29 April 2007

too much economic analysis...

I've been reading and listening to too much economic analysis lately. Columns like this one from Peter Schiff at EuroPacific: "What Record High?" pointing out the similarities between our current situation and the conditions that led to hyperinflation in the Wiemar Republic. Here's Mr. Schiff on the 4/17 CNBC Morning Call predicting that the value of the dollar will be cut in half in the next few years.

And, this one from Bernard Ber:
"Too much like 1929"
Ber's article is the most succinct summary I've seen of the Mexican standoff that now exists between the US and China around currency and trade balances.

Meanwhile the RIAA seems to be driving US trade policy as US trade representatives file actions against China with the WTO in Geneva. The RIAA has problems with a failing business model even in markets that protect intellectual property rights. Hope somebody besides RIAA lobbyists are paying attention to the implications of this attempt to "bar China from the WTO on copyright grounds"...

According to the "All the World's a Bubble" even the guy who handles Dick Cheney's money, Jeremy Grantham, only says to stay in the market because "Most bubbles, he notes, go through a short but dramatic "exponential phase" just before they burst." Interestingly enough one of the few investments he thinks will beat inflation if held over the next 7 years is managed timber. Though it might be good if your timber was denominated in something other than dollars. Northcoast take note.

And finally, here's a School House Rock style view of the roaring twenties, something without all the tedious acronyms:

Thanks to Tanta at Calculated Risk for the link...

26 April 2007

dow jones reality check

Found an interesting article and set of charts today on a website called GoldSilver.com. While the headlines this week are about the Dow reaching record highs, according to the article the Dow is Crashing when measured in anything other than US Dollars.

Here's a sample chart that expresses the value of the Dow in gold over the past 10 years.

He also has charts of the Dow measured in silver, euros, loonies, nasdaq values, S&P values, oil, and average commodity values. Naturally he wants you to buy gold (see website name) but the charts are none the less interesting.

It's fairly recent article...

Worth a look.

23 April 2007

California home prices could begin falling later this year

California home prices to weaken further, Goldman says - MarketWatch

"Median California home prices are still creeping up, and the state's strong employment trends should support the real estate market. But Goldman is worried that surging prices in the state in recent years weren't driven by traditional factors such as strong employment and income growth. Instead, the bank reckons an increase in ARM mortgages offered to borrowers who were already stretching to buy high-priced homes fueled the boom.
Now that lenders are cutting back some of these types of loans and regulators are beginning to crack down, California home prices could begin falling later this year, especially in high-price cities and towns, Goldman said."

colony collapse disorder

Sign of the times?

Vanishing honeybees mystify scientists

"Commercial beekeepers would set their bees near a crop field as usual and come back in two or three weeks to find the hives bereft of foraging worker bees, with only the queen and the immature insects remaining. Whatever worker bees survived were often too weak to perform their tasks.

Since about one-third of the U.S. diet depends on pollination and most of that is performed by honeybees, this constitutes a serious problem, according to Jeff Pettis of the U.S. Agricultural Research Service.

Honeybees are used to pollinate some of the tastiest parts of the American diet, Pettis said, including cherries, blueberries, apples, almonds, asparagus and macadamia nuts.

Pettis and other experts are gathering outside Washington for a two-day workshop starting on Monday to pool their knowledge and come up with a plan of action to combat what they call colony collapse disorder.

"The main hypotheses are based on the interpretation that the disappearances represent disruptions in orientation behavior and navigation," said May Berenbaum, an insect ecologist at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign."

22 April 2007

History of Oil - Robert Newman

This is, perhaps, my favorite google video. At 45 minutes it is on the long side, but not nearly as dry as the title might suggest. Robert is a british stand-up comedian with a unique perspective on the role of oil in international affairs. Quite entertaining. I particularly enjoyed his description of Salvador Dali's "magic checkbook."

You can watch the first ten minutes from the You Tube window directly below:

If you want more you can visit the History of Oil google video page and watch the entire 45 minutes as a single clip or download the file to your computer to watch at your leisure:
History of Oil - Robert Newman

The 7th Generation Amendment

Another good idea. One cautionary note: providing a constitutional basis for US environmental law will not limit the environmental impacts embedded in the imported products we consume from around the world.

Law of the Land | David W. Orr | Orion magazine
"Given the lackluster results produced by thirty years of environmental legislation, I believe the time is ripe for bold action to head off the worst of what may lie ahead, beginning with a constitutional amendment guaranteeing the right to a healthy environment. If not now, when? Public awareness of the scale, scope, and duration of the ecological crisis has grown considerably since the last such attempt was made in 1970. Would such an initiative be controversial? Certainly, but less so than one might fear. Let those who oppose the people’s rights to clean air, clean water, open space, and healthy ecosystems stand up and say so. Let them say publicly that our grandchildren have no right to a decent environment. When they do, they will lose. Opinion surveys over three decades consistently show a large majority in favor of environmental quality, clear air, limits to sprawl, energy efficiency, renewable energy, and controls on pollution. We do not lack for common ground, but rather the kind of leadership that is capable of articulating the values that unite us."


19 April 2007

Gore's tax swap proposal

Al Gore's tax swap proposal is definitely good news: a mainstream politician making an very rational proposal in a high profile venue. Go Al. It's about time.

"Testifying before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on global warming this week, former vice president and now climate-change evangelist Al Gore urged Congress "to reduce taxes on employment and production and make up the difference with pollution taxes," principally on carbon dioxide emissions. Like the predictions of climate change, the idea of using revenues from energy (or, if you will, pollution) taxes to reduce payroll taxes is not new, but Gore deserves credit for bringing both to congressional attention at a critical time."

16 April 2007

What we are...

This short video from Ernest Cline gives a little perspective on some very human misconceptions...

Green is the new red, white and blue.

Thomas L. Friedman - The Power of Green - New York Times

"In the world of ideas, to name something is to own it. If you can name an issue, you can own the issue. One thing that always struck me about the term “green” was the degree to which, for so many years, it was defined by its opponents — by the people who wanted to disparage it. And they defined it as “liberal,” “tree-hugging,” “sissy,” “girlie-man,” “unpatriotic,” “vaguely French.”"

"Well, I want to rename “green.” I want to rename it geostrategic, geoeconomic, capitalistic and patriotic. I want to do that because I think that living, working, designing, manufacturing and projecting America in a green way can be the basis of a new unifying political movement for the 21st century. A redefined, broader and more muscular green ideology is not meant to trump the traditional Republican and Democratic agendas but rather to bridge them when it comes to addressing the three major issues facing every American today: jobs, temperature and terrorism."

15 April 2007

A New Agenda for Global Warming

While many would be happy if the US would just go ahead and sign the Kyoto protocols, Joeseph Stiglitz points out some weaknesses in the concept. For starters he maintains that by failing to sign the Kyoto accord, the US is unfairly subsidizing energy production. He suggests that Japan, Europe and other signatories immediately bring a case against the US in the WTO for unfair subsidization.

He goes on to talk about the unfair distribution of the "rights" to pollute between the developed and the developing world embodied in the protocols:

"The Kyoto protocol is based on national emission reductions relative to each nation’s level in 1990. The developing countries ask, why should the developed countries be allowed to pollute more now simply because they polluted more in the past? In fact, because the developed countries have already contributed so much, they should be forced to reduce more. The world seems at an impasse: the United States refuses to go along unless developing countries are brought into the fold; and the developing countries see no reason why they should not be allowed to pollute as much per capita as the United States or Europe. Indeed, given their poverty and the costs associated with reducing emissions, one might give them even more leeway. But, given their low levels of income, that would imply that no restraints would be imposed on them for decades.

There is a way out, and that is through a common (global) environmental tax on emissions. There is a social cost to emissions, and the common environmental tax would simply make everyone pay the social cost. This is in accord with the most basic of economic principles, that individuals and firms should pay their full (marginal) costs."

He's got a point.

To read more follow the link below...

The Economists' Voice
A New Agenda for Global Warming
Joseph Stiglitz, Columbia University

14 April 2007

Thinking outside the box...

A few years back France and Brazil got together in support of Lula's proposal to tax international arms sales and create a fund to eradicate world hunger. Sounds like a winning combo to me.

They made some headway getting this and the Tobin Tax among others onto the UN agenda:

Despite strong reservations by the United States, Japan and Germany over proposed new global taxes, the United Nations is set to take centre-stage in the longstanding controversy over new sources of innovative funding for the world's poorer nations.

''The debate has already entered the United Nations,'' says U.N. Under-Secretary-General Jose Antonio Ocampo, head of the department of economic and social affairs (DESA). ''We have been requested to prepare a study, the results of which will be presented to the General Assembly (in September) this year,'' he told IPS.

The proposals on the table include a carbon tax on fuel use, the 'Tobin tax' on currency transactions, a levy on international sales of weapons, a global lottery and a tax on international airline travel.

Of course there was the predictable reaction from the US right: "The world community needs to understand that the United States and its citizens view any proposal for global taxation as an unacceptable attack on our sovereignty."

Nevertheless it looks like some initial steps have been taken:

RECIFE, Brazil, Apr 25 (IPS) - Chile and France will begin in July to charge a special tax in airports which will go towards the purchase of medicines for poor countries afflicted by HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis.

It's a start...

Global warming --- misplaced priorities?

San Jose Mercury News - Bleak U.N. report on global warming derided as too soft
"A new global warming report issued Friday by the United Nations paints a near-apocalyptic vision of Earth's future: more than a billion people in need of water, extreme food shortages in Africa, a planetary landscape ravaged by floods and millions of species sentenced to extinction."

Everybody's talking about what it will do to the poor in Africa and nobody is even thinking about what it will do to the spring break ski vacation:

Skiers against global warming
"Skiers unfurled a protest banner in April snow on Whiteface Mountain on Saturday to kick off a nationwide day of demonstrations aimed at drawing attention to global warming."

10 April 2007

housing bubble: what a ride...

Housing prices and housing sales impact the willingness of developers to build new houses. This in turn impacts lumber markets and limits or expands the economic viability of options available to forest managers.

Here's a short entertaining video that illustrates where housing values stood in 2006...

Real Estate Roller Coaster
US Home prices adjusted for inflation plotted as a roller coaster:

If you really need to see it as a graph click here, but watch the video first...

Want vs Need

Here's an item that might help us change the way we think:

Do you know when is enough is enough? » Coolest Gadgets

"More or less every single day we hear from some one who is stating that we need to save water or cut down on waste, but how on earth are we supposed to know exactly how much water we need to survive? Well the people, who brought us seats made out of recycled egg cartons, think that they have come up with a very useful and practical way to answer that question."