Hearing Aids for iPhone 5 and iPhone 4S
Improved privacy controls for Contacts, Calendars, Reminders, Photos and data shared over Bluetooth
Reminders can be reordered in the Reminders app
Custom vibrations for alerts on iPhone
Clock app for iPad
Clock alarm with song
Search all fields in Contacts
Automatic movie mode for improved video sound quality
Definitions of a selected word for Chinese, French, German and Spanish
New keyboard layouts for French, German, Turkish, Catalan, Arabic and Icelandic
Keyboard shortcuts shared across devices via iCloud
Bluetooth MAP support
Global network proxy for HTTP
Features for China
Baidu web search
Sina Weibo integration
Share videos to Tudou
Share videos to Youku
Improved text input for handwriting and Pinyin
Bug fixes
Some features may not be available for all countries or all areas. Please visit this website for more details:

For information on the security content of this update, please visit this website:

Printing Presses

September 14, 2012

With the announcement of a much more aggressive round of quantitative easing than most expected, Ben Bernanke succeeded in continuing the inflation of financial assets, many of which reside in the shadow economy.

My first response which I have been telling people and as many pundits have exclaimed is that this is absolutely a political decision, even if the process to the decision was acutely rational and ethical. The only way to avoid a poeticized outcome would have been to pause any aggressive announcements until after the election. But as I am learning through the process of renovating a NYC co-op, if the decision making benefits the “decider”, without recourse then in hindsight the outcome should have been clear.

In this case the ensuing lift in financial asset prices, while likely to do nearly nothing for Obama’s middle class, will probably lead to strong PR and messaging trough the campaign trail from here to convince the vast majority of easily fooled Americans that they are better off today than they were when the S&P bottomed shortly after Bush left office.

The difference this time around however is that financial asset prices no longer respond primarily to the fundamentals of the economy but are now heavily linked to the actions of central banks who rightfully believe that lowering the probability of global financial collapse can be achieved by debasing currencies in the near term.

What they remain dangerously dogmatic about is their ability to remove excess liquidity in a systematic and orderly fashion. Hubris in Wall Street a decade ago led to its near demise. It is 100% probable at this point that the hubris among central bankers will lead us to another, far more gruesome edge. The question becomes who will finance the bailouts then?

Bernanke laid out a gauntlet yesterday and is now playing a massive game of chicken with the bond market that drives the global economy. He is betting that the threat of unlimited bond buying will be enough to scare the doomsayers out of the market keeping, now, all interest rates lower for longer, further punishing savers and rewarding borrowers who are generally afraid to take many risks.

If he is right, his brilliance now has a clock on it. Endless debasement of the worlds reserve currency will last only as long as it serves the needs of the largest foreign holders. This is not a sustainable move. For the moment it benefits China who remains loosely pegged to the dollar. However it puts the US in a precarious position should US-Sino relations falter.

Bernanke, sadly, is consciously or unconsciously using money printing as a substitute for good decision making in congress who remain practically useless to the democratic process. For a moment I can argue that this is somewhat thoughtful, but the outcome will be to enhance Obama’s reelection which will undoubtedly buy him at least one more appointment in 2014.

The analogy that came to mind this morning is that Bernanke is printing dollars to take the burden off of the house and senate to print meaningful tax and legislative reform. This is similar to building a house out paper. It may deflect the winds for a while, but it will not protect you from the vast majority of “elements”.

The medium term result of this decision, particularly in the US will creep into risk asset prices as the market digests the growing risks to sovereigns currently perceived as irrefutably sound financial hubs. We now know that a banking system can only remain stable with the threat of sovereign intervention. How long will the US Government remain a credible threat to interrupt another financial crisis.

No business leaders see the economy picking up more than it has from QE1 and QE2. In fact the downturn in transportation and materials probably in some part affected Bernanke’s decision. Adding even more liquidity will not have the desired effect without a major shift in lending practices by major banks.

Eventually equity risk premia will reflect the growing burden on US Taxpayers who by the vast majority remain under employed and less wealthy than they were 10 years ago. The irony is that continued debasement will ultimately lead more currency into safe low yielding investments.

If the US has not gotten its fiscal house in order before zombie investors wake up, the consequences will put us in uncharted territory.

When Obama makes his acceptance speech I wonder if he will thank Uncle Ben.

How to Help Housing

September 6, 2012

It seems obvious to me that the only way forward from here economically is to steer the economy using carrots and sticks. Voters know legislators are to blame as congress sits at an all time low approval rating. Legislators in turn have become addicted to central bank policy as the primary tool for the recovery because while unpopular it has the advantage of not alienating independents who in a polarized democracy carry many swing votes.

As I toss and turn ideas to help make small but effective incentives to achieve sustainable outcomes it seems obvious that tax legislation, despite discontent with a completed tax code, can still help us right-size the recovery and help us avoid past mistakes.

The idea below is not more than a brainstorm and there will be others posted here over time, but at the very least thoughtful, targeted and principled policy initiatives, if ever agreed to and passed into law could finally take the burden of central banks and ultimately help us finally start a sustainable recovery.

Since housing is what became both the victim and scape goat for the financial crisis it remains a significant drag on US GDP through a variety of multiplier effects. A depressed housing market means at the very least we have lost construction jobs and spending. It also has affected consumer wealth and therefor consumer confidence and spending, and we are a consumption led economy. The anemic and controversial housing recovery has also been a major drag on the banking sector working out many issues of defaulted borrowers and underwater homeowners, leading to increased government supervision and leading to an unwillingness to lend to new home buyers.

With that in mind this seems like a reasonable stab at a small policy decision that could have meaningful impact on the housing recovery and redefine the housing market to remove speculation which helped to cause the collapse.

If we raise capital gains on sales of real estate there are presumably a number of outcomes that could help us.

Raising this tax would help discourage home owners with a low cost basis from selling. This will shrink supply AND lower prices. Initially lower prices will help subsidize first time home purchases while mortgage rates are low. The lower supply would help banks sitting on pools of defaulted mortgages as they would be more in control of the supply dynamics in the market place aiding their pricing power to sell homes in their possession. Such a tax would not hurt homeowners whose homes are below the purchase price as they would not have gains.

If successful such a tax could be used in part to subsidize overblown property taxes in many states which would effective be a tax break back to the middle class.

Such a tax becomes a larger burden on the wealthy and speculators who own multiple homes and distort the supply demand dynamics for first-time/ primary home purchase. If this seemed to Pollyanna, there could be an exemption for primary residences.

Such a policy can help redistribute wealth in a more meaningful way and can help rebalance proper incentives in this market. Only those able to take the tax hit will and such a tax will hurt those who flip homes more than those with just one. The housing market does not need excess liquidity, it needs price stability I order to commence a meaningful and sustainable recovery.

There might be a short term sell off as people try to harvest gains, but it would set a stage for a meaningful transition in housing. An exemption for primary homes would mitigate this impact.

Such a policy would help set the stage for the housing market to “clear” reducing inventory and shadow inventories to historic norms. Stopping new construction isn’t all bad as there would be a tremendous need for home improvements.

This is a small and maybe naive start, but this is the discussion we need out of Washington and the types of ideas we should require from elected policy makers.

The Great Transgression

June 14, 2012

The United States Central Bank wether it likes it or not is ultimately responsible for global monetary policy either by controlling the default risk free rate or by nature of our reserve currency.

The current Fed has responded, with little precedent and arguably appropriately during the initial phase of the 2007-2009 crisis by printing money. They have set short term rates at zero and become the central banker to the world printing trillions of additional dollars that the world can’t seem to get enough of, particularly recently. But is this course sustainable?

Conscious capitalists argue our economy should be built and run in a sustainable fashion. This doesn’t mean just making us drink wheat grass shakes, limiting 16 oz soft drinks, or putting solar panels on our house. The point of the movement, however fragmented it is, is to design and build sustainable replacements for our unsustainable and brittle physical and economic infrastructure, products, services and systems. Sustainability is more than about feeling good about a single act or product which is selfishly individual. It’s about national security, economic development, job creation, creative destruction, and ultimately the disintermediation of unsustainable products, services and systems. Sustainability is built on a tenet of scarce resources and attacks flawed technology, flawed accounting, flawed assumptions and flawed systems-level thinking. The neo-classical economic model’s definition and treatment of externalities as costless and priceless losses to society is a failed systems-level paradigm.

You cannot solve recurring problems with larger versions of the same solution. This idea is no different than asking your two year old not to throw food on the floor. When that fails some people tell then not to do it, and then yell, scream and even resort to physical intimidation or violence. Even if the physically violent response “works” what do we think we’ve imparted to that child? Does the toddler learn manners and social graces, both of which would be sustainable lessons that they would use and pass on with adults and peers? No, violence only teaches fear. Think of any bully. A toddler raised in fear grows up to be angry, you don’t need to believe in psychology at this point to have observed it. But I digress.

The Fed, in it’s early and appropriate response to the liquidity crisis after Lehman failed has created a system of free money, and worse, a systems-level thinking of free money which at its core-no text book needed-is unsustainable.

If money is free, it is worthless. If the currency is worthless then the entire economic system is broken as we are seeing in some form in Greece right now.

This is the purpose of the Fed, in their own words from their website:

“The Federal Reserve System, often referred to as the Federal Reserve or simply “the Fed,” is the central bank of the United States. It was created by the Congress to provide the nation with a safer, more flexible, and more stable monetary and financial system. The Federal Reserve was created on December 23, 1913, when President Woodrow Wilson signed the Federal Reserve Act into law.”

The Fed is failing its own mandate. Endless ZIRP policy and and unabashed money printing is NEITHER making us safer NOR creating more flexibility. Quite the contrary. The fed at the very least is digging us into an unsustainable trajectory that will ultimately end with even harder decisions than were made in 2008. I don’t believe the current Fed is evil, stupid or purely politically motivated, although I have my doubts on the last one. The biggest problem, which is similar to problems of the Bush administration is hubris and dogma.

The only way to create a safe and flexible backdrop for economic activity is to have the ability to move levers in multiple directions. This requires an extreme bias for moderate policies in any direction, something like steering an oil tanker in a narrow channel. An oil tanker responds too slowly to know exactly how far the captain is correcting the direction so he uses extreme caution and slight movements to stay centered and nimble. This philosophy and centeredness is completely lacking at the Fed today.

As we dig ourselves deeper into a position of sovereign indebtedness and take steps closer to eliminating the value of currency altogether we put ourselves closer to the patsy seat at the global poker table leaving little room for flexible strategy. A strategy defined by faith and hope is better suited for men of God, not leaders of the free world.

Obama ran on a platform of Hope. It was a powerful campaign, but Hope is not an economic strategy nor a sustainable model for success.

Bernanke is convinced that the depression could have been avoided using policy tools he has unsheathed since 2008. Let’s assume he is right. If not the Great Depression then what would we have ended up with instead?

A Great Repression? As noted by many others our current system of penalizing savers in favor of borrowers is a form of financial repression.

A Great Decession? The current status quo has seen the US slowly erode once dominant positions in global economic policy, trade policy, foreign policy, global defense policies and a host of once untouchable pole position of global power. A weak economy and a weak currency is a recipe for a slow fall from grace. A strong economy AND a strong currency make for an unusual bargaining position, just look at Germany in the context of broader Europe.

A Great Egression? The numbers of US Citizens renouncing their citizenship while small in absolute numbers is beginning to balloon in relative numbers. More and more wealthy Americans have lost interest in or confidence in an American future.

A Great Oppression? When wealth becomes concentrated by the few, regardless of their benevolence, there ensues a form of economic oppression where it grows increasingly harder for “just anyone” to amass great wealth. Simply put the super rich spend a small
fraction of their wealth and that slows the velocity of money in the system, limiting how often dollars change hands.

When all this plays out, and we look back in 80 years it would not surprise me that this difficult period is reflected upon as The Great Transgression. A period of time where the economic rules of law were totally and unilaterally transgressed at the expense of “saving the system”. A period where credit seniority only held weight IF the government or some other supra national entity did not intervene. A period where the many were led by the few further from their goals and dreams guided by fear of harder outcomes. A period of time where multiple transgressions were made possible through the growing frequency of global panics.

Bernanke may successfully lead us away from the known path of a Great Depression. But does he know where we end up if we maintain the current unsustainable course?

Helicopter Ben Should be Picking Up Dollars, Not Dropping them Down

May 11, 2012

The current economic policy has hinged upon the following equation:


Where P is the amount of productivity in the economy measured by GDP; M is the supply of money often measured by the M2 money supply, and V is the velocity if money (M2) or how often a dollar turns over each year.

In the simplest definition this equation represents the amount of value created by our economy (GDP) is equal to the amount of money in the system (M2) multiplied by how frequently that money “turns over” (V).

The faithful logic is that you can offset a decline in V by raising M to support P. Mathematically this makes sense and would be true if the equation followed only the rules of linear mathematics.

However, the problem is twofold: while M is the only lever that the Federal Reserve has any real control over; V is a value rooted in physics more than math and subject to inertia and indirect responses.

While M follows a linear progression (a $ in = a $ in and a $ out = a $ out) V is subject momentum where the rate of change is neither controllable or linear. The velocity of money tends to follow a trend which is partially fed by the supply of money but which is also fed by human behavior.

Consumption patterns are not linear and we don’t all necessarily start and stop consuming at the same time and the same rates. Moreover, the actions of one group can affect another and positive and negative momentum can drive how much of our paychecks we choose to spend. If our peers appear to be cutting spending we may choose to follow their lead if we presume their caution is correct. Vice versa in the hay days of the late 1980’s/early 1990’s our consumption patterns were heavily influenced by “keeping up with the jones'”.  The chart below illustrates the velocity of M2 in the US since 1950.

Quarterly, Seasonally Adjusted, Updated: 2012-04-27

In theory if V is falling faster and faster, neither a linear increase in nor an imaginable amount of M is going to support P for very long.  At some point the attention needs to move from how we support economic growth to how we arrest the falling velocity of money.

Solving for V, the equation turns to V=P/M.

Turning the equation around, the only method the Fed would have to arrest the current rapid continue decline in money velocity by attempting to make V larger, is actually to reduce M which in the new equation is now in the denominator.

While reducing the supply of money in anathema to growth, the problem is that the issue is no longer solvable until V is stabilized and the only way to stabilize money velocity is to effectively make cash more scarce so that more of the cash available gets used or put to work.  A dogmatic and long term agenda focused on increasing Velocity likely would have its own negative effects, but its clear that focusing on adding more liquidity to an economy awash in liquidity is no longer boosting output and is showing signs of growing impotence.  The best solution would probably at least be to pause on the quantitative easing and let interest rates rise modestly, if nothing else but to give some time for current cash to be circulated more effectively without the anticipation that more is on its way which creates a perception of falling prices.

As interest rates rise the cost of sitting (cost of waiting) on large piles of cash increases as depositors begin to feel the lost opportunity cost of at higher rates or simply consuming the cash.  At the very least it gets people out of the mindset that prices will continually be lower tomorrow and that there is no better alternative to cash.

What the right interest rate would be us as unknown as the grand experiment we are currently in the midst of, nonetheless it seems that our current path beyond being unsustainable may simply be wrong.


It’s Like Taking Candy From A Baby

May 10, 2012

How can a country build popular support for austerity when their governments are leveraging their children’s future to help mitigate the pain and severity of the problems faced by the parents. Why would anyone vote to take a hit in any form if they don’t see or feel the problem.

Popular support for reform in any country unfortunately won’t surface until the crisis is allowed to spill over to “Main Steet”. When that happens, holy cow is this going to be a doozy.

American led capitalism and American style bailouts will be the blame, but the real culprit will have been the global addiction and greedy dogmatic support for globalization. Globalization may work one day, but only at sustainable levels of growth.

Bringing forward a generation of consumption using ungodly sums of debt and calling it growth is neither transparent nor healthy.

Lending money to less worthy borrowers at rates supported by more worthy borrowers is a typical parent-child relationship.

However the current system has parents borrowing from children which is both immoral and unsustainable and it means that many kids today will be living with their parents for a lot longer than they know.

In Europe the situation is even worse as parents in the periphery are effectively borrowing from children in the core.

Ask many who worked at Lehman how 40x leverage works when the music stops. Article: European Central Bank Leveraged Like Lehman: Author

The European Central Bank is indebted to the hilt and is beginning to look like one of the banks it has done so much to save, according to the author Satyajit Das.

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