Explaining Southern California's economy

Ron Paul v. Ben Bernanke: Is that a silver dollar in your pocket?

The most entertaining episode from Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke's testimony before the House Financial Services Committee this morning came — Surprise! — when Texas Republican and GOP presidential candidate Ron Paul launched into one of his patented long-winded spiels about the evils of the Fed, the senselessness of fiat currencies, and the value of "real" money: silver and gold.

Bernanke took it all in stride. The video above doesn't have reaction shots that are quite as good as this shorter broadcast from ABC, so check them both out. You have to hand it to Bernanke, he seems to enjoy the roastings he gets from Paul, in strange sort of way. And he fires back, ever so gently, at Paul's allegations that we're experiencing 9 percent inflation (according to older pricing measures) when the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) says it's only around 4. (They've been here before.)

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Yammer: Nah, let's not do the IPO

Yammer

The enterprise social network that will do anything to avoid an IPO.

With the frenzy surrounding Facebook's impending initial public offering later this year, you'd think that every startup ultimately wants to do that IPO voodoo. Not so. In fact, it's not clear that Facebook even wants to go public. It's just that it has to many private shareholders now that the SEC is kind of forcing it to. San Francisco-based Yammer is a similar if not exactly quite as lucrative story. Yammer is a sort of Twitter for business — an "enterprise social network." And it just secured a new $85 million venture round. Which it's thinking of as a virtual IPO. The best kind, as it means you don't have to do the actual IPO.

Even better, the business is starting to boom. This is from Forbes:

A few years ago many companies were skeptical of enterprise social networking, now it’s become much more common. Now the industry is in a land grab phase, Sacks says. “Five to ten years from now every company will have an internal social network and maybe an external one as well,” he says. “Five years from now not having a social network in a company will be like not having email or phones.”

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My favorite quote from the big New Yorker Davos piece

Remy Steinegger/Flickr

DAVOS-KLOSTERS/SWITZERLAND, 31JAN09 - Peter Gleick, President, Pacific Institute, USA, speaks during the session 'The Politics of Water' at the Annual Meeting 2009 of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, January 31, 2009...Copyright by World Economic Forum.swiss-image.ch/Photo by Remy Steinegger

It's already been widely blogged about, but I'll throw my two cents in. Nick Paumgarten has a lengthy article in the March 5 New Yorker about his first trip to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. It's something of a picaresque, in the sense that Paumgarten seems to take it all about half seriously and hangs out with a fair number of Davos attendees who might not fit Samuel Huntington's classic definition of Davos Man. But that's the social-whirl-party-down-oh-look-it's-Chelsea-Clinton aspect. 

It's fine, but there are some more interesting parts. Here's my personal favorite:

I walked into a panel one morning in time to hear Kumi Naidoo, the South African human-rights activist who now serves as the executive director of Greenpeace, intone, melodiously, “Those in power ignore the growing frustration and desperation at their own peril.”

Naidoo had been to Davos eleven times, the first eight as the secretary-general of the Global Call to Action Against Poverty. “When I came in that capacity, I never could get a C.E.O. to talk to me,” he told me later. “I used to follow them into the toilet. I met Bill Clinton in 2003, when we were standing next to each other at the urinals. When I came as Greenpeace, two years ago, I was amazed how keen they were to meet me. A C.E.O. told me, ‘Some of my peers are eager to have you at their table so they won’t be on your menu.’ ”

He went on, “The problem here is the preference for incremental thinking—baby steps. They talk more about system recovery than about system design.” [my emphasis]

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Let's hope Stockton can use mediation to avoid bankruptcy

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

STOCKTON, CA - APRIL 29: Cars drive through downtown Stockton April 29, 2008 in Stockton, California. As the nation continues to see widespread home loan foreclosures, Stockton, .California led the nation with the highest foreclosure rate. One out of every 30 homes in Stockton is in foreclosure, close to seven times the national average for a metro area in the U.S. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

The town of Stockton is lurching toward a Chapter 9 municipal bankruptcy. But thanks to a law that Gov. Jerry Brown recently signed, before a California municipality can head to bankruptcy court, it needs to submit to mediation. What this means is that the city and its creditors sit down a less formal environment than a court of law and try to iron out a solution. Generally speaking, this means that bondholders (for example) will accept a "haircut" on debt up front, rather than fighting it out on court.

If a mediation can lead to a successful resolution, it can be a real boon for the city that's in trouble. Bankruptcy is expensive. The lawyers have to be paid and the whole process has to be financed so that the municipality can continue to operate while its litigating. We're talking tens of millions of dollars.

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Ben Bernanke tells Congress that we need negative interest rates

Bernanke Testifies Before House Financial Services Committee

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 29: Federal Reserve Bank Board Chairman Ben Bernanke testifies before the House Financial Services Committee on Capitol Hill February 29, 2012 in Washington, DC. Bernanke was testifying about the Fed's Semiannual Monetary Policy Report. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke testified this morning in front of the House Financial Services Committee. Reuters has a nice, brisk summary of his main responses to questioning from members of Congress. There were two very interesting exchanges, resulting in some cryptic replies from Big Ben. Here's the first, on interest rates, which the Fed wants to keep as low as possible through 2014:

It is arguable that interest rates are too high, that they are being constrained by the fact that interest rates can't go below zero. We have an economy where demand falls far short of the capacity of the economy to produce. We have an economy where the amount of investment in durable goods spending is far less than the capacity of the economy to produce. That suggests that interest rates in some sense should be lower rather than higher. We can't make interest rates lower, of course. (They) only can go down to zero. And again I would argue that a healthy economy with good returns is the best way to get returns to savers.

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