Archive for March, 2012

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Creative Destruction for Goldman Sachs

March 14, 2012

cMust read: Why I am leaving Goldman Sachs

Greg Smith, Goldman Sachs executive director and head of the firm’s United States equity derivatives business in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, has written a stinging indictment of the “culture” at Goldman Sachs. Refusing to learn any lessons from the recent derivatives crash, Goldman continues to think about its own profits rather than making money for its customers. This should be a wake up call for any of these customers who are in denial about Goldman’s “interests.”

Once again this represents a deep misunderstanding of “capitalist reality” by so-called capitalists. Where previously the error was in misunderstanding “spread the risk” to mean “give everyone a big piece of risk,” now the twisting of the old saw “what is good for General Motors is good for America” into “what is good for Goldman …” is based on the mistaken notion that the two companies stand for the same thing. Now, I don’t actually believe the first claim to be actually fully true, but I will take the intentions of that group of General Motors managers over that described by Smith at Goldman. When Adam Smith spoke of “self-interest” he did not mean “selfish interest.” See here. The recent government support for the auto industry has shown us how much larger “auto interests” are than just the companies themselves. “General Motors” in this sense includes the UAW. It includes the middle class jobs that result in retail sales, housing sales, state and federal tax revenue, et al. Virtual circles of capitalism. The Goldman approach only creates business cycles in which only Goldman appears to win short-term. Profit, profit, profit! forgets the word has other meanings. Profit from your mistakes means learning not gaming the system.

The Cluetrain Manifesto taught us that “markets are conversations.” I hope this is the beginning of a larger conversation that results in a market correction for Goldman. There can after all be an upside to “creative destruction” after all!

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Reflections on coverage of Super Tuesday

March 9, 2012

There seemed to be genuine confusion this week about the fact that “Super Tuesday” did not resolve the Republican Presidential race. History, we are told, tells us that this is usually not the case. As I have said before, history tells us nothing–it has no mouth. History is, or at least should be, a perspective rather than a series of answers. That perspective also tells us that the candidates are different, and indeed so is “Super Tuesday.” Far fewer states took to the polls. This alone should stop us from declaiming historical facts about this political season.
Of course much time is given to discussing these mitigating facts. It just seems like they don’t listen to their own discussion. They can discuss the lack of parallels between the Obama/Clinton primary and the current one, but they then ignore that to ask why this is so different. Might it not be the same? It is of course never the same. Even when historians talk of cycles they speak of broad tendencies not exact patterns. The human brain is attracted to patterns. This should not be confused with their existence or helpfulness. This is not to say that we should deny or ignore our brains. We just shouldn’t take them quite as seriously as we do.
History should represent a approach toward understanding: Dilthey’s “verstehen.” This means not just positive assertions about patterns, but negative assertions about such patterns. Noting the exceptions is just as important as pointing out general trends. I often hear this practiced in general discussion, but almost never when attempting to create historical perspective. Why? Perhaps because we teach history is such a horrid and misleading manner. History is not a Jack Webb “just the facts” subject.
In this primary it doesn’t help to have a professional historian spouting so many anti-historical “truths.” I understand the Newt’s degree is not in American history, but still. Too much of what he says is just plain wrong. To the degree he has historical understanding, he refuses to let us in on it. But then almost all of his writing on American history literally is fiction. What-if historical fiction is a legitimate book category, it just isn’t helpful in advancing the cause of historical understanding. Its relationship to Jack Webb is more that he was an actor than a concern with the facts.

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Work as capital

March 1, 2012

I have been thinking about the nature of work a great deal lately. Perhaps because I am not doing any. It seems to me that one of the primary problems capitalist ideology has at the moment is a deep misunderstanding of the nature of work. Generally labor is seen as a business expense: the largest single expense that any company faces. This is simply incorrect. In exchanging labor for money the laborer more correctly gives the “capitalist” capital and receives a monetary settlement. By definition the laborer gives more capital than they receive. Labor productivity creates the extra value that is the actual basis of all business. You can have all the capital and product ideas you need, but nothing happens without labor. Or at least nothing truly productive. Finance is a world of its own. Certainly this is not restricted to the labor part of a business but extends throughout the “human capital” of the organization. Only raw materials are free of this type of capital, and strictly speaking this is also false since it has to be brought to a factory and can be done so only through human developed means. It is all about people!

Now the truly remarkable thing about this exchange of labor for money is that it also represents the basis of the other side of market economics: customers. Without labor exchange for cash there would be no customers for products. Thus labor dynamically creates value on both sides of the economic equation. Capitalism doesn’t work when labor is limited. Hmmmm Could this have anything to do with the economic realities of the moment. In response to to the housing bubble crash, businesses immediately started laying off labor–and the recession began. You get what you wish for. By treating labor as an expense, business sheds itself of its most dynamic capital and declines.

Economics is called the dismal science because it is insanely misdirected. It is not a science. It cannot be a science. It is only about people. It is only about psychology, and psychology is in worse shape than economics. This is of course overstated. They are only extremely spotty subjects marred by their deep misunderstanding of humanity. There are exceptions. Do you know whom they are??