Archive for April 2019

Congratulations Bill Pearson, 2019 Coyoteblog Bracket Challenge Winner

Bill rode Virginia all the way to the championship.  Congratulations.

Who Are You Calling Privileged?

A while back on Columbus Day I wrote this on Twitter:

I am reminded of this in a WSJ article I saw today about a lynching of Italian immigrants in New Orleans in 1891

New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell will officially apologize Friday for the largest mass lynching in U.S. history. On March 14, 1891, the city of New Orleans became a charnel house as a mob of as many as 20,000 wantonly slaughtered 11 Italian-Americans. Some of the victims had been charged in the murder of a police chief, but the trials all ended in acquittal or mistrial. A gang descended on the jail where the men were being held, shot them to death, and displayed their bodies for the savage rabble outside. Southern belles in search of souvenirs dipped their lace handkerchiefs in the blood of the butchered Italians.

And the press cheered. The New York Times editorialized on March 16: “These sneaking and cowardly Sicilians, the descendants of bandits and assassins, who have transported to this country the lawless passions, the cut-throat practices, and the oath-bound societies of their native country, are to us a pest without mitigations.”

The Washington Post even extolled the killers as “cool-headed men, lawyers, doctors, merchants, and political leaders, all person of influence and social standing.”

Theodore Roosevelt, then a member of the U.S. Civil Service Commission, wrote to his sister Anna Roosevelt Cowles on March 21: “Monday we dined at the Camerons; various dago diplomats were present, all much wrought up by the lynching of the Italians in New Orleans. Personally I think it rather a good thing, and said so.”

I don't really have a horse in this race.  My family was German, coming to America (thankfully) a bit before WWI.

Postscript:  The quote above also serves to illustrate why Teddy Roosevelt has my vote as most overrated President. His treatment of Columbia, for example, is an embarrassment to this nation.  I will say that he would be high on my list of ex-Presidents to hang out at dinner, though.  He was a fascinating and energetic man -- but also high-handed and racist/nationalist in the same way that many British Victorians were.   On a related topic, my kids once asked me which President I would want to be stranded on an island with.  If it was a desert island necessitating survival skills, TR would be near the top of the list.  If it was a modern island with clubs and resorts I would probably choose Bill Clinton -- he seems to know his way around that scene.

What Admirers of Socialism Like AOC Could Learn From Just the Title of Adam Smith's Classic Book

The full name of Adam Smith's great work is "An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations."  Even before we crack the spine of that book, we can learn a lot about that title.

Look at the title -- it might be a bit strange to modern eyes.  Because when we have inquiries today, it's generally on the opposite topic -- why are people still poor?  Most of us look around and see the incredible advancement of the modern economy and if we wonder anything, we wonder why some folks are still poor.

But in Adam Smith's day, human experience was far different.  Basically, the history of humanity to the year 1776 was that pretty much everyone was poor -- grinding, dangerous, subsistence poverty despite backbreaking labor -- and they had been so in a nearly unchanging way for millenia.  In Adam Smith's day, in the early days of the industrial revolution and increasing market-based commerce, the question was why are ordinary people -- people who aren't in ruling classes that just seize the wealth they have -- becoming wealthy.  At the time, the existence of wealth that existed without just looting it was what needed to be explained.

The fact that AOC and other modern admirers of socialism can fret about poverty is, as they imagine, attributable to capitalism, but not in the way they think.  Capitalism did not cause the poverty, it created the situation in which poverty is an issue with but a minority of the population (rather than essentially everyone).  Before capitalism, fretting about poverty would just have been fretting about .. the way things are for everyone.

It is worth a final note here to remind everyone that what we call "poor" today has pretty much nothing in common with what would be considered poor in Adam Smith's day, or at any other time in history.  The poor in America today -- whose major health problem is obesity! -- would be fabulously wealthy in any other pre-capitalist era.  One can even argue that the poor in America are better off than the poor in other supposed socialist paradises like Denmark, Sweden, or France.

Arizona Recognizes Out-of-State Occupational Licenses

Good!  One state down, 49 to go.

Facebook Seeks To Leverage Its Own Failings to Get Congress to Cement Facebook's Monopoly Position

It is something you see all the time -- large companies asking to be regulated, at first glance against self-interest.  Those most interested in expansion of the government and the regulatory state will shout, "See!  Even large evil companies know they need to be subject to government oversight."

But in fact what is usually going on is that the large company knows that regulation will actually cement its position in the industry, making it harder for rivals and new entrants to compete.   Toy-maker Mattel turned a lead scandal of their own making into a coup by creating a regulatory framework that pounded its competitors.  Walmart and Costco often support minimum wage in retail legislation because they know that with their higher sales per employee, they can survive higher minimum wages than their smaller ma and pa competitors.

Mark Zuckerberg, who I am increasingly convinced is the most dangerous man in America, and his testimony to Congress begging for regulation, should be seen in this context.

So in Facebook’s case, they will advocate some institutionalized changes in the way social media should work. Every change will involve compliance costs. Facebook will make sure that it can comply...and that its competitors cannot without great expense. That will give them a distinct advantage in the marketplace, make it more difficult for startups to compete, and guarantee this platform a leading place by law.

This is why Mark readily agreed to be regulated. Regulations always work to the advantage of the largest market players....

Nor should this come as some sort of shock. This is the way government regulations have always worked, from the meatpackers in the early 20th century (who crafted and enforced meatpacking legislation), to all labor legislation (it’s labor-union lawyers who exercise the dominant influence) to Bitcoin regulations (the major exchanges are always involved) to digital technology today (no way are Google and Facebook going to be excluded from writing the regulations that govern their industries).

There is a civics-text myth that imagines government workers and politicians as all-knowing, crafting rules that benefit everyone as opposed to particular players. It imagines that major market players are suffering as government forces new rules that require their operations put greed on hold and serve the public. The on-the-ground reality is otherwise. There is not a single regulation on the books that does not have an author who is unattached in some way to the regulated industry in question.

Milton Friedman called this regulatory capture. The problem is the influence of industry is there from the beginning. It’s absolutely not the case that capitalists are champions of capitalist competition, as the career and policies of Donald Trump should make clear. Lots of people are good at using markets to make money; only very special people become defenders of open competitive processes.

Right now, Facebook faces massive competition from other platforms in social media, copycats, and alternative uses of people’s time. In some ways, it’s the best possible moment to call on government to institutionalize Facebook as a form of public utility. That might actually be the end game that Zuckerberg has in mind. Then the politicians can update their timeline status: today we passed regulations that brought this wayward company to heel.

Zuckerberg said from the very beginning that he was dismissive of individual privacy and he has created the Facebook honeytrap to kill it.  He now is setting his sights on free speech, begging the government to tear up the First Amendment.  He is a one-man individual rights wrecking crew.

Update:  I am actually going to include this from the Reason article about Mattel, because the situation is so similar -- a failing at a large company is used to create a regulatory framework that greatly aids the large company against rivals

Remember the sloppily written "for the children" toy testing law that went into effect last year? The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) requires third-party testing of nearly every object intended for a child's use, and was passed in response to several toy recalls in 2007 for lead and other chemicals. Six of those recalls were on toys made by Mattel, or its subsidiary Fisher Price.

Small toymakers were blindsided by the expensive requirement, which made no exception for small domestic companies working with materials that posed no threat. Makers of books, jewelry, and clothes for kids were also caught in the net. Enforcement of the law was delayed by a year—that grace period ended last week—and many particular exceptions have been carved out, but despite an outcry, there has been no wholesale re-evaluation of the law. Once might think that large toy manufacturers would have made common cause with the little guys begging for mercy. After all, Mattel also stood to gain if the law was repealed, right?

Turns out, when Mattel got lemons, it decided to make lead-tainted lemonade (leadonade?). As luck would have it, Mattel already operates several of its own toy testing labs, including those in Mexico, China, Malaysia, Indonesia and California.

So while most small toymakers had no idea this law was coming down the pike until it was too late, Mattel spent $1 million lobbying for a little provision to be included in the CPSIA permitting companies to test their own toys in "firewalled" labs that have won Consumer Product Safety Commission approval.

The million bucks was well spent, as Mattel gained approval late last week to test its own toys in the sites listed above—just as the window for delayed enforcement closed.

Instead of winding up hurting, Mattel now has a cost advantage on mandatory testing, and a handy new government-sponsored barrier to entry for its competitors.

2019 Bracket Challenge Update

With 3 games to play, we still have three possible winners. Jeff Charleston (if memory serves a long-time coyote bracket leader), Bill Pearson and DontFollowMyAdviceImADummy.  Best of luck to everyone

Through Tuesday, My Amazon Kindle Books Are Free

As a thank you to readers, get my novel and short stories on Amazon for free, at least in the kindle version.  Click on the image to go to the relevant Amazon page.

         

 

Update on Lost Comments

After engaging with my issues briefly within a couple of hours of my support request, Disqus has for 3 business days ignored all further communication from me to multiple email addresses.  Unfortunately, they do not seem to have any kind of support ticket tracking system.

As a reminder, 6 years of comments on thousands of posts, likely tens of thousands of comments have disappeared.  I do have a paid account so supposedly I am owed support.  I know a number of you expressed your frustration to me that years of your contributions have been lost and I will do everything I can to restore them.  I have the main corporate number at Disqus and will try that door if I still don't have any sort of response by tomorrow.

The Insanity of Current Equity Valuations -- The WeWork Unicorn (I Bet You Thought I Was Going to Say Tesla)

WeWork is a provider of work spaces for individuals and startup companies.  Unless I am missing something (and WeWork devotees are welcome to chime in) it is essentially a hipper rebranding of traditional small business office space and services companies like Regus (now IWG).

Currently, Regus / IWG has about $3 billion in annual revenue on which it makes something like a positive 5% net income margin and trades at a valuation of about 1x annual revenues.  WeWork is a private company, though is rumored to be IPOing soon.  It had $1.8 billion of revenue last year but lost $1.9 billion, meaning that it was basically selling $10 bills for $5 each with an negative net income margin of 105%.  Its last funding round was done at a $45 billion valuation, or 81 times 2018 revenue.  This valuation will likely go up in an IPO.

No real point here, except to say that I have not seen valuations this insane since the late 1990's.  What makes the examples of WeWork and Tesla perhaps even more incredible than examples in the 1990's is that the market is putting growth software valuations on bricks and mortar companies.  Oracle or Microsoft might have been expected to scale up easily and relatively cheaply, but scaling a real estate company takes a ton of money.  Not sure where the growth economy of scale is in office space.  And don't even get me started with the extrapolated growth projections here.  When the tech bubble bursts, WeWork is going to have a ton of grief on its hands, and unlike software companies it is not going to be able to slash SG&A by cutting payrolls.  It is going to be stuck in a lot of long term leases and mortgages that it can't break (just ask Tesla about that when they tried to cut SG&A by closing their stores).

PS-  As with Tesla and any number of other examples, many devotees of certain products hear criticism of the company's valuation as criticism of the company's product.  The two do not have to be related.  Grossly overvalued companies can still have products you might want to buy.  In fact, if WeWork is selling you a $10 product for $5, I would not be at all surprised if you are satisfied.

PPS-  This is not to say you can't make money in a bubble.  Careful, observant, and risk tolerant individuals can make money riding stocks up that they know are due for a crash some day.  Readers know that I believe Tesla is headed for a reckoning, but I am making money this week on short term calls I bought last week because I knew that Musk is going to pump the stock like hell last week and this week and pull forward every bit of volume he can into Q1 in a bid to save a dying growth story.  I bet the stock would ride up on early reports of this but fall off once financials are out and further when Q2 shows that the order books have been drained.  But this is risky, risky, risky.  It is a tiny piece of my investment portfolio and this sort of investing is but a hobby for me, a bar bet to determine if I have really come to understand how Elon Musk ticks.  Also, I am just a layman and not a professional so don't listen to me.