Weekly Wisdom Roundup #60 (Weekly Readings For Smarter Types)

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Weekly Cartoon (Via ):

Weekly Joke (Via ND.edu):

Why God Never Received Tenure at the University

1. He had only one major publication.
2. And it was in Hebrew.
3. And it had no cited references.
4. And it wasn’t published in a refereed journal or even submitted for peer review.
5. And some even doubt he wrote it himself.
6. It may be true that he created the world but what has he done since?
7. His cooperative efforts have been quite limited.
8. The scientific community has had a very rough time trying to replicate his results.
9. He never applied to the Ethics Board for permission to use human subjects.
10. When one experiment went awry, he tried to cover it up by drowning the subjects.
11. When subjects didn’t behave as predicted, he often punished them, or just deleted them from the sample.
12. He rarely came to class, just told students to read the book.
13. He had his son teach the class.
14. He expelled his first two students for learning.
15. Although there were only ten requirements, most students failed his tests.
16. His office hours were infrequent and usually held on a mountaintop.

Most Important Article(s) Of The Week!!!!!!!

Buying You: The Government’s Use of Fourth-Parties to Launder Data about ‘The People’ Via SSRN – Your information is for sale, and the government is buying it at alarming rates. The CIA, FBI, Justice Department, Defense Department, and other government agencies are at this very moment turning to a group of companies to provide them information that these companies can gather without the restrictions that bind government intelligence agencies. The information is gathered from sources that few would believe the government could gain unfettered access to, but which, under current Fourth Amendment doctrine and statutory protections, are completely accessible. Fourth-parties, such as ChoicePoint or LexisNexis, are private companies that aggregate data for the government, and they comprise the private security-industrial complex that arose after the attacks of September 11, 2001. They are in the business of acquiring information, not from the information’s originator (the first-party), nor from the information’s anticipated recipient (the second-party), but from the unavoidable digital intermediaries that transmit and store the information (third-parties). These fourth-party companies act with impunity as they gather information that the government wants but would be unable to collect on its own due to Fourth Amendment or statutory prohibitions. This paper argues that when fourth-parties disclose to law enforcement information generated as a result of searches that would be violations had the government conducted the searches itself, those fourth-parties’ actions should be considered searches by agents of the government, and the data should retain privacy protections.

This Time Is Not Different!!! Reinhart and Rogoff: Higher Debt May Stunt Economic Growth
– Via WSJ- To all the reasons to worry about the rapid rise in government debt in the wake of the financial crisis, add another: It’ll stunt our growth. In a new paper presented Monday at the annual meeting of the American Economic Association, Carmen Reinhart of the University of Maryland and Kenneth Rogoff of Harvard study the link between different levels of debt and countries’ economic growth over the last two centuries. One finding: Countries with a gross public debt debt exceeding about 90% of annual economic output tended to grow a lot more slowly. For advanced countries above the 90% threshold, average annual growth was about two percentage points lower than for countries with public debt of less than 30% of GDP.

Banned Aid: Why International Assistance Does Not Alleviate Poverty – Via Policy Pointers – A 3-page US article examines the flaws in the concept of foreign aid

Miguel’s Weekly Favorites:

The 50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology
Via Psych Files – I interview Dr. Scott Lilienfeld, author of 50 Myths of Popular Psychology and we talk about, a) does the polygraph actually work?, b) do women talk more than men?, c) does handwriting analysis reveal your personality? and d) when you’re taking a multiple choice test should you change your first answer or leave it alone? Along the way we also talk about whether the full moon really does make people act strangely (and cause more dog bites). Finally, Dr. Lilienfeld provides his opinion on whether psychotherapists need to be more up-to-date on the scientific research behind the various types of psychotherapy.

Stereotypes: Why We Act Without Thinking – Via Psy Blog – Despite their bad name, stereotypes can be handy short cuts that give us useful information about the world and other people. For example the stereotype of psychologists is that they are going to analyse you, then start meddling. There’s certainly some truth to that, after all that is their job.
Outgroup Bias: Prejudice towards migrants stems partly from the fact that they’re awkward to think about – Via BPS Research – Survey research consistently shows that people tend to have a poor view of migrants. It’s unpalatable but psychologically-speaking, it’s no great surprise. After all, the odds are stacked against new-comers: most of us display inherent biases against people who we perceive to be in a different social group from our own – the so-called ‘out group bias’ – together with a similar aversion to people who are members of a social minority. Migrants usually fit both these descriptions.

Awesome!!: No Money, No Problems at Turin’s Barter-based Marketplace – Via Good – In Turin, Italy, the Gifts Without Money—or, if you prefer, Regali Senza Moneta—initiative has transformed a marketplace into a money-free zone, where people exchange goods and services without the intermediary of a legal tender. The idea is that without bringing cash or credit into the marketplace, people can recognize the true value of exchanges—that value having more to do with interpersonal connections than with profits and loss. From La Stampa:

Desire influences visual perception – Via We tend to assume that we see our surroundings as they really are, and that our perception of reality is accurate. In fact, what we perceive is merely a neural representation of the world, the brain’s best guess of its environment, based on a very limited amount of available information. This is perhaps best demonstrated by visual illusions, in which there is a mismatch between our perception of the stimulus and objective reality.

Myths of the American Revolution – Via Smithsonian – We think we know the Revolutionary War. After all, the American Revolution and the war that accompanied it not only determined the nation we would become but also continue to define who we are. The Declaration of Independence, the Midnight Ride, Valley Forge—the whole glorious chronicle of the colonists’ rebellion against tyranny is in the American DNA. Often it is the Revolution that is a child’s first encounter with history.

How the World Balances Health Care Risk – Via NYT – The health systems of Switzerland, the Netherlands and Germany are frequently cited as potential models for a reformed American health system. All three countries offer their citizens a wide choice of health insurers — none of which is a government-run health plan. Yet in all three countries full community rating is de rigueur.Swiss citizens, for example, are required to purchase insurance coverage for a comprehensive health-benefit package from a large menu of private health insurance companies that compete for customers on the basis of the premium they charge for that coverage.

Brain Activity Levels Affect Self-Perception: ‘Rose-Colored Glasses’ Correlate With Less Frontal Lobe Use – Via ScienceDaily — The less you use your brain’s frontal lobes, the more you see yourself through rose-colored glasses, a University of Texas at Austin researcher says.

100 things we didn’t know last year
– Via Farnam St – The most interesting and unexpected facts can emerge from the daily news stories and the Magazine documents some of them in its weekly feature, 10 things we didn’t know last week. To kick off 2010, here’s an almanac of the best from the past year.

Corruption = monopoly + discretion – accountability. – Via Aguanomics – Thus, you see why I spend so much time on this blog discussing the troubles with monopolies, asymmetric information (water managers know more than us) and community oversight of water agencies.

Does Making a Public Commitment Really Help People Lose Weight? – Via NeuroNarrative – Several of the most popular weight loss programs operate on the public commitment principle. Individuals are challenged to state “publicly” (which may simply mean in front of a small weight loss group) that they want to lose so much weight in a given time period. The commitment hinges on social pressure working against the possibility of failure. If someone doesn’t succeed, or at least make substantial progress toward the goal, everyone will know it.

Video: Emotional and Social Intelligence – How you can use emotional and social intelligence to improve your performance – Daniel Goleman Via HBS

Video: The Next Giant Leaps In Energy, Environment, & Air transportation – via MIT World – It’s no exaggeration to say John Holdren’s job involves tackling the most critical issues of our age: economic recovery and growth, health care, energy, climate change, global pandemics, national security, ecosystem preservation…the list goes on. As President Obama’s science and technology advisor, Holdren leverages the resources and collective acumen of the nation’s researchers and innovators to address these complex and urgent matters. To an MIT audience, Holdren makes the case that aerospace science, technology and education will provide a “crucial contribution to and driver of many relevant capabilities” the U.S. will need to meet this century’s challenges.

The Masters of The Diamond Trade – Via Investors Consigliere & NYT – EVERY diamond is a story as old as the earth and will outlast us all. Diamonds are, indeed, forever, but they are not forever in view.


Exclusive Features : (The Must Reads)

The Economist Sends The: Bubble Warning Via The Economist & Value Investing World – Markets are too dependent on unsustainable government stimulus. Something’s got to give
A $123 Trillion China? Not Likely. – Via Foreign Policy -The many, many reasons — from the financial crisis to the country’s aging population to environmental limitations — why Robert Fogel’s forecast for China is completely inconceivable.

Japan’s Fake Economic Reforms – Why Tokyo could use a little more creative destruction. Via Foreign Policy – Just before the recently elected Japanese government released its new 10-year growth strategy, two top policymakers locked horns in a sterile economic debate. Heizo Takenaka, economic advisor to former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, said the chief priority should be business-oriented supply-side measures to generate new wealth. Naoto Kan, the new deputy prime minister and finance minister, stressed the need to boost demand and help consumers. Arguing that the Koizumi cohort had failed, Kan said that companies would neither hire new workers nor boost capacity if they couldn’t sell their output.

Your Guide to Cutting the Cord to Cable TV – Via Media Shift – What’s causing those bills to skyrocket? A lack of competition among cable and satellite providers, and the rising costs of programming. The most recent programming dustup happened when News Corp. demanded carriage fees from Time Warner Cable, and settled before any channels were dropped. Time Warner is planning an upcoming rate hike. Like other traditional media, TV networks (both cable and broadcast) are being squeezed by lower advertising income, and think they can just keep raising the cable bills indefinitely. Unfortunately for the cable TV industry, they’ve picked a bad time to raise their rates. Centris found in a separate report (PDF) that due to the economic meltdown, eight percent of U.S. households were likely to cancel their pay TV in the third quarter of ‘09, and nearly half of households contacted TV providers for discounts or cheaper packages.

Jason Zweig: Inefficient Markets Are Still Hard to Beat – Via WSJ – Can’t anyone here play this game? With the market so erratic at pricing stocks, it is tempting to think you can do better. Between the Dow Jones Industrial Average’s record in October 2007 and the bear-market low in March 2009, Bank of America’s stock fell 94%. Then, by year-end 2009, it went up 380%. It wasn’t just financial stocks that acted like yo-yos: Over the same period, Alcoa’s stock fell 87%, then more than tripled.

Free Book – Market Myth’s Exposed – via Pragmantic Capitalist – Do you think you have to diversify? That small caps are always better? That earnings drive stocks? That the FDIC can protect you? That bubbles can be unwound slowly? This excellent research paper from Elliott Wave International answers all these questions and more (can’t post directly for copyright reasons).

Why Sex: The Origins of Reproduction – Via Wilson Quarterly – There are so many simpler ways to reproduce than sex. Consider bacteria. They just divide. Or aspen trees. They just send out runners. So how did such an inefficient system—requiring cell division, finding a mate, hooking up, and producing a new, unique combination—triumph over other reproductive methods? Carl Zimmer, a science writer whose most recent book is Microcosm: E. coli and the New Science of Life (2008), says new evidence from a colony of New Zealand snails explains how sex simply improves the fitness of a population more reliably than asexual reproduction.

Physicists in Finance – A Growing Presence – Via Money Science – Futures trading often attracts people with math or physics training. From an investor’s point of view, this means that a manager has very impressive credentials but it may not be easy to understand how the academic background translates to the down-to-earth activity of trading.

The Art Recession Via Wilson Quarterly – The remarkably uniform plunge in the endowments of New York City’s best known arts institutions during the 2008–09 recession raises troubling questions about the prudence of the city’s cultural leaders. If the investment goal of the financial managers of storied museums and companies is to preserve capital, why were so many of them long in risky investments in domestic and foreign stocks?

Beyond Dubai: What’s Ahead for the Middle East This Year? – Via Wharton -When the 818-meter Burj Dubai tower, the world’s tallest building, opened for occupancy with lots of fanfare on January 4, it was proclaimed to be a crowning achievement of the emirate of Dubai, with its bold plans to establish itself as a regional trade and services hub. The $4 billion tower included an Armani hotel, an observation deck, homes, offices and more, and was nothing less than “a symbol of Dubai’s can-do spirit,” according to the building’s owner, state-owned Emaar Properties.

Smile or Die: How Positive Thinking Fooled America and the World by Barbara Ehrenreich – Via Times Online – Back in 2003, a US government official called Armando Falcon warned the White House that companies such as Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae were backing far too many dodgy mortgages, risking financial collapse and “contagious illiquidity in the market”. Did the White House look at tightening up regulations? Nope. They tried to sack Falcon. He was just being “negative”.

Finance & Investing:

A snapshot of current markets: The danger of the bounce – Via Can Turtles Fly – THE opening of the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, in Dubai on January 4th had symbolic as well as architectural significance. Skyscrapers have long been associated with the ends of financial booms. The Empire State Building opened in 1931, two years after the Wall Street crash. The Petronas towers in Kuala Lumpur were unveiled in 1998, in the depths of the Asian crisis. Such towers are commissioned when money is cheap and optimism about economic growth is at its height; they are often finished when the champagne has gone flat.

The Lulling Effect of Expert Financial Advice
– Via Smart Money -Is there a more reviled creature as 2010 begins than the expert? Or, as he or she is more commonly known, the “so-called expert”? The so-called experts said the housing market was sound. The so-called experts told us one thing, and then a totally contradictory thing, about when women should start getting regular mammograms. The so-called experts told us Bear Stearns was fine… just before it collapsed.

Do Hedge Fund Indexes Tell Only Part of Story? – Via Finance Professor – “Taken at face value, historic index figures suggest that even an average hedge fund manager can easily beat the stock market while taking less risk. Since 1990, a weighted index of hedge funds has returned around 12 percent annually — about four percentage points more than the returns for the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index — with just half the volatility, according to Hedge Fund Research.

Ori Eyal’s Yearend 2009 Letter to Investors – Via Manual Of Ideas – As always, up-and-coming value investor Ori Eyal’s letter to investors is an enlightening read. In the letter, Eyal not only discusses his investment philosophy but also some specific investments worthy of closer consideration.

Using Altman’s Z-Score to Create a Short-Only Portfolio – Via Value Huntr – We aim to use Altman’s Z-Score model to create the Valuehuntr Short-Only Portfolio and track the effectiveness of Altman’s regression.
Private Equity and Industry Performance – Via HBS – The growth of the private equity industry has spurred concerns about its potential impact on the economy more generally. This analysis looks across nations and industries to assess the impact of private equity on industry performance. Industries where PE funds have invested in the past five years have grown more quickly in terms of productivity and employment. There are few significant differences between industries with limited and high private equity activity. It is hard to find support for claims that economic activity in industries with private equity backing is more exposed to aggregate shocks. The results using lagged private equity investments suggest that the results are not driven by reverse causality. These patterns are not driven solely by common law nations such as the United Kingdom and United States, but also hold in Continental Europe.

James Chanos: Contrarian Investor Sees Economic Crash in China
– Via NYT – Now Mr. Chanos, a wealthy hedge fund investor, is working to bust the myth of the biggest conglomerate of all: China Inc. As most of the world bets on China to help lift the global economy out of recession, Mr. Chanos is warning that China’s hyperstimulated economy is headed for a crash, rather than the sustained boom that most economists predict. Its surging real estate sector, buoyed by a flood of speculative capital, looks like “Dubai times 1,000 — or worse,” he frets. He even suspects that Beijing is cooking its books, faking, among other things, its eye-popping growth rates of more than 8 percent.

Billionaire Li Urges Caution After Stock Price Surge – Via Business Week – Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-shing said global stock gains in 2009 outstripped growth in economic fundamentals and investors should be cautious. “You saw how much the stock prices gained in 2009, in the U.S., everywhere. The rises have run ahead of economic fundamentals,” Li said in impromptu comments to reporters at a convention center in Hong Kong today. “When it comes to investments, it’s better to be careful. The world has just emerged from the financial crisis.”

Compensation and Risk Under New SEC Rules
Via HLS – The SEC has amended its disclosure rules to require, among other matters, a discussion about a company’s compensation policies and practices for all employees if they create risks that are “reasonably likely” to have a material adverse effect on the company. [1] Prior SEC guidance, to which the SEC referred in adopting the amendments, indicates that the “reasonably likely” threshold is higher than “possible” but lower than “more likely than not.”
Additional Views on What TARP Has Achieved via HLS – The Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 and the Troubled Asset Relief Program it created, in my opinion, were significant contributors to stabilizing a full blown financial panic in October 2008. It is clear to me that for that reason, we are better off as a nation for the existence of TARP than if we had done nothing. Of course this proposition is very hard to prove, but I am convinced it is true. Many people deserve credit for doing TARP rather than doing nothing, but three people who in particular deserve credit are Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, and in particular, former-Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson.

Rate rise stress tests must be more severe, banks warned – via Risk – US banks must ensure they are ready to deal with sudden massive rises in interest rates, regulators warned yesterday.

Google’s Eric Schmidt on why bankers deserve little sympathy and Obama does via Telegraph – Eric Schmidt, the chief executive of Google, tells Kamal Ahmed why America needs to take its share of the blame for the financial crisis and what 2010 holds for the world economy

Walk Away From Your Mortgage! –
Via NYT – John Courson, president and C.E.O. of the Mortgage Bankers Association, recently told The Wall Street Journal that homeowners who default on their mortgages should think about the “message” they will send to “their family and their kids and their friends.” Courson was implying that homeowners — record numbers of whom continue to default — have a responsibility to make good. He wasn’t referring to the people who have no choice, who can’t afford their payments. He was speaking about the rising number of folks who are voluntarily choosing not to pay.

Altman Z score Redux – Covering your back side better – Via Chroma Investing- Altman Z score has been around since the 1960’s and I have posted about it previously. Originally it was set up and measured the risk of bankruptcy amoung manufacturing firms. It turns out that in subsequent studies it was found that the original Altman Z score might be under reporting bankruptcies among non-manufacturing firms. Given that used correctly it has a 80%-90% accuracy of predicting bankrupcty in the next year, Altman Z is a great tool, but it must be used correctly.

A Fund manager’s reflections on life, the universe and the meaning of money – Via Money Science – In their daily commute on trains or the underground, most bankers read the financial press, work on their BlackBerries or dream about what to do with their bonuses. Eric Lonergan mulls over philosophical principles about life and money, and their deeper meanings.
Observing passengers on the train into the City, the M&G investments fund manager wonders how the bankers and civil servants can be so immersed in their own thoughts that they can, for example, remain sitting comfortably while pregnant women are left to stand.

Free Value and NCAV Screeners – via Chroma & Old School Value

The Economy: Why Does It Feel Worse than Reported?
– Via Econopic

Videos & Presentations:

Green Beat 2009 Highlights-John Doerr & James Rogers – Via Fora.Tv –

Harnessing Brain Power: Computer scientist Luis von Ahn’s programs harness the human brainpower to solve complex problems. von Ahn invented ReCaptcha, a program that uses squiggly characters that humans easily decipher but blocks spambots – and helps digitize millions of old texts. The CMU professor also makes games that use human knowledge to improve computers.

Academic Papers:

International Differences in the Size and Roles of Corporate Headquarters: An Empirical Examination Via HBS – Are small headquarters more nimble and efficient than large ones? Not necessarily, according to HBS adjunct professor David Collis and coauthors David Young and Michael Goold. Even within a single industry in one country, the variance can be enormous: In Germany in the late 1990s, for instance, Hoechst, the chemical and pharmaceutical manufacturer, had only 180 people in the headquarters function at the same time that Bayer had several thousand. This paper seeks to fill gaps in the research by using a unique database of over 600 companies in seven countries to determine whether systematic differences in the size and roles of corporate headquarters between countries actually exist, and if so, how they differ. In particular, the authors examine whether there is a systematic difference between market- and bank-centered economies, and between developed and developing countries.

Multinational firms, agglomeration, and global networks
Via vox.eu- Agglomeration effects are important but difficult to measure. This column uses a new database with precise geographical information to investigate the locational interdependence of multinational firms. Knowledge spillovers and capital- and labour-market externalities exert a significant effect on the co-agglomeration of multinational headquarters, while input-output linkages also play a significant role in the case of subsidiary co-agglomeration.
The impact of crisis-driven protectionism on EU exports: The “Russian doll” effect – Via Voxeu – What is the impact of crisis-led protectionism on trade? This column provides a new way to interpret protectionism – the “Russian doll” effect – and shows that the effect on EU exports has been more severe than the rest of the world.

The most interesting and unexpected facts can emerge from the daily news stories and the Magazine documents some of them in its weekly feature, 10 things we didn’t know last week. To kick off 2010, here’s an almanac of the best from the past year. – Via ESR – This paper briefly summarises the evidence that Ireland has a relatively high level of income inequality, which has been rather stable over time and reflects institutional legacies and choices made in the past. A comparative and over time perspective suggests that modest reductions in income inequality are achievable within the framework of Ireland’s current socioeconomic model, but bringing it below the (EU or OECD) average may well be beyond the capacity of that model. The current financial, fiscal and economic crises require very substantial increases in tax revenue and reductions in state spending. The imperative to close the fiscal deficit provides a window of opportunity to restructure the tax system in a fashion that is not only more economically efficient but also more equitable. Another core aim should be to minimise the number experiencing long-term unemployment and thus the long-term impact of the recession on labour market careers. Once the most immediate needs of the situation are met, this context may provide an opportunity to debate fundamental questions about the role of the state, the extent and nature of social provision and its financing, and the broader relationship between economic performance, the Welfare State, and the underlying goals of Ireland’s socio-economic policy.

‘I’ve Got Nothing to Hide’ and Other Misunderstandings of Privacy – Via SSRN – In this short essay, written for a symposium in the San Diego Law Review, Professor Daniel Solove examines the nothing to hide argument. When asked about government surveillance and data mining, many people respond by declaring: “I’ve got nothing to hide.” According to the nothing to hide argument, there is no threat to privacy unless the government uncovers unlawful activity, in which case a person has no legitimate justification to claim that it remain private. The nothing to hide argument and its variants are quite prevalent, and thus are worth addressing. In this essay, Solove critiques the nothing to hide argument and exposes its faulty underpinnings.

The Consumer Interest in Corporate Law Via SSRN – This Article provides a comprehensive assessment of the consumer interest in dominant theories of the corporation and in the fundamental doctrines of corporate law. In so doing, the Article fills a void in contemporary corporate law scholarship, which has failed to give sustained attention to consumers in favor of exploring the interests of other corporate stakeholders, especially shareholders, creditors, and workers. Utilizing insights derived from the law and behavioralism movement, this Article examines, in particular, the limitations of the shareholder primacy norm at the heart of prevailing “nexus of contracts” and “team production” theories of the firm. The Article concludes that fundamental reforms in corporate governance may be needed in order to vindicate the consumer interest in corporate enterprise.

Other Interesting Articles:

Free budget spreadsheet and expense tracker – Via Mind Your Own Decisions Blog –

Astronomers say they could find Earth-like planets soon
– Via Value Investing World – Astronomers say they are on the verge of finding planets like Earth orbiting other stars, a key step in determining if we are alone in the universe. A top NASA official and other leading scientists say that within four or five years they should discover the first Earth-like planet where life could develop, or may have already. A planet close to the size of Earth could even be found this year if preliminary hints from a new space telescope pan out.

Infomercial Products Take One on the Chin – Via NYT – IT may come as no surprise that in the February issue of Consumer Reports, where the product-testing magazine rates 15 infomercial products like the Snuggie (“The blanket with sleeves!”) and the ShamWow (“You’ll say wow every time!”), nearly all are found to be lacking.

Infographics: (Click On Image For Larger Version)

Comparing Unemployment – Via NYT –

US Data Consumption In 1 Day – Via Data Viz –
Whats Changed This Decade – Via Data Viz –

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