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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Keynes's "Economic Consequences of the Peace" on Scribd

"A general bonfire is so great a necessity that unless we can make of it an orderly and good-tempered affair in which no serious injustice is done to anyone, it will, when it comes at last, grow into a conflagration that may destroy much else as well."
--John Maynard Keynes, "The Economic Consequences of the Peace" (1920)

A followup to my previous post, about Scribd: after coming to it via DeLong's blog, I created an account on Scribd, which I just revisited now. I had "favorited" a few of which is John Maynard Keynes's 1920 book, "The Economic Consequences of the Peace"--all 131 pages of it:

The Economic Consequences of the Peace by John Maynard Keynes The Economic Consequences of the Peace by John Maynard Keynes
In this book Keynes predicts the inflationary economic problems in post-WWI Europe and the rise to power of a tyrant.

I had favorited it not only because Keynes is obviously in the news a lot these days (see this collection of links I put together a few months ago), but more specifically because Robert Shiller pointedly chose a passage from this particular work of Keynes as the introduction to the book he published last year.

In fact, now that I look at what I wrote in that entry about Keynes in December, I'm seeing I closed with the following:

Yale economist Robert Shiller's latest book "The Subprime Solution" opens with a timely passage from the Keynes's 1919 account of the Versailles Peace Treaty, "The Economic Consequence of the Peace:
A general bonfire is so great a necessity that unless we can make of it an orderly and good-tempered affair in which no serious injustice is done to anyone, it will, when it comes at last, grow into a conflagration that may destroy much else as well.

Consider why Shiller chose that passage (and that was back ~March 2008), and consider how our current economic conflagration has grown since then...

In fact, I was reminded of this after reading David Brooks's quite bitter column from last Saturday's NYT, titled "Perverse Cosmic Myopia"; here are the closing sentences:
Many people used to wonder how the world’s leaders could be so myopic at various points in history — like during the Versailles Treaty or the turmoil of the 1930s. We don’t have to wonder any more. We get to watch the cosmic myopia replay itself in our own times.

Scribd: "the YouTube for print"?

This started out as an e-mail to a few friends who work in publishing..but then I found that Scribd allows one to embed docs right into webpages (duh), so figured I'd turn it into a blog post:

I was cleaning out the inbox, and scrolled thru a newsletter that I subscribed to many years ago, but haven't actually read in quite a while, called BoldType:

I didn't actually read any of their features, but their newswire at the bottom included a link to this Publisher's Weekly article about Scribd:

"Scribd Signs Deals with Major Houses"

Scribd, Inc., the “social publishing site” that posts a variety of written documents daily, has signed deals with a number of publishers to post novels, chapters and other content on Among the publishers working with Scribd are the Random House Publishing Group, Simon & Schuster, Workman., Berrett-Koehler, Thomas Nelson and Manning Publications.

According to the company, more than 50,000 new documents are uploaded daily using Scribd’s iPaper reader, which makes it easy to upload, share and embed original writings and documents. Publishers who have signed on say they see using Scribd as a way to give greater exposure to their titles. Links allow users to buy a book.

The link about Scribd caught my eye b/c I'd come across Scribd via some blogs..specifically Brad DeLong's. For example, if you want to see Scribd in action, DeLong's review of Krugman's recent book, The Return of Depression Economics and the Crisis of 2008 is embedded on his blog here.

Actually, the beauty of Scribd is that it's portable--just like YouTube, they give you the html code to embed the content into any web page. Hence, here is DeLong's review of Krugman:


That is pretty wild, I can read DeLong's review w/o visiting his website, the LAT website (which published DeLong's review), or even Scribd itself. And it looks great.

(In fact, I didn't even have to go to Scribd to embed--just click on the "More" menu in the embedded doc above, and then "Embed Codes")

More on Scribed: Publisher's Weekly ran a slightly longer article about it a few weeks ago:

"Publishers, Authors Weigh Merits of Scribd
Document-sharing site raises both visibility and copyright concerns"

While it's certainly not the only document-sharing Web site,, with more than 50 million users and more than 50,000 documents uploaded daily, aims to be the YouTube for print...

Scribd's main feature is its iPaper application—a Flash reader that allows creators to upload original writings—which permits both uniform publication display of documents and content to be embedded from the site and easily shared. Documents can be downloaded for free, and iPaper allows users to embed text on their Web sites, blogs and on Twitter. Beyond book publishers, Scribd is working with publications like the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal to embed material in their online stories.

The game keeps on changing...

Friday, March 20, 2009

Hank Greenberg on CBS re AIG: "greatest company in history"

I'm getting better at posting video, is one I just heard about on NPR--an interview Hank Greenberg did with CBS this morning about AIG. The quote that caught my ear was the following: "It was the greatest company in history. In the insurance industry, there wasn't anything like it."

(Let me briefly unleash my dormant inner logician. Let p = "It was the greatest company in history" and q = "In the insurance industry, there wasn't anything like it." Clearly the truth values here are p = F and q = T.)

A google search on "hank greenberg AIG greatest company history" led to a news article on the CBS site about the interview:

"Ex-AIG CEO: Don't Blame Me For Bonuses"

Who is Greenberg?

Greenberg built AIG into the largest insurance company in the world. After nearly 40 years at the helm, he was ousted in 2005 in the midst of an accounting scandal.

Here is the part with the killer quote:

Three CEOs followed Greenberg, but he singles out the current one, Edward Liddy, the government-appointed boss who denied blame this week on Capitol Hill.

Liddy told a congressional hearing, "In reviewing how AIG has been run in prior years, I've also seen evidence of its bad side. Mistakes were made at AIG on a scale few could have ever imagined possible."

Rodriguez: Edward Liddy seemed to imply that a lot of the mistakes at AIG were made when you were CEO."

Greenberg laughed at that.

Rodriguez: Do you accept any responsibility?

Greenberg: Absolutely not. It was the greatest company in history. In the insurance industry, there wasn't anything like it.

Kanye West, "Through the Wire" (video)

This is something I posted to facebook, which is becoming sort of a parallel blog for me. In fact, what would be handy is an app for exporting facebook posts to Blogger..surely such a thing must exist..and a couple minutes on Google reveals that indeed it does:

Anyways, below is something I posted on facebook a couple hours ago, in response to a status update by Brooklyn Bodega..


Brooklyn Bodega made a good point: "I wonder if Kanye's young fans even know about the car accident that helped him get off the shelf at the Roc. It is not part of his narrative anymore"

Kanye told the story himself back in '03..lead single off "The College Dropout" (still my favorite of his albums..guess I'm old and crotchety like that):

great track, with that sped up Chaka Khan sample..give it a listen

if you don't know, now you know..

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Brooks on "The Commercial Republic", citing Walt Whitman

Catching up the paper from earlier this week. Once again, I find David Brooks, although a bit smug and high handed, worth posting.

His column in Tuesday's paper was on the US as "the commercial republic":

Over the centuries, the United States has been most conspicuous for one trait: manic energy. Americans work longer hours than any other people. We switch jobs more frequently, move more often, earn more and consume more.

This energy was first aroused by abundance, by the tantalizing sense that dazzling wealth was available just over the next hill. But it has also been sustained by a popular culture that celebrates commercial ambition. From Benjamin Franklin and Alexander Hamilton, through Horatio Alger and Norman Vincent Peale, up until Donald Trump and Jim Cramer, popular figures have always emerged to champion the American gospel of success, encouraging middle-class people to strive, risk and make money.

Brooks, after a handful of paragraphs of historical context, goes on to say:

In short, the United States will never be Europe. It was born as a commercial republic. It's addicted to the pace of commercial enterprise. After periodic pauses, the country inevitably returns to its elemental nature.

The U.S. is in one of those pauses today. It has been odd, over the past six months, not to have the gospel of success as part of the normal background music of life...That part of American culture that stokes ambition and encourages risk has gone silent.

We are now in an astonishingly noncommercial moment. Risk is out of favor. The financial world is abashed. Enterprise is suspended. The public culture is dominated by one downbeat story after another as members of the educated class explore and enjoy the humiliation of the capitalist vulgarians.

It was the closing paragraph that caught my attention:

Walt Whitman got America right in his essay, "Democratic Vistas." He acknowledged the vulgarity of the American success drive. He toted up its moral failings. But in the end, he accepted his country's "extreme business energy," its "almost maniacal appetite for wealth." He knew that the country's dreams were all built upon that energy and drive, and eventually the spirit of commercial optimism would always prevail.

I got to seek out this Whitman essay. In fact, I should get a collection of his writing..sad to say, I don't recall ever reading anything by him! That esp inexcusable now that we are residents of the borough of Brookyln...

I'm curious if/how Whitman believes the creative and democratic elements of society can thrive in what is, as Brooks has written, a decidedly commercial republic. I'd like to find out if Whitman was in fact as sanguine about that maniacal appetite for wealth as Brooks makes him out to have been..

In fact, a google search on "whitman democratic vistas" comes up with a link to what looks to be the full text of "Democratic Vistas" as well as the Amazon page for a collection titled "Democratic Vistas and Other Papers"; interestingly, the "product description" on the Amazon page (quite commercial, that) seems to directly contradict Brooks:

Walt Whitman (1819-1892) contributed to the greatest prose of American letters with Democratic Vistas, now considered a classic discussion of the theory of democracy and its possibilities. In this essay he protests the unrestrained materialism, greed, corruption and spiritual failure of what, two years later, Mark Twain would label "The Gilded Age." Whitman criticizes America for its "mighty, many-threaded wealth and industry" that mask an underlying "dry and flat Sahara" of soul. He calls for a new kind of literature to revive the American population: "Not the book needs so much to be the complete thing, but the reader of the book does."

This is indicative of what bothers me about Brooks: he'll come with an erudite, reasonable-sounding essay, but then put in a subtle, disingenuous twist to make the conservative viewpoint seem more reasonable than it deserves to be..

Monday, March 16, 2009

Video clips: at the market in south Kolkata

I still haven't uploaded all our photos from our trip to India last month..but I did upload a few of the numerous video clips I took. Here are two of them, both taken on the morning we walked with my aunt to the local market:

1) The chicken butcher; I snapped a few photos of these guys, after which they wanted to pose for me, which is when I shot this clip:

2) One of the many fishmongerers; same here, actually--this guy did a special pose for me when he saw I was taking photos. Not sure what type of fish he was dealing..I'll have to ask my parents if they can tell:

Saturday, March 14, 2009

NYT on "forced entrepreneurship"

Lead story on this morning, and also on A1 of today's print edition (just below the fold): "Weary of Looking for Work, Some Create Their Own", about the growing phenomenon of "forced entrepreneurship."

This is encouraging in some ways; seems clear that this is what it will take for the economy to turn around. Indeed, as the article refers to via a quote, it's the process of "creative destruction" of capitalism at work:

Mark V. Cannice, executive director of the entrepreneurship program at the
University of San Francisco, calls the phenomenon “forced entrepreneurship.”

“If there is a silver lining, the large-scale downsizing from major
companies will release a lot of new entrepreneurial talent and ideas —
scientists, engineers, business folks now looking to do other things,” Mr.
Cannice said. “It’s a Darwinian unleashing of talent into the entrepreneurial

Certainly there is a lot of financial and quantitative talent that's been released from Wall Street over the past year. Indeed, it's probably a good thing for our society that a smaller percentage of the most ambitious and accomplished college graduates aim to be something other than an analyst at an i-bank, and that fewer of our math, physics, and engineering PhDs end up working as something other than quants on Wall St.

Back to this grassroots entrepreneurship: I imagine/hope that this is what the GOP would like to support, instead of governemnt spending. But I haven't heard any concrete policy proposals for how they would do so; what I have heard is the mantra of more and more tax cuts--what they've been repeating for 30 years (the Age of Reagan, now seemingly coming to an end).

For starters, how about universal health care, so individuals can pursue entrepreneurial ventures w/o worrying about finding a job that includes decent health insurance for themselves and their dependents?

Galbraith on financial bubbles and busts

Me quoting Mark Thoma quoting the WSJ quoting John Kenneth Galbraith..words of wisdom:

In 1999, John Kenneth Galbraith explained how to spot speculative excess:

Notable and Quotable, WSJ: From an address given by John Kenneth Galbraith at the London School of Economics in June 1999 called "The Unfinished Business of the Century":

We have far more people selling derivatives, index funds and mutual funds (as we call them) than there is intelligence for the task. I am cautious about prediction; I discovered years ago that my correct predictions are forgotten, the others meticulously remembered. But some things are definite; when you hear it being said that we have entered a new economy of permanent prosperity with prices of financial instruments reflecting that happy fact, you should take cover. This has been the standard justification of speculative excess for several centuries -- for a good part of the millennium. My one-time Harvard colleague Joseph Schumpeter thought inevitable and even beneficial what he called "creative destruction" -- the cyclical process by which the system eliminates the people and institutions which are mentally too vulnerable for useful economic service. Unfortunately the process has larger and less benign effects, including the possibility of painful recession or depression.

LSE has a full transcript of the 1999 lecture here (pdf). In fact, now that I'm skimming it, I think it's worth quoting what Galbraith said prior to the passage above:

The most serious [problem within economies] is the ancient and unsolved problem
of instability – of the enduring sequence of boom and bust. The history goes
back for centuries to the Tulipmania in Holland in 1637 and perhaps before, to
the early eighteenth century promise in Paris of gold in Louisianna – gold not
yet discovered – and here to the South Sea Bubble. (In later years there was a
wonderful prospect for draining the Red Sea to recover the treasure left behind
at the crossing of the Isrelites.) In the century, in the United States, about
every 30 years there was a sequence of boom and bust, including the Great Crash
of 1929. The speculative crash, now called a correction, has been a basic
feature of the system. In the United States we are now having another exercise
in speculative optimism following the partial reversal last year.

And also what Galbraith said immediately after noting that the "possibility of painful recession or depression":

Let us not assume that the age of slump, recession, depression is past. Let us
have both the needed warnings against speculative excess and awareness that the
ensuing slump can be painful. And there will then be need for specific remedial
action by the government. Keynes, one regularly reads, is out of fashion; his is
a cyclical legacy that fades in good times, returns with recession.