Risk Rap

Rapping About a World at Risk

Regulation and Social Democracy

Last year during the height of the banking crisis I remember Larry Kudlow stating that the US market has a choice. It could pursue the EU model of high regulated markets producing low consistent returns or the American model of less regulation and volatile cycles of high risk and potentially higher returns. If the sole focus of government was the peace of mind and well being of investors Mr. Kudlow’s observation would be valid. Government however must consider a larger community of stakeholders in its scope of concern. Regulatory oversight, the harmony of capital and labor and the incubation of an economic culture that is favorable to and supportive of SMEs are the critical questions confronting all governments particularly those in developed economies.

The EU’s social democratic economic models embody the best and worst aspects of these issues. The social democratic state attempt to combine entrepreneurial impulses of capitalism with the management and administration of social welfare for all its citizens. Democratically “elected administrators” use the apparatus of the state to facilitate and manage the competing interests of capital and labor, free markets and regulation while seeking to balance an entrepreneurship friendly culture with long term sustainability.

Yesterday a toxic tsunami of aluminum sludge coated 16 square miles of pristine Hungarian countryside. It is a telling example of a severe risk event that confronts modern life. A lassiaz-faire approach to the event is not viable and offers no solace to those harmed by this assault. Communities cannot be asked to suffer a market response that promises to correct the problem of the next instance of this event. The construction of better berms and the implementation redundant protection devises to safeguard against this risk for the future is little compensation to those who were killed, injured and lost property or livelihoods as a result of MAL Zrt poor risk management practices.

Better to suffer a regulatory initiative that is based on an understanding of an economic ecosystem as complex and inhabited by competing interests of diverse stakeholders. The ecosystem including the shareholders of MAL Zrt, residents of the surrounding communities, plant workers (also community residents), small businesses (SME) and down stream farmers making a living on arable land and access to clean water all have a stake, albeit competing, in the safe operation of the plant. The possibility that the toxic sludge may find its way into the Danube poses a threat to the water supply of other eastern European nations. This elevates this catastrophic event to other EU jurisdictions. The inter-dependencies and interconnectedness of the pan-regional and larger global economy requires vigorous regulatory safeguards, mitigation initiatives and enforcement response.

The true cost of this event is potentially staggering. It supersedes the narrow interest and economic value of shareholders rights and capital invested in MAL Zrt. Bad economic behavior exemplified by BP’s Horizon Deepwater failure to install redundant protective devises to keep production costs to a minimum, ended up costing BP shareholders and Gulf Coast stakeholders dearly.

State intervention in markets and the reemergence of managed economies is a reality of the global economy. The “managed economy” of the Peoples Republic of China places western style “free market” economies at a disadvantage. The managers of the PRC efficiently deploy and manage capital, effect trade and market protections and scrupulously manage currency valuation. It has created enormous social wealth for China and has contributed to its rapid rise as a preeminent world power. China’s rise requires better coordination of private capital and government to marshal a competitive market response to the challenges posed by managed economies to free and open markets of western democracies. The massive pools of capital deployed by sovereign wealth funds of oil producing regencies and the growing insurgency and power of underground economic activity also pose significant challenges to the viability of unregulated markets.

America’s free market model that eschewed regulation since the 1980’s evolved into a mercantile economy with a weakened economic base. The outsourcing of manufacturing infrastructure loosened free market impulses that left in its place a debtor nation whose warped economy depended on housing/commercial real estate construction (collateral creation/securitization), credit marketing, retailing and a service sector that was designed to support the new economic paradigm. It is a model that has proven itself to be wasteful, costly and unsustainable.

Deregulation has led to the dislocation of the capital markets from the real economy. It has contributed to the massive disparities in social wealth and a crumbling infrastructure. Milton Friedman’s mistaken belief that free market impulses would preserve infrastructure investment has been proven incorrect. Ironically this has added to the government’s burden to provide social assistance to segments of the population disenfranchised from economic participation. Some believe that the basis for the prosecution of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are economic stimulus programs designed to keep the economy going due to the vacuum created by the loss of manufacturing.

China’s example nor the resurrection of the soviet socialist model is not a desirable alternative for western democratic capitalist societies. Centralized control and state economic planning is rife with inefficiencies. State run economies threatens liberty, stifles innovation and encumbers economic dynamism. The virtues of capitalism (innovation, dynamism, liberty) needs to be encouraged and blended into the new economic reality of a highly dependent and interconnected world that requires cooperation, coexistence, sustainability, fair asset valuation, and the equitable sharing of resource and responsibility. SME’s are at the forefront of innovation, value creation and dynamism and will play a leading role in the creation of new social-political values as sources of sustainable growth and wealth in the emerging economic paradigm.

You Tube Music Video: Franz Liszt, Hungarian Rhapsody No.2 Orchestra

Risk: regulatory, capitalism, sustainability

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October 6, 2010 Posted by | democracy, economics, government, labor, politics, real estate, recession, regulatory, risk management, SME | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Convergence and Innovation Inhibitors: 011110

As we start the second decade of the new millennium, innovation is understood as a critical driver to overcome the economic malaise plaguing the global economy. Economic stasis and political factionalism has made it increasingly evident that faltering economic and social institutions cry out for sweeping reform. These reforms can only be achieved with innovative approaches in policy and practice. Innovation is realized by giving flight to uninhibited thought and the clear application of ideas with decisive action. Though most agree that we badly need reform, we remain at painful odds as to what those reforms should be and how to implement them. The destructive legislative debates on health care and the ugly political theater of town meetings that occurred in the United States over the summer accomplished little in regards to meaningful reform. The exercises  only served to drive a deepening wedge into the ability of a democratic culture to form a transformative consensus.

Our society is a complex ecosystem comprised of many competing interests. The classic definition of politics, “the means to decide how limited resources are allocated to disparate interests” is clearly a truism that must be applied if we are to realize the reform that we desperately need. In a post scarcity society that definition may seem a bit crude or antiquated. America’s history is marked by a culture of innovation and the incubation of industry. Innovation and its commercial expression in entrepreneurialism is a national asset that tempers the hard edges of stringent allocation or resources and has been the source of our great social wealth. Democracies continually require citizens to arbitrate how competing interests are reconciled and converge. As a self professed democracy the United States must break down the barriers that inhibit innovation by confronting the challenges posed by convergence.

Convergence has been the watch word in the tech industry for the past few years. Convergence aggregates, joins and aligns discreet trends, competencies, technologies and missions to spawn innovation and progress. Masters of business innovation understand that a precondition of convergence is the ability to collaborate. Collaboration requires extended conversations and dialog to understand how competing interests can be reconciled and brought together so that innovation and progress can be achieved. Marketeers invent neologisms like coopetition to brand the idea and lend heft to its thrust. We believe that innovation borne from convergence is the path to rebuild our economy, heal cultural wounds and take a step toward political maturity the United States needs to sustain the great experiment of our democratic republic.

With that in mind we offer a list that outlines the inhibitors to innovation. It is hoped that our nations leaders and people can begin an earnest conversation to address these barriers to growth. Maybe I’m wrong with offering this modest list but I remain willing to discuss it, hopeful that people of good will with a different viewpoint will be open to correct my thinking and contribute to my enlightenment.

1. War: War is inherently wasteful. The current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are grievous examples of waste and national distraction that hampers the United States economic recovery. At an  Ecumenical Memorial Service held at Yankee Stadium following the 9/11 terror attacks  a Buddhist Monk stated that  he believed “it was wiser to drop refrigerators on Afghanistan then bombs”.  Almost a decade later and two wars on I can’t help but to think what a meager $100 billion investment in Afghanistan would have returned to the United States tax payers.  More importantly it would have shown the world that above all else America values the sanctity and preservation of life.  It would have also minimized the rising toll of casualties of both citizens and soldiers.   We developed some great bunker buster bombs but we can’t figure out a way to stop a suicide bomber with exploding underpants.  We succeeded in stirring up a hornets nest of angry insurgents and failed to build innovative pathways to peace with steadfast bridges to secure allies and pacify combatants.

2. Politics: To be sure politics is omnipresent  but the politicization of faith institutions and government functions is a great separator of people. When politics infects faith institutions their ability to breach the social divide and  join people together is seriously compromised or downright destructive. The Catholic Church’s practice of denying the Eucharist to parishioners based on political biases of the communicant places politics at the center of the Lords alter.  The recent occurrences of  radical Islamists burning down Christian Churches in Malaysia  is tragically ironic.  The violence, a response to the Christians appropriation of the word Allah as a name for God; is  a violent rejection of  language convergence of two great faith traditions.  It would seem that unity is a  threat that God cannot abide and is a growing threat that must be abolished.  In the secular world government agencies  were instructed to withhold scientific climate change research of the National Science Foundation because it did not conform with the politics of the party in power.  The extent of the politicization of the judicial branch of government under the Bush Administration was a seditious move worthy of dictatorships.  Innovative application of constitutional law in defense of civil liberties is one of the greatest challenges the war on terror poses to this country.  The creation of kangaroo courts to support the politics of the ruling party would undermine our system of justice.  It would  transform our judiciary  into a repressive apparatus of the state, our laws into  stale dogmas ill suited to meet the legal challenges  of our time and a  justice system that is indistinguishable from the justice offered by our opponents.

3. Ideology: Only good ideas need apply. Deng Xiaoping said it best “does it matter if its a communist or capitalist mouse trap. The question is, does it catch mice?” Seeing this as a threat, Mao Zedong unleashed the cultural revolution and routed the capitalist roaders as a threat to the Great Proletarian Revolution. After the death of Mao, Deng would be rehabilitated and play a key role in China’s adoption of a market economy and its current ascendancy as a world economic power.  In my mind there is a striking resemblance to the debate about heath care.  Socialized medicine is bad.  Do you want to turn into France?  Canadian health care is too expensive.  UK heath care system is overloaded and can’t cope with demand.   These problems would be solved however after the death panels had a chance to meet  and decide who shall live and who must walk the plank.

4. Entrenched Commercial Interests: Though we are ardent believers in capitalism as an engine of innovation the dictatorship of ROI, entrenched concentrations of capital and an unwillingness or inability to adopt longer term investment horizons hamper innovation. The failure of the United States automobile industry to develop fuel efficient vehicles is a good example of market intransigence. The development of junk bonds by Michael Milken and Drexel Burnham Lambert dismantled the manufacturing base of the US economy accelerated the countries decline as a net exporter of products creating the foundation of a debtor nation. During the presidency of Jimmy Carter solar panels were installed on the roof of the White House. The succeeding administration had them removed. Imagine where the alternative energy industry would be today had it developed this leading edge idea and capitalized on this first mover advantage.

5. Unbridled free markets: The economic carnage of the banking meltdown is a startling example of the excesses the pursuit of profit will create. The boom in commercial and residential real estate construction created massive stocks of unused inventories that misdirected and wasted enormous resource. The energy and capital expended on these wasteful endeavors misdirected funds and created huge social hazards that requires massive amounts of capital to mitigate. Also worth mention is the development of video gaming. Lots of energy and creativity is being expended on the best techno music to use while your Mafia Avatar bashes open the head of your opponent with a baseball bat. We are not suggesting censorship or a prohibition of video games nor centralized economic planning. Its a compensation and social value issue.  Perhaps a communicants denial of participation at the Lord’s Table lead them to leave the church and miss the message about social values.

6. Technology: It may seem odd to include technology as an inhibitor to innovation but technology for technology sake may inhibit the development of innovative applications solutions that are not technological in nature. The technorati of the world is transforming technology into a religion. Deprived of its human dimension it can become a dogma that grows in an antagonistic relationship with its human masters. The United States continues to trumpet its technological prowess as the deciding factors in its war in Afghanistan. But that paradigm was explored during the war in Viet Nam where pungi sticks ultimately trumped napalm bombs. The power of an idea and how it connects and motivates people is force that is mightier then the sword.

7. Fundamentalism: The Pharisees once asked Jesus, “is it lawful to heal on the sabbath?” Jesus answered that it was always the right time to heal those who are sick. The world recoils in horror at the capacity for destruction fundamentalism regularly visits upon the world. The denial of equal civil rights to LGBT people creates a  bifurcated system of citizenship.  It is an ugly stain on our democratic heritage.  The gravest peril to democracy is the abridgment and denial of civil rights to any group of citizens. Democracy necessitates that all republicans enjoy equal access and rights in order for it to function. The denial of that right based on a fundamentalist reading of religious scriptures makes it particularly abhorrent because civil rights of citizens in a secular democracy is not an issue that is decided by theologians or the adherents to a particular theology.

Tolerance and consensus are both antithetical to the precepts of fundamentalism. Fundamentalism is not the sole province of religion. It has its secular and ideological adherents as well. Fundamentalism is a pillar of dictatorship; either of a political or theocratic nature both are enemies of secular democracy. Secular democracies require tolerance to respect the diverse ideas and competing viewpoints require in the democratic process. Secular democracies require the trust to converse and hash out the best ideas that serve the greatest good. This is only possible if consensus can be achieved. It is how “out of many becomes one”. It is the true genius of America. It is a worthy innovation of governance that every freedom loving citizen should jealously guard and consciously pursue.

8.  Public Education:  The public education system that the United States built is the true arsenal of democracy and the nations source of wealth and its many contributions it has made to the world.  Without the vast network of learning institutions built and supported by successive generations of Americans the worlds great experiment in representative democracy would have long ago perished.   The public schools sole charter is to create an enlightened citizenship with the skills to discuss, discern and decide in a civil and constructive manner the ever evolving dialectic of a democratic consensus placed at the service of the republic.  It is one of the true geniuses of America and remains her enduring strength.

Today public schools are under attack by forces whose agendas are the pursuit of parochial goals that first and foremost seek their enrichment and interests at the expense of the greatest good of the republic.  The charter school movement is a trend that threatens the public school system by privatizing some of the systems assets and draining away much needed resource and financial support.  It forces public schools to dispense with curriculum offerings like music and arts, sports programs and civic excursions that will convey an understanding of how institutions  interact and support the greater social good. This aspect of the educational experience is supplanted by an exacting examination regime that destroys the love of learning.  Secular learning is also being threatened through the introduction of theological precepts like creationism into the science curriculum of public schools.  Religion and faith are important precepts to offer in a public educational curriculum;  however theology that masquerades  as   science  is an ideological stricture that has no place in public schools.    These  trends are pose great challenges to the  public  schools mission to form enlightened citizens free to think and free to act in the sole service of liberty and participatory democracy.  Innovation and progress is in danger of becoming a secular sin a disease of the soul that needs to be eradicated from the public schools as its threatens to infect the greater body politic.

You Tube Music Video:  Louis Armstrong, I Get Ideas

Risk: innovation, convergence, progress, tolerance

January 11, 2010 Posted by | 9/11, business, Carter, China, Christianity, culture, democracy, economics, faith, history, institutional, manufacturing, Muslim, politics, real estate, recession, regulatory, sustainability, terrorism, war | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Anecdotal Evidence: Real Estate Market Rebounds!

My neighbor Hank has had his home on the market since the fall. He retired years ago and spent a good portion of his time attending to the care and maintenance of his beloved home that he has shared with his wife Judy for over 40 years. Last summer he decided it was time to move to an assisted living community. He bought a home in a senior community down by the Jersey Shore and put his place up for sale.

He just missed the real estate market peak in early 2007. He hung on to his beloved place a year too long. Soon after putting his home on the market the sub-prime mortgage meltdown hit and as the contagion spread through the credit markets Hank couldn’t get anyone to come to see his nice home. Over 6 or 7 months numerous open houses and a couple of St. Joseph statues buried around the property he had one offer that fell through because the buyer couldn’t get a mortgage. Hank now has two homes; one at the senior community with a new mortgage and his beloved home of 40 years which he could not sell. As a guy on a fixed income Hank was and still is in a pickle.

Yesterday I was doing the spring cleaning outside; getting the grass, garden and gutters ready for the summer. A real estate agent pulled up with an open house sign. She planted it into Hanks perfect lawn and entered the house. I said yeah, good luck. My skepticism soon turned to joy for Hank as car after car parked outside and went for the tour. He must have had 20 visitors. I would greet everyone with a smile, a wave and a cheery hello to try to do my part to help Hank sell his home.

Either the St. Joseph statues are working or maybe Bernanke’s interest rate cuts are adding a little liquidity to the credit markets. Hopefully this is going on across the country and hopefully things will get unstuck in the real estate market.

We’ll keep you posted on the state of the housing market from our little corner of the world and our business development plans to consider marketing St. Joseph statues.

You Tube Video: The Beatles, Fixin a Hole

Risk: credit; senior citizens; mortgages; real estate; fixed income

April 21, 2008 Posted by | Bernanke, community, credit crisis, pop, real estate | , , , , | Leave a comment