Finley Peter Dunne explains High Finance


While I imagine many people are interested in How To Understand International Finance these days, I thought I’d step back to the turn of the 20th century and Finley Peter Dunne’s Mister Dooley, who in Mr Dooley’s Philosophy explains high finance. And yes, I understand, the dialect writing makes it harder to read. It’s worth it.

Mister Dooley on: HIGH FINANCE

“I THINK,” said Mr. Dooley, “I’ll go down to th’ stock yards an’ buy a dhrove iv Steel an’ Wire stock.”

“Where wud ye keep it?” asked the unsuspecting Hennessy.

“I’ll put it out on th’ vacant lot,” said Mr. Dooley, “an’ lave it grow fat by atin’ ol’ bur-rd cages an’ tin cans. I’ll milk it hard, an’ whin ’tis dhry I’ll dispose iv it to th’ widdies an’ orphans iv th’ Sixth Ward that need household pets. Be hivins, if they give me half a chanst, I’ll be as gr-reat a fi-nanceer as anny man in Wall sthreet.

“Th’ reason I’m so confident iv th’ value iv Steel an’ Wire stock, Hinnissy, is they’re goin’ to hur-rl th’ chairman iv th’ comity into jail. That’s what th’ pa-apers calls a ray iv hope in th’ clouds iv dipression that’ve covered th’ market so long. `Tis always a bull argymint. `Snowplows common was up two pints this mornin’ on th’ rumor that th’ prisidint was undher ar-rest.’ `They was a gr-reat bulge in Lobster preferred caused be th’ report that instead iv declarin’ a dividend iv three hundhred per cint. th’ comp’ny was preparin’ to imprison th’ boord iv directors.’ `We sthrongly ricommind th’ purchase iv Con and Founder. This comp’ny is in ixcillint condition since th’ hangin’ iv th’ comity on reorganization.’

“What’s th’ la-ad been doin’, Hinnissy? He’s been lettin’ his frinds in on th’ groun’ flure — an’ dhroppin’ thim into th’ cellar. Ye know Cassidy, over in th’ Fifth, him that was in th’ ligislachure? Well, sir, he was a gr-reat frind iv this man. They met down in Springfield whin th’ la-ad had some thing he wanted to get through that wud protect th’ widdies an’ orphans iv th’ counthry again their own avarice, an’ he must’ve handed Cassidy a good argymint, f’r Cassidy voted f’r th’ bill, though threatened with lynchin’ be stockholders iv th’ rival comp’ny. He come back here so covered with dimons that wan night whin he was standin’ on th’ rollin’ mill dock, th’ captain iv th’ Eliza Brown mistook his shirt front f’r th’ bridge lights an’ steered into a soap facthry on th’ lee or gas-house shore.

“Th’ man made a sthrong impression on Cassidy. ‘Twas : `As me frind Jawn says,’ or `I’ll ask Jawn about that,’ or `I’m goin’ downtown to-day to find out what Jawn advises.’ He used to play a dollar on th’ horses or sivin-up f’r th’ dhrinks, but afther he met Jawn he wanted me to put in a tick er, an’ he wud set in here figurin’ with a piece iv chalk on how high Wire’d go if hoopskirts come into fashion again. `Give me a dhrop iv whisky,’ he says, ` f’r I’m inthrested in Distillers,’ he says, `an’ I’d like to give it a shove,’ he says. `How’s Gas?’ he says. `A little weak, to-day,’ says I. `’Twill be sthronger,’ he says. `If it ain’t,’ says I, `I’ll take out th’ meter an’ connect th’ pipe with th’ ventilator. I might as well bur-rn th’ wind free as buy it,’ I says.

“A couple iv weeks ago he see Jawn an’ they had a long talk about it. `Cassidy,’ says Jawn, `ye’ve been a good frind iv mine,’ he says, an’ I’d do annything in the wurruld t’r ye, no matther what it cost ye,’ he says. `If ye need a little money to tide over th’ har-rd times till th’ ligislachure meets again buy’ — an’ he whispered in Cassidy’s ear. `But,’ he says, `don’t tell annywan. ‘Tis a good thing, but I want to keep it bottled up,’ he says.

“Thin Jawn took th’ thrain an’ begun confidin’ his secret to a few select frinds. He give it to th’ conductor on th’ thrain, an’ th’ porther, an’ th’ can dy butcher; he handed it to a switchman that got on th’ platform at South Bend, an’ he stopped off at Detroit long enough to tell about it to the deepo’ policeman. He had a sign painted with th’ tip on it an’ hung it out th’ window, an’ he found a man that carrid a thrombone in a band goin’ over to Buffalo, an’ he had him set th’ good thing to music an’ play it through th’ thrain. Whin he got to New York he stopped at the Waldorf Asthoria, an’ while th’ barber was powdhrin’ his face with groun’ dimons Jawn tol’ him to take th’ money he was goin’ to buy a policy ticket with an’ get in on th’ good thing. He tol’ th’ bootblack, th’ waiter, th’ man at th’ news-stand, th’ clerk behind th’ desk, an’ th’ bartinder in his humble abode. He got up a stereopticon show with pitchers iv a widow-an-orphan befure an’ afther wirin’, an’ he put an advertisement in all th’ pa-apers tellin’ how his stock wud make weak men sthrong. He had th’ tip sarved hot in all th’ resthrants in Wall sthreet, an’ told it confidintially to an open-air meetin’ in Madison Square. `They’se nawthin,’ he says, `that does a tip so much good as to give it circulation,’ he says.’ I think, be this time,’ he says, `all me frinds knows how to proceed, but — Great Hivins!’ he says. `What have I done? Whin all the poor people go to get th’ stock they won’t be anny f’r thim. I can not lave thim thus in th’ lurch. Me reputation as a gintleman an’ a fi-nanceer is at stake,’ he says. `Rather than see these brave people starvin’ at th’ dure f’r a morsel iv common or preferred, I’ll — I’ll sell thim me own stock,’ he says. An’ he done it. He done it, Hinnissy, with unfalthrin’ courage an’ a clear eye. He sold thim his stock, an’ so’s they might get what was left at a raysonable price, he wrote a confidintial note to th’ pa-apers tellin’ thim th’ stock wasn’t worth thirty cints a cord, an’ now, be hivins, they’re talkin’ iv puttin’ him in a common jail or pinitinchry pre ferred. Th’ ingratichood iv man.”

“But what about Cassidy?” Mr. Hennessy asked.

“Oh,” said Mr. Dooley, “he was in here las’ night. `How’s our old frind Jawn?’ says I. He said nawthin’. `Have ye seen ye’er collidge chum iv late?’ says I. `Don’t mintion that ma-an’s name,’ says he. `To think iv what I’ve done f’r him,’ he says, `an’ him to throw me down,’ he says. `Did ye play th’ tip?’ says I. `I did,’ says he. `How did ye come out?’ says I. `I haven’t a cint lift but me renommynation f’r th’ ligislachure,’ says he. `Well,’ says I, `Cassidy,’ I says, `ye’ve been up again what th’ pa-apers call hawt finance,’ I says. `What th’ divvle’s that?’ says he. `Well,’ says I, `it ain’t burglary, an’ it ain’t obtainin’ money be false pretinses, an’ it ain’t manslaughter,’ I says. `It’s what ye might call a judicious seliction fr’m th’ best features iv thim ar-rts,’ I says. `T’was too sthrong f’r me,’ he says. `It was,’ says I. `Ye’re about up to simple thransom climbin’, Cassidy,’ I says.”

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Robert Benchley: How To Understand International Finance


[ I am surprised I haven’t posted this before. In this essay from 1922’s Love Conquers All, Robert Benchley explains modern finance, using the example of the German war debt to make it all surprisingly clear. As with all great humor, it’s pretty true. ]

It is high time that someone came out with a clear statement of the international financial situation. For weeks and weeks officials have been rushing about holding conferences and councils and having their pictures taken going up and down the steps of buildings. Then, after each conference, the newspapers have printed a lot of figures showing the latest returns on how much Germany owes the bank. And none of it means anything.

Now there is a certain principle which has to be followed in all financial discussions involving sums over one hundred dollars. There is probably not more than one hundred dollars in actual cash in circulation today. That is, if you were to call in all the bills and silver and gold in the country at noon tomorrow and pile them up on the table, you would find that you had just about one hundred dollars, with perhaps several Canadian pennies and a few peppermint life-savers. All the rest of the money you hear about doesn’t exist. It is conversation-money. When you hear of a transaction involving $50,000,000 it means that one firm wrote “50,000,000” on a piece of paper and gave it to another firm, and the other firm took it home and said “Look, Momma, I got $50,000,000!” But when Momma asked for a dollar and a quarter out of it to pay the man who washed the windows, the answer probably was that the firm hadn’t got more than seventy cents in cash.

This is the principle of finance. So long as you can pronounce any number above a thousand, you have got that much money. You can’t work this scheme with the shoe-store man or the restaurant-owner, but it goes big on Wall Street or in international financial circles.

This much understood, we see that when the Allies demand 132,000,000,000 gold marks from Germany they know very well that nobody in Germany has ever seen 132,000,000,000 gold marks and never will. A more surprised and disappointed lot of boys you couldn’t ask to see than the Supreme Financial Council would be if Germany were actually to send them a money-order for the full amount demanded.

What they mean is that, taken all in all, Germany owes the world 132,000,000,000 gold marks plus carfare. This includes everything, breakage, meals sent to room, good will, everything. Now, it is understood that if they really meant this, Germany couldn’t even draw cards; so the principle on which the thing is figured out is as follows: (Watch this closely; there is a trick in it).

You put down a lot of figures, like this. Any figures will do, so long as you can’t read them quickly:

  • 132,000,000,000 gold marks
  • $33,000,000,000 on a current value basis
  • $21,000,000,000 on reparation account plus 12-1/2% yearly tax on German exports
  • 11,000,000,000 gold fish
  • $1.35 amusement tax
  • 866,000 miles. Diameter of the sun
  • 2,000,000,000
  • 27,000,000,000
  • 31,000,000,000

Then you add them together and subtract the number you first thought of. This leaves 11. And the card you hold in your hand is the seven of diamonds. Am I right?

The Perfect Crime


I’ve figured out the perfect crime for me to commit. It’s counterfeiting two-dollar (United States) bills and spending them (in the United States). Any cashier questioning the bills would go asking around and get told by some smug know-it-all legal tender pedant — there’s at least one in every store’s work shift — that there are so two-dollar bills, and while they’re rare they’re legitimate currency and you should feel stupid for not taking them, and maybe they’ll even point out those urban legends about Taco Bell giving you stuff (Taco Bell food) for free just to not bother them with two-dollar bills or how the mall’s cops laugh at people who think two-dollar bills are fakes. I don’t care about getting free Taco Bell food, but the principle is a good one.

Why this is really perfect is it’s perfect pedantry snipe bait: anyone ready to get all smug about knowing there are so two-dollar bills is going to be so busy showing how proud he is to accept them that he won’t suspect they’re fake. And if he does accept them and find they’re fake, he won’t tell anyone because it would be too humiliating to have his smug self-assurance of knowing that two-dollar bills are for real destroyed by turning them over to people who know that these two-dollar bills are not. By then, I’m long out of the store and have got my free books about Taco Bell.

Oh, except it wouldn’t work, because I’m a know-it-all legal tender pedant and so I know that I’d be unable to resist going back to the store and telling the legal tender pedant just how I put it over on him. And then he’d either turn me in or demand to be cut in on the scheme because it’s so good. So the whole thing is a failure. Now I can’t do anything with the idea. Too bad.

Numbers the August 2013 Way


I said last month I was going to carry on tracking numbers, even if some of them are kind of disappointments, such as the square root of five. The big number according to WordPress’s statistics counters. The number of views dropped from 375 in July to 349 in August, and I don’t have the excuse of a shorter month for that. The number of visitors also dropped from 178 to 141. But this does mean the number of pages per viewer has risen from 2.11 to 2.48, which is the highest on record. I may not be getting many readers in, but they’re reading more of me.

According to WordPress, the top articles of the past thirty days were:

  1. You Can Send Me Any Obsoleted Bills For Responsible Care in which I do some thinking about how to arrange money;
  2. What I Notice In Every Old Picture Of Me and what’s horribly wrong about all those pictures, based on the real actual me;
  3. Community Calendar: Streetlight Counting Day for a little event;
  4. Getting Started and my troubles with that;
  5. In Which I See Through A Chipmunk and the odd story of the squirrels and their comedy club develops; and
  6. Some Parts Of The Horse, a quick useful guide.

None of these was a top-five article last month (the last two were tied for most views). S J Perelman: Captain Future, Block That Kick! was tied for tenth place, so it’s staying popular. My top commenter is again Corvidae in the Fields, whom I thank for loyal readership, followed by Chiaroscuro, who just edges out Ervin Shlopnick, all friends loyal, true, and talkative.

I learned also how to find the most-commented-upon articles, which do include backlinks or trackbacks or whatever the heck they’re called. For this month the top five of those were:

  1. In Which I See Through A Chipmunk (as above);
  2. You Can Send Me Any Obsoleted Bills For Responsible Care (ibid);
  3. Comic Strip Celebrities Named (one from late July that was liked);
  4. Some Now-Forgotten HTML Tags (one of last month’s most popular bits);
  5. Fly The Little Skies (a short bit from late May and about the tiny airport in Trenton, New Jersey).

Once again the countries sending me the most visitors were the United States (268), Canada (8), and the United Kingdom (7). Countries sending only one visitor include Singapore, Chile, Peru, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Albania, Portland, Mexico, and France, so while I may be losing popularity in Sweden, Poland is holding steady.

It does strike me that the shorts, usually one or two hundred word pieces, get a lot more views than the weekly essays that aim at seven hundred words. This may be telling me something important about how I write.

Rethinking Money (Again)


You know, now that we have the whole idea of putting money in different denominations on the table, I realize there’s no need to reduce it to powers-of-two the way computer programmers think makes sense. Really any set of relatively prime numbers will do just fine in terms of being able to make amounts of money you really don’t need, because the charge at most convenience stores is $2.92 if you’re there at breakfast time, $11.25 if you’re there in the afternoon or evening picking up a few things, and at the fast food place is pretty much going to be $7.14 for lunch plus another $1.42 if you go back for a McFlurry after.

So since we’re completely free to choose, let me design a set of currency that comes in denominations of 3, 7, 11, 24, 31, and 55 dollars, with additional bills worth negative two, negative thirteen, and negative twenty-nine dollars to make the vending machines happy. That should fix things.

You Can Send Me Any Obsoleted Bills For Responsible Care


You know, it’s just a convention that we (I’m talking here about the United States) put out money in denominations of one and five and ten and twenty dollars, plus some other highly fictional amounts like fifty or a hundred or even two dollars. There’s no reason we couldn’t do it in a more orderly fashion, by which is meant the way computer programmers would do it, which is in denominations of one, two, four, eight, sixteen, and so on. Then an ordinary transaction could be much more logically handled, like this:

“Hundred and forty dollars, all right … uh … here’s a 64-dollar bill, and … 140 minus 64 is … more than 64, right? Well, I guess I have a 32 here and that’s … 140 minus 32 is … wait, 32 and 64 is … something and then that away from 140 is … uh … I could swear I had a couple 8-dollar bills when I set out this morning and … uh … OK, 140 minus 64 has to be like 86 … 76, thanks, and then from that I take away 32 and … no, I put in 32 and … ”

All right, so we’d have a couple more people who finish buying things at the supermarket by curling up in a ball and weeping, but that’s why the rest of us have credit cards for crying out loud.

It’s Lovable, But Is It Parkable?


Well, here’s another investment prospect I’m not sure about. It purports to solve one of the big problems of cities, that there’s nowhere to park except for parking garages. But nobody likes parking garages, because they look like parking garages, and once you’re past the age where you’re struck with wonder at how you drive around one way and you’re going up the decks and you drive the other way and you’re going down and somehow it doesn’t look like you’re going over the same decks you don’t even look at them with childlike wonder anymore. So, this company’s figuring to make parking decks that don’t look like parking decks: outside they may look like a giant roller skate (as one that they installed in Albany, New York, while the city council wasn’t looking does), and inside they might look like safari theme restaurants (to use an example from Des Moines, but not that Des Moines; it was just one of Dese Moines). They figure growth prospects are good as long as people keep needing cars and they don’t get taken over by a performance art troupe. Must consider.

Peter Finley Dunne: Avarice and Generosity


[ I’d like to offer another piece from Peter Finley Dunne’s Observations by Mr Dooley today, this one, about exactly what the title says. ]

Avarice and Generosity

“I niver blame a man f’r bein’ avaricyous in his ol’ age. Whin a fellow gits so he has nawthin’ else to injye, whin ivrybody calls him ‘sir’ or ‘mister,’ an’ young people dodge him an’ he sleeps afther dinner, an’ folks say he’s an ol’ fool if he wears a buttonhole bokay an’ his teeth is only tinants at will an’ not permanent fixtures, ’tis no more thin nach’ral that he shud begin to look around him f’r a way iv keepin’ a grip on human s’ciety. It don’t take him long to see that th’ on’y thing that’s vin’rable in age is money an’ he pro-ceeds to acquire anything that happens to be in sight, takin’ it where he can find it, not where he wants it, which is th’ way to accumylate a fortune. Money won’t prolong life, but a few millyons judicyously placed in good banks an’ occas’nally worn on th’ person will rayjooce age. Poor ol’ men are always older thin poor rich men. In th’ almshouse a man is decrepit an’ mournful-lookin’ at sixty, but a millyonaire at sixty is jus’ in th’ prime iv life to a frindly eye, an’ there are no others.

Continue reading “Peter Finley Dunne: Avarice and Generosity”

Money-Making is Also a Service


I’ve been doing some more reading about good investments, since I plan to make one someday, probably by accident. The strong candidates are all in services, which is a strong growth sector of the economy because everyone’s discovered that goods just don’t cut it. The problem is that whatever good you might try making, it turns out it’s cheaper to have it made somewhere else and shipped to you instead. Which would be fine for that somewhere else except they’ve found it’s just as easy to get the good made somewhere else and shipped to them, and so on. The last place in the world that actually made any goods — Snipatuit Pond, Massachusetts — closed up shop late last year when it was noticed that it hasn’t existed since 1946 and now everyone’s just in the business of getting the goods already made shipped to them to send out again in the hopes of making good on their good-making contracts. Shipping, of course, is a service.

Investment Advice As I Got It


“Your problem with money,” explained the advisor on the phone, “is that you aren’t doing the things that make it grow into more money.”

I granted this. “But I do make the effort. I give my money plenty of food, fresh water, let it winter over in the greenbackhouse … ”

“The problem is your investments. Have you figured out any that give you a better return than Mallo Cup redemption points? If I know you, probably not, because you keep losing the Mallo Cup cards after licking the mallow off them.”

This did sound like someone who knew me. “What should I be investing in, then?”

Continue reading “Investment Advice As I Got It”