Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Something the Wall Street Occupiers May Be Overlooking

While I understand the frustration with the economy that spawned the Occupy Wall Street and other Occupy movements around the world, their protests are in large part misplaced. The movement would make much more sense if Wall Street were a monolithic institution or even a giant conspiracy that could be convinced, forced or legislated to change their evil ways. But Wall Street is not a monolith, nor are conspirators acting in conscious concert. Rather what the Occupy protestors are demonstrating against is crowd economic behavior, that is the cumulative effects of independently made individual decisions being made by hundreds of thousands of businesses, and which is virtually impossible to change or control.

The particular crowd economic behavior in question is the unwillingness of business to spend its accumulated cash to hire additional workers, or for that matter, even to pay it out to shareholders as dividends. The reason is that businesses are scared stiff of economic prospects and are unwilling to do anything that commits themselves to future expenditures. This is no conspiracy theory--each individual business has independently made this decision to hunker down and wait out a potential double dip recession. One could just as well put the blame for the current economy on consumers, who themselves are afraid of economic prospects, which itself leads to lack of spending and economic uncertainty. Nobody blames the consumer for being so skittish, and business is merely reacting in the exact same manner.

A good example of the futility in trying to affect crowd economic behavior was demonstrated right after the 9-11 terrorist attacks. World markets were closed immediately after the attacks to prevent panic selling, and remained closed for several days afterwards to let the world settle down. During that period of market closure, investors were urged by politicians not to sell their stocks when the markets reopened, as doing so would be playing into the hands of the terrorists, whose attack goals were at least in part tied to crippling the world economy. So the financial markets finally opened and stocks plunged, staying down for an extended period of time, as millions of investors each made the decision to flee to investments that were safer than stocks.

Indeed it's absolutely laughable when comparing the economic realities to some of the actions of the Occupy protestors. There was a noisy demonstration last week outside my office window with dozens of protestors gathered around the local branch of Bank of America. Bank of America is an especially good target for opponents of evil and greed since they are one of the leading mortgage lenders in California. However, a better term to describe Bank of America instead of evil or greedy is stupid, as they made the deliberate decision to acquire Countrywide Mortgage after the recent economic meltdown had begun. Indeed the real question is will Bank of America survive in the long run. Their stupidity is reflected in its stock price which has plummeted to long term lows, and which led me to post on Facebook in my description of the demonstration that perhaps the demonstrators were not from the Occupy group, but rather were Bank of America shareholders protesting the steep drop in Bank of America's stock price.

Another striking comment was made on the CBS radio network news which interviewed a protestor who explained his presence at an Occupy demonstration by the fact that he worked for American Airlines and "had not received a raise in nine years." Well those who follow the financial news know that the current speculation about American Airlines is whether they might be filing for bankruptcy before the end of the year (not likely, but still significant that the topic is even being broached), not what kind of raises they are going to give their employees.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Another Rudy Story

Although we hear the term "student athletes" used a lot, and the term may be relevant for non-revenue sports, for the major college sports of football and basketball most of the players are at least semi-paid semi-professionals. It is true that some players start out as nonscholarship walk-ons, but even there most of them are recruited walk-ons, given preferred admission to the university if not a scholarship. And once in a while an unrecruited walk on tries out for the team and makes the team, occasionally turning into a star, such as Mike Sherrard at UCLA back in the 1980s.

However, for a player without playing aspirations to join a major university's football team, literally plucked out of the student body, at the end of his college career, is almost unprecedented. But that is the case with UCLA placekicker Tyler Gonzalez, whose only previous brush with college sports was as a student manager of the soccer team. Obviously it takes a perfect storm of circumstances for this kind of event to occur. In this case the circumstances were a combination of injuries and unexpectedly poor performances by the scholarship kicker, Kip Smith and injuries to walk-on backup kicker Joe Roberts. UCLA still had a talented kicker in Jeff Locke, who is also a top notch punter and kickoff specialist. But a new reserve kicker was needed so the call went out to the student body. One of the football managers knew that his roommate had been place kicker in high school four years previously. And Tyler Gonzalez would have loved to play soccer or football at UCLA, but he was not Division 1 caliber in either sport. So Gonzalez, a senior, went to the tryout, and when he made a field goal with the entire team watching, he was awarded a berth on the team

Just making the team was amazing, being written up in all of the local newspapers. But with Jeff Locke doing a credible job of place kicking on top of his other duties, Gonzalez was unlikely to see game time. Still I saw him warming up before the game before the games at the Rose Bowl and when I went up to the Stanford game, so at least he was getting accustomed to the atmosphere of being at the stadium with the team. Then Locke's placekicing sputtered, missing PATs and field goals. The different technique needed for place kicking was affecting him. So the coaches announced last week that Gonzalez, based on his accuracy in practice, would do extra points and short field goals against Washington State.

By game day, the Gonzalez story was big news. On the national network telecast of the game on Fox, the studio pre-game lead-in story was Gonzalez. Host Kevin Frazier invited viewers to tweet their thoughts about the soccer manager-kicker using the tag #CanHeKick. Co-host Marcus Allen literally could not keep a straight face over the thought of someone "washing soccer uniforms the week before" doing the kicking in this game. Meanwhile UCLA fans like myself were anxious. What if the game came down to a PAT or short field goal. The players said they knew Gonzalez would be nervous kicking in actual game conditions and they were trying to keep hin calm.

At first it seemed like it wouldn't matter, as Washington State marched up and down the field against UCLA, holding the ball for over 12 minutes in the first quarter to UCLA's 2 minutes plus in two "three and out" possessions. Miraculously, though, UCLA was only down 6-0 as all two WSU drives inside the UCLA 10 yard line netted the Cougars were two short field goals. Then when Kevin Prince replaced the injured Richard Brehaut in the second quarter, the Bruins scored a TD to tie the game 6-6. Gonzalez comes in to kick the PAT and it's perfect.

Bruin fans were so delirious to take the lead in a game in which they had been seemingly so badly outplayed that they probably didn't notice the activity on the field. Gonzalez' UCLA teammates mobbed him. And a big defensive lineman ran onto the field and carried Gonzalez off the field. Just like Rudy.