Explaining Southern California's economy

Why Ron Paul and Mark Spitznagel will not go quietly into the Republican night

Ron Paul Begins Final Campaign Swing Through Iowa Before Caucus

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Ron Paul speaks during a campaign event. He plans to go to the Republican National Convention in Tampa and be placed on the nominating ballot.

Mitt Romney may be the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, but Texas congressman Ron Paul never planned to go away quietly before the Republican National Convention in Tampa in August — and neither did one of his staunchest supporters, L.A. hedge fund investor Mark Spitznagel.

It’s partly Spitznagel’s doing that Paul held out for delegates at one of the campaign's final acts, the Nebraska state Republican Party Convention, which took place a week and half ago, more than a month after the state's primary. (Paul failed to gain a plurality, dooming his chances at speaking in Tampa.) All along, the hedge funder helped keep Paul in the race, both by raising money and by providing the campaign with intellectual oomph.

Spitznagel, who runs Universa Investments, which he founded in 2007, lives in Bel Air and operates out of an office in Santa Monica. Why is the Michigan native so far out west, anyway? After all, hedge funds are supposed to be in Connecticut. Or at the very least, Manhattan. That wasn't Spitznagel's scene. "I wanted to get out of that groupthink of Wall Street," he said on the phone recently. "Everyone there is crammed into a handful of blocks." But it's perhaps more than just the non-NYC quality of L.A. that has made it a comfortable place for Spitznagel. 

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Paul Krugman says Ben Bernanke has become Locutus of Borg

Locutus of Fed

Resistance to Fed policy is futile, Professor Krugman.

Over the weekend, we got a preview of Paul Krugman's new book, which has the not-very-subtle title "End this Depression Now!" Yep, that's an exclamation point, perhaps the first ever in the title of a book by a Nobel Prize winner. And yep, Krugman doesn't think we're in a recession. He's calling it a Depression, and yes, I've dutifully capitalized that scary word. 

The excerpt appeared in the New York Times Magazine, the pages of which Krugman has taken to from time to time when he wants to lay out a more involved argument than the column inches he's allotted on the NYT's op-ed page will allow. It also appeared just a few days before the Federal Reserve's Open Market Committee met to decide on the direction of U.S. monetary policy. 

Bernanke effectively hired Krugman, when Bernanke ran the economics department at Princeton. And Krugman clearly thinks that Princeton Bernanke was a much different economics guy than Chairman Ben. And when I say "much different," what I mean is that Krugman has no qualms about going out on a very long limb here. Like far enough to bring out the "Star Trek" comparisons.

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Rejoice! We live in a (mostly) happier world!

 

The Earth Institute at Columbia University has released the first-ever World Happiness Report, which not surprisingly cites the work of a Los Angeles economist whose pioneering research into...yes, happiness! is gaining increasingly currency. Richard Easterlin is at the University of Southern California and is responsible for identifying the "Easterlin Paradox" (that's him, in a video produced by the very fine economics writer Olf Storbeck). Here's a good definition of what it is — ironically from a Boston.com piece that talks about how the paradox is being challenged by a new generation of economists:

On the one hand, data [studied by Easterlin] showed that making more money makes you happier; at the same time, comparisons amongst nations revealed that richer nations weren't necessarily happier than poorer ones. This paradox, Easterlin suggested, showed that we derive happiness from wealth only in a relative way. From the point of view of happiness, it doesn't matter whether we have one car and an apartment, or two cars and a McMansion -- what really matters is what our neighbors have.

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DeBord Report on 'America Now with Andy Dean,' March 9 edition

It's Monday, and that means that I post the audio of my weekly joust with Andy Dean on his radio show — a show that's now seven months young! So congrats to Andy on that. He's trying to bring me out of the darkness and into the light, so on Friday we spent some discussing the sins of Paul Krugman, op-ed columnist for the New York Times and sworn foe of conservative viewpoints. Krugman hasn't given up on his position that we need more government spending rather than less right now. Andy is horrified by this prospect. I actually think that Krugman, in a recent blog post, actually did something unusual and glossed over a rather significant piece of spending under Reagan — defense spending.

I think we could use more of that right now, for two reasons: We need to refurbish aspects of our military, especially Navy ships, which guard the world's sea lanes; increased defense spending could also function as a kind of non-partisan stimulus is a political environment that far too divided to pass the kind of stimulus was saw early in the Obama administration.

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The day the economists failed

In this three photo combo, Professor of

PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images

Paul Krugman isn't happy about how economists handled the financial crisis.

Just catching up with this. It's the text of Paul Krugman's speech upon receiving some honorary degrees in Spain. It's well worth a full read. There's some wonky econo-speak, but Krugman's labors as a New York Times op-ed columnist have enabled him to convey some complex ideas with admirable clarity. 

Quick summary: the economists failed when the financial crisis hit. When the economy isn't in crisis, economists are basically useless. But when it all goes to hell, they're urgently needed and must to be ready to offer the best possible advice. 

Krugman thinks he and his fellow economists blew it, mainly because they descended into ideological and intellectual squabbling after the initial, successful response to the crisis was mustered.

He starts by blaming himself. This small portion of the speech, to me, explains a lot about how even a public intellectual/academic economist like Krugman could be blindsided:

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