Blog

Blog update

Today will be the last daily post for a little while. I will still continue to post, but irregularly from now on. It’s certainly not for lack of interest. I come to my computer each morning excited, and I hope this blog is as pleasurable to read as it is to write. I never expected … Continue reading Blog update

The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money

Indeed it [the economy] seems capable of remaining in a chronic condition of sub-normal activity for a considerable period without any marked tendency either towards recovery or towards complete collapse I suspect John Maynard Keynes’ “General Theory” was to the 1930s what Thomas Piketty’s “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” was to the 2010s – much … Continue reading The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money

On the Genealogy of Morality

I just finished Nietzsche’s On the Genealogy of Morality. While I digest the book for a longer write-up, here are some passages I found thought provoking: We modern men are heirs to the ancient practice of vivisecting our consciences, and inflicting curelty upon our animal selves. This we have practices for the longest time, and … Continue reading On the Genealogy of Morality

Bond market vigilantes

Government bond holders were the playground bullies of the 80s and 90s. They would threaten governments and central banks with bond sales to get what they wanted – usually fiscal discipline and lower inflation. Bond vigilantes – a self-appointed nickname – was presumably a way to sound more like Batman and less like thugs. Like … Continue reading Bond market vigilantes

Things to not waste time on

We drown in content. Authors, thinkers, and officials are available on podcasts or YouTube commenting on almost any issue. Some of these conversations are interesting, many are not. Powerful people with reputations at stake, both theirs and their organization’s, are incentivized to be guarded. This is sensible policy when off-the-cuff comments can move markets, but … Continue reading Things to not waste time on

Stoicism and self-help

I was at Kinokuniya on the weekend with a group of friends who were all looking for the same book. On the third floor of a mall in the city, Kinokuniya basically occupies the entire level, wrapping around the escalators from which you enter. Most bookstores have a history section, Kinokuniya has a Latin American … Continue reading Stoicism and self-help

Beeple

Hardly a day goes by without the catalogue of social media’s harms expanding. Our smartphones are bridgeheads from which apps like Instagram undermine our self-esteem, attention span, sleep, mental health, and relationships. One relationship social media has improved for me, is my relationship with art. Instagram has made it incredibly easy to discover art. Some … Continue reading Beeple

Selected quotations

I have been re-reading Christopher Hitchens’ Letters to a Young Contrarian and wanted to share a few passages which stayed with me On racism It especially annoys me when racists are accused of ‘discrmination.’ The ability to discriminate is a precious faculty; by judging all members of one ‘race’ to be the same, the racist … Continue reading Selected quotations

A budget for giving

At lunch with a friend yesterday, they mentioned how they set aside a portion of money each week to spend on other people. It’s part of their standard budget, just another category alongside rent, groceries, or entertainment. What does he spend it on? Anything from buying a coffee for someone at work, to treating friends … Continue reading A budget for giving

The media standoff in Australia

Facebook shut off news access for Australian users on Wednesday. It’s part of an ongoing brawl over proposed legislation that would create a statutory code for bargaining between news organisations and large technology platforms like Facebook or Google. You can read more about it here or here. Some initial thoughts: This seems like an misstep … Continue reading The media standoff in Australia

Central banks, climate change, and firing an AK-47 underwater (wonkish)

Barry Eichengreen has written a piece for Project Syndicate on how central banks can help tackle climate change and inequality. The standard argument is that central banks do not possess the tools to combat these issues, and even if they did, doing so would call their independence into question, undermining their ability to fight inflation. … Continue reading Central banks, climate change, and firing an AK-47 underwater (wonkish)

They come from the land of the ice and snow

Got the first view from Antarctica today. I hope not the last. Would whoever this is mind getting in touch via the comments or email? I’d love to hear about what you are doing there… A quick Google search suggests Antarctica is inhabited entirely by Penguins, murderers (and their victims?), or monsters. Be safe.

Trump is performing better than the headlines suggest

Trump has now been acquitted in his second impeachment trial, notching up yet another “first.” Had you scanned the headlines of the New York Times or the Financial Times, you could be forgiven for feeling a modicum of satisfaction amidst the disappointment; Trump got off, but the Republican Party is breaking with him; Trump got … Continue reading Trump is performing better than the headlines suggest

China’s growing cultural muscle

I tend to discuss China’s growing assertiveness with reference its economy or foreign policy. It’s a pity, because China’s increasingly muscular cultural scene is illuminating. If you want to understand the trajectory of China over the next few decades, it’s vital to observe the stories China tells about itself. Check out this trailer for the … Continue reading China’s growing cultural muscle

Is Green Quantitative Easing on the horizon?

Many forces are pushing central banks to change how they operate: low inflation; hesitant fiscal policy; climate change; anemic growth; financial instability. Low inflation claimed the first scalp, when it led the Federal Reserve to switch to an average inflation targeting regime. Climate change may be the next. The FT reports that: This is a … Continue reading Is Green Quantitative Easing on the horizon?

On learning which of Merriam-Webster’s 63 definitions of work suited me

I was taught very little about how to work at school or university, which is odd when I think about it. My youth was spent being (asked) ordered to do things – write essays, mow lawns, be nice, wash dishes, give presentations – but rarely being told how. I suspect the adults did not know … Continue reading On learning which of Merriam-Webster’s 63 definitions of work suited me

Does carbon pricing work in practice?

Not according to a new meta-analysis out from Jessica Green in Environmental Research: Carbon pricing has been hailed as an essential component of any sensible climate policy. Internalize the externalities, the logic goes, and polluters will change their behavior. The theory is elegant, but has carbon pricing worked in practice? Despite a voluminous literature on … Continue reading Does carbon pricing work in practice?

He pulled his coat over his head, and lay still

I’ve read many accounts of war over the years: campaign map style histories where individuals hardly feature; swashbuckling adventures ala Sharpe; Antony Beevor’s awestruck reconstruction of the Battle of Stalingrad; the intimate realism of Svetlana Alexievitch. Never have I seen death described as in this excerpt from Ernst Jünger’s Storm of Steel. Jünger served at … Continue reading He pulled his coat over his head, and lay still

Macro economists argue over higher inflation (again)

Prominent macro economists are divided over whether the Biden administration’s proposed $1.9 trillion stimulus bill is likely to stoke inflation and curb future investment. In a Washington Post op-ed on Friday, former United States Secretary of the Treasury, Larry Summers, argued that the $1.9 trillion stimulus bill risked overstimulating the economy and stoking inflation. Summers … Continue reading Macro economists argue over higher inflation (again)

Do economic sanctions work? And a poem by Bertolt Brecht.

A convoy of military trucks speeds past. Armed men are disgorged outside parliament. TVs play patriotic music. Facebook goes down. Men in uniform grace local street corners. People are arrested. The patriotic music is interrupted to announce that General so-and-so is dissolving parliament to protect the constitution/democracy/the people. Condemnation follows from the democratic world. There … Continue reading Do economic sanctions work? And a poem by Bertolt Brecht.

“One has to get rid of the bad taste of wanting to be in agreement with others”

My book club read Beyond Good and Evil last month, and I’ve been meaning to write it up for a while now. It is a complicated book, and contains passages that span the full spectrum from disgust to inspiration. That being said, I enjoyed it. His philosophy is deeply individualistic. This is borne of necessity, … Continue reading “One has to get rid of the bad taste of wanting to be in agreement with others”

India, supply-side econ, and gender discrimination

Three interesting links (thanks to Marginal Revolution): Supply-side economics and progressives are rarely found together, which makes this short article on the topic all the more interesting. You might recall the piece I wrote about the ongoing land protests in India. This Q&A covers the politics and economics in great depth. Recommended for further reading. … Continue reading India, supply-side econ, and gender discrimination

“Because there probably will never again be such people as we were then”

I just finished The Unwomanly Face of War, Svetlana Alexievitch’s oral history of Soviet women in World War Two. I could only read the book a little at a time; there was too much pain, too much blood, too much thoughtless heroism in the face of incomprehensible suffering. Reading it quickly would inure you to … Continue reading “Because there probably will never again be such people as we were then”

China’s Youth

The Economist has a new special report out on China’s youth. It is fully of anecdotes and analysis on: “the jiulinghou, or “post-90s”, a shorthand term for those born between 1990 and 1999. They number 188m—more than the combined populations of Australia, Britain and Germany.” The question lurking beneath the special report is why the … Continue reading China’s Youth

Keynes on GameStop

I could not resist another Keynes quote in light of recent events The social object of skilled investment should be to defeat the dark forces of time and ignorance which envelop our future. The actual, private object of the most skilled investment today is ‘to beat the gun’, as the Americans so well express it, … Continue reading Keynes on GameStop

The FOMC meets and, among other things, we discover Jerome Powell has been vaccinated

The FOMC met for the first time in 2021 yesterday. The committee has maintained its accommodating policy stance as the economic recovery slows in the US. As at the last meeting, the Fed expects to keep this in place for some time: With regard to interest rates, we continue to expect it will be appropriate … Continue reading The FOMC meets and, among other things, we discover Jerome Powell has been vaccinated

“The very idea of assumed equilibrium bothered me”

One of the most frustrating parts of reading is forgetting. I struggle to describe a book in any meaningful detail even a month after finishing it, which somewhat undermines the learning experience. Highlighting, note taking, and folding pages all help stem the memory loss, but there are limits to what can be achieved without creating … Continue reading “The very idea of assumed equilibrium bothered me”

The Unwomanly Face of War

I am reading Nobel Prize Winner Svetlana Alexievich’s oral history of Soviet women in World War 2, The Unwomanly Face of War. Some passages that have stood out so far: On remembering I often see how they sit and listen to themselves. To the sound of their own soul. They check it against the words. … Continue reading The Unwomanly Face of War

Keynes on what makes ideas attractive

Keynes on why classical economics exerted the influence it did, from Chapter III of the General Theory: That it reached conclusions quite different from what the ordinary uninstructed person would expect, added, i suppose, to its intellectual prestige. That its teaching, translated into practice, was austere and often unpalatable, lent it virtue. That it was … Continue reading Keynes on what makes ideas attractive

Big Meat in the FT

I was left confused by “Big Meat: facing up to the demands for sustainability.” Surely this is not the same FT which so relentlessly pursued Wirecard? The meat industry, as presented in the article, seems combative, not reflective. Cattle heiress Josie Angus tells us official sustainability reports are “apologies to ‘virtue signallers,’ before using climate … Continue reading Big Meat in the FT

A new consensus

Where was this published? A progressive think tank? Marxists.org? None other than the IMF!

And in Europe…

Its been a big news week in Europe. The entire Dutch cabinet has resigned following a scandal where the tax authorities unfairly targeted minorities with demands to repay childcare benefits. This, in one of Europe’s biggest corporate tax havens. The government was already in caretaker mode thanks to elections in March, which Prime Minister Mark … Continue reading And in Europe…

Another day, another fiscal policy framework

It’s an exciting time in fiscal policy. A new paper out features three unlikely bedfellows. Financiers cum public servants Peter Orszag and Robert Rubin, advocates of fiscal discipline and balanced budgets in the Clinton and Obama administrations, have published with Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz, of “resigning from the World Bank in protest” fame. Their core … Continue reading Another day, another fiscal policy framework

On the value of suffering

We all suffer, but is it anything more than a sensation to be avoided or grudgingly endured? In different ways, both Nietzsche and Nassim Taleb have something useful to say. Nietzsche thought suffering was vital, so vital in fact, that he wished it on his friends (it is unclear how many he had). From Beyond … Continue reading On the value of suffering

Without a touch of masochism, the meaning of life is not complete

I hope you will forgive the double post, but I could not resist some excerpts from another of Joseph Brodsky’s wonderful essays in ‘On Grief and Reason.’ This one is titled ‘Speech at a stadium,’ and was delivered for a commencement speech at the University of Michigan in 1988: To covet what somebody else has … Continue reading Without a touch of masochism, the meaning of life is not complete

Passion is the privilege of the insignificant

Boredom is endangered. Streams of dopamine have pushed it past Wi-Fi range. If, as Bertrand Russell suggested, we should all be more idle, we must learn to confront boredom head on. Thankfully, poet Joseph Brodsky’s essay “In Praise of Boredom” (this collection) dissects boredom in a moving reminder of its importance. Known under several aliases-anguish, … Continue reading Passion is the privilege of the insignificant

What I’m reading

My post on what one should read was quite popular, so I thought I would share what I am reading right now, as an illustration of the principles in action. I usually try to pair an easier and harder read together. This once meant non-fiction during the day and fiction at night, but I increasingly … Continue reading What I’m reading

The imitation game

T.S. Eliot, quoted in a piece on the history of literary imitation in the LRB. The article explores the tensions between the influence and imitation, between the modern longing for individuality, and the impossibility of truly breaking with our intellectual or literary precursors. Well worth reading.

Things are not what they seem

While we stew in our outrage and disbelief at the storming of the US Capitol… From the Economist From the New York Times Finally, after legislators were escorted back to the Capitol under armed guard, eight Republican senators and 138 representatives still voted to object to the electoral college votes being certified. The question is … Continue reading Things are not what they seem

The battle for the future of the Republican Party

That battle kicks off today. Trump has released a statement condemning the violence and promising an orderly transition, however he closed by saying “our incredible journey is only just beginning.” Are we watching the beginning of Trump 2024 or Trump the third-party candidate?

Anarchy in the USA

Time moves quickly in politics and yesterday’s abstract questions are being worked out far quicker than I thought possible. A few quick points: Looking past the unprecedented images, is this a demonstration that America’s democratic institutions were, when push came to shove, more resilient than some thought? That no matter how faint and far away, … Continue reading Anarchy in the USA

What would a Democrat victory in Georgia mean?

As of writing (1am Australia/9am Georgia), it looks as if Democrats are likely to win both run-off elections in Georgia, handing them control of 50 of the Senate’s 100 seats. With the Vice-President casting a vote during ties, Democrats would have defacto control of the chamber. The NYT has excellent rolling coverage. While winning control … Continue reading What would a Democrat victory in Georgia mean?

Montaigne for the new year

Some more food for thought for the new year, this time from Montaigne: To keep ourselves bound by the bonds of necessity to one single way of life is to be, but not to live. Souls are most beautiful when they show most variety and flexibility For more wisdom from Montaigne, see this earlier post

2020 in review

Today is the 141st post. It has been a demonstration of how quickly small habits add up. In the last four months of 2020 I wrote 45,022 words, with an average of 331 words per post. Had I written them all on the same subject, I would have the draft of a small novel. In … Continue reading 2020 in review

The first Keynesian?

It is the fate of famous thinkers to be reduced to caricature. Those outside the limelight at least keep their nuance. Since reading Zachary Carter’s biography of Keynes earlier this year, I’ve been exploring more of the great man’s nuance. ‘Keynesian’ is now synonymous with massive crisis spending programs, but this characterisation both fails to … Continue reading The first Keynesian?

In praise of idleness

Over Christmas I re-read Bertrand Russell’s wonderful essay, In Praise of Idleness. Its message is still incisive and revolutionary, if in slightly different ways. In Russel’s day, elites jealously guarded leisure for themselves while proclaiming the dignity and virtue of work for others. Today, the leisure class has committed suicide, and both rich and poor … Continue reading In praise of idleness

Sustainable investing

Investments which take broader environmental or social goals into account are increasingly popular. Under the banner of ESG, finance is trying to offer socially conscious investors an ethical way to make money, and even create social change. Like all things, the devil is in the detail. From this piece on ESG investing in the FT: … Continue reading Sustainable investing

The role of government

From Keynes 1926 essay “The end of Laissez-Faire“ We cannot therefore settle on abstract grounds, but must handle on its merits in detail what Burke termed ‘one of the finest problems in legislation, namely, to determine what the State ought to take upon itself to direct by the public wisdom, and what it ought to … Continue reading The role of government

China stories part 2

(Part 1) Today I want to discuss a podcast on the One Belt One Read initiative (1B1R). 1B1R is China’s signature international policy, made up of hundreds of billions in loans to mostly developing countries in Eurasia to build infrastructure and other projects (for a quick refresher, this piece in The Guardian). The discussion made … Continue reading China stories part 2

China stories part 1

I’ve consumed a few thought provoking pieces on China in the last week I wanted to share. Today, this piece in Noema on China’s dual circulation strategy. Chinese policy is often expressed as idioms or special slogans.* “Dual circulation” is the latest phrase in use by China’s leadership to describe its developmental strategy: The article … Continue reading China stories part 1

Fiscal policy – automatic stabilisers and government as the risk taker of last resort

In last week’s posts on fiscal policy (1, 2, and 3), I focused on discretionary policy. Today I want to talk about automatic stabilisers. Automatic stabilisers are fiscal policy on autopilot. Unlike one-off spending bills, automatic stabilisers work through changes in spending and taxation triggered by economic changes. In a recession, tax receipts with incomes, … Continue reading Fiscal policy – automatic stabilisers and government as the risk taker of last resort

On transracial and transgender identity

It is common today to see membership to a particular social group determined by individual identification. The classic example is gender, which many hold to be determined by how one personally identifies, not biology or social class. Now, if claims to group identity are arbited by the individual’s lived experience then presumably similar categories like … Continue reading On transracial and transgender identity

Merry Christmas at the Federal Reserve

The US Federal Reserve held their December FOMC meeting yesterday. They voted unanimously to continue the current accommmodative stance, keeping interest rates at zero and asset purchases at $120 billion a month. The decision is unsurprising given the impact of Covid in the US, and the ongoing fight in Congress over more fiscal stimulus. The … Continue reading Merry Christmas at the Federal Reserve

Fiscal policy and industrial policy – new bedfellows?

In the north of Sweden, the EU is part-funding a new battery ‘gigafactory.’ When finished, it will be larger than Tesla’s factory in Nevada. The project is part of the EU’s investment in a new battery industry, its answer to competition from the US and China in the industries of the future. Across the West, … Continue reading Fiscal policy and industrial policy – new bedfellows?

Charts on China

Adam Tooze is the latest addition to Substack. I highly recommend checking out numbers 8 and 9 of his newsletter. They discuss contemporary political and economic trends in China, and what they mean for the longevity of its new model of state capitalism. This passage in particular stood out for me: Wash them down with … Continue reading Charts on China

Fiscal policy series – debt, government spending, and the future of the state

There is a new paper on fiscal policy out by Larry Summers and Jason Furman (There is also a video presentation of their paper along with a star-studded discussion panel including Ben Bernanke, Olivier Blanchard and Ken Rogoff here. It begins at 49 minutes). The paper argues that the drastic fall in real-interest rates over … Continue reading Fiscal policy series – debt, government spending, and the future of the state

Bob Dylan

NPR (and everyone else) reports that Bob Dylan has sold his entire back catalogue for around 300 million. The internet was meant to kill record labels. Instead, music streaming has turned (certain) music catalogues into valuable assets with reliable income streams. For a wonderful series on how changes in the way we listen to music … Continue reading Bob Dylan

The ECB’s December meeting – climate change and fiscal policy

The ECB’s Governing Council met yesterday for their monetary policy meeting. Its a similar story to what we have seen from other central banks in recent months: expansion of monetary stimulus and a verbal commitment that stimulus will stay in place for at least another two years. Some technical decisions to take note of (skip … Continue reading The ECB’s December meeting – climate change and fiscal policy

Climate goals and climate rules

The FT reports that scientists are warning the EU that its new rules for what constitutes sustainable finance endanger its pledge to reduce emission to net zero by 2050. Sustainable finance requires some way of distinguishing between unsustainable and sustainable investments. While there are lots of private ratings agencies, the EU wants to create its … Continue reading Climate goals and climate rules

Protests in India and the costs of modernisation

Some of the largest protests in history are taking place in India right now. Thousands upon thousands of farmers have surrounded Delhi and are settling into large makeshift camps in what looks likely to be a protracted struggle. The issue in question is agricultural laws. India’s agricultural sector is massive and employs just short of … Continue reading Protests in India and the costs of modernisation

Hillsong

The NYT has a story on the rise and fall of the Hillsong partner Carl Lentz. He ran Hillsong’s US East Coast branch and was a friend of celebrities, including Justin Bieber. He was recently fired for marital infidelity. As someone who used to go to a Pentecostal mega-church, the most interesting parts of the … Continue reading Hillsong

Trump’s party

I’ve been writing a lot about Trump and the Republican Party recently. The last month has shown that Trump is going nowhere, and his most likely vehicle will be the now captive Republican Party. This long read in the NYT on Trump’s influence over the GOP is essential reading on the topic. I found the … Continue reading Trump’s party

Crashed

I recently started reading Crashed again; Adam Tooze’s history of the GFC and its aftermath. Its brilliance comes from his ability to take the reader through the opaque barrier that surrounds modern finance, while situating it within a broader narrative of geopolitics and institutional change going back to the 1960s. This book is a vital … Continue reading Crashed