Free stuff!

We’ve posted a bunch of resources that you may find interesting. They’re all free. So go get ’em. Goodies include:

  • [PDF] Making presentations that stick
  • [podcast] Learning from urban legends: Creating ideas that spread
  • [podcast] Making you stick: How to stand out
  • [PDF] Teaching that sticks

The End of the Financial World As We Know It

Here is the first must-read article of 2009: an analysis of the breakdown of the financial system, from subprime to Madoff, written by Michael Lewis (Liar’s Poker, Moneyball) and David Einhorn (who runs a huge hedge fund called Greenlight Capital). It’s the first crisis-analysis I’ve seen that seems worthy of the task. It’s smart, opinionated, and convincing, and best of all, it includes solutions, which have been in rather short supply. Rope aside 30 minutes and read this long piece in its entirety. Here’s a random snippet:

Over the last 20 years American financial institutions have taken on more and more risk, with the blessing of regulators, with hardly a word from the rating agencies, which, incidentally, are paid by the issuers of the bonds they rate. Seldom if ever did Moody’s or Standard & Poor’s say, “If you put one more risky asset on your balance sheet, you will face a serious downgrade.”

The American International Group, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, General Electric and the municipal bond guarantors Ambac Financial and MBIA all had triple-A ratings. (G.E. still does!) Large investment banks like Lehman and Merrill Lynch all had solid investment grade ratings. It’s almost as if the higher the rating of a financial institution, the more likely it was to contribute to financial catastrophe. But of course all these big financial companies fueled the creation of the credit products that in turn fueled the revenues of Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s.

These oligopolies, which are actually sanctioned by the S.E.C., didn’t merely do their jobs badly. They didn’t simply miss a few calls here and there. In pursuit of their own short-term earnings, they did exactly the opposite of what they were meant to do: rather than expose financial risk they systematically disguised it.

Outlaw 401(k) plans?

I’m a fan of Dan Solin’s no-nonsense writing about investment. Today he makes a strong case that employees who participate in 401(k) plans are underserved and overcharged:

The 401(k) system is a disgrace. Employers get paid off in the form of subsidies to select brokers and advisors who control the investment options in the plan. They, in turn, get paid off by fund families and insurance companies which limit employees’ investment options to costly, under-performing funds.

The fox guarding the hen house is the big winner. They have a vested interest in steering employees in the wrong direction. That’s why there is no standardized investment education.

It gets worse:

The hidden costs in these plans were starkly illustrated in recent testimony before Congress. The mutual fund industry was aptly describe as the world’s largest “skimming operation”. It views the $12 trillion in 401(k) assets as a “trough” from which it siphons off an “… excessive slice of the nation’s household, college, and retirement savings.”

Daily Show statistics

The other night Jon Stewart mentioned that if you commit murder, you’ve got a 48% chance of going to jail. Versus if you’re an Illinois Governor, you’ve got a 50% chance. (4 out of the last 8 Governors have ended up in the clink.)

Mick Jagger meets Polka

Hey, life isn’t just about agonizing over nuclear arsenals. That’s the majority of it, probably, but then there’s also Mick Jagger doing a Polka Dance!

(And here’s some additional comic relief — advertising-themed — from Patrick Scullin, the creator of the MickPolka video.  You’ve got to love a piece that starts with the line, “If you’re like me, you’re married to my wife and have two sons.”)