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  • On 19 Apr 2014 in Corrupted Capitalism and the Housing Crisis, Bellingham Bill said:

    I was just reading about the German mark tonight, and saw this:

    "From 1900 to 1933, the United States adhered to a gold standard as well, with the value of the dollar being fixed at a price of approximately one-twentieth ounce (troy weight) of gold (one troy ounce of gold was actually valued at US$20.67)."

    So gold is worth $1300 today, for an "inflation" of ~60X since that bad man took us off the gold standard.

    Per the 1940 Census I see that the house I rented a room in in 1986-87 in West LA for $400/mo rented for $65 a month in 1940, and 60 x $65 is $3900, which is about right for that area (1B apartments go for half that)

    But its neighbor 10763 W Rochester had a valuation of $8500 in 1940, and 60 x $8500 is $500,000 -- only about 40% what zillow says this SFH's valuation is.

    So something more than inflation is going on with home prices. Which makes sense, since interest rates drive home prices more than rents.

    (the cool thing is the lady I rented the room from in 1986 was on the 1940 census! She was such a nice lady, and looking back on it was a privilege that she was renting out a room to me)

    (her husband made $4200 in 1939, so home values were about 2X incomes then, and rents were under 20%)

    (ah, right, the two income trap explains a lot of this price differential)

  • On 19 Apr 2014 in Money has corrupted us. We no longer understand what it's worth, Bellingham Bill said:

    sbh says

    One of my fondest friends is virtually penniless but lives a wonderfully rich life

    yup, central to my thesis of "wealth" is being "well", of having no unmet needs and wants. If you can control what you feel you want, you can be wealthier. Pretty zen, eh.

    That's the secret of the third world I guess, where the relative poverty is not necessarily grinding in the sense that needs are met at least.

    I was in Whole Foods today and marveled at all the wealth on display -- food being a primary need and good food a primary want. I guess I could buy out the entire store for not too many tens of thousands of dolllars, certainly less than the money I've blown on rent lo these past few years. Too bad food is so perishable! Makes saving for the future a lot harder!

    A dremel (as any tool does) allows one to create new wealth and repair existing wealth, but being a tool, it does not directly service a human need or want, other than the occasional human want of being occupied with a task.

    A fine wine, however, fulfills more immediate, universal, and obvious wants of utility. The wealth a wine provides can be quite valuable, as the pleasure it brings with or after a meal can be quite significant.

    As does a candy bar or a 25oz Bud Light for less high-brow consumers of items in much greater supply.

    Supply and demand is also an issue here. A dremel can be assembled by factor labor making $2/hr or whatever. A fine wine is a more difficult thing to produce.

    But today's mass-produced 79c candy bar would have been an immensely valuable confection not 100 years ago I suspect.

    ah, the Clark Bar was invented in 1916.

    The new app economy is also an interesting area to sketch the wealth creation. People want entertainment. They used to get it from Big Media -- New York for publishing and Tin Pan Alley, "Hollywood" for movies, TV, and pop/rock music.

    But now there's been a great disintermediation, or at least a rearrangement of the marketplace, where app creators can directly sell to app consumers on their own devices.

    This is a very interesting development, one that I've largely missed in practice but understood its promise when it first arrived in 2008.

  • On 19 Apr 2014 in Americans envision profound technological changes in the next 50 years, Bellingham Bill said:

    JH says

    Clearly the price has nothing to do with the product.

    in the rental market, absent rent controls, the price is the highest bid of all the people who want to take over your leasehold tenancy.

    on the buy side, it is the bid you need to make to both outbid investors interested in this nice income stream, and also other buyers trying to escape the renter's trap.

    What my parents rented for $300/mo in 1975 now rents for $2000, same thing for the 3B house they rented in the late 70s for $400/mo, the $700/mo apartment in LA I rented in 1991, and the 1B I rented for $1320 in 2006.

    Land is fixed in supply, and all the best land was taken from the commons a long time ago.

    People are kinda starting to understand this I think. The boom/bust of the previous decade was somewhat educational, not that anyone learned anything from that, really, but it did introduce the fact that valuations are weird when you think about it.

    Takehome wages go up, land values go up in lockstep.

    The idea that tax cuts just result in higher land values is still a bridge too far for people, so the implication that higher taxes would come out of rents is doubly obscure.

    But I suspect it's true.

    Japan raised taxes on consumers this month, will be an interesting experiment.

  • On 19 Apr 2014 in Washington Times is batshit-GlennBeck-crazy, Bellingham Bill said:

    WaTimes had this clown (Bill Sammon) throw a softball to Bush in 2003:

    "I know you said there will be a time for politics. But you've also said you wanted to change the tone in Washington. Howard Dean recently seemed to muse aloud whether you had advance knowledge of 9/11. Do you agree or disagree with the RNC that this kind of rhetoric borders on political hate speech? "

    (this is the question that Bush responded to oddly, as if he had an earpiece)

    >conservative thinking


  • On 19 Apr 2014 in Money has corrupted us. We no longer understand what it's worth, Bellingham Bill said:

    sbh says

    Capital satisfies the needs and wants I direct it to

    A dremel and the ability to use it are both forms of capital wealth. Yet a dremel on its own, in isolation, is rather useless unless you get enjoyment just making holes in things.

    So capital goods are what I call indirect wealth, they don't provide any direct utility to consumers.

    Capital wealth can also be savings that we live on instead of wages. But this form of capital is not supply-constrained like tools and other forms of hard capital. The introduction of money into the picture distorts what wealth is, fiat money especially.

    Of my personal wealth, I never count real estate

    It still is an asset. My bud now living in the Santa Cruz mountains did a pretty smart thing buying his million-plus place in 2011.

    It's overkill for his needs, but has risen in value 5% each year, giving him a good inflation hedge thus far. The bulk of the value of this property is simply its million-dollar views and convenient location to Santa Cruz and the valley (the former more than the latter, but the commute is doable).

    Funny how air is wealth, but free.

    they're working on that, too

  • On 18 Apr 2014 in Money has corrupted us. We no longer understand what it's worth, Bellingham Bill said:

    hrhjuliet says

    I really wish more people on would comment on the article.

    I have a rant that I've been developing for a while, before the 2008 crisis hit.

    Part of it is here:

    but the foundation of it is my money is not wealth "lecture". It starts with:

    Wealth has several levels of meaning, the most basic is the state of being "well", of having no unmet needs and wants.

    Its next level is that which provides services fulfill these human needs and wants.

    We call the goods that produce this state “wealth” too, AND, more confusingly, we also call the money and assets we hold “wealth”.

    But money is not wealth, money is a claimcheck on wealth.

    Similarly, assets have valuation, and while valuation can be monetized, valuation is not "really" wealth, either.

    Capital is a fascinating form of wealth. I think of it as “indirect wealth” since capital is involved in the production of wealth -- but, by itself in isolation, capital does not have any utility that satisfies human needs and wants. This capital serves as a labor-multiplier, eg. how a large whiteboard is more effective in teaching than a tiny chalkboard.

    The key to success in this economy -- to acquire the productive wealth that "throws off" income to replace one's wage income -- is to find assets that have enduring value, that won't degrade, and are in such limited supply that ownership represents a monopoly position.

    Real Estate has been historically a very profitable asset of this type. Try living without it for a day or two -- you would need to buy a balloon or a boat!

    AFAICT all economies bankrupt themselves eventually on the rock of real estate valuations, since real estate simply sucks all money-wealth out of the productive, wage-earning economy.

    It is my great hope that Japan's ongoing depopulation will enable the country to be the first to break this "Progress & Poverty" cycle of ever-escalating real estate valuations.

    Their population of age 20-39 has declined 10% since 1992, and the population of age 0-9 now is 25% less than 1990, so this decline will continue for the foreseeable future.

    Germany is about the only non ex-Soviet Sphere country that hasn't screwed themselves with real estate (perhaps France, too, for all I know). Korea, Taiwan also apparently have had effective state interventions in the housing market.

  • On 16 Apr 2014 in Japans Population Shrinks for Third Year, Bellingham Bill said:

    ah, here's some old crappy buildings on somewhat valuable land:

    3 minutes from Roppongi station, 6 story building (built 1965) on 50m2 of land.

    $3.5M so $4000 per piece of paper if we don't count the building.

    is $13M for a 1960s building on 188m 2 minutes from Kayabacho station. Not immensely valuable location, but also $4000/paper not counting the building.

  • On 16 Apr 2014 in Japans Population Shrinks for Third Year, Bellingham Bill said:

    clambo says

    In Ginza, the land area of a piece of paper was over $11,000, etc.

    $14.2M for 782 m2.

    1m2 is 16.6 8 1/2 x 11s.

    $1100 per piece of paper. But this is only 200% zoning, so you can't build all that many units.

    Here's 460m2 of high-rise land for $27M, 3X the per-meter price:

    6 minutes from Shinbashi station (somewhat close in class to Ginza), no easy walk. 700% zoning though, which permits a 9-10 story building.

    So I'd expect ultra-prime land in Ginza is still $11,000. Hell if we go at the 80-yen/dollar prices, the Shinbashi land was $4000 last year.

    is the most expensive listing I can find on athome, $50M for a 9 story building on 850m.

    Valuing the construction at $400/foot, that's $20M for the land, not too bad, LOL.

    x $50M per building . . . Tokyo real estate valuation's gotta be in the trillions and trillions . . .

    Back when land zoomed to the moon, Japan interest rates were high too, 8% I assume. Now their central bank is actually buying REIT stocks. Dunno the interest rate the big builders get, but this really blows my mind.

  • On 15 Apr 2014 in My take on the soft existing home sales numbers today, Bellingham Bill said:

    bg says

    just too expensive for what I wanted to pay for a house.

    really need to calibrate this to what rents are going to do.

    I had my eye on this house:

    when it hit the market in 2009. I thought $375,000 was a bit high, but with this:

    from Uncle Bennie, a 3.5% interest rate on a $300,000 principal is a $600/mo cost of money (net tax deduction), and that goes to $0 as the principal is repaid.

    This is a place I'd happily rent for $2000, so there you are.

    Firing up my rent-vs-buy spreadsheet, it says this has an average TCO of ~$900/mo over the next 30 years. A steal at $375,000, kudos to the guy who picked it up as the world was ending 1Q09.

    It's really one of the nicest houses in Fresno. I know, I know, but I even like it more than my bud in Santa Cruz's $1.X million place. Good (almost prime) location, awesome 0.4 acre culdesac lot, pretty sweet architecture.

  • On 15 Apr 2014 in Japans Population Shrinks for Third Year, Bellingham Bill said:

    New Renter says

    Saudi Arabia isn't so far off Mexico on your chart and they seem to be doing just fine.

    Well, they did nationalize their oil sector in the 1970s.

    "The petroleum sector accounts for roughly 92.5% of budget revenues, 55% of GDP, and 90% of export earnings. "

    80% of the labor force is non-Saudi. KSA has 300B bbl of oil reserves, divided over 20M Saudis that's 15,000 bbl per person or $1.5M worth of wealth in the ground at $100/bbl.

    Nice little tailwind, that.

    Spain has more private debt than we do and almost as much public debt and their economy has circling the drain for 5 years now.

    yeah, debt isn't a great thing either when overdone, too. It's kinda like oxygen. If it just goes into real estate valuations, well, 'you're gonna have a bad time' as the kids say.

    Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and the Dutch are all cruising for bruisings wrt debt take-on too, AFAICT.

    But responsible debt is rather critical for capital formation. People borrowing to acquire capital goods that assist them in providing new wealth to their communities.

    Capital -- hard capital, the capital of goods and human ability to create new wealth -- is a magical thing.

  • On 15 Apr 2014 in Is this Romney's 47%?, Bellingham Bill said:

    sbh says

    Bush/Cheny gave the oil companies far, far more in tax payer funded subsidies and credits and breaks

    plus they spent over $2T to take over Iraq in the attempt to give US oil interests biz ops there.

    Compared to that, Obama is a piker.

    I joke, but that's EXACTLY what they did, and why.

  • On 15 Apr 2014 in Japans Population Shrinks for Third Year, Bellingham Bill said:

    indigenous says

    if they had no debt,

    Without debt we (who do not inherit our wealth position) are limited to roughly a hunter-gatherer standard of living.

    Mexico has little private debt, and they're a basket case for it.[]=999&b=1

    Wow, Argentina is actually the LEAST indebted country on that diagram!

    So much for YOUR thesis.

    The problem comes that selling future wealth-creation to buy now pushes up the price of stuff with inelastic supply curves -- real estate being foremost.

    And that's the main trap Japan fell into, bidding up the cost of land in the late 1980s, same thing we did 2002-2006.

    indigenous says

    Private pensions in this country are highly regulated their assets are rock solid.

    They weren't rock solid 5 years ago. What happened to your burning desire to see the 'market clear'? All 401ks, pension funds would be taken out with the trash with that, too.

    Hell, if we just raised taxes to cover spending, corporate america would collapse forthwith due to a fall in consumer demand.

  • On 15 Apr 2014 in Is this Romney's 47%?, Bellingham Bill said:

    bob2356 says

    So all the trailer trash low teeth to tattoo ratio rednecks are voting Obama?

    Mr. Romney is doing very well among Republicans (86%-9%), voters over 65 (58%-35%), men (49%-43%), evangelicals (62%-28%), married voters (50%-40%), conservatives (77%-18%), and investors (56%-39%). He has opened up a lead among weekly Wal-Mart Shoppers (50%-39%).

  • On 15 Apr 2014 in Japans Population Shrinks for Third Year, Bellingham Bill said:

    bob2356 says

    going bankrupt trying to keep the party alive after the world moved on

    this resembles Japan a bit.

    The iPhone and now Android totally eliminated Japan's historical cachet in consumer (and prosumer) goods that has built up over the past 50 years.

    Phones might have Japan OEM components, but they still kill global demand for Japanese-style consumer goods.

    Automobiles -- Korea is killing them it looks like.

    Maybe Japan Inc is still relevant in motorcycles, but that's totally niche.

    What Japan needs to do now is skate to where the puck's going. Energy is the biggie. And other ways machinery and clever engineering can create wealth, like water purification, food engineering (artificial meat), etc.

  • On 15 Apr 2014 in Japans Population Shrinks for Third Year, Bellingham Bill said:

    births per year per country, courtesy Wolfram Alpha

    To be born in the US is still pretty f'in lucky by this measure.

    I think Japan has the best prospect of countries in this list though.

    (#25 is Afghanistan, just behind Japan at 1.03M)

  • On 15 Apr 2014 in Japans Population Shrinks for Third Year, Bellingham Bill said:

    indigenous says

    Argentina just had too much debt, Japan just has too much debt, the US just has too much debt.

    for every debtor there is a debtee.

    What happened to Japan was they hit a wall wrt growth.

    real GDP blue, employment red (right axis)

    Japan was running a very high-debt economy 1960s-1980s, but the music stopped for them in 1990 and their high leverage in the private sector could not be repaid, too many speculators caught out by the change in credit conditions and loss of bubble pricing mentality.

    Like I said, Argentina has an 18th century economy that does not respond all that well to population growth. More people is just more poverty.

    The US is somewhere in the middle, though we're becoming more of Argentina than Japan as things devolve as automation removes jobs from all sectors of the economy, primary, secondary, tertiary, and quaternary.

    I would not choose to be a random newborn infant in either Argentina or the US today. I'd certainly pick Japan over those two options, and most other.

    Switzerland, Norway, Sweden, Germany, Canada, Oz probably top the list with Japan #7.

  • On 15 Apr 2014 in Japans Population Shrinks for Third Year, Bellingham Bill said:

    indigenous says

    The reason is continual meddling by the state

    that and an insane macro policy in the 1980s.

    Chicago Boys ran Argentina into the ground in the 1990s

    "Record foreign debt interest payments, tax evasion and capital flight resulted in a balance of payments crisis that plagued Argentina with severe stagflation from 1975 to 1990. Attempting to remedy this, economist Domingo Cavallo pegged the peso to the U.S. dollar in 1991 and limited the growth in the money supply. His team then embarked on a path of trade liberalization, deregulation, and privatization. Inflation dropped to single digits and GDP grew by one third in four years;[2] but external economic shocks, as well as a dependency on volatile short-term capital and debt to maintain the overvalued fixed exchange rate, diluted benefits, causing the economy to crumble slowly from 1995 until the collapse in 2001"

  • On 15 Apr 2014 in Japans Population Shrinks for Third Year, Bellingham Bill said:

    Heraclitusstudent says

    Can you build underground? Coffin sized units?

    I actually read an article back in the 1990s about maybe underground construction. With today's high-DPI displays, why the hell not. Put up some fake scenery in this:

    and it'd probably be superior to some crappy surface unit.

  • On 15 Apr 2014 in Japans Population Shrinks for Third Year, Bellingham Bill said:

    Heraclitusstudent says

    But printing yens encourages debt increase in Japan

    and weakens the yen. Once I figured out that Japan would prosper more with the yen at 150 than 50 I realized Japan's not too bad off, really.

    Kuroda just needs to keep printing. His job's not done until prices have another zero on them, basically.

    This is of course sacrilege, and I don't know how it's going to turn out. But even with their depopulation, Japan still has a lot of people to put to work.

    Age 15-24 Japan (blue) vs Germany (red)

    About half our young population are junk people totally unprepared for life.

    1/4 don't finish high school, half that do don't qualify for a 4 year college.

    It behooves Japan to invest more in its youth, and I hope they are doing that now. I do know that the average high school in Japan is streets ahead of the average high school in the US, in terms of educational merit.

  • On 15 Apr 2014 in Japans Population Shrinks for Third Year, Bellingham Bill said:

    Believe it or not I'd like to build a ~20-unit apartment bldg in Tokyo serving gaijin like me. There's a screaming market demand for low-BS housing for foreigners.

    Though Japan does have pretty goofy tenant-protection laws, unlike the US where it's pretty trivial to get the sheriff's services inside a month.

    But try as I might, I can't get it to pencil out due to Tokyo's insane land valuations.

    is a quick search of land, ~30 minutes outside of town, on the outside edge of not-inconvenient location to the city itself.

    $770k for 360m2 (~4000'). This is 200% zoning so I could build 430m2 of apartments, at 30m2 each that'd be 14 units.

    That's $50,000 per unit just for land value. This is pretty much constant out this far, and the closer you get, the higher it goes.

    $2.4M for 500M for the same zoning in a bit better location (still 25 minutes out).

    500m2 x .6 x 2 = is 600m2 of allowed construction, or 20 units . . . $120,000 per unit of land cost.

    is totally prime real estate. 800m2 x .6 x 2 = 960m2 of space, or 30 30m2 units.

    Price? $470k per unit.

    That's Tokyo's real estate gradient.

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