Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Economics in the Malaysian jungle

WWF JeepJeep for hanging jungle apparel out to dry — free. Provided courtesy of WWF.

parang, Malaysian jungleParang — MYR 30. Great for cutting through the dense foliage. Keep in mind that the rattan, with its thorny vines that cling and drag into your skin, may be too thick for the regular parang, at least in the hands of the less adept user.

Bathing with elephants, MalaysiaBathing with the elephants — priceless...

Thank you ds, teammates, WWF.

Monday, August 24, 2009

UofT book sales, a fall tradition

It's once again the end of August. The good times are almost over. It's back to school. It's back to autumn. In Toronto, the kitschy Ex. And, of course, the book sales at UofT.

As second-hand bookstores in Toronto disappear one by one, these sales are a welcome reprieve. The selection is huge, the prices great. A visit to the St. George campus at this time of year is rewarding in its picturesque self.

The first day of each sale is characterized by admission charges (students with id usually excepted), big crowds, long line-ups (excellent opportunity to make a new friend, one who reads), and being able to spot book dealers hunting for bargains and rarities.

Some sales go 1/2 price or just lower on the last day or during the last hours. All accept credit cards.
Victoria College
24 - 28 September 2009
Alumni Hall & the Chapel, Old Vic — 91 Charles Street West (Museum subway station), 416-585-4585
Thursday, Sept 24, 4 pm - 9 pm ($3 admission)
Friday, Sept 25, 10 am - 8 pm
Saturday, Sept 26, 11 am - 6 pm
Sunday, Sept 27, 11 am - 6 pm
Monday, Sept 28, 10 am - 8 pm

University College
16 - 20 October 2009
15 King's College Circle (Museum subway station), 416-978-0372
Friday, Oct 16, noon - 8 pm ($3 admission)
Saturday, Oct 17, 10 am - 6 pm
Sunday, Oct 18, noon - 8 pm
Monday, Oct 19, noon - 8 pm
Tuesday, Oct 20, noon - 6 pm

Trinity College
23 - 27 October 2009
Seeley Hall — Trinity College, 6 Hoskin Avenue (Museum subway station), 416-978-6750
Friday, Oct 23, 4 pm - 9 pm ($5 admission);
Saturday, Oct 24, 10 am - 8 pm;
Sunday, Oct 25, noon - 8 pm;
Monday, Oct 26, 10 am - 8 pm
Tuesday, Oct 27, 10 am - 8 pm

St. Michael's College
27 - 31 October 2009
John M. Kelly Library (Reading Room) — 113 St. Joseph Street (Museum subway station)
Tuesday, Oct 27, 6 pm - 9:30 pm (preview and reception lecture, $20 admission)
Wednesday, Oct 28, 8:30 am - 8 pm ($3 admission)
Thursday, Oct 29, 8:30 am - 8 pm
Friday, Oct 30, 8:30 am - 8 pm
Saturday, Oct 31, 10 am - 2 pm.
Photo:  Old Vic, Victoria College, University of Toronto. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Monday, August 3, 2009

The heavenly motions of the markets

It is always hard to argue against a bull market. And against science. And against the animal spirits.

Sir Isaac Newton, the genius of his age (science-wise, that is), lost extravagantly on South Sea stock by buying, selling, and then getting back into the market just before its collapse. His conclusion:
I can calculate the motions of the heavenly bodies, but not the madness of people.
James D. Stein states in his book How Math Explains the World:
The first and second laws of thermodynamics seem to appear in so many diverse environments that they have become part of our collective understanding of life: the first law says you can't win, and the second law says that it's not possible to break even.
And to put things in some perspective, a pertinent observation from, where else?, Barron's:
The rally of 2009 marches on. We're told it was the best five-month stretch for the Dow since 1938. For the Standard & Poor's 500, there hadn't been as spiffy a July performance since 1997. That is, until one checks where the S&P stood at the end of that July of '97: at 954, versus 987 today — just a 3% rise, after a 12-year slog.

With wit and very little money

It's Simcoe Day / Civic Holiday in most of Canada, when the workers rest (thank you John Graves Simcoe! / thank you Civic!). So we decided to take it slowly (and not only because HNU could not be traded just when natural gas decided to go crazy) and did some quiet reading.

Here's what we learned from Niall Ferguson's The Cash Nexus: Economics And Politics From The Age Of Warfare Through The Age Of Welfare, 1700-2000.

Karl Marx wrote to his long-time comrade Friedrich Engels in June 1864:
The time has come again when, with wit and very little money, it's possible to make money in London.
According to a recent biographer, Karl may have been tempted to become a day-trader by the German socialist Ferdinand Lassalle, who had boasted of his stock market speculations.

A spectre is haunting the stock markets. What's the deal with all these socialists using tools of the decadent capitalism you may ask, with good (if a bit naive) reason. The key, which will surprise you not a little, may be found in a letter Karl wrote to Lion Philips, also in the summer of that year:

I have, which will surprise you not a little, been speculating — partly in American funds, but more especially in English stocks, which are springing up like mushrooms this year (in furtherance of every imaginable and unimaginable joint stock enterprise), are forced up to quite an unreasonable level and then, for the most part, collapse. In this way, I have made over £400 and, now that the complexity of the political situation affords greater scope, I shall begin all over again. It's a type of operation that makes demands on one's time, and it's worth while running some risk in order to relieve the enemy of his money.
The unbearable lightness of trading. And, of course, relieving the enemy of his money. If only he'd made a killing on the stock markets, history may have been different. Marx Financials Inc. could have been today too big to fail... But nothing of consequence happened.

Finally, we read in the Marx & Engels Internet Archive that Engels wrote Marx in 1852, in a hopeful (if a bit naive) spirit:
The minor panic in the money market appears to be over, consols and railway shares are again rising merrily, money is easier, speculation is still pretty evenly distributed over corn, cotton, steam boats, mining operations, etc., etc. But cotton has already become a very risky proposition; despite what is so far a very promising crop, prices are rising continuously, merely as a result of high consumption and the possibility of a brief cotton shortage before fresh imports can arrive. Anyway I don't believe that the crisis will this time be preceded by a regular rage for speculation; if circumstances are favourable in other respects, a few mails bringing bad news from India, a panic in New York, etc., will very soon prove that many a virtuous citizen has been up to all kinds of sharp practice on the quiet. And these crucial ill-tidings from overstocked markets must surely come soon. Massive shipments continue to leave for China and India, and yet the advices are nothing out of the ordinary; indeed, Calcutta is decidedly overstocked, and here and there native dealers are going bankrupt. I don't believe that prosperity will continue beyond October or November — even Peter Ermen is becoming worried.
Regretfully, no favourable circumstances yet. As we well know, just cyclical business as usual...