Corporate buybacks: Have you heard about this trillion dollar Ponzi scheme?

Few know about the trillion dollar crime that stole pay raises while weakening our economy. The “lootocrats” and their courtiers are taking us for a ride.

 Illustration by Julia Suits, author of The Extraordinary Catalog of Peculiar Inventions, and The New Yorker cartoonist.
Illustration by Julia Suits, author of The Extraordinary Catalog of Peculiar Inventions, and The New Yorker cartoonist.

1. A scheme that was till recently a crime now consumes trillions of dollars. That’s one of many market maladies Rana Foroohar publicizes in her book Makers and Takers: How Wall Street Destroyed Main Street.


2. Share buybacks were illegal “market manipulation” until 1982. They now divert $0.5-0.8 trillion annually from investments, R&D, wages, etc. A slow “corporate suicide” (over $7 trillion extracted by “lootocrats”).

3. Reagan’s SEC chief John Shad (an ex-Wall St boss) legalized buybacks. But Clinton-era folks (Robert Rubin, Larry Summers, etc) accelerated the fox-guarding-chickens games.

4. The justification? Chicago School shareholder value maximization theory (aka “The World’s Dumbest Idea”). And general free market fundamentalism that presumes markets allocate efficiently.

5. Foroohar counters the Chicago catechism with empirical evidence. And markets-know-best folks must face the many facts Foroohar marshalls to falsify their fig-leaf faith. For instance:

6. Only ~15% of flows to Wall St get to real businesses (the rest on games “not unlike a Ponzi scheme”).

7. "Privately owned firms invest more than twice as much… as public firms.” And drug companies spend more on shareholder maximization than on R&D.

8. 80% of our CEOs would “pass up making an investment that would fuel a decade's worth of innovation” to hit a quarterly target (foreign firms think in “decades rather than quarters”).

9. Walmart did ~$8.3 billion in buybacks in 2016, ~$3,600 per worker. Welfare for Walmart workers cost taxpayers ~$6 billion.

10. Total S&P 500 2016 buybacks = $536 billion ~$22,000 per worker.

11. Any fraction of that recently criminal misuse of money going to workers would benefit us all. They tend to spend more of their gains (generating growth) than the rich (tend to prefer Wall St’s Ponzi-ing).

12. Or that $½ trillion could be spent on “real” economy equipment, etc (as it was till 1982).

13. Business schools literally teach “greed is good,” which encourages short-term exploitation.

14. Bankers now manipulate commodities markets (Goldman Sachs caused food riots in 22 countries).

15. Always ask—what do business leaders serve? What are they loyal to? What would they not harm?

16. To trust those who aren’t loyal to anything beyond their own gain is foolish.

17. Unless business leaders are loyal enough to their companies, customers, employees, communities, nations, to not harm them, the whole market system is at risk (+see Good vs Bad Rich).

18. Buyback shenanigan fixes aren’t difficult. Let’s reban them. Or mandate X% must go to workers.

19. But deeper business leadership diseases will be harder to cure (e.g. the dysfunctional 3-way dance: greedy executives cherry-pick from backseat-driving reality-denying economists to shape policy-maker ideas).

20. If we don’t stop these economy-sapping schemes, the “lootocrats” and their courtiers will continue to take us for a ride.

21. “The 1% grabbed 82% of all wealth created in 2017.”

 

Illustration by Julia Suits, author of The Extraordinary Catalog of Peculiar Inventions, and The New Yorker cartoonist.

This is what aliens would 'hear' if they flew by Earth

A Mercury-bound spacecraft's noisy flyby of our home planet.

Image source: sdecoret on Shutterstock/ESA/Big Think
Surprising Science
  • There is no sound in space, but if there was, this is what it might sound like passing by Earth.
  • A spacecraft bound for Mercury recorded data while swinging around our planet, and that data was converted into sound.
  • Yes, in space no one can hear you scream, but this is still some chill stuff.

First off, let's be clear what we mean by "hear" here. (Here, here!)

Sound, as we know it, requires air. What our ears capture is actually oscillating waves of fluctuating air pressure. Cilia, fibers in our ears, respond to these fluctuations by firing off corresponding clusters of tones at different pitches to our brains. This is what we perceive as sound.

All of which is to say, sound requires air, and space is notoriously void of that. So, in terms of human-perceivable sound, it's silent out there. Nonetheless, there can be cyclical events in space — such as oscillating values in streams of captured data — that can be mapped to pitches, and thus made audible.

BepiColombo

Image source: European Space Agency

The European Space Agency's BepiColombo spacecraft took off from Kourou, French Guyana on October 20, 2019, on its way to Mercury. To reduce its speed for the proper trajectory to Mercury, BepiColombo executed a "gravity-assist flyby," slinging itself around the Earth before leaving home. Over the course of its 34-minute flyby, its two data recorders captured five data sets that Italy's National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF) enhanced and converted into sound waves.

Into and out of Earth's shadow

In April, BepiColombo began its closest approach to Earth, ranging from 256,393 kilometers (159,315 miles) to 129,488 kilometers (80,460 miles) away. The audio above starts as BepiColombo begins to sneak into the Earth's shadow facing away from the sun.

The data was captured by BepiColombo's Italian Spring Accelerometer (ISA) instrument. Says Carmelo Magnafico of the ISA team, "When the spacecraft enters the shadow and the force of the Sun disappears, we can hear a slight vibration. The solar panels, previously flexed by the Sun, then find a new balance. Upon exiting the shadow, we can hear the effect again."

In addition to making for some cool sounds, the phenomenon allowed the ISA team to confirm just how sensitive their instrument is. "This is an extraordinary situation," says Carmelo. "Since we started the cruise, we have only been in direct sunshine, so we did not have the possibility to check effectively whether our instrument is measuring the variations of the force of the sunlight."

When the craft arrives at Mercury, the ISA will be tasked with studying the planets gravity.

Magentosphere melody

The second clip is derived from data captured by BepiColombo's MPO-MAG magnetometer, AKA MERMAG, as the craft traveled through Earth's magnetosphere, the area surrounding the planet that's determined by the its magnetic field.

BepiColombo eventually entered the hellish mangentosheath, the region battered by cosmic plasma from the sun before the craft passed into the relatively peaceful magentopause that marks the transition between the magnetosphere and Earth's own magnetic field.

MERMAG will map Mercury's magnetosphere, as well as the magnetic state of the planet's interior. As a secondary objective, it will assess the interaction of the solar wind, Mercury's magnetic field, and the planet, analyzing the dynamics of the magnetosphere and its interaction with Mercury.

Recording session over, BepiColombo is now slipping through space silently with its arrival at Mercury planned for 2025.

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