Monday, September 26, 2011

Optimal monetary policy

If you only read one paper about monetary policy, make it this one. This should be put on every politician and presidential candidate's desk (or stapled to their forehead). If my students could just nail down the knowledge in this one paper, they will be equipped to be much better citizens. They would have a proper benchmark for measuring whether we're getting optimal monetary policy or not. 

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Dark Ages

At the last GOP presidential candidate debate, two candidates (Romney and Gingrich) called Ben Bernanke "inflationary," and pledged not to re-appoint him. Rick Perry has accused Bernanke of "almost treasonous" actions and said he would be treated "pretty ugly down here in Texas."  Speaker Boehner and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell wrote an open letter to Bernanke urging him not to pursue monetary stimulus as there was "no evidence" any was needed.

After the FOMC announced its new policy yesterday, the Dow fell 200 points and is down another 300 points this morning.  The dollar appreciated in value against foreign currencies, gold and oil also fell.  The yields on the 10 and 30-year Treasuries fell to new 60 year lows.  The 30 year TIPS spread, a market indicator of inflation expectations, fell below 2% for the first time.  The yield curve indeed flattened.

All of the above indicate that inflation expectations have fallen off dramatically.  Inflation expectations are at historic lows. Accordingly, NGDP growth expectations have fallen dramatically, and the Fed's announcement itself indicates the FOMC is pessimistic about growth and employment.

It's really simple:  When demand for money increases, velocity (the inverse of demand) decreases. As a result, NGDP decreases.

The Fed's job is to manage the M x V side of the equation.  Yesterday's new policy brought no new increase to M, only a reshuffling of the Fed portfolio to try and get investors to move out the curve at the margin.  As Scott Sumner reminds us, a flat yield curve represents tight money, and not loose, "inflationary" monetary policy. If the Fed was pursuing the "inflationary" policies it's accused of the yield curve would be steeper and NGDP growth would be much higher.  Anyone who tells you otherwise is ignoring at least 400 years of economic thought.  Journalists who are puzzling as to why the market is acting this way should probably order some textbooks off Amazon.

NGDP expectations matter a great deal, as David Beckworth points out:

If firms expect more income, they will invest and produce more.  If workers expect higher incomes they will spend more and have more confidence in firms, leading them to hold less cash and save more in the form of stocks and corporate bonds, boosting asset prices.  The increase in consumption and investment and production boosts employment and incomes, and the cycle continues.

My thoughts are not new or leftwing-liberal-progressive.  Milton Friedman taught them. F.A. Hayek taught them.  This "new" (but really very old) school of thought is now called market monetarism, and it is what I most identify with. Ramesh Ponnuru of the National Review has taken up the MM fight several times. Scott Sumner wrote this must-read piece for the conservative National Affairs. If you have put your currency in the hands of a central bank, then its job is to achieve monetary equilibrium and it is the only entity that can do so.

I've become cynical about the GOP's ranting against the Fed because they obviously have the most to lose (2012 election) if the Fed does its job and the economy picks up.  I've become cynical about the President because he's allowed two seats on the Board of Governors to go unfilled, along with several positions in Treasury Department and elsewhere, at a time when all hands on deck are needed (the GOP have blocked or threatened to block several nominations, but he could always recess appoint around that and chooses not to). I've become cynical about the FOMC because three members loudly voted against the FOMC's decision yesterday because they do not support "additional policy accommodation at this time." But the most valid criticism of the Fed right now is that they have not plotted any forward course; they have not told us where they want the economy to go. They have simply told us they do not like where we are headed and want to rev up the engines to prevent going there, but they've left the ship in neutral and there is no specific destination. That is defacto the same thing as moving in the wrong direction.

It feels like a Dark Age to me.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Book Review (#31 of 2011) Slave by John MacArthur

Slave: The Hidden Truth About Your Identity in Christ was sent to us for free by mail. It's actually my first MacArthur book to read, though I'm fairly familiar with his teaching.

The MacArthur disciples I've known tend to be dogmatic and quick to judge (I'm stating my bias outright). I would describe their approach to Scripture as "hyper-sola scriptura," usually culminating in the idea that the Bible is so perspicacious that everything that can be known about God is found in its pages, and anyone can discover all there is to know about God by studying it hard enough.  I know one pastor who attended MacArthur's seminary who claimed he could unseal the prophecies given to Daniel (that God says are intentionally sealed until the endtimes) just by studying it harder.  (Daniel apparently didn't study them hard enough, nor did anyone else over the millenia.)  The Holy Spirit seems a minor player, and the idea that "none of us read the Bible alone" seems anathema to MacArthurian thought (though I'm not certain of MacArthur's own stances). 

MacArthur lapses into that caricature at one point in the book (Pg. 75):
“Nonbiblical ministry, non-expository preaching...usurp Christ’s headship, silencing His voice to His sheep... That kind of devastating approach steals the mind of Christ away from the body of Christ...and quenches the work of His Spirit...and sows seeds of compromise. It deflects the honor due to the true head of the church, and the Lord does not take kindly to those who would steal His glory.”  

So, if your pastor preaches a topical sermon he is stealing Christ's glory.  If your church has a ministry, like youth ministry, that is not found in Scripture then it's "devastating."

However, Slave is a good word-study, and MacArthur draws on a large amount of sources who examine the use of the word and the context of slavery that OT and NT writers would have been familiar with in writing the words. One modern study that he draws on a lot is Murray Harris' Slave of Christ.He also draws on many historical church figures.  If you like books with footnotes taking up half the page, then this is a good one. 
The Hebrew word for slave ‘ebed’ is used metaphorically to describe believers (more than 250 times) NT use of the Greek word doulos is similar. It is used at least 40 times in NT to denote relationship of believers to divine master.  An additional 30 NT passages use doulos to teach truths about Christian life.  (Pg. 12)
The Greek word “kyrios” for Lord is used 750 times in NT, fundamentally meaning “master” or “owner”... relational counterpart to doulos. No slave is greater than his “kyrios” (Pg. 77)

MacArthur wrote the book because of what he sees as an "unintentional cover-up" by modern translations and teachers to re-interpret "slave" as something less harsh.  While the KJV translates the word as "servant," this is problematic because servants are hired and slaves are owned. 

Roman slaves had no recognized personality, they were not considered people and had no rights. While there are examples of abusive owners being publicly shamed or facing penalties, there are plenty of examples of abuse.  However, slaves were allowed to be educated and it wasn't rare to find a slave who was a tailor, or a physician, or other skilled trader.  But a slave's worth was based solely upon the worth of his master.  In cases where slaves were freed, they were usually given Roman citizenship.  There are many recorded cases of slaves becoming adopted as sons of the master, which also provides some metaphorical imagery. 

MacArthur draws on John Newton (of Amazing Grace fame) to illustrate the difference between the African slave trade and the Roman one. The major difference being that African slavery was based on racism, whereas Roman slavery was not--slaves were of every race. African slaves were forbidden to learn to read in the American South and if granted freedom were restricted in other ways dissimilar to the Roman time period, where full rights of citizenship were usually bestowed.  But other than that, the life of a Roman slave wasn't much better than an African one--a point MacArthur emphasizes. 

The NT is explicit that we are either slaves to sin or slaves to Christ. Newton's words paint the image most vividly, as he was most familiar with the slave trade having both been a trader and also subject to being enslaved himself for a brief time. Christ frees us from our sins and binds us to Him as His slaves. Even in early church history, believers referred to one another as "fellow slaves."  Ignatius (c. 50-110 a.d.) wrote about the "bishop together with the presbytery and the deacons, my fellow slaves." The Shepherd of Hermas (c. 130 a.d.) refers to believers as "slaves of God."  I was reminded of the headstone I saw in Ankara of "John" who was known in death as "the slave of God." We don't like to use those terms today. 

MacArthur explores a paradox, for we are also adopted as Sons of God. Pg. 175-176:
"Through Christ we have been set free. We are no longer slaves to sin, to the fear of death, or the condemnation of the Law. But we have been made slaves of God, for Christ, to righteousness. Such is true freedom. Thus, we are simultaneously sons and slaves. The two realities are not mutually exclusive--even if the metaphors are different. Forever we will be part of His family. Forever we will be in His glorious servitude." 

(The above passage contains sixteen NT references footnoted.)   MacArthur deals with John 15:15 where Jesus told His disciples "No longer do I call you slaves...but I have called you friends."  Pg. 176:
"At first glance, it seems as if He might be obliterating the slave metaphor altogether. But such is not the case, as evidenced by the fact that the disciples continued to refer to themselves as 'slaves of Christ' long afterwards...Moreover, Jesus defined friendship as submission to Him: 'You are My friends if you do what I command you' (John 15:14)...That Jesus views believers as both friends and slaves is supported by a host of New Testament passages."

We are also citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven, another aspect that MacArthur explores.MacArthur explores how many NT Christians were both actual slaves or owners of slaves, like Philemon. Slaves are exhorted to work "as for the Lord" and masters are exhorted to treat their slaves well with the understanding that they themselves are slaves of the Master. 

MacArthur spends several chapters delving into how the proper contextual understanding of the word "slave" jives with theological Calvinism (which MacArthur never calls Calvinism, but rather "doctrines of Grace.").  Slaves had no choice about their ownership, and neither do we as the elect. The imagery of slavery and submission are difficult for all modern believers, and generally rejected by various modern liberal traditions I run into, which helped motivate MacArthur to write Slave. I recommend it as a study and as a good reference for other historical works dealing with the issue. 

In all, 3.5 stars out of 5.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

God Can't Take Risks

I teach Insurance and Risk Management, a finance-listed course that looks at the insurance industry and how individual firms use insurance to deal with pure risk (the risk of a loss). Which begs the question, is there a biblical basis for risk?

Risk is basically defined as "uncertainty."  John Piper had this excellent blog post about God and risk that I shared with my class.  Piper is addressing a book he finds scripturally false. The authors state that:
"It seems correct to say that God took something of a risk in handing over his mission to the all-too-sinful human beings who were his original disciples—and all the sinful disciples beyond them. We wonder what Jesus must have been thinking on the cross, when all but a few powerless women had completely abandoned him. Did he wonder if love alone was enough to draw them back to discipleship? ...(I)t is entirely conceivable that history could have gone in a completely different, indeed totally disastrous, direction..." 

Piper takes the argument apart to show that an omniscient God cannot take risks-- there is no uncertainty in Him or His mission. Nor is there any uncertainty, ultimately, for Believers because God does not break His promises to them.  We may not know what will happen to us tomorrow, but God does and is using whatever is happening for His purposes. Piper:

"The promises of God that all things will work together for our ultimate, Christ-exalting good is the basis of our risk (Romans 8:28). And corporately the basis of global missions, with all its risks, is the total assurance that 'the kingdom of the world [will become] the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever (Revelation 11:15). The mission cannot fail."

"No saint will say in heaven: The mission succeeded because my will was decisive in taking risks and making sacrifices. Rather, the saints will say, “God equipped us with everything good that we might do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever” (Hebrews 13:21)."

I've thought about this lately in regards to the story of Abram/Abraham.  This is my 3 year old's favorite Bible story right now.  God told Abraham that he would make him into a great nation and that he'd have many descendants (Genesis 12:1-7).  But during his journey, Abraham shows his uncertainty about God's promise and fears for his own life, before ever having descendants or being made into a nation. Twice he lies about his wife because he fears he'll be killed (Genesis 20:11). He's promised that Sarah will give birth to her own child, yet he clearly doubts the promise and has a child with another woman instead (Genesis 17).  It's only after Isaac is born that Abraham finally believes God-- when God asks him to sacrifice Isaac-- and believes that God will keep His word regarding his descendants and realizes there is no ultimate risk in sacrificing him (Hebrews 11:17-20). I think of how patient  God was for Abraham to get to that point, and His patience with me as I struggle to come close to there.

So, I like Piper's point that Christ-exalting good is the basis of our risk, and so long as we know His promises toward us there is no ultimate risk in obeying Him. God does not fail, does not make mistakes, and does not play dice.

Here's a related Piper sermon (from 1987) entitled Risk and the Cause of God.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Memories of 9/11

I thought I might as well record my memories of that day since everyone else is too.  I share memories with the caveat from this Scientific American article that studies have found memories are very faulty and while we think they're real, they may not be.

9/11 was a Tuesday and I had International Economics in the morning. I remember Dr. Trask telling us "Someone just told me that an airplane crashed into the World Trade Center."  She tried to call up a news website but said that the internet seemed to not be working. I remember a student saying something like "Yeah, a second plane hit too," but it didn't register.  We proceeded to have class, dealing with international trade.  I had remembered reading a blurb in the news about a trade protest and imagined some Greenpeace protestor crashing a small Cessna into the WTC. No big deal, I didn't think much about it.

After class I walked down to Arby's for lunch.  As I stood in line to order, I saw people standing and watching the TVs, while others were just sitting and eating like normal. I saw a tower smoking, and it was apparently a replay. As I took my tray to my seat they showed a replay of the towers collapsing. It was all surreal.  Then I started to read the crawl at the bottom of the screen and saw that a plane was missing, or that one had crashed in Pennsylvania.  That was my first inkling that something was very, very wrong and I felt a chill.

After lunch, I walked back up to campus. On the way I passed Sara, who had been in a group that I went to New York City with in March of 2001. She was on her cellphone but said something like "isn't it crazy?"

I hit the computer lab before class but ran into the same problem Dr. Trask had earlier-- the Internet wasn't working.  I recall being able to bring up the NY Times homepage and reading a message about system overloads as everyone was trying to get online to get news. The lack of information was frustrating, so I just rolled with it and went to class-- Russian Language.

When I got in the room, Professor Ruder had a TV on turned to the news.  Everyone was just sitting silently watching.  Nobody said a word and after about 10 minutes I wanted to ask "Um, are we having class?"  Not sure what to do, but pretty certain that this was how we would spend the class period, I just got up and left.  I'd rather watch my own TV.  Prof. Ruder sent me an email later to check on me because she was concerned at how I just left.  I'd have rather had class that day.

Once I got home, I think I turned on the TV to get updates and it didn't take long to learn what everyone else knew-- which wasn't much at that point.  I remember checking email and reading a prayer request for a  friend's brother who worked at the Pentagon and was unaccounted for (he turned up fine later). I remember calling my mom because it seemed the right thing to do. Don't think anything profound was said, wasn't a long conversation.

I'm not sure how the rest of the day was spent, but I remember that I got word of a student-led prayer gathering on campus that evening.  I mainly remember we were in circles of maybe 20 people, holding hands and praying fairly spontaneously.  I don't remember if anyone opened or closed the meeting, it was mostly just prayer.  And how do you pray in that situation?  I remember not really knowing what to pray for.

My worst memory of that day is one guy fervently praying that God would send more planes to destroy more buildings if that's what it took to get America to repent.  That struck me as the opposite of how Isaiah and Jeremiah and Moses prayed for Israel-- always begging God for mercy even when they knew Israel deserved judgment.  But this guy was praying for just the opposite and I remember one or two others chiming in with "yes, Lord!" as he prayed this ridiculous prayer.  Wish I could forget that moment, that guy is still one of my all-time-least-favorite people from college.  

It was around that time that I started to pray for countries in Central Asia. I didn't know that in a year's time I'd be packing up to move to one.

After the meeting broke up, a few friends and I went down to one of the places in the Student Union with a big-screen television and watched the President's speech.  I remember him invoking language from the Psalms. Then I went home.

That night a telemarketer or surveyor called the house to do a survey.  He apologized profusely, you could tell  his company was under a deadline to get a survey done (about insurance or something) and he basically begged me to do the survey. I obliged and then he obliged as I shared the Gospel with him when the survey was finished. "If you had been in the towers today, do you know where you'd spend eternity...?"

I remember that all of my Wednesday classes met like normal the next day, and that made me bitter because many of my friends' classes canceled. One teacher felt remorse, I think, so we had a very awkward moment of silence on Friday.

In church on the Sunday afterward, Dr. Henard preached from Luke 13:1-5 "Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish," which I think is appropriate for any disaster (see v. 4-5).  For certain services, like this one, he had a way of trying to evoke an emotional response, hinting strongly, but not asking directly, for people to come to the altar and pray at the end of this service. I remember he got kind of mad when people hesitated to come forward and do so, so down front we went.  In one of the services, someone (likely a visitor) stood up at his seat and started speaking in tongues, which never happened nor was welcomed at the time, but it passed quickly and was laughed at by staff later.

I taught 9th grade guys Sunday School, and I'm pretty sure I talked about Romans 13:1-5-- how Paul affirmed the authority of the State to yield the sword (ie: as a justification of our now going to war. Was I trying to paraphrase Piper or someone else? Probably, I don't recall).  I'm pretty sure the high school SS director made some long comments such that I didn't have much time to teach anyway (my worst teaching experience ever was teaching SS that year. I still regret volunteering to do it-- for multiple reasons).

Those are my collective memories of that week.

By the end of that school year, one of my former classmates who had joined the National Guard to pay for school got called up and began what was a long series of multiple deployments, including stop-loss extra time in Iraq.  When he (and others I knew) joined up long before 9/11 it seemed the odds of deployment were very small. War changed the calculus there. It changed everything.  The underlying uncertainty of those months was what was most disturbing, and what I most want to forget.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Book Review (#30 of 2011) The Theory of Free Banking

The Theory of Free Banking: Money Supply Under Competitive Note Issue by George Selgin (1988). Selgin is an economist at the University of Georgia who also contributes to the Free Banking blog where I found this book.

Selgin is eager to put to bed any prejudices against free banking by pointing out that many prominent theorists who had been skeptical of its merits never really studied what free banking really was nor had an all-encompassing theory to work from--until now. Selgin provides some historical background into various short-lived attempts at free banking and examines why they were short-lived.  He builds a theory of how currency and a system of fractional reserve banking without a central bank could arise in the hypothetical economy of Ruritania.  He then provides a critique of central banking and makes a proposal for how our current U.S. Federal Reserve system could be dismantled and free the banks to be like other businesses in a competitive marketplace.

Selgin is fighting battles on several fronts here-- with modern economists who take our current system as a given, with Rothbardians who believe fractional reserve banking is immoral, and with dead economists who did not properly grasp the history of free banking (or lack thereof).  Monetarists squabble about the best way to achieve monetary equilibrium and Selgin's theory presents a believable means to achieving it. I would say the bar for new ideas to be accepted here isn't that high-- since everything else we've tried has failed then why not try this?

I particularly liked the explanation of how in a world where banks are free to issue notes, arbitrage opportunities would eventually cause markets to arise that would cause all notes to be accepted at par. I also liked the practical explanation of how private insurance and reciprocal agreements between banks could prevent a system-wide bank run.

The two specific issues I found inadequately addressed in Selgin's theory are:
1. "Note dueling--aggressively buying large amounts of rival's notes and presenting them for redemption all at once." Selgin says that as all banks learned to keep high reserves, note dueling would cease to be advantageous and banks would eventually not do it. But, why would this not just as easily result in a Nash equilibrium where banks end up holding a large amount of reserves?  It seems to me that the Pareto-efficient outcome-- banks holding low reserves and trusting each other not to duel-- creates a real incentive for someone to cheat, leading to a standard Nash outcome.

2. Selgin believes that banks would want to compete with branded bank notes-- like Nike, Reebok, Adidas, but with currency.  It seems hard to see how this could lead to monetary equilibrium, as monopolistic competition causes a less-than-socially-optimal quantity to be produced, and at a higher price.

The simplicity of the theory is appealing, but another caveat is that it is looking at banks rather traditionally--abstract from what we now see in modern banking. Little attention is given to the assets the banks hold, presumably they are unregulated so can invest in anything. Presumably since there is no central bank increasing the money supply beyond equilibrium quantity there is no asset bubble & bust that would drive banks out of business.  I haven't worked it out in my own mind, but I'm not certain that monetary equilibrium can completely eliminate all asset market inefficiencies and quell the "animal spirits."

There is also little attention given to what happens if an economy, like the U.S., adopts the free banking model from its current central banking position. Is there a first-mover advantage or disadvantage in global capital markets?  Free banking also only works, of course, if all other markets are left relatively unregulated-- if government simply maintains its limited role prescribed by classical liberals. I think the last 30 years are evidence that if you deregulate piecemeal, you get serious distortions. Hence, free banking seems to be a Pareto-efficient outcome that is unobtainable given where we are today.  But that doesn't mean that a country like Estonia, who I think would be the best candidate, couldn't give it a shot.

In all, I give this book 4 stars out of 5.  I liked it, learned a good bit of monetary history from it.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Dirty football

"Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. 23 But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin" (Romans 14:22-23)

It's college football time, and as I watched the end of last night's Baylor-TCU "instant classic" I was reminded that there is no more exciting sport to watch. But my conscience bothers me.  

I've written several times (example) about the problems I see with our minor-league athletics being wrapped in our non-profit university system. The NCAA takes advantage of students to enrich non-students. Resources are crowded out of education to support sports--which doesn't help our country build capital to increase productivity in the long-run.  

Last night, PBS NewsHour had a segment on the recent scandals, particularly at the University of Miami, where a booster running a ponzi scheme paid for everything (NY Times) from prostitutes to abortions for players and their friends. The linked article notes that Miami isn't likely to face the harshest penalties because it would cost the NCAA and the ACC "too much money."  There are rules, like not allowing a player to profit from selling his own memorabilia even though the school and NCAA can sell it for profit, that should irk anyone who cherishes liberty. But uneven enforcement of the rules or saying "that's just how it is" is maddening for my sense of justice.  The Wall Street Journal chimes in with a rating of all 120 teams and how "embarrassed" their fans should be. 

Kevin Blackiston, the journalism professor NewsHour interviewed for the segment made the point that the entire system is corrupt, starting with the NCAA overseers, citing the recent Fiesta Bowl scandal as an example-- a non-profit organization showering money and gifts (like visits to strip clubs) on NCAA powers-that-be.  

But Blackiston made the following comment in this exchange with Jeffrey Brown that stuck with me: 

KEVIN BLACKISTONE: It is a very -- to me, a very unholy alliance that we have right now between what is a revenue-generating operation in college athletics placed under the umbrella of a nonprofit institution of higher education, which, to my knowledge, doesn't have a mission statement that says, win the national championship, produce All-Americans, that sort of thing.
JEFFREY BROWN: And, in the meantime, as we said, the games go on, right?
KEVIN BLACKISTONE: Absolutely. And I will be watching them this weekend.
JEFFREY BROWN: All right. 

So, even though we all know it's "unholy," "exploitative," and "corrupt" we will continue to watch and pay money to keep it going anyway because it's just so much fun.  

That's what gets my conscience-- if you know something is wrong and harmful shouldn't you make a stand against it?  I have a little different perspective on this because I teach student-athletes and see the exploitation a little more clearly in their day-to-day lives, but it's also obvious to everyone who watches the sport.  

What about the Church here?  Shouldn't the Church be different from the culture around us? I've thought about this a few times (example) over the years and found the Church doesn't have much to say. Several years ago, I quit watching Major League Baseball in the wake of the steroids scandal because I felt the evidence showed the problems weren't found in just a few bad apples but rather that the entire system was not what it claimed to be.  But now I see our collegiate athletic system does much more harm to its players than MLB ever did--the system is a scandal in and of itself, and it's not just football.  

My pastor is a Michigan fan, he even mentioned from the pulpit that he "makes no bones about it," he loves watching the kids line up and bang helmets every week. Other local pastors tweet eagerly about football and other sports. I would just love to hear one admit once that "Yes, the system is broken, unproductive, and exploitative but it entertains me so I watch it."  

It seems awkward to start a conversation with a pastor about, but I'd love for one to spell out how he has achieved a clear conscience about watching it. Because the more I watch and investigate, the more frustrated I become. There is no empirical evidence that the resources directed toward football is welfare enhancing for any university. The more I see football players flunk our classes and then transfer to their next playing spot, the more ashamed I am to be a part of the system. The more pastors and university presidents I see cheering the system on the more confused I become. 

Socrates said "the unexamined life isn't worth living," and I agree. But the examined life can lead you to some conclusions that make the life feel a good bit lonely. So, who wants to join me? 

Friday, September 02, 2011

Lack of Blogging

The semester has sort of crowded out blogging activity.  I still post a daily thought or two over at Google+, and typically share my article readings there.  Now that I'm using Pinterest to catalog graphs for class, I no longer need to use my blog for that (which is what motivated a lot of posts). There's not much good news to blog about and I don't want to dwell on the negative right now.  Better to not say anything at all sometimes.