I spent yesterday afternoon at the New School in New York listening to a panel of Senators and one Congressman discussing what to do about the US healthcare system. They were sponsors of rival bills in Congress intended to reform the expensive and inefficient status quo.

Aiming off for the fact that it was a New York academic audience confronting a bunch of inside-the-Beltway reformers, a few things struck me. Read more

Pumpkin_2Some things do not change. It is late October and there are pumpkins and cobwebs on stoops in Brooklyn.

On Saturday night, my New York subway carriage was filled with people in Halloween costumes, including a tall Frankenstein with a bolt through his neck who stood up and roared to general applause. Read more

Oneal_2 Now seems a good time to revisit my post earlier this month on which bank chief executive was most likely to lose his job: Chuck Prince of Citigroup, Jimmy Cayne of Bear Stearns or Stan O’Neal of Merrill Lynch.

At the time, Mr O’Neal was in a fairly distant third place, but that was before Merrill bumped up its already enormous debt write-down and gave the impression of not knowing what it was doing. Read more

Further to my New York-London round trip last week (and my NyLon column), I thought I should note my impressions of the journey, given that there is so much controversy at the moment in New York about whether US immigration and security measures are putting off visitors.

Michael Bloomberg, New York City’s mayor, regularly expresses concern that the country does not give a warm enough welcome to people visiting, or wanting to come and work in, New York. Justin Fox of Time argued the other day that, although he ranks New York a better city to live in, immigration officials here ought to be friendlier.

So here is my off-the-cuff comparison:

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Richard Florida picks up my mention of the growing role of city-states in the global economy on his blog. He mentions an interesting study that suggests that 40 mega-regions with output of more than $100bn produce more than 66 per cent of world output.

Almost as interesting is that the study identifies economically powerful regions by night-time light emissions seen on satellite photographs. It is always fascinating to look at such photographs and see, for example, the dispiriting lack of night-time light across vast swathes of Africa.

Last_tycoons It was a fun evening at the FT and Goldman Sachs Business Book awards dinner in London last night and congratulations to Bill Cohan, whose book The Last Tycoons beat off stiff competition from Alan Greenspan’s Age of Turbulence and the rest of the shortlist to win.

In the three years I have been on the judging panel, I think this was the hardest decision for the panel to make. But I am glad Bill won for a couple of reasons. Read more


Column on the Financial Times comment page, October 25th Read more

Lagarde_iv I have just walked a few blocks over to see Christine Lagarde, the French finance minister, at the annual conference in New York organised by Paris Europlace, the organisation that promotes the city and the country as an investment and finance centre.

I last bumped into Ms Lagarde in Davos in January when she was the trade minister but she has since been promoted to become the only woman finance minister in the G8 by Nicolas Sarkozy.

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Last night, I went to see Michael Clayton. I do like a thriller in which a lone figure takes on the evil force of the dark corporation and George Clooney, in the title role of the lawyer-fixer who gets an attack of conscience does not disappoint.

It made me think about why corporations and corporate executives are almost always villains in Hollywood films. There is a grand tradition of the sinister corporation reaching back to Soylent Green, a sci-fi tale about a company that makes biscuits out of people. Sorry if I have just given away the plot, but you have had 30 years to see it.

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Column on the Financial Times comment page, October 21st

There was something troubling about this week’s initiatives by Hank Paulson, the US Treasury secretary, to address the country’s deteriorating housing market and the credit and liquidity problems that this is still causing for banks. Read more


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Book review on the Financial Times Business Life page, October 18th

Blue Blood and Mutiny: the Fight for the Soul of Morgan Stanley
By Patricia Beard,
William Morrow $26.95 Read more

Bluetooth_headsetI remember some years ago talking to an American friend who was visiting London and was astonished to find everyone walking around talking into a mobile phone. What is the point of this craze? she asked. Why should people need to keep talking in this bizarre way?

We know where that ended up. Americans followed Europeans into the mobile phone craze and are just as prone to whip them out at any opportunity now.

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Ailes Critics of Rupert Murdoch often talk as if News Corporation exerts a monolithic right-wing grip on all of its media properties. Of course, there is something to it: Mr Murdoch is indeed a right-wing libertarian and is not afraid to express his views to his newspaper editors.

But the older that Mr Murdoch gets the more ambiguity emerges within News Corp. Peter Chernin, News Corp’s president, is a Democrat and Mr Murdoch has enthusiastically adopted his son James’ concerns about global warming. He has committed News Corp to reducing its carbon footprint.

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Bladerunner I’ve always liked Blade Runner, the 1982 Ridley Scott film based on Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? I remember watching with awe in a London cinema the opening pan over a futuristic Los Angeles lit by flares.

But this is ridiculous. Read more

Here is an intriguing indication – less obvious than the credit squeeze – that the markets are due for a fall. It comes from Ray Soifer, a veteran bank analyst who has for several years tracked the proportion of Harvard MBA graduates who go into finance.

Mr Soifer argues that, when 30 per cent or more of a single year’s graduating Harvard class goes into finance, it is a "sell" signal for stock markets. He does not say why in his report but presumably they flock to Wall Street when times there are very good. And when they are very good, they are due for a fall.

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NiderhofferThe New Yorker this week has a fascinating piece on the second downfall of Victor Niederhoffer, the hedge fund manager and self-proclaimed "speculator".

John Cassidy, the writer, started work when Mr Niederhoffer was an intriguing character who had come to grief in the Thai financial crisis but appeared to have recovered his reputation and learned from bitter experience.

Then came the summer of 2007 and Cassidy’s subject fell apart again (financially, if not emotionally) in front of him. Mr Niederhoffer had to close his flagship hedge fund because of huge losses it suffered in the extreme market conditions.

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Anybody who uses a PC becomes used to bizarre error messages appearing every so often. But the one that just flashed up in front of me as I was used Lotus Notes takes some beating.

It was a big yellow exclamation mark followed by the words: "Attempt to execute nested form events". Read more

Starbucks_cup A word of praise for my local coffee shop. It does indeed serve good coffee but another reason I like it is that it offers it in sizes "small, medium or large". Yes, that’s right. Not "tall, grande and venti". Or "large, extra-large and super-size".

My colleague Tim Harford has written elsewhere about how one now has to ask specially for a short cappucino in Starbucks as if is a samizdat item. The menu starts with tall.  Read more


Column on the Financial Times comment page, October 11th Read more