Friday, September 19, 2014

On Break


As regular readers of this blog know, I typically post four times a week: Thursday through Sunday.

This weekend, I will not be posting here. I'll be traveling, and recent events have been too hectic to allow my to stockpile posts here 'pre-trip' as has been my usual custom.

So we'll have to get by without each other for a bit dear readers, but I expect to restore normalcy soon.

As compensation, enjoy the pic of cute pups, above.  

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Both Sides Now



I wonder whether there has ever been a better lyrical expression of the epistemological side of Kantian philosophy than one finds in the Joni Mitchell song "Both Sides Now."

Let's leave aside the verses about life and love -- which may impinge upon the ethical side of Kantianism. The epistemological side is largely about the perception of material objects in time and space. Thus: clouds. Clouds are more permeable and have less definite boundaries than the usual examples, but they surely are material objects in some sense.

So Kant says to us that we can look at clouds from various partial perspectives, from up and down. Yet still, it will be the phenomenon (cloud's illusions) we recall.

We really won't know clouds at all.  

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Epistemology and Metaphysics


At Yahoo!Answers I tackled this one recently , "How is epistemology and metaphysics related." I did so without even mentioning the issue of noun/verb agreement. What amazing restraint. So let me throw off the shackles of such restraint now and shout, "How ARE THEY, you mean, don't cha????"

Here, though, is my full and temperate answer.

They are related in somewhat circular fashion. Your view of epistemology, your view of how you know things, will likely depend upon some implicit or explicit metaphysics. If you think of yourself as a biological organism, in the midst of a dangerous world, forced to make the best available guesses in order to increase the chances of seeing tomorrow -- if you think of yourself that way, which is the premise of a lot of epistemological thought, you will already have made a number of metaphysical assumptions.

So on one hand we'd have to have a good idea of who and where we are to start thinking sensible thoughts concerning how we know. On the other hand (one might argue) we should have a good idea how we know before we can sensibly claim to KNOW who and/or where we are.

See the circle? Well ... some see it and some don't. This is philosophy. Everything is contested. even the possibility that the sensible world might be a Matrix.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Apple and the Mobile Wallet

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I don't like the term "mobile wallet" in its digital-world significance. The term refers (and I'm quoting from a banking-industry website here) to a smartphone feature that is linked to a user's credit or debit cards "to make payments in person at a physical point of sale." Got it. Not a very complicated idea.

What I don't like about it is the implication that wallets had to become digital in order to be "mobile." Haven't wallets always been mobile? Hasn't that always been the point? A wallet [an "analog wallet" if I need to say that -- a wallet sans phrase] is to be carried, in a woman's purse or a man's pocket.  A mobile wallet is now "in" your phone, in some sense of that flexible preposition. I don't really see a significant gain in mobility there.

Anyway, the reason for bringing it up is that Apple has now jumped on the mobile-wallet bandwagon.

The iPay system, the new mobile phone app for the iPhone 6, was the star of the show at the big much-hyped Apple products presentation September 9th.

Look at the chart above. That's the minute-by-minute change in the price of Apple stock on the day of its announcement. The presentation began half-way through the trading day, and as you can see the price was quite calm while waiting for the event to get underway, then a portrait of volatility throughout the rest of the day.

You don't have to expand this window to a larger size to read the various red tags. I'll tell you what they say. The first tag reads, "iPhone 6, 6Plus announced." The market was underwhelmed by that announcement, plunging to the session low immediately thereafter. Then, though it gradually gained ground back, it only got back to a point at almost where it had been before the plunge.

The second red tag reads, "Apple Pay announced." The market took this as the starting gun for a sharp upward move, an upward move that continued right up until the announcement of the new Dick Tracey style Watch. That third tag says "Apple Watch announced." That's when the price headed down again in a big way. Even U2 taking the stage (the fourth tag) didn't calm people down much, and the price almost got back to the earlier session low again before stabilizing and gaining some ground back.

Apple Pay, aka iPay, was clearly the stand-out.

Fine, let's just find some generic terminology for such an app that doesn't give it credit for mobility.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Krugman and the UK


In June of this year, Paul Krugman wrote a sort of humblebrag column admitting to certain errors that have accumulated in his columns.

The tone was, "yes I've gotten things wrong, but none of these examples reflects any very deep mistakes in my assumptions, and since I'm owning up to my errors, all is good."

The most intriguing of the admissions, to me, involved the economy of the United Kingdom. Krugman has been using "austerity" as a whipping boy for years now. Every impulse toward hardening the money supply or cutting public expenditures, in any country toward which he turns his gaze, is "austerity" or the cult of the "austerians" and a bad thing.

One sometimes gets the impression that Krugman coined "austerians" to pun on "Austrians," and to try to use the failures (as he sees them) of austerity policies as arguments against Austrian economics. A silly pun, if that is what is intended.  

Anyway: the U.K. under Cameron was one of those countries that were engaged in that bad thing, and it was going to suffer accordingly.

Except that it hasn't. As he said in June [and you have to read all the way to the end of the column to get to this, it's his last example], the UK economy "is growing much faster right now than I expected."

So ... what happened? Krugman says that the U.K. turned out not to be as determined to stay austere as he had thought it was. The government "stopped tightening fiscal policy before the upturn." But he doesn't want to press that. After all, if the harm the austerity did before that reversal was so superficial it could be instantly reversed, his Cassandra act might still seem rather silly.

So he adds this, "there was a drop in private savings, which is one of those things that happens now and then."

The "one of those things" comment, aside from calling to mind a trip to the moon on gossamer wings, suggests that the amount of private savings in an economy is itself a factor outside the range of the Keynesian macroeconomic theory he says he is expounding. Which is itself just ... odd.

I suspect he has some more fundamental re-thinking to do and he just doesn't want to do it.



Sunday, September 7, 2014

Sovereign Debt and Drive-In Movies, Part II



As Anna Gelpern observes on The Credit Slips blog, there is no real political support for an international bankruptcy court for sovereigns.

What less daunting solutions might there be?

The obvious one is that bond-issuing sovereigns can change the language of their issuing documents. Couldn't they simply stop using the pari passu language that the holdouts have been employing in the New York courts? 

Well, yes, although something more than simply deleting that Latin phrase will be necessary. Fortunately, some very bright legal minds have given a lot of thought to the draftsmanship involved.

Most bonds issued by sovereigns nowadays have collective action clauses. These explicitly allow for a restructuring in which some supermajority of the creditors can vote to accept a "haircut," as it is called, and holdouts will then be stuck receiving the same payments with the same haircut, too.

Without a CAC, the situation is as if a drive-in movie theatre were prohibited from building a fence around its grounds, [an opaque fence of course, and one taller than any convenient viewer spot outside of itself] unless everyone in town agreed. The last hold-out on that agreement would be in an enviable situation, at the expense of the movie lovers who were more agreeable. But, with a CAC, the movie theatre needs only the approval of [say] two-thirds of the locals to build the fence should that fiscal crisis come.

But every country has until now been on its own in devising the wording of its own CAC, and a lot of disparate contract language is out there, threatening endless further litigation and presumably some Argentina-ish results.

The latest development is that the International Capital Market Association has devised standard language for collective action clauses.

The solution to the hold-out problem, then, will involve muddling through the messes created by the sort of contact language used thus far, until the new superior language becomes dominant, and the nesses will disappear. No reason to call in a planetary government after all, folks.