Thursday, November 28, 2013

Friday, November 22, 2013

Bye American

My travels have taken me to various parts of Europe recently. On practically every trip, at some stage in a lighter moment of conversation, someone will mention the NSA and wonder aloud 'are they listening to us'? It always gets a laugh.

Still, if I was an American selling to Europe, I'd be worried. Bruce Schneier is:
Buy American doesn’t sell well anymore because it means give a copy to the NSA.
Pity they didn't listen to George Washington:
The spirit of encroachment tends to consolidate the powers of all departments in one, and thus to create, whatever the form of government, a real despotism.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013


Belatedly: happy International Men's Day to my fellow minority of the population. IMD is a further sign of progress towards a better, post-feminist relationship between the sexes.

And if you don't believe me, here's a quote from my favourite lesbian feminist, Camille Paglia:
Feminism is dead. The movement is absolutely dead. The women’s movement tried to suppress dissident voices for way too long. There’s no room for dissent. It’s just like Mean Girls. If they had listened to me they could have gotten the ship steered in the right direction. My wing of feminism—the pro-sex wing—was silenced. I was practically lynched for endorsing The Rolling Stones. Susan Faludi is still saying I’m not a feminist. Who made her pope? Feminist ideology is like a new religion for a lot of neurotic women. You can’t talk to them about anything.

Thursday, November 14, 2013


Poor old Minister for Health James Reilly. His latest call to health insurers to not pass on the Government's increased health levy to customers smacks of Obamacare and its many woes.

But there's a solution, he can always take a leaf out of Colorado's advertising campaign for Obamacare - and no, these are not from The Onion:

Apart from signaling another downward spiral in the demise of Western Civilization, the ads also remind us that young people are the useful idiots of community-rated health insurance schemes such as we have in Ireland. Hence the earnest - you might even say, desperate - efforts to sign up young people to Obamacare: like all such Ponzi schemes, it can only keep going if new waves of gullible believers contribute to the scheme.

I wish the Minister the best of luck with his pleading.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Blowing Bubbles

Quote of the day from John Hussman:
The problem with bubbles is that they force one to decide whether to look like an idiot before the peak, or an idiot after the peak.
Meanwhile, Constantin sees a tech bubble.

They're both right of course.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Fooled by Logic

It's a celebrity deathmatch: the philosopher versus the physicist. The former is Nassim Taleb (who has featured on this blog a few times), the latter is new (to me): Didier Sornette. Sornette's work at the Financial Crisis Observatory applies log-periodic power laws (LPPL) to prices, including stock market indicators. Bottom line: Sornette says you can predict 'black swans', Taleb says you can't.

John Hussman has applied LPPL to the S&P 500 and gets this:

Of course, the proof is in the pudding: how good is LPPL at predicting stocks? On September 27th Sornette called a peak in the Tesla stock price (NASDAQ: TSLA) using an LPPL indicator. Sure enough, TSLA peaked on September 30th, and as of yesterday stood at 30% below its peak.

It looks like 2014 is going to start with a different kind of hangover...

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Soft Capital

I was part of a fascinating discussion last night about Ireland's agenda for its ageing population. There were lots of inspiring ideas and examples of how local communities - involving private and public partnerships - are making a real difference to the lives of older people.

But the underlying problem remains. It's the Ponzinomics at the heart of our pension provisions in Ireland (and in the West generally for that matter). The problem is growth - or rather, the lack of it. As I explained last night, in the absence of growth then pay-as-you-go welfare and pension systems, as well as defined benefit pension systems become Ponzi schemes, even if that was never the intention. The first in get the most, the last in get... nothing.

Charles Hugh-Smith has noted the same problem in the United States: not only do we not have enough growth, we don't have enough workers. I thought I'd check the situation in Ireland in terms of the numbers in jobs versus those retired from work. I created the chart below using the CSO's Quarterly National Household Survey data. It's not a pretty picture:

Back in Q1 1998 - when the QNHS started - there were 5.5 workers for every one person retired from work. That numbered soared to 7 workers per retiree in Q1 2007. Fast forward to Q1 2013 and the number is... 4.5 workers per retiree. Lower than the level fifteen years ago. The reason is obvious: the numbers in work have fallen back to their level in 2003, although they've picked up a little in the last quarter. The numbers retired from work, on the other hand, have risen inexorably without little interruption over the same period. And they don't look like falling any time soon.

A return to growth will, other things being equal, create jobs, thereby improving the ratio. Though probably not jobs for the unemployed - their prospects deteriorate as they get older and remain unemployed for longer, according to today's Central Bank analyses.

The solution appears 'simple' enough: raise the retirement age, raise (mandatory) pension contributions, and reduce the value of state pensions. Though politically it's a tad more complicated than that.

Nevertheless, if we have entered an era of low/no growth for the foreseeable future (and today's interest rate cut by the ECB is more-or-less an admission that things won't be getting better any time soon), we will have to rethink how we deal with an ageing population.

As I see it, we need to invest now in the 'soft capital' of networks, communities, societies, clubs, alternative currencies and public/voluntary partnerships that will prove resilient when the Ponzi scheme collapses - as all eventually do. Who knows, though we might be economically poorer in the future, we might also be emotionally, relationally and spiritually richer if we invest in the soft capital now to see us through the demise of financialized capital in the years ahead.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Eucharistic Summit

The recent Web Summit in Dublin had all the fervor of a Eucharistic Congress about it - a Congress for nerds. Visiting dignitaries and their entourages called on us to hear the good news, to renew our faith and go forth and convert doubters and unbelievers to the one, true religion digital future. Meanwhile, our politicians fell over themselves to share the altar stage with our esteemed visitors.

Okay, tongue out of cheek. As it happens I'm a big fan and user of digital technology, so I suppose that makes me a member of the same congregation - though more of the a la carte persuasion. Elon Musk played the part of the Papal Legate last week, calling on us to open our hearts to the needy engineering students from around the world.

The belief in progress that drives modern society - enabled by technology - is indeed a form of religion. The West's secular faith provides all the necessary requirements of a religion, i.e.: a creed (what we believe); a code (how we should behave); a community of fellow believers (to which we belong 'religare'); and a cult (of practices to reinforce our faith from time-to-time). Our creed is one which believes progress will lead us to a better future. For as Albert Camus once observed: 'the future is last transcendent value for men without God'.

But there are still many unbelievers out there - techno-atheists, you might say. John Michael Greer recently observed that:
The future... is not going to be a linear extrapolation from the present... or a simple rehash of the past. The future is a foreign country, and things are different there. That realization is the specter that haunts contemporary industrial society. For all our civilization’s vaunted openness to change, the only changes most people nowadays are willing to contemplate are those that take us further in the direction we’re already going. We’ve got fast transportation today, so there has to be something even faster tomorrow—that’s basically the justification Elon Musk gave for the Hyperloop, his own venture into antiquated futurism; we’ve got the internet today, so we’ve got to have some kind of uber-internet tomorrow. 

But talking about a future very different to the present - rather than just one that's 'bigger/faster/better' - is hard. It doesn't lend itself to reassuring soundbites, never mind sermons. There is something very convincing about the true believer, which is why we like listening to them. Richard Watson explains why:
As for whom or what gets listened to about the future, the answer appears to be that we believe people that look confident and seem to know what they are talking about – and this generally means experts in suits that use the word “Will” a lot and elude to a professional qualification or affiliation. In contrast, we tend to ignore the ideas of independent individuals that look a bit messy, appear unsure of themselves and use really confusing words like “Might” or “Could.”
Most religions benefit from a little bit of 'might' as well as 'will' from time-to-time. Our faith in progress will undoubtedly undergo its own moments of doubt and uncertainty - it already is - though I'm sure we'll enjoy a few more visits to the Eucharistic Summit before we lose it entirely...

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