Ancient finances, Alexander the Great chapter

Image: Flickr by Carole Raddato
Image: Flickr by Carole Raddato

Image: Flickr by Carole Raddato

The Wall Street Journal has a delightful review by James Romm:  Conqueror and Squanderer. The review is of The Treasures of Alexander the Great: How One Man’s Wealth Shaped the World by Frank Holt.

I have a growing interest in ancient finances. Try thinking about how to run a large operation, such as an empire or an army on campaign when there is no banking system and no means of storing wealth other than controlling territory or possessing gold or silver. There is no way to gain any sort of liquidity. Your ability to buy something is limited to the gold in your hand.

How you pay your army today here in the field or buy supplies for 20,000 troops when your wealth is in the form of tons of gold which is a two-month march behind you?

There are more issues revealed by the Panama Papers leaks than just tax evasion. Some contrarian opinions on how to look at offshore banking.

Image courtesy of
Image courtesy of

The primary focus in media coverage is on tax evasion. There are other ways to look at the offshore industry. There are more and deeper legal issues involved. The tax evasion concerns under discussion are just the starting point on the list of issues that ought to generate irritation.

Following articles provide a variety of alternative views of what is going on in the Panama Papers leaks. That the articles I mention contradict each other illustrates my point that there are more issues involved than just tax evasion.

4/7 – Jason Zweig at Wall Street Journal – Panama Papers: A History of Tax Evasion from Ancient Rome to the French Revolution to 19th-Century New Jersey

Question for you to ponder: Why have people been hiding their money for over 2,000 years?

In 1934 when Switzerland made it a crime for a banker to reveal a customer’s name, they were a bit behind the curve. Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, and Bermuda were tax havens a couple of decades earlier. As a depressing note, the Swiss offered confidentiality for a fee all the way back in 1789.

Why I am so optimistic – 3

The future is so bright we need sunglasses. Image courtesy of
The future is so bright we need sunglasses. Image courtesy of

The number of people working in manufacturing has been declining for many years. Those job losses will continue at the same time as technology disrupts other industries causing the loss of more jobs.

This is not a new concept. Technological advances have devastated farm employment over the last 150 years.

(Cross-post from my other blog, Nonprofit Update.)

Prof. Thomas Tunstall pondered Where the New Jobs Will Come From. Sub headline on his 11/4/15 article said:

In 2007 iPhone application developers didn’t exist. By 2011 Apple had $15 billion in mobile-app revenues.

Consider the percentage of the population employed in agriculture over time: …

Why I am so optimistic – 2

200 years ago subsistence agriculture was the norm across the planet. Photo courtesy of
200 years ago brutal poverty was the norm across the planet. Not so today. Photo courtesy of

Previously mentioned when I look at long-term economic trends I am incredibly optimistic. When I look at the headlines this morning or news from the political world, I am very discouraged.

(Cross-post from my other blog, Nonprofit Update.)

To see one illustration of why I am so optimistic for the long-term, check out a column by Glenn Reynolds at USA Today: Actually, things are pretty good / Free markets and free inquiry have changed the historic ‘norms’ of poverty and violence.

Earlier post summarized in one paragraph what caused this radical improvement.

Here are a final two points from the article I’d like to highlight:

Second, it is possible for us collectively to turn back history.

Why I am so optimistic – 1

200 years ago subsistence agriculture was the norm across the planet. Photo courtesy of
200 years ago brutal poverty was the norm across the planet. Not so today. Photo courtesy of

When I look at the political news or any news in general I get very pessimistic about our future.

In contrast, when I look at the amazing things happening beyond the headlines in today’s newspaper I feel incredibly optimistic.

Consider that private companies are developing the technology for space exploration. Consider the energy revolution created by hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling. Consider radical changes in technology that are making so many things easier, faster, and cheaper. Consider that anyone that wants to do so can publish their own book, distribute their own music, or create a feature movie.

As a tiny illustration, look at my company and pastimes. Technology allows me to run a high quality CPA practice without any staff. In my spare time I am a publisher and journalist. Anyone in Europe or North America or most of Asia could easily do the same and at minimal cost.

(Cross post from my other blog, Nonprofit Update.)

When I look at long-term economic trends I am incredibly optimistic.

For yet one more explanation of why that is the case, consider a column by Glenn Reynolds at USA Today: Actually, things are pretty good / Free markets and free inquiry have changed the historic ‘norms’ of poverty and violence.

Until relatively recently, an illness-filled short life of dirt-eating poverty was the normal condition for practically everybody on the planet. In the last 100 or 200 years life has gotten radically better for practically everyone.

The downside of government services. Postal delivery slowing. Hyperinflation.

image courtesy of
Image courtesy of

Mail delivery slowing down in the U.S.

Inflation accelerating in Venezuela.

Slowing mail delivery is not just in your imagination….

8/26 – Washington Post – Post Office can’t even meet its own lower standards as late mail soars – The Post Office reduced its goals for delivery time on first class mail. Now an internal report shows a 50% jump in late delivery during 2015 even with the more lax standard. …

5 million views of a rap video on economics? Yeah. 5 million. On economics.

Over 5.1M views of the first video in the series and just a few more views to cross the 3M point for the second. Check them out for entertaining, creative ways of explaining the views of Hayek and Keynes. Great contrast between the two.





Previously mentioned these videos here: …

Digital currencies are radical change on the horizon for banking and credit cards. (Radical change #2)

There is radical change all around us and more on the way. I know that. My blind spot is figuring out how that will affect my audit firm.

(Cross-posted from my other blog, Outrun Change.)

Here’s one part of radical change I can see on the horizon:

1-24 – Wall Street Journal – Bitcoin and the Digital-Currency Revolution / For all bitcoin’s growing pains, it represents the future of money and global finance.For a brain stretcher on digital currency, check out the article. Focus is on Bitcoin, which is merely the starting point in a revolution of disintermediation.

Just like money funds disintermediated (that means cut out of the picture) bank deposits in the distant ‘80s, bitcoin and other yet-to-be-invented digital currencies will disintermediate a huge portion of the financial system.

Picture the long series of transactions when you buy a cup of coffee at the corner shop with your credit card (this is a long quote cited under fair use, oh, also to promote the book it is extracted from): …

Knowledge is the source of value and wealth

Gotta’ question for you – How much does the economy weigh?

Can’t answer?

Okay. How ‘bout this – Does much does the economy weight today versus 1950?

Before you answer, consider that I just counted 220 books on the bookshelves in my office. I currently have 195 books on my Kindle.

Now, how much does the economy weight today compared to 60 years ago?

Frauds are a cancer destroying capitalism

My previous post described a comment by Sam Antar during his CPE session that the fines arising from of a long list of financial fiascos are essentially a tax on illegal behavior.

He made another comment in that session that I wanted to describe in detail. He said these frauds are a cancer destroying capitalism.

I had opportunity to visit with him a few weeks ago and asked him to expand on this idea. I will summarize what we discussed.

Cancer destroying capitalism

He indicated the foundation of capitalism is reliability of financial information. If you can trust financial information you read then we can do business with each other.

He says the extent of frauds we have seen are leading people to lose faith in financial information. That leads to losing faith in their counterparties. Therefore people have less trust. In financial terms that means the risk premiums for transactions go up. The interest rate built into a transaction increases and the return drops.

At its core, capitalism is moral

At the most foundational level, capitalism is moral.

The only way to succeed in the long-term is to treat customers well and honestly. That will provide money to the company to continue paying staff and vendors as well as leaving a profit for owners.

If a company does not deliver a quality product or service that customers value with higher utility to them than the cost to provide by the company, then the company won’t be around long.

At the core level, it is moral to satisfy your customers with profit left over.

CPA Ron Baker makes this point more eloquently than me in his LinkedIn article, Are Corporations Socially Responsible?

By the way, the answer is yes.

If a corporation provides value to customers, both the company and customer will be better off after the transaction than before. That is a positive social value.

Doing so, within the framework of the law (as Milton Freidman points out) is the duty of a business and it is also highly socially responsible.

More good stuff for auditors – 8/18

A few links and comments of interest to auditors. Trained investigators can’t read when someone is lying; too-big-to-fail/jail/govern is just too big; and update on lease accounting.

6/10 – FBI – The Truth About Lying: What Investigators Need to Know – Detecting lies, especially in high stakes interviews (like a criminal investigation) is far more difficult that interviewers and investigators realize. There are complex factors behind why people react they way they do. Not telling the truth is merely one of many causes. Vast interpersonal differences create more complications.

If you try to discern truthfulness during your auditing interviews, might be worth reading the article. Since trained pros can’t do it very well, us CPAs might want to reconsider how well we do at detecting liars.

Corporate welfare for Too-Big-To-Fail banks

When the vice chairman of the FDIC is concerned about the subsidies going to the too-big-to-fail banks and calls it corporate welfare, you know something is wrong.

The generous federal insurance gives the large banks an advantage. The extra-large unlimited insurance that ran until last December multiplied the advantage. Their too-big-to-fail status means they can take more risks that otherwise. They need not fear heavy enforcement action because the U.S. Attorney General has said what many previously realized – enforcement action against them would create market turmoil.  The combination of retail and commercial banking means the deposit insurance is subsidizing them taking positions in the market.

Those issues and more are outlined in Mr. Thomas Hoenig’s article in the Washington Post – Stop subsidizing Wall Street.