Vanguard Doesn’t Care About Your Trade War

Every morning, we run the Narrative Machine on the past 24 hours worth of financial media to find the most on-narrative (i.e. interconnected and central) stories in financial media. It’s not a list of best articles or articles we think are most interesting … often far from it.

But for whatever reason these are articles that are representative of some sort of chord that has been struck in Narrative-world.


China’s Ant Financial, Vanguard form Shanghai-based venture: government records    [Reuters]

“Even though no one knows specifically what they’re going to do, I think it stands to reason that Vanguard will bring their expertise in running passive portfolios and Ant will bring their expertise in placement and distribution,” he added.

Vanguard isn’t waiting around for a Chinese trade “deal”.

Vanguard isn’t clutching their pearls about Chinese IP “theft”.

No, Vanguard is going to do what they always do … they’re going to obliterate their competition with the pricing power that comes from collaboration with every government’s intense desire to transform active capital markets into a passive political utility.

Vanguard is the Killer Rabbit. And yes, there’s an Epsilon Theory note about that.


Are You Now, or Have You Ever Been Pro-China?

Every morning, we run the Narrative Machine on the past 24 hours worth of financial media to find the most on-narrative (i.e. interconnected and central) stories in financial media. It’s not a list of best articles or articles we think are most interesting … often far from it.

But for whatever reason these are articles that are representative of some sort of chord that has been struck in Narrative-world.


Bannon: Biden must release tax returns to address China connections   [NY Post]

“We have to see Joe Biden’s tax returns because we have to see if Joe Biden was a financial consultant to [the fund] or an adviser. Biden has got to answer some basic questions: if he’s been compromised by the Chinese Communist Party? What was his involvement during the Obama administration?” 

I know, I know … it’s impossible for a thinking human being to believe that a Trumpkin would demand that a politician must show their tax returns.

I know, I know … it’s impossible for a thinking human being to believe that a Trumpkin would accuse a politician of harboring secret financial ties to a hostile foreign country.

Well, believe it.

What’s next? I’ll tell you what’s next. Bannon and the rest of the America First brigade (which includes a LOT of bedfellows you see all the time on CNBC, like Kyle Bass) are going to go full-McCarthy. They’re going to have a “list”. They’re going to accuse anyone and everyone of “treason”.

This is part and parcel of the China narrative transformation that Rusty and I have been talking about for a month now: the US-China narrative is now a national security narrative, not an economic trade narrative, and you can’t walk that narrative back until after the 2020 election.

It’s not a secret plan.

“The Democrats, the longer they talk about identity politics, I got ‘em. I want them to talk about racism every day. If the left is focused on race and identity, and we go with economic nationalism, we can crush the Democrats.”
Steve Bannon, from his August 16 exit interview with Robert Kuttner in The American Prospect.

That’s from Always Go To The Funeral. It’s how Nixon and Agnew got away with this crap in the 1972 re-election campaign, and it’s how Trump and Bannon will get away with this crap in the 2020 re-election campaign.


Sucker.

Every morning, we run the Narrative Machine on the past 24 hours worth of financial media to find the most on-narrative (i.e. interconnected and central) stories in financial media. It’s not a list of best articles or articles we think are most interesting … often far from it.

But for whatever reason these are articles that are representative of some sort of chord that has been struck in Narrative-world.


Harvard Course Teaches Rich Millennials How to Do Good (and Make Money)   [Bloomberg]

On a crisp morning last October, a few dozen students with wildly diverse backgrounds and expertise filed into the red-brick building of Harvard University’s Kennedy School. Three things united them: they were young, they wanted to do good and they were all staggeringly wealthy.

The group was attending a joint course run by Harvard and the University of Zurich, in collaboration with the World Economic Forum, called “Impact Investing for the Next Generation.” In this context, that generation means the heirs to some of capitalism’s greatest fortunes. Participants had to pass an interview before paying up to $12,000 for a week of classes in the U.S. and Switzerland, not including airfares and board. A more intensive related course costs $58,000.

The program has barely been advertised since its founding in 2015 and word is spread through old-money networks and among European royalty. Alumni include Chung Kyungsun, grandson of Hyundai Group’s founder, and Antonis Schwarz, who came into his fortune aged 16 when the drugmaker his grandfather founded was sold for 4.4 billion euros ($5 billion).

“Alumni”.

LOL.

True story – when I was a grad student at Harvard in the 1980s I started a company called University Seminars, where I sold week-long “Leadership Conferences” to East Asian CEOs and rich kids like the Hyundai scion pictured here. I’d hire HBS profs at $3k per afternoon to give a talk they’d given 1,000 times before and toss in another $2k if they showed up for a dinner. I’d rent a block of rooms at the Boston Ritz and get some tour buses lined up. I’d charge $25,000 for the week (airfare not included) and split the profits with whatever degree-granting school or department was hard up for cash.

It wasn’t a degree, of course, but if you can grant a degree you can also grant a “certificate”. Both have an official Harvard seal, so …

Congratulations on graduating from the Leadership Conference at the Harvard School of Education! Of course it’s signed by the Dean! Yes, certainly you should put this on your wall and your resume!

And yes, I had an “Alumni Club” in four countries.

See, the Harvard budgetary motto is “every tub on its own bottom”, which means that non-professional schools like the School of Education are forced to scrape for every dime, while the professional schools – Harvard Business, Harvard Law, and the Kennedy School – live as large as they wanna live. It’s a structural engine that creates haves and have-nots within the walls of a university edifice that looks to an outsider like it’s uniformly well-heeled. It’s not.

The fact of the matter is that while every program and school at Harvard (and every other university I’ve ever been associated with) is on the make to some degree, at least the non-professional schools have some sense of shame about the whole certificate program endeavor. They see it as a necessary evil to keep up with the Joneses.

The professional schools on the other hand … they ARE certificate programs. Pimping out Harvard’s reputation to maximize revenue isn’t a shameful secret for HBS. It’s their entire business model.

What happened to University Seminars? The HBS prof running their “executive education program” in Indonesia got wind of me talking with some Djakarta CEOs about a non-biz school certificate program, and he sounded the alarm. A month later the HBS dean met with the Ed School dean in Derek Bok’s office, where HBS agreed to pay the Ed School a (small) slice of the HBS certificate program revenues if the Ed School shut their leadership program down. Internal to HBS, all of the moonlighting profs were read the riot act and told to keep their executive ed lectures on the HBS side of the river.

And that was that. It was a good gig while it lasted, and a great lesson in the way of the world.

BTW, the World Economic Forum … you know, the group that organizes the Davos conference and co-sponsors this Kennedy School program on “Impact Investing” … Klaus Schwab started WEF in 1987, the same year I started University Seminars. You’ll read on Wikipedia that Schwab started this as a non-profit and had glorious altruistic motives from the outset.

LOL.

If you haven’t read my note on the credentialing value (and abuse) of the modern higher education system, it’s worth your time.

And if you haven’t read Rusty’s note on the Myth of College, it’s really worth your time.

Clear eyes and full hearts, friends.


The Weekend Zeitgeist – 6.9.2019

Every morning, we run the Narrative Machine on the past 24 hours worth of financial media to find the most on-narrative (i.e. interconnected and central) stories. On the weekend, we leave finance to cover the last week or so in other shifting parts of the Zeitgeist – namely, politics and culture. It’s not a list of best articles or articles we think are most interesting … often far from it.

But these are articles that have struck a chord in narrative world. 

The Puzzle [The Players’ Tribune]

It is encouraging to see a piece that doesn’t treat strength and vulnerability as dichotomous at the top of the Zeitgeist.


From the Greeks to Instagram: The Secret History of the Flower Crown [Jezebel]

I am not the target audience for this piece, or perhaps much that gets published at the blog that, like Deadspin, was among the Gawker properties that survived (sort of) the wrath of Peter Thiel and Hulk Hogan (if “Peter Thiel and Hulk Hogan” sounds like the start to a decent joke instead of something you remember from a few years back, consider Googling it).

Still, it is an interesting brief aside into the history of one particular symbol. It highlights the capacity of the arts and entertainment to provide long-term support to narratives, the necessity of the occasional iconclasm, and the inevitable co-option of particularly effective symbols to serve even more abstracted ideas. Not deep, not broad, but an interesting weekend read.

As to why it sits at the top of our Weekend Zeitgeist – the most linguistically connected articles published in the world in the past week? Gender and sex – and the language used to discuss them – are integral to the Zeitgeist in 2019. Here is our map of their connectedness to all non-financial news in the last week alone. They are both central and connected to almost all other topics and language/meaning-based clusters.

Source: Quid, Epsilon Theory

Walter Carpenter: The workers behind the tourism dollars [VT Digger]

Since the Reagan Revolution, certain words have been banished from the American political lexicon, tarnished as they were with associations with communism or socialist policies. Among the simplest, and most powerful?

Workers.

It’s not a word even Obama used all that much. He preferred ‘folks.’

Trump and most others adopted less socialism! meme-sensitive variants like ‘hard-working Americans’ or ‘blue collar Americans’ or ‘regular, everyday Americans.’

Why was this connected to so many articles? Why did it sit at the top of the Zeitgeist? Because the language of socialism, of talking very specifically about workers and their lives, is no longer off-limits. Sure, editorials like this would have found their way into plenty of Vermont newspapers in the past.But there’s no way in hell they would have been among the top 5 most connected to all published articles by language.

Here are the socialism-related articles (in bold) against the full network of non-financial articles.

Source: Quid, Epsilon Theory

For more about what we are observing here, be sure to keep up with the ET Election Index.


The Democrats Discover the Supreme Court [The Atlantic]

Despite its third foundational principle (in which it rather delightfully claims to be the organ of no party or clique), the Atlantic probably sits on the periphery of the 10 most influential missionaries of left-leaning politics in the US. Like many similar publications, it is an essay, analysis and opinion journal. Ordinarily I’d call this paragraph an exercise in Fiat News, but the article is obviously just a collection of the author’s opinions, and if you expected otherwise, it’s probably your own damn fault.

Regardless of how you feel about this policy idea in particular, there’s one word that should always trigger your “Why am I reading this now?” impulse. whether you see it in true news or opinion pieces: moderate. Conservative journals usually prefer the term mainstream to validate and imply the accepted nature of their opinions – National Review used the term in 320 articles in the last year alone. The trigger should be the same. There is rarely a case in which these words will be used, especially as much as moderate is in this piece, that is not intended to shape common knowledge about what everyone thinks everyone thinks. And it usually means that the thing or policy about which the word is being used, well, ain’t, although it’d sure be nice if everyone thought everyone thought it was.


The Anti-College Is on the Rise [New York Times]

Regular readers will not be surprised that this is at the top of the Zeitgeist. We’ve written about related issues, too.

The problem is the same problem faced by the federal reserve and by portfolio managers and just about everyone else. When you optimize for two objectives, you will usually solve for one…or none at all. The post-secondary system has tried to solve for producing rich, broad, civil-minded liberal education on the one hand, and vocational training on the other, the latter becoming a marketing necessity throughout the 20th century. What they ended up with was neither, and a powerful credentialing cartel.

For my part, initiatives like the above are interesting, and seem to be searching for reproduction of a purely educational mission. I have no aversion to them, because that is a thing that a healthy liberal society should make available to its citizens. I also have no faith that they will do anything to tear down the credentialing problem embedded in university education.

But I suppose not everything has to. Optimizing for one objective – and achieving it – is rare thing worthy of admiration.

The Existential Narrative

Every morning, we run the Narrative Machine on the past 24 hours worth of financial media to find the most on-narrative (i.e. interconnected and central) stories in financial media. It’s not a list of best articles or articles we think are most interesting … often far from it.

But for whatever reason these are articles that are representative of some sort of chord that has been struck in Narrative-world.


How Our China Trade War Could Become a War War   [Bloomberg]

Echoes of D-Day in the China-U.S. Conflict

Seventy-five years ago today, Allied troops landed in France, beginning a campaign to destroy Nazi Germany. It’s a decent moment to consider how such a situation came to be and how something like it might happen again.

Noah Smith points out that, just 34 years before D-Day, Britain and Germany were such close trading partners that war between the two was almost unthinkable. World War I happened shortly thereafter, and out of the ashes of that nightmare grew the Nazis and World War II. Today the relevant players are the U.S. and China, seen as so close economically they could never go to actual war. But the current trade conflict could be the start of a long process driving the two countries into separate economic spheres, Noah writes, making armed conflict likelier.

For some time now, we’ve been saying that any shift in the Trade narrative away from economic issues and toward national security issues would be highly problematic for a market-friendly resolution in US-China negotiations. Why? Because the political stakes are much higher for both Trump and Xi in a national security game of Chicken than they are in an economic game of Chicken. It is much easier to be “the chicken” in an economic game and claim some sort of face-saving feature than in an national security game, so the latter is almost always a protracted affair of brinksmanship and high stress.

It’s happening.


Send Lawyers, Guns and Money

Every morning, we run the Narrative Machine on the past 24 hours worth of financial media to find the most on-narrative (i.e. interconnected and central) stories in financial media. It’s not a list of best articles or articles we think are most interesting … often far from it.

But for whatever reason these are articles that are representative of some sort of chord that has been struck in Narrative-world.


Tech Giants Amass a Lobbying Army for an Epic Washington Battle   [New York Times]

Catlin O’Neill, right, listening to Facebook’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, testify before a House committee on the protection of user data last year. Ms. O’Neill is now director of United States public policy for Facebook after serving as Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s chief of staff.

Yes, you’re reading that right.

Nancy Pelosi’s former chief of staff just signed on as Facebook’s chief lobbyist.

Last month, the industry lobbying group, the Internet Association, which represents Amazon, Facebook and Google, awarded its Internet Freedom Award to Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and White House senior adviser.

Yes, you’re reading that right.

Big Tech just gave their highest “award” to Ivanka Trump.

The head of the Justice Department’s antitrust division, Makan Delrahim, was paid as a contract lobbyist by Google in 2007. He is facing pressure to recuse himself if the department pursues an investigation of the company.

Yes, you’re reading that right.

The head of the DOJ’s antitrust division is a former Google lobbyist.

I’ve written this 100 times so far this year. Looks like I’ll write it 1,000 times more.

They’re. Not. Even. Pretending. Anymore.


Superstorm Powell

Every morning, we run the Narrative Machine on the past 24 hours worth of financial media to find the most on-narrative (i.e. interconnected and central) stories in financial media. It’s not a list of best articles or articles we think are most interesting … often far from it.

But for whatever reason these are articles that are representative of some sort of chord that has been struck in Narrative-world.


Powell Suggests Fed Could Cut Rates If Trade Spat Escalates  [Wall Street Journal]

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said the central bank is closely monitoring the recent escalation in trade tensions and indicated it could respond by cutting rates if the economic outlook deteriorates.

The crazy thing about Superstorm Sandy was how big it was. It wasn’t the most powerful hurricane to hit the US, although it certainly packed a punch. But it was one of the largest storms on record in this country, with what’s called a “wind diameter” of more than 1,000 miles, and it set a record in much of the northeastern US for the lowest barometric pressure ever recorded.

How did Sandy get so big? After passing over Cuba and looking like it might dissipate into a few days worth of rainy weather, it merged with another low-pressure system and was re-energized.

We’re seeing the same thing in narrative-world.

The narratives of Central Bank Omnipotence and Trade & Tariffs have merged into a superstorm.

Source: Quid, Epsilon Theory

This is a narrative map of all unique financial media articles about the Fed in May, clustered by the sub-narrative of all the things that people talk about in regards to the Fed. That big blue circle is the effective center of gravity of this narrative map, and it’s comprised of three topics: Fed interest rate cuts (aqua), broad trade war coverage (red), and farmer-specific trade war coverage (dark blue).

There is no conversation about Fed rate cuts today without an enmeshed conversation about the China trade war. They have become a single memetic structure with an enormous gravitational pull.

What do we do in our ET Professional service? This.

We take five core macro narratives – Inflation, Central Bank Omnipotence, Trade & Tariffs, US Fiscal Policy, and Credit Cycle – and we evaluate their shifting structures. Not just their sentiment, but their STRUCTURE. Because when you see a structure like this, and you can track its movement across the map of narrative-world, you know it’s going to pack a punch.

To learn more about all of our subscription services, check here.

To learn more about ET Professional in particular, check here.

There’s nothing like this on the market today. And we’re just getting started.


Whatever It Takes

Every morning, we run the Narrative Machine on the past 24 hours worth of financial media to find the most on-narrative (i.e. interconnected and central) stories in financial media. It’s not a list of best articles or articles we think are most interesting … often far from it.

But for whatever reason these are articles that are representative of some sort of chord that has been struck in Narrative-world.


Trade War Traps ECB With Bund Yields at Record Low  [Bloomberg]

The yield on 10-year German government bonds has declined to its lowest ever, reaching -0.213% on Friday. That’s almost a basis point below the previous low, reached on July 6, 2016.

ECB President Mario Draghi can expect to get grilled at the press conference about what he has left in the toolbox to counter the headwinds assailing the economy. If the bond market doesn’t like what it hears, the benchmark German yield could yet plumb new depths.

It’s the truest thing I know about the State.

What begins as emergency government action ALWAYS becomes permanent government policy.

I’m not saying this is good. I’m not saying this is bad. I’m saying that it IS.

In the summer of 2012, Mario Draghi took emergency action to save the Euro system. There wasn’t actually much action, but the WORDS and the NARRATIVE that Draghi set in motion with his “whatever it takes” speech in London was enough.

But as ALWAYS happens in an entrenched, self-interested bureaucracy, the policies designed to be part of that emergency action … the liquidity programs and the balance sheet expansion and all that goes along with pushing interest rates into negative-world … they kept going long after the emergency was past. Because there’s always another target for your bazooka. Because that’s what entrenched, self-interested bureaucracies DO.

So now here we are, where “whatever it takes” has morphed from saving the entire European project to … [checks notes] … preventing a garden-variety recession.

But as mad as I get at the mandarins in Frankfurt and Washington and Tokyo, there’s someone who bothers me even more.

From Magical Thinking

Yep, at first I was disappointed in them. But on reflection I became more and more disappointed in us.

See, the problem isn’t with the Fed. They’re going to do what solipsistic, magical thinking priest-kings have done for ten thousand years … more of THAT. More solipsism. More magical thinking. More 4 year old egomaniacal determination that their spell casting efforts are the ONLY thing that stand between us and utter ruin.

No, the bigger problem is with us. The bigger problem is that we cannot imagine a solution for our current economic and political problems that does not rely on greater and greater state-directed spell casting. Monetary policy spells not working? Well, golly, I guess our ONLY alternative is to try some fiscal policy spells. Really? That’s the best we can come up with? I understand that this is what the courtiers are going to say. But I expect more from the rest of us. I expect more from myself.

It’s time to expect more. Not from Draghi or Powell or their cultists, but from us and from me.

It’s time to expect more from the Pack.


A Zeitgeist Portfolio

Every morning, we run the Narrative Machine on the past 24 hours worth of financial media to find the most on-narrative (i.e. interconnected and central) stories in financial media. It’s not a list of best articles or articles we think are most interesting … often far from it.

But for whatever reason these are articles that are representative of some sort of chord that has been struck in Narrative-world.


New Mexico State Investment Council changes target allocations for 2 endowments [Pensions & Investments]

The tobacco fund’s new target allocation reduces broad U.S. equity to 10% from 33%, broad international equity to 10% from 33%, and core fixed income to 10% from 24%. The new tobacco fund allocation increases non-core fixed income to 25% from 10%, real return to 25% from zero, and real estate to 20% from zero.

I don’t know the folks at New Mexico State Investment Council well, although there are a couple of Epsilon Theory subscribers at NMSIC. But I’ll say this … I love what they’re doing here. It’s a very Zeitgeist-aware portfolio shift, and not just a tweak of a few percentage points here and there. This is a big swing!

I’m overdue for writing the final chapter in the Pricing Power series, where we dig into real assets. Here are the first three chapters …

I’m on it.


The Weekend Zeitgeist – 6.2.2019

Every morning, we run the Narrative Machine on the past 24 hours worth of financial media to find the most on-narrative (i.e. interconnected and central) stories. On the weekend, we leave finance to cover the last week or so in other shifting parts of the Zeitgeist – namely, politics and culture. It’s not a list of best articles or articles we think are most interesting … often far from it.

But these are articles that have struck a chord in narrative world. 


The back of the Leviathan [NWA Online]

After a year of devastation to parts of the American midwest, flood coverage has gone from being a third choice for coastal national media to being a prime attraction. Its language now gets sprinkled throughout a great many different news articles.

Some of this is because it connects to narratives about climate change. Some because it connects to discussions of agriculture, the plight of farmers and the trade war with China. Some because it references human interest, suffering or destruction, which happen to use similar language no matter whom the disaster might strike.

The natural, political and financial world’s indifference to our models is slowly but surely becoming part of the narrative.


The Distance of the Leap [The Good Men Project]

Our Weekend Zeitgeist query this week brought back 469,000 articles. This one was among the ten most interconnected to different topics by language.

I suspect you will find, as I did, some amusement in the blog’s masthead:

Probably also in the paragraph where it reaches a crescendo:

If you read my recent “Fellow Contrarians Unite” brief, I expect you’ll start seeing this everywhere, if you hadn’t already: people using the most common, interconnected language under the mistaken belief that it represents an unusual – or worse, unique -perspective.


Where Is the EPA’s Respect for the ‘Unborn’? [Bloomberg]

Yeah, I’m not touching this with a ten-foot pole.

What I will say is this: in late 2012, a colleague and I had breakfast with Ken Mehlman, the former head of the Bush campaigns and RNC chair. KKR had recently hired him in the policy/government relations/biz dev role now so common to mega-buyout-land. They trotted him out liberally to meet with clients like us. I was surprised by something he said. Heavily paraphrased, Ken said, “In 10 years, no one will be talking about gay marriage. It will be a given. In that same time, abortion will become a bigger issue again. Relative to prior generations, the emerging voter will develop his/her views through personal experience shared through multi-layered social media connections. Even the culturally conservative ones have known lovely, happy gay couples and don’t get what all the fuss is about. On the other hand, abortion will become a much more conflicted issue.”

I don’t think Ken was right about the mechanic – I haven’t seen any evidence that millennials are all that conflicted about this issue in particular. But he certainly understood some of the changing Zeitgeist. The capacity of an issue to evoke an emotional, existential response – and the willingness of political parties to leverage that capacity – is the soul of the widening gyre in US politics today. You may think that your position on the issue IS existential AND it may be AND I think it’s still necessary that we know when that existential importance is being exploited to keep us shouting past our fellow citizens.

Whatever your opinion, brace yourself for a deluge of purposefully inflammatory takes over the next 18 months on this issue.


Cats, Hootie and the Blowfish and Florence and the Machine kick off the weekend [Raleigh News and Observer]


Image result for what year is it

Europe’s Populist Storm Rattles the Windows of the E.U. But Fails to Move the Foundations [Time]

Yes, Time is a magazine, not a daily newspaper. Yes, it specializes in ‘feature journalism.’ Yes, anyone who accidentally happens upon it in a dental office waiting room should know at this point what they’re going to get. But they call themselves and are widely regarded as a news magazine. It’s a by-lined piece. It’s being sold, shared on Facebook and retweeted to you, the reader, as news.

And it ticks about every box in the Fiat News checklist.

A presumptuous headline asserting an obvious opinion. Adjectives meant to condescend, like “giddy.” Words meant to shape your impressions of the subjects without providing more information, like “strident” and “thundered.” Implications of causality, bald-faced opinions, unsupported projections – all meant to make the reader believe that certain things are common knowledge.

Even if you – like I – have pretty serious concerns about a rise in nationalist politics in Europe, this kind of Fiat News isn’t just bad form. It aggravates and deepens the widening gyre. It should always be resisted, even when it serves our own political leanings, and even if and when we think it serves to ‘offset’ equivalent biases from other media outlets.

Space for Rent

Every morning, we run the Narrative Machine on the past 24 hours worth of financial media to find the most on-narrative (i.e. interconnected and central) stories in financial media. It’s not a list of best articles or articles we think are most interesting … often far from it.

But for whatever reason these are articles that are representative of some sort of chord that has been struck in Narrative-world.


Taxi and rideshare drivers desperately need revenue from rooftop ads [Business Insider]

While officials in New York, Washington, Chicago, and others have responded to similar situations with a focus on equity, embracing the added driver income opportunity provided by digital taxi-top advertising, some city leaders in Los Angeles stand alone.

The L.A. City Council is considering a new policy to criminalize advertising on taxis and rideshare vehicles — even the decades-old practice of static rooftop taxi ads — going so far as to threaten drivers’ vehicles with impounding. This is especially unsettling given the impending massive, multi-year renovation plan for LAX, a project poised to significantly disrupt operations for taxi drivers, throwing another wrench in their efforts to make a living. It is not an exaggeration to suggest that this latest disruption could be one of the final straws for the city’s taxi industry.

We believe that all full-time drivers should be able to make a living wage and support their families, and we look forward to collaborating with city leaders to build a more equitable future.

“The writer is CEO and co-founder of Firefly, a digital media company.”

Shocker.

I came across this “article” the other day.

Turns out this is a thing. Again, shocker. Here’s a guy you supposedly made $37k by selling his forehead space. Temporary tattoo.

And I’m sure this was a stunt. But you KNOW where this is going. You KNOW what the narrative is going to be.

What kind of regulatory monster are you to prevent people from selling themselves in more and more degrading ways? This is a choice. This is a path to a living wage. This is opportunity and equity.

Grrrrrr.

From Pecking Order, one of my fave notes …

Out of all the animals we keep on our “farm”, chickens are the only ones that bring me no joy. Chickens are, by nature, brutal and cruel. They will torture the weak to death with their pecks, not because they have to, but because they can. It’s the way their brains are hard-wired, and it works for them, as a species. So I pretend that chickens aren’t evil and I’m not complicit. Because I really like the eggs.

We are trained and told that the pecking order is not a real and brutal thing in the human species. This is a lie. It is an intentional lie, one that we pretend isn’t evil and where we are not complicit.

Because we really like the eggs.


On Tilt

Every morning, we run the Narrative Machine on the past 24 hours worth of financial media to find the most on-narrative (i.e. interconnected and central) stories in financial media. It’s not a list of best articles or articles we think are most interesting … often far from it.

But for whatever reason these are articles that are representative of some sort of chord that has been struck in Narrative-world.


Trump says U.S. to impose 5 percent tariff on all Mexican goods [NBC News]

President Donald Trump said Thursday night that the United States would impose a 5 percent tariff on all Mexican goods starting next month, saying the sweeping tariffs would rise monthly to as high as 25 percent “until Mexico substantially stops the illegal inflow of aliens coming through its territory.”

In a statement, the White House said the new tariffs would go into effect on June 10 and would rise by 5 percentage points every month — to 10 percent on July 1, 15 percent on Aug. 1 and so on — until they hit 25 percent on Oct. 1.

Yep, it’s our Carny-Barker-in-Chief.

It’s like he’s a drunk dentist in Vegas for a convention, sitting down at the poker table and getting bored after three hands. So he decides that he can “impose his will” on the table by opening up out of position with rags and making a continuation bet all the way through the river. Like everyone else at the table doesn’t see him for EXACTLY who he is.

What a colossal embarrassment.


Citizen Trump / Citizen Xi

Every morning, we run the Narrative Machine on the past 24 hours worth of financial media to find the most on-narrative (i.e. interconnected and central) stories in financial media. It’s not a list of best articles or articles we think are most interesting … often far from it.

But for whatever reason these are articles that are representative of some sort of chord that has been struck in Narrative-world.


China drops heavy hint it is about to pull the trigger on its most powerful weapon in the trade war [Business Insider]

The US heavily relies on China for rare-earth materials, which are 17 elements widely used in products like batteries, smartphones, electric cars, and fighter jets.

Beijing appears ready to weaponize those exports in its trade war with Washington.

China’s top economic planning commission and state media suggested this week that the country might restrict rare-earth exports to the US.

Restricting Chinese rare earths to the US could cripple the American tech, defense, and manufacturing industries.

Emphasis mine.

I put out another Zeitgeist piece on this same topic earlier today.

How will you know that the US-China trade narrative is shifting towards a protracted game of Chicken?

When the narrative becomes dominated by national security language and clusters.

This isn’t a US thing. This isn’t a China thing. This isn’t a Trump thing. This isn’t a Xi thing.

This is a social animal thing.

Before they undertake a risky action like engaging in conflict with another powerful nation … whether it’s a hot conflict or a cold conflict … ALL governments in ALL of history make an effort to prepare public opinion for that conflict through WORDS of patriotism and self-defense.

The words are not lies. The words are not wrong. The conflict may be just.

But you are being played nonetheless.


B3 Debt is the New Black

Every morning, we run the Narrative Machine on the past 24 hours worth of financial media to find the most on-narrative (i.e. interconnected and central) stories in financial media. It’s not a list of best articles or articles we think are most interesting … often far from it.

But for whatever reason these are articles that are representative of some sort of chord that has been struck in Narrative-world.


Record B3 Issuances Are Vulnerable To Downgrades And Default In An Economic Downturn [Forbes]

Over a decade of low interest rates and increased participation by non-banks has led to record high new issuance of B3 rated issuers.  44% of new issuers were rated B3 in 2018 in comparison to 22% in 2007, at the start of the last recession. 

Presently, “low rates support still-healthy EBITDA interest coverage. For example, in 2007 median interest coverage was 1.7x versus 2.0x in 2018 while leverage was 6.7x versus 7.0x respectively. Richer valuations and the cheap cost of capital have provided this group with a credit cushion.” 

Emphasis mine.

I’m not sure that people who aren’t immersed in this world realize how crappy B3 debt is. Or how much of it is getting pushed into the market. But here’s the thing.

So long as the Fed keeps its foot on the throat of interest rates … so long as the Fed embraces the Big Lie that near-zero interest rates prevent deflation rather than CAUSE deflation … there is no end to this.

What is financialization? What is the intentional blowing of an asset bubble? THIS.

Yay, capitalism!


Red Dawn

Every morning, we run the Narrative Machine on the past 24 hours worth of financial media to find the most on-narrative (i.e. interconnected and central) stories in financial media. It’s not a list of best articles or articles we think are most interesting … often far from it.

But for whatever reason these are articles that are representative of some sort of chord that has been struck in Narrative-world.


Lawmakers raise security concerns about China building NYC subway cars [The Hill]

A bipartisan group of House members from New York are raising concerns about Chinese involvement in building New York City subway cars, zeroing in on the potential that the new train cars could be hacked or controlled remotely.

How will you know that the US-China trade narrative is shifting towards a protracted game of Chicken?

When the narrative becomes dominated by national security language and clusters.

Look, Rusty and I have been all over this for a year. More to the point, we have been right.

If you want to know what’s happening with the Trade & Tariff narrative structure, you should subscribe to ET Professional.

source: Quid, Epsilon Theory

This is what we DO.


Spree

Every morning, we run the Narrative Machine on the past 24 hours worth of financial media to find the most on-narrative (i.e. interconnected and central) stories in financial media. It’s not a list of best articles or articles we think are most interesting … often far from it.

But for whatever reason these are articles that are representative of some sort of chord that has been struck in Narrative-world.


$108 Billion Fund Plans London, New York Hiring Spree [Bloomberg]

Australia’s largest pension fund plans to open an office in New York and expand in London as it outgrows its local market and seeks more investment opportunities overseas.

Mark Delaney, the chief investment officer of AustralianSuper Pty, said the more than A$155 billion ($108 billion) fund will have 30 employees in New York by 2022, focusing on property, infrastructure and private equity investments. Its London office, currently home to about 10 staff, will grow to around 50 by the same date, with a focus on property, infrastructure and foreign-exchange dealing, he said in an interview.

Headline writers just love a good spree. Well, I’m sure they don’t love a killing spree, per se, as headline writers are people, too. I think. But the word “spree” is so evocative in narrative-world, implying at a minimum some sort of wantonness and excess, some sort of moral bankruptcy.

The article itself is fairly humdrum. It’s another triumph of scale in the modern financial world, this time in the form of an Australian superannuation fund.

But this is where we are in 2019.

The financial services world is so threadbare … so slow-growing and right-sizing and mundane … that now it’s a “spree” to open up a New York office. With 30 people. By 2022.


Amazon, Facebook and the Modern Trust [the ET Zeitgeist]

Every morning, we run the Narrative Machine on the past 24 hours worth of financial media to find the most on-narrative (i.e. interconnected and central) stories in financial media. It’s not a list of best articles or articles we think are most interesting … often far from it.

But for whatever reason these are articles that are representative of some sort of chord that has been struck in Narrative-world.


Amazon.com’s Ad Prices Could Soar Next Year [Fox Business]

There’s even an opportunity for Amazon to develop its own ad optimization tools like Facebook or Google.

As advertisers see improved return on investment from their optimization efforts, they’ll be willing to spend more per impression or click.

This is a story that I’ve heard Howard Lindzon (@howardlindzon) tell a dozen times …

Back in the olden days, and by that I mean 2012 or thereabouts, Facebook didn’t charge nearly enough for its ad inventory. With a pretty modest budget, a start-up company with a mass-appeal product or service (LifeLock, for example) could get a stellar reach into a crazy number of households.

Those days are long gone. Today you can still get a good reach into whatever number of households you want by advertising on Facebook, but there are no more bargains to be had. Want a crazy number of households? Then it’s going to cost you a crazy amount of money.

From a narrative perspective, what I find interesting is how Facebook’s price increases were implemented under the narrative of “optimization”, as if Facebook were doing you a favor by raising their prices so much.

Sure, the ads today are more targeted and (maybe) more effective, but the price increases and supply decreases are FAR GREATER than the (maybe) improved efficacy. That’s what it means to have pricing power, and that’s what it means – in the modern sense of the word – to have narrative power.

To date, Facebook has been really good at understanding narrative power from the perspective of intellectual property.

But also to date, Facebook has been really terrible at understanding narrative power from the perspective of government and the regulatory State.

Now Amazon is following in Facebook’s footsteps, both in its utilization of the narrative power of “optimization” and in its utilization of the raw pricing power of a monopoly.

Both Facebook and Amazon are smiley-face monopolists, claiming a narrative of efficiency and competition when nothing could be further from the truth. The only difference is that I suspect Amazon will be really good at the regulatory-compliant narrative, too.

No matter.

Time to break up the trusts. Again.


Never Run the Same Gag Twice [The ET Zeitgeist]

Every morning, we run the Narrative Machine on the past 24 hours worth of financial media to find the most on-narrative (i.e. interconnected and central) stories in financial media. It’s not a list of best articles or articles we think are most interesting … often far from it.

But for whatever reason these are articles that are representative of some sort of chord that has been struck in Narrative-world.


It’s Never Been Easier to Be a C.E.O., and the Pay Keeps Rising [New York Times]

In our annual ranking, we’re used to seeing paydays so big that they’re difficult to comprehend. But 2018 posed a problem on an entirely new scale. The pay package Tesla promised to Elon Musk was so large, we had to add an extra dimension to the chart below to display it accurately.

You don’t run the same gag twice. You run the next gag. – Ocean’s Eleven

It’s the best line in a movie full of great lines.

Elon is running the next gag.

The Holiday Zeitgeist – 5.26.2019

Every morning, we run the Narrative Machine on the past 24 hours worth of financial media to find the most on-narrative (i.e. interconnected and central) stories. On the weekend, we leave finance to cover the last week or so in other shifting parts of the Zeitgeist – namely, politics and culture. It’s not a list of best articles or articles we think are most interesting … often far from it.

But these are articles that have struck a chord in narrative world. 


In lieu of the usual narrative map here, a brief note to our regular Zeitgeist readers: beginning in the next week or so, you should see a site re-design that will change how you see this content:

  • We will be separating the ‘curated’ content into brief individual notes throughout the day, which will allow us to cover topics published throughout the day as opposed to just in the morning.
  • You will either be able to access Zeitgeist content by either (1) clicking The Zeitgeist in the Content menu at the top of the site, or (2) reviewing the individual inks on the “ticker tape” at the top of the home page.

It’s Not Just the Citizenship Question – the Digital Divide Could Hurt the Count of Latinos in the Census [Route Fifty]

This is about the census, but those who read our inaugural ET Election Index will recognize shared DNA with one of the most interesting narrative clusters that emerged from the early primary process: ‘this is election where Latino voting patterns are going to matter.’

I don’t have any insight into whether that is true, but we have consistently found that high attention narratives with limited coverage tend to become highly covered narratives. I feel confident saying you will read a lot more stories about this topic in the coming months.


The FDA Tells the Food Industry to Change How It Uses ‘Expiration’ Dates [Gizmodo]

The food label is a great case study in the core concepts of narrative construction. Most obviously, of course, the label is an opportunity to create and support the identity of the brand being sold. How are you being told to think about the brand?

Even the rules promulgated by the FDA for food labeling, however, railroad both food design and presentation into certain directions. We have long recognized the food pyramid, FDA guidelines and information provided on nutritional labels as a rather goofy cartoonified version of nutrition. But the target of this article is an entirely different cartoon, one I daresay it’s about time the FDA dealt with: expiry and best-by dates.

Image result for expiration label on salt

April 2020? I buy a bottle of Himalayan Salt that precipitated 600 million years ago in the late neoproterozoic in whatever part of Gondwanaland Pakistan belonged to, and of course they give me the grains that are just about to go bad!


Letter: Mink the bear isn’t the problem [Concord Monitor]

Even with the strong pull of the Zeitgeist in national media and global always-on conversations, my heart is warmed when I am reminded that there is always room for a crazy-ass letter-to-the-editor in a local paper.

You keep doing you, Mink the Bear and Mr. Williams.


The Sublime Sensation of the Swimming Hole [Smithsonian Mag]

Hamilton Pool

I suppose it shouldn’t bother me as much as it did, but I spent a good amount of time enjoying the wonder of this place. It’s called Hamilton Pool, and it’s a popular natural location about halfway between Spicewood and Dripping Springs, two of the most Texan places in Central Texas. Opie’s BBQ in Spicewood is, by the way, a criminally underrated beef enterprise worthy of visiting if you ever make it out to Hamilton Pool.

It has always been crowded, and in the last decade or two, you really had to line your car up pretty early to be assured of a good day there. But now, apparently, Hamilton Pool has to be booked online. And it’s even worse than that – apparently monopolization and resale is a thing already.


The whole idea – the very meme attached to swimming holes, at least to me – is that of a found thing. A place that only some people know about that you think you remember how to get to, and which has a rope someone attached some years ago, and it is probably still safe. It’s Holy Theatre and Rough.

I don’t have any good answers for the realities that rapidly expanding populations and broadened wealth – both good things – have forced upon our experiences with nature. There are more of us and more who can now afford to see and do these things. Commercialization and order are almost certainly the fairest ways to manage limited supply, I suppose. That doesn’t change how viscerally my brain responds to the idea of booking a reservation to Hamilton Pool, though.


The Meaning Behind the Democrats’ Infighting Regarding Impeachment [Epoch Times]

I would tell you my opinion on the political import of impeachment discussions, but I am starting to recognize that those opinions are consistent with the emerging narrative. Oh sure, I might argue that I thought them first, but there’s enough reason to doubt the provenance of my views.

What would that opinion be? What is the emerging narrative?

“Continuing to discuss impeachment is a zero upside, 100% downside political maneuver. It will fuel division and rhetoric that benefits extreme candidates – and Trump – and doing it outside of whatever is necessary to placate is a risky move.”

Yes, this particular opinion piece is written by an author from the right, but there’s a reason this ranks so high in the Zeitgeist. I’m more confident this is the narrative, and correspondingly less confident in the independence of my opinion.


What Does the Release of John Walker Lindh Mean? [New York Times]

Yeah, look, I’m all for talking about how we turn people into symbols and then talk about the symbol. That’s kind of what we do here, after all.

But just so that we are super, super clear, the person or persons who greenlighted this revisionist John Walker Lindh fanfiction at the paper of bloody record can go straight to hell.

Going Gray

Every morning, we run the Narrative Machine on the past 24 hours worth of financial media to find the most on-narrative (i.e. interconnected and central) stories in financial media. It’s not a list of best articles or articles we think are most interesting … often far from it.

But for whatever reason these are articles that are representative of some sort of chord that has been struck in Narrative-world.


Huawei Founder Says U.S. Won’t Disrupt Business As Analysts Warn Of Sales Slowdown [Forbes]

The U.S. Commerce Department has deemed Huawei a threat to national security, and banned the company and almost 70 of its affiliates worldwide from acquiring U.S. technology without government approval. On Monday, Huawei was granted a 90-day reprieve that allows the company to continue purchasing American goods for its existing handsets and broadband networks until Aug 19.

Ren Zhengfei is 74 years old, yet like all septuagenarian and octogenarian Chinese potentates, he has jet-black dyed hair. But is that a wisp of gray in this picture? I kinda think it is. That’s a big deal in China … they call it “going gray” … when you’ve been disavowed by The Powers That Be and they take away your hair dye. Because you can’t be rehabilitated from that.

You think I’m kidding. But I’m not.

Here’s Bo Xilai, party secretary (i.e., mob boss) of Chongqing, a city with a metropolitan area roughly equal in size to New York.

And here’s Bo Xilai at his murder trial in Beijing.

Pro tip: Bo Xilai’s real crime was not murder. Although … that, too.

How will you know when China is backing down from a national security-oriented trade war with the US?

When Ren Zhengfei is photographed with gray hair.