Felix Salmon

Can America’s debt get too big to pay?

Reader Matthew Kelley writes with a question:

Our national debt is over $11 trillion, it is not unreasonable to think that in my lifetime I will see a quadrillion dollar national debt. Do you think that there is a level of debt at which the United States would pull a ‘latin america’ and just default on the debt?

The SEC fights regulatory overhaul

It’s great news, I think, that the SEC’s Mary Schapiro lost no time in pushing back against the new regulatory structure which seems to be emerging in Washington: it means that we’re actually getting somewhere here.

When journalists forget they’re innumerate

David Evans, the style guru for the Reuters commentary group, just sent out a note on numbers; its first paragraph should be seared into all journalists’ minds.

The difficulties of moving a newspaper online

The bloggiest, and possibly the most-read, part of the WSJ’s “Heard on the Street” page is its short-take “Overheard” section. (People are much more likely to read short things than long things, in general.) Today, it has some juicy gossip about ongoing negotiations between Microsoft and Yahoo — Microsoft still wants Yahoo’s search engine (despite reportedly planning to unveil its own new search engine next week), but “the Yahoos are steamed that Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer keeps returning to areas they thought the two camps had already agreed on”.

Colombia’s strongman

Here’s a measure of how important Nouriel Roubini has become of late, according to his Twitter, he’s just met with president Alvaro Uribe of Colombia and his (entire?) cabinet.

The music paradigm

I went along to an event featuring Roger Nierenberg today, despite the fact that I’m constitutionally allergic to anybody who comes out with managementspeak like this:

Smart power meters start to arrive

Google PowerMeter announced its first partnerships today, with energy companies from Kentucky to Canada participating in the program. I spoke to Hal Snyder, who works for one of them, San Diego Gas & Electric, which has recently started installing what it calls “smart meters” in 1.4 million homes in southern California. It’s up to 10,000 now, hopes to get more than 200,000 by the end of the year, and have everybody installed by 2011.

Online ad-sales datapoint of the day

Remember Nick Denton’s decision to go on a firing spree because ad revenues were going to fall by 40%? Well, they didn’t at his own shop, Gawker Media: sales were up a double-digit amount in the first quarter, and are up 27% in the second quarter. Does this mean that all those firings needn’t have happened after all? My guess, which I hinted at in my comment on the big debate over at Boing Boing Gadgets on Wired.com vs Wired magazine, is that a lot of it comes down to the business side of the media companies.

Private sales at auction houses: irrelevant

Mick Weinstein, commenting on Marion Maneker’s art-market chart, asks whether the auction totals include private sales. The short answer is that no, they don’t; the longer article is that it’s important not to get snowed by auction houses desperately trying to point to any bright spot amidst the gloom. Wait until they reveal hard numbers, and in general don’t trust anything they say which isn’t backed up by verifiable facts. Especially when the bright spot being claimed by Sotheby’s is that its private sales “have not declined at all”. If Sotheby’s private sales are flat, and its public sales have imploded, you can see why its share price has cratered.