If Everyone Thinks the Same…

Clowns, acrobats, aerialists…the circus can be an interesting place.

Over the weekend I watched the performance of a different type of circus: a miniature one.

Included at the Alexander Calder exhibition in the NGV in Melbourne, there was a film showing Calder perform his unique circus, something he did often in the 1920s.

For this, Calder handcrafted close to 70 miniature figurines with any type of material he could find: wire, cloth, paper.

There is no question Calder was a creative.

Born in a family of artists, he tried to move away from the family trade by studying mechanical engineering. That didn’t last long though, and he soon went back to art.

Yet his mechanical engineering degree helped him make his circus miniatures perform audacious tricks.

Calder also refused to accept the common notion at the time that paintings and sculptures were above other forms of art. While he did create some of these, he is better known for his circus, and his mobile art.

To say the least, Calder was an innovator.

A couple of things this week made me think about Calder.

The first was that markets dropped on the escalation in the US and China trade war. Fear spread quickly on the news. The VIX, or fear index, spiked and the ASX lost billions in value in only two days.

This comes after the US Federal Reserve disappointed markets by lowering rates by 0.25% — markets were expecting a 0.50% cut — and assured this isn’t opening the door to more cuts.

And the news that negative yielding debt has reached US$15 trillion, or 25% of the government bond market. That is, investors are lending governments money and getting back less money for it. The amount of negative yielding debt has doubled since December last year.

Things are changing.

We are seeing a decline in globalisation. The US and China trade war is intensifying. As the global economy weakens, we could see more easing from central banks.

My point is that with fizzy assets and central banks paving the way towards lower interest rates around the world, investors will need to get creative when it comes to investing.

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The second thing that reminded me of Calder was a poll from The Guardian.

According to it, 75% of those polled agreed that a specialised organisation should supervise Facebook and Google operations, and 80% agreed they need more regulation.

Much of the way we get our information comes from major tech companies like Google and Facebook. Netflix has become a globalised phenomenon, a great deal of the world is watching the same shows and documentaries.

The sheer size of these companies gives them a lot of power. So much so that they are becoming publishers…and censors. Facebook and Google have an army of moderators that helps them vet what should be allowed online.

Last year, a leaked presentation made by Google’s employees on censorship made it to Breitbart News. In the report named ‘The Good Censor’, Google questioned if they could do both. That is, ‘protect free speech and police harmful content’.

According to their presentation, requests from governments to censor content from Google have shot up in recent years. Tech companies are moving away from free speech and swaying the balance towards moderating and censoring.

Privacy scandals and censorship is increasing the backlash against these companies. It could turn into a problem, many of these companies have driving gains in recent years and make a big chunk of the stock market.

But my point is that the web wasn’t supposed to be this way. It was supposed to be a place for innovation.

The inventor of the world wide web, Sir Tim Berners Lee, envisioned it as an ‘open platform that would allow everyone, everywhere to share information, access opportunities and collaborate across geographic and cultural boundaries’.

Instead, as he said, it has morphed into ‘an engine of inequity and division; swayed by powerful forces who use it for their own agendas’.

An instrument promoting less dialogue and more polarisation.

That’s why one of our aims here at Rum Rebellion is to give you alternative information. A different perspective from what you may hear from anywhere else, so you can decide for yourself.

But there is something else that concerns me.

The appearance of big tech companies has changed the web. But they not only have the ability to censor, but also influence, by nudging.

I read an interesting personal anecdote from a columnist published in the Australian Financial Review recently.

After a long trip on his motorcycle, he plugged in his home address into Google Maps. Maps offered him a choice: the first one was quicker and through the motorway. The second one was slower, through downtown.

He wasn’t in a rush, so chose the latter and put his helmet on.

Throughout his journey, all he could hear through his bluetooth earbuds was Google trying to steer him towards the fastest route, even though he had already given Google his choice.

That’s the thing about algorithms and computer thinking. They are designed to increase efficiency.

We are increasingly letting technology do more of the thinking for us. There is also the assumption that technology’s choice will be superior to ours.

Google/Alexa/Siri, is watching a miniature circus performance the most ‘efficient’ way to spend a Sunday?

No idea what their answer is…but should that stop you?


Selva Freigedo,
Editor, The Rum Rebellion

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Selva Freigedo is a research analyst for The Rum Rebellion.

Born in Argentina, her passion for economic analysis started at a young age. Her father was an economist for the Argentinean governments and the family used to discuss politics and economics at the dinner table.

Argentina is a country with an unusual economic history. Growing up there gave Selva first-hand experience on different economic phenomena such as hyperinflation, devaluation and debt default.

Selva has also lived in Brazil, Spain and the USA.

Back in 2000 she was living in the US as the dot com bubble popped…
And in 2008 she was in Spain as the property market exploded and then collapsed…

She has seen first-hand what happens when bubbles burst.

Selva joined Fat Tail Investment Research’s team in 2016, as an analyst. She now writes from her vantage point in Australia, where she settled in 2015.

The Rum Rebellion