Explaining Southern California's economy

This just in: Variety for sale, Corzine in trouble

Former MF Global CEO Jon Corzine Testifies To House Hearing On Company's Bankruptcy

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Former chairman and CEO of MF Global and former New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine testifies during a hearing before the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee of the House Financial Services Committee.

A couple of pieces of breaking business news, one from Hollywood and one from Wall Street. Reed Business Information just announced that it's going to sell Variety; and Jon Corzine — former head of Goldman Sachs, U.S. Senator, and Governor of New Jersey — may have broken securities laws as CEO of MF Global and perjured himself before Congress.

Not a lot to say about Variety, just get ready for all the inside jokes about Reed "ankling" the century-old trade. The Wrap wastes no time in, um... Celebrating?

[Variety] has been challenged by digital upstarts like TheWrap and the Deadline blog. It has also faced greater competition from long-time rival The Hollywood Reporter, which relaunched its website and folded its daily print editions, launching a glossy weekly in its stead.

The larger point is worth noting, of course: ad dollars are moving away from print to digital. However, the profits from digital aren't enough to make up the losses, so it's tougher for companies to maintain both print and digital editions — or hang onto the brands at all.

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Game on! Warren Buffett to be bankrupted by GOP Congress

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Warren Buffett, chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, attends the Allen & Company Sun Valley Conference.

Last year, Warren Buffett wrote a much-cited and blogged-about op-ed for the New York Times arguing that rich people don't pay enough taxes. Fine, responded the anti-tax Republican crowd, suggesting that if Buffett was so hot to part with his money, he could always write the government a check.

A change to tax forms was proposed, allowing wealthy taxpayers to pay more, to reduce the national debt. And now Buffett is saying that he'll match, from his vast fortune, dollar-for-dollar whatever Republcian members of Congress voluntarily contribute.

The U.S. national debt currently stands at $15.2 trillion, about a trillion more than the entire yearly GDP of $14.5 trillion. Warren Buffett is worth about $50 billion. The average net worth in Congress was about $750,000. Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, a Republican, is worth $294 million.

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Why the IRS needs our pity

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Tim Boyle/Getty Images

The top of a form 1040 individual income tax return.

The Internal Revenue Service: As tax season kicks off, we're reminded that no other federal agency is held in higher contempt. But the IRS is struggling with issues beyond its image. According to this story in USA Today, its "budget is too small and its workload too heavy" for the IRS to do its job. And this is while additional cuts to the IRS budget are being considered by Congress:

Driving the IRS workload increase is increasing complexity of federal tax laws and regulations and frequent changes in the tax code — an estimated 579 changes in 2010 alone that had to be explained to taxpayers, entered in IRS computers and added to the agency's auditor training programs.

Ah, the complexity bugaboo. This may increase the IRS workload, but given that tax collections are the government's main source of revenue, this is a problem that urgently needs solving. Especially for people like me, who advocate for a far more complex tax code, managed by more powerful technology.

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MF Global CEO Corzine was 'rusty'

Maybe this should be his nickname, henceforth: Jon "Rusty" Corzine. The former Senator and New Jersey governor — not to mention former Goldman Sachs CEO — marched up to Capitol Hill today to explain how his most recent firm, MF Global, was plunged into bankruptcy, taking $1 billion in supposedly protected client funds with it.

MF Global was no Goldman Sachs, and various theories have been offered about how that's a significant difference. Like, Corzine wasn't being dogged by the crack, risk-assessment pros he dealt with at Goldman. He could make bets on European sovereign debt based on his own sense that Europe would solve its financial mess. 

But I like Marketplace's Heidi N. Moore's take, which is that Corzine had been out of the Wall Street action for too long. His ambition was to take MF Global, a respectable broker-dealer but hardly a Goldman-level investment bank, and turn it into a junior Goldman. It was a bold move. But maybe he wasn't up to the job.

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Tim Geithner, technocrat

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U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.

As the sovereign debt crisis continues to roil Europe, the eurozone is currently in the process of trying to save the euro single currency by deposing elected political leaders — Papandreou in Greece, Berlusconi in Italy, the socialists in Spain — and replacing them with "technocrats," or economic experts who, in theory, will be able to make the dispassionate, non-political, utterly essential decisions that need to be made.

Can't happen here, right? Well, maybe it's happened already. Take as Exhibit A one Tim Geithner, U.S. Treasury secretary and according to the Atlantic's Dan Indiviglio, a man disliked by all but his boss, one Barack Obama. 

Geithner is probably the closest creature to a technocrat we have in American government. And he runs practically the entire economy (the Federal Reserve runs the rest, and its part is extremely not insignificant). So who needs to hire technocrats when we already have one in the top job?

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