Saturday, July 2, 2016

Data Intervention

Lately I've been thinking about how developments in data technology have helped responsible investing ideas and practices become more mainstream. Improving the collection and flow of information could be considered the essence of responsible investing.  More information makes it possible for investors to calculate risks and opportunities more accurately and on longer time-scales.  Then the financial markets can reward more responsible business practices and facilitate the spread of better practices.  Making ESG data more easily available could be considered a kind of policy intervention as opposed to command and control regulation or market incentives.  I wrote a blog post about this on my company blog.

I also did a short talk about it at Phage's fundraiser for Brainlove!  I made a simple website with the key points.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Defending the Establishment

When this primary season started, I was dead-set against voting for Hillary Clinton because I believed that she was corrupt.  I thought that even if she was effective, all the progress would be for naught if a scandal erupted.  It could discredit the progressive cause for at least two election cycles and possibly more.  I wasn't quite feeling the Bern, but he seemed promising.  I have now done a pretty dramatic 180 on Hillary, and I guess a less dramatic -90 on Bernie Sanders.

After looking into the past scandals involving the Clintons, I found that they were all pretty much engineered by Republicans.  Given how much Republicans hate them and how much they've been investigated, I now really doubt that the Clintons are really corrupt or that there is a scandal waiting to be exposed.

With that out of the way, I am more supportive of Hillary for president.  She is a believer and practitioner of incremental change.  Sanders is a proponent of a "political revolution."  I certainly ascribe more to her theory change, particularly for the presidency while Congress is still dominated by Republicans and the Tea Party.  I expand on this train of thought in an essay, where I use examples from my professional field of responsible investing.

Dreaming of Incremental Change

The one thing that really still bothers me about Hillary is that she is too much of an interventionist on foreign policy.  This is where I often diverge with liberals because they usually want to go in to every conflict and support every rebel and of course posture at China!  I don't really think she's a neocon, though, but rather she is in line with the foreign policy elite in the US.  She seems like the classic bleeding heart liberal, actually.  I hope that after working with Obama and Biden that her views have moderated.  With that said, maybe it's more important that the foreign policy elite's views moderate.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Frustrated with Hillary and Bernie and Progressives

Sent this to the Hillary campaign.  I'll send a similar one to Sanders as well, but it's really not his fault if Hillary can't make the case for herself and Democrats.

Why isn't the campaign steering the conversation towards how we're going to get Republicans out of office?  Hillary just keeps tacking left.   That's great and all, but we all know that the real reason behind the erosion of the social safety net in the US is because of the rise of the extreme right!  Attacking Democrats is a waste of time not to mention resources.  Please, talk about political strategy!  And about the virtues of level-headedness a la Obama.  He has been consistently promoting the message of resisting over-reactions since his campaign in '08.  Surely, this temperament has helped Hillary with some legislation or political battle as well.  If Hillary can't sell this message, we're screwed and the Koch brothers win.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Plea for Long Term Thinking in Business and Finance

Public companies in the US are required by law to report their quarterly earnings.  As a result, they are often under a lot of pressure from investors to maximize earnings and reduce costs on a quarterly basis in a dynamic referred to as "short-termism."  This can often hurt long-term performance for example by laying-off employees to reduce costs.  It also often results in irresponsible environmental or human rights practices.  At the same time it's really difficult to address these issues since they almost certainly require a multi-year commitment.

Larry Fink, the CEO of BlackRock, periodically sends letters to investors and companies imploring both groups to get beyond short-termism.  Last week he sent his latest letter to S&P500 companies.  Fink has been a prominent figure in advocating for good corporate governance, which typically refers to having board members that are not related to each other and subjecting the executive leadership to board oversight.  He says,

Generating sustainable returns over time requires a sharper focus not only on governance, but also on environmental and social factors facing companies today. These issues offer both risks and opportunities, but for too long, companies have not considered them core to their business – even when the world’s political leaders are increasingly focused on them, as demonstrated by the Paris Climate Accord. Over the long-term, environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues – ranging from climate change to diversity to board effectiveness – have real and quantifiable financial impacts.

At companies where ESG issues are handled well, they are often a signal of operational excellence. BlackRock has been undertaking a multi-year effort to integrate ESG considerations into our investment processes, and we expect companies to have strategies to manage these issues. Recent action from the U.S. Department of Labor makes clear that pension fund fiduciaries can include ESG factors in their decision making as well. We recognize that the culture of short-term results is not something that can be solved by CEOs and their boards alone. Investors, the media and public officials all have a role to play. In Washington (and other capitals), long-term is often defined as simply the next election cycle, an attitude that is eroding the economic foundations of our country.

Public officials must adopt policies that will support long-term value creation. Companies, for their part, must recognize that while advocating for more infrastructure or comprehensive tax reform may not bear fruit in the next quarter or two, the absence of effective long-term policies in these areas undermines the economic ecosystem in which companies function – and with it, their chances for long-term growth.

A particularly interesting and bold recommendation was to reform the capital gains tax. policy too often lacks proper incentives for long-term behavior. With capital gains, for example, one year shouldn’t qualify as a long-term holding period. As I wrote last year, we need a capital gains regime that rewards long-term investment – with long-term treatment only after three years, and a decreasing tax rate for each year of ownership beyond that (potentially dropping to zero after 10 years).

*clap clap clap*

Who manages your 401k, and what are their positions on corporate governance, short-termism, and ESG?

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Message to the Hillary Clinton Campaign

I almost can't believe I'm getting involved given my strong opposition to her '08 campaign.  At any rate, I decided to send her campaign a message about what I think they should do.

I can't say that I'm a very strong supporter, but I can see that Hillary Clinton is not doing as well as she should at communicating her message and strengths.  I wanted to share two suggestions to the campaign.

1. You've probably heard this one before, but voters (including myself) still really don't have a good sense of what Hillary is driven by.  What is her conceptual framework for how the economy works, how government works, the problems and solutions?  What is the theory of change?  People wouldn't necessarily expect the end game to materialize, but we all would like to know what it is.

2. Do NOT go on a full-on attack on Sanders.  Instead, start talking about management strategies and really get into the weeds.  People love that crap a la. the Checklist Manifesto, Getting Things Done, 6 Omega, etc.  Talk about how you run an effective meeting, how to manage an ineffective meeting run by someone else, how important it is to be in control of agenda-setting, etc.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Is "Trickle Down" Dead Yet?

The credibility of trickle down always gets my goat.  Trickle down is the theory that cutting taxes on the rich will benefit everyone because the rich will create jobs.  Economic theory a la Milton Friedman is often cited as supporting the theory because taxes are always inefficient.

Finally, some economists at the IMF have published a report that clearly describes why trickle down economics does not work.

Higher inequality lowers growth by depriving the ability of lower-income households to stay healthy and accumulate physical and human capital (Galor and Moav 2004; Aghion, Caroli, and Garcia-Penalosa 1999). 


Inequality dampens investment, and hence growth, by fueling economic, financial, and
political instability.

Jared Keller at the Pacific Standard further notes that the term "trickle down" itself was coined to lampoon President Hoover's policies during the Great Depression.