17 January 2010

Wall Street Thinks You Are a Jealous Little Malcontent

Jesse nails it.

After thinking it over, and listening carefully to the discussion on financial television and the news today in reaction to the proposal for a special bank tax, I can come to no other conclusion. Wall Street thinks that the American people, who came to their aid after the collapse of a monumental and most likely fraudulent bubble, are jealous little malcontents.

They believe that the public wants to limit the bonuses paid by Wall Street because they are just jealous. Or stupid and petty. At least they wish to leave their viewers and readers with that impression.

That's the long and short of it. You, average working stiff and retiree, are just a jealous little malcontent who envies the great success of the financial sector, much like some foreign agitator who attacks the West because they envy its freedoms.

And you are seeking retribution, revenge. That is what this bank tax is all about, retribution.

An economics professor just admitted that he too feels a need for retribution at times, as an emotional response, but being a more educated fellow he sees how negative that is. Instead he proposes that if we must have some bank tax that we divert the funds received into a bank holding fund, a kind of a TARP II, to pay for future financial disasters. Forget about reform. The banks are too smart for it.

I would not call it jealousy or a need for retribution.

I would say that the people as a whole have a sense of right and wrong, a sense of fairness and balance, a sense of outrage that is being held in check by patience, a remarkable forebearance, but wish to see justice done for themselves and their children, because it is the right thing, the only practical thing, to do.

But I can also understand why the Wall Street Bankers and the financial elite would see this as jealousy and envy.

Sociopath: (so⋅ci⋅o⋅path) a person, as a psychopathic personality, whose behavior is antisocial and who lacks a sense of moral responsibility or social conscience.

The most amoral, pathological son of a bitch I ever worked with, who by the way was enormously charismatic and charming when on public display, was a big tech entrepreneur from the Boston area. When his grandiose schemes started to fall apart, as much from the impracticality of his ego as from the fact that no one would trust him any longer, having senselessly betrayed everyone including his closest friends, he said to me in all the sincerity he could muster, "I am failing because people want to drag me down to their level."

And I can assure you, the halls of too many corporations and big government are infested with such power needing, neurotically driven personality types.

This is what renders any notion of self-regulation and efficient markets the romantic fantasy that they are. People are not uniformly rational and moderate in their behaviour. All people are not possessed of a natural goodness and a self-effacing moderation.

This is what makes the rule of law, the Constitution, so indispensable.

This is not to say that their enablers, the financial demimonde, are sociopaths. They are doing what enablers too often do; go along to get along, say and do whatever is required for pay. Camp followers, as they used to be called.

And as for what happened, well, as one well-heeled, successful young manager advised, "Older people are easy to handle. You just scare them. Then they do whatever they are told."

In his mind 'older' was anyone over 40. And as for the rest of the people, well, you just play on their other emotions like hatred and greed and prejudice. He saw absolutely nothing wrong with this, and was so straightfoward and unabashed in this view that it made my blood run cold, because it was clear that he was not alone in this perspective. And it is obvious that Tim, Ben, and Hank did exactly this, and it worked.

And so now they hit the theme that if the banks are taxed, they will just find ways around the restrictions, and keep doing what they wish to do with bonuses and speculation, but may stop lending to the people for their commercial and personal needs, to punish them.

So there you have it. You are a jealous, envious, little nobody desiring retribution from your betters in the land that your fathers fought and died for.

And not only that, but many of your middle class fellows would agree. They would not think this about themselves of course, but about you, the other. The lazy stupid one. There is no easier way to elevate yourself in your own mind than to just put down, impoverish, the other.

And the banks and their enablers in the government will use this, and shape your thinking with it.

You cannot say that you have not been warned. Many times. Money is power, and in a free republic power must be restrained with checks and balances, with a continuing effort and vigilance.

"Banks have done more injury to the religion, morality, tranquility, prosperity, and even wealth of the nation than they can have done or ever will do good." John Adams

There can be no easy truce, no peaceful resolution of the current crisis, until the banks are restrained, and the political and financial systems are reformed, and balance is restored to the economy.

"I believe that it is better to tell the truth than to lie. I believe that it is better to be free than to be a slave. And I believe that it is better to know than be ignorant." H. L. Mencken

Never allow yourself to succumb to hatred and a desire for retribution rather than justice. It is always wrong to hate, because the ultimate tragedy is that we become what we hate, we take the shape of that which possesses our passions, thoughts and attention, we adopt its methods and distortions, even if as in a mirror, until we too are misshapen and lost. And that is the real tragedy, how the whole world can descend into a whirlpool of madness, and become blind. So let us appeal to the law, and to justice, at every turn.

Mr. Obama. Reform these banks.


11 January 2010

China's green energy revolution ~ NYT.

C. H. Tung, the first Chinese-appointed chief executive of Hong Kong after the handover in 1997, offered me a three-sentence summary the other day of China’s modern economic history: “China was asleep during the Industrial Revolution. She was just waking during the Information Technology Revolution. She intends to participate fully in the Green Revolution.”

I’ll say. Being in China right now I am more convinced than ever that when historians look back at the end of the first decade of the 21st century, they will say that the most important thing to happen was not the Great Recession, but China’s Green Leap Forward. The Beijing leadership clearly understands that the E.T. — Energy Technology — revolution is both a necessity and an opportunity, and they do not intend to miss it.

We, by contrast, intend to fix Afghanistan. Have a nice day.

O.K., that was a cheap shot. But here’s one that isn’t: Andy Grove, co-founder of Intel, liked to say that companies come to “strategic inflection points,” where the fundamentals of a business change and they either make the hard decision to invest in a down cycle and take a more promising trajectory or do nothing and wither. The same is true for countries.

The U.S. is at just such a strategic inflection point. We are either going to put in place a price on carbon and the right regulatory incentives to ensure that America is China’s main competitor/partner in the E.T. revolution, or we are going to gradually cede this industry to Beijing and the good jobs and energy security that would go with it.

Is President Obama going to finish health care and then put aside the pending energy legislation — and carbon pricing — that Congress has already passed in order to get through the midterms without Republicans screaming “new taxes?” Or is he going to seize this moment before the midterms — possibly his last window to put together a majority in the Senate, including some Republicans, for a price on carbon — and put in place a real U.S. engine for clean energy innovation and energy security?

I’ve been stunned to learn about the sheer volume of wind, solar, mass transit, nuclear and more efficient coal-burning projects that have sprouted in China in just the last year.

Here’s e-mail from Bill Gross, who runs eSolar, a promising California solar-thermal start-up: On Saturday, in Beijing, said Gross, he announced “the biggest solar-thermal deal ever. It’s a 2 gigawatt, $5 billion deal to build plants in China using our California-based technology. China is being even more aggressive than the U.S. We applied for a [U.S. Department of Energy] loan for a 92 megawatt project in New Mexico, and in less time than it took them to do stage 1 of the application review, China signs, approves, and is ready to begin construction this year on a 20 times bigger project!”

Yes, climate change is a concern for Beijing, but more immediately China’s leaders know that their country is in the midst of the biggest migration of people from the countryside to urban centers in the history of mankind. This is creating a surge in energy demand, which China is determined to meet with cleaner, homegrown sources so that its future economy will be less vulnerable to supply shocks and so it doesn’t pollute itself to death.

In the last year alone, so many new solar panel makers emerged in China that the price of solar power has fallen from roughly 59 cents a kilowatt hour to 16 cents, according to The Times’s bureau chief here, Keith Bradsher. Meanwhile, China last week tested the fastest bullet train in the world — 217 miles per hour — from Wuhan to Guangzhou. As Bradsher noted, China “has nearly finished the construction of a high-speed rail route from Beijing to Shanghai at a cost of $23.5 billion. Trains will cover the 700-mile route in just five hours, compared with 12 hours today. By comparison, Amtrak trains require at least 18 hours to travel a similar distance from New York to Chicago.”

China is also engaged in the world’s most rapid expansion of nuclear power. It is expected to build some 50 new nuclear reactors by 2020; the rest of the world combined might build 15.

“By the end of this decade, China will be dominating global production of the whole range of power equipment,” said Andrew Brandler, the C.E.O. of the CLP Group, Hong Kong’s largest power utility.

In the process, China is going to make clean power technologies cheaper for itself and everyone else. But even Chinese experts will tell you that it will all happen faster and more effectively if China and America work together — with the U.S. specializing in energy research and innovation, at which China is still weak, as well as in venture investing and servicing of new clean technologies, and with China specializing in mass production.

This is a strategic inflection point. It is clear that if we, America, care about our energy security, economic strength and environmental quality we need to put in place a long-term carbon price that stimulates and rewards clean power innovation. We can’t afford to be asleep with an invigorated China wide awake.