Paul Krugman Thoughts

Justin here. I went with a friend last night to see Paul Krugman speak at the Guilford College Bryan Series. I’ve got a number of things on my plate today so my review/thoughts will be brief.

Best Quote: “We can no longer make money by selling each other houses that we bought with money we borrowed from the Chinese.”

Second Best Quote: In talking about the similarity between the US and Japan he said something to the effect of “With the exception of our raw fish consumption, we’re pretty similar. Both democracies, both have hard working intelligent citizens, both have politicians who aren’t the best but aren’t idiots.”

Comment That Provoked a Slight Gasp from the Woman Beside Me: when answering a question about the N.C. furniture industry, Krugman said he couldn’t imagine an industry that is so labor intensive lasting so long in a high wage country like the US. And he followed that up with something to the effect of “before you get too worked up about that, remember that it’s only here because the high wage North East US forced the jobs south to cheaper labor.” As if to say, this is only a pit stop on the way further south.

Cold Sweat Inducing Statistic: 55% of commercial loans that are to reset in 2014 are underwater. And that’s considering that they started with an extremely low Loan/Value ratio that would certainly need to go up if they get rolled forward. Makes me think of a number of friends in the commercial real estate business as well and the impacts that has on other industries.

My Question That I Didn’t Get To Ask: what do you do with your excess income (i.e. how do you invest)?

Overall message:
  • He talked about how we got into this mess (‘shadow banking’, poor regulation, leverage),
  • How this was/is a global crisis (Spain, UK, even countries without bubbles felt it because they were connected.)
  • What we did right (cut interest rates, stimulus, flexible fed),
  • How we get out this crisis quickly (no silver bullet that will save us like railroads, world wars, and IT did for recessions past . . . only remote quick fix could be green technology, but even that has a lot of barriers and lag time, and 10% unemployment is a HUGE number will take a lot of GDP growth to get over),
  • How, more likely, to get out of it slowly (possibly unions (which, to my surprise got a round of applause), possible further stimulus, cut interest rates if we could go any lower)
  • Final point was that Keynes said “the shortage of capital through use, decay and obsolescence causes a sufficiently obvious scarcity to increase the marginal efficiency” meaning that our ipods will break, our computers will become slow, and our tires will wear out. Although slow, this process will create demand and innovation.

Politics aside, it was a good talk. It reinforced our slow growth thesis and our propensity to seek quality dividend paying companies as well as opportunities outside the US and in fixed income.

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