Streetwise Professor

June 24, 2017

Why Are Progressives Fawning Over Proto-Classical Liberal Ibn Khaldun?

Filed under: Economics,Politics — The Professor @ 9:56 pm

This article about the 14th century Arab/Muslim scholar and proto-economist Ibn Khaldun has attracted great deal of attention from the leftist progressive set, including leftist progressive economists like Paul Krugman. In part, that’s because the author (Dániel Oláh) bashes those that Krugman et al love to hate, neoclassical (now often style “neoliberal”) economists. The piece’s subtitle is “neoclassical economists created a false narrative of the history of economics,” and it concludes with this rather bizarre screed:

But why do we need a new narrative, rediscovering our past? The answer is simple: to avoid such superficial beliefs that Adam Smith (or Ibn Khaldun) is the father of economics, the development of economics started in the New Age to culminate in neoclassical thought, Khaldun already invented the Laffer-curve, the financial market effectively regulates itself or a big government is always bad for the economy – among others. Economists have to exercise self-reflection: the crisis of 2008 proved that gaps in the mainstream transform easily into policy mistakes.

With a new, more plural approach to history of thought the Alzheimer’s disease of mainstream economics can be cured which is badly needed in the 21th century.

There’s another reason for the leftist love, of course: it is very fashionable to embrace the Muslim Other, because they are now the most potent foe of the leftist progressives’ real enemy: more traditionalist Westerners and traditional Western thought. (The refusal of self-described feminists to confront Muslim misogyny, and indeed, their desire to silence those who do attempt to confront it is the most flagrant example of this odd alliance between progressives and a socio-religious group that is as objectively at odds with progressive ideals as one can possibly imagine.)

Substantively, it does appear based on my limited exposure to him that Ibn Khaldun was indeed well ahead of his time, and that his insights were quite penetrating. Further, it seems bizarre to make him into some progressive poster boy, given that much of what he says indeed could be characterized as classical liberal thinking. If he was Adam Smith before Adam Smith–and the case can be made–then why do the enemies of Adam Smith claim him for their own, other than that they have found a way to conscript him in their war against their real enemies, the intellectual descendants of Adam Smith?

And it is the issue of descendants which holds the real meaning here: Ibn Khaldun apparently had few, if any, whereas Smith’s were legion.* That raises issues of true importance: why would the intellectual line of a flourishing civilization die out and fade into obscurity, whereas the product of a hardscrabble society like 18th century Scotland (which was largely wild and untamed not long before) be the progenitor of a great intellectual tradition?

And it is not only scholarship. A friend once sent me pictures she took of pages of her kids’ social studies textbook that lavishly praised how economically and socially advanced the Muslim world was in the Middle Ages, when Europe was mired in poverty and strife. Scotland during the time of Ibn Khaldun was dreary, violent, pastoral, and poor. Yet by the time of Adam Smith, Scotland (and other places in the British Isles and Continental Europe like the Netherlands) were advancing rapidly economically and socially, while once flourishing Arab Muslim lands were undergoing a secular decline that in many respects continues to this day.

Those who sing the praises of the Glory Days of the Muslim world–like the very PC authors of the aforementioned social studies text–beg these very important questions. What caused these reversals of fortune? It’s also rather strange: rather than somehow validating the current value of The Other, this heaping of praise on long past glories actually casts an unflattering light on present despair, revealing that there is something deeply dysfunctional in that society that led to their absolute and relative decline. How could a civilization that was so far ahead (according to the textbook telling, and likely the truth), fall so far behind?

Of course, one response to that question advanced by the left is that like other non-Western societies, the Arab world was victimized, exploited, and degraded by the colonialist West. But that again just poses the same question in a slightly different form: how could relative economic, social, and military capacities change so dramatically to permit the once marginal Occident that quaked in fear before “Mohammedans” and “Musselmans” to master the once dominant Muslim Orient?

These are large questions for which there are no easy answers. But ironically, part of the answer may be that the ideas and institutions now known as classical liberal that were present in Ibn Khaldun’s work did not take root in the Arab and then Ottoman worlds, whereas they did in Adam Smith’s UK, the Netherlands, the United States, and elsewhere (and somewhat later) in northern Europe. That Ibn Khaldun’s prescient insights did not reflect the realities of his society, whereas Adam Smith’s did.

 

Oláh’s article notes that Ronald Reagan praised Ibn Khaldun. Indeed, it appears that there is a greater intellectual affinity between Reagan and Khaldun than between Krugman and the Andalusian, which just makes plain the PC-driven superficiality of the progressives’ recent praise for him.

* Oláh notes that it is unknown whether Smith knew of Ibn Khaldun’s work. I consider it unlikely. The phenomenon of multiple independent discoveries of important ideas is well known. The sociologist Robert K. Merton posited the theory of multiple independent discovery. Ironically, his son, Robert C. Merton, illustrates that: Merton fils was a co-discoverer with Black & Scholes of preference free options pricing. [Stephen] Stigler’s Law of Eponymy states that no law is named for its original discovery: ironically, Stigler said that his law should have been named after Merton, and hence provides an illustration of his law. Stigler’s father George wrote an article about multiple discoveries in economics, titled “Merton on Multiples, Denied and Affirmed.” George Stigler was editor of the JPE when it published the Black-Scholes article. So there are multiple family connections in the intellectual history of the theory of multiple discoveries.

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June 17, 2017

We Can Now Bound From Above the Price of German Principles

Filed under: Commodities,Economics,Energy,History,Military,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 12:30 pm

If you really concentrate, I’m sure you can stretch your memory to recall those long past days when Angela Merkel was hailed as the new Leader of the Free World, most notably because of her stalwart stance on Russia, in contrast to Trump, who was deemed a squish on Russia at best, and a collaborationist at worst. But that was so . . . May. Now in mid-June, the Germans and much of the rest of Europe and their fellow travelers here in the US are totally losing it over the 98-2 vote in the US Senate (the two dissenters being ideological bookends Rand Paul and Bernie Sanders) to strengthen the sanctions regime on Russia, and notably, to limit Trump’s ability to relax sanctions unilaterally.

So: In May, soft on Russia bad, hard on Russia good. In June, hard on Russia bad. In May, Trump had too much power. In June, limiting Trump’s power is inexcusable.

What changed? Actually nothing changed. This is volte face reflects an enduring constant: German commercial interests. The Senate sanctions bill would impose potential penalties on those assisting in the construction of Russian pipelines, most notably NordStream 2. NordStream 2 is a joint project between Gazprom and a handful of major European, and particularly German, corporate behemoths.

German explanations of the motivation behind the Senate’s action betray extreme psychological projection. Echoing Gazprom (an action which if you were to do it in the US would immediately bring down upon on your head screams of “RUSSIAN TROLL”), several European policymakers have claimed that this action was intended to advance the interests of US LNG exporters.

Um, no. Not even close. The objections of the US to NordStream date back to the Obama administration, which was hardly a major promoter of the US natural gas industry. Further, the main drivers in the Senate were people like McCain, for whom economic considerations are tertiary, at best: McCain et al have had it in for Russia generally and NordStream particularly for geopolitical reasons, and their opposition dates back years. Moreover, the bill reflects the current anti-Russia hysteria in the US, which in turn reflects a strange mix of political factors, not least of which is the clinical insanity of the Democratic Party post-November, 2016.

Indeed, US opposition to Russian gas pipelines into Europe dates back to the Reagan administration. The US tried to stop the pipelines through Ukraine that Putin is now trying to outflank with NordStream, because it thought the pipelines provided an economic benefit to the USSR and made Europe hostage to Russian economic pressure. This was in fact a source of one of the few disagreements between Thatcher (who supported the pipelines) and Reagan.

How much did the US hate the USSR-Europe gas pipelines, you ask? Enough to blow them up. Blow them up real good: “The result was the most monumental non-nuclear explosion and fire ever seen from space.”

Those who claim economic motivations say a lot more about themselves than they do about the US Senate: adopting a policy to advance German/European economic interests is exactly what they would do, and they are projecting this motivation on the US.  Indeed, the Germans’ hysterical reaction demonstrates just how important economic considerations are to them, and how marginal are geopolitical considerations vis-a-vis Russia.

If you think the Russians are as big a threat as the Germans and other gas-poor nations say, they should be deeply grateful for the emergence of US LNG which reduces their dependence on the evil Russkies. But the Germans say: we don’t want your methadone, we’d rather continue to buy smack from this really nasty dealer.

The hypocrisy and projection don’t stop there. Of course German economic policy is strongly oriented towards boosting its exports, often at the cost of beggaring its supposed European brothers and sisters (especially the swarthy ones down south). What’s good for zee goose, kameraden. .  .

Further, recall (if you can remember back that far) that one reason for the German/European freakout over Trump in May was his refusal to acknowledge solidarity with our allies by mouthing the words “Article 5.” All for one! One for all!

Right?

Well, eastern Europeans–the Poles in particular–think that NordStream basically sells them out to the Russians in order to benefit Germany. The Germans have totally blown off this criticism, and have subjected the Poles and Baltic States to considerable criticism and pressure for their opposition to NordStream. So much for European solidarity. It’s all for one, all right: that one being Germany. That one for all . . . not so much.

It gets better! Merkel and other Euros are fond of saying “more Europe.” Well, that’s exactly what the dispute and the sanctions are about, isn’t it? The economics of NordStream 2 are dubious, but it presents a nearly existential threat to Ukraine. The entire reason for the conflict in Donbas and the seizure of Crimea (conflicts that Merkel is allegedly attempting to mediate) were Ukraine’s attempt to move closer to Europe.

That is: (1) Ukraine takes “more Europe” seriously, and enters into an agreement with the EU that would open up trade with an eye on Ukraine joining the union in the future, (2) Putin takes exception to this, and initiates a series of actions that culminate with the ouster of Yanukovych followed by the seizure of Crimea, and a hot war in Donbas, (3) the US Senate attempts to penalize Russian actions by sanctions, and (4) the Europeans scream bloody murder at US intrusion into their policy domain.

In other words, when forced to put their money (and their gas) where their mouths are, the Europeans jettison “more Europe”. And then turn around and slag the US for taking them at their word.

Hey, they can do what they want. And the US can do what it wants. Just spare me the sanctimonious bullshit about standing up to Russia, European solidarity, more Europe, and on and on. It’s all about the Euros, baby–€–and German € in particular. Every “principle” that supposedly earned Merkel the designation as Leader of the Free World went out the window in a nanosecond, once some big German companies were going to have to pay a price for those principles.

We can now bound from above the price of German principles. The upper bound is in the billions of Euros. I am sure that the true price is far lower than that.

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June 9, 2017

Jim Comey: The Perfect Boy Scout in the DC Troop

Filed under: Politics — The Professor @ 1:20 pm

In the past, I have called James Comey a weasel and a douchenozzle. I was wrong. I therefore extend a sincere apology to all weasels and douchenozzles.

Comey is far worse. He is the consummate swamp thing. A self-serving “public servant.” An appartchik whose ethics are purely situational, with the salient part of the situation being how it affects his interests, and his armour propre.

Comey’s testimony yesterday was breathlessly awaited, yet deeply disappointing to most of the breathless. Yes, he tried to smear Trump, with some success, but what he succeeded at best was smearing himself. By revealing the kind of man he really is.

The main revelations of the testimony were not damning to Trump: they were exculpatory. As Marco Rubio–Marco Rubio!–hardly a Trumpian–pointed out, the only thing about his private conversation with Trump that Comey didn’t anonymously leak was the fact that Comey had indeed told Trump on three occasions that he was not under investigation.

Rubio was wrong, actually: another thing that Comey conveniently left out of his leak was the fact that Trump encouraged him to go after “satellites” in his campaign who might have engaged in illicit activities in connivance with the Russians. That hardly sounds like a coverup, or pressuring Comey to stop investigating.

There is a legal requirement in the US that illustrates the wrong that Comey committed–the Brady Rule. No, it does not apply strictly here, because this is not a formal legal matter, but it reveals the principle. The Rule mandates that prosecutors reveal all exculpatory information. The Rule exists because without it, prosecutors could lie by omission. And that is exactly what Comey did in his leaks.

Comey said that he leaked in order to prompt the naming of a special counsel. The fact that he leaked selectively and left out exculpatory evidence shows that he did so in bad faith, and arguably out of malice at being fired. Comey’s revelation calls into question the basis for naming the counsel in the first place. Apparently he felt that the whole truth might not have produced the desired result. So he lied by omission.

The timing also calls into question the appointment. Comey did not leak–or make a public statement–when the allegedly suspect communications took place, as would have been necessary and appropriate had he believed that Trump’s behavior was so egregious that it demanded an independent investigation. The leaking took place after he was fired. This further strengthens the case that he acted out of spite due to an affront to his person, rather than a belief that the president had indeed committed an offense, or that those around him had done so. If he had believed so, he would have believed it at the time and acted on it. The fact that he waited until after he was fired is damning.

Comey said there were “a variety of reasons” for his decision to leak, rather than go public, either when he was Director or after his termination. What would those be, sir? The fact that by leaking anonymously you could do so selectively in a misleading way, and avoid being questioned and confronted so the public could learn the full story (which would cast doubt on the need for a special counsel)? The fact that by leaking, you could let the misleading story fester for days and become truth in the public mind though it was much less than the whole truth? The fact that leaking adds a certain frisson of excitement, and element of mystery, that intensify interest and attention?

I can’t think of a good reason–a truly publicly spirited reason. An honorable man would have manned up, and gone public. But James Comey is a back shooter.

There are other things in his testimony that reveal his essential nature. For instance, he said that he knuckled under when Loretta Lynch ordered him not to refer to the Hillary investigation as an investigation, even though he knew that she was ordering him to parrot the Clinton campaign characterization of the situation–not the reality.

Crucially, Comey said that he did not push back because he didn’t want to “die on that hill.” Meaning that he wanted to keep his job, and would put up with AG interfering in his performance of that job as long as he kept it. Presumably Comey would have remained silent about his conversation with Trump, as he did about his conversation with Lynch, had Trump kept him in place.

What Lynch said was actually more egregious than what Comey reports Trump said about easing up on Flynn. And it gets worse. Comey also stated that he believed that the Lynch meeting with Bill Clinton fatally compromised her in connection with the Hillary investigation. So he felt obliged to step in and act.

Well, Mr. Comey–isn’t the situation that you describe exactly one in which a special counsel would be warranted? A special counsel would be able to act more objectively than a compromised attorney general and Justice Department–and you believed they were indeed compromised. Yet you did not privately recommend to Lynch the appointment of a special counsel; nor did you call for one publicly; nor did you leak damaging information in order to create public pressure that would have forced Lynch to appoint a special counsel, as you did with Sessions. Instead, you intervened, protected Lynch–and kept your job.

This is yet more evidence that Comey’s leaks were malicious revenge for being fired, rather than an attempt to see justice done. The case for a special counsel was stronger when Lynch was AG, yet Comey did not make it nor attempt to manipulate the situation to lead to an appointment of a special counsel, as he did after he was fired by Trump.

I could go on, but the whole thing is so distasteful and the foregoing is sufficient to show what an appalling person James Comey is.

Trump of course is largely to blame for his predicament. His lack of a filter, impetuosity, suspect judgment, and garbled syntax give enemies, like Comey, ample ammunition to fire at him. Trump has paid a big political price for firing Comey, but given what the man has been revealed to be not just by his testimony yesterday, but his performance over the last two years, that is a price worth paying. For a devious, self-serving, ambitious, and arrogant man like Comey would have done far more damage to Trump had he remained in place, than he has done by his despicable conduct after being fired.

Comey is often described by DC people as a “boy scout.” That says a lot about what the Scout’s Oath is in the DC troop–in other words, it is about 180 degrees from the one recited outside the Beltway. Jim Comey’s oath was to do his best for Jim Comey, the country be damned.

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June 4, 2017

Terrorism, Populism, and Elite Failure

Filed under: History,Politics — The Professor @ 1:02 pm

Yesterday witnessed yet another terrorist attack in Europe, leaving seven dead in London.

The London mayor, safe behind his massive security detail, assures that there’s no reason to be alarmed.

Easy for him to say. Revelers and pedestrians, not so much.

This kind of vapidity is of a piece with something that I’m sure we’ll hear yet again: People overreact to terrorism. After all, you are more likely to die in your bathtub or some such than be slain by a terrorist. So accept it! Don’t be alarmed! Nothing to see here.

For one thing, this banality about violence does violence to statistics. I’m pretty sure that the Saturday night partiers in London or the cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo or the attendees at a concert in Paris or the celebrants in Nice or the schoolgirls at a concert in Manchester are not in demographic cohorts heavily represented in the statistics of bathtub slips and falls.

For another, there is a difference between a small risk willingly taken to achieve some other benefit and being subjected to the risk of political violence in return for no benefit whatsoever. I am perfectly aware that every time I get in my car to go somewhere, I might be killed in an accident. That is part of the full cost of driving, and when I decide to drive I do so because the benefit of the trip exceeds the full cost. I made that choice. Getting decapitated by a religious fanatic while going out for a drink should not be something that must be considered when evaluating the pros and cons of a night on the town. That is the result of a breakdown of public order, not a private misfortune to which everyone is prone.

But those aren’t the biggest reasons to object to the bathtub comparison. The biggest reason is that intuitively people recognize that there is a difference between political violence, a social phenomenon, and the ordinary risks of every day living. They recognize that political violence may start with small, isolated instances, and spin out of control. The history of humanity is a dreary litany of social and political violence, and people have an intuitive sense that if it is not contained, it can well metastasize and make life all but unbearable. People rightly dread the prospect of political violence, because if unchecked, its trajectory is almost always upwards not the other way round. That is categorically different from the random misfortunes inherent in everyday life, and people intuitively recognize it is categorically different, and therefore react differently to it.

In brief, people realize that if you don’t suppress political and social violence when it is a relatively modest problem, it will become bigger: and that if you can’t deal with it when it is a small problem, you will be totally overmatched when it grows.

It is particularly infuriating when such platitudes pour from the pieholes of pompous politicians, of whom the London mayor is only the latest, and by no means the most powerful–the recently elected president of France, and the departed and unlamented (by me, anyways) president of the United States have uttered similar “thoughts.”

The only principled argument for the existence of the state is that people exchange some liberties for security of their lives and property. The primary–and to a classical liberal, sole–reason for the state is to provide such protection. When it fails to do so, it has failed utterly in its mission. When those ostensibly responsible for governing trivialize these failures, it is unpardonable.

It is particularly unpardonable in places like France particularly, but almost as much in the UK, and increasingly in the US, where the state holds itself out as omnicompetent to rule over every aspect of citizens’ lives. As the saying goes: you had one job. You fail at that, yet you presume to tell us that we should trust you with everything from health care to occupational licensing to monetary policy to all the other goddam things you claim only the government can do?

The initial reaction of the increasingly horrid British PM, Theresa May, encapsulates–yet again–the elite failure that is the hallmark of the 21st century. May posits that it might be necessary to restrict–wait for it–the Internet. If you are going to constrain liberties further in your feeble attempts to provide security, mightn’t a little more targeted approach be better, Ms. May? Starting, say, with places like the Finsbury Park Mosque? Or the 1000s of individuals which your security forces have already identified as threats (and then apparently ignored until after they act on them)?

But oh no. That would be discriminatory. Can’t have that, can we? But indiscriminate approaches like restricting the Internet or subjecting everyone from toddlers to the senile to security theater at airports are both wildly over inclusive and wildly under effective, thereby entailing great cost with no remotely corresponding benefit. Which just makes the populace all the more alarmed by terrorism, because it makes them all the more convinced that their supposed betters in government are not serious people and do not have their true interests at heart.

The elites are frightened and befuddled by populism: they freaked out at Trump’s very populist reaction to the latest London attacks. They should not be confused in the slightest, but they just cannot admit the truth: that populism is a reaction to profound elite failure, which the elite gives evidence of every passing day. Understanding populism would require that they admit failure, which they adamantly refuse to do.

People fear terrorism when they see it growing and they see those charged with preventing it failing time and again, and consciously avoiding doing the sometimes messy things necessary to do so. That fear seems pretty rational, given the fundamental differences between political violence and the risks of normal life, no matter how frequently the better thans instruct us about mortality statistics.

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June 2, 2017

Trump Rejects the Climate Gateway Drug: Global Progressives Go All Spanish Inquisition

Filed under: China,Climate Change,Economics,Energy,Politics — The Professor @ 7:00 am

The wailing, gnashing of teeth, and rending of garments that has followed Trump’s widely expected decision to withdraw the US from the Paris Climate Accord is truly amazing to witness. It is virtue signaling taken to a new extreme. Indeed, since so many people want to signal simultaneously, each apparently feels obliged to outdo the other in hysterics in order to attract the attention their precious egos crave. Hence the apocalyptic paroxysms of rage that started the moment Trump spoke.

Truth be told, even if one believes the predictions of standard climate models, and even if one believes there will be compliance with the commitments of the Accord (which is slightly less likely than my becoming Pope), it would have a trivial impact on global temperatures: on the order of .2 degrees. The impact of the US withdrawal alone, given its declining CO2 emissions relatively (especially compared to China and India) and even absolutely (something the pious Europeans have not been able to manage despite their moribund economy and costly—and insane–commitment to renewables), means that Trump’s action by itself will have an immeasurable effect on climate in any time frame.

So despite all of the screeching that Trump has doomed—doomed I say!—life on earth, in reality the accord is not a practical agreement, but a ritual. And like all rituals, its primary purpose is to provide an opportunity to display obeisance to a creed, theology, doctrine, or dogma.

Which explains the overwrought reaction: those rejecting creeds, theologies, doctrines, and dogmas are heretics, and heretics must be attacked, ostracized, ridiculed, and in the dreams of some, burned. Trump is accused of heresy on three counts — heresy by thought, heresy by word, heresy by deed, and heresy by action — four counts! Yet he does not confess, and indeed revels in his heresy, only infuriating his inquisitors all the more.

There is much dispute over the concrete effects of Paris qua Paris. Some claim it is merely symbolic. Others claim that it will lead to real policy changes. Whatever the practical effects, there is no doubt about the ambitions of those pushing Paris, and Trump rejected them all. He rejected the delegation of authority over the United States to an unelected and unaccountable (self-perceived but actually utterly failed) elite. He rejected the exploitation of climate concerns to implement a vast scheme of international wealth redistribution.

And perhaps most importantly, he called out, confronted, and rejected the role of Paris as a gateway drug to even more intrusive supranational elite control and power:

The risks grow as historically these agreements only tend to become more and more ambitious over time.  In other words, the Paris framework is a starting point — as bad as it is — not an end point.  And exiting the agreement protects the United States from future intrusions on the United States’ sovereignty and massive future legal liability.  Believe me, we have massive legal liability if we stay in.

Absolutely. Climate concerns (hysteria, really) have become an engine for rent seeking and power grabbing on a global scale never seen before, and it needs to be throttled in the crib. For it is evident from years of experience how the leftist-statist-dirigiste march through the institutions works. Stake out a modest set of policies to achieve a lofty goal. When the policies fall short, impose more draconian ones. When those policies in turn fail, unleash more bureaucratic dragoons to intrude on every aspect of institutional life. And in this case, the institution at stake is the world. Better to stop it now, then to watch it metastasize later.

The reaction has been predictable. Corporate rent seekers—Goldman Sachs’ Lloyd Blackfein, GE’s Jeffrey Immelt, and our favorite among them Elon Musk—have expressed their rage and dismay. Political power seekers, the Euros most notable among them, are beside themselves.

The Euros are particularly amusing. After Trump spurned them, they are now looking to China’s Xie for climate policy leadership, just as they did on “free trade” at Davos. Daddy didn’t give them what they wanted, so they are throwing themselves into the arms of the leader of a biker gang. That will show that meanie, harrumph!

That won’t end well, and don’t bother come crying to us when it doesn’t! China is a mercantilist environmental disaster that will pump out increasing quantities of CO2 for the foreseeable future. China is in this for China, and will exploit climate policy to advance its economic interests while paying lip service to green pieties. Only the willfully self-deluded refuse to see otherwise.

The economic costs of any actual implementation of Paris promises would have dwarfed any benefits accruing to its effects on climate. Force-feeding of renewables will increase energy costs, thereby impairing growth—which will have a disproportionate effect on the poor. Taxes to fund global wealth transfers will have similar effects: and if you think that money transferred to poor countries is going to go to the poor, rather than sticky-fingered elites, you are truly a fool.

So Donald Trump has said we’ll never have Paris. And that’s a damn good thing. Arguably the best thing he’s done—and the shrieking of global progressives is about the best proof of that I can think of.

 

 

 

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May 30, 2017

Clearing Fragmentation Follies: We’re From the European Commission, and We’re Here to Help You

Filed under: Clearing,Derivatives,Economics,Financial Crisis II,Politics,Regulation — The Professor @ 6:33 am

Earlier this month came news that the European Commission was preparing legislation that would require clearing of Euro derivatives to take place in the Eurozone, rather than in the UK, which presently dominates. This has been an obsession with the Euros since before Brexit: Brexit has only intensified the efforts, and provided a convenient rationalization for doing so.

The stated rationale is that the EU (and the ECB) need regulatory control over clearing of Euro-denominated derivatives because a problem at the CCP that clears them could have destabilizing effects on the Eurozone, and could necessitate the ECB providing liquidity support to the CCP in the event of trouble. If they are going to support it in extremis, they are going to need to have oversight, they claim.

Several things to note here. First, it is possible to have a regulatory line of sight without having jurisdiction. Note that the USD clearing business at LCH is substantially larger than the € clearing business there, yet the Fed, the Treasury, and Congress are fine with that, and are not insisting that all USD clearing be done stateside. They realize that there are other considerations (which I discuss more below): to simplify, they realize that London has become a dominant clearing center for good economic reasons, and that the economies of scale and scope clearing mean that concentration of clearing produces some efficiencies. Further, they realize that it is possible to have sufficient information to ensure that the foreign-domiciled CCP is acting prudently and not taking undue risks.

Canada is another example. A few years ago I wrote a white paper (under the aegis of the Canadian Market Infrastructure Committee) that argued that it would be efficient for Canada to permit clearing of C$ derivatives in London, rather than to require the establishment and use of a Canadian CCP. The Bank of Canada and the Canadian government agreed, and did not mandate the creation of a maple leaf CCP.

Second, if the Europeans think that by moving € clearing away from LCH that they will be immune from any problems there, they are sadly mistaken. The clearing firms that dominate in LCH will also be dominant in any Europe-domiciled € CCP, and a problem at LCH will be shared with the Euro CCP, either because the problem arises because of a problem at a firm that is a clearing member of both, or because an issue at LCH not originally arising from a CM problem will adversely affect all its CMs, and hence be communicated to other CCPs.  Consider, for example, the self-preserving way that LCH acted in the immediate aftermath of Brexit: this put liquidity demands on all its clearing members. With fragmented clearing, these strains would have been communicated to a Eurozone CCP.

When risks are independent, diversification and redundancy tend to reduce risk of catastrophic failure: when risks are not independent, they can either fail to reduce the risk substantially, or actually increase it. For instance, if the failure of CCP 1 likely causes the failure of CCP 2, having two CCPs actually increases the probability of a catastrophe (given a probability of CCP failure). CCP risks are not independent, but highly dependent. This means that fragmentation could well increase the problem of a clearing crisis, and is unlikely to reduce it.

This raises another issue: dealing with a crisis will be more complicated, the more fragmented is clearing. Two self-preserving CCPs have an incentive to take actions that may well hurt the other. Relatedly, managing the positions of a defaulted CM will be more complicated because this requires coordination across self-interested CCPs. Due to the breaking of netting sets, liquidity strains during a crisis are likely to be greater in a crisis with multiple CCPs (and here is where the self-preservation instincts of the two CCPs are likely to present the biggest problems).

Thus, (a) it is quite likely that fragmentation of clearing does not reduce, and may increase, the probability of a systemic shock involving CCPs, and (b) conditional on some systemic event, fragmented CCPs will respond less effectively than a single one.

The foregoing relates to how CCP fragmentation will affect markets during a systemic event. Fragmentation also affects the day-to-day economics of clearing. The breaking of netting sets resulting from the splitting off of € will increase collateral requirements. Perverse regulations, such as Basel III’s insistence on treating customer collateral as a CM asset against which capital must be held per the leverage requirement, will cause the collateral increase to increase substantially of providing clearing services.

Fragmentation will also result in costly duplication of activities, both across CCPs, and across CMs. For instance, it will entail duplicative oversight of CMs that clear both at LCH and the Eurozone CCP, and CMs that are members of both will have to staff separate interfaces with each. There will also be duplicative investments in IT (and the greater the number of IT potential points of failure, the greater the likelihood of at least one failure, which is almost certain to have deleterious consequences for CMs, and the other CCP). Fragmentation will also interfere with information flows, and make it likely that each CCP has less information than an integrated CCP would have.

This article raises another real concern: a Eurozone clearer is more likely to be subject to political pressure than the LCH. It notes that the Continentals were upset about the LCH raising haircuts on Eurozone sovereigns during the PIIGS crisis. In some future crisis (and there is likely to be one) the political pressure to avoid such moves will be intense, even in the face of a real deterioration of the creditworthiness of one or more EU states. Further upon a point made above, political pressures in the EU and the UK could exacerbate the self-preserving actions that could lead to a failure to achieve efficient cooperation in a crisis, and indeed, could lead to a catastrophic coordination failure.

In sum, it’s hard to find an upside to the forced repatriation of € clearing from LCH to some Eurozone entity. Both in wartime (i.e., a crisis) and in peacetime, there are strong economies of scale and scope in clearing. A forced breakup will sacrifice these economies. Indeed, since breaking up CCPs is unlikely to reduce the probability of a clearing-related crisis, but will make the crisis worse when it does occur, it is particularly perverse to dress this up as a way of protecting the stability of the financial system.

I also consider it sickly ironic that the Euros say, well, if we are expected to provide a liquidity backstop to a big financial entity, we need to have regulatory control. Um, just who was supplying all that dollar liquidity via swap lines to desperate European banks during the 2008-2009 crisis? Without the Fed, European banks would have failed to obtain the dollar funding they needed to survive. By the logic of the EC in demanding control of € clearing, the Fed should require that the US have regulatory authority over all banks borrowing and lending USD.

Can you imagine the squealing in Brussels and every European capital in response to any such demand?

Speaking of European capitals, there is another irony. One thing that may derail the EC’s clearing grab is a disagreement over who should have primary regulatory responsibility over a Eurozone CCP. The ECB and ESMA think the job should be theirs: Germany, France, and Italy say nope, this should be the job of national central banks  (e.g., the Bundesbank) or national financial regulators (e.g., Bafin).

So, hilariously, what may prevent (or at least delay) the fragmentation of clearing is a lack of political unity in the EU.  This is as good an illustration as any of the fundamental tensions within the EU. Everybody wants a superstate. As long as they are in control.

Ronald Reagan famously said that the nine scariest words in the English language are: “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” I can top that: “I’m from the EC, and I’m here to help.” When it comes to demanding control of clearing, the EC’s “help” will be about as welcome as a hole in the head.

 

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May 27, 2017

Comey Channels Maxwell Smart

Filed under: Politics — The Professor @ 6:24 pm

So, the new version of the Comey rationale for dropping the Hillary investigation is that he knew the document claiming that Loretta Lynch had promised a Clinton staffer that the email investigation would go away was disinformation, but it didn’t matter! He had no choice but to drop the investigation lest the disinformation be leaked in order to discredit Lynch if she dropped the investigation. Or something:

Sources close to Comey tell CNN he felt that it didn’t matter if the information was accurate, because his big fear was that if the Russians released the information publicly, there would be no way for law enforcement and intelligence officials to discredit it without burning intelligence sources and methods. There were other factors behind Comey’s decision, sources say.

What complete and utter bullshit.

The I’d-tell-you-but-then-I’d-have-to-kill-you-because-the-information-is-from-super-secret-sources dodge is getting so, so tiresome, especially when the people who tell us this leak like sieves. Such a convenient way of telling partial truths.

But it gets better! Come on, think about it: the Russians would only plant disinformation where they knew it would be found, that is, in communications they already knew were compromised.  What’s the point of passing disinformation through a super-secure channel? You WANT the disinformation to be uncovered, and hence will broadcast it over channels you know the target is monitoring. So revealing this information would have compromised exactly nothing.

Meaning that the new story is inherently contradictory, and an insult to our intelligence.

And please: you think there is no way for the FBI to show that a document is disinformation through independent means? Especially when they knew of its existence in advance of any leak?

Comey (and/or his leaky mouthpieces) remind me of Maxwell Smart. When one stupid story implodes, they try another: “Would you believe . . . ?”

“Would you believe, I knew the story was disinformation, but because of its existence I had to torpedo the Hillary investigation anyways?”

No. We find that hard to believe, Mr. Smart, I mean Mr. Comey.

.

 

 

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May 25, 2017

Maxine Waters Plays Six Degrees of Donald Trump, With Hilarious Results

Filed under: Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 10:48 am

The Six Degrees of Donald Trump/Russia game has reached new peaks of hilarity. Let by noted genius Maxine Waters (when the stupid stick hit Maxine, the stick got stupider), a group of Congressional Democrats are demanding release of Deutsche Bank records relating to Trump loans because . . . Deutsche Bank has been implicated in a money laundering scheme in which billions were tunneled out of Russia. QED!

For the record, Deutsche Bank has about 100,000 employees, and operations all over the world. The people handling commercial banking transactions in the US for Donald Trump were definitely not also manning the DB equities desk in Moscow, or the Russia equities operations in New York and London–which is where the money laundering scheme was executed. And what is the connection between the beneficiaries of the money laundering scheme and the Kremlin?

Deutsche Bank is a sprawling operation with loose controls, as its involvement in virtually every financial scandal in recent years (gold and silver fixings; IBOR manipulation; sanctions violations; mortgage violations; tax evasion) attests. The scheme bouncing around in the void of Maxine’s skull would require centralized coordination and control and oversight across completely unrelated lines of business that Deutsche Bank has conspicuously lacked for a very long time.

Also, Deutsche Bank does business in every major country of the world–and some not so major ones. Its lending and trading operations touch myriad corporations, governments, and individuals. Some of those touches are of dubious legality (as witnessed by the sanctions violations). To connect two dots of the millions in the Deutsche Bank orbit, and ignore the rest, is beyond absurd.

The ostensible plot took place in 2012-2015. Um, in 2012-2014, Trump was not a candidate: he was not part of the political conversation at all then. Even when he declared in 2015, it was considered something of a joke. Actually, strike “something of.” A 2012-2014 Trump trade would have been about a .01 delta call. If that. Deep, deep out of the money.

Maxine suggests that the Russian government may have guaranteed Trump loans. Hilarious! For a big part of this period, Russia was facing a financial crisis and deep recession, and was having to worry about its own companies, rather than cultivate Trump. In 2014 sanctions were followed by an oil price collapse. I remember the joke that 62 was the magic number for Russia: Putin would turn 62, the ruble would hit 62, and oil would trade at 62. That was wildly optimistic. Yes, Putin turned 62 but the ruble hit 80 and oil went under $30. All major Russian companies were feeling the strain, and Putin was only showing love to his buddies like Timchenko and the Rotenbergs, who were hit by sanctions.

These are not serious people, Maxine et al. Using the fact that they gargantuan financial institution like DB dealt with Trump and dirty Russians to claim a nexus between Putin and Trump shows how completely unserious they are.

 

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May 24, 2017

Just When You Think the Comey Saga Couldn’t Be More Bizarre

Filed under: Politics — The Professor @ 8:04 pm

Today the WaPoop ran what I think is supposed to be a defense of James Comey’s absolution of Hillary in July 2016. You see, Comey supposedly learned of a clandestinely obtained Russian document purporting to disclose the contents of an email between Debbie Wasserman Schultz and a member of Soros’ Open Society Foundation in which DWS related a conversation between Attorney General Lynch and a Clinton campaign staffer in which Lynch said that the FBI investigation of the Hillary emails would go nowhere.

Oh my God! A third hand representation (with Russians at the third remove, no less) of a conversation in which the nation’s chief law enforcement officer discusses subverting the investigation of Hillary Clinton that Comey was leading. What to do? What to do? Well, it’s obvious, isn’t it? Terminate the Hillary investigation!

No. I am not making that up:

Current and former officials have argued that the secret document gave Comey good reason to take the extraordinary step over the summer of announcing the findings of the Clinton investigation himself without Justice Department involvement.

Comey had little choice, these people have said, because he feared that if Lynch announced no charges against Clinton, and then the secret document leaked, the legitimacy of the entire case would be questioned.

. . . .

“It was a very powerful factor in the decision to go forward in July with the statement that there shouldn’t be a prosecution,” said a person familiar with the matter. “The point is that the bureau picked up hacked material that hadn’t been dumped by the bad guys [the Russians] involving Lynch. And that would have pulled the rug out of any authoritative announcement.”

So let me get this straight. If there were no charges, and the document leaked, people would suspect the investigation was tainted, so dammit, just better shut the whole investigation down. He had no choice! No choice! Free will is dead!

The article says that the veracity of the document was fiercely debated within the FBI. Well I would hope so! Does the FBI usually rely heavily on 3d hand stories retailed by those the Bureau claims suborn American democracy daily?

But let’s take the claim that Comey took the document seriously at face value. If so, rather than shut down the investigation of Hillary, he should have opened a no-holds-barred investigation of the Attorney General. Schultz, the Open Society person, and the Clinton staffer should have been put under intense scrutiny with all the tools at the FBI’s disposal, culminating in surprise questioning of those named in the Russian document. Comey should have found some way of preventing Lynch from shutting him down in the event she was tipped. This supposed paragon of rectitude (which he says he is, repeatedly) should have recognized this allegation for the brazen affront to the American polity that it represented, and investigated fearlessly (he also tells us he’s fearless, you know), and let the chips fall where they may.

The last thing he should have done is to do Lynch’s supposed dirty work of stonewalling the investigation for her. But per the WP, that’s exactly what he did.

Or, if he didn’t believe the document, he should have disregarded it in evaluating his course of action regarding Hillary, except to prepare a strong analysis detailing the document’s deficiencies, in order to answer the charge of coverup in the event that the document was leaked.

I see no possible reason why he should have done what he allegedly did, regardless of his opinion about the veracity of the document. This late-in-the day explanation makes no sense whatsoever.

Since it makes zero sense, one wonders why this defense is being proffered now, and by whom. If it is Comey or his surrogates or “friend”, he’s an even bigger douchenozzle than even I had imagined possible. Because it makes him look stupid, or craven, or both under any assumption about the truth of the document at issue, and his beliefs about the truth of the document.

If he believed it true, and it wasn’t: (a) he was credulous in believing such a dubious source, and (b) he was beyond derelict in his duty by failing to investigate the attorney general given his beliefs: if the document was false, the investigation would likely have shown that, and the Hillary investigation could have taken its course.

If he believed it to be true, and it was, he was beyond derelict in his duty by failing to investigate the attorney general: if the document was true, his dereliction let a rogue AG derail an important inquiry, and was in fact the instrument of that derailing.

If he believed it to be false, he was derelict in his duty by dropping the investigation of Hillary on such flimsy grounds. Indeed, he should have undertaken a thorough examination of its veracity, which would have necessarily involved an investigation of those identified in it.

Indeed, Comey looks so bad here the most logical explanation is that it came from his enemies, either in the Bureau, or in the administration (relying on people in the Bureau).

But regardless of where it came from, the story could be true. Given its explosive implications, Mr. James Comey should be questioned closely and indeed ferociously about it. If what the WaPoop reports is even remotely close to the truth, Trump vastly understated the man’s deficiencies when he allegedly called Comey a “nut job.” For if the story is remotely close to the truth, Comey is a nut job who turned a blind eye to what he believed to be a colorable case of obstruction of justice by the Attorney General of the United States, and essentially ensured that obstruction of justice would succeed by his own doing. And if Comey now has grave concerns about Trump asking him (again, allegedly) to let the Flynn matter pass, how could he have any less grave concerns about Lynch promising that the Hillary email matter would indeed pass?

I didn’t think the entire Comey-Hillary-Lynch-Trump story could get more bizarre. I was wrong. Very wrong.

 

 

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May 23, 2017

A Bilious Harpy Gets Trump’s Riyadh Adventure Exactly Wrong

Filed under: Politics — The Professor @ 11:10 am

There are things to criticize about Trump’s recent extravaganza in Saudi Arabia. Most notably, the good vs. evil rhetoric regarding Iran was redolent of Bush’s Axis of Evil approach, and sits uneasily with the president’s claimed commitment to foreign policy realism. On that, in the end, I will judge more on the basis of actions than words, especially given the frequent disconnect between Trump’s words and deeds.

There’s criticism and skepticism, and then there is the drivel emanating from Anne Applebaum and her ilk. The bilious harpy could barely contain herself in attacking Trump’s trip in a WaPoop doped (pronounced “dope ed”). She shrieked out six criticisms.

First:

It was a very strange choice for a first trip abroad. The past four American presidents, two Republicans and two Democrats, made their first trips to either Mexico and Canada, countries that are close trading partners, close allies, compatible democracies and of course neighbors. Trump chose, instead, to make his first presidential visit to an oligarchic kleptocracy which forces women to hide their faces and forbids them to travel without a male guardian’s permission.

Annie, babe: this is your best shot? This is what you led off with? Seriously. For one thing, previous presidents could be criticized for timidity, not to say political cowardice, by making a safe, conventional first trip. Trump, conversely, scorned the training wheels and dove right into the US’s most vexing foreign policy challenge.

As for the unsavory nature of the Saudi regime, well the oil ticks are indeed repulsive in many ways, but enlightened states are rather in short supply in the region–which is exactly why it is the US’s most vexing foreign policy challenge. We have to deal with the present realities, rather than stand aloof and let oligarchic kleptocrats have free rein. As for Saudi culture, (a) it is quite beyond the capability of the US to change in the slightest, (b) any attempt to do so will only stir up trouble (and terrorism), and (c) it is not our place to do so even if we could or there wouldn’t be blowback. But perhaps Anne is making an argument for restricting Muslim immigration into the US.

Second:

It was a very strange place to speak out against Islamist extremism. Although Saudi Arabia is afraid of some forms of Islamist extremism, it supports others. Saudi Arabia sponsors extremist Wahabi mosques and imams all over the world; Osama bin Laden was a Saudi citizen, as were 15 of the 19 9/11 hijackers.

Bravo, Anne. 180 degrees from reality! No: Saudis are exactly who need to hear stern talk about terrorism, and the US commitment to fight it. Trump actually uttered the words “Islamist extremism” in his speech as delivered, and his prepared remarks included “Islamic extremism”: supposedly exhaustion accounts for the slightly different (though potentially crucial) distinction. This is about as close as one can imagine a president calling out the sponsors of terrorism on their home turf, and is a welcome change from Obama’s reluctance to utter anything similar even from the comfort of US soil. This is also an important signal that the bonhomie–and billions in arms sales–of the Riyadh meetings do not reflect a denial of important truths. There is an implicit conditionality here, which is important.

Third:

The sword dance. Every American president has met with his Saudi counterparts, and of course the stability of Saudi Arabia, as well as its oil, is an important U.S. security concern. But until now American presidents made it clear that, while we have to deal with Saudi leaders, we don’t endorse their culture. Trump, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and others in the delegation did exactly that, by participating in this sinister all-male dance.

Ever heard the phrase “when in Rome,” Anne? Participating in a farcical (decidedly non-aquatic) ceremony involving strange men (no women!) distributing swords is hardly an endorsement of Saudi culture–or of the basis of their government. It’s a trivial indulgence which can grease the wheels in down-to-business bargaining. Note that Tillerson said this wasn’t his first sword dance: he knows that’s how it’s done. When Trump holds an all male cast sword dance in the Oval Office, wake me.

And by the way, doesn’t this cut against the narrative that Trump is an anti-Muslim hater?

Fourth:

Ivanka Trump’s “outreach” to women entrepreneuers. Saudi women must cover their heads and often their faces. They cannot drive cars, cannot (see above) travel without the permission of male guardians and are deprived of legal rights and education. In that context, Ivanka Trump’s promotion of female “entrepreneurs” looked like a cynical public relations gambit, which of course it was. The announcement that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates will donate money to her fund was a “pay to play” far more blatant than anything Hillary Clinton ever dreamed of.

Note that this isn’t “her fund”: this is a World Bank initiative. Further, and more importantly, would it be better that we completely ignore the issue of women in KSA? Yes, it is a small step, especially in light of the retrograde treatment of women not just in Saudi Arabia but the Muslim world generally. But it is something, and in particular it is something that contradicts Annie’s claims about endorsing Saudi culture. Again, we ain’t gonna change it, and it ain’t our place to change it.

Fifth:

Tillerson talking about human rights in Iran. Yes, Americans are often hypocritical about where and when they promote human rights. But to denounce human rights in Iran while standing in Saudi Arabia, a place where there is no political freedom and no religious freedom, brought hypocrisy to a whole new level. Better not to have said anything at all.

It’s called realpolitik. There are books about it. Read one, Anne. And yet again, it is futile, and indeed counterproductive, to make major strategic decisions on the basis of human rights in the ME. Because there ain’t any, anywhere. This should be about advancing American interests, and hold the iPhone, but hypocrisy is the essence of diplomacy, especially in the Middle East.

It’s also interesting that Anne and her ilk don’t point out how this flatly contradicts the Trump-is-Putin’s-bitch narrative. Russia and the Saudis are adversaries in the Middle East. Russia and Iran are allied in the Middle East. Trump taking a hard line against Iran and siding with the Saudis is diametrically opposed to Russian policy in the Middle East.

Sixth, my favorite:

Tillerson holding a news conference for foreign press only.The U.S. press corps was not invited. Presumably this was because the White House doesn’t want Americans to find out what the president was doing in Saudi Arabia?

Good! This is a welcome, and well-deserved “fuck you!” It never ceases to amaze me that the media engages in unrelentingly hostile coverage of the administration–coverage that ranges from the tendentious to the libelous–and yet expects to be indulged and pampered. Yes, Trump (and Tillerson) are breaking the Washington rules–great! The rules are stacked in favor of the sleep deprived, dehydrated, over-caffeinated, boozy, junk-food eating, low-brain function narcissists who call themselves “journalists,” and bore us with their conceit that they are the guardians of the republic. They deserve a good smacking, and their wails and laments are music to my ears. I hope they get another. And another.

And as for finding out what happened, um, if we were kept in the dark then how did Anne know about items 1-5 of her screed? Believe me, we lost nothing–and probably gained–by the inability of aforementioned sleep-deprived, dehydrated, etc., journalists to ask some snarky questions. They can fuck off presently, and kudos to Tillerson for telling them to do so in not so many words.

Anne Applebaum is the poster child for the elite whose serial failures and utter cluelessness made Trump president. What happened in November was first and foremost a reaction to that elite. And Anne shows daily that like the Bourbons, she has learned nothing and forgotten nothing. There are substantive grounds to criticize Trump on most things, including his Middle East policy but all Anne Applebaum has done is rant dishonestly about the least objectionable, and often praiseworthy, things that Trump did in Riyadh.

Figures.

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