Disclaimer

Disclaimer. After nearly 40 years managing money for some of the largest life offices and investment managers in the world, I think I have something to offer. These days I'm retired, and I can't by law give you advice. I do make mistakes, but I try hard to do my analysis thoroughly, and to make sure my data are correct. Remember: the unexpected sometimes happens. The expected does too, but all too often it takes longer than you thought it would.

The Goddess of Markets punishes (eventually) greed, folly, laziness and arrogance. No matter how many years you've served Her. Take care. Be humble. And don't blame me.

BTW, clicking on most charts will produce the original-sized, i.e., bigger version.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Categorising the poor

An intriguing historical analysis:

The moral beliefs that drove both the harsh treatment of vagrants in the 16th century and the unintended cruelty of the Victorian workhouse system persist to this day.
The idea that “work must pay” encourages politicians to make claiming benefits extremely difficult for the unemployed and – more worryingly – for those who are unable to work due to illness or infirmity, just as in Victorian times, workhouse conditions were made deliberately harsh to discourage people from entering them.

Politicians castigate “generational worklessness”, promoting the idea that a tendency to worklessness is somehow inherited, passed on from parents to children. It was this idea that led to the brutal separation of families in the workhouses.

Above all, there remains a strong belief in the moral virtue of work. Work is indeed important for human dignity, so making it possible for people to work is important: but in what way mind-numbingly boring, pointless and demeaning work is dignifying and virtuous is hard to imagine. Nonetheless, the idea that people should be forced to do basic work to “earn” their benefits – even if their time might be better spent looking for a job that actually uses their skills - is electorally popular. Underlying this lies the unwarranted assumption that all jobs are intrinsically of value and therefore anyone who turns down work because it is poorly paid, socially useless and utterly boring is lazy. It was this idea that led to workhouse inmates being forced to work long hours in dreary, pointless jobs. Today, we impose benefit sanctions on people who turn down the dreary, pointless jobs we assign to them in the name of “work experience”. Giving it a different name doesn't change its nature. It's the workhouse work ethic all over again.

It is perhaps understandable that we feel angry when we see people we think should be working but aren't. And it is also understandable that when times are hard, we resent paying benefits to those we feel don't deserve them. I suppose the anger that we feel towards those we regard as “scroungers” and “shirkers” will never go away. But categorising the poor is not only difficult – it is harmful, not to the shirkers and scroungers, but to the genuinely deserving. And it is also economically damaging for society as a whole.
ttt

The Workhouse.  Image via Workhouses.org

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Coal price slump

The price of coal is sliding fast (it had a bit of an uptick yesterday when China's PMI came in fractionally stronger than expected, but I doubt that'll last)

Part of the reason is the slowdown in China.  Note that this isn't a cyclical slowdown.  It's a reduction in the trend growth rate.  Since China is the world's largest coal market, obviously that will affect coal prices all  by itself, especially since supply (from Oz and elsewhere) has increased.

But the inexorable march of solar is also having an effect.  The cost of solar power is falling so fast that there are no longer macro-economic consequences for switching from coal-fired to solar electricity.  And coal is so filthy (at least a million killed a year from air pollution) that it now makes sense for new power to be sourced from the sun. China has tripled its target for solar electricity.  You've all seen the pictures of air pollution in Beijing.

So coal is prolly beginning a secular slump in price.


Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Recommending Thrift to the Poor




Oscar Wilde had this to say about it:


The virtues of the poor may be readily admitted, and are much to be regretted. We are often told that the poor are grateful for charity. Some of them are, no doubt, but the best amongst the poor are never grateful. They are ungrateful, discontented, disobedient, and rebellious. They are quite right to be so. Charity they feel to be a ridiculously inadequate mode of partial restitution, or a sentimental dole, usually accompanied by some impertinent attempt on the part of the sentimentalist to tyrannise over their private lives. Why should they be grateful for the crumbs that fall from the rich man’s table? They should be seated at the board, and are beginning to know it.
As for being discontented, a man who would not be discontented with such surroundings and such a low mode of life would be a perfect brute.
Disobedience, in the eyes of any one who has read history, is man’s original virtue. It is through disobedience that progress has been made, through disobedience and through rebellion.
Sometimes the poor are praised for being thrifty. But to recommend thrift to the poor is both grotesque and insulting. It is like advising a man who is starving to eat less. For a town or country labourer to practise thrift would be absolutely immoral.
Man should not be ready to show that he can live like a badly-fed animal. He should decline to live like that, and should either steal or go on the rates, which is considered by many to be a form of stealing.
As for begging, it is safer to beg than to take, but it is finer to take than to beg. No; a poor man who is ungrateful, unthrifty, discontented, and rebellious is probably a real personality, and has much in him. He is at any rate a healthy protest.
As for the virtuous poor, one can pity them, of course, but one cannot possibly admire them. They have made private terms with the enemy and sold their birthright for very bad pottage. They must also be extraordinarily stupid. I can quite understand a man accepting laws that protect private property, and admit of its accumulation, as long as he himself is able under these conditions to realise some form of beautiful and intellectual life. But it is almost incredible to me how a man whose life is marred and made hideous by such laws can possibly acquiesce in their continuance.


Via The Australian Independent Media Network

Sunday, May 4, 2014

US Labour Market Data

Quite strong numbers, especially the fall in the unemployment rate.

[click to get bigger picture; shading shows periods of US recessions]


The chart below shows the same data for just the last few years.  US recovery continues apace.


Poverty rates in the over 65s

Beaten in the OECD only by Korea which doesn't have a welfare state. When I say 'beaten', I'm not being congratulatory.  And who is to bear the burden of the Coalition's fake deficit crisis?  Three guesses.

Chart from Infinite Horizon

[click to get bigger chart]