The Fed’s Game

I’ve been confused for a while about what the Fed is up to. Their usual cycle is to contract the money supply to cause economic downturns:

“The Federal Reserve definitely caused the Great Depression by contracting the amount of currency in circulation by one-third from 1929 to 1933.” – Milton Friedman

“However, this time around the Fed is lowering interest rates to stimulate borrowing, right?” This is the kind of muddy thinking that let me to confusion for the past couple months.

Of course not! Our economic problem today is the unwillingness of the banks to lend money, not that there is a lack of people who want to borrow it. The rationale is that due to the housing-bubble collapse the loans are riskier today than they’ve been in a long time. So, what convinces a lender to lend to risky borrowers? High interest rates. What is the Fed doing? Lowering interest rates.

The perfect cover for not lending money, and contracting the money supply.

At the same time, those banks are cashing out as many US Dollars are they can get their hands on from Washington, while the exchange rates still have some value. Once the ‘bailout’ is done, we can expect the government to start monetizing the debt (it can’t borrow that much) and the exchange rates will rationally go through the roof. This is the same game that was played in 1934 when the US was selling all its gold for ~$20/oz before confiscating all the citizens’ gold and raising the price to $35.

This time around, the instruments are slightly different but the game hasn’t really changed much. The last play ended at Bretton Woods, with the US Dollar as the world reserve currency. Who will win this time? The Euro? The Yuan? Something new? Picking the right horse in this race is likely to pay off well for the winner.

Famous Gift Catalog Math

For those who appreciated VerizonMath allow me to follow-up with a more modest ‘Famous Gift Catalog Math’:

Note 1: this isn’t wrapping right – turn off page style for this article. View…Page Style…No Style in Firefox.

Note 2: this was top-quoted, the quote levels will look odd.

> >>> -------------
> >>>> On Wednesday, November 19, 2008  1:43:00 AM, bill-
> >>>> h******** wrote:
> >>>>
> >>>> Question: Re Item 73425 the personalized throw I wanted to
> >>>> verify the
> >>>> dimensions.  One part of the description says 300 square inches
> >>>> one part says
> >>>> 50 x 60.  I assume its just a typo and should be 3000 square
> >>>> inches but wanted
> >>>> to verify its not smaller than I expected.  Also once I get the
> >>>> kit whats the
> >>>> lead time on prodution?
> >>>> Thanks
> >>>> Bill
> >>>> Date of Order: mm/dd/yy
> >>>> Order Number:
> >>>> Item Number:
> >>>> Product Name:
> >>>> How to Contact: email
>>>> Name Bill McGonigle
>>> Email: bill-h********
>> Email For Promotions:
> >> On Nov 19, 2008, at 15:25, customerservice@h********.com wrote:
> >>
> >>> Dear Bill McGonigle:
> >>> Thank you for your inquiry regarding item 73425. I see that the
> >>> throw is 300 square feet or 50 inches wide by 60 inches high. Also,
> >>> once you recieve the packet and send it out to the manufacture it
> >>> takes approximately 4-6 weeks for you to receive the finished
> >>> product. If you require further assistance feel free to contact us.
> >>> Thank you!
> >>>
> >>> Best regards,
> >>> R***** *****
> >>> Voice: 1-800-233-**** (8am-mid EST, 7 days a week)
> >>>
> > -------------
> >> On Wednesday, November 19, 2008  3:47:00 PM, wrote:
> >>
> >> Hi, R*****,
> >>
> >> Thanks for the reply.  The throw can't be 300 square feet, that's a
> >> third the size of my house.  Is it actually 300 square inches or is
> >> it 3000 square inches, or some other area?
> >>
> >> Thanks,
> >> -Bill
> >>
> On Nov 19, 2008, at 19:51, customerservice@h********.com wrote:
> > Dear Bill,
> > Thanks for the inquiry. The throw is 300 square inches, or 50" by
> > 60". Sorry about any inconvenience this causes. If you require
> > further assistance please contact us. Thank you!
> >
> > Best regards,
> > R***** *****
> > Voice: 1-800-233-**** (8am-mid EST, 7 days a week)
> >
> On Thursday, November 20, 2008  3:17:00 PM, wrote:
> Hi, R*****,
> Yes, this is what the catalog says but it's clearly wrong.  In terms
> of arithmetic, 50 times 60 is 3000, not 300.  I'm questioning whether
> the catalog error is in terms of area or dimension.
> Thanks,
> -Bill
-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Re: Re: H******** S******** Contact Us Form Responses  (********)
Date: Thu, 20 Nov 2008 18:26:15 -0500
From: customerservice@h********.com

Dear Bill,
Thank you for choosing H******** S********. I'm sorry about all the
confusion. I was incorrect the item is 3000 inches in area. Once again
sorry for the inconvenience if I can further assistant you please
contact me. Thank you!

Best regards,
R***** *****
Voice: 1-800-233-**** (8am-mid EST, 7 days a week)

There’s no need to get anybody in trouble over this, so the personally-identifying information has been scrubbed. I just found the lack of any bounds-checking particularly giggle-worthy.

2008 Flu Vaccine Strains

So far the 2008 flu vaccine looks promising.

Last year, the flu vaccine was a big miss so one needs to question any possible risks of thimerosal vs. the benefit of the vaccine (note: thimerosal-free vaccines available this year – I made this one-page pdf of just the table from the FDA page to bring with you to the clinic for reference; the vaccines with thimerosal are in strike-through type).

This year’s vaccine consists of the following strains:

  • an A/Brisbane/59/2007 (H1N1)-like virus

  • an A/Brisbane/10/2007 (H3N2)-like virus

  • a B/Florida/4/2006-like virus.

Collected samples to date (strain completely identified) break down as:

  • H1, all A/Brisbane/59/2007-like (157)
  • H3, all A/Brisbane/10/2007-like (18)
  • B, 4:9 ratio of B/Florida/04/2006 to B/Victoria (13)

It’s possible that of the untyped samples there are other strains, but none have been detected so far. So, assuming the above distribution holds over the sample and over time, getting the flu shot ought to be useful against 95% of the flu currently in the wild. The 5% chance of getting a B/Victoria is likely dependent on the state you’re in- 8/9 Victorias were detected in one state, but the FDA doesn’t say which state. From the data is looks like it’s probably in the South East or West South Central areas, so those of us in the North should likely see a higher than 95% efficacy.

Does Liberty Need a Creator?

There’s been a lot of work in the past couple hundred years on reasons to behave morally that don’t require a hierarchy of supreme power.

Game theory, capitalism, free markets, bottom-up economics, wisdom of the masses, democracy, emergent behaviors – these all relate the idea that when people behave well all benefit.

In fact, I’d argue that leaving God out of it makes for a stronger system. If you take the original idea that God grants rights to all people and we then give up certain of those rights to the Government in return for protection of the others, the only thing that keeps the Government from turning tyrannical is the existence of God. Stalin and Mao seemed to understand this.

If instead, you realize that it takes millions of people making smart decisions to keep our society working smoothly then you have to maximize the freedom of each of those actors to get the best possible outcome. Each imposition on those actors brutishly eliminates a possible beneficial outcome in an incomprehensibly complex system, so to the extent that such restrictions aren’t essential to the defense of rights required by us of our government, they only act to society’s detriment.

This model still strongly supports the free exercise of religion but does not require it. It also recognizes the value of each and every human being as integral to a society, while concomitantly being their own sovereign masters, properly casting a government’s role as the servant of society and mechanism to protect the weak. And by putting humans explicitly at the top (bottom?), it reminds those humans that they have to be responsible and make the right decisions, nobody else is granted a higher role.

Or, y’know, like Jesus said, “be nice to each other.”