Saturday, December 12, 2009

Be Prepared

Being prepared is not just the motto of the Boy Scouts, it is an entire philosophy that should be made an integral part of your character.

I was recently traveling over the thanksgiving holiday, and along the way saw many houses, fields, and barns. Some farms were meticulously kept, and others appeared to be junkyards with adjacent fields. Some barns had been painted over the years, and had their roofs kept up, and some were left to ruin. Whenever I see a barn leaning to one side, with holes in the roof or walls, I can't help but see it as a reflection of the person who is or was responsible for it. Barns and outbuildings have real value, they cost time, effort, and money. They can be put to good uses beyond their original purpose.

"Prepare thy work without, and make it fit for thyself in the field; and afterwards build thine house...
I went by the field of the slothful, and by the vineyard of the man void of understanding; And, lo, it was all grown over with thorns, and nettles had covered the face thereof, and the stone wall thereof was broken down.
Then I saw, and considered it well: I looked upon it and received instruction.
Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep: So shall thy poverty come as one that travelleth; and thy want as an armed man."
-- Proverbs 24: 27, 30-34

Part of being prepared is improving yourself, in cultivating good habits and a good work ethic. It is vital that a man should work, even if he doesn't have a job. There are always things you can be doing.

I often catch myself thinking that I'm too busy to do one thing or another. My farming ancestors would be disgusted with the excuses I make for not being more productive. Is there something that needs to be done to preserve your house and the assets of your family? Identify it, and do it.

The Hockey Stick vs. Ice Core Data

How significant was the warming trend up to 2000? Watch this:

Friday, September 18, 2009

Authoritarianism in Science

The scientific method is a collection of techniques used to investigate phenomena, acquire knowledge, or correct and integrate existing knowledge. Information is collected through a process of observation and experimentation based on initial hypotheses. Researcher propose hypotheses, which are suppositions, and create experiments to test them.

Using the scientific method knowledge is refined over time into a more cohesive and coherent body. Inconsistencies between different elements within the body of scientific knowledge serve to point out that the picture we have is still incomplete, and point us into new areas wherein research can be performed. Assumptions are made, new hypotheses are formed and subsequently tested, and thereby the process continues.

An example: In the 18th century Henry Cavendish made inflammable air, or hydrogen, by combining metal and acid. He observed that this "inflammable air" reacted with "dephlogisticated air"(oxygen) to form what appeared to be water.
Dephlogisticated air derives its name from the phlogiston theory of Johann Joachim Bechler, which stated that the element "phlogiston" was contained within flammable substances and was released during combustion. What Johann Joachim and Henry Cavendish didn't realize was "Phlogistated" air was air in which the oxygen was converted to carbon dioxide, and "Dephlogistated" air was oxygen itself and that Phlogiston didn't exist.

Antoine Lavoiser named Henry Cavendish's "inflammable air" hydrogen. He later wrote "Reflections on Phlogiston" showing the phlogiston theory to be incorrect. He determined that the components of water were hydrogen and oxygen, and that air was primarily nitrogen and oxygen. In his book Elementary Treatise on Chemistry, he stated the law of conservation of mass, and explained that an element is a substance that can not be broken down any further.

The concept of the element at the time was simply any substance that could not be further broken down by chemical methods. John Dalton was the first to propose that each element consisted of atoms of a unique type which can be put together to form chemical compounds. Mendeleev, using the earlier discoveries by Lavoisier and other scientists published the first periodic table of the elements in 1869.

Now imagine what would have happened if during this period that a scientific/political authority stepped in in defense of the Phlogiston theory and stated that the debate was over. It seems quite silly doesn't it. Debate is not one of the tools of science. Debate in this context could only be used to suppress hypotheses and prevent further experimentation, observation, and interpretation of results. Debate would stop science. Authoritarianism has no place in science apart from the peer review process. When non-scientists get involved and set themselves up as authorities the problem gets infinitely worse.

This is the very message we learn from Galileo's defense of heliocentrism, which properly placed the sun at the center of the solar system. He was forced to recant, and spent his final years under house arrest. This due to the authoritarianism of the Catholic Church.

Not only does authoritarianism have no place in science, it is anathema to science. Peer review is not meant to be authoritarianism, and cannot prevent science but merely serves an editorial purpose for the specific journal in question. It quashes no hypothesis, and stops no experiment.

Government involvement in science, apart from funding, is uniquely dangerous. Governments seek to hide knowledge and stop competing interests, at the cost of science. They willingly blind themselves to reality in doing so, and science becomes just another means to an end.

Global Warming is the latest exercise in defending the phlogiston theory, after all CO2 is just phlogistated air. There is much to discover in the atmospheric sciences, but too many non-scientific authorities are stepping on the scientific process, and in some cases directly hijacking it.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Self Organizing Systems - The Rule of Law

I'm going to start with Disney. One of the most interesting developments in computer animation in the mid 90's was the use of Agent Based Modeling in the movie The Lion King. There is a scene in the movie that calls for thousands of Wildebeests to charge into a gorge. Using traditional animation techniques to complete this scene would have been impossible.
Using a technique called agent based modeling, they were able to create each wildebeest, give each one a set of rules which would govern its individual behavior with respect to the others and the turn it loose. For a simple example of such a system see the Boids applet at the ( page by Craig Reynolds.
If you give individual actors a key set of rules, random characteristics and behaviors, you can observe complex phenomenon. In the traffic models I have written you could observe patterns in the traffic that occur in the real world without ever planning or explicitly coding for them. It was self emergent behavior. I'm sure there are many examples in contemporary video games.
People also have various learned and instinctive behaviors, some we are aware of, and some we aren't. Take the simple act of choosing a path across a school campus. There are obstacles, crossings, and other people (agents). If you are a keen observer of people you may have noticed that when someone approaches a sidewalk at an acute angle to cross it, they change their angle within the last few feet of the approach to minimize the distance of the crossing. That is they cross at an angle closer to the perpendicular than the angle of their path in general.
Another example from my own experience: When two individuals are walking towards each other there is a set of unspoken signals exchanged between the two meant to communicate the intended path each wishes to take. Subtle signals are given with the eyes, the next set of signals may be given with a leading shoulder or a sharp shift in direction, or even slightly stepping to the side or looking down to yield. In order to see the full concert of these behaviors just watch for the jostling that begins just before the two individuals come face to face not knowing on which side to pass. I'm sure everyone is familiar with this from experience.
This is an example of a mixture of instinctive and learned behavior. In England pedestrians tend to pass on the left by default, whereas in the USA they pass on the right which happens to mirror the road traffic. Any violation of this convention is communicated through nearly subconscious body language.
I believe human beings have a wealth of such characteristics and rules programmed into us as inherited traits. In order for these traits to work though we have to be free to use them.
Laws in a free society work the same way, and with the same results. Only if people are given a set of rules, and a free environment in which to use them can the complex phenomena manifest themselves. If you believe that people evolved, either macroscopically or just within species, then you must also believe that these complex phenomena exist. Regardless of evolution or not we know they do exist.
Take for example Adam Smiths invisible hand. It is a prime example of the power of complex phenomenon of a self emergent system from agent based behavior. It is also an example of the ability of free markets to meet the needs of the people through a whole series of win-win transactions.
In order for us to reach our true potential our choices shouldn't be suppressed by well meaning individuals who would rather manage the population rather than let them be free agents. In doing so they set for themselves an impossible task, because everyone _is_ an agent and will make their own choices anyway. It would be as if the animator at Disney had chosen to draw each frame of the stampede by hand, rather than appreciating the beauty of the emergent pattern made up of the individual wildebeests even with their simple and limited set of rules.
There is a principal here. Complex societies require freedom. This was known at the founding of the USA. The concept of God given rights is an acknowledgment of the necessity of freedom. The concept of the equality and the rule of law is a corollary to the rules in the animators agent based technique. The animators admitted that some things just can't possibly be managed from the top down with good effect.
It is time that those who believe in a managed society learn the same thing. Our interactions with each other as citizens have to be rooted in equality and the rule of law. If they are, then our interactions will for the most part be mutually beneficial. Our interactions are far too complex to manage, and the results are impossible to duplicate using another technique.
There really is such a thing as win-win. If we are free to use our innate abilities for the benefit of ourselves and others we can see great things emerge, just as America did more than two centuries ago.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Milton Friedman, Nobel prize winning economist back when that meant something academic and not political, put out a series called Free to Choose in 1980. In this series he explains and illustrates basic economic principals in terms easy to understand, and impossible to contradict.

I was listening to this episode (#9 Inflation) on my mp3 player during my bike to work this morning, and considering its implications with respect to where we find ourselves today. Principals are timeless and constitute tools for us to use in navigating reality regardless of prevailing sentiments.

I strongly encourage you to watch this episode, and when you hear contradictory information evaluate it against this standard.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Letter hits nail on head

Today's issue of the Deseret News (April 15th) had a response to my letter published April 10th that I was surprised, but pleased, to see.

"It's pleasing to note the many reactions to the requisites of freedom, basically between socialism and capitalism. Brent Seely's 'Capitalism is freedom' (Readers' Forum, April 10) hits the nail squarely on the head, stating that an increasing multiplicity of laws arbitrarily enforced, in which policy dictates enforcement, is tyranny. Those who are against capitalism believe someone off in Washington can run your life better than you can." - Jene Kartchner

What did surprise me was the number of dissenting views in the comments section of their web site. I had no idea there were so many people opposed to capitalism and see it as immoral. I think the immorality occurs separate from the economic system.

If there are people who are oppressed in a free society, they can bring their grievances before the court and be treated equally under the law.

We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry, would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.

John Adams, Address to the Military, October 11, 1798


Disease Incidence and Vitamin D (25(OH)D) Blood Levels

I have been interested in disease incidence by latitude ever since I read that such a thing existed. Kidney stones, various cancers, irritable bowel disease, atherosclerosis, heart disease, depression, autism, multiple sclerosis, and diabetes are all more prevalent at higher latitudes.
This has long been thought to be due to genetic differences of those who just happen to live in the north. Research has repeatedly shown this to be false. Autism rates among children of those who have immigrated from Uganda to Sweden are around 15%, which is 200 times that of the general population. (Gillberg, C. Et al. Autism in immigrants: children born in Sweden to mothers born in Uganda. J Intellect Disabil Res. 1995;39:141-4.)

After researchers began to suspect, and then perform blood tests, it was found that the incidence of these diseases correlates with Vitamin D blood levels. This is an area of ongoing research, but enough has been done to convince the Canadian Paediatric Society to recommend pregnant and nursing mothers take 2000IU.

The National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements recommendation for Vitamin D is 200IU, which is the minimum amount required to prevent rickets and maintain bone health. They recommend more for those over 50.

The Food and Nutrition Board has convened a panel to reconsider the issue and come up with a new Recommended Daily Allowance.

This is a complicated issue however, because Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin, and also because as most medical students know, Vitamin D is a poison. That, of course, depends on the amount taken. A popular mouse poison, D-Con works by thinning the blood and causing hemorrhaging. It is widely believed by Doctors that the tolerable upper limit is around 2000IU or even less. How can this be if this is the same amount recommended for Canadian mothers?

The popular sentiment has been wrong. Vitamin D deficiency is treated with doses up to 50,000IU. These doses are only administered every few weeks, and daily doses at 1/5th this level have been shown to cause toxicity in some individuals. The upper and lower limits still need to be discovered and set, but these limits vary from person to person. Let's hope the Food and Nutrition Board gets it right.

February was Vitamin D deficiency month in Canada, so there is at least official recognition of the problem of Vitamin D deficiency in some countries.

Supplementing with Vitamin D is hit and miss, and can only be done effectively and safely by monitoring blood levels. Supplementation isn't the only way of getting adequate amounts of Vitamin D. It is also created in your skin, through exposure to sunlight. Spending 15 minutes in the sun at noon can generate an astounding 20,000IU of Vitamin D. This can explain why disease incidence varies with latitude, and why those moving from countries near the equator to those at higher latitudes would experience more diseases.

There is also a racial factor. Those with darker skin generate less Vitamin D, and disproportionally suffer from the listed diseases when they don't get enough through sun exposure, diet, or supplementation.

How can you be sure you're not getting too little, or too much Vitamin D? Visit where you can get a Vitamin D home test kit for $40. GrassrootsHealth is a consortium of scientists, institutions and individuals committed to solving the epidemic Vitamin D deficiency. Through their D*Action program they are hoping to gather data on Vitamin D blood levels, supplementation, and deficiency symptoms. You can find a better description of this program on their web site.

The Vitamin D Council is another good place for more information on this subject. They track news, research, and other publications about Vitamin D.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Derivative Markets

I'm not sure who to attribute this to, but it is too instructive to pass up.

(Alcohol = fair housing, just ask Barney Frank)

Heidi is the proprietor of a bar in Detroit. In order to increase sales, she decides to allow her loyal customers - most of whom are unemployed alcoholics - to drink now but pay later. She keeps track of the drinks consumed on a ledger (thereby granting the customers loans).

Word gets around about Heidi's drink now pay later marketing strategy and as a result, increasing numbers of customers flood into Heidi's bar and soon she has the largest sale volume for any bar in Detroit.

By providing her customers freedom from immediate payment demands, Heidi gets no resistance when she substantially increases her prices for wine and beer, the most consumed beverages. Her sales volume increases massively.

A young and dynamic vice-president at the local bank recognizes these customer debts as valuable future assets and increases Heidi's borrowing limit. He sees no reason for undue concern since he has the debts of the alcoholics as collateral.

At the banks corporate headquarters, expert traders transform these customer loans into DRINKBONDS, ALKIBONDS, and PUKEBONDS.

These securities are then traded on securities markets worldwide. Naive investors don't really understand the securities being sold to them as AAA secured bonds are really the debts of unemployed alcoholics.

Nevertheless, their prices continuously climb, and the securities become the top-selling items for some of the nations leading brokerage houses.

One day, although the bond prices are still climbing, a risk manager at the bank (subsequently fired due his negativity), decides that the time has come to demand payment on the debts incurred by the drinkers at Heidi's bar.

Heidi demands payment from her alcoholic patrons, but being unemployed they cannot pay back their drinking debts. Therefore, Heidi cannot fulfill her loan obligations and claims bankruptcy.

DRINKBOND and ALKIBOND drop in price by 90 %. PUKEBOND performs better, stabilizing in price after dropping by 80 %. The decreased bond asset value destroys the banks liquidity and prevents it from issuing new loans.

The suppliers of Heidi's bar, having granted her generous payment extensions and having invested in the securities are faced with writing off her debt and losing over 80% on her bonds.. Her wine supplier claims bankruptcy, her beer supplier is taken over by a competitor, who immediately closes the local plant and lays off 50 workers.

The bank and brokerage houses are saved by the Government following dramatic round-the-clock negotiations by leaders from both political parties.

The funds required for this bailout are obtained by a tax levied on employed middle-class non-drinkers.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Capitalism = Freedom

This is a text of a letter I submitted to my local newspaper:

"Those who say capitalism has failed are saying freedom has failed. Capitalism is freedom. Adam Smith instead used the term 'System of natural liberty'. Raw capitalism is tempered by the rule of law. The problem we have now is an increasing multiplicity of laws arbitrarily enforced, in which policy dictates enforcement. This is a form of tyranny. We have not been suffering from a dearth of regulation, and to say otherwise is ignorant or dishonest. Sarbanes Oxley is yet another relatively recent layer of onerous regulation.
Those who are against capitalism believe that someone off in Washington can run your life better than you, that your decisions must be made for you. Socialism is for those who wish to be insulated from consequences, it is for those who want to trade individual responsibility and compassion for state provided responsibility and compassion."

I am not normally so terse. Given more space I could have shown the very roots of our predicament, including Republican progressive taxation of the early 20th century, the New Deal, the Community Reinvestment Act, and the sabotaging of Freddie and Fanny.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Hyperinflation anyone?

The current rally in the stock market is your opportunity to get out. Media pundits opinions change daily in the current environment, and they are unable to fathom the severity or true significance of our predicament. Every recession in living memory has been relatively mild, so unless you have lived in Zimbabwe you think we have seen, or soon will see the bottom.

We have lived in a managed pseudo capitalist economy for a long while. The productivity gains that have come about as a result of advances in computers, science, and engineering are real. The tech bubble was over exuberance, but most of the gains of the 1990s were realized in sectors that gained real value. These gains are helping to slow the descent, as is ignorance of our predicament, but the foundation of our economy has been undermined.

Unsafe loans and the real estate bubble were in such a state last summer, that any downtick in home values, or the economy in general meant defaults and foreclosures. This started a chain reaction that put a stop to the slow managed marching of inflation as prescribed by Alan Greenspan. As the economy shrank, the value of the Dollar started to rise. Interest rates were cut to salvage the paper value. Money was printed to reduce the value of the Dollar.

Our problem for the past 6 months has been deflation. It threatens to bankrupt the country, and so inflation must be spurred. During a deflationary period, anyone holding onto debt is eventually unable to pay that debt. Prices are lower, because there are too few Dollars for the available goods. The opposite is also true, during an inflationary period, the value of our debt goes down relative to our income. At least for those who have jobs.

When the TARP program was announced, the amount it was going to cost was seen as unprecedented, and indeed it was. It dwarfed the cost of the Iraq war, and was seen as reckless. Talk radio hosts bemoaned that we were passing this cost onto our children and grandchildren. This money was never meant to come from the tax payer. In a way it already had. The value that had gone missing from the economy was now going to be printed to make up for it. This would require not Billions, but Trillions.

Politicians in Washington who were briefed on the situation began to see this as an opportunity to pay for programs that normally would never see the light of day. It was Milton Friedman's Helicopter, and President Obama would get to be the pilot. Inflationary spending was the prescription of nearly every economist, Keynesian or not.

Alf Fields spelled out the symptoms of the problem, and predicted the government reaction in January '08, in a very prescient commentary titled Into the Abyss. He followed that up with another commentary in November '08: Crisis Cogitations in which he gave some figures that may help us understand how much inflation we might be in for, and what our money will be worth if they achieve their goal.

In order for the debt to be made manageable, our GDP which is currently $14 Trillion must be somwhere in the area of $70 Trillion. The Dollar would have to be devalued in the coming years by about 80%. For every dollar printed the value of the existing dollars drops... it will stop when each dollar is worth about 20 cents in todays dollars.

How do you prepare for the future when you only have 1/5th of your savings? What will we see happen as we go there? What we will see is increased prices on everything, high interest rates, high unemployment, and even higher taxes.

Once the inflation starts in earnest, then the money tap has to be turned off, and the value of money managed via the interest rate. The stimulus bill (March '08 issue) was heavily tied to new programs. Additional programs are in the budget currently being debated. These new programs are just that. They aren't infrastructure improvements, or one time shots in the arm, but entities which need continued funding. Taxes will have to be raised to sustain these, and also raised to provide relief for the unemployed.

How do you prepare for the future? Buy "Store of value" assets, that is items whose value is going to go up. Buy anything today, while your money is worth more, that you are going to need down the road. I don't recommend anyone go into debt, but if you have debt such as a 30 year mortgage, you will eventually be paying it off with dollars that aren't worth as much as when you borrowed them. It probably wouldn't make sense to refinance to a shorter term, when your cost of living wage increases might be in the double digits.

So what is the little guy to do? Biking to work and learning to grow a vegetable garden come to mind. Try to be as self sufficient as possible. I don't quite anticipate a repeat of the weimar republic, but it is a possibility so I'll prepare for it anyway. I've got some food, clothes, and other goods put away, and should be able to get by for a while if I were to join the ranks of the unemployed. Other than that I'm not sure how to prepare.

This blog is one week old, but when you find it, and if you have any constructive suggestions, feel free to comment because I want to know what I'm missing.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Illustrious Climate Models

Models are illustrations. They illustrate our understanding of the phenomenon being modeled. The benefit of the model is that it allows extrapolation and exploration, i.e playing "what if?" games by modifying the parameters of the model. Randomness can be applied to represent observed ranges of inputs. Complex behavior can be seen which appears to approximate the real world allowing you to see dynamic outputs which tend to reinforce confidence in the model. Nevertheless, it is still only a model, and will only show you a reflection of what you already understand.

Contemporary climate models are woefully incomplete. They contain invalid and unproven assumptions, and in some cases even mistaken assumptions. They fail to account for vital macroscopic processes such as vertical wind profiles and cloud formation. If any assumption is incorrect, or any sufficiently significant process overlooked, then the models are incorrect.

Incorrect models cannot be validated, but can be calibrated to match a preexisting set of data. The problem with most climate models used to support Global Warming, is that the validation was never done. Calibration must be done before validation, and if calibration is even necessary it's because you are still empirically deriving a parameter(s) which wasn't adequately defined up front. You probably can't even tell which parameter was in error. Confidence is therefore unknown.

What this means is the worlds best climate models, no matter how much time they take to run, or how much confidence they claim, are only toys. The more they are run, the more they are tweaked to bring them in line with current conditions. It's a process of continuous calibration. This tweaking only serves to illustrate that the model was wrong and incomplete to begin with.

We know the models are incomplete from the get go, and we even know some of the reasons why. The logical thing to do is to put our resources toward research which can fill in the gaps, and increase our confidence in the models. One of the projects that could fill a giant gap in our understanding of the atmosphere is the Cloud project at CERN.

The Cloud project (Cosmics Leaving OUtdoor Droplets) is testing the hypothesis that a range of cosmic rays influence cloud formation. Cosmic rays originating in outer space interact in our atmosphere as condensation nuclei. This experiment will mark the first time a partical accelerator has been used for atmospheric research.

What you may notice when visiting the Cloud project page linked above, is that the proposal is now 10 years old. Unfortunately some early press reports quoted the lead researcher, Jasper Kirby, as saying cosmic rays "will probably be able to account for somewhere between a half and the whole of the increase in the Earth's temperature that we have seen in the last century."
This statement resulted in the loss of funding for the Cloud project, until a much maligned and humbled Jasper Kirby started to downplay the significance of the project.

Science is at the mercy of politics. The first data from the Cloud experiment should be available in 2010. So while we are blind, and making profound decisions based on the output of incomplete and erroneous models, there may come a day when we can see. Hindsight is always 20/20, but there are many who would rather keep us in the dark.

I will look forward to the results of this and many other projects which can help us to more fully understand the interactions of our atmosphere and all that influences it internally and externally.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

NYTimes: The Civil Heretic

Global Warming is the one great example we have that causes people to hold strong opinions purely based on the significance of the outcome were it true. It admittedly hasn't been proven, but something must be done now anyway. Isn't a consensus enough? At least that is the mantra.

I would ask in turn, why hold an opinion of something you cannot understand? How do you know whether or not it is occurring? If it is totally beyond your comprehension to prove or disprove it, then why panic? If you are only going off of blind trust, why? Is authoritarianism in science actually science?

I have many reasons to believe anthropogenic global warming isn't real. I'm sure I will get to each of them in the coming months.

I believe more in principals than personalities, but Freeman Dyson is a fine example of a man driven by principal. One who evaluates each modicum of evidence and seeks to understand the issues. I wouldn't usually provide a link to the New York Times, but this article about Freeman Dyson deserves to be read.

The Civil Heretic

IT WAS FOUR YEARS AGO that Dyson began publicly stating his doubts about climate change. Speaking at the Frederick S. Pardee Center for the Study of the Longer-Range Future at Boston University, Dyson announced that “all the fuss about global warming is grossly exaggerated.” Since then he has only heated up his misgivings, declaring in a 2007 interview with that “the fact that the climate is getting warmer doesn’t scare me at all” and writing in an essay for The New York Review of Books, the left-leaning publication that is to gravitas what the Beagle was to Darwin, that climate change has become an “obsession” — the primary article of faith for “a worldwide secular religion” known as environmentalism. Among those he considers true believers, Dyson has been particularly dismissive of Al Gore, whom Dyson calls climate change’s “chief propagandist,” and James Hansen, the head of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York and an adviser to Gore’s film, “An Inconvenient Truth.” Dyson accuses them of relying too heavily on computer-generated climate models that foresee a Grand Guignol of imminent world devastation as icecaps melt, oceans rise and storms and plagues sweep the earth, and he blames the pair’s “lousy science” for “distracting public attention” from “more serious and more immediate dangers to the planet.”

“The climate-studies people who work with models always tend to overestimate their models,” Dyson was saying. “They come to believe models are real and forget they are only models.”

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

It's A Crisis Of Integrity

"Giving money and power to government is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys."
- P.J. O'Rourke, Civil Libertarian

What we are experiencing in the U.S. today, to use the popular lexicon is a "Crisis of Confidence". Confidence in what? you might ask. In the financial sector, and in Government. What is it that we can have confidence in? Confidence is just a measure of integrity, which means we are actually experiencing a crisis of integrity. Isn't that really what this is all about? Integrity in what? When it comes to OTCs, or over the counter derivatives, it is really the integrity of promisory notes of one kind or another. The integrity of a contract.
This crisis was enabled in Washington D.C, and was amplified by those willing to sign onto mortgages that they couldn't repay. The lack of integrity of individuals was transferred to paper, and given the illusion of value. As long as everyone played along, and pretended the paper was worth something, it was put on the balance sheet, and showed up in the price of shares of the various institutions. Individuals, perhaps even in good faith made promises they didn't know they would be able to keep. Other individuals with a little government encouragement, took out loans because they had a right to a house (so they were told), knowing they could only make token payments. This paper was concentrated in the larger banks. These banks wouldn't have done this if the government hadn't backed them, which they did through Fannie and Freddie. Alan Greenspan purjured himself before congress when he blamed the banks instead of the government. I would expect the be held in contempt if ever taken before that pack of wolves.
Housing prices fell in mid 2008, ever so slightly, and Fannie and Freddie were taken over. These events were inevitable and had been predicted years in advance, and despite the curious timing, (occuring shortly before an election) were only made possible because of the initial lack of honesty and integrity of the people as a whole.
We are in a hell of our own making, collectively. Lets not fool ourselves into blaming wall street corporations, although they took advantage of the situation. Let us blame ourselves if we overextended ourselves. The blame, however, lies even more with those in Washington who set this trap under the guise of "Fair" housing. They fully understood, having been warned years ago, what the inevitable outcome would be. I cannot believe they were merely stupid, or ignorant of economics as a whole. An attack on capitalism has been going on since before the New Deal, before capitalism was called capitalism (seeing as it was a term introduced by Karl Marx). Capitalism used to be known only as freedom. Freedom to go about business without government interference. The free market, which we haven't been operating under for some time, is what the attackers of freedom blame.
To complete this game of semantics then, we are undergoing an attack on freedom, brought about by a lack of honesty and integrity. The opportunists in Washington took advantage of the one to create the other, hoping we would turn to them when the crisis was made manifest. I am hopeful that the crisis is significant enough for everyone to see them for who they are, but not too costly in the real human life.
The free market has done more for the benefit of humankind than any institution or government that ever existed. Third world poverty has been at an all time low, and life expectancy has been at an all time high, because of the trickle of wealth and prosperity from wealthy countries to less wealthy countries, made possible by the free market. Capital will now flee the U.S. The value of the Dollar will fall precipitously in the next few years, and people across the world will suffer with us. There are no winners in this scenario. This is too expensive an education.