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Archive for the 'Economics' Category

Friday, February 14th, 2014

Moralism and the Facts — The Pillars of Paul Cabot’s Investment Strategy

Passion for Reality, Michael YoggWe conclude our week-long feature on Passion for Reality: The Extraordinary Life of the Investing Pioneer Paul Cabot, with an excerpt from the epilogue. In these excerpts, Yogg considers some of the core values that shaped Cabot’s investment strategy and what it might mean for today’s investors:

Two modes of thought shaped Paul Cabot’s approach to investments and the conduct of his business: moralism, inherited largely from his fam­ily and the culture of Boston; and empiricism, a demand for the facts, a trait he was probably born with but which was reinforced by his education and his experience in the stock market. He was not unique in this, but Paul also had the self-confidence and the passion to challenge the prevailing business culture and move to change it.

When confronted with wrongdoing, Paul often displayed the mindset of a Massachusetts Puritan of an earlier era, even though his lifestyle was far from puritanical and he was not overly religious. When he discovered price manipulation of trust shares, he gave a speech that sounded in parts like a jeremiad. When the perpetrators tried to have him silenced, he “flamed up. (He) got so goddamn mad.” It was truly righteous anger. Echoing the early Puritans, he believed that if sinners were tolerated, they would—at least figuratively—bring God’s wrath down on the entire com­munity. Referring to the abuses of the British trusts of the nineteenth century, he declared in 1928 that “unless we avoid these and other errors and false principles we shall inevitably go through a similar period of disaster and disgrace. If such a period should come, the well run trusts would suffer with the bad as they did in England forty years ago.”

Most of the specific abuses that Paul objected to—price manipulation, dumping unwanted securities into mutual fund portfolios, unnecessarily complicated and deliberately confusing capital structures—were breaches of fiduciary duty, instances in which a manager put his own interests above those of the client. Takeovers in which a financially-driven conglomerate took over businesses it did not fully understand were another concern. There was a sense in New England and elsewhere, both before and during Paul’s day, that people should stick to their business, do what they do best, and not buy something merely because the acquisition would increase reported profits. He compared the takeovers of the 1960s to various past financial scandals, “all born of greed and lust for power.”

Paul’s lack of greed complemented his moralism. He was known for his frugality and even ridiculed for it. While writing this, I heard for the first time the story of how he raced a neighbor to the back of a Needham supermarket to grab the last loaf of discounted day-old bread. But being frugal and unostentatious meant he had no need for great wealth and was not even tempted to break the rules governing a fiduciary’s conduct. Unlike many financial executives during the 1982–2000 boom and since, he lived in the same world as his clients—wealthier than most but not or­ders of magnitude wealthier. It also meant he was not likely to get caught up in the greed-driven, frenzied last stages of a bull market….

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Thursday, February 13th, 2014

Paul Cabot’s Jeremiad

In the following passage from Passion for Reality: The Extraordinary Life of the Investing Pioneer Paul Cabot, Michael Yogg examines Paul Cabot’s ideas about reform for the financial industry and the characteristics of a good investment manager. He also looks at some of the parallels between Cabot’s time of the late 1920s and 1930s and our present time:

Passion for Reality: The Extraordinary Life of the Investing Pioneer Paul CabotWhen a country loses its common sense and confidence, as America did in the late 1920s and the 1930s, it takes hundreds of clear-thinking leaders in government and the private sector to establish the rules, formal and informal, through which society rebuilds and functions. [Sidney Weinberg, head of Goldman Sachs] was one of those leaders. Paul was another….

For Paul, clarity, simplicity, and honesty were inextricably linked. He knew that a trust with an excessively complicated capital structure oft en had trustees who did not know what they were doing or had something to hide—in other words, trustees who were something less than able and honest. This is what lay behind Paul’s preference for the Boston-type open-end fund, with its one class of shares leading to all shareholders being treated equally. It is also why this type of fund accounts for almost all mutual funds today.

Among the many parallels between the late 1920s and late 1990s was the formation of exceedingly complicated investment funds whose structures of­fended the common sense of the clearest thinkers of their day. When Long-Term Capital Management (LTCM) sought the aid and the capital of Warren Buffett during its crisis, Buffett’s objection to the fund—according to Roger Lowenstein, biographer of Buffett and chronicler of the LTCM saga—was the overly complicated structure. If it took hours for Paul to figure out how profits were divided by some of the trusts of his day, he would have required months to understand LTCM’s capital structure or Enron’s deals with special-purpose partnerships owned and controlled by its own corpo­rate officers. He would not have been tempted by either of these “opportu­nities,” so popular with “sophisticated” investors at the end of the century.

Both 1929 and 2000 marked peaks in what Galbraith refers to as the “bezzle, an inventory of undiscovered embezzlement,” which is a measure of corruption that is as cyclical as any financial index. In prosperous times, when people are making money, they relax and look less critically at ex­actly how it is being made. Unscrupulous operators take advantage of this by perpetrating various types of fraud and “the bezzle increases rapidly,” according to Galbraith. When the prosperous times end, everything goes into reverse. Investors are more skeptical, even suspicious. Morality im­proves and the “bezzle” shrinks. The stock market boom and the ensuing crash caused a traumatic exaggeration of these normal relationships.

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Friday, January 24th, 2014

Dean Starkman Debates Whether the Business Press Failed the Public Trust

Recently, Columbia Journalism Review and Public Business, organized a panel Has the Business Press Failed the Public Trust?. Among the panelists were Dean Starkman, author of The Watchdog That Didn’t Bark: The Financial Crisis and the Disappearance of Investigative Journalism

The discussion, which also included Larry Ingrassia, (New York Times); Felix Salmon (Reuters); Suzanne Kapner (Wall Street Journal) and Jeff Horwitz (American Banker) focused on the the distinction between reporting for investors and the general public, the the press’s ability to shape public debate, and the role of non-business reporters in covering business scoops. As evident in the video below of the event, the discussion often turned heated and revealed some of the challenges journalists face in covering business and financial news and underscored some of the arguments made in Dean Starkman’s book.

Thursday, January 23rd, 2014

Dean Starkman on How and Why the Business Press Failed

Dean Starkman, The Watchdog That Didn't Bark

In The Watchdog That Didn’t Bark: The Financial Crisis and the Disappearance of Investigative Journalism, Dean Starkman argues that the business press missed the biggest story of the new century. More specifically,the mainstream business press failed to cover and convey to the public the looming dangers that would profoundly shake up the financial system in 2007.

The following is an excerpt from the opening of the book. A fuller excerpt can be found on the Columbia Journalism Review site.

The US business press failed to investigate and hold accountable Wall Street banks and major mortgage lenders in the years leading up to the financial crisis of 2008. That’s why the crisis came as such a shock to the public and to the press itself.

And that’s the news about the news.

The watchdog didn’t bark. What happened? How could an entire journalism subculture, understood to be sophisticated and plugged in, miss the central story occurring on its beat? And why was it that some journalists, mostly outside the mainstream, were able to produce work that in fact did reflect the radical changes overtaking the financial system while the vast majority in the mainstream did not?

This book is about journalism watchdogs and what happens when they don’t bark. What happens is the public is left in the dark about, and powerless against, complex problems that overtake important national institutions. Few need reminders, even today, of the costs of the crisis: 10 million Americans uprooted by foreclosure with even more still threatened, 23 million unemployed or underemployed, whole communities set back a generation, shocking bailouts for the perpetrators, political polarization here and instability abroad. And so on and so forth.

Was the brewing crisis really such a secret? Was it all so complex as to be beyond the capacity of conventional journalism and, through it, the public, to understand? Was it all so hidden? In fact, the answer to all those questions is “no.” The problem—distorted incentives corrupting the financial industry—was plain, but not to Wall Street executives, traders, rating agencies, analysts, quants, or other financial insiders. It was plain to the outsiders: state regulators, plaintiffs’ lawyers, community groups, defrauded mortgage borrowers, and, mostly, to former employees of financial institutions, the whistleblowers, who were, in fact, blowing the whistle. A few reporters actually talked to them, understood the metastasizing problem, and wrote about it. Unfortunately, they didn’t work for the mainstream business press.

In the aftermath of the Lehman bankruptcy of September 2008, a great fight broke out over the causes of the crisis—a fight that’s more or less resolved at this point. While of course it’s complicated, Wall Street and the mortgage lenders stand front and center in the dock. Meanwhile, a smaller fight broke out over the business press’ role. After all, its central beat—the one over which it claims particular mastery—is the same one that suddenly melted down, to the shock of one and all. For business reporters, the crisis was more than a surprise. There was even something uncanny about it. A generation of professionals had, in effect, grown up with this set of Wall Street firms and had put them on the covers of Fortune and Forbes, the front page of The Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, and the rest, scores of times. The firms were so familiar, the press had even given them anthropomorphized personalities over the years: Morgan Stanley, the white-shoe wasp firm; Merrill Lynch, the scrappy Irish-Catholic firm, often considered the dumb one; Goldman, the elite Jewish firm; Lehman, the scrappy Jewish firm; Bear Stearns, the naughty one, etc. Love them or hate them, there they were, blessed by accounting firms, rating agencies, and regulators, gleaming towers of power. Until one day, they weren’t.

(more…)

Tuesday, January 21st, 2014

Book Giveaway! Win a Free Copy of “The Watchdog That Didn’t Bark: The Financial Crisis and the Disappearance of Investigative Journalism,” by Dean Starkman

“Journalism was complicit in the predation and corruption that brought down world financial markets and wrecked the lives of millions…. Dean Starkman is the author we have been waiting for to tell this story. He not only puts forward a keen, subtle, and fair account of the journalistic default, he names names.” — Todd Gitlin

The Watchdog That Didn’t Bark: The Financial Crisis and the Disappearance of Investigative Journalism, Dean Starkman

This week we will be featuring The Watchdog That Didn’t Bark: The Financial Crisis and the Disappearance of Investigative Journalism, by Dean Starkman, on twitter, facebook, and the Columbia University Press blog, .

We are also offering a FREE copy of The Watchdog That Didn’t Bark: The Financial Crisis and the Disappearance of Investigative Journalism to a lucky winner.

To enter our Book Giveaway, simply e-mail pl2164@columbia.edu with your name and preferred mailing address. We will randomly select one winner on Friday, January 24 at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

You can also read an excerpt from The Watchdog That Didn’t Bark: The Financial Crisis and the Disappearance of Investigative Journalism posted on the Columbia Journalism Review site.

Friday, August 30th, 2013

An Interview with Adam Arvidsson and Nicolai Peitersen

The Ethical Economy

As we continue our week-long feature of The Ethical Economy: Rebuilding Value After the Crisis, by Adam Arvidsson and Nicolai Peitersen, we look to the authors’ interview with Zoe Romano at Digicult as they discuss the ideas of productive publics, economy reputation, and their joint role in the plausible shift toward an Ethical Economy.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a FREE copy of The Ethical Economy!

Ethical Economy. The New Distribution of Value

Zoe Romano: How do you see ethical phenomena like the signal of the emergence of a new way of production (what you call ‘Ethical Economy’) in addition to the emergence of a market niche, a term often used and abused to clean up the image of a company? Are we really facing a substantial change?

Adam Arvidsson & Nicolai Peitersen: The reason why these phenomena do not represent only a market niche is because they are companies’ and brands’ rational response to a deeper structural change. This deep transformation is made of two main elements: On one hand there is the rise of what we call “the productive publics,” and on the other hand the growing of the economy reputation.
In the book we show how the “productive publics” are becoming increasingly important for the organization of both the immaterial and the material. The “productive publics” identify collaborative networks of strangers who interact in a highly mediatic way (which often doesn’t need the use of informatic networks or social media) and who coordinate their interactions through sharing a common set of values. By coordinating production in such a way, the productive publics are different from markets and bureaucracies, not only because they allow one to consider as good reasons a wider range of issues, but also because they tend to be highly independent in conferring a value to the productive contribution of their members. In the book, we suggest that the productive publics are becoming increasingly influential in the information economy, not only in alternative circuits like Free Software, but also within the corporate economy itself, especially around the immaterial assets that in some sectors reach two thirds of the market value. As a result, there is recent growing emphasis on ethics and social responsibility in corporations which can be understood as an attempt to accommodate the orders of worth promoted by the productive publics.
(more…)

Thursday, August 29th, 2013

Adam Arvidsson: Can Capitalism Evolve? (Part 2)

The Ethical Economy

This week our featured book is The Ethical Economy: Rebuilding Value After the Crisis, by Adam Arvidsson and Nicolai Peitersen. Today, we have the second half of an essay by Adam Arvidsson: “Ethical Economy: Can Capitalism Evolve?” In his essay, Arvidsson discusses how the information age is changing current models of corporate capitalism and looks to the future to predict how those changes will play out. You can find the first half of the essay here.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a FREE copy of The Ethical Economy!

Ethical Economy: Can Capitalism Evolve? (Part 2)
Adam Arvidsson

Value
But values matter in an even more fundamental way. Financial valuations of companies at two to three times their book value are supported by so called ‘intangible assets’, chiefly brands, but also more esoteric things like ‘knowledge capital’ or ‘social capital.’ The problem is that nobody knows how to evaluate such intangible assets, or rather, there are as many methods as there are operators in the intangible-assets-valuation business. The Apple brand, for example, was evaluated at $150 billion by brand evaluation company Brand Z in 2012, while the market leader Interbrand valued it at $30 billion. But what are intangible assets? Some of them are probably cover-ups for speculation. But that aside, they are essentially estimations of a company’s ability to draw value from its use of common resources. The Apple brand reflects the fact that the Apple corporation is able to create cooler and more innovative products than, say, Samsung, while relying on the same suppliers, the same patents, and similar technical solutions. Louis Vuitton is not the only company around able to make high quality bags. But its brand is so highly valued because it is able to provide high quality bags that enable people to feel beautiful and elegant in ways that appeal across the world. Today the valuation of brands and other intangible assets are based on companies’ reputations for such excellence in the use of common resources. ‘Reputation’ in this sense refers to the opinion and hearsay among a small community of market analysts and experts (in some cases supported by a more participatory social media-based opinion). It looks a bit like 19th century monetary politics before the gold standard, where a small community of rich bankers came together to set interest rates and the price of money more generally, without there being any possibility for popular participation in the business. This way members of productive publics who continuously create the values that guide their own productive co-operation are excluded from the more important overall financial evaluations of what they produce. This is irrational in many ways. First, because it tends to perpetuate the ‘value crisis’ that now grows within corporations as well as in society more generally, creating a widespread perception, not only among the radical fringes but also within the core of knowledge of the working middle class, that corporations are not in the business of catering to what they really need and value. Second, because the absence of a wider participation in the opinion and reputation economy in which the values of intangible assets are set makes these evaluations unstable, incoherent, and insecure, thus providing an additional source of systemic risk and market volatility. Third, and perhaps most importantly, in this way ever more popular demand for really valuable products and innovation, that is, the kind of products and solutions that can help us transit to a more sustainable economic system, have no effect on the financial markets in which crucial decisions about the allocation of resources are made. This is a problem for corporations too. Most people who work in big corporations want to do something meaningful and constructive with their life; they want to feel that their professional activity is coherent with the overall values that they nourish. They want to do good. And intelligent corporations understand that they need to begin to cater to real use values, to acquire real social usefulness, if they want to survive the chaotic next century marked by resource scarcity and global warming. But as long as a company’s ability to do good is not reflected in the standards that reflect its economic performance, it is very difficult for this desire to have any serious practical consequences at the level of actions.
(more…)

Wednesday, August 28th, 2013

Adam Arvidsson: Can Capitalism Evolve? (Part 1)

The Ethical Economy

This week our featured book is The Ethical Economy: Rebuilding Value After the Crisis, by Adam Arvidsson and Nicolai Peitersen. Today, we have the first half of an essay by Adam Arvidsson: “Ethical Economy: Can Capitalism Evolve?” In his essay, Arvidsson discusses how the information age is changing current models of corporate capitalism and looks to the future to predict how those changes will play out.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a FREE copy of The Ethical Economy!

Ethical Economy: Can Capitalism Evolve?
Adam Arvidsson

In the last century, capitalism could generate growth and prosperity by expanding consumer markets. Now that model has exhausted itself in various ways. In the West, popular prosperity as steady and secure employment have become a thing of the past. This happened to blue collar jobs in the 1990s and it is happening to white collar jobs now as the AI revolution kicks in. As a result, support for capitalism will continue to decline, even among the middle classes. And while the promise of capitalism might still seem attractive in rapidly growing economies like China, the present paradigm of consumerist growth is unsustainable, even in the not-so-long term, as climate change and resource scarcity are creating serious bottle necks. At an even more fundamental level, the corporate model is losing its social relevance. The business of actually making and selling stuff that meets people’s needs only accounts for a small part of the value added by the corporate economy, with most large companies making their money on financial markets. Worse, innovation seems to be slipping out of corporate control, even as companies pump unprecedented amounts of cash into R&D. We are likely to see a growing distance between an ever more financialized and self-referential economy, where ‘intangible’ values are tossed around while people actually need useful and innovative products. This gap will become particularly evident as the imminent ecological crisis will create a demand for radically innovative products: not just a new iPhone, but workable solutions to food, energy, and water scarcity. Capitalism will look ever more like the French monarchy in the 18th century, increasingly distant from the real needs of the people, offering the proverbial cakes in lieu of bread. Something similar is already happening as mistrust in big corporations is growing, despite soaring spending on goodwill and corporate social responsibility.
(more…)

Tuesday, August 27th, 2013

Excerpt: Preface from The Ethical Economy

The Ethical Economy

This week our featured book is The Ethical Economy: Rebuilding Value After the Crisis, by Adam Arvidsson and Nicolai Peitersen. Today, we have an excerpt from the preface to The Ethical Economy, in which the authors discuss the central question of their book: “can the ethical turn that we are presently witnessing among corporations, consumers, investors, employees, activists, and other stakeholders – their desire to address a number of concerns beyond the profit motive – become a basis for a new “social contract” in which the interests of business and the interests of society can coincide? In other words, can there be such a thing as an ethical economy?”

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a FREE copy of The Ethical Economy!

Monday, August 26th, 2013

Book Giveaway! The Ethical Economy: Rebuilding Value After the Crisis, by Adam Arvidsson and Nicolai Peitersen

The Ethical Economy

This week our featured book is The Ethical Economy: Rebuilding Value After the Crisis, by Adam Arvidsson and Nicolai Peitersen. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content from and about the book and its authors here on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

We are also offering a FREE copy of The Ethical Economy. To enter our Book Giveaway, simply fill out the form below with your name and preferred mailing address. We will randomly select one winner on August 30th at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word! The book giveaway is closed. Thanks for your participation!

Friday, August 23rd, 2013

On Being a Sports Statistician: more interviews with Ben Alamar

Global Intellectual History

This week our featured book is Sports Analytics: A Guide for Coaches, Managers, and Other Decision Makers, by Benjamin C. Alamar, with a foreword by Dean Oliver. Today, the last day of our book giveaway, we have an excerpt from a couple of print interviews with Ben Alamar on his book, the use of statistics in organizations, and how one should prepare for a career as a sports statistician. The first of these two interviews can be found in its entirety on the Sports Analytics Blog, and the second at STATtr@k.

Sports Analytics Blog Interview

SA Blog: What made you decide to switch from “Corporate America” (where you worked for PwC) to the sports industry?

Ben: I switched careers as soon as I realized that I might be able to create a career in sports for myself. I grew up as a sports junky, but not a baseball fan, so it was not until after I had finished graduate school that I became aware of Bill James and the use of statistical analysis in baseball. Once I saw what was happening in baseball, and I had the good fortune of working with Aaron Schatz, Roland Beech and Jeff Ma at Protrade, I was sold. The possibility to apply these tools in football and basketball were too exciting to me to pass up.
(more…)

Thursday, August 22nd, 2013

Interviews with Ben Alamar

Global Intellectual History

This week our featured book is Sports Analytics: A Guide for Coaches, Managers, and Other Decision Makers, by Benjamin C. Alamar, with a foreword by Dean Oliver. Today, we have a couple of great interviews with Ben Alamar, one with Grantland’s Zach Lowe and one with BBall Breakdown’s Coach Nick.

Enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of the book!

Zach Lowe and Ben Alamar: “The Thunder Almost Drafted Brook Lopez Instead of Russell Westbrook”

Coach Nick and Ben Alamar: “NBA Chat With Ben Alamar – Analytics Consultant for the Cleveland Cavaliers”

Wednesday, August 21st, 2013

Benjamin Alamar: “Analytics Is Not a Strategy”

Global Intellectual History

This week our featured book is Sports Analytics: A Guide for Coaches, Managers, and Other Decision Makers, by Benjamin C. Alamar, with a foreword by Dean Oliver. Today, we are featuring an article by Benjamin Alamar in All Things D on the difference between analytics and strategy.

Enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of the book!

Analytics Is Not a Strategy
Benjamin C. Alamar

I have been working in sports analytics for nearly 10 years, and still, virtually every time I tell someone what I do, they say some variation of “Oh, you do moneyball.” While my normal response is “yes, something like that,” the truth is that there is real difference between “sports analytics” and “moneyball.” As I’ve written elsewhere, sports analytics (or just plain old analytics) is a set of tools, while “moneyball” is the term coined by author Michael Lewis in his 2003 book to describe a strategy that employs the tools of analytics. The tools of analytics have advanced significantly since Michael Lewis’ book, yet the “moneyball” strategy is unchanged.

Analytics involves the tools of data gathering, data management, statistical analysis, data visualization and information systems to deliver better information, more efficiently, to decision makers within an organization. Clearly the technology behind these tools has advanced rapidly in the last ten years with tools such as Hadoop, R, Qlikview and the like all making the utilization of the mass amounts of data that are now available to organizations possible.

In sports, the most significant leap forward in technology is in data gathering, where companies such as Stats llc and Catapult Sports have utilized advances in technology to fundamentally change the size and scope of data available from practice and competitions. Stats llc utilizes cameras and optical tracking technology to capture the position of everything that moves on a basketball court 25 times a second, while Catapult Sports utilizes GPS, accelerometers and other wearable technology to track player movements and physical characteristics such as heart rate. Both technologies have shifted the type of data available in sports from the count of specific on court actions (attempted shots, for example) to the continuous movements of every element on the field of play.
(more…)

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

An Introduction to Sports Analytics – Benjamin C. Alamar

Global Intellectual History

This week our featured book is Sports Analytics: A Guide for Coaches, Managers, and Other Decision Makers, by Benjamin C. Alamar, with a foreword by Dean Oliver. Today, we have an excerpt from the first chapter of Sports Analytics, “Introduction to Sports Analytics.” Enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of the book!

Monday, August 19th, 2013

Book Giveaway – Sports Analytics: A Guide for Coaches, Managers, and Other Decision Makers, by Benjamin C. Alamar

Global Intellectual History

This week our featured book is Sports Analytics: A Guide for Coaches, Managers, and Other Decision Makers, by Benjamin C. Alamar, with a foreword by Dean Oliver. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content from and about the book and its author here on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

We are also offering a FREE copy of Sports Analytics. To enter our Book Giveaway, simply fill out the form below with your name and preferred mailing address. We will randomly select one winner on August 23th at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

Thursday, June 20th, 2013

An interview with Michael M. Weinstein and Ralph M. Bradburd in The Chronicle of Philanthropy

The Robin Hood Rules for Smart Giving

On Sunday, The Chronicle of Philanthropy ran an interview with Michael M. Weinstein and Ralph M. Bradburd, authors of The Robin Hood Rules for Smart Giving. In the interview, Weinstein and Bradburd explain how the Robin Hood Foundation makes grant-making decisions, and discuss why philanthropic foundations would be smart to learn how to better understand costs and benefits of projects they wish to pursue. Here are a few of the highlights:

Q: How does Robin Hood make its grant-making decisions?

Mr. Weinstein: We take each proposal and the first thing we do is identify all of the poverty-relevant benefits it might produce. What we count as poverty fighting are things that lift the living standards of low-income New Yorkers.

Once we’ve made that list, we assign a monetary value to each of those benefits, whether it’s gaining a high-school diploma, a health benefit, or a lower probability of criminality.

It’s a combination of a probability that the benefit will occur with the dollar value, if it does occur. We add them up and divide it by the cost.

Q: How does Robin Hood manage risk?

Mr. Weinstein: We have a board with a large number of hedge-fund traders and financial types who are used to risk and don’t mind it.

I joke that if the program staff reported to the board that every grant we had made the previous year succeeded, we’d all be fired. If nothing fails, you’re not taking any chances.

We look at the ideas that excite us the most and then we impose a hard constraint—one year from today, we will have the data that tell us whether we’re succeeding or not.

Mr. Bradburd: Philanthropy has adopted a standard of cost-effectiveness. There’s a difference between lean and mean, and starving and stupid.

Donors should be focusing on the overall benefit per dollar of expenditures, not on just what percentage of total revenues is being spent on administration. Donors should ask the people who are asking them for money how they’re measuring the benefits of what they’re spending.

To read the interview in its entirety, click here.

Friday, June 14th, 2013

“I Was a Warehouse Wage Slave,” by Mac McClelland — Best Busines Writing 2013

In “I Was a Warehouse Wage Slave,” originally published in Mother Jones and included in The Best Business Writing 2013, Mac McClelland describes her experiences working at a warehouse for an Internet company. She describes conditions in which workers are tightly monitored and work under difficult, even painful conditions as they are pressured to pick items as quickly as possible so they can get out to customers. Given the scarcity of jobs, the workers have little choice but to endure the difficult, frequently unreasonable demands.

Below is an excerpt from the article:

Thursday, June 13th, 2013

The Trouble is the Banks — Best Business Writing 2013

“I always believed getting an education was the only way to succeed in life. Now I regret it every single day.”—Donna DeNaro, from The Trouble is the Banks excerpted in The Best Business Writing 2013

Best Business Writing 2013The Trouble is the Banks comes from a volume published by n+1 which includes letters from Occupy the Boardroom, a site that collects letters to banks and financial institution in the wake of the 2008 collapse. A portion of The Trouble is the Banks is included in The Best Business Writing 2013. Here’s an excerpt:

Please Don’t Harass My Father Any Further

Deena DeNaro

To: Lloyd H. Dean, Wells Fargo

Dear Lloyd,

In May 2007, I became the first person in my immediate family to get a degree, at age 38. I graduated owing more than $100,000 in private student loans. Payments were more than $1,100 per month. My 74-year-old retired father is the cosigner for most of these loans, but in September 2008, my dad lost $70,000 of his pension with the banks’ collapse.

In December 2009, after just one year in the workforce, I was laid off due to cut-backs. For most of 2010, I wasn’t able to find steady employment. In January 2011, I ran out of defer­ment with my private student loans. The banks began chasing my father as the cosigner. They have wrecked his line of credit and called in his home equity loan on which he never missed any payments.

In June 2011, my father saw a lawyer to try to get the pay­ments reduced to something proportionate to his fixed in­come. In October 2011, he got word that the lawyer failed to get payments reduced enough. My dad wrote me a letter say­ing he had to sell his life insurance and rearrange his will to protect my sister and stepmom.

The letter arrived last Saturday.

He had a stroke on Sunday.

Now Wells Fargo is harassing him for payment of another student loan.

I am asking you to please suspend collection actions against my father until I have a job that will pay me enough to make the payments myself.

I always believed getting an education was the only way to succeed in life. Now I regret it every single day.

Sincerely,
Deena DeNaro
Durham, NC 27701

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Wednesday, June 12th, 2013

The Robin Hood Rules for Smart Giving and Adventures in Quantitative Philanthropy

The Robin Hood Rules for Smart GivingThis week two different stories looked at the ideas at the center of The Robin Hood Rules for Smart Giving , by Michael Weinstein and Ralph M. Bradburd.

In his post, Adventures with quantitative philanthropy, Felix Salmon, examines the Robin Hood Foundation approach to giving and its “relentless monetization” framework. Salmon explains how the Robin Hood Foundation seeks to monetize the benefits of philanthropic giving to make sure it is effective and helps those it is intended to help.

An article for the Fast Company blog, Co.EXIST, also explores the Robin Hood method. The book’s coauthor, Michael Weinstein explains how the Robin Hood foundation developed its approach and the various factors it considers when trying to establish a cost-benefit analysis for giving money.

Increasingly, as the article points out, the Robin Hood Foundation method is being adopted by other philanthropic organizations, such as The Gates Foundation, and it is winning many adherents among donors in the financial industry.

The article concludes with Weinstein’s reflections on the aims of The Robin Hood Rules for Smart Giving:

Weinstein hopes that the book pushes even more people to consider Robin Hood’s techniques. “We wrote the book for two reasons. One reason is that donors, other foundations, and philanthropists are often asking us to advise them, to share what we’re doing,” he says. “The second reason is the opposite. We hope that by laying it out in black and white, we get feedback that tells us how to do things better. We already know our 170 equations [for monetization] are wrong. We’d love for people to say we have another wrong way to monetize interventions, but we have a less wrong way to do it.”

Tuesday, June 11th, 2013

How Companies Learn Your Secrets from The Best Business Writing 2013

“There is a calculus, it turns out, for mastering our subcon­scious urges. For companies like Target, the exhaustive render­ing of our conscious and unconscious patterns into data sets and algorithms has revolutionized what they know about us and, therefore, how precisely they can sell.”—Charles Duhigg, “How Companies Learn Your Secrets”

The Best Business Writing 2013As we learn about the extent to which the United States government monitored its citizens phone calls and online activity, Charles Duhigg’s article “How Companies Learn Your Secrets,” from the New York Times Magazine, reminds us that corporations are also keeping a close eye on our activities in the name of trying to sell us more stuff. The following excerpt is from Duhigg’s article, which is included in The Best Business Writing 2013:

The desire to collect information on customers is not new for Target or any other large retailer, of course. For decades, Target has collected vast amounts of data on every person who regularly walks into one of its stores. Whenever possible, Target assigns each shopper a unique code—known internally as the Guest ID number—that keeps tabs on everything they buy. “If you use a credit card or a coupon or fill out a survey or mail in a refund or call the customer help line or open an e-mail we’ve sent you or visit our website, we’ll record it and link it to your Guest ID,” Pole said. “We want to know everything we can.”

Also linked to your Guest ID is demographic information like your age, whether you are married and have kids, which part of town you live in, how long it takes you to drive to the store, your estimated salary, whether you’ve moved recently, what credit cards you carry in your wallet, and what websites you visit. Tar­get can buy data about your ethnicity, job history, the magazines you read, if you’ve ever declared bankruptcy or got divorced, the year you bought (or lost) your house, where you went to college, what kinds of topics you talk about online, whether you prefer certain brands of coffee, paper towels, cereal, or applesauce, your political leanings, reading habits, charitable giving, and the number of cars you own. (In a statement, Target declined to identify what demographic information it collects or purchases.) All that information is meaningless, however, without someone to analyze and make sense of it. That’s where Andrew Pole and the dozens of other members of Target’s Guest Marketing Ana­lytics department come in.

Almost every major retailer, from grocery chains to invest­ment banks to the U.S. Postal Service, has a “predictive analyt­ics” department devoted to understanding not just consumers’ shopping habits but also their personal habits so as to more effi­ciently market to them. “But Target has always been one of the smartest at this,” says Eric Siegel, a consultant and the chairman of a conference called Predictive Analytics World. “We’re living through a golden age of behavioral research. It’s amazing how much we can figure out about how people think now.”

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