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How the Ivy League brought us the financial crisis
Ezra Klein has an interesting but also exasperating piece at Bloomberg View about how the Ivy League continues to send graduates into high finance, law, and consulting because an Ivy League education doesn't prepare those students to actually do anything with their lives.
I'm not kidding.
Let's allow Klein to present the case in his own words:
Wall Street -- like a few other professions, including law, management consulting and Teach for America -- is taking advantage of the weakness of liberal arts education.
For many kids, college represents an end goal. Once you get into a good college, you’ve made it, and everyone stops worrying about you. You’re encouraged to take classes in subjects like English literature and history and political science, all of which are fine and interesting, but none of which leave you with marketable skills [emphasis mine]. After a few years of study, you suddenly find it’s late in your junior year, or early in your senior year, and you have no skills pointing to the obvious next step.
What Wall Street figured out is that colleges are producing a large number of very smart, completely confused graduates. Kids who have ample mental horsepower, incredible work ethics and no idea what to do next. So the finance industry takes advantage of that confusion, attracting students who never intended to work in finance but don’t have any better ideas about where to go.
The DeBord Report on 'America Now with Andy Dean'
I did my weekly Economy Report on "American Now with Andy Dean" a day early this week — Thursday rather than Friday. Andy very kindly informed me that the first step to leaving the liberal matrix is admitting that you have a problem, but I think I need to know what the other eleven steps are before I'm fully prepared to go down that road. In any case, we ran through the business news of the week, which included President Obama's budget; General Motors' record 2012 profit and Mitt Romney's view of the bailouts; the thorny question of whether "carried interest" income earned by folks in the financial sector should be taxed as regular income; and the whole dustup over Starbucks policy toward gun owners.
Listen in! It was a snappy discussion, as usual. I come in about halfway though.
Shopping for search: Have you tried Duck Duck Go?
I've been cheating on Google quite a bit these past few weeks with a new-ish search site called Duck Duck Go. I first heard about the site — which operates out of that hotbed of technological innovation, the veritable Silicon Valley of the Northeastern corridor, Valley Forge, Penn. — from its main venture funder, Union Square Ventures. USV's Fred Wilson has blogged about Duck Duck Go a few times. I use other services/companies in USVs portfolio — Disqus, Dwolla — so I was intrigued.
Duck Duck Go is not Google, but that's the point. I'm not sure if it's even really a new kind of search, nor do I think it sells itself that way. It is definitely less fussy, quicker search. I'll let Fred tell it:
[I]t may also be that other search engines are doing things that some users don't approve of and those users are shopping around for a new search engine. If you are in that camp, join me at DDG and see what clean, private, impartial and fast search is like.
Banking on a Moody's credit downgrade of Morgan Stanley
How do you think it would feel to be cut not one, not two, but three levels on your credit score? All at once?
If you answered, "Not too good!" then you're in the same boat as Morgan Stanley, one of the last two big independent U.S. investment banks (the other one is Goldman Sachs, and neither are as proud as they once were, after converting themselves to bank holding companies during the financial crisis so that they could get more money from the government). Moody's, one of the three main rating agencies, has said that it may knock Morgan down three notches. It may take other banks, such as Goldman, down two.
This is from Bloomberg:
The potential downgrades, which may raise borrowing costs and force banks to increase collateral, put the ratings company at odds with bond investors, who are sticking with bets that new capital rules and trading limits will make the financial firms safer in the long run. Funding costs have climbed for banks worldwide as Greece’s debt woes roil markets.
“In the next two years, these big banks will be less robust than they used to be, that’s for sure,” Jim Antos, a Hong Kong-based financial analyst at Mizuho Securities Co., said by telephone. “For any bank that has to raise capital today, it’s already very difficult. This makes it just that much more expensive and difficult.”
Bitcoin: An idea about money borrowed from the future?
I went on "AirTalk" with Larry Mantle yesterday to talk all things Bitcoin. It was a lively show, made all the more lively by Larry's admission that, like a lot of folks, he didn't know a thing about Bitcoin until about a week ago. I was able to fill him in and field a few comments during the broadcast.
What seems to blow people's minds about Bitcoin, at least initially, is that it's more of an idea about the money of the future than it is a well-functioning alternative currency today. I guess you could say it's in beta right now. And that means it's picked up a renegade reputation, by virtue of its popularity for buying drugs and porn.
However, in the months that I've been writing about BTC — And trading it! — I've learned that the cyber-currency has a lot going for it. Not least is the extreme sophistication of the process by which it's created. I think there's a good chance that what's useful about BTC could be adapted by government-backed fiat currencies, like the U.S. dollar, as they evolve from being fragments of the 19th and 20th centuries to being the media of exchange in the 21st.