Weil on Finance: China’s Great Wall of Money

Jonathan Weil joined Bloomberg News as a columnist in 2007, and his columns on finance and accounting won Best in the Business awards from the Society of American Business Editors and Writers in 2009 and 2010.
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Happy Friday, Viewfinders. Here are your morning reads.

This is a real Chinese proverb: "One courts misfortune by flaunting wealth." So imagine a whole town flaunting it.

Here's an article from the South China Morning Post about residents of a Sichuan village who built a 7-foot wall of money worth about $2 million and then posed for pictures standing behind it. "The villagers slept on a `mattress' of 8 million yuan in cash and `pillows' of 4.2 million yuan before a total of 13.1 million yuan was distributed as a bonus to 340 households in Jianshe village, Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture on Tuesday," the newspaper said.

Here's my new favorite writer who writes about writing .

This article by Alan Jacobs on the New Atlantis blog called "reading and thinking, one more time" (yes, all lowercase) is just wonderful. Excerpt: "So between the writers desperate to be published and the editors desperate for `content,' the forces militating against taking time -- time to read, time to think -- are really powerful. So writers tend to trust the first thoughts that come to them, rarely bothering to find out whether others have already considered their topic and written well about it -- and in fact not wanting to know about earlier writing, because that might pre-empt their own writing, their publication -- the "content" that editors want and that will keep readers' Twitter feeds clicking and popping with links. In the current system everyone feels stimulated or productive or both. And hey, it's only reading and thinking that go by the wayside."

Taking a nibble out of corporate crime .

Here are some incredible stats cited by the Wall Street Journal: "Between 2001 and 2012, no individuals were charged in 65 percent of 255 cases in which the Justice Department reached deferred-prosecution agreements or nonprosecution agreements, which allow firms to avoid criminal convictions, according to an analysis of data by Brandon Garrett, the University of Virginia law professor, in his coming book `Too Big to Jail: How Prosecutors Compromise with Corporations.' At the same time, no employees were charged in 75% of 125 cases in which public companies were charged and convicted or reached plea agreements over that period, Professor Garrett found." Basically what happens is the companies buy get-out-of-jail-free cards for their executives, as U.S. Senator Charles Grassley puts it.

Was Hewlett-Packard fudging when it blamed fraudulent accounting at Autonomy for its own $9 billion writedown ?

More than a year after the writedown we still don't know the answer to that question, but H-P may have to address it soon as a part of a court case. Stephen Bouvier runs the numbers in this article for Accounting Age. The second link takes you to a Bloomberg story about the court proceedings.

"He lives in a tree, doesn't wear shoes , and brushes his teeth with a pinecone."

What prompted this man, Mick Dodge, to go into the forest in the first place? "My feet hurt," he said.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the author on this story:
Jonathan Weil at jweil16@bloomberg.net