£4M Per Olympic Medal: UK's Cost of Success

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in ,, at 8/26/2016 03:59:00 PM

The United Kingdom's unprecedented feat at the 2016 Rio Olympics--winning more medals [67] in the event following the one they hosted [65 at London 2012]--has not gone unnoticed. Far more populous China is contemptous, having been beaten into second place overall going by gold medals won. Near-neighbor and constant reference point France [in 7th place] regards the UK's performance with a mixture of disdain and envy (as usual). But what are factors went into it beating more populous competitors with presumably more talent to draw on and cash to spend--especially freed of democratic constraints on public expenditures like China and Russia?

1. The establishment of a national lottery to funnel cash to sports programs, whose funding has greatly increased as a result in the new millennium -

Former UK Prime Minister John Major is little remembered outside of the UK since he served between two much more globally-recognized figures: Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair. However, his government's decision to launch the National Lottery right before Blair's New Labour era came into power may have set up the UK's run of successes at the Olympics.
Reportedly, the UK government spent just £5m per year funding Olympic sport before the 1996 Atlanta games. But UK Sport spent £54m on elite sports in the run-up to the Sydney games in 2000 - where Team GB won 28 medals and ranked 10th. By the time of London 2012 it was spending £264m, and Team GB came third in the medal table, with 65 medals. 
2. Selectivity is funding sports programs -

It is, yes, performance-based funding. In the absence of a prevailing record, they went on forecasts targeting the overall medal haul (which the Chinese have practiced, of course):
Before the beginning of each funding cycle, all sports present to UK Sport a detailed, costed strategy and agree a range of medals which they will aim to achieve at the following Olympic or Paralympic Games. UK Sport scrutinises all the strategies and allocates funding on a "top-down basis". As a spokesperson puts it: "We start with the sports which are targeting the most medals and work downwards i.e. we do not 'salami slice' funding and give some to every sport." The level of funding in each sport is assessed annually and benchmarked against results at milestone target events in each year, to determine whether they are on track for the next Games.
3.Attention to detail -

Those working with the athletes sweat the details that may lend the Brits an advantage come competition time. Three examples are given:
In the build-up to these Olympics, a PhD student at the English Institute of Sport named Luke Gupta examined the sleep quality of more than 400 elite GB athletes, looking at the duration of their average sleep, issues around deprivation and then individual athletes' perception of their sleep quality. His findings resulted in an upgrading of the 'sleep environment' in the Team GB boxing training base in Sheffield - 37 single beds replaced by 33 double and four extra-long singles; sheets, duvets and pillows switched to breathable, quick drying fabrics; materials selected to create a hypo-allergenic barrier to allergens in each bedroom.

In track cycling, GB physio Phil Burt and team doctor Richard Freeman realised saddle sores were keeping some female riders out of training. Their response? To bring together a panel of experts - friction specialist, reconstructive surgeons, a consultant in vulval health - to advise on the waxing and shaving of pubic hair. In the six months before Rio not a single rider complained of saddle sores.

Then there is the lateral thinking of Danny Kerry, performance director to the Great Britain women's hockey team that won gold in such spectacular fashion on Friday. "Everyone puts a lot of time into the physiological effects of hockey, but what we've done in this Olympic cycle is put our players in an extremely fatigued state, and then ask them to think very hard at the same time," Kerry told BBC Sport. "We call that Thinking Thursday - forcing them to consistently make excellent decisions under that fatigue. We've done that every Thursday for a year."
So it's not just about the money. Although it undoubtedly helps, it needs to be spent in a way that maximizes medal chances based on realistic projections and delivering on real-world results if further funding is to be received. Plus, there is much attention paid to things which may give athletes a competitive advantage from suggestions from coaches and players to applying sports research. Actually, the GBP 4M per Olympic medal looks more affordable if divided per capita per year, upon which the tab comes to £1.09.

Let Team GB show us the way in cost-effective sporting expenditures which burnish national pride..

Remembering When Concordes Flew to Venezuela

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 8/21/2016 03:57:00 PM
Remembering when Venezuela wasn't a Chavista hellhole: Of Concordes and oil wealth.
The international humiliation of Venezuela illustrates how far it has fallen in the global pecking order in terms of economic significance. A few months ago, I wrote about how international airlines have begun dropping flights from Caracas paid for in local currency since the government is not exchanging (near worthless) bolivars into foreign exchange--namely, US dollars. Contrary to what is happening to the rest of the world, international flights to Venezuela are disappearing fast. Once a gateway to the region, it's now shunned by most of the world's airlines:
Perched on a coastal plain at the very northern tip of South America, Caracas’s Simón Bolívar International Airport was once the aviation gateway to the continent. Charles Lindbergh scouted the airport’s location in 1929, according to Venezuelan aviation lore, and by 1959, Pan Am was routing its New York-Buenos Aires flights with a stop in Caracas. By the late 1970s, Venezuela was so rich in oil wealth that Concorde jets were swooping in to whisk shoppers off to Paris.

These days, the Caracas airport is a depressing, lonely place, and Venezuelan air travel has shriveled. International carriers have about $4 billion stuck in virtually worthless Venezuelan bolivars that government banks won’t let them convert into hard currency, so they are cutting their losses and dropping Caracas flights. LATAM, the largest carrier in Latin America, took off down the runway this week and isn’t coming back.

By most accounts, Venezuela’s economy is the worst-performing in the world, with the International Monetary Fund predicting a 10 percent contraction this year[...]Since 2013, when the bolivar started its steep drop, the number of passengers traveling to and from Venezuela has fallen nearly 30 percent, according the International Air Transport Association, a leading airline trade group. That is an especially large drop, according to spokesman Jason Sinclair, given that commercial air travel is rapidly increasing almost everywhere else.
I was particularly intrigued by the Concorde stopping over in what has since become a pinko wasteland. Did the world's fastest passenger jets really go to Caracas once upon a time? It's true; they did. Adding to the exotica, the famously range-limited, fuel-hungry jets made stopovers in the Azores:
In 1976 BA launched the jet to Bahrain on a convoluted route down the Mediterranean, while Air France began with Rio – but not non-stop. Due to the distance and Concorde's commercially debilitating lack of range, it had to refuel at Dakar in Senegal. A few months later, the people of the Azores found themselves on the route map; the island of Ponta Delgada served as a pit stop between Paris and Caracas – which was in the middle of an oil boom.
Nowadays, of course, the country is reliant on forced labor in the absence of any real incentives to work. From Concordes to slavery--that doesn't seem like progress, but maybe that's just me. 

How Brexit May Slow Global Overfishing

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 8/16/2016 03:43:00 PM
The fish trade fell in 2015 for the first time in a long time. Will Brexit affect 2016 and beyond?
Here's another of those stories in which a global economic slowdown is helpful to the cause of environmental preservation. Like reduced global carbon emissions in the wake of the global financial crisis, Brexit may be aiding another environmental cause: slowing overfishing. You see, the UK is both a major consumer and exporter of fish--the world's most-traded food commodity. Brexit impacts not only consumer demand in the UK itself as Britons feel the impact of reduced incomes, but UK fish exports to the EU may be hit as well after losing tariff-free privileges for these agricultural products:
Brexit is likely to cast a shadow over the global trade in fish in 2016, as the fall in the pound depresses the UK’s purchasing power as well as the value of the country’s seafood exports, according to officials at the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation. The UK is a leading exporter of salmon as well as being a top 10 importer of fish and fishery products.

“Brexit could depress seafood trade, especially in the short term, but also in the longer term because of more difficult market access for UK exporters to the EU,” said Audun Lem, deputy director of the FAO’s fisheries policy division. His comments came as world seafood trade fell in 2015 for the first time since the financial crisis as economic weakness in emerging markets, particularly Brazil and Russia, hit consumption and fish prices.
If the FAO is right, then combining reduced demand for fish in LDCs like Brazil and Russia coupled with the aforementioned UK dislocations may be beneficial for fish stocks--especially in waters near the UK. Some research suggests the UK is the worst offender among (current) EU nations in overfishing.

That said, some environmental activists claim that, unshackled from the restraints of the EU's Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), there will be little to prevent the UK from overfishing even more after it leaves the EU:
That is not what the history of shared resources tells us, instead the result will be a tragedy of overfishing. The reformed Common Fisheries Policy represents the best solution to overfishing in Europe with many stocks already showing improvement. Leaving it would send us back to the drawing board and the likelihood is that the environment (and fishers’ livelihoods) would suffer during years of bureaucratic wrangling.
We'll see...

Financial Sensationalism + Mathlexia = 'Business Insider'

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in at 8/15/2016 07:27:00 AM
Markets CRASHING daily! The B-i-e-b-s!! Olympic swimmer jillionaires!!! Welcome to Business Insider.
I try to avoid reading Business Insider as much as possible since its level of intellectual sophistication and journalistic integrity make it the Breitbart of financial reporting--about on par with Zero Hedge for a near-analogue. The founder of Business Insider, of course, is a known fabulist of near-Trumpian proportions, Henry Blodget, who is best known for flogging stocks he personally described as "crap" during the height of the dot-com bust. He was banned by the US Securities and Exchange Commission from the industry and hit with charges a total of $4 million in penalties.

Over the years, he's largely continued along the same path, founding Business Insider as a shrine to financial yellow journalism. Examples abound. The Columbia Journalism Review describes Blodget's creation quite accurately:
What business press readers always lacked but never really needed was a tabloid sensationalist to hype up mundane markets and business news. Who would have ever thought Henry Blodget would be the guy to fill this void?

There are a couple of things to expect when reading Business Insider or Blodget’s tweets: ALL CAPS. Words like “scariest,” “startling,” “doomed.” Headlines that tells you “Here’s why X is happening.” Stock photos. Lots and lots and lots of pithy posts, some of which stretch the truth.
CNBC doesn't fare too poorly on sensationalism, but Business Insider takes it to a new level. There's obviously a lot on non-business stuff in there as well that would fit well with the National Enquirer:
But the problem with sensationalism, of course, is that it feeds on itself. It’s hard to grab people’s attention when you’re always grabbing people’s attention. And you end up misleading people and undermining your credibility by saying stuff like “Horrible jobs report shocks market, stocks tank,” when stocks aren’t really tanking at all. There’s something about the ultra-Darwinian nature of the Web, with its brutal economics, that makes this stuff all the more tempting. When a click’s worth virtually nothing, you’ve got to get an awful lot of them to make ends meet. You do that by using superlatives, all caps, silly slideshows about “15 Ways Justin Bieber Is Taking Over The World , girlie pics, etc.
Aside from ever-increasing sensationalism, there's also the question of basic competence reporting on business-related matters. As the Olympics are ongoing, it was perhaps inevitable that it would cover the sporting event. Blogging about Singapore's Joseph Schooling defeating the legendary American swimmer Michael Phelps in the 100m butterfly event by winning gold, it notes that the nation awards a SGD 1,000,000 prize (Business Insider: that's the abbreviation for Singaporean dollars since most of your staff probably don't know that). Which is all well and good for Singaporean athletes if so. But how much is that in gool ol' US dollars according to the Business Insider?
As Stefanie Loh of Seattle Times Sports notes, Schooling just became a millionaire in Singapore. That's because Singapore tops the rest of the world in prize money for winning a gold medal. According to Fox Sports Australia, athletes who win Olympic gold medals get paid 1 million Singapore dollars for their achievements (roughly $983,000 American).
The accuracy of this claim is on par with the one about Ted Cruz's father being involved in the assassination of JFK. Going by the prevailing exchange rate from a more reliable source, the current USD/SGD rate is 1.346 Singaporean dollars to 1 US dollar as I write. So, what Schooling will receive in US dollar terms is actually 1,000,000/1.346 = USD 742,942. That's quite a difference from what the Business Insider claims, huh? A commenter noted over two days ago that the exchange rate used was wrong, but such is the ineptitude of this site that it has not been corrected.

Do people actually take Business Insider seriously? Its staff's limited understanding of finance--led by Blodget himself--is evident. Their already-limited understanding gets worse the farther away you get from the US to hardly obscure places like Singapore--one of Asia's centers of finance. Sure it has its readers, but so do Breitbart, Zero Hedge etc. in the same way Donald Trump has voters.

There are apparently lots of people who prefer their news laced with pandering and sensationalism--this is the Internet, after all. Business Insider worsens matters by lacking basic knowledge of what they write about. If you don't understand something as simple as exchange rates, then there is little else you should be writing about concerning "business."

UPDATE: The apparent source of confusion for the Business Insider blog post is from the article linked to, which the BI blogger cannot understand:
Those looking for a bigger payday might want to look into pledging allegiance to Singapore, which offers gold medal-winning athletes $1 million Singapore dollars ($A983,000) under its Multi-Million Dollar Awards Program.
This coming from [hint, hint] an Australian website, $A983,000 obviously does not mean US dollars but rather Australian dollars. While I am horrified by this level of financial illiteracy, I am utterly unsurprised to find it in the Business Insider. That's all she wrote for Blodget wanting his site to be taken seriously.

Fortress Brexit: PRC Asks UK to Honor $23B Nuke Plant Deal

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 8/12/2016 12:53:00 PM
The best laid plans for the PRC to build nuke plants in the UK go astray after Brexit.
The United Kingdom's referendum outcome to separate itself from Europe may arguably portend a move towards greater economic isolationism from the rest of the world. While some Brexiteers portray the move as an opportunity to strike deals with non-Europeans unshackled from the fetters of having to move together with 27 other European states, we shall wait and see. Certainly, the early evidence is not altogether promising.

One of the supposed benefits of going it alone for the UK is to take advantage of closer ties with fast-growing Asian nations. However, in the aftermath of Brexit, its new Prime Minister Theresa May has put into question the building of a new nuclear power plant in the UK with Chinese (and French, actually) involvement. To this the PRC warns of strained ties:
China has a clear message for Britain: Dump a joint nuclear power project and you'll pay the price. A deal for a Chinese state-owned company to help build a nuclear plant in southwest England was announced amid much fanfare during a visit by President Xi Jinping last October. But the $23 billion Hinkley Point project is being reviewed by new British Prime Minister Theresa May, who succeeded David Cameron in the wake of the Brexit vote in June.

That's not sitting well with China. "Right now, the China-U.K. relationship is at a crucial historical juncture," China's ambassador to Britain, Liu Xiaoming, wrote in an article for the Financial Times. "I hope the U.K. will keep its door open to China and that the British government will continue to support Hinkley Point — and come to a decision as soon as possible so that the project can proceed smoothly," he added. 
Actually, the preliminary project will be French-majority invested, with a second to follow that's China-majority invested. It's the latter that the PRC is eyeing more:
Under the deal announced in October, China General Nuclear Power Corporation (CGN) would have a 33.5% stake in the power plant. France's EDF (ECIFY) will hold the rest. The bigger prize for China, though, is a related deal to build another nuclear power plant some 60 miles northeast of London, using its own reactor technology. It would have 66.5% of that venture.

May hasn't given much away about her reasons for delaying the decision on Hinkley Point. But the deal was controversial from the start, with critics warning that giving China access to vital infrastructure could compromise national security. The plan has also come under fire for guaranteeing an electricity price way above market levels.
Ah, good ol' "national security" concerns--usually isolationism or protectionism masquerading as a threat to law and order. The broader point is that Theresa May was the home secretary of her predecessor David Cameron when the nuke deal was signed. Why didn't she object over "national security" concerns then? Certainly she had a right to do so as a cabinet member whose portfolio encompasses this matter. (For the PRC viewpoint, see its UK ambassador's Financial Times op-ed.)

Even if the terms of the deal were not good for the UK which many critics say, the overall impression is made that the UK is not engaging further with but rather withdrawing from international economic interaction. You can bet that isolationist Brexiteers are very happy about what's happening. Giving the French a kicking would be an added benefit for them.

UPDATE: Also note the US is investigating nuclear espionage involving the Chinese firm in question. Still, my belief is that the UK had all the time in the world to vet this deal. Not honoring it now post-Brexit vote doesn't exactly inspire confidence among the UK's would-be trade partners that it remains open for business.

Negativity's End: Japan & Central Bank 'Disarmament'

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 8/07/2016 05:46:00 PM
The world may be out of the negative bond yield hole sooner than you think.
Just a few days ago, commentators were portraying the world economy's future as one of never-ending declines in interest rates as central banks the world over experimented with zero interest rate policies (ZIRP) or, if those didn't work, negative interest rate policies (ZIRP). To encourage lending, borrowing and investment--or depress the value of one's currency, it's been left largely unsaid--they had to resort to such extreme measures since, well, everyone else was doing it.

However, there has been an obvious problem with this argument: what if these negative interest rate policies didn't generate any appreciable additional economic activity, let alone sustained growth? This precisely has been the problem of the Bank of Japan (BoJ). Widely expected to take interest rates further into negative territory as its meeting concluded a few days ago, the BoJ instead stood pat and handed the baton to PM Abe and fiscal policy. While it is equally doubtful whether massive government spending can life Japan out of its moribund state: 
The Bank of Japan (BoJ) Friday passed up the chance to increase its monetary stimulus, as many market observers had expected, and instead just tinkered around the edges with some token adjustments. Not only that, but it also called for a review of the impact of its extraordinary monetary policy on economy and said it will debate the issue at the next Monetary Policy Meeting (MPM) on 20-21 Sep. Is Japan, the first country in the world to adopt zero interest rates and quantitative easing, now signaling that monetary policy has reached its limits? 
The fault according to the Japanese lies in not enough folks believing that inflation will happen. Absent such conviction, it doesn't happen as a self-fulfilling prophecy:
What is that transmission mechanism? The paper included the following flow chart. Note the central role of inflation expectations. This ties in with BoJ Gov. Kuroda’s “Peter Pan Principle,” which he stated in June 2015. “I trust that many of you are familiar with the story of Peter Pan, in which it says, ‘the moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease forever to be able to do it,’” he told a BoJ conference. “Yes, what we need is a positive attitude and conviction.”

The line of reasoning is as follows: if people think that prices are headed higher, they will demand higher wages. Companies will pay higher wages and then raise their prices to cover those higher wages. Then more people will ask for wage hikes. Result: inflation!
Yes, well, that's how it should have worked out in theory. Given that hardly anything has gone Japan's way, the BoJ is conducting a "comprehensive assessment" to be released September 20-21. In the meantime, the knock-on effect worldwide is that if Japan does not drag everyone else further into NIRP territory to maintain competitiveness, then there is no reason to expect even lower interest rates going forward. While the Bank of England has cut rates to record lows in an effort to ward off a UK recession post-Brexit vote, it is not going into negative territory according to Governor Mark Carney:
One of the most controversial strategies has been to push interest rates below zero, a tactic deployed by the European Central Bank and the Bank of Japan. But on Thursday, Carney ruled out the possibility that the BoE would follow suit, putting the “lower bound” for rates as slightly above zero. In a news conference, Carney also dismissed questions about so-called helicopter money — in which the central bank directly finances government spending — as “flights of fancy.”
The evidence from Japan and Europe is that negative rates have not generated much economic activity since:
  • Savers are hurt by low rates of return, instead encouraging them to hoard more cash instead of spending it;
  • Investors do not necessarily borrow more when there are few opportunities despite lower borrowing costs; and
  • Financial institutions are hurt by compression in borrowing and lending spreads collapsing.
Who benefits? Maybe no one.

Having led us to this strange place, will Japan and Europe lead us out of it? If the evidence continues to point to ZIRP leading its main proponents nowhere, then there is little point for them to continue. What's more, their failed experiments will signal to other countries that this game is up. What will eventually happen is, yes, the return of positive rates even in these regions. In an interconnected world economy, that means higher yields the world over than what we have at the present--but not much higher unless economic growth is jump-started somehow. All we know is that ZIRP doesn't achieve this objective. 

UPDATE: Also see this FT commentary on central banks beginning to admit defeat

Asia Pivot? Singapore Warns US on TPP Non-Ratification

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 8/03/2016 03:16:00 PM
You have been warned: Singaporean PM Lee puts Obama on notice regarding US TPP non-ratification.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership is in imminent danger of becoming a non-entity in a manner all too familiar to observers by now: The Yanks rope you into protracted and therefore expensive international negotiations held all around the world. After years and years of negotiations, a deal may even be inked. Then, when the time comes for signatories to these treaties or international trade deals to ratify them at home, the Americans are unable to deliver despite being those who thought up and championed them all along.

Exhibit A remains Democrat President Woodrow Wilson and the stillborn League of Nations which was his brainchild, yet floundered in the face of Republican opposition to ratification of US membership in 1918. Fast-forward a century and we have yet another Democrat in office Barack Obama, fighting for ratification of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)--this time largely in the face of opposition within his own party [more on this later].

After assiduously courting the likes of Japan and Malaysia to participate, the US-promoted TPP is in imminent danger of not being ratified by the US, LoN-style. Both US presidential front-runners express wariness about pushing for its ratification at home, leaving the lame duck Obama with ever fewer opportunities to work with his Republican counterparts before the window of opportunity closes and the new president assumes office.

Because of the wall-to-wall coverage of the US presidential elections, something important happened over the last few days which the media did not report on which is nonetheless of great significance--especially to us Asians. Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Shien Loong--son of the late Lee Kuan Yew, of course--told Barack Obama in no uncertain words that US credibility was on the line over its ratification of TPP (which was an American creation to begin with):
U.S. credibility is on the line over a Pacific trade pact that faces a tough approval process in Congress, Singapore’s Prime Minister said Monday, warning about risks to the U.S.’s reputation in Asia if the deal falls through.

As well as being an “economic game-changer,” the U.S.-led Trans-Pacific Partnership, which does not include China, could “add substance to America’s engagement in the Asia Pacific” region, Lee Hsien Loong said in a speech in Washington D.C. The pact has been signed by the 12 member nations but is yet to be ratified by most of them.

“For America’s friends and partners, ratifying the TPP is a litmus test of your credibility and seriousness of purpose,” Lee said. “Every one of the TPP signatories has had to make sacrifices in order to accept the TPP agreement, and jointly bring about this win-win outcome.”

As the U.S. presidential election draws closer, the TPP is at risk of being caught up in the wash of a growing anti-trade mood, which has seen both two candidates for the White House state publicly they oppose the pact. If ratified and implemented, it would cover around 40 percent of the global economy.
Singaporean PM Lee understands the dynamics of US politics, but insists on a tangible outcome nonetheless:
The Obama administration has said it’s committed to ratification and has highlighted a brief window after the election and before the new Congress takes effect as the best chance to get it through. The TPP is the centerpiece of President Barack Obama’s broader economic and military rebalancing to Asia as China’s clout grows. Lee is on a state visit to the U.S. and will meet Obama...

U.S. trade representative Michael Froman last week said tweaking the deal is not an option as it “is a carefully balanced agreement.” Lee reinforced the point that TPP must pass as it stands, saying that “nobody wants to reopen negotiations.”

“We know this has been politically difficult, it’s a very tough election year,” Lee said. “Economic uncertainty has led to concerns about jobs, worries about competition from overseas.” Those are “understandable, even valid concerns, but we hope all parties will focus on the longer term, bigger picture,” he said.
Lee's annoyance at this turn of events was evident:
Lee said that while he was wary of wading into domestic politics, the U.S. has "put your reputation on the line" with TPP. "Your partners, your friends who have come to the table and negotiated, each one of them has overcome some domestic political objection, some costs to come to the table to make this deal," Lee said.

"If at the end, waiting at the altar the bride doesn’t arrive, I think there are going to be people who are going to be very hurt not just emotionally but damaged for a long time to come," Lee said.
Edward Luce of the FT says the TPP is the last stand for "US-led globalism," but the same could have arguably been said for the League of Nations in 1918. For the Asian countries that participated, the possibility is very real that the US could not deliver on a trade agreement which they've been at since 2008.

If nothing it happens, it will have all been wasted time, money and effort negotiating an agreement that could not be ratified in the home nation of its main proponent. I would not necessarily be the end of "US-led globalism," but rather a major setback for the US in gaining the trust of Asian nations on economic and other issues. It almost goes without saying that China would instead benefit from a US loss of face in the Asia-Pacific.

Trump + Business Savvy + Political Craft = Bloomberg

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in at 8/01/2016 05:11:00 PM
The guy in the middle has far more more stature than the one in the red cap.
What's the world coming to when one of the United States' main political parties has nominated a xenophobic, Islam-bashing failed businessman with four bankruptcies being his most notable entrepreneurial achievement? His lack of business savvy is only matched by his status as a political neophyte, having never held elected office before. Plain and simple, this guy is a loudmouth braggart with very little to show for in either business or politics.

And so it came to pass that one Michael Bloomberg made a speech at the Democratic National Convention hitting Trump exactly on these points. Unlike Trump, Bloomberg has wealth far in excess of what Trump (dubiously) claims. Bloomberg has also held office--successfully, by any reasonable evaluation--as the mayor of the United States' most economically important city in New York. If Trump would be envious of anyone, it would be Bloomberg:
In many ways, Bloomberg is what Donald Trump wants to be: a very rich guy who runs a media company and who converted that wealth into political power. Of all of the rich New Yorkers involved in the 2016 campaign, Bloomberg is the richest, worth some $40 billion, four times what Trump says he's worth and 13 times what Bloomberg (the media company) estimates Trump is actually worth. (Hillary Clinton, by contrast, is a lowly millionaire.)
Bloomberg is an ideological centrist in a way that now seems almost quaint, and his endorsement of Clinton on Wednesday night was more an anti-endorsement of Trump. He hammered Trump, questioning his actual wealth, calling him a con man and a hypocrite, and suggesting that Clinton deserved votes because she is "sane" and "mature."
Tweeter (the medium preferred by hucksters for obvious reasons) Trump thus struck back with fallacious put-downs of Bloomberg. But as many have pointed out, Trump used to have all sorts of compliments for Bloomberg when he was mayor of New York.

Trump's refusal to release his tax returns and provide evidence of all his wealth--casts his boastful claims into doubt:
The interest in Mr. Trump’s case is particularly high. He is running for the White House partly as a business wizard, but is he really as rich and talented as he boasts? Is he as philanthropic as he claims with his reputed billions? Has he truly no conflicts of interest in Russia, whose computer hackers he has bizarrely invited to spy on Hillary Clinton, his campaign rival?

These questions are of Mr. Trump’s own making, and a timely release of his tax returns would provide some answers. “There’s nothing to learn from them,” he tried to insist in May, arguing that he would not make the returns public until after an Internal Revenue Service audit is complete. But the I.R.S. says Mr. Trump is free to release the returns at any time and to defend their accuracy, just as President Richard Nixon did while he was undergoing an audit. In the past, Mr. Trump has not hesitated to attack the I.R.S. as “very unfair,” but now he stands before the voters using the agency as a shield against disclosure.
The bottom line is that Michael Bloomberg would have been a far better presidential candidate, harboring moderate, pro-enterprise views. Unfortunately, sane people holding such views do not necessarily do well in US presidential elections. (See Bloomberg's musings on this point.) Unlike Bloomberg, Trump is neither a business mogul nor a politician of stature.

Why India Beat China to Homegrown Smartphone OS

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in ,, at 7/31/2016 01:16:00 PM
Indus OS accommodates the hundreds of millions of Indians who do not speak English.
There's an article in Bloomberg that portrays the success of India's homegrown smartphone operating system Indus OS to harnessing market forces instead of heavy-handed government intervention. To be sure, there are advantages to having one's own operating system instead of relying on off-the-shelf offerings from Apple (iOS) or Alphabet (Android). Aside from being to develop software meeting one's needs and desires, the royalties emanating from software and app sales accrue more to a nation's firms instead of the American tech giants.

Whereas India's Indus OS has overtaken iOS to rank second only to Android through market-friendly adaptations, the Chinese equivalents--there have been many--have been hamstrung by government nannyism and anti-market moves:
For more than 15 years, China has unsuccessfully attempted to come up with a homegrown operating system that would be loved by the masses and allow the country to be freed from the shackles of Western technological imperialism. India has achieved that feat in less than two years. Indus OS is now India's second-most popular smartphone platform with a 6.3 percent market share, behind Alphabet's [formerly Google's] Android.

The multilingual system, one of many based on Android itself, reached No. 2 at the end of 2015 and maintained that position in the first two quarters, according to data released this week by Counterpoint Research. It leads iOS and other Android variants including Xiaomi's MIUI and Cyanogen. 
China, on the other hand, has gotten nowhere with its approach in contrast to the adaptable Indus OS:
China's path toward operating system nationalism is littered with the shells of failures including China OS (COS), Kylin, Red Flag and YunOS. They were all unsuccessful in getting traction for varying but similar reasons that include being pushed by the government or by a corporation with skin in the game. It matters little whether they're for desktop or mobile devices, China has failed at both...

With at least 12 major Indian languages supported, Indus OS has tapped into what the market needs, not what a government wants. That's powerful because it means the software is developing and pivoting according to demand. For example, it offers simplified predictive typing and translation between regional languages.
To be fair, Indus OS is not an entirely "new" operating system but an Android offshoot. That said, there are still advantages accruing to Indian tech and telecoms firms from this difference:
Indus OS also offers carrier billing in its App Bazaar, which means users can pay for downloads via their phone bill, for which network providers likely take a cut. This is a big motivator not only for consumers and app publishers but also for the operators themselves, who are less than happy about being left out of a smartphone party where Android and iOS drink more than their fair share of the champagne.

Since it's in their best interests to have more phones on their networks that will bill through their payment systems, operators have an incentive to promote Indus OS devices. And in turn, smartphone makers have a good reason to develop Indus OS models over Android.
Is it the market (stupid)?
Such success shows how market forces can trump government directives, and the outcome also ends up playing out well for Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Make in India campaign...While Beijing has done a lot to try and wean the country off the dominance of American software makers, India shows that all it really takes is a good product and market forces.
I think this ending statement presents a more nuanced picture. Aside from harnessing market forces like the added self-interest of Indian tech and telecoms firms in developing and refining Indus OS, the end result is software that is better suited to usage contexts of India such as having to accommodate several dialects and such.

UPDATE: The Indus OS blurb neatly explains how it differs from others:
Indus OS is addressing one of the developing world’s biggest challenges – to develop technology to cater to the economic, social and regional diversity. In our mission, we are using the smartphone as the medium to connect the digital world with the masses. We are the first to deeply customize a smartphone experience that meets the real needs of the emerging market’s regional language speaking citizens through innovation, simplification and localization.

No #$%^: IMF Audit Finds Greece Lending 'Politicized'

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in at 7/28/2016 05:45:00 PM
The IMF's Greek interventions are criticized by its own independent evaluation office.
I suppose this one's as stale already as the UK's Chilcot Report released just this year on Britain's rush to join the United States in the 2003 Iraqi invasion, but it's worth mentioning nonetheless given that this is purportedly the international political economy zone. Today, the IMF Independent Evaluation Office which monitors the IMF's conduct released its findings on the post-global financial crisis bailouts of Greece, Ireland and Portugal. Just as the Chilcot Report found Blair government guilty of a rush to war in 2003, the IMF has now been found unduly rash in lending money to the likes of Greece with insufficient scrutiny of the situation beforehand.

File this one under: no @#$%, Sherlock. First, the IMF did not predict how out of hand the situation in Europe could become and was thus unprepared for its onslaught:
The IMF’s pre-crisis surveillance mostly identified the right issues but did not foresee the magnitude of the risks that would later become paramount. The IMF’s surveillance of the euro area financial regulatory architecture was generally of high quality, but staff, along with most other experts, missed the build-up of banking system risks in some countries. In general, the IMF shared the widely-held “Europe is different” mindset[...]
Second, being part of a "troika" including the European Commission and the European Central Bank made the IMF just another voice in a politicized process where it lacked its usual abilities to conduct its activities independently and with due discretion. That is, the IMF was never in the figurative "driver's seat" and was a Johnny-come-lately to what was already arranged by the others:
In the circumstances of these programs, where there was more than one conditional lender, the troika arrangement (in which the Fund worked with the European Commission and the European Central Bank) proved to be an efficient mechanism in most instances for conducting program discussions with national authorities, but the IMF lost its characteristic agility as a crisis manager. And because the European Commission negotiated on behalf of the Eurogroup, the troika arrangement potentially subjected IMF staff’s technical judgments to political pressure from an early stage.
Third, as a result, traditional oversight in providing Greece and the rest with far more monies than they were entitled to--outside regular financing arrangements--was bypassed:
In May 2010, the IMF Executive Board approved a decision to provide exceptional access financing to Greece without seeking preemptive debt restructuring, even though its sovereign debt was not deemed sustainable with a high probability. The risk of contagion was an important consideration in coming to this decision. Th e IMF’s policy on exceptional access to Fund resources, which mandates early Board involvement, was followed only in a perfunctory manner.
Current IMF Managing-Director Christine Lagarde dismisses much of the criticism over political interference, though. Her main line of reasoning is that the events were unprecedented and hence the IMF had to act quickly lest it be overtaken by events (and left unsaid but implied, global contagion effects):
In a statement released at the same time as the report, Strauss-Kahn's successor Christine Lagarde rejected the premise that there was European political influence on IMF decisions. Aside from that point, she stressed that the euro area crisis had been "extraordinary" and "unprecedented."

"The IEO's reports echo many of the lessons that we have drawn from our own internal assessments ... We must constantly aspire to do better in avoiding crises, managing crises, and learning from the past."
My belief remains unchanged:the IMF likes to portray its decision-making as "technocratic" in the sense that only economic criteria--as opposed to political ones--are taken into consideration. However, there is a large body of work in the IPE canon that begs to differ with this claim. Exhibit A nowadays is of course lending to war-torn Ukraine since the IMF has previously not lent to a country in the midst of civil war. What is different this time? Same as with Greece and the rest--Europe.