Do the Brits really not care to belong to any club that would have them as a member?

In a Brexit scenario, Britain could end up negotiating EFTA/EEA membership (the “Norwegian option”) or EFTA membership only (the “Swiss option”). Or it could quit the Europe club altogether—unprecedented for an EU member state, albeit not for territorial possessions of a member state (call it the “Greenlandic option”).

Greenland’s melting. Don’t be Greenland, people.europe

Doubling the SEC and CFTC budgets

According to a blog post yesterday by Jeff Zients, assistant to the President for economic policy and director of the National Economic Council, President Obama’s fiscal year 2017 budget proposal includes funding of $1.8 billion for the Securities and Exchange Commission and $330 million for the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, up 11% and 32% respectively. More significantly, Zients’ post says that the President is calling for doubling the budgets of the SEC and the CFTC (albeit only from their substantially lower fiscal year 2015 levels) by fiscal year 2021. This has prompted the usual sputtering about excessive regulation and its dolorous effects on economic growth and the price of financial services. Raising barriers to entry in the financial sector. Stifling innovation.

Yadda yadda yadda. As if no serious person would deny the empirical truth of these statements. Far be it from me. But I have some questions:

How much of the 5-year increase in SEC and CFTC rulemaking, examination and enforcement activity will be directed at issuers and end-users (not otherwise engaged in financial activities) and how much will be directed at financial intermediaries (banks, broker-dealers, swap dealers, investment advisers, commodity trading advisers, etc.)?

The growth of the financial sector—particularly in the asset management and household credit sub-sectors—has consistently outpaced GDP growth over the last 35 years, during intervals of both comparatively strict and comparatively permissive financial regulation. To the extent the increased regulatory burdens in the next five years fall on financial intermediaries, what is the evidence that the resulting impediments (if any) to financial sector growth would adversely affect the real economy? That a smaller financial sector might in fact benefit the real economy by releasing some of the human capital and other scarce resources now devoted to extracting rents from the intermediation of financial assets?

The efficiency of the financial sector—as measured by the unit cost of financial intermediation—is today about what it was in 1900. This despite the reduced transaction and other marginal costs resulting from advances in information technology, the use of derivatives to manage risk and the move to an “originate-to-distribute” banking model. Is there any evidence that a 5-year increase in SEC and CFTC rulemaking, examination and enforcement activity would make the financial sector even less efficient and financial intermediation even more expensive, given the insensitivity of unit cost to changes in marginal costs over the very long term?

And if the financial sector’s persistent inefficiency results from the same oligopolistic and other anticompetitive behaviors that seek complex and arbitrary regulation as a means to bar entry and stifle innovation, then wouldn’t it be better to reduce the financial sector’s size and influence (e.g., through antitrust enforcement and campaign finance reform) than to “starve” our only means of goading it into more responsible behavior?

Unscrupulous tipsters and touts

From the legislative history of the U.S. Investment Advisers Act of 1940:

Not only must the public be protected from the frauds and misrepresentations of unscrupulous tipsters and touts, but the bona fide investment counsel must be safeguarded against the stigma of the activities of these individuals. Virtually no limitations or restrictions exist with respect to the honesty and integrity of individuals who may solicit funds to be controlled, managed, and supervised. Persons who may have been convicted or enjoined by courts because of perpetration of securities fraud are able to assume the role of investment advisers. Individuals assuming to act as investment advisers at present can enter profit-sharing contracts which are nothing more than “heads I win, tails you lose” arrangements. Contracts with investment advisers which are of a personal nature may be assigned and the control of funds of investors may be transferred to others without the knowledge or consent of the client.

S. Rep. No. 1775, Investment Company Act of 1940 and Investment Advisers Act of 1940, 76th Cong., 3d Sess., 21-22 (1940).

“UnSCRUpulous TIPsters and TOUTS.”  An alliterative, rhythmic and evocative phrase.

Cash-register management

Recommended reading – Steven Harper’s article in this month’s American Lawyer about the results of the midlevel associates survey.  Money quote:

The prevailing business model has distorted some concepts of value and jettisoned others. At most big firms, productivity equals billed time, without regard to the efficiency of the worker or quality of the end product. Meanwhile, anything that can’t be measured—mentoring, creating a sense of community, delegating important client relationships to young attorneys, and encouraging balanced lives that make better lawyers—gets discounted or lost altogether.

That’s the real theme permeating midlevel associate dissatisfaction. Running big firms according to metrics aimed at increasing short-term profits is deceptively objective and relatively simple. But it risks ignoring important things that can’t be quantified. […]

As a result, behavior that would enhance institutional stability and intergenerational transition yields to the self-interested development of portable books of business. Add enough laterals, and any partnership can quickly lose itself. Client-filled partner silos don’t promote the shared identity that provides a sense of community. Relying on current profits to be the glue that holds everything together can quickly make a strong firm fragile. Just ask lawyers who once worked at Heller Ehrman, Howrey, or, for history buffs, Finley Kumble.

Among large-firm equity partners, a revolution of rising expectations has continued for two decades. Recessions come and go, but somehow average equity partner earnings have trended skyward as associate satisfaction has tanked. With new attorneys flooding the market, where’s the incentive for those who reap staggering rewards to reconsider the human impact of their business models, especially on the youngest and most vulnerable?

[…]  The question for large firms is whether they can continue to attract the best and the brightest even when top recruits truly understand the work they’ll do, the culture of short-term thinking they’ll endure, and the failure most will encounter in their bids for equity partnership.

The tragedy, as I see it, is that the people most responsible for creating the winner-take-all law firm culture, and most capable of correcting it, will read this and either (i) not care (“I’ve got mine, Jack”), because worrying about the institutional legacy is for chumps, or (ii) not recognize themselves, because they believe their own recruiting hype and would vehemently deny pursuing short-term profits über alles or asset-stripping the firm before they retire.


On November 19, 2010, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) issued proposed rules relating to provisions of the Dodd-Frank Act that expand the SEC’s regulatory authority over investment advisers to include many more investment advisers to private equity and hedge funds, subject to certain exemptions.

Later, a non-U.S. investment adviser went to the SEC’s Division of Investment Management to get a Foreign Private Adviser Exemption, as described in the Dodd-Frank Act.

This is the story of that investment adviser.

Buy more and be happy


You are a true believer. Blessings of the state. Blessings of the masses. Thou art a subject of the divine. Created in the image of man, by man, for man. Let us be thankful we have commerce. Buy more. Buy more now. Buy more and be happy.

Short of direct stimulus spending, a payroll tax holiday — at least with respect to the employee’s portion of Social Security and Medicare taxes — looks like the best, fastest and most politically feasible way to put money into the hands of people who will actually use it to buy more. A holiday on the employer’s portion of payroll taxes, albeit a necessary (if not sufficient) condition for Republican support, is going to be less effective stimulus.  To the extent the employee’s portion gets spent, the increase in aggregate demand is likely to have a greater impact on hiring decisions than the reduction in employers’ cost per employee.

Let us be thankful we have an occupation to fill. Work hard, increase production, prevent accidents, and be happy.

Either way, of course, a tax cut that actually works to stimulate the economy is the last thing the Republicans want. Republican congressmen will accuse Obama of raiding the Social Security and Medicare trust funds so he can buy free lunches for illegal immigrants and build a mosque in your home town, and New York Post readers will believe.  Republican advisors will argue that only regressive tax cuts create jobs, and Fox News Channel viewers will believe. Republican lobbyists will say that because a payroll tax holiday is only temporary, it results in more “regime uncertainty” and further undermines business confidence, and Wall Street Journal readers will believe.  And all the true believers will know, on some level, that two more years of slow-or-no growth and high unemployment is the key to Republican hopes in 2012.

For more enjoyment and greater efficiency, consumption is being standardized.


What the income-inequality denialists and “politics of envy” critics don’t want to see:  pre-tax income and wage data compiled by Thomas Piketty (Paris School of Economics/EHESS) and Emmanuel Saez (Department of Economics, UC Berkeley, Director, Center for Equitable Growth, 2009 John Bates Clark medal winner).

From which data we’ve created a few visual displays of income concentration among the top 1% of U.S. families (the “merely rich”), the top 0.1% of U.S. families (the “very rich”) and the top 0.01% of U.S. families (the “filthy rich”) from 1950 to 2007.  Headlines for 2007:

  • The merely rich — 1,498,750 families with incomes of at least $398,900 — had a 23.50% share of all U.S. family income.
  • The very rich — 149,875 families with incomes of at least $2,053,000 — had a 12.28% share of all U.S. family income.
  • The filthy rich — 14,988 families with incomes of at least $11,477,000 — had a 6.04% share of all U.S. family income.

The income shares of the merely, very and filthy rich in 2007 were all much, much larger than they were in 1950 — 12.82%, 4.39% and 1.22%, respectively.  Compared to the previous secular peak for income concentration in the late 1920’s, the 2007 income share of the merely rich was just shy of the 23.94% record set in 1928.  The 2007 income shares of the very and filthy rich, however, were well in excess of  the previous highs (also set in 1928) of 11.54% and 5.02%, respectively.


If the increase from 1950 to 2007 in the income share of the merely rich was remarkable, the increase in the income share of the very rich was truly exceptional and, as for the filthy rich … un-fucking-believable:

  • From a 12.82% income share for the merely rich in 1950 to a 23.50% share in 2007 — an increase of 83%.
  • From a 4.39% income share for the very rich in 1950 to a 12.28% share in 2007 — an increase of 180%.
  • From a 1.22% income share for the filthy rich in 1950 to a 6.04% share in 2007 — an increase of 395%!

Looked at another way, the increase from 1950 to 2007 in the share of U.S. family income going to the top 1% as a whole was mainly attributable to increases in the income shares going to the very and filthy rich:

  • The income share of the top 1%, excluding the filthy rich (i.e., the 99%–99.99% fractile), increased only 51% from 1950 to 2007.
  • The income share of the top 1%, excluding the very along with the filthy rich (i.e., the 99%–99.9% fractile), increased only 33% from 1950 to 2007.


The accelerating growth of income concentration within the top 1% is evidence of nothing less than the emergence, especially since the 1980s, of an income plutocracy in the United States:

  • As a percentage of the income going to the top 1.0% of U.S. families, the share of the very rich increased from 34.25% in 1950 to 52.23% in 2007.
  • As a percentage of the income going to the top 1.0% of U.S. families, the share of the filthy rich increased from 9.52% in 1950 to 25.68% in 2007.