Author Archives: Devin Smith

Speculation in the Commodities Market: Part 2 A Response to Price Asset Management

By Ben Strubel

Recently, a nice man named George H. Rohrs Jr. from Price Asset Management, a firm that specializes only in commodities and managed futures investments, emailed me a copy of the newsletter his firm sent to clients in which he wrote a response to my article on commodity funds. Mr. Rohrs asserted:

I wouldn’t call Ben Strubel, the author of this article “stupid.” I would just call him “ignorant” and “unprofessional” and “biased.” I just believe that he ought to get his facts straight before embarrassing himself by publishing the compendium of misinformation contained in his article.

I wouldn’t call Mr. Rohrs an expert in the usage of quotation marks but I would call him a man with some very strong opinions about me. Let’s look at the points he raises in his article and find out if I am in fact ignorant, unprofessional, and biased. Okay. I’m currently sitting in my office not wearing my shoes, so I’ll cop to the unprofessional part.

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Speculation in the Commodities Market: Part 1

By Ben Strubel

This week’s Dumb Investment of the Week is commodity funds. Commodities are physical products such as corn, oil, or sugar. Commodity investments only used to be a way that Wall Street parted institutional investors from their money, but over the past decade banks have been increasingly targeting individual investors either directly or through financial advisors, brokers, and mutual fund companies.

Prior to 2000, commodity markets were strictly regulated. Then, in 2000, the Commodity Futures Modernization Act was passed which, among other things, did away with position limits in commodities markets. While commodity index funds have existed since 1991, it wasn’t until recently that they became popular and could handle large inflows of funds. In 2003, several academics published research showing that commodities did not have strong correlations with other asset classes like stocks, bonds, or real estate. Wall Street, never having met a fee-generating idea it didn’t like, seized on this research and began creating and selling commodity index funds to retail and institutional investors. Over the better part of the next decade, $350B flowed to newly created commodity funds.

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The Kamikaze Economics and Politics of Forcing Austerity on the Ukraine

By William K. Black

We all understand why Russia is waging economic war on the Ukraine, but why is Obama doing so?  The New York Time’ web site has posted a remarkable Reuters story (dated April 5, 2014) entitled “Ukraine PM Says Will Stick to Austerity Despite Moscow Pressure.”

“The Kiev government will stick to unpopular austerity measures ‘as the price of independence’ as Russia steps up pressure on Ukraine to destabilise it, including by raising the price of gas, Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk told Reuters.”

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Ten Lessons We Must Learn from Charles Keating

By William K. Black

I knew Charles Keating, the head of Lincoln Savings, in my capacity as a financial regulator and as the subject of his wrath.  His fraud schemes and the manner in which they targeted our system’s vulnerabilities in an era before Citizens United made the corruption of politicians by fraudulent CEOs child’s play remain the play book for the world’s most destructive financial frauds.  Our failure to learn the ten lessons has caused immense suffering.  Keating’s life, and the great harm he caused, will not have been in vain if we step back and use the occasion of his death to reflect on the changes we need to make.

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MMT and Social Movements

By Tadit Anderson*

The probability of demonstrating the democratic functionality of MMT/ff economic and fiscal policies in an academic or literate fashion to persuade politicians toward a conversion experience is unlikely. Even with our best communicators speaking in a mass media context or other public forums there are various other factors that need to be examined, such as learning styles and self-interest. Even if the analysis is right and validated by history the politicians will act upon the net amount of political influence supporting one set of policy priorities over another set of interests. When it comes to the influence of campaign contributions, thanks to the delusional decision that money is a form of free speech, the many will be usually outweighed by the few who have the money to buy political influence. While that is the unfortunate law of the land, the advocacy for democratic functionality will usually end up in second place.  However, the actual history of socializing movements suggests that an alternative path is not just possible, but also necessary. Given that the public discourse is also largely occupied by corporate interests, we have to also find different ways to grow a socializing movement other than relying upon public spectacles, such as mass demonstrations of protest and resistance.

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Stock Flow Consistent Modeling

On March 22, 2014, Marc Lavoie of University of Ottawa presented a workshop on Stock Flow Consistent Modeling at University of Missouri Kansas City. Prof. Lavoie graciously provided his slides and they available below the video.

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Essentials of Heterodox & Post-Keynesian Economics

On March 21, 2014, Marc Lavoie of University of Ottawa presented a seminar on Heterodox and Post-Keynesian Economics at University of Missouri Kansas City. Prof. Lavoie graciously provided his slides and they available below the video.

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Rescuing the 1%

By J.D. ALT

lsaverIn an earlier essay I suggested we just forget the 1%. This was an idea not entirely supported by the commentary that followed. On reflection, I’ve decided it isn’t the right approach after all. What we really need to do is rescue the 1%.

They may seem like the last people who need rescuing, but when you consider the facts it becomes clear they really do need to be tossed a life-preserver. The problem is their basic business model is self-annihilating. This is not a new observation in history, but it is worth thinking through again. CEOs and board members are required by fiduciary law to maximize profits for their shareholders. If they fail to aggressively pursue this goal with every business decision, they might actually get sued by an angry shareholder deprived of his maximum return on investment. So maximizing profits is the order-of-the-day—every day. This imperative has been dramatically reinforced (and distorted) over the past three decades—as explained and illustrated by William K. Black—by evolving corporate compensation rules awarding huge bonuses to upper level managers based on the short-term profits their business and “accounting” strategies are able to generate.

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NEP’s Randy Wray appears on Euro Truffa

Euro Truffa (eurotruffa.it) interviews Randy Wray about MMT in this video from March 13, 2014. After the Introduction which is presented in Italian, the questions are presented in English with Italian subtitles.

The Financial Sector Is the Greatest Parasite in Human History

By Ben Strubel

Before I begin this article want to make the point that what I’m about to say doesn’t apply to everyone in the industry. While the average mutual fund, broker, wealth manager, and hedge fund charges high fees and delivers poor results it doesn’t apply to everyone. I know lots of good, honest hedge fund managers that charge reasonable fees. I know lots of wealth managers that act in their client’s best interest and don’t gouge them on fees. Unfortunately these are the exceptions rather than the rule.

Over the past year or so, the issue of rising income inequality in the United States (and even worldwide) has come front and center. Most of what I’ve read has focused on wages, union membership, unemployment, taxation, government subsidy, and executive pay issues.

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