Grameen Bank Takeover in Bangladesh: Bad Economics.


I wrote earlier about the great work of the Grameen Bank and the Grameen Foundation, groups I have supported for many years.  Founder M. Yunus invented the concept of “microloans”, a tactic that has been helping the poor for many years.   In 2006 Yunus received the Nobel Peace Prize for this pioneering work.

Unfortunately the Bangladesh Government is now in a power play to take over the bank, jeopardizing the welfare of the millions of women and their families who benefit from the bank.

I’d encourage anybody interested in the well being of poor folks to write the government of Bangladesh here: info@pmo.gov.bd  , urging them to reconsider this bad takeover move.

Here’s the letter I wrote them in June , feel free to copy from it.    I think more important, however, is to write your Congressperson and your Senators to let them know this issue *matters to you*, and that the USA can stand against unwise bureaucratic power plays that will reduce the effectiveness of the Grameen Bank – perhaps even destroy it.

Here are contacts for your Congressperson:   http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/

Your Senator:  http://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm/

You don’t need to be Shakespeare here – just let them know you are concerned about the Grameen Bank Takeover and you’d like to know what they are doing about this.

At my son Ben’s commencement address the speaker did a great job of talking about the difference between “first world problems” and “developing world problems”.    Here, we fret over standing in line or the color of our clothes or the price of a fancy restaurant.    There, people worry mostly about feeding their kids, getting them schooling, or surviving   diseases that are virtually unknown in the USA.    Sure we have real problems too.    Health issues, abuse, education, and more.   But on average our challenges are far less than in most of the rest of the world and we can and should support efforts like Grameen that are building viable micro-economies based on free enterprise and entrepreneurial spirit.  These are super low cost, high ROI approaches to poverty and they deserve our support and our political klout.

… Hey, thanks!

Vaccinations WORK and are extremely safe. All informed “debate” is over, Vaccinate your children!


Whilst researching the status of polio in India I ran across a US website ranting about the (almost entirely imaginary) “dangers” associated with vaccines.

Sad to see so many in the USA still so persistent with their opposition to the obvious, while in India vaccine programs have run into some problems when poorly informed local leaders and traditional medicine practioners scare people away from the greatest medical innovations in all of human history – Vaccines.

[note – I’m not informed enough to talk about about the new  and politically controversial cervical cancer vaccine many believe should be mandatory for girls – here I’m talking about the old vaccines like DPT and Polio, tried and true, that have been used for decades]

Vaccinations have saved *hundreds of millions* of lives outright and spared *hundreds of millions* more from dramatic reductions in the quality of life.  Like any broadly applied remedy, Vaccine complications have caused a few deaths and a very tiny number of complications.   Only a narrow and irrational approach focuses ONLY on risks and ignores the massive benefits.

Vaccination math is overwhelmingly supportive of vaccines, yet ignored by the folks in the very vocal and active  anti-vaccine crowd, who simply refuse to do the math, choosing instead to point to imaginary or “one in a million” risks as if they these outweigh the 999,999 in a million benefits.

I wrote a comment over at the site I bumped into just now:

Sorry to see sites like this that discourage people from the “no brainer” that is vaccination of children.  Usually the misunderstandings come from the fact that you will have a very, very, very tiny number of complications with anything that touches billions of lives. This is NOT a reason to fear vaccines irrationally, as far too many do both in USA and developing world.  Leaving your children unvaccinated places them at hundreds of times the risk of a vaccinated person. You also put others at greater risks.  Ironically this would NOT be an issue if vaccines had not been such an incredible success because people would see the affects of polio, smallpox, and other diseases all around them. We don’t see that because we use vaccines.

———————

One MINOR caveat here to the above.   There is a point in time when vaccination success may lead to a total regional eradication of a disease.  At that time the (tiny, tiny) risks of vaccinating can wind up being greater than the (nearly zero) risk of contracting the eradicated disease.   This happened with smallpox in the USA and it’s why we no longer vaccinate for smallpox.    This fact hardly undermines the importance of vaccines or supports the “anti vaccine” crowd’s imaginary complications  (e.g. autism), but it’s important to keep it in mind when doing vaccine math.

Eat those mofo CEOs! Or maybe not.


For me the  “Eat the Mofo CEOs!” argument, aka “CEO pay is an outrageous inequitable violation of human rights”, etc, etc.  isn’t necessarily wrong, it’s just very incomplete.

What we DO KNOW is that most folks are a lot better off here in USA than in most of the alternative economies.  This is particularly true for those of us making more than a modest amount per year, but I think it’s hard to make a case that even welfare folks here are not better off than in, say, any of the other top 10 populated countries with perhaps Japan as an exception.

What has generated that prosperity for so many?    Certainly “high CEO pay” is at best only a small factor in this, but I’m not clear how you can start modifying things like “maximum CEO benefits” without running into some complications with innovation and productivity.

One can reasonably note that there’s not a correlation between CEO pay and corporate productivity  (at least I think this is indicated by several studies).   However a better question is really “is there a correlation between the lack of intervention in economies and productivity?”.   This has been tested now for many centuries across many countries, and we generally find that lack of intervention seems to create more total wealth and massive intervention as in old school communist crazy stuff tends to bring a sh**storm of economic trouble.

However US style ALSO seems to push the distribution more to the rich.    Of course it would be better to have more equal distribution IF you could keep all that productivity, but how do you arrange that?

It’s the biggest question of our lives.  I don’t have the answer, but when I look around the USA (where distribution is NOT equitable even after heavily progressive taxing of the rich) I see a LOT better standard for pretty much everybody than when I look around places that don’t have vibrant capitalistic economies (or have only had them a short time).

One can offer up Scandinavia as the “alternative model” and I’d agree that if we could duplicate Scandanavian standards of living at US scale we should do so.    but I don’t think you could apply that model effectively to a country the size of the USA.   These countries  have some major advantages that have to do with oil wealth and demographics and history.  They are smaller than many US states and thus not really comparable if you are talking about global economic architecture, as you must do when trying to “fix” the many problems the world is facing after the boom and recent mini-bust of the post WWII era.

It seems to me that the *first* line of discussion with respect to any economy needs to be “how do we create wealth?” rather than “how do we distribute he wealth we have created?”

This point is completely obvious to pretty much anybody I talk to from the right or in business, and seems to be completely opaque to many on the left side of the political equation, especially the wall street occupation forces.   Many of those folks seem out of touch with basic business economics and hell bent on the destruction of capitalism – naively assuming that massive productivity will continue under all scenarios, so the only thing we should focus on is making sure the rich don’t get … richer, because then we’ll see all that prosperity flow more equitably to … usually… their causes or even to them.

But be careful what you wish for because when taking a global perspective on things redistribution will not necessarily flow in your direction!   Folks in China and India are living at much lower levels than almost anybody here in the states, so as we work for equitable distribution (as we should), we’ll need to work to get THEM more involved in the economy so they can raise their standards to a fraction of ours!   Globalization is taking care of this right now in the sloppy form capitalism usually takes, but it’s ironic to me that occupiers seem to think the wealth of the super rich should be heading back to mainstreet USA rather than to the truly needy.    Rich or poor, pretty much everybody seems to think they are the underpaid and overworked folks.    Take out a map folks and put your finger on your location.   If it’s in USA then equitable distribution is likely to flow AWAY from you.

I’m all for more equitable distribution IF you can do it without hurting productivity, though I also would like to see that prosperity flow to those who really need it rather than simply bloating the bureaucracy as we tend to do when taxes go up.

Ray Dalio of Bridgewater Capital – the world’s largest Hedge Fund – both makes a ton of money and pays a ton of taxes.    Like most of the rich he pays both a greater total amount and a greater percentage of his income to federal taxes.   His point on Charlie Rose the other night was direct and simple.   Like Gates, Buffett, and legions of other super-wealthy folks Dalio is going to be giving most of his billion dollar fortune away to the poor.   He’d be happy to give it to the government IF they’d spend it wisely, but he knows that they will NOT.

USA Debt Rating Downgrade to AA+ is from our failure to cut defense and entitlements


S&P’s decision to downgrade the US debt rating from AAA to AA+ is very unwelcome news but it should not surprise anybody, especially in Washington where neither party has been willing to tackle the deficit or the debt in a responsible manner.

It’s time to cut the only two things in the budget that really matter – the bloated portions of Defense and Entitlements.    Even estimating (and then cutting back) the bloat at 10% – absurdly low given how recklessly this money is spent – we could solve all deficit and debt problems in less than a decade.   DO IT, DAMN IT!

The Tea Party’s was right that debt and deficit are major concerns, but their approach to solving the problem has been almost infantile, lacking in strategy as well as substance.    They won’t cut defense – clearly required to solve this problem unless you raise taxes which as they correctly note brings a host of other problems into the mix.   Defense spending is so high it’s become counterproductive, creating blowback and international tension which is mostly a function of our own reckless big spending in hostile territory.

One does not have to be an isolationist to see that it’s time for a much more strategic spending focus.   Troops can be paid well and protected – these portions need no cuts, but operations and maintenance budgets in each of the services are where the big money lies, and where the big cuts won’t create trouble for policy or troops.

The solution is pretty obvious to many of us out here in the real world, where two things are crystal clear:   1.  Entitlements are out of control.  The prosperity the USA has enjoyed for over a century as the kingpin of the  industrialized world is winding down in favor of spreading the wealth around the globe, especially to the developing countries of China and India.   This prosperity allowed us (and by “us” I mean everybody – from poor to rich) to enjoy health, welfare, education, and retirement benefits the rest of the world could only dream about.      Liberal middle class folks are whining too much about how they might lose benefits they never paid for – much of this in the form of “defined benefits” where their contributions won’t match their benefit so it’ll have to come from future taxpayers.   Social Security has this problem, but it’s easy to solve by lifting retirement age a few years for those who can afford the wait  OR doing a ” means test”  OR taxing higher income beneficiaries.   If we do nothing the Social Security trust fund will run out in under 20 years according to most estimates.      The fund is actually growing now but demographics in the form of fewer workers and more recipients will soon overwhelm the system.   Unlike a well managed system, Social Security has promised more benefits than incoming payments can support.

Summary:   Simple solution is to cut bloat in the two big ticket items of defense and entitlements.    Problem solved, AAA restored.  DO IT.

Rulers of England


Rulers of England

In honor of the upcoming English Royal Wedding and the fact I’m watching “The Tudors” on Netflix right now, I thought it would be fun to post a list of the rulers of England.

This is a list of the generally recognized kings and queens of England from 1066 to the present day.

Norman Kings:

William I  (1066-1087)
William II  (1087-1100)
Henry I    (1100-1135)
Stephen   (1135-1154)

Plantagenets

Henry II (1154-1189)
Richard I (Richard the Lion-Hearted) (1189-1199)
John (1199-1216)
Henry III (1216-1272)
Edward I (1272-1307)
Edward II (1307-1327)
Edward III (1327-1377)
Richard II (1377-1399)

House of Lancaster

Henry IV (1399-1413)
Henry V (1413-1422)
Henry VI (1422-1461)

House of York

Edward IV (1461-1483)
Edward V (April-June 1483)
Richard III (1483-1485)

Tudors

Henry VII (1485-1509)
Henry VIII (1509-1547)
Edward VI (1547-1553)
Mary (1553-1558)
Elizabeth (1558-1603)

Stuarts

James I (1603-1625)
Charles I (1625-1649)

1649-1660 – Commonwelath Interregnum: England is briefly ruled by Parliament.  Oliver Cromwell and son Richard Cromwell  are the “Lord Protectors of the Commonwealth”.  This time is often referred to as “the Protectorate”

Stuarts Restored to the Crown in 1660

Charles II (1660-1685)
James II (1685-1688)

The Bloodless Revolution  1688.  Also known as “The Glorious Revolution”.

William (of Orange) and Mary (1689-1702)
Anne (1702-1714)

Hanovers

George I (1714-1727)
George II (1727-1760)
George III (1760-1820)
George IV (1820-1830)
William IV (1830-1837)
Victoria (1837-1901)

Saxe-Coburg-Gotha

Edward VII (1901-1910)

Windsors (George V-Elizabeth II)
(George V changed family name Wettin to Windsor)

George V (1910-1936)
Edward VIII (1936)
George VI (1936-1952)
Elizabeth II (1952- )

Yes, of course there is a fancy website for the upcoming Royal Wedding between Prince William and Catherine Middleton.  It is the Royal Wedding website.

Stop calling me a climate skeptic just because I don’t believe in alarmism!


*scroll DOWN to skip to the summary*

I’m REALLY getting tired of so many friends and family calling me a global warming skeptic because 1. I am NOT a global warming skeptic and 2.  It distracts from the important debate over warming which is how much it will impact our lives.    There are really only two kinds of Global Warming Skeptics.  The first challenge the fact that the earth, on average, has been warming up a bit.   These folks are generally just stupid or stupidly adhering to the rants of people who are stupid, like Glenn Beck.    The earth is, on average over the last century, warming up.      Not much mind you – most estimates put the warming in the range of a degree C over the last century,  but clearly the earth is warming up a bit.

There is a second kind of global warming skeptic who believes that humans are not the cause of the observed warming.    FYI my misguided friends …  I am NOT in that camp either!     However a lot of bright folks are in that camp and are often scientifically challenging the idea that the observed warming of the last century is caused by human generated greenhouse gasses  or “GHCs”.   CO2 is usually cited as the main GHC culprit but there are several others like methane that are likely to play a role in observed warming.   GHCs are considered the main cause of the small observed warming if, like me, you believe the warming is caused by human activity.    So, I’m not THAT kind of skeptic either!   Some excellent skeptical discussion of warming is at  Climate Audit, the smartest of the “skeptic” blogs, and the counterpoint to Real Climate, the smartest of the blogs that discuss the science behind global warming.   Several key players in the Climate Debate post at RealClimate, many are distinuished NASA scientists.    I’d urge caution interpreting information from other places and even from these “very smart” blogs.   The comments at all blogs tend to be much more biased (often to the point of blatant stupidity) than the posts, which even at advocacy blogs are often somewhat informative  if you keep away from the personal or ego-driven junk.

Many blogs in the warming discussion take the form of advocating either for alarmism or skepticism rather than trying to review the science and the logical actions suggested by that science.   I’m particularly not fond of Joe Romm’s ridiculous  “Climate Progress” which is mostly a constant attack on even well-informed skepticism and dissent from the climate alarmist “party line”.   He seems to immediately ban  even well reasoned dissenters from the comments, leaving … a fools pool of alarmist nonsense and political advocacy.     Anthony Watts “Watts Up With That” is, IMHO, smarter and far more balanced than Climate Progress but is still pretty darn “skeptical”, tending to feature information that supports a skeptical view rather than promoting a more balanced perspective.

Summary:   I AM NOT A DAMN Climate SKEPTIC! However I am not worried much about global warming.  It’s impact so far has been trivial and it appears it will remain trivial, especially when we compare the likely impacts with current ongoing catastrophic conditions in much of the developing world, where water, disease, and poverty run rampant.   Let’s fix that stuff first, since we can actually have an impact in that arena, and fast.

P.S.  No, I have NOT changed my view about this, you just weren’t listening …   See?

Never attribute to conspiracy that which can be adequately explained by stupidity


A clever but mildly alarming cartoon movie is making it’s viral rounds on the interwebs.  I think it’s a Tea Party hit piece.   My son asked my to watch and comment.   As usual, you get more than you asked for when you ask me to do that.   Like Mike Moore movies it’s a garden path of some honest and good points mixed in with exaggerations and half-truths, leading to unsupported and questionable conclusions.

The most alarming is how the film advocates violence against public servants.  This is intolerable, and the makers of this kind of film should be ashamed that they abuse their right to free speech to incite people to violent acts against people they have unfairly villified.

The “film”  http://www.youtube.com/user/theamericandreamfilm#p/u/1/kx7HDTDDopA

No.  No Conspiracy. But the misleading notions are buried in several good points and a clever simplification of the systems that drive our remarkable, successful economy. Have you noticed your lifestyle lately? Where do you *actually see* evidence of the claimed “jackboot” of evil corrupt bankers? This is, FYI, a tea party hit piece and I think it’s support of violence against people is very alarming.

Interestingly many right and left wing folks will probably like this piece even though they hold opposite views of how the economy should and does work. Both think the sinister, poorly defined super rich “bad guys” are screwing it up for all us regular folks when in fact, like it or not, “we’re all in this together”.

Good points: Debt is very dangerous and it’s getting passed to your generation at an alarming rate. But not by bankers, it’s by … umm… your parents aka “me and mom” and their accomplices, namely your friend’s parents and everybody else including you. This is in the form of massive government borrowing to sustain massive Government spending, mostly on only TWO things. Military (US spend is half the global total) and “entitlements” like social security and govt health care programs. Another growing expense and implied (good) point in the film is that we pay huge and growing *interest* on this massive debt.

However lost in the cartoon’s simplicity is the complexity of money printing, inflation, and how the Federal Reserve, under Bernanke’s brilliant guidance, appears to have prevented a global economic meltdown. It’s odd to me they are raising alarms about things that worked, like the coordination of the global banking systems to prevent catastrophe. A global depression would have crushed the hopes and dreams of *billions of people* and this has not happened. Rather we’ve had some troubles but nothing catastrophic. Many believe this is because both Bush and Obama’s monetary policies under Paulson, Bernanke, and Geithner have been excellent, even brilliant, and effective in creating a “soft landing” for a troubled, overheated global economy. You can’t focus on the economic slowdown without also noting the huge surge in productivity and goods and wealth that led up to the trouble. Many of us were … in short … living too large and unsustainably. That led to trouble and the national and global economies are still fragile and debt is a huge concern. On that the film is correct in my view.

The real “Federal Banking System” story:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Federal_Reserve_System

The real “Red Shield” story:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rothschild_family

How much debt? YIKES!
http://www.usdebtclock.org/

Point ONE: Note how there are many countries without the strong banking and taxation systems this piece says are destroying our country. Examples abound, some are: Sudan, North Korea, Pakistan. I’d prefer living here… wouldn’t you? Both right and left wing propaganda folks don’t like real world examples of the things they advocate because the complexities often get in the way of what seem like nice clean relationships.

Point TWO: Why do so many powerful-but-not-rich-non-bankers work so hard to keep the system working? e.g. Bernanke, Obama, Gheitner are the *architects* of the systema and the policies the film hates. All these guys could make 10x current salaries outside of Government. They are super smart and competent and they believe the system serves the public good. In general, it does. Bill Gates is a beneficiary of the system as well as an architect of the new economy.
He’s wealthier than most *groups* of “Red Shield” folks, but runs a massive charity for extremely poor. They fight hard to bring our system to others, not to kill the goose that keeps laying the golden eggs. Or let’s take a look at a real live “rich banking” guy. Wells Fargo’s biggest owner Warren Buffett. Richest human in 2008, second in 2009, third now. What’s he doing with all that money he took from “Pile” in the film? Giving over 95% of his wealth it to the world’s poorest people and another few percent to other charities. Pretty greedy, eh?

Point THREE: What exactly is the film advocating as a solution? Correct to challenge us to spend less, but where is the call to massively cut defense, effectively required to balance the US budget? Tea Party is very much hypocritical on this point, thinking that govt waste does not extend to military, and also that you can cut significantly by cutting things like welfare. Both these ideas are simply foolish and naive. Defense is huge and therefore must be cut to cut the deficit and welfare is too small to matter much, cut or not.

Summary (the film would actually agree with much of this I think, but does not support the good news about USA in the film – they are fearmongering to try to get Tea Party people elected): There are problems but the US economic experiment remains the most successful in history and remains a powerful example of how to bring prosperity to hundreds of millions mostly within a framework of freedom and fairness. For every legitimate criticism (and there are many), there are many positive aspects to the entrepreneurial innovation and personal responsibility model. Let’s keep it.