Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Top 10 Economics Books - Head over to for more

My previous posts have identified the best economics podcasts, and the best eye-opening books for the entrepreneur. Here's a list of books to help you get yourself educated in the science of economics. These would be my top ten in order of preference.

Number 1: Freakonomics Levitt & Dubner

This book gives you a really different view of economics but helps lay down the basics of thinking economically. The collaboration between young economist Steven D. Levitt and journalist Stephen J. Dubner, quickly became an economic phenomenon in itself, shooting up to the top of many bestseller lists on publication and hovering nearby for much of the rest of 2005.

Number 2: Choice and Consequence by Thomas C. Schelling

Thomas Schelling is a political economist conspicuous for wandering an errant economist. In Choice and Consequence, he ventures into the area where rationality is ambiguous in order to look at the tricks people use to try to quit smoking or lose weight.

Number 3: The Economics of Life by Gary and Guity Becker

Becker made some radical changes to economics and the thinking process. His writing spawned the above books and made room for many other strands of economic thinking. My recent post on Becker is here.

Number 4: The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith

Writing in a very different age when shipping was the main source of trade Adam Smith was the original liberalist. He criticised the mercantile system and suggested more free trade. This alternative view is akin to Smith's view, in that it makes a sharp distinction between productive and unproductive labor, but it provides a far narrower definition of productive labor than does Smith. In his time productive labor is limited to agricultural production, now the system has changed but the theory is based on some fundamental assumptions Smith coined.

Number 5: When Genius Failed by Lowenstein

This writer gives an introduction into the failures of the financial markets and indicate how so much hinges on them running. It is a classic. Lowenstein captures the gripping roller-coaster ride of Long-Term Capital Management. Drawing on confidential internal memos and interviews with dozens of key players, Lowenstein explains not just how the fund made and lost its money but also how they got there.

Number 6: The Evolution of Cooperation by Robert Axelrod

A fascinating book that shows how game theory really works, with an extremely surprising insight into which simple strategy is most successful.

Number 7: Das Kapital by Marx

Although Marx does not give any other suggestions to how the system can work, he does provide a scathing review of how it is.

Number 8: Basic Economics, by Sowell

Economics may appear to be the study of complicated tables and charts, statistics and numbers, but, more specifically, it is the study of what constitutes rational human behavior in the endeavor to fulfill needs and wants.
To study these things, economics makes the assumption that human beings will aim to fulfill their self-interests. It also assumes that individuals are rational in their efforts to fulfill their unlimited wants and needs. Economics, therefore, is a social science, which examines people behaving according to their self-interests. The definition set out at the turn of the twentieth century by Alfred Marshall, author of "The Principles Of Economics" (1890), reflects the complexity underlying economics: "Thus it is on one side the study of wealth; and on the other, and more important side, a part of the study of man."

Number 9: The Economics Book, DK

Perhaps a some what controversial suggestion as this one seems a little like a kids book this book packs quite a large amount of content in an easy to understand manner. The Economics Book is the essential reference for students and anyone else with an interest in how economies work.

Number 10: Keynes Hayek, The Clash that Defined Modern Economics, Nicholas Wapshott

The age old battle of the economics titans is well summed up in this book. “Nicholas Wapshott’s new book, Keynes Hayek, does an excellent job of setting out the broader history behind this revival of the old debates. Wapshott brings the personalities to life, provides more useful information on the debates than any other source, and miraculously manages to write for both the lay reader and the expert at the same time. Virtually every page is gripping, and yet even the professional economist will glean some insight...” (Tyler Cowen - National Review)

If you think I have missed anything or you feel that these books deserve a different review, I welcome your comments below.

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Top value investing resources for 2014

The backyard economist team is always looking for investing insights and ideas from a wide variety of sources. Below is a list of some of my most used links for investing ideas and news. 
As always, if there are any other online sources, articles, discussion groups or Twitter accounts you find useful then please feel free to drop the details in the comments section at the bottom of the page.
Australian business news sources
International news sources
Prominent value investors
Investing newsletters (subscription services)
Investing podcasts/vodcasts
Favourite Twitter accounts
Wondering who to ‘follow’ on Twitter? Here’s a few of our favourites.
  • @WarrenBuffett – Sure he’s only sent out a few tweets, but how can you be a value investor and not follow Mr Buffett?
  • @ConversationEDU – Academics often write stuffy, excessively complicated papers that no layman can understand. The Conversation seeks to change that, with shorter more ‘journalistic’ articles from our country’s brightest.   
  • @ABSStats – Wondering what’s happening in Australia? The ABS is a wonderful (free) source of stats about our country, plus the guys who run the twitter account are hilarious.
  • @ValueIdeasLIVE – Value Conferences runs regular online value investing conferences. Their first few outings have gathered some of the best investors in the game. The online format means tickets are far cheaper than a regular conference.
  • @John_Hempton – John runs Bronte Capital, where he specialises in accounting frauds, one of the sharpest minds in the game.
  • @jasonzweigwsj – Jason Zweig is a columnist with the WSJ and is best known for his annotated version of value investing bible The Intelligent Investor.
  • @TEDchris – Chris Anderson is Curator at TED an organisation that holds annual idea sharing conferences.
  • @ValueInvesting_ – Garry Cole is a value investor based in NY, we love his feed for the regular and useful articles he shares.
  • @HarvardBiz – Harvard Business Review shares the latest blog posts, management tips and stats.
  • @danariely – Dan Ariely is Professor of Psychology and Behavioural Economics at Duke University. He also writes an interesting and entertaining blog here.
  • @BusinessChannel – Sky Business News’ twitter feed.
  • @DanielPink – Dan Pink is a US based author and public speaker. He’s written extensively on behavioural science and how incentives should be applied in the workplace.
  • @mungerisms – Excellent quotes, facts and links on value investing.
We hope you find the list useful. Enjoy.

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Summary on Piketty’s tour de force

experiment is nothing else than a mode of cooking the facts for the sake of exemplifying the law."

What Piketty had undertaken was exemplifying an already known old fact, now supported with huge data of evidence. The final solution advised by him is sensible governmental action. How could modern democracies that depend exclusively on capitalists for country 'development', undertake actions to tame the very capital?

A brilliant book review over here:

Trade in the backyard

The Russian Federation has traditionally been Ukraine's largest trading partner. The free market has been emerging but with it a drastic fall in the GDP in the first 10 years of its independence from the Soviet Union, then experienced rapid growth from 2000 until 2008. However Ukraine was greatly affected by the economic crisis of 2008 and as a result a 15.1% decrease in Ukraine's GDP took place over 2008 and 2009.

Ukraine is relatively rich in natural resources, particularly in mineral deposits. Although oil and natural gas reserves in the country are largely exhausted, it has other important energy sources, such as coal, hydroelectricity and nuclear fuel raw materials.

According to the Global Competitiveness Report 2012-2013 "the country’s most important challenge is the needed overhaul of its institutional framework, which cannot be relied on because it suffers from red tape, lack of transparency, and favoritism"

Although the majority of trade come from Russia, they are not keen to allow the Ukraine to slip too far towards european free trade. Russia has deep cultural and political ties with the Ukraine, and to allow unfettered free trade will Europe will see a drift into the West’s sphere of influence.

Russia joined the World Trade Organisation in 2012, but it is less interested in strengthening the multilateral trading system than in building its own regional trade block. Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of Russia in Global Affairs, a foreign-policy journal, notes that with America trying to conclude sweeping trade agreements with its neighbours in the Pacific Rim and with Europe, “the whole structure of world trade is changing towards a more fragmented system. That’s why Russia is trying to build something of its own.”

What Russia is truing to do, either through force or might is set up its own regional trade agreements (RTA). One of the more recent ones being gas with China. Arvind Subramanian of the Peterson Institute for International Economics calls the rise of ever larger RTAs an “existential threat” and gives warning that “multilateral trade as we have known it will progressively become history.”

The debate about whether RTAs help or hurt the multilateral trading system has gone on for decades. Supporters argued that wherever two countries entered into an RTA, they would create incentives for others to join or to negotiate their own RTA. Trade barriers around the world would fall, one by one, and political support for multilateral deals would increase. Detractors claimed that once inside an RTA, countries would discriminate against outsiders and lose interest in multilateral liberalisation, undermining the authority of the WTO. They would divert as much trade as they created and introduce big distortions.

With the balance of trade comes the balance of political power. Brazil, Russia, India and China (the BRICs) see themselves as countries still poor enough to need protection for their industries while the rich ones lower their own barriers, especially to agriculture. But the rich world increasingly views the BRICs as full-fledged economic competitors whose state capitalism is incompatible with a free and open global economy.

“For too long, much of the economic force and sacrifice in Geneva to produce global trade agreements has come at the expense of the US and EU,” says Ron Kirk, who was Mr Obama’s first trade negotiator. “We have been lectured over and over by our colleagues from the emerging markets that they have the economic heft and prestige to demand a seat at the table. And we agree.” But that, he says, means they too need to make sacrifices by opening up further to America and Europe.

Emerging markets often want protection not just from rich countries but from each other, particularly from China. The battle for the South China sea at the moment is a shining example of this. Roberto Giannetti da Fonseca, an official with FIESP, Brazil’s largest industrial association, ran a trading company in the 1980s that sold Brazilian manufactured products to China. He struggled to find anything worth buying from China, often settling for arts and crafts. “I could not imagine that 20 years later they’d be invading Brazil with hundreds of products and we’d be crying that we cannot compete.” His organisation is a vocal critic of China’s mercantilist practices and has urged the Brazilian government to negotiate free-trade agreements with North America and Europe.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership is a proposed expansion of the 2005 Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership Agreement (TPSEP or P4), a trade agreement among Brunei, Chile, New Zealand, and Singapore. It seeks to manage trade, promote growth, and regionally integrate the economies of the Asia-Pacific region.The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is a trade agreement that is presently being negotiated between the European Union and the United States. According to the ECU it aims at removing trade barriers in a wide range of economic sectors to make it easier to buy and sell goods and services between the EU and the US.

Trade liberalisation is now proceeding along two different tracks. One, preferred by America, goes “behind the border”, focusing on things such as harmonising safety, health and technical standards, currencies, national treatment of foreign investors, the protection of intellectual property, services such as telecommunications, and enforcement of labour and environmental protection. The other, preferred by China, concentrates on reducing tariffs—outside sensitive sectors.

In practice, this means America is most likely to strike deals with countries at a similar stage of economic development, such as the European Union and Japan, or with developing countries willing to meet rich-world standards in exchange for market access, such as Mexico and Chile. America’s comprehensive free-trade deal with South Korea is the model for the TPP.

China, by contrast, has pursued a variety of bilateral deals with its neighbours, mostly in the hope of persuading them “that it sought a peaceful rise as an emerging superpower”, says Chin Leng Lim, a trade-law expert at Hong Kong University. China’s free-trade agreements are numerous but shallow, often leaving out sensitive sectors and subjects. Its agreement with the Association of South-East Asian Nations, for example, allows signatories to classify 400-500 tariff categories as sensitive and thus eligible for slower tariff reduction.

Regional trade liberalisation is better than no liberalisation at all, yet it interferes with globalisation in several damaging ways. By excluding sensitive sectors or imposing onerous rules of origin, it complicates life for multinational companies whose supply chains cross multiple borders.

FTAs by status: Total Asia (cumulative), selected years ( 

Trade pacts are frequently politically contentious since they may change economic customs and deepen interdependence with trade partners. Increasing efficiency through "free trade" is a common goal. For the most part, governments are supportive of further trade agreements.

There have been however some concerns expressed by the WTO. According to Pascal Lamy, Director-General of the WTO, the proliferation of RTA “ breeding concern — concern about incoherence, confusion, exponential increase of costs for business, unpredictability and even unfairness in trade relations.” The position of the WTO is that while the typical trade agreements are useful to a degree, it is much more beneficial to focus on global agreements in the WTO framework such as the negotiations of the current Doha round.

The anti-globalization movement opposes such agreements almost by definition, but some groups normally allied within that movement, e.g. green parties, seek fair trade or safe trade provisions that moderate what they perceive to be the ill effects of globalization.

The Uruguay round in the 1990s is thought to have produced a gain of 0.5-1.3%. Even the TPP will boost participants’ output by only 0.5%, much the same as Doha would, reckons one study by Peter Petri of Brandeis University and Michael Plummer of Johns Hopkins.

In theory, a successful TPP or TTIP could become a magnet for other countries, eventually achieving multilateral trade liberalisation by default. In practice that seems unlikely. China’s and Russia’s interventionism and attachment to state capitalism are difficult to reconcile with the “behind-the-border” liberalisation America and Europe are seeking. And having had no say in designing the pacts, China and Russia may be reluctant to join later.

The decline of multilateralism may not make much difference to big countries able to negotiate regional agreements on their own terms. Small countries without such leverage may be harder hit. But the marginalisation of the WTO as a deterrent to protectionism would hurt everyone. And increasingly such protectionism is taking on new forms that are hard to deal with.

TPP Counties Status and Date

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Monday, 12 May 2014

The Wolf Of Wall Street - Perth

Jordan Belfort, has been recently played by Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street. He is now touring to share his success again. 
Gone is the stockbroker whose Hollywood-scale excesses became the subject of the hit movie based on his best-selling autobiography. He has learned from his mistakes to become one of the top speakers on entrepreneurial achievement, in constant demand around the world.
Belfort, who never hesitates to admit he far overstepped the line, has authored two books published in 22 countries, selling millions of copies, while The Wolf of Wall Street has already taken more than $375 million at the box office. He is also a frequent guest commentator on CNN, CNBC and the BBC.
Belfort’s extraordinary drive, ambition and power to influence is crystallised in his Straight Line System, which has helped to create more than 12,000 millionaires.
I have access to discounted tickets, for a group booking. Please email if you are interested in seeing him talk in Perth on the 19th of June. 
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Monday, 5 May 2014

Nobel Laureate economist Gary Becker has passed away -

Gary Becker was one of the greatest economists of the past half century. The 82-year old Becker was a pioneer in using the tools of economics to analyse things that are frequently thought to be outside the realm of economics. He made important contributions to the family economics branch of economics. Neoclassical analysis of family within the family economics is also called new home economics.

This idea of using economics to analyse non-market things seems normal these days. But when Gary Becker started doing this it was very new. And he truly taught people to see the world in new ways.

Becker’s Nobel Prize lecture is titled The Economic Way Of Looking At Life and in it, Becker briefly goes over how he used economics to analyse such topics as crime (why people commit it), discrimination against minorities, and family life.

Criminology first rose his interest when he was short for time one day. He had to weigh the cost and benefits of legally parking in an inconvenient garage versus in an illegal but convenient spot. After roughly calculating the probability of getting caught and potential punishment, Becker rationally opted for the crime. Becker surmised that other criminals make such rational decisions. However, such a premise went against conventional thought that crime was a result of mental illness and social oppression.

In his powerful intro, he makes two important points. One is that economists who presume that everyone is selfish (maximizing their own utility) take too narrow a view of human motivation. People are motivated to act for all kinds of reasons (jealousy, spite, etc.). His other point is that while productivity has provided abundance in many areas, the one resource that we’ll never have more of his time. Time will always run out, and there will always only be 24 hours in a day. For this reason, we’ll never have Utopia, because that scarcity will always be there.

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