Category Archives: 3 The World of Money

Bitcoin: the World’s first decentralised Ponzi scheme by David Webb

This article by David Webb is insightful and brief.  You may have no interest in Bitcoin, however, his observations are relevant to banking and the financial system.  For me, one conclusion is that it is immoral to support (buy) bitcoin, on the level of gambling, and, if you understand it as a pyramid scheme, morally worse than gambling because the scheme is destabilising and fraudulent (in that people don’t know what they are getting in to).

The original is here: Bitcoin: the World’s first decentralised Ponzi scheme  You may sign up for Webb’s free newsletter, which is particularly relevant for Hong Kong financial markets.

Summary: So long as we have governments with the power to tax and spend in their own currencies, digital pseudo-currencies will never gain traction. Bitcoin and its imitators are a zero-sum game in which the sum of all fiat currency paid for it is the sum of all fiat currency received for it, excluding mining costs. The earlier participants are now cashing out the billions that newcomers are putting into this distributed Ponzi scheme. Play it for entertainment value if you want, but remember that you are purely betting on the greater stupidity of others.

Continue reading Bitcoin: the World’s first decentralised Ponzi scheme by David Webb

The Blue Economy

Here’s a nice 6 minute video that puts us in the picture.  The big picture.

It’s not the whole story, but its brief and is a super introduction and a refresher for old hands..

We are past the point of stopping disruption.  It was 15 oC this evening.  (Ireland, December) 13 oC would be OK, maybe in the realm of normality.  But 15oC is not a symptom of normality.

And then there’s the data.  We believe in data because we live off it.  It is data that runs our lives, our businesses, our cell phones.  And data shows us what’s going on, what’s behind the hype.  So check out the movie and research some data.  Change is happening. Adapt.

ZERI, initiated by the founder of Ecover, explains why the “green” economy must evolve to the “blue” economy and how …

Our Suicide is Painless

Yesterday was an unusual day filled with seemingly inane chores that had to be done.  I was arriving back home in the afternoon with groceries for guests and planned to turn the hay.   I drove past a field adjacent to our where a tractor was spraying and turned in to the drive to be greeted by a distasteful, though recognisable, toxic smell.

“Damn!”

Usually I’d just accept that that landowner had to spray to make a living, but I didn’t like the idea that our hay was being contaminated while it was looking so good.  Unusually, I decided to take another angle, dropped the bags on the kitchen floor, said “Hi!” to guests and spun the car around back up to the field.

After working out which row the tractor was in I walked up to the driver, who kindly stopped and helped me get n touch with the landowner.

The driver said the spray  was only to stop “disease”.

The landowner said it was only to stop “disease”.

They both said it was “OK”.

The contractor couldn’t come back on a still day because he had to empty the tanks since the pesticide had been paid for.  The wind might die down so he could wait a bit.  I knew the spray would still be sprayed, and would drift.  Hopefully little would drift, though you could see a 20  metre tail behind the tractor and smell it quarter of a kilometre away.

I asked what it was.  “I dunno.  Let’s have a look.”

So we did. It was Imtrex.

Imtrex – dead fish, dead tree, dead human …

“Wow.  Look at the labels on it! Dead fish.  Dead tree.  Heart attack.  C’mon! This can’t be good.”

It’s weird though.  It’s being sprayed right on the ears of ripening barley, and we’re going to eat it.  There’s poison on it , and we’re going to eat it.  We’re killing ourselves and enjoying it.

We don’t make the connection between our demand for cheap, convenient food and lifestyles and the consequential impairment of diet and lifestyle.  Our monolithic food chain, standardised automated production, controlled by capitalists is withering our soul and costing our health.  Apart from the increased incidence of cancer which only affects a third or so of us, almost everyone is affected by the lower quality of food – processed, refined, packaged with a fraction of the dietary health benefits of real food, but extra poison.

Yet we all buy in to it.  We all live the lie.  The farmer can’t make ends meet if he doesn’t.  (Ironically, I found out since that this “T3” third treatment for “disease” was being applied too late, as the ears were grown, and so wouldn’t improve yield, although the farmer could prove he sprayed the “treatment”.)   We can’t make ends meet f we don’t play the pyramid consumption game.  So we all turn a blind eye to our gradual suicide.  It’s fairly painless anyway.

But it could be different.  It would be different if we all chose differently.  It doesn’t have to be much at first, but even little thoughtful choices make a difference.  And they lead to bigger thoughtful choice.  And when everyone starts choosing differently, the world changes fast.  So whether you’re in the tractor, in the shop, regulating the chemical, making the chemical, or financing the chemical, don’t turn a blind eye.  Think, and choose to change a little.

Because dying can be easy or hard, and withering from poison is not easy.

Time is running out: Behind the curve on SDGs

SustainAblility and Globescan’s recent survey of progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals is not encouraging.

Progress on transition to sustainable development to date (% of experts)
Progress on transition to sustainable development to date (% of experts)

Over 500 experts contributed.  The consensus is that progress and attention is lagging the need for change.  If data is restricted to those with a decade or more of experience the picture is worse.

“Poor” progress on transition to sustainable development to date (% of experts)
“Poor” progress on transition to sustainable development to date (% of experts)

Progress is dominated by social entrepreneurs and NGOs while national governments’ and corporates’ performance is considered poor.

Contribution of organizations to progress on the SDGs (% of experts)
Contribution of organizations to progress on the SDGs (% of experts)

The lack of attention by governments and corporates is underpinned by their “clients” – voters and consumers – so clearly there remains among people generally a lack of awareness of the need and opportunity for system change.  People don’t perceive the dangers of failing commercial and social systems and the disintegration of Earth’s natural environment upon which we rely.

Perhaps this is not surprising.  Except for change agents and social entrepreneurs, people are not engaged with the problems of the world but instead stick to traditional mindsets and routines.  (The SDG’s themselves are fundamentally flawed in their promotion of growth, as opposed to working within natural laws and the capacity of the biosphere.) Continue reading Time is running out: Behind the curve on SDGs

Where the world is going, today.

If you are an expert in your field you have a good idea of what is going on in that area.  That’s how you make a living.  Most of us express views about news and events that are outside our area of expertise especially if we think that they might effect us in some way, like politics and economics.  The Presidency of the United States of America is one of those things.

Everyone will be talking about the new US administration in America today.  Some will be earnest, some dismissive, some joyful, some sad or angry.  Irrespective of your emotions or political leanings, its impact will affect you. Continue reading Where the world is going, today.

Snack Food Slavery: We’re all enjoying it.

What?  Not me.  No way!  Slavery is bad.

Yeah, but … you’re still part of the problem.  We all are.

Here’s a piece of the big picture puzzle:

Soda and chips … sugars and fats … vegetable oil … palm oil … slaves and rain forest exploitation.palmoilslave

That food chain is run by big companies, big banks and rich owners.  (You might be one without even realising it!)

It’s fuelled by people buying foods made with industrially grown vegetable oils.  That means most products on the supermarket shelves, including all the big brands owned by companies like Nestle, Unilever, Pepsico, Heinz, Cargill, CocaCola, Kraft, P&G, …  And the food chain is financed with money from big banks like Citi, HSBC, JP Morgan Chase, Deutsche Bank, BNP Paribas, Standard Chartered, Mizuho, Rabobank, …

Continue reading Snack Food Slavery: We’re all enjoying it.

Investing your portfolio: Where are the customers’ yachts?

The wife of a successful entrepreneur once remarked to me that she had pointed out to her husband that there will always be someone else with a bigger yacht in the marina.  She was hinting that it’s fine to work, but there’s a point at which you ought to stop and spend a bit of time with your family and friends.  She’s since divorced (for him it’s the second time!).

livingoffthepeopleAnother boating analogy was shared by The Economist recently in a comment about the asset management industry entitled Living off the people.  As an asset manager, investing other people’s money, it was pertinent to my profession.  The article offers a synopsis of the fund management industry and the challenges it faces today, the principal one being “Is there any use for fund manager’s at all?”  The evidence has been around for decades, and now is being more actively referenced, that paying someone to beat the index is a fool’s game.

You can’t consistently beat the index, and if you have to pay someone to try, that’s going to cost you even more, so don’t even try.  Just invest in a low fee index fund, like one offered by Vanguard.  The article points out that a quarter of American billionaires work in finance and investment and concludes with a quote from a pre-war Wall Street mogul “Where are all the customers’ yachts?”  Instead pay a computer pennies to put yo u on the efficient frontier.

Continue reading Investing your portfolio: Where are the customers’ yachts?

Global perspectives: Technology, Growth, Money, Politics and what to invest in

The Long Termworld-300px

We’re talking 20 years or so here.

In 20  years we’ll be facing Big Stuff.  Climate change, weather volatility, species loss, clean air, clean water, … that whole environment thing will be getting much more serious and everyone will be dealing with it in some way or another.  I’m hoping it’ll make Ireland a bit more like the south of France, and it might, but whatever else, it’s going to make the simple things in life more difficult.  For most of humanity that will include feeding themselves and getting clean water.

So that will make food and land more important.

In 20 years we may well have passed “The Singularity“.  That’s a term coined by futurists, often with a trans-humanist bent, which denotes the inevitable point at which technology development starts happening “by itself”.  This occurs as humanity’s understanding of physics and biology enable the creation of thinking machines (computers) that emulate the brain, and then androids and cyborgs begin to be used in place of people.

Certainly in 20 years technology will have changed our world even more than in the past 20.   Do not imagine The Singularity to be fantasy.  We are close already.  The mobile phone/computer in your pocket is old technology compared with neuro-computers being tested in laboratories.  Robots are already becoming remarkably similar to C-3PO in looks and mobility at least.  Today the consequences are being felt in most professions as AI (artificial intelligence) takes jobs away from humans.  This is what we all wanted – automatic checkout, automatic cashier, automatic accountant, automatic lawyer, automatic vehicle … The challenge now being solved is automatic creativity.

Continue reading Global perspectives: Technology, Growth, Money, Politics and what to invest in

The dangers of committees and what they signal.

The article below by Dr Schori and Mr Garee is quoted wholesale because it’s amusing, anthropomorphic, so easy to relate to, and accurate.

deathbycommitteeCommittees have a tendency to be inefficient and ineffective, consuming resources and delaying results.  Consensus is necessary, but usually that’s at strategic or policy level.  If it’s necessary for daily or tactical decisions committees tend to be unwieldy.  Far better to achieve a balance of responsibility  and competence wherein people rely upon and trust one another.  As with so many aspects of “management” there are exceptions and the challenge in this case is to be one.  Be exceptional, as an enterprise, by maintaining your nimble physique as you grow and mature.

‘Management by committee’ signals final stages of company ‘life cycle.’

By Thomas R. Schori, Ph.D., and Michael L. Garee, Principals,  Millennium Marketing Research, 808 E. Ironwood, Normal, IL 61761-5239. Tel. 309-532-8466 –

http://tomschori.com/35800.HTM

Having spent a large part of our professional lives in corporate environments, not surprisingly, we’ve also spent a fair amount of time in meetings of one committee or another. In fact, many are the days in which we’ve spent the whole blasted day in some such meeting! We’d like to say that it was time well spent, but in most cases that simply was not the case. Our experience, of course, is not at all unique. In many companies, it appears that virtually every decision, large or small, momentous or trivial, is made by a committee.

Without question, it’s good management practice for a chief executive officer (or members of his or her senior management staff) to seek the advice and counsel of internal experts before making certain key decisions. But seeking advice and counsel is far different from managing by committee, a subtle distinction that’s seemingly lost on many companies. In the former, regardless of whom the CEO consults, it is he or she who makes the final decision, not a consensus of those who were consulted, as would be the case in a company managed by committee.

How pervasive is the practice of managing by committee? Very. Almost anyone working in a medium to large business today observes at least some of this practice on a daily basis. This practice, i.e., managing by committee, is characteristic of organizations that have entered the last two stages of the phenomenon which we previously have dubbed the Company Life Cycle [Described by us in our December 22, 1997, column, entitled, “Like products, companies also have a life cycle”].

If your company doesn’t manage by committee, you’re indeed fortunate. It means that your company is either still in the “toddler” (new company, very nimble) stage or the “adolescent” (company experiencing rapid growth) stage. Either way, your organization still has at its helm someone who continues to manage with visionary zeal, and is not afraid of making decisions. On the other hand, if your organization is one of the management by committee variety, of which there are far too many, watch out! If you’re not in a position to change it, you might want to “spruce” up your résumé because your company has already progressed to the “aging athlete” (established company merely “running in place”) or “old geezer” (company characterized by turgidity, headed for imminent decline) stage of its life cycle. Such a company probably is not long for this world.

Continue reading The dangers of committees and what they signal.

System change, social media and your choices.

drowningworldcarCOP21 comes to a close as the wind howls and Jaspar’s rugby game is cancelled because so much water fell on the pitch last night.  Climate change is great, but it’s not good.  I love the warmer weather so here in Ireland it’s almost as warm as Hong Kong in the winter; you can go jogging and enjoy the breeze.  But the volatility of weather is a symptom of broken systems.  Both civilisation and nature.

The consequences for the breakdown of nature and civilisation will be different.  Nature will change – once nature was a burning ball in space, now it’s a paradise become decadent and failing.  Civilisation will simply disappear – and might never come back.

For some the idea that the human systems are dysfunctional and the weight of humanity is crushing nature is familiar.  For many of them, it is a new realisation and the response reflects where they come from: community driven people tend to activism, strategic operators tend to business solutions, organisers tend to regulation, and so on. For a few the notion of integral solutions is a dawning awareness.

Hand holding a Social Media 3d Sphere sign on white background.All of these people are connected by social organisation and media.  We all communicate with each other and ideas circulate quickly as nuggets of information on Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, websites, journals, TV shows,  … We tend to communicate with like minded people.  It is not easy to cross over.  But the filtering of from one group to another happens because in each of our circle of family and friends there are always a few “strange ones” who bring unfamiliar concepts to the conversation.  (I might fit that description for many of my family and peers!)

Social media allows this cross-fertilisation of ideas and it reveals the homogeneity of your group of friends.  Who shares ideas about politics, art, religion, business, .. and so on?

COP21marchWhile there has been a great deal of activity related to COP21, it has been predominantly among the same people:  People who want to see system change, or people who have a vested interest in things staying as they are.

The outcome of COP21 is not going to be remarkable.  Sadly, the depth and breadth of understanding among leaders, and followers, is shallow and narrow.  For example, even I was a little stunned, on the way back from picking Richard up from the airport, to calculate that we had released a quarter of  his body weight of 60 odd kilos in CO2.

gas_balloon_scaleA litre of fuel releases between 0.6 and 0.7 kg of carbon, which grabs another two molecules of oxygen to make carbon di-oxide, bringing the weight to around 1.8 kg.  So for a 150 km round trip at 45 mpg (15.8 km/litre) we needed 150/15.8 or 9.5 litres which create 17 kilos of CO2.  Just that one event produced nearly the same weight of CO2 as you find in a bag of cement.  It’s heavy!  And it’s just one event on one day.

So even people like me can be stunned by the challenges we face.

The problem nature faces has much to do with energy and our gratuitous use of fossil fuels.  The reality is that humanity must live within the laws of nature, including not consuming more energy in a year than that captured by photosynthesis in a year.

unethicalCivilisation is breaking down because the systems we have in place are unethical.  Every crisis comes about because of moral failure.  Corruption insinuates business, politics and religion.  There are cries for change and some who show the way, but the establishment finds it hard to give up power.  If evolution is not chosen, revolution erupts.

So while you are part of the establishment, spare a moment for the alternative view that is shared by the fringes of your social circle.  It’s not about equality it’s about equity.  Be open to finding a way for systems to evolve.  The system is a result of everybody’s choices.  We must all choose better.  We must aim to do the right thing the right way.