Thursday, May 26, 2022

Thursday Night Links

  • I continue to personally reject the concept of retirement. I think it’s particularly bad for men. At the highest income levels, the life expectancy gap between men and women narrows from 6 years to only 18 months. I chalk this up mostly to the fact that wealthier men tend to have ongoing business interests even if retired from their primary occupation. Men who aren’t actively producing something seem to give up and die. Dave Ramsey recommends the book Thou Shalt Prosper by Rabbi Daniel Lapin, which discusses the reasons why the author thinks Jewish people succeed economically. One of those reasons is that Jewish men tend not to retire. An extra decade or two adding value instead of retiring to the hunting lodge or golf course makes an exponential difference in the productivity of one’s life. Your kids will also appreciate it if you avoid the nihilist goal of dying broke. [Tom File]
  • I misspoke in referring to “intellectuals.” The delusions in which our culture drowns spring less from genuine intellectuals than from a pullulating mass of diploma-wielding mediocrities bereft of any semblance of overall erudition or specialized savantship. So, taking a cue from those drabs of the street who feign love without actually providing it, let’s give these vacuous expounders a more telling handle. Rather than “intellectuals,” let’s call them “mind-workers.” Fittingly, mind-work is also one of the world’s oldest professions. Since time beyond, mind hacks have been proffering exotic mysteries, secondhand dogmas, preposterous nostra, conspiracy theories, and any other form of ideational hokum that might attract attention and coin palms. But earlier epochs offered such mountebanks far fewer occasions to profitably ply their trades than does ours. The straitened material circumstances of premodernity necessarily kept the sphere of airy discourse small, and only the really clever, or officially patronized, could hope to make a decent living out of it. [The New Criterion]
  • It sounds like an impossible dream. Yet such an exhibition opened in Florence at the end of March. “Donatello: The Renaissance,” the first show dedicated to this artist in forty years, is on view in not one but two venues simultaneously: the Palazzo Strozzi, a Renaissance palace that for some time has been an exhibition space, and the Bargello, Florence’s sculpture museum and home to some of Donatello’s most important works, notably the marble St. George (ca. 1415–17) and the bronze David Victorious (ca. 1435–40). [The New Criterion]
  • Americans usually presume that Stalin, as a mass murderer, must have been a semi-literate thug, as if intellectuals are somehow less capable of brutality. At best, they figure that Stalin, as his enemy Trotsky asserted, was a consummate intellectual mediocrity. In fact, Stalin was not only highly intelligent but also supremely well-read. When the Soviet archives were opened after the fall of the ussr, it turned out that Stalin had accumulated a personal library of twenty-five thousand volumes. He had selected the books himself and even devised his own classification system for his personal librarian to follow. In over four hundred volumes he left extensive pometki, marginal notes. What was in that library? What did those notes say? After the Party leader Nikita Khrushchev denounced Stalin in his 1956 “Secret Speech,” most of Stalin’s books were dispersed to various libraries—over the strenuous objections, it should be added, of his daughter, Svetlana, who claimed her father’s collection as her own. But the four hundred annotated books found their way into the Stalin lichnyi fond, or personal archive. At the end of his riveting book Inside the Stalin Archives (2008), Jonathan Brent describes the thrill of discovering these volumes. [The New Criterion
  • What does the Fed do? Do they continue to chase oil higher by raising rates? Or do they accept that Biden is fixated on creating an energy crisis? Does the Fed simply throw their collective hands up and say that the price of oil is now outside of their mandate? Or do they continue on autopilot because inflation is in the teens? Does the Fed let everything detonate? Or do they do their best to ameliorate the effects of the accelerating energy crisis on the rest of the economy? If you’ve read this blog before, you probably can guess at where I stand. Oil is the wrecking ball that we all deserve. The consensus view is that the Fed will raise rates aggressively if oil hits $200. I have a contrarian view—at $200, they’ll panic. They’ll blame Putin, hedonically adjust the numbers, and go back to money printing, just like they did with COVID. Remember the deluge of liquidity over germs? With oil, they’ll say that Putin is using economic warfare and the economy needs more QE otherwise oil buries it. They’ll reduce interest rates, flood the world with liquidity and activate their acronym programs. The Fed will declare war on oil and use all of their tools. Meanwhile, the government will come in with all sorts of oil simmys to ensure that voters do not feel the negative effects of their failed oil policies. The Monetary and Fiscal branches will team up to try and make the bite of oil hurt less. In doing so, they’ll send oil intergalactic. [Kuppy]
  • There are two big questions for the tobacco investments. First, can they maintain operating income from their cigarette businesses despite the long term secular volume decline? This question is one of consumer preferences (for cigarettes versus reduced risk alternatives or even other dopamine modifiers), politics (of taxation and regulation, both of cigarettes and the replacements), and demand elasticity for cigarettes (the price-volume tradeoff). The second big question for tobacco investments is, assuming that the reduced risk businesses continue to grow and that they do cannibalize the cigarette businesses, how much of that new business will be captured by the big tobacco incumbents? This is where the big tobacco "cigar butt" investments have the potential to be growth stocks if things go right. [CBS]

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