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Enemies Real and Imagined

By Rusty Guinn | July 21, 2021 | 10 Comments

I think there’s a non-zero chance that the delta-variant becomes something that markets really are focused on. Maybe that happens months from now. Maybe days.

But until that happens, the delta-variant narrative explaining markets is a wall of worry, an artificially easy hurdle to climb for a market that only really cares about a dovish Fed sticking to its transitory inflation story.

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Low Demand, Low Supply, High Price Expectations

From the ET Forum …

So that’s where we are in our local real estate market – low demand, low supply, high price expectations – and my sense is that this is where we are in lots of markets … not just CT residential real estate. Maybe it’s just the summer doldrums, I dunno. Maybe I’m just taking my local experience as more meaningful than it is. I’d be really interested to hear if anyone is seeing or experiencing the same, either in RE or anywhere else.

Because this is how stagflation happens.

Seasonality is so tough to parse, especially against pandemic-affected seasonality, but it sure seems like inventory got legitimately bought down in Q4/Q1, after which brokers sold that experience and y-o-y % changes to drive a corresponding increase in supply.

Also no idea wtf is going on in multi-family / condo land around here, but definitely seems distinct from the single-family experience.

— Ben Hunt | July 28, 2021|

Let Me Make the Songs

Epsilon Theory may have gotten its formal start in 2013, but the soft launch took place in 1991. That’s when my partner Ben finished his doctoral work at <lifts nose slightly> a school up in Cambridge. His work there (and his 1997 book, Getting to War) focused on how news could be used to predict the likelihood of war. It also analyzed how news was used by institutions and individuals to foment an appetite for and belief in the necessity of war, which is related to but not the same as the ability to use that news for predictions.

So yes, we were interested to read about Project Cassandra, a collaboration between German academics and military leaders to quantify the risk of conflicts using…literature. The Guardian covers it here in what I think is a very worthwhile read.

Jürgen Wertheimer, who set up Project Cassandra, standing in front of a green chalkboard
Jürgen Wertheimer, head of the Cassandra Project (Source: The Guardian, Dominik Gigler)

The project is really interesting. It confirms, or at least shares, many of the core principles of our Narrative Machine project. Not least among them is the recognition that oft-mined sentiment possesses a fraction of the influence of memes with subjective power that can only be identified objectively through words and phrases of meaning. Or the observation of identifiable, recurring story archetypes.

Leaving aside that we focus on different universes of creative output, our projects DO differ in one respect. The Cassandra Project appears to place great emphasis on the ability to quantify the popular and critical acclaim of a fictional literary work. For example, more popular, more viral, more well-regarded work would have different influence, which is a perfectly sensible hypothesis.

Because we focus on a larger and more frequent dataset of news, blogs, press releases and transcripts, we get to do two different things: first, instead of estimating how much of an audience has heard an idea and how much that idea has changed their minds, we can more easily observe how much a specific memetic idea has reproduced within the dataset over time.

Second, because our dataset includes items which are nominally news / non-fiction content, we can observe the extent to which explicit and implicit opinion language is being deployed, which also provides a window into the narrative-shaping efforts of common knowledge missionaries.

Two different approaches to a similar problem. I prefer ours, because I feel more confident saying that an idea has reproductive legs by observing how it changes the language other people use to discuss it, and because knowing some of the intentions of powerful institutions and influential individuals is an indispensable part of any effort to quantify the potential effects of narrative.

But there are absolutely features of the zeitgeist which will only manifest in the arts, in literature, and in the groanings and yearnings of those who make the songs. For that reason alone, we think the Germans have the right of it here in the way that the Scots did before. It’s a very cool project.

Let me make the songs of a nation, and I care not who makes its laws.

Andrew Fletcher, Commissioner of the Old Parliament of Scotland (1703)

— Rusty Guinn | July 8, 2021 | 12:32 pm

The Political Autotuning of Inflation

The politicization of inflation into a partisan “There Is No Inflation!” TM narrative by the nudgers and mandarins on the left is really depressing.

The politicization of inflation into a partisan “Biden Inflation!” TM narrative by the clowns and raccoons on the right is really depressing.

It’s really depressing because it makes it impossible for me to say anything on inflation without getting lumped into an insane partisan box. It’s an entirely constructed and false framing of the issue, and I’m just so freakin’ weary of it.

We call this political auto-tuning. We call this a political shock collar.

It’s the go-to move of incumbents in a two-party system with high-peaked bimodal electorate preferences. THIS is why there are no successful centrist politicians. THIS is why there are no stable centrist policies. THIS is why we can’t have nice things.

THIS is why I believe that top-down societal change is impossible, but instead must emerge from the bottom-up through an authentic social movement of Make/Protect/Teach.

Watch from a distance if you like, but when you’re ready … join us.

— Ben Hunt | July 2, 2021 | 11:09 am

Non-Verbal Narrative

We make it no secret that our research program here is all about using natural language processing to identify and measure narratives in the world. But is narrative truly only shaped by verbal and written communication? Do missionary statements have to be made with the mouth?

Of course not.

Here’s narrative missionary Max Scherzer, pitcher for the Washington Nationals, providing an exaggerated form of protest against the revised MLB enforcement policy regarding the use of foreign substances. The umps have generally been inspecting hats gloves and belts for these substances. Max decided to give them a little, shall we say, extra on the belt removal.

Max Scherzer begins stripping on the field as baseball's weirdest new rule  takes effect

Here’s Oakland Athletics pitcher Sergio Romo, picking up every nuance of Scherzer’s crystal clear communication to the commissioner’s office.

Sergio Romo ready to strip for foreign substance checks

Scherzer and Sergio’s sticky substance strip show is memetic perfection in the form of malicious compliance. There is no press conference speech either pitcher – or the others who will no doubt mimic their displays in the coming days – could have made that would have more clearly shifted common knowledge to the belief that the foreign substances rule was being applied, interpreted and policed in an absurd, preposterous way.

Bold prediction: this narrative doesn’t peak until Joe West enrages Zach Greinke into an NC-17 display on national television.

— Rusty Guinn | June 23, 2021 | 9:21 pm

Headline Risk

The average American news consumer is exposed to far more headline text on news websites, social media apps and content aggregation sites than they are to the prose of the articles themselves. It should be no surprise, then, that more fiat news and missionary behavior exists in headlines than almost anywhere else. It typically gets a pass because, well, the whole job of a headline writer is to summarize what an article is about. But that’s precisely the task that lends itself so perfectly to telling us how we should think about the article. What’s important? What should our conclusions be? How should we feel about it?

I’ll give a free subscription to our free newsletter if you can find the fiat news language in this gem of a headline to a CNN news article.

Here are the companies rushing workers back to the office — and the ones that aren’t [CNN]

Aside from the general observation to take care in our content consumption habits, remember that it is the constant barrage of articles – and headlines – like this that reinforces our belief that the missionaries of the “Work From Home Forever!” narratives are dominating the field, at least in the narrative war.

— Rusty Guinn | June 22, 2021 | 9:58 am

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Low Demand, Low Supply, High Price Expectations

From the ET Forum …

So that’s where we are in our local real estate market – low demand, low supply, high price expectations – and my sense is that this is where we are in lots of markets … not just CT residential real estate. Maybe it’s just the summer doldrums, I dunno. Maybe I’m just taking my local experience as more meaningful than it is. I’d be really interested to hear if anyone is seeing or experiencing the same, either in RE or anywhere else.

Because this is how stagflation happens.

Seasonality is so tough to parse, especially against pandemic-affected seasonality, but it sure seems like inventory got legitimately bought down in Q4/Q1, after which brokers sold that experience and y-o-y % changes to drive a corresponding increase in supply.

Also no idea wtf is going on in multi-family / condo land around here, but definitely seems distinct from the single-family experience.

— Ben Hunt | July 28, 2021|

Let Me Make the Songs

Epsilon Theory may have gotten its formal start in 2013, but the soft launch took place in 1991. That’s when my partner Ben finished his doctoral work at <lifts nose slightly> a school up in Cambridge. His work there (and his 1997 book, Getting to War) focused on how news could be used to predict the likelihood of war. It also analyzed how news was used by institutions and individuals to foment an appetite for and belief in the necessity of war, which is related to but not the same as the ability to use that news for predictions.

So yes, we were interested to read about Project Cassandra, a collaboration between German academics and military leaders to quantify the risk of conflicts using…literature. The Guardian covers it here in what I think is a very worthwhile read.

Jürgen Wertheimer, who set up Project Cassandra, standing in front of a green chalkboard
Jürgen Wertheimer, head of the Cassandra Project (Source: The Guardian, Dominik Gigler)

The project is really interesting. It confirms, or at least shares, many of the core principles of our Narrative Machine project. Not least among them is the recognition that oft-mined sentiment possesses a fraction of the influence of memes with subjective power that can only be identified objectively through words and phrases of meaning. Or the observation of identifiable, recurring story archetypes.

Leaving aside that we focus on different universes of creative output, our projects DO differ in one respect. The Cassandra Project appears to place great emphasis on the ability to quantify the popular and critical acclaim of a fictional literary work. For example, more popular, more viral, more well-regarded work would have different influence, which is a perfectly sensible hypothesis.

Because we focus on a larger and more frequent dataset of news, blogs, press releases and transcripts, we get to do two different things: first, instead of estimating how much of an audience has heard an idea and how much that idea has changed their minds, we can more easily observe how much a specific memetic idea has reproduced within the dataset over time.

Second, because our dataset includes items which are nominally news / non-fiction content, we can observe the extent to which explicit and implicit opinion language is being deployed, which also provides a window into the narrative-shaping efforts of common knowledge missionaries.

Two different approaches to a similar problem. I prefer ours, because I feel more confident saying that an idea has reproductive legs by observing how it changes the language other people use to discuss it, and because knowing some of the intentions of powerful institutions and influential individuals is an indispensable part of any effort to quantify the potential effects of narrative.

But there are absolutely features of the zeitgeist which will only manifest in the arts, in literature, and in the groanings and yearnings of those who make the songs. For that reason alone, we think the Germans have the right of it here in the way that the Scots did before. It’s a very cool project.

Let me make the songs of a nation, and I care not who makes its laws.

Andrew Fletcher, Commissioner of the Old Parliament of Scotland (1703)

— Rusty Guinn | July 8, 2021 | 12:32 pm

Proof of Plant: A New Vision for Crypto, Part 1

By Ben Hunt | June 23, 2021 | 35 Comments

I want to change the language of crypto from mining to growing. I do not mean this in a metaphorical sense. I mean a proof-of-plant method for literally growing cryptocurrency tokens as a representation of the value stored in the human cultivation of plants.

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Reinventing the Financial System

By Marc Rubinstein | June 15, 2021 | 4 Comments

If you’re like me, you’ve been put off from digging deeper into DeFi by the terrible signal-to-noise ratio of anything crypto-related on the interwebs. That’s why I found this DeFi primer (using Maker DAO as a specific example) by ET contributor and banking analyst Marc Rubinstein to be so fantastic.

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Sometimes a Cigar is Just a Cigar

By Ben Hunt | May 22, 2015 | 0 Comments

More on Information Theory.

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Recent Notes

Jack Welch was Right

By Ben Hunt | October 29, 2012

An analysis of systematic error in BLS data and its role in the Narrative regarding US labor conditions. epsilon-theory-jack-welch-was-right-october-29-2012.pdf (219 KB)

Donald Rumsfeld and Risk Management

By Ben Hunt | October 7, 2012

Early notes on investment as an exercise in decision-making under uncertainty. epsilon-theory-donald-rumsfeld-and-risk-management-october-7-2012.pdf (197 KB)

Hello Darkness My Old Friend

By Ben Hunt | September 29, 2012

Growing political fragmentation in Europe and its structural consequences for markets. epsilon-theory-hello-darkness-my-old-friend-september-29-2012.pdf (123 KB)

Dude, Where’s My Financial Repression

By Ben Hunt | September 15, 2012

An initial analysis of the Sept. 15th FOMC announcement of open-ended QE. epsilon-theory-dude-wheres-my-financial-repression-september-15-2012.pdf (191 KB)

Why Do Words Matter So Much?

By Ben Hunt | August 30, 2012

Early notes on importance of Common Knowledge game in understanding market behavior. epsilon-theory-why-do-words-matter-so-much-august-30-2012.pdf (753 KB) Test: epsilon-theory-why-do-words-matter-so-much-august-30-2012.pdf (753 KB)