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Greece Collapses – Germany and the World Will Pay the Price

By Shlomo Maital

   Greek collapse

    Two trucks speed toward each other on a deserted highway. They are 50  kms. apart.  Each drives at 100 kms. an hour.   They have 15 minutes before they meet.  Plenty of time to slow down, stop, turn off the road. 

    Yet they still collide head on, with massive damage.   

    Then, the experts debate why this happened.

    This is the story of Greece.  Greece joined the EU in 1981.  It joined the Euro in 2000, in time to implement paper euros and coins when all of Europe did. 

   Here is what  former  European Central Bank Chief Economist Otmar Issing  said, in March 2011:   “Greece was only able to join the euro through deception [its budget deficit was far above permissible levels]  and the currency bloc’s leaders have been “too polite” ever since to deploy adequate sanctions that could have averted the region’s debt crisis.  When I worked for the ECB, I suffered every time countries didn’t meet the criteria…Greece cheated to get in, and it’s difficult to know how we should deal with cheaters. … Greece will probably be unable to honor its debts as it grapples with insolvency. The country’s repayment ability remains questionable even after the government endorsed an accelerated asset-sale plan and a package of budget cuts necessary to draw a fifth tranche of its bailout.”

    It was obvious in 2011, four years ago,  that Greece could not pay back all that it had borrowed.  Today its public debt is an unsustainable 177 percent of its GDP.  So it is obvious – much of the debt has to be wiped out, one way or another.

   Are Greece and its leaders to blame?  Sure.  But on the principle of “sunk costs”, the history is irrelevant. The question is, what to do today, to avoid the crash?  We’ve seen it coming for years, according to Issing.  Yet Europe and its blind leaders continued to torture Greece, imposing ever more severe austerity.  You cannot grow an economy by shrinking it.  And an economy can only pay back debt by growing.  Grade 5 kids know that.  But politicians and economists don’t.  You cannot have a single currency, the euro, without a single united banking system throughout the euro zone with one set of rules.  That never happened. It never will.  So the euro will become a permanent chronic ongoing crisis, and it has been for years. 

    Yesterday German Chancellor Angela Merkel said, “if the euro fails, Europe fails.”  Really?   What has Chancellor Merkel done to recognize reality – Greece cannot, cannot, pay back its debt?    She should have said, “The euro has failed, because I have failed, and I therefore tender my resignation.  I failed to explain to the German voters, that even if we wipe out a quarter of Greek’s debts, Germany still has gained immensely”. 

     Who has been the big winner from Greece’s suffering?  Germany.

     Why? Because Greece has dragged down the external value of the euro, and the cheap euro makes German exports more competitive.  If Germany under Merkel would give Greece 3 percent of all it has gained from the Greece-driven euro decline, the crisis would be over. 

      Some 37 % of Germany’s GDP comprise exports, or nearly $1.5 trillion (in 2014),   just slightly behind that of the U.S., whose population is three times bigger.  Even China exports only 23 % of its GDP.   How strong will German exports be, when Greece leaves the euro, restores the drachma, bankrupts its citizens and its banks, crashes world financial markets,  bashes the world economy —  and then the euro soars,  throwing Germany’s export-driven economy into recession?

     Two trucks speeding toward each other for years.   Could the crash have bene prevented?  Sure,  with common sense. 

     Was it?

     No.   History will be unforgiving to the hypocritical blind leaders who caused this.

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New Thinking About Our Schools:  It’s NOT Rocket Science!

By Shlomo Maital       

Finland schools

   A great many people the world over are troubled about what happens to our children and grandchildren in the school system.   America’s No Child Left Behind Act (2000) has left most children behind, because America still scores poorly in international achievement tests, despite (because of?) billions spent on “Race to the Top”. 

    A simple principle says,  if you want to improve, learn from others.  Benchmark what others do, adapt it,  and get better.   But educational bureaucracies in most countries do not even know what global benchmarking is.

    Take Finland, for example.  Pasi Sahlberg, a Finnish educator, has shared Finland’s experience with the world in his 2011 book  Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland?   It has been translated into many languages already, including Hebrew. 

    Here are the four key principles Finland used to create a world-class world-leading educational system, for all Finnish kids, not just a handful of privileged ones in Helsinki.

  • Guarantee equal opportunities to good public education for all. In the U.S., that means that schools in rural Louisiana and Mississippi should be up to scratch, as much as ones in Princeton, NJ.
  • Strengthen professionalism of, and trust in, teachers. This is related to pay levels, teachers’ colleges, and in general, how society values those who educate our children. In Finland, it’s really hard to get in to teaching programs, as hard as getting in to engineering.
  • Get parents involved,   educate everyone about education and the key processes, especially assessment       (and note: assessment is NOT just tests).
  • Facilitate competition and innovation among schools; network them, help them learn quickly from one another, let them try experiments and scale up ones that succeed.

 

These principles are easy to state, hard to implement.  But take #4, for example.  President Bush’s very first Act, in 2000,  brought  free-market competition models to American schools by tying state and federal funding for schools to test performance of kids.   Many countries have copied this dumb idea.   

     There is another way to introduce competitive forces into education.  Let schools experiment, and share the results.  This is the REAL free-market model.  To do this, you need to abandon the insane obsession with testing, hated by kids, parents and teachers alike, and let kids learn to love learning, let teachers love to teach, and evaluate by what children can do, rather than what they can memorize and regurgitate.

      In Finland, it worked.  How come?  What can we learn from it?    How many American educators have spent time in Finland, observing their schools, talking to their educators?    And how long will it take, before educational professionals all realize that No Child Left Behind left a great many kids behind, far behind, and that it is time to dump the whole bad idea, not only in America but everywhere.

Memo to All Professors: Our Monopoly Has Ended Forever

By Shlomo Maital   

professor    

 Memo to myself, and all professors everywhere?    Hey – you know that cozy monopoly that we enjoyed?  Our courses, especially compulsory ones, were, like, the only game in town?  We all paid lip service to teaching quality, but our promotions were based on published papers, most of them barely or never read by anyone?  And I’m talking about myself here….

       Those days are over.  Here is how I know.

        Thanks to an amazing support team at my university, Technion (the Center for Improvement of Learning & Teaching), I offered a course on Creativity through the website Coursera  (Cracking the Creativity Code: Part One – Discovering Ideas).  Some 10,000 students from all over the world participated.  It was a lot harder than I originally thought.  I taped the videos three times, because the first two tries simply were not acceptable.   Students are now submitting their final project – a 2-minute video showing how they would use creativity to tackle seven challenges that we defined.

         Unlike the wise adage “look before you leap”, we leaped first and then looked.  In preparing a talk for an academic conference on Educational Technologies, we summarized what we learned from our MOOC (massive open online course).  We discovered that there are at least 50 other open on-line courses on creativity.  Some are simply outstanding, given by the top people in this field, including Tina Seelig, at Stanford’s new Design School.  A Penn State course on “Creativity innovation and change” attracted 130,000 students.

      It has now dawned on me, like a light bulb turned on, that the cozy little monopoly that I once had (and all other professors),  is now over.  Our students can now reach out and tap the teaching skills of the very best professors in the world.  No longer do they need to suffer the inadequacies of the local substandard version.  And if I, as a professor, do not improve very quickly, I will be as extinct as the brontosaurus.

      Cracking the Creativity Code:  Part Two – Delivering Ideas, is now in the works.  And trust me – it is going to be a whole lot better.  It has to be.  Because my once-captive audience has been freed, just as Lincoln freed the slaves in 1864.   My monopoly has ended. 

       And the world is a whole lot better for it!

Why You are More Than Just One Person

By Shlomo Maital

clocky

   In the picture, is “Clocky”.   You can easily buy one from Amazon.  The idea is simple.  Set the alarm for, say, 7:17 a.m. You are determined to rise early, jog, walk, walk the dog, write a chapter or do the dishes.  At 7:17 a.m.  faithful Clocky rings.  But, you’ve changed your mind. You’d rather sleep another 30 minutes.  Clocky, however, is clever.  As you approach it, it runs away.  Zoom….   You chase it around the bedroom…. Finally, you catch it, in a far corner… but – by now, you’ve awakened.  No point in going back to bed.  You’re awake. Might as well get up. 

     Clocky is an example used by Prof. Dan Ariely,   who hopefully soon will win a Nobel Prize in Economics,  in a lecture given here at my university, Technion, last week.  Ariely has explored the nature of ‘irrationality’,   and showed that we human beings are actually quite rational, or systematic, in our irrationality.   For example, when we go to sleep, with good intentions to rise early, we are Person A.  But when we awake,   we are Person B,  another person entirely.    This is why we need Clocky.  (Ariely notes that you can buy lots of Clocky’s on eBay,  but for some weird reason, they have smashed tops and lack wheels).  And this is why we invent all kinds of ways to impose constraints on ourselves, because, when we choose to defer gratification,  as Person A,    Person B doesn’t always manage to actually carry it out. 

     Person A and Person B date  back to Ulysses,  who tied himself to the mast in order to resist the temptations of the Siren song. 

     Just before Ariely’s wonderful lecture (given by the way, without Power Point, simply with Dan standing in front of a packed auditorium, describing some of his wonderful experiments, interacting with the students, asking them questions, and in general, intriguing us with real-world economics about real people, facing dilemmas that we all face),  I presented a research report on the pension crisis, with two colleagues. We recommended that each baby born receive a grant-at-birth, and that it be invested, for…70 years.   With the power of compound interest, it will double five times, in 70 years, and the baby will be a millionaire… and indeed, is already, at birth (albeit a future millionaire).  That money cannot be touched for 70 years… but when you know it is there,  you have the secure knowledge that you will not live in poverty, when you grow old.  This is an example of Person A and Person B, and ways to circumvent the problem they pose.       

How (and Why) You Should Prepare for a World of Very Slow Economic Growth

By Shlomo Maital

Slow growth ahead

 It is becoming more and more clear that in the next 50 years, the world economy (and probably, the economy in which you live and work) will grow more slowly than in the past.   What was perceived as a temporary correction, due to the global financial crash of 2008, is now becoming chronic.

   Why?

   A study by McKinsey Global Research, “Global Growth: Can Productivity Save the Day in an Aging World”  (available from McKinsey’s website)  notes that “GDP growth was exceptionally brisk over the past 50 years, fueled by rapid growth in the number of workers and in their productivity.”  But now, employment growth, which averaged 1.7 per cent yearly between 1964 and 2014, is set to drop to just 0.3 per cent a year. 

   And productivity growth is slowing too.  “Even if productivity were to grow at the (rapid) 1.8 per cent annual rate of the past 50 years, GDP growth would decline by 40 per cent in the next 50 years – slower than the past five years of recovery from recession”.   But productivity growth has declined and does not look like it will recover much.  China’s economy is slowing. Europe and America grow slowly.  Japan has slow growth.  Looks like it’s chronic.

   What can be done?    “Catching up to best practice”, says McKinsey. In other words, if we all benchmarked the world and defined and captured ‘best practice’, productivity growth could nearly make up for the declining growth in workers. 

   Here are McKinsey’s 10 key “enablers of growth”.  Can each of us look at this list closely, and figure out,  what is my role?  How can I become really skilled, expert, at one or more of these enablers?  If McKinsey is right,  and if you can, you will be in great demand – and create value for the world. 

   Here is the list.  Which of thee suits you?  What must you do, in order to become a true enabler?

  • Remove barriers to competition in service sectors. 2. Focus on public and regulated sector efficiency. 3. Invest in physical and digital infrastructure. 4.       Foster R&D demand and investment. 5. Exploit data to identify transformational improvement opportunities. 6. Improve eduation and skill matching and labor market flexibility. 7. Open up economies to cross-border economic flows. 8. Boost labor force participation among women, young people, and older people. 9.       Harness the power of new actors through digital platforms and open data. 10. Craft regulatory environment, incentivizing productivity and innovation.

 

   

by Shlomo Maital

Navinder Singh Sarao

                       Navinder Singh Sarao

 

 I read this story today in Bloomberg Business, and still just can’t believe it. But it’s true. *

 The young man in the photograph is named Navinder Singh Sarao.  Today he is in a 10 ft. by 6 ft. cell at Wandsworth Prison, one of Britain’s worst jails. 

  Why?  Five years ago, his actions allegedly contributed to wiping more than $1 trillion in assets off financial markets.  Trillion here, trillion there, pretty soon, you have a problem. 

   Here is the story.   Sarao was a graduate trainee at Futex, a company that specializes in trading stocks and other assets.  Here is their calling card:   “We believe that keeping mind, body and intellect nurtured leads to overall well-being, which is essential for successful trading. Our approach keeps these in balance, and since 1990, when Futex was founded, has helped many traders reach their goals.”     Translation?   We make money, scads and scads of it, any way we can. 

     Sarao was an instant sensation. While other traders were eking out 500 pounds a week, Sarao was clearing 500,000 pounds!  He always sat by himself.  And he spent almost nothing. He was extremely frugal.  On a good day, Sarao made $130,000, and even on a bad day, $70,000.   He got to keep 90 per cent of the money he made for Futex.  But he felt it was not enough.   He ended his contract at Futex and went to CFT Financials, a firm that rented out space to private traders.  He got backing and technology from MF Global Holdings, the now defunct firm run by former US Senator Jon Corzine that incurred enormous losses for its investors.

      “I want to be the biggest trader,”  Sarao said. 

    According to U.S. allegations, Sarao began “a massive effort to manipulate” stock futures on Globes, an electronic trading platform.  This involved “spoofing”.  It is an illegal technique that involves flooding the market with bogus buy or sell orders to drive prices up or down, then cancelling the orders.   Spoofing is rampant today.  Sarao built computer algorithms, in June 2009, to change the way his orders would be perceived by other computers. (A very large fraction of trading today, in financial markets, is done by computers, not by humans). 

  On May 6, 2010, there was a “flash crash”.  More than $1 trillion was wiped off the markets in the space of a half hour.  Sarao allegedly made $900,000, using an algorithm that gave a misleading impression of the volume of sell orders. 

    After this crash, suspicion fell on high frequency trading firms – firms that buy and sell assets, using super computers that identify opportunities and act on them in micro-seconds, far faster than humans can.  In late April of this year, Scotland Yard knocked on his door in Hounslow, a Western neighborhood of London, and accused Sarao of helping to cause the flash crash. 

  Yes, a glorified day trader living with his mom and dad near Heathrow Airport nearly destroyed the world.   Why don’t you buy a Bugatti? His friends asked. I don’t know how to drive, he answered.

   Sarao will soon return to court, in his gray prison tracksuit, and for the 8th time sit in the dock, as the U.S. tries to extradite him on 22 counts, from wire fraud to market manipulation.  Sarao denies the charges.  Many doubt that he or anyone else singlehandedly caused the flash crash.    The truth is,  COMPUTERS, not humans, drive markets today.  But you can’t put a super computer in jail.  Sarao said last May, “I’ve not done anything wrong apart from being good at my job”. 

      “This guy had balls”, said a Futex trader who knew him. “He used to get into big positions, he saw the risk, he saw the reward, and he took the trades.” 

      If Sarao is guilty, we should worry about how one person can destroy the market.  If he is innocent, we should worry that financial markets are unstable, prone to huge swings and are easy to manipulate, by those who operate in the shadows. 

      Either way, we are in big trouble. 

 

Blog entries written by Prof. Shlomo Maital

Shlomo Maital
June 2015
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