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Movers and Shakers
Interview of Asher Edelman by Chuck Wilbanks for The Deal Magazine
The euro has been verging on collapse, unemployment is high, the housing market low, an angry people have taken to the streets. And, oh yes, the art market is booming. Recent notable examples: A 1961 comic book motif painting by Roy Lichtenstein of a man looking through a keyhole, "I Can See the Whole Room! ... and There's Nobody in It!," set an auction record for the artist at $43 million. "Rhein II" — a monotonous, large-format print of the river under a gray sky by German artist Andreas Gursky — marked a new high for a photograph after it went for $4.3 million. All is well, it seems, at the most rarefied reaches of the art world.
That may be set to change, says Asher Edelman, the former corporate raider and activist who now operates Edelman Arts Gallery and finance service Art Assure Ltd., which aims to help facilitate transactions. Edelman, 72, says he is no longer a particularly active investor. "Most of my wealth, lack of wealth, whatever you want to call it — most of what I do and invest in today has to do with art."
He predicts that unpleasant economic realities are about to set in, and that while art will likely correct less and recover faster than other assets, no one will be immune.
Edelman's New York gallery traffics in artists ranging from emerging talents to blue-chip modernists. His booth in the recent Art Miami fair was centered on images of St. Sebastian, which he calls a "very interesting, modern and upbeat theme." In addition to a painting of the martyr by Titian, he displayed an ironic take on the punctured saint by Christopher Winter, featuring St. Sebastian as a schoolboy.
Edelman has also taken on a visible, almost professorial role as a supporter of the Occupy Wall Street movement, which he believes will provoke a shift to a more economically egalitarian society. Edelman spoke with The Deal magazine's Chuck Wilbanks about the art market, the economy and the accomplishments of the recent protests.
The Deal magazine: Where are we in the art market right now? Is this like 2008, when auction prices were soaring — just as Lehman Brothers collapsed?
Asher Edelman: We are in a place like we were in May of '08: The economy is struggling, and the art market will relate to the economy and to other markets some time in the near future.
So we're at a high-water mark?
There is an upper echelon of the art market that is about the copy cats, all of whom want the same thing, and it's very hard to predict when they won't want the same thing, because they have enough money to continue. Still, the art market follows the economy and stock markets. Though for the last 20 years, any reasonably broad index of the known art market clearly outperforms all the other markets, including gold, etc., that I can identify. And probably the art market will go down less and rebound more than the other markets. That being said, we're at or very close to a top in the art market because we are at or very close to a top in the stock market and in the economic world. We are due for another big bop. It's happening as we speak.
What do you think will be the effect of the monetary easing we just witnessed?
It will work in the same way that QE1, QE2 and the so-called twist did: little or no effect on the American economy. Reducing the discount rates will have very little effect on bank lending. It doesn't fix Europe at all.
You've been a famous financier; now you deal in art worth a great deal of money, and you're a supporter of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Does that pose any conflict for you?
There's no conflict whatsoever. I call it the "Save Wall Street" movement because it is the only thing that can save Wall Street from itself. This is the clearest that I can ever be in any kind of social, political or economic thinking: Every 30, 40, 50 years, there is a major swing from one social, political-economic point of view to the other. What this movement has shown us, and will show us again, is that it won't be a dollar a vote. The politicians will begin to understand that regardless of how much money they are able to put together for a campaign, they will indeed have to satisfy the voters. The voters have not had a movement in 30 or 40 years that has informed them of what is actually going on.
What is actually going on?
Without value judgments, what is obviously going on is a transfer of wealth from the middle class and the poor to the rich. Period. The middle class and the poor constitute 99% of the population. And since that is the case, there is no question in my mind that very few politicians will be able to run for office without producing liberal fiscal spending plans, and backing them. You will see people moving from Tea Party points of view in Congress to becoming moderate Republicans. And you will see Obama, who has wished to be part of the establishment and has therefore, after being elected, acted very much like other people before him in order to remain in office and to have any power, will have to be a Rooseveltian figure and help Congress to have laws passed to revive this economy. To transform it into a somewhat — I don't like the word "fair" — a somewhat more equalized income stream for people because without that you cannot have a functioning economy or a functioning democracy.
What people on the right don't understand, but they will see it quickly, is that they will make more money under those circumstances just as they did with the Democrats in the '50s or '60s. They will make more money than they have been making now.
How long will that take?
I did think it would take five to ten years, but I think that information is spreading more rapidly. I am setting up a program of papers, talks and panels to inform these people, the "save Wall Street" people, the Teamsters and so on, to inform them of exactly what the risks were that the banks took, exactly how they were paid back with your taxpayer money and exactly what should happen next — what they should look for among people running for office.
What do you think of the clearing of Zuccotti Park?
This was the silliest thing [Mayor Michael] Bloomberg could possibly have ever done. Politically and in every other way. He has risked the lives of the protesters and the police and has taken a risk that this all turns from protests to riot.
Do you have a hopeful scenario?
My hopeful scenario is very simple: that the American people will get so much behind these kinds of protests that there will be a fast rather than slow response on the political front. The people will get it, hopefully sooner rather than later, and everything we can do to help that happen we will do. There is no secret how you cure the economic ills. It's simple, been done, it works.
Are you referring to a Keynesian approach to fiscal spending?
Of course. And look, none of this is meant to penalize my friends. Some of my friends started this silly Tea Party thing.
What's the status of those friendships?
I can't talk to them anymore. I have nothing to talk to them about. But I liked them. They're nice people. It isn't that they mean anyone harm, it's just that they care only about themselves.
The father of all giant sea bugs was recently discovered off the coast of Java.
- A new species of isopod with a resemblance to a certain Sith lord was just discovered.
- It is the first known giant isopod from the Indian Ocean.
- The finding extends the list of giant isopods even further.
Humanity knows surprisingly little about the ocean depths. An often-repeated bit of evidence for this is the fact that humanity has done a better job mapping the surface of Mars than the bottom of the sea. The creatures we find lurking in the watery abyss often surprise even the most dedicated researchers with their unique features and bizarre behavior.
A recent expedition off the coast of Java discovered a new isopod species remarkable for its size and resemblance to Darth Vader.
The ocean depths are home to many creatures that some consider to be unnatural.
According to LiveScience, the Bathynomus genus is sometimes referred to as "Darth Vader of the Seas" because the crustaceans are shaped like the character's menacing helmet. Deemed Bathynomus raksasa ("raksasa" meaning "giant" in Indonesian), this cockroach-like creature can grow to over 30 cm (12 inches). It is one of several known species of giant ocean-going isopod. Like the other members of its order, it has compound eyes, seven body segments, two pairs of antennae, and four sets of jaws.
The incredible size of this species is likely a result of deep-sea gigantism. This is the tendency for creatures that inhabit deeper parts of the ocean to be much larger than closely related species that live in shallower waters. B. raksasa appears to make its home between 950 and 1,260 meters (3,117 and 4,134 ft) below sea level.
Perhaps fittingly for a creature so creepy looking, that is the lower sections of what is commonly called The Twilight Zone, named for the lack of light available at such depths.
It isn't the only giant isopod, far from it. Other species of ocean-going isopod can get up to 50 cm long (20 inches) and also look like they came out of a nightmare. These are the unusual ones, though. Most of the time, isopods stay at much more reasonable sizes.
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During an expedition, there are some animals which you find unexpectedly, while there are others that you hope to find. One of the animal that we hoped to find was a deep sea cockroach affectionately known as Darth Vader Isopod. The staff on our expedition team could not contain their excitement when they finally saw one, holding it triumphantly in the air! #SJADES2018
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What benefit does this find have for science? And is it as evil as it looks?
The discovery of a new species is always a cause for celebration in zoology. That this is the discovery of an animal that inhabits the deeps of the sea, one of the least explored areas humans can get to, is the icing on the cake.
Helen Wong of the National University of Singapore, who co-authored the species' description, explained the importance of the discovery:
"The identification of this new species is an indication of just how little we know about the oceans. There is certainly more for us to explore in terms of biodiversity in the deep sea of our region."
The animal's visual similarity to Darth Vader is a result of its compound eyes and the curious shape of its head. However, given the location of its discovery, the bottom of the remote seas, it may be associated with all manner of horrifically evil Elder Things and Great Old Ones.
It could lead to a massive uptake in those previously hesitant.
A financial shot in the arm could be just what is needed for Americans unsure about vaccination.
On May 12, 2021, the Republican governor of Ohio, Mike DeWine, announced five US$1 million lottery prizes for those who are vaccinated. Meanwhile, in West Virginia, younger citizens are being enticed to get the shot with $100 savings bonds, and a state university in North Carolina is offering students who get vaccinated a chance to win the cost of housing. Many companies are paying vaccinated employees more money through bonuses or extra paid time off.
The push to get as many people vaccinated as possible is laudable and may well work. But leading behavioral scientists are worried that paying people to vaccinate could backfire if it makes people more skeptical of the shots. And ethicists have argued that it would be wrong, citing concerns over fairness and equity.
As a behavioral scientist and ethicist, I draw on an extensive body of research to help answer these questions. It suggests that incentives might work to save lives and, if properly structured, need not trample individual rights or be a huge expense for the government.
In the United States, incentives and disincentives are already used in health care. The U.S. system of privatized health insurance exposes patients to substantial deductibles and copays, not only to cover costs but to cut down on what could be deemed as wasteful health care – the thinking being that putting a cost to an emergency room visit, for example, might deter those who aren't really in need of that level of care.
In practice, this means patients are encouraged to decline both emergency and more routine care, since both are exposed to costs.
Paying for health behaviors
In the case of COVID-19, the vaccines are already free to consumers, which has undoubtedly encouraged people to be immunized. Studies have shown that reducing out-of-pocket costs can improve adherence to life-sustaining drugs, whether to prevent heart attacks or to manage diabetes.
A payment to take a drug goes one step further than simply reducing costs. And if properly designed, such incentives can change health behaviors.
And for vaccination in particular, payments have been successful for human papillomavirus (HPV) in England; hepatitis B in the United States and the United Kingdom; and tetanus toxoid in Nigeria. The effects can be substantial: For example, for one group in the HPV study, the vaccination rate more than doubled with an incentive.
For COVID-19, there are no field studies to date, but several survey experiments, including one my group conducted with 1,000 Americans, find that incentives are likely to work. In our case, the incentive of a tax break was enough to encourage those hesitant about vaccinations to say they would take the shot.
Even if incentives will save lives by increasing vaccinations, there are still other ethical considerations. A key concern is protecting the autonomous choices of people to decide what they put into their own bodies. This may be especially important for the COVID-19 vaccines, which – although authorized as likely safe and effective – are not yet fully approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
But already people are often paid to participate in clinical trials for drugs that have not yet been approved by the FDA. Ethicists have worried that such payments may be “coercive" if the money is so attractive as to override a person's free choices or make them worse off overall.
One can quibble about whether the term “coercion" applies to offers of payment. But even if offers were coercive, payments may still be reasonable to save lives in a pandemic if they succeed in greater levels of immunization.
During the smallpox epidemic nearly 100 years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the power of states to mandate vaccines. Compared with mandating vaccination, the incentives to encourage vaccines seem innocuous.
Exploitation and paternalism
Yet some still worry. Bioethicists Emily Largent and Franklin Miller wrote in a recent paper that a payment might “unfairly" exploit “those U.S. residents who have lost jobs … or slipped into poverty during the pandemic," which could leave them feeling as if they have “no choice but to be vaccinated for cash." Others have noted that vaccine hesitancy is higher in nonwhite communities, where incomes tend to be lower, as is trust in the medical establishment.
Ethicists and policymakers should indeed focus on the poorest members of our community and seek to minimize racial disparities in both health outcomes and wealth. But there is no evidence that offering money is actually detrimental to such populations. Receiving money is a good thing. To suggest that we have to protect adults by denying them offers of money may come across as paternalism.
Some ethicists also argue that the money is better spent elsewhere to increase participation. States could spend the money making sure vaccines are convenient to everyone, for example, by bringing them to community events and churches. Money could also support various efforts to fight misinformation and communicate the importance of getting the shot.
The cost of incentives
Financial incentives could be expensive as a policy solution. As in Ohio, lottery drawings are one way to cap the overall cost of incentives while giving millions of people an additional reason to get their shot.
The tax code could also allow for a no-cost incentive for vaccination. Tax deductions and credits are often designed to encourage behaviors, such as savings or home ownership. Some states now have big budget surpluses and are considering tax relief measures. If a state announced now that such payments would be conditional on being vaccinated, then each person declining the shot would save the government money.
Ultimately, a well-designed vaccination incentive can help save lives and need not keep the ethicists up at night.
Geologists discover a rhythm to major geologic events.
- It appears that Earth has a geologic "pulse," with clusters of major events occurring every 27.5 million years.
- Working with the most accurate dating methods available, the authors of the study constructed a new history of the last 260 million years.
- Exactly why these cycles occur remains unknown, but there are some interesting theories.
Our hearts beat at a resting rate of 60 to 100 beats per minute. Lots of other things pulse, too. The colors we see and the pitches we hear, for example, are due to the different wave frequencies ("pulses") of light and sound waves.
Now, a study in the journal Geoscience Frontiers finds that Earth itself has a pulse, with one "beat" every 27.5 million years. That's the rate at which major geological events have been occurring as far back as geologists can tell.
A planetary calendar has 10 dates in red
Credit: Jagoush / Adobe Stock
According to lead author and geologist Michael Rampino of New York University's Department of Biology, "Many geologists believe that geological events are random over time. But our study provides statistical evidence for a common cycle, suggesting that these geologic events are correlated and not random."
The new study is not the first time that there's been a suggestion of a planetary geologic cycle, but it's only with recent refinements in radioisotopic dating techniques that there's evidence supporting the theory. The authors of the study collected the latest, best dating for 89 known geologic events over the last 260 million years:
- 29 sea level fluctuations
- 12 marine extinctions
- 9 land-based extinctions
- 10 periods of low ocean oxygenation
- 13 gigantic flood basalt volcanic eruptions
- 8 changes in the rate of seafloor spread
- 8 times there were global pulsations in interplate magmatism
The dates provided the scientists a new timetable of Earth's geologic history.
Tick, tick, boom
Credit: New York University
Putting all the events together, the scientists performed a series of statistical analyses that revealed that events tend to cluster around 10 different dates, with peak activity occurring every 27.5 million years. Between the ten busy periods, the number of events dropped sharply, approaching zero.
Perhaps the most fascinating question that remains unanswered for now is exactly why this is happening. The authors of the study suggest two possibilities:
"The correlations and cyclicity seen in the geologic episodes may be entirely a function of global internal Earth dynamics affecting global tectonics and climate, but similar cycles in the Earth's orbit in the Solar System and in the Galaxy might be pacing these events. Whatever the origins of these cyclical episodes, their occurrences support the case for a largely periodic, coordinated, and intermittently catastrophic geologic record, which is quite different from the views held by most geologists."
Assuming the researchers' calculations are at least roughly correct — the authors note that different statistical formulas may result in further refinement of their conclusions — there's no need to worry that we're about to be thumped by another planetary heartbeat. The last occurred some seven million years ago, meaning the next won't happen for about another 20 million years.