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Newsletter 12-17-2021

Colin Powers
Colin Powers

Hi everyone. Thanks for subscribing. If you have the inclination, please pass this newsletter around to others who might enjoy the read. Now onto this week's edition of No Craic, Mad Craic, and Great Craic.

No Craic

(1) A few months back we made note of the role Canadian public pension systems play in the ecological degradation of Brazil. In the same general vein, below you can see the lengths that the California Public Employee's Retirement System (CalPERS) is going to keep its pensioners looked after.

Having set themselves a rather absurd annual return target of 6.8% in an era when even junk bonds are paying out little more than a pittance, CalPERS managers have been forced to both leverage up and take expanded positions within the private equity industry. As private equity's leading lights hold significant responsibility for our housing and supply chain crises, these decisions have implicated California's teachers et alia in some pretty gnarly shit.

Managers added 5% leverage to CalPERS' portfolio in November.

(2) Speaking of the American housing market, this week the Washington Post published an investigation into the business of Progress Residential, a New York-based fund investing on the behalf of #great dudes like Seagram's heir Stephen Bronfman, online gambling magnate Vikrant Bhargava and Donald Mullen, formally of Goldman Sachs.

The fund in question was established in the wake of the 2008 housing crash with the aim of capitalizing "on the severe distress in the residential real estate market." It did so primarily by buying up tens of thousands of single family homes, which it subsequently turned into rental units. These transactions not only squeezed the supply side of the market, obstructing prospective first-time buyers from getting their starter place; as the breadth of the fund's holdings in particular neighborhoods afforded it price affecting powers, it was also able to gouge tenants with elevated rents and act negligently enough when it came to maintenance issues so as to give rise to a 3,000 person facebook group called "Victims of Progress Residential."    

With recent research published by the Federal Reserve indicating that Chinese capital inflows (and, by extension, Gulf and Russian ones) into the US residential housing market are significantly greater than previously estimated, the mystery around the prevailing housing shortage don't seem so mysterious.    

(3) After committing to a policy approach based on food security rather than food sovereignty many years ago--the former of which proposes a country forego concerns with producing its own basic needs, and instead use income generated through the export of food products to import the essentials–Tunisia, like many other countries in the global periphery, made its capacity to feed its people conditional on the efficient workings of international commodities markets. Alas, as we've touched in the past, these markets have been anything but efficient since the emergence of SARS-CoV-2, with the price of grains and vegetable oil in particular flying way way up. The upshot: Tunisia has run a food trade deficit of more than $650 million for the first eleven months of 2021 . Coming at a time of acute fiscal and balance of payment stress, this is no no bueno.

(4) About half of the global food supply is currently produced with synthetic nitrogen fertilizers, which are themselves produced through the fossil fuel intensive Haber-Bosch process. This is going to have change real quick or there's major trouble afoot.

(5) The misinvoicing of trade costs developing countries billions in dollars in tax revenue each year and allows illicit moneys to flow across borders with ease. According to a new study put out by Global Financial Integrity, the sum of the value gap in trade between 134 developing countries and 36 advanced economies (i.e. the difference between the value that the exporter to a transaction reports and the one the importer does) reached $835 billion in 2018. Given its role in the global economy, it ought be unsurprising that China is highly involved in this all.

Mad Craic

(6) New Jersey Democrat Josh Gottheimer, one of the more irreedemable characters in the House of Representatives, gave a speech this week at Rutgers University where he accused Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN)--a DC-based non-profit founded by Jamal Khoshoggi--of having connections to Al Qaeda and Hamas. Given Gottheimer's professional connections with the Saudi regime, such comments may be absurd but none too surprising. While a speech writer for Bill Clinton, Gottheimer worked closely with Mark Penn. Penn went onto become CEO of Burson-Marsteller--one of the leading communications firms to whom Saudi subcontracts its DC messaging--where Gottheimer would eventually join him in 2006.  

In the same speech, one nominally meant to be focused on the rise of antisemitic rhteoric it should be said, Gottheimer also falsely claimed that a protestor at an event organized by the Working Families Party in September yelled "Jew" at him. As eye witness to the events Lisa Schwartz put it: "What an outrageous allegation. I’m someone who’s Jewish. If I’d have heard that, I’d have been outraged and would have left right away, and so would most people there. He’s playing the antisemitism card, and it’s vindictive. I can tell you for certain, nothing like that was shouted."    

Great Craic

(7) A new analysis of Abdijit Banerjee, Esther Duflo and Garima Sharma (predictably) based on a randomized control trial establishes that the best way end poverty is to indeed transfer a large amount of monetary assets to poor people. Ten years after the initial transfer, their study shows that households retain sizable and sustainable improvements in terms of consumption, food security, income and health.

Go figure.

(8) Here you can see snow falling on some sequoias. Pretty dope.

Have a great weekend. Will be off for the holidays (and finishing up a major writing project).

Thanks for reading, and special thanks to all those who have been kind enough to make a financial contribution. On the latter point, I should add that I decided (and finally figured out how) to make this all free going forward, so let me know if you are still being billed.


Colin Powers

Colin received his PhD from Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in 2020. He is a two-time Fulbright Fellow.