New essay by me at The Billfold, “Social Trust in a Cash Economy” — a collage of cultural anecdotes about Italy and money, and the way a very calm Austerity crisis feels. It’s about a six-minute read. It starts like this:
There is a recurring bill I pay in Italy, in person, with a credit card. When I finish the transaction, the secretary makes a handwritten note in a small book. She makes the same note on a card-sized piece of notebook paper which I carry. One time, I forgot to bring the card-sized piece of paper. The secretary urgently retrieved an identical card and wrote down the entire history of our financial transactions, so that if she ever tried to cheat me, I could say, no, look here, in your handwriting it says I paid, because this ballpoint numeral is more meaningful than a credit card statement.
Something I didn’t know when I wrote the essay (because I just found out about it today) is that Italian banks get robbed a lot. A lot a lot a lot. (In the essay, I don’t write about banks at all, which probably wouldn’t have changed. But by coincidence, the essay came out the same day I knew this new thing.) Between 2000 and 2006 (the last timeperiod for which there is comprehensive data), Italian banks were robbed an average of 2771 times a year. That’s “walked in with a sack and robbed” robbed. For comparison, Germany’s number is 838. Spain’s is 523. Greece’s is 144. It is a pain in the ass to go into an Italian banks, with lots of, essentially, nested delayed airlocks you have to pass through solo. I figured this was the usual Italian security mania, but in this case it seems warranted
Y’all, whenever I talk about the stock market being passive income, some bro shows up to valorize how much time an active investor spends on research.
This active investor is mostly a fiction.
The vast majority of individuals with stock holdings are buying ETFs or Mutual Funds, or received shares through an employer. (Or they’re indirectly invested through their insurer or pension.) They are not reading whitepapers and intensively researching investments in individual companies. What they are doing is not dissimilar from putting money in the savings account with the best interest rate and the lowest fee.
I know we’ve all seen exciting movies with people shouting on trading floors. But I know a lot of people (and I bet you do too) who have tried active investing, and almost all of them talked openly about how it was their “playtime” and treated it like going to the casino, clicking to buy things that were going up or down or had cute names, only risking money they were willing to lose. For money they were serious about, they’re in ETFs and Mutual Funds because they know they can’t beat the market and prefer a diversified portfolio.
Which is managed by someone else. Maybe a computer program.
So, you know, if you have a dream that through your insight and research you’re going to turn $100 into a fortune and the prettiest girl in town is going to swoon (maybe because she’s you! you can be a pretty girl and this fantasy still works!), that’s all well and good. But it’s not representative of most investors. Who are passive. Whose money does not come from working harder at understanding money.
Most of them don’t even fill out their own taxes, gosh.
(I’ve offered anecdotal evidence here as a kind of “search your feelings; you already know this” but my statements about the extremely low percentage of active investors in the market are data-driven. Look up any chart you want.)
Really good to see all those “keep the refugees out and save those resources so we can help the poor and sick people who are already here” folks mobilizing hard to make sure endangered American citizens receive healthcare and other humanitarian aid like food and safe housing.
Great “band together and protect our own” hustle, everyone!
P.S. The taxes that have been funding expanded medical coverage are mostly on capital gains – on money people make by owning stock, not by doing anything. Stock market is doing just fine despite this 3.8% surcharge – doing historically wonderfully, making stockholders loads of money. Investment has not been constrained. But, sure, we need to protect those investors from the pain of passively accumulating free money that could be slightly more free money if it weren’t for those darned asthmatic kids.
Happy Cinco de Karl Marx’s 199th birthday!
Rahul Maganti says:
Mihir Shah, former member of the Planning Commission and my professor at Ashoka University once said, “You can’t understand modernity and capitalism without understanding Marx. If you don’t understand them, you can’t understand yourself.”
Happy Birthday, Comrade. 199, and counting.
Now read this to understand how much Marx’s philosophy influences your thinking (in a good way!) even if you think communism is ridiculous:
I support single payer, because all the data I’ve seen tells me it’s what works. But that doesn’t mean I have contempt for people who want to find market solutions. Problem is, the recent Republican bill doesn’t remotely do that. And small-government conservatives should be as mad about it as I am. Here’s why. (This essay is by me.)
Hint: The Republican bill doesn’t do it.
FYI, if you’ve worried about the poor insurers who gosh can’t make money with all this existing regulation requiring them to cover sick people:
UnitedHealth claims that Obamacare has reduced its 2016 earnings by $850 million. While they might have $850 million less than they wanted, UntedHealth’s profits are still soaring.
In fact, UnitedHealth announced record-breaking profits in 2015, followed by an even better year this year. In July 2016, UnitedHealth celebrated revenues that quarter totalling $46.5 billion, an increase of $10 billion since the same time last year. And company filings show that UnitedHealth’s CEO Stephen J. Hemsley made over $20 million in 2015. To be fair, that is a pay cut. The previous year, in 2014, Hemsley took home $66 million in compensation.
A Salon analysis of regulatory filings found that the top five health insurers — UnitedHealth, Anthem, Aetna, Humana and Cigna — have doled out nearly $30 billion in stock buybacks and dividends from 2013 to 2015. (The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Affordable Care Act in 2012.) Meanwhile, the increase in customers that these health insurers received under ACA has helped raise the stock prices of the top five insurers — some 80 percent for Anthem and 165 percent for Aetna since the high court ruled on June 28, 2012 that Obamacare was constitutional.
Yanis Varoufakis is my nerdiest nerd crush, my personal Bernie Sanders. I spend this whole BBC Newsnight clip about Brexit pointing at the screen and going “yes, yes yes. Yes, I read your position paper on this.” It would be too much to get a Varoufakis heart tattoo, right? <3oufakis? (Full disclosure: I have saved back one leftover Elizabeth Warren temporary tattoo from her senate campaign, for a special occasion. I take it out sometimes and look at it, and think “no, today is not the day.”)