The Stingy News Weekly (12/25/2011)
A Christmas Carol
"Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it: and Scrooge’s name was good upon ’Change, for anything he chose to put his hand to. Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail. Mind! I don’t mean to say that I know, of my own knowledge, what there is particularly dead about a door-nail. I might have been inclined, myself, to regard a coffin-nail as the deadest piece of ironmongery in the trade. But the wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile and my unhallowed hands shall not disturb it, or the Country’s done for. You will therefore permit me to repeat, emphatically, that Marley was as dead as a door-nail."
What I Like About Scrooge
"In this whole world, there is nobody more generous than the miser—the man who could deplete the world's resources but chooses not to. The only difference between miserliness and philanthropy is that the philanthropist serves a favored few while the miser spreads his largess far and wide."
Thoughts on Ebenezer Scrooge
"The story goes that Charles Dickens was visiting Edinburgh to give a public reading of his work in 1842, and spent some time looking around the Canongate church graveyard. He saw one grave that made him shudder. The name on the grave was Ebenezer Lennox Scroggie--mean man.' According to Peter Clark, a British political economist who seems the starting point for this story, Dickens misread the inscription. It actually said 'Meal man,' because Scroggie was a corn merchant."
Escaping the well-lit prison
"The focus on gifts is something we’re all supposed to feel vaguely guilty about, according to certain grim people with very strong views about the Evils of our Commercialized, Materialist Society. In lieu of presents these people give things like certified carbon offsets and donations in your name to International A.N.S.W.E.R. Their kids get seaweed gummy kits and “Peace in Our Time” cooperative board games from the Catalog of Socially Responsible Gifts, and exact revenge by growing up to become arbitrageurs. On the other end of the spectrum are the market ideologues. These are the folks who write earnest monographs on how everybody has the wrong idea about Ebeneezer Scrooge, who was really a thrifty capitalist hero. Their idea of a neat Christmas present is something like a “Who Is John Galt?” doormat—except there isn’t one, because John Galt was nobody’s doormat, dammit, so instead you get a book on Basel bank-capital requirements and a bookmark in the shape of Ludwig von Mises. Which is not to say that either group is wrong, mind you—merely that, like the madman in Chesterton’s “Orthodoxy,” they are “trapped in the well-lit prison of one idea...sharpened to one painful point.” You want to say to them, look: If British and German soldiers could sing carols together at Ypres in WWI, then the rest of us are entitled to give politics a break for one lousy day. Here, have some peppermint bark."
"As you stand in endless lines this holiday season, here’s a comforting thought: all those security measures accomplish nothing, at enormous cost. That’s the conclusion of Charles C. Mann, who put the T.S.A. to the test with the help of one of America’s top security experts."
In Defense of Scrooge
"It's Christmas again, time to celebrate the transformation of Ebenezer Scrooge. You know the ritual: boo the curmudgeon initially encountered in Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol, then cheer the sweetie pie he becomes in the end. It's too bad no one notices that the curmudgeon had a point.quite a few points, in fact."
Stories make me nervous
"I was told to come here and tell you all stories, but what I'd like to do is instead tell you why I'm suspicious of stories, why stories make me nervous. In fact, the more inspired a story makes me feel, very often the more nervous I get. So the best stories are often the trickiest ones."
More 2011 charts
"What is it about graphs and economics? In a discipline where facts are murky and certainty is elusive, graphs offer a bright light of information and a small confidence that the world can be summed up between two axes."
Do not buy dad a tie
"Christmas is not the most wonderful time of the year for economists. The holiday spirit is puzzlingly difficult to model: It plays havoc with the notion of rational utility-maximization. There’s so much waste! Price-insensitive travelers pack airports beyond capacity on Dec. 24 only to leave planes empty on Christmas Day. Even worse are the gifts, which represent an abandonment of our efficient system of monetary exchange in favor of a semi-barbaric form of bartering. Still, even the most rational and Scroogey of economists must concede that gift-giving is clearly here to stay. What’s needed is a bit of advice: What can economics tell us about efficient gifting so that your loved ones get the most bang for your buck?"
2011 in charts
"We asked economists, economic policymakers and investors for their favorite charts of 2011. Here’s what they gave us."
Wodehouse's lead pipe
"Recent real side indicators and financial market movements indicate a striking dichotomy between improving economic indicators here at home and signs that financial markets and economies continue to sour on the other side of the Atlantic. Thus, just as we had come to see the light of an evolving domestic recovery, one senses Europe, and possibly the emerging economies, sneaking up behind us, Wodehousean-pipe in hand, poised to knock us off course."
The truth about wealth
"A study by Jonathan A. Parker and Annette Vissing-Jorgensen of Northwestern University found that the beta of the top 1% nearly quadrupled between 1982 and 2007 to 2.39. The top 0.01% had a beta of 3.96, making even the riskiest tech stocks look safe by comparison. Economists and wealth managers say the betas of the rich have likely soared even higher in recent months as markets gyrated sharply."
China local debts dwarf official data
"“The real problem is the real estate market cannot fall, the price can’t go down,” he said. “If the property market really falls, the local government financing vehicle problems will really come out. Not only will they have problems, but the banks will have problems.” There are signs the market is already declining, with residential property prices falling in November from the previous month in 49 cities of the 70 measured, the worst performance this year. The cities of Guangzhou in the south and Wuhan in central China canceled land sales in the last three months. Tianjin, which isn’t among the cities piloting municipal bonds, was reliant on land sales for 41 percent of its income in 2009, according to China Index Academy, a Beijing real-estate research firm. That doesn’t bother Xu Hongzhi, the chief accountant for Tianjin Binhai Construction, which is building Yujiapu’s transport hub. He said that the company can pay its debts because the area’s economy is growing at 10 percent a year. “There is no risk,” he said."
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