Marketplace Scratch Pad

Morning Reading

Scott Jagow Jun 30, 2009

Among the things I’ve been reading this morning — there is such a thing as free, lots of writing about Bernie, why America and Michael Jackson have a lot in common and why oil companies are licking their chops. Here’s my highlight reel:

At Marketwatch, David Weidner says some of the Madoff victims are starting to sound like whiners, demanding all of their money back:

Why should the investors and brokers paying into SIPC pay for a fraud they had nothing to do with? And why would anyone support a taxpayer bailout just because the SEC missed the scam, as some Madoff investors have suggested?

The answer, of course, is that they shouldn’t. Madoff investors are getting back what they are entitled under the law.

Barron’s says Madoff is hardly unique, and it’s preposterous to think he did this all by himself:

Just the nuts and bolts of the operation were staggering, down to generating customer statements with myriad fictitious trades that somehow always added up to steady gains.

Yet, how different were Madoff’s purported returns from the erstwhile sure things once touted everywhere?

Such as realtors who asserted house prices go only one way, up. Mortgage brokers who assured borrowers that option ARMs are a great deal. Or all manner of academics or financial advisors who assert with absolute certitude that stocks invariably produce higher returns in the long run.

“A very great man once said that some people rob you with a fountain pen,” Bob Dylan sang long ago. Madoff did the same thing by exploiting people’s credulity. And if he convinces everybody he acted alone, I think he will have done it again.

In the New Yorker, Malcolm Gladwell has a review of Chris Anderson’s new book, “Free: The Future of a Radical Price.” Anderson is the editor of Wired magazine, and the book, according to Gladwell…

… is essentially an extended elaboration of Stewart Brand’s famous declaration that “information wants to be free.” The digital age, Anderson argues, is exerting an inexorable downward pressure on the prices of all things “made of ideas.” Anderson does not consider this a passing trend. Rather, he seems to think of it as an iron law: “In the digital realm you can try to keep Free at bay with laws and locks, but eventually the force of economic gravity will win.”

Gladwell takes Anderson to task a bit. It’s quite an interesting read.

Elsewhere, author James Howard Kunstler has an scathing review of… this country. The title of the column is “Man in the Mirror.” That, of course, is a Michael Jackson song. Kunstler compares the good ‘ole USA to Jackson:

Michael Jackson was on the receiving end of one huge bank loan after another long after his pattern of profligacy was set and obvious. They threw money at him for the same reason that the federal government throws money at entities like CitiBank: the desperate hope that some miracle will allow debt servicing to resume.

Michael could burn through $50-million in half a year. It didn’t seem to affect his credibility as a borrower. When his heart stopped last week, he was living in a Hollywood mansion that rented for several hundred thousand dollars a month. You wonder how the landlord cashed those checks.

NPR’s Morning Edition reported on the oil field auction in Iraq. For the first time in nearly 40 years, foreign oil companies could be pumping Iraqi oil:

The oil companies are so eager for a crack at Iraq’s vast oil wealth that they are willing to overlook some big negatives: It’s a country still at war. There’s a lot of political opposition to foreign oil companies. There’s no guarantee the contracts awarded at this auction will even be honored. And yet, more than 30 companies submitted bids.

“What makes Iraq special,” says Diwan, “is [that] there is room for all the big oil companies at the same time, and for all them to have sizable projects. Everybody will get something fairly large.”

On PBS’s Newshour, Judy Woodruff has the final part of her series, Generation Next. She’s
looking at how young people are coping with the recession. She talks to recent grads in Oklahoma who believe renewable energy, not oil, will keep them employed for years to come.

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