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October 10, 2011

DOOM: For Brutus is an honorable man; so are they all, all honorable men


There are many lessons for America in the current agonies of the Greeks. Perhaps the most important is that there is such a thing as “national character”. The Greeks collectively are mercurial, spendthrift, comparatively unproductive, and have an unearned sense of entitlement. They feed on past glories while doing nothing to ensure future prosperity. The dodge taxes as though it were a national sport. They take alms as if they are earned wages, and then complain that the money isn’t enough. They lied their way into the Eurozone and now resent the consequences of that lie.

The “prosperity” they achieved with the Euro was nothing of the sort: it was simply a mad borrowing binge, and all that borrowed money must now be repaid...in one way or another. Debt, by itself, is morally neutral -- but debt incurred in service to weakness, vanity, and vice is most assuredly not moral. Immorality that goes unpunished or ignored leads to decadence; decadence leads to societal rot. Fiscal improvidence is a symptom. The disease is a deficit of national character.

I have pity for individual Greeks who, through no fault of their own, are held hostage by the wastrels among them. But so many of these stories you read show the defects of the Greek character: a sense of entitlement, of grievance, of inchoate anger at their creditors, a lack of appreciation for cause and effect. Read the comments from the Greeks -- they have no plan to recover the situation, no actual belief in change. Their only hope seems to be that the world will somehow keep giving them money even though they produce nothing that the world wants.

Consider this quote from single mother Dougia:

"If we can survive just this year, I will build a statue of myself. I will put it in the middle of the living room and bow to it every day, because I will be a hero," she said.
The Greeks expect to be lauded as heroes for doing what everyone else on earth does every single day. From the feats of Odysseus and Achilles the Greeks have defined "heroism" down to just getting out of bed in the morning. Not exactly the stuff of epic poetry.

Does America have enough national character -- enough strength of will, and of purpose -- to avoid the fate of the Greeks?

Zut alors! We must sell ze dollars!

The entire globalized trade system is in jeopardy. That may be, but whenever I hear assertions that the motley collection of Eurozone nations “must” do something, I wonder to myself: what evidence have they given so far that they are willing to do anything (or, indeed, even able to)? It’s obvious even to the most ardent Euro boosters that the whole Euro idea was badly flawed to begin with -- many are wondering if the Euro is even worth saving. The Euro project makes no real sense in an economic context; it was always a backdoor plan to force the various European nations into a single political union. But it turns out that the various European nations not only like their sovereign status, but tend to hear “transfer union” when the Eurocrats insist on "political union". Germans in particular understand full well that fiscal union means transferring German dollars into Greek pockets essentially forever, and they don’t much care for the idea. It may be true that Europe needs a solution to bring closer economic integration; it is also true that the Euro project is not that solution.

Sarkozy and Merkel still at loggerheads as to how to bail out...er, “recapitalize”...European banks.

If Obama gets a second term, the US will be as boned as California now is -- if it’s not already.

Demographic DOOM. Modern technology has made people selfish -- they think they can put off marriage and family indefinitely in the pursuit of personal fulfillment (whatever that means). The reasons for this change are complex: the emancipation of women, the cultural debasement of marriage, the growth of the welfare state, the gradual disempowerment of men. Yet our expectations for the future do not match our present behaviors: we continue to behave as though there will be an ever-growing population of young people to support us in our dotage, and yet we are doing little to ensure that result.

Steyn, en fuego. “T]he great advantage of mass moronization is that it leaves you too dumb to figure out who to be mad at.”

Concerns over Fannie and Freddie’s debt grow.

The Federal Housing Finance Agency, which regulates Fannie and Freddie, has tried to reassure investors saying they would have recourse to the Treasury in the case of any default.

But data from Credit Suisse shows a material change in the appetite, which dropped markedly from July. For example, Asia took only 3 per cent of $4bn of 5-year Fannie debt issued in August at a spread of 35.5 basis points over Treasuries, a relatively wide level, compared to earlier this year.

Yeah, don’t worry, investors: we’ll just ask the taxpayers to bend over and take it up the tailpipe like always.

Dexia: The vanguard of European bank nationalisations? From The Market Ticker, Karl Denninger wonders if Dexia is the new Creditanstalt.

The butcher’s bill for Obama’s 2012 jobs act? $288 billion, give or take. I guess among Obama’s inner circle, numbers in the mere billions no longer cause much alarm.

How bad would another recession be? It depends on what you mean by “bad”.

Encourage the private sector to grow, and jobs will follow. The fact that the government doesn’t do this tells you all you really need to know about Obama’s views on job-creation. He’s for creating jobs...so long as it doesn’t reduce the power and reach of the federal government.

I’m never quite sure if the anti-business rhetoric and policies of the Obama administration are part of a deliberate strategy, or simply a result of incompetence. I incline towards incompetence, simply because that meets the Occam’s Razor requirement. Never ascribe to malice what can be explained by simple stupidity.

The Soviet Union’s Bill of Rights was better than ours? Who knew?

We may look back and say that this was the tipping point when DOOM became inevitable: half of American households receive some kind of government benefit. The other half funds that outlay, remember; the “government” has no wealth of its own. I don’t have to tell you what happens when the takers outnumber the makers, or when the breakers outnumber the builders.

Remember what I’ve been saying about the overoptimistic return assumptions of pension actuaries? Yeah.

The Great Depression...the good old days?

Who are “the rich” in Democrats’ eyes? Basically, anyone who has money but doesn’t use it to further Democrat ends. Democrats will define “rich” down until it hits the middle-class right in the wallet, and for the same reason Willie Sutton robbed banks: that’s where the money is.

If only women would buy more shoes, the economy would spring back to life. Or something. I would respond: you cannot consume something until it has been produced. The producers always have the whip hand in an economy. Put five people on a desert island and give them each a million dollars, and the money will do them no good at all. Their lot only begins to improve when they produce things to spend their money on. We can argue that our current malaise is in part caused by overproduction, but this indicates that more deflation is necessary before prices achieve market equilibrium. People aren’t buying stuff because stuff is either a) too expensive, or b) not necessary. In the West, it may be that our voracious appetite for consumer goods is finally nearly sated -- which means that the consumer-driven economy is in real trouble if China and India don’t pick up the slack.

My opinion of professional economists is not high, and Robert Shiller agrees with me that we have been very badly served by the so-called "experts" in the Dismal Science. (Shiller's fondness for Keynes distresses me, but hey, he's an academic from Yale. I expected no less.)

In a critique of the Shiller paper presented to the conference, Bhidé writes: “The narrowing of economics in the last several decades seems indisputable; the claim that this has allowed for ‘great progress' raises a question, however: From whose point of view? Paul Samuelson once said – approvingly – ‘in the long-run, the economic scholar works for the only coin worth having--our own applause.’”

The Solyndra economy.

UPDATE 1: Netflix: "Yeah, 'Qwikster' was a dumb idea. Forget we ever mentioned it."

stupid cat

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posted by Monty at 08:28 AM

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