March Madness

Written by Kathleen Packard
Friday, March 28, 2014

Actually, the madness started before March. It began accelerating in February long before college basketball’s top team laced up their sneakers.

At the end of last year, the Economist editorialized about the state of the world a century ago (at the beginning of World War I) and now. “The most troubling similarity between 1914 and now is complacency. Businesspeople today are like businesspeople then: too busy making money to notice the serpents flicking at the bottom of their trading screens. Politicians are playing with nationalism just as they did 100 years ago. China’s leaders ship Japanophobia, using it as cover for economic reforms, while Shinzo Abe stirs Japanese nationalism for similar reasons.”

Madness spread to all corners of the world. In early January, Johnny Araya, scion of an important Costa Rican family and of the ruling Partido Liberacion Nacional, dropped out of the presidential runoff election. A low-key professor, Luis Guillermo Solís, had emerged from the first round as the leading candidate and agent of change. Voters had tired of political corruption and economic anemia. Araya read the polls and the dismal fundraising tallies and left the race in early March. Araya, who long had been the clear frontrunner, had fallen to 44 points behind Solis.

In Venezuela and the Ukraine, March Madness seems a year-round phenomenon. In Japan, Mount Gox collapsed in late February and along with it collapsed whatever credibility Bitcoin possessed. Then a week later, Japan decided that Bitcoin was not a currency. Apparently, it is a commodity – perhaps an increasingly useless commodity.

Then on March 21, the New York Times published “Weekend Reading: March Madness, Wall St. Edition” with a brackets reflecting the Street rather than the foul line.

And, the National Law Review published an online article by Richard Greenberg

John A. Snyder on “Making the Most Out of March Madness.” The article noted: “Gambling is not covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). However, an employee with a gambling addiction may suffer from other disabilities that are covered by federal, state or local law, including anxiety, depression or other mental conditions. Employers that allow brackets and office pools need to be sensitive to these issues as well.”

Such is the madness that afflicts the world. And then of course there is the Federal Reserve. As James Grant recently observed in an interview on “Federal Reserve is in the business of imposing its will on the market. If from on high comes the word of how interest rates should be aligned, what level they should be, whether the stock market should go up, the Federal Reserve has arrogated to itself the functions of the discredited business called central planning.

Grant added: “the Fed is responsible in good measure for last half dozen years now of near stagnation. The real economy of America, the financial economy in America has been going gang busters but there is a most uncharacteristic – not exactly stagnation but a most uncharacteristic lack of dynamism in America's economy. The Fed I think bears no small measure of blame for this.

As LadyViolet Crawley, the Dowager, tells her granddaughter that: “you have told me the truth. But I would like to hear it enunciated more clearly.”