Tag Archives: economics

The New Masters of Capital – American Bond Rating Agencies and the Politics of Creditworthiness by Timothy J. Sinclair

A journey into a cavern of capitalism that is rarely explored.


The New Masters of Capital – Sinclair

The assessment of financial risk in society evolves. In this volume, one gets a guide to the inner working and evolution of Moody’s, Fitch and Standard & Poors. Yet, it is vastly more than that.

As Associate Professor of International Political Economy at the University of Warwick, Sinclair’s methodology and commentary are simply magnificent. With such a paucity of books authored on this subject, I searched and selected this volume. I am very glad I did.

The honesty that guides the author’s analysis is refreshing:

Rating, as it exists today, is not rocket science. It attempts to meld quantitative and qualitative variables that are not commensurate and therefore cannot be placed into an equation. It is crucial to understand this point for much of the commentary in the financial media passes over the inherent subjectivity of bond rating.  Ratings are not deducible. They reflect the application of rules of thumb. What follows from this observation is that ratings are judgments – the realization that ratings are actually more contestable than they may appear.” (emphasis is mine. p. 176).

In a society where quantitative modeling seems to lead to “leaving it to the experts” – the realization that subjectivity in risk assessment remains an all too often overlooked element within this reality. Sinclair’s chapter on Blown Calls (and the footnotes therein) are tangible evidence of this fact.

The chapter entitled “Unconscious Power” was absolutely fascinating. The ever-increasing global power that these entities exercise over humanity is an awareness that did not go unnoticed by this reader.

This book is a gem, crafted by an incredibly capable and insightful scholar. Timothy J. Sinclair is a superb guide.

I HIGHLY recommend it.




The Many Panics of 1837: People, Politics, and the Creation of a Transatlantic Financial Crisis by Jessica M. Lepler

Superb! Period!


Far too many financial histories inhabit the shelves and stacks that have one thing in common: an intellectual agenda in search of support. This work is a uniquely refreshing exception. It is a work that distinctly deserves the scholarly recognition it has received – from many, diverse audiences.

Lepler Many Panics

I enjoy reading in this subject area. This particular work was delicious for me for a myriad of reasons. Here are a few:

1. Linguistics – Lepler’s appreciation for the words, terms and phrases people used to describe their life experience was precious to me. It is too often overlooked by other authors.

2. The sheer depth and breadth of Lepler’s research was, to say the least, unique and vividly rewarding for her readers.

3. Lepler’s appreciation for the impact of “culture” was quite apparent – again and again – enlightening.

4. AGAIN – Far too many authors who write financial histories seem to have a thesis that they attempt to validate via the introduction of a supporting narrative – such is the human penchant to “be right” and get at “the truth.” Lepler’s methodology and multi-dimensional approach to the issue of “many” panics was terribly refreshing.

5. It was a pleasure to read a financial history book that was authored by a bonafide historian vs. an economist or a political hack with an agenda. The author’s objective dedication to her scholarly craft was apparent on every page.

6. The author’s critiques of other works were, in my opinion, “spot on.” I was grateful for the courage to say what she wrote.

7. I adored the characters brought to life. It made the book fascinating.

8. Lepler’s appreciation for epistemology was apparent throughout.

9. The author’s contributions from the “phrenology folks” were priceless.

10. Lepler’s focus on the impact of communication (or lack thereof) between persons, media outlets of the day, groups and organizations (and governments) is a fundamentally important dimension of the author’s contribution.

As Lepler states on page 253: “Even when economic events seem beyond the control of any individual, the shaping of their meaning remains within our grasp.” – How marvelously this work remained true to this statement – in every sense of the phrase.

My edition of the “Many Panics” by Jessica M. Lepler is marked up like a child writing with crayon on a kitchen wall. This book is a treasure for me and I have learned to become a better researcher and story teller because of it. It is simply VERY rare to have the privilege to devour and digest such a magnificent work. I sincerely hope that Lepler’s dedication to a tireless methodological approach for source documents will serve to inspire other historians and writers – and students – as this work inspired me. This work will occupy a prominent position in my personal library. I will refer to it quite often.



Economiasma – China & The U.S. Recovery – A Letter to Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping

Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping has called for “new type of relationship between major countries.” I agree. Here’s my Weekly Whiff of Economic $cents:

What seems to be missing from the U.S,=China dialog is the voice of the American consumer. I happen to be one – so – I decided to write the following letter to Xi Jinping:

Dear Mr. Vice President.

Our most sincere congratulations on your rise to the top – as we understand you shall soon be the President of China.

Our Dr. Henry Kissinger, whom you had supper with earlier this week, suggested that you view “the stability of the  China-U.S. as the seminal issue facing both parties” (forgive me…I’m paraphrasing Dr. Kissinger’s interview with Charlie Rose today). We would like you to know we are in complete agreement with you. Furthermore, as American consumers who buy the bulk of the products manufactured by China, we have a suggestion. Here ya go:

1. A healthy, balanced relationship involves give and take – withdrawals and deposits. Let’s be honest – we need each other. China’s health depends upon America’s health – and vice-versa. If the American consumers capacity to buy the goods China manufactures is diminished – China gets hurt.

2. The American consumer’s capacity to buy Chinese manufactured goods has diminished. This is primarily due the way our government used the funds (U.S. treasuries you purchased) to bail out the big banks – yet kept American consumers on the hook for inflated home mortgage balances when the real estate valuations collapsed. By the way, most American consumers don’t have a sub-prime mortgage – no matter what you’ve read. The health and confidence of the American consumer are in the long-term strategic best interests of China.

3. Imagine how you might feel if you were obligated pay a mortgage balance say around $200,000 – when the current value is $100,000. In America, we call this an “air ball.” Imagine (one more time) if American consumers had their mortgage note amounts reduced to the current appraised value of their primary personal residence…re-amortized…to produce market-value mortgage obligations – with monthly payments reduced accordingly — do you realize how this would tangibly recapitalize the American consumer? We American consumers would have a whole heck of a lot more discretionary income – meaning – money to maintain our increase our appetite for Chinese manufactured goods!!! Good for China and hood for the U.S. right? Well, hang on a minute…

4. There’s NO WAY the U.S. has the capital to support this type of across the board revaluation the American consumers so desperately deserve. Furthermore, if we asked our banks to take these write-downs, they’d be insolvent and we would just be creating another problem. So, we have come to you – for a little give and take – Like I said above, “Let’s be honest – we need each other.” We need China’s help. China has made a ton of money off the U.S. over the past several decades… a vastly greater sum than the U.S. side of the relationship selling to China. Here’s how we suggest you help us out:

A. For the U.S. $4.5 trillion in U.S. debt currently held by China, we need you to allow the U.S. to stop paying interest on $3 trillion for 20 years.

B. Each month (if that’s how we pay China interest on U.S. Treasuries you hold) the U.S. government will set aside the monthly interest payment on the $3 trillion to fund the Chinese American Recapitalization Treaty (CART). We’ll use this fund to fund the principal write-downs of the American consumer mortgages held by our banks. Yeah, we know…American banks get another good deal. Actually, it’s China and America working together to arrange a solution that will benefit BOTH countries.

C. Oh yeah, the American banks will write down all their mortgages to current appraised value – even if they’re Freddie, Fannie or FHA backed loans…Each bank will create a (CART) account whose total will be the cumulative sum of the American consumer mortgages they write-down to current appraised value. The U.S. government will let them hold this off-balance sheet. Every month, the interest reserve will be distributed pro-rata to each bank’s CART account – repaying the balance in the Cart over the 10 year term.

This is the solution that will benefit both of our countries – although no politician in the U.S. has the courage to talk with you about this. Right now, we have the CART before the horse in this country. We need your help to rearrange this backward arrangement that continues to degrade the financial wherewithal of China’s most important customer – The American Consumer.

With a recapitalized American consumer, vastly increasing discretionary income in the U.S. – unemployment and productivity levels will rebound much more rapidly. U.S. tax revenues will increase. We will commit as a nation,  that we will NOT run a budget deficit over the next 20 years either. We’ll approve a constitutional amendment declaring the same. Hey, we may have to borrow a few billion bucks as this program – and its positive impacts – work their way throughout our economic system.

P.S. – Imagine the goodwill China would create around the globe with a strategic move like this! Finally, you can even suggest that this was “your idea” because no elected official in this country is capable of imagining multilateral solutions to clearly global economic problems.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Your Customer

Bill “The American Consumer” Dahl

Economiasma – My Weekly Whiff of Economic $cents





Economiasma – January 18, 2012 by Bill Dahl


We have not seen—and don’t expect—a broad deterioration in mortgage credit quality,” the Fed staff said in a June 2006 report to policy makers. (excerpt from WSJ Article here).

“An inability to imagine how an outcome  might come about leaves you convinced that it will not happen.”(1)

(1) Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman – Farrar, Straus and Giroux NY,NY Copyright (c) 2012 by Daniel Kahneman, p. 331.

Economiasma – A Weekly Whiff of Economic Scents – The River’s Backed Up – December 13, 2011 – by Bill Dahl

Here’s my Weekly Whiff of Economic $cents for December 12, 2011:

Pulitzer Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz has written in Freefall: America, Free Markets, And The Sinking of The World Economy:

 “This book is about a battle of ideas, about the ideas that led to the failed policies that precipitated the crisis and about the lessons that we take away from it. In time, every crisis ends. But no crisis, especially one of this severity, passes without leaving a legacy. “(p.xii). (emphasis is mine)

As Stephen Johnson says in The Ghost Map:

“The river of intellectual progress is not defined purely by the steady flow of good ideas begetting better ones; it follows the topography that has been carved out for it by external factors. Sometimes that topography throws up so many barricades that the river backs up for a while.” P. 135

I lived in Washington State on May 18th 1980 and distinctly recall the eruption of Mt. St. Helens that morning. The debris laden mudflows and caused both forks of the Toutle River to become raging torrents carrying fallen timber like toothpicks and lifted homes from their foundations – smashing them into one of the few remaining bridges left temporarily in tact.

Clearly, the river of economic ideology  is raging and backing up. There are so many ideas floating around, battling to become the assemblage of strategic economic policy (both globally and domestically) – that what appears to be a breakthrough of the logjam one week – becomes a discarded pile of rubbish beside the swollen banks of the torrent the next.

History is littered with the devastation of comparable, cataclysmic economic events….many of which, just like Mt. St. Helens – were not predictable in terms of timing and scope. Yet, I am reminded that the resolution of these matters is a process, not an event. Of course, we humans have the penchant to believe that the current economic challenges that occur during our lifetimes are both unique and unprecedented.

Ideas about what to do about debt, deficits, taxes, R&D, stimulus, Medicare, immigration reform, defense, budgets, social services, the disabled, Social Security, healthcare, Medicare, fiscal policy – unemployment, homelessness, hunger — all currently creating the logjam – clogging the flow 0f the river of economic progress. Here’s an insight from last week to throw onto the pile:

The OECD – Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development  released a report last week measuring tax revenue as a percentage of GDP.  The United States ranked 27th out of the 30 nations examined. In the U.S., taxes are currently the lowest since the early 1950s.

Hmmm…which ideas will break free from the logjam and unleash the flow of employment, certainty, trust and progress that we so desperately require? During the next several weeks, I will be looking at the ideas of thought leaders about how truly constructive ideas come together to form breakthroughs – when the River’s Backed Up.

This week, I’ll leave you with two thoughts from author and thought leader Stephen Johnson:

“Part of coming up with a good idea is discovering what those spare parts are, and ensuring that you’re not just recycling the same old ingredients.” (p.42)

The River’s Backed Up – I just have the sense that recycling the same old ingredients – just ain’t gonna cut it. If we continue on that course, the outcome may be a history for this period where the folks who write it well after we’re gone characterize this historical epoch akin to Stephen Johnson’s observation in his work, The Ghost Map:

“But the blind spots on the map, the dark continents of error and prejudice, carry their own mystery as well. How could so many intelligent people be so grievously wrong for such an extended period of time? (emphasis is mine – p.15)

Economiasma – Return To Sender – November 28th 2011 – by Bill Dahl

Here’s my Weekly Whiff of Economic $cents for November 28, 2011:

It’s that time of year….for the last two weeks our snail mailbox has bulged with junk mail from every imaginable (and unimaginable) source. Our digital in boxes are being pounded hourly by every retailer on Earth (Earlier today, my wife had 535 emails in her in-box having been away from her laptop for 10 days). Mail…coming at us from every conceivable source and direction. Heck, we’ve never heard of most of these folks that seem to have our addresses. The mail has become burdensome – a nuisance – a pest. Actually, it’s become primary source of fodder for our recycling bin. It’s in the spirit of recycling ideas that I write today.

You won’t find me in agreement with columnist George Will very often. However, his November 25, 2011 op-ed in the Washington Post is an exception. It seems to me that although the U.S. Congress cannot agree about basically anything that might translate into a comprehensive action agenda for moving this country forward, perhaps we’re  going to forced to chisel out one piece of a solution at a time. Re-engineering the U.S. Postal Service may be a great place to start.

As Will points out in his column, “USPS lost $5.1 billion in the latest fiscal year — after serious cost-cutting. Total 2012 losses may exceed $14 billion, a figure larger than the budgets of 35 states. “

Wow! I mean can you agree that this is unacceptable? If the USPS was a private company, there would be a horde of management consultant types walking around the place examining both the internal operations and the external reality to determine the viability of this outfit. Again, assuming the USPS was a private company, the management consultants would likely recommend one or more of the following:

a. Sell the entire USPS operation to an amalgam of private equity funds.

b. Arrange an immediate injection of very expensive capital.

c. Trim the labor force substantially (see Will’s column – Labor costs at USPS are  at 80% of overall costs.

d. Substantially reduce the daily operational requirements of the enterprise (Translation: reduce the number of days mail is delivered in America).

e. Identify strategic partners who might be willing to take the risk of doing certain aspects of the USPS business model profitably.

f. File a Chapter 11 bankruptcy petition to reorganize the whole bag of mail.

From where we sit in our family, we would be fine with mail delivery once a week. Frankly, we’d even go pick it up at a location within a reasonable proximity. We have to go to a USPS location to obtain the postage for outgoing packages etc.

You see, oftentimes, moving forward  requires leaving something behind. It may initially seem like sacrifice, feel strange, uncertain or even uncomfortable. Change is like that. It contains each of the aforementioned dimensions.

Are you willing to sacrifice to move forward together as a nation…or is your commitment to the future of our country just a bag of hot air? Change that involves a sacrifice by all is a notion that will carry the mail for this country. Let’s discard all our unique notions about the inconveniences we may suffer from. This is simply one opportunity to come together and leave behind some notions about inconvenience and sacrifice that are now clearly labeled, return to sender.

You can email or snail mail this to your elected representatives. The operating losses are yours – their mine – their ours – our U.S. tax dollars.  After reading this, maybe you might prefer the USPS to return to sender – your portion of the $14 billion dollars they are projected to lose in 2012.

Fat chance…you can throw that last one in your recycle bin.