Labor Creates All Wealth

As Democrats contemplate the possibility of losing the Senate, there are many ways we can handle it.  We could all sit in the back and throw stuff, much as the Republicans did for the last few years.  We could turn on each other and rip our own guts out in a festival of shame and blame.  Or, if we’re intent on really standing up to our principles, we can use this time away from being the responsible ones and understand what it is that we, as a party really stand for.

We have a lot to offer if we can only get it together for once.  But I, for one, think it’s going to take a much deeper understanding of our core values and what is really happening around us before we can make it happen.

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Labor in a (Jackson) Hole

The Federal Reserve of Kansas City puts on the big event every year – and why not throw a big party when your territory includes Jackson Hole, Wyoming? This year’s production concluded after presentations and official pronouncements from all the top central bankers of the world – Mario Drahgi of the European Central Bank (ECB), Haruhiko Kuroda of the Bank of Japan (BOJ), and our own Janet Yellen. It’s a must-see event if you want a front row seat for the big show of policy changes among the most powerful people in the world.

This year, the theme was “Re-Evaluating Labor Market Dynamics”, and the power players from around the world made it clear that nothing is going to change in the near future. If that sounds like the biggest let-down for a big show ever, you’re right. The Fed never intended for this to be a huge theatrical spectacular. It’s a place for central bankers to get together and agree on things. And what they agreed on, more than anything, is that in the developed world there is nothing more important than figuring out just how much “slack” there is in labor markets and how to take it up.

But it’s more exciting than it seems if you want to predict what will happen in the next year.

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The Opportunity Cost

You can’t have your cake and eat it, too.  It’s a silly old saying with a huge dollop of folk wisdom hidden in the middle of it.  But money spent is sometimes more than just money gone – in an integrated world it’s a choice to make one connection when another one might have been a better choice.

Rather than just measure how much money is going in and out, it might be better to understand what we could buy with the same money.  The technical term for this is “Opportunity Cost”, or what we give up by making the choices we do.

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One Last Bubble?

Is the stock market nothing but a bubble waiting to burst? There are many reasons to believe that there is one last downturn at the exit of this Managed Depression, which may indeed be slowly forming. The risk comes in the nature of how the economy is so carefully managed through monetary policy directed by the Federal Reserve. Years of zero interest and $3.7T in quantitative easing have produced a situation that’s hard to pull out of without a lot of collateral damage.

The problem is that a lot of money is chasing an awful lot of risk these days. Junk Bonds (aka “speculative grade investments”) are making a strong run, selling a record $265B through May 2014. The reason? Interest rates stuck near zero mean no return for investors, and as things turn around they have an appetite for risk. A rise in interest rates would slaughter this market and cause losses that will reverberate through equity markets before things really have a chance to turn around.

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A Jolt of Confidence

There are many ways to measure an economy, as we’ve discussed before. There are thousands of workers toiling away at the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) and many other agencies providing more data than anyone will ever be able to fully understand. It’s something like the internet in terms of data overload, except many of these measures were developed before the information age. It used to be fun to get the reports in big thick binders of paper that professionals at least pretended to read.

We have this all real-time now, and there is a lot of it. One of the most comprehensive employment reports that comes out monthly is the rarely lauded Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) from the BLS. It’s worth getting to know if you really want the details on the state of employment today.

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Surviving & Thriving

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.
Ecclesiastes 3:1 (KJV)

Anyone who has been close to the edge knows what “survival mode” is like.  Small flashes of adrenaline propel you from one day to the next.  Each fitful dawn is a mix of dread and possibility, all of them taken one at a time.  Next week?  Worry about it when it comes.  Next month?  Forever away.

Many people find themselves in “survival mode” through this Depression, especially those without either work or unemployment bennies.  For them it is a slowly unfolding tragedy, but in great numbers they become a society, a culture, and an economy that is unable to function.  That’s because a free market only reaches equilibrium in the long run, actually running on small differences in the short term.  But in the very longest term the magic of market forces become something else altogether.

Everything has its own time.  When we start to understand that “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself” it helps to appreciate the short, long, and very long term that are all whipping us through each day and all of our days.

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Stocks Lower Because … They Just Are, Dammit!

The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) is down for the third straight day. News outlets that have to attribute it to something attribute it to “global tension,” which does appear to be running a bit higher than usual. But the entire exercise of watching an index from one day to the next is a bit silly from the start.

A more interesting question asked by some commentators is, “Does this mean that the bull market is over?” The short answer is no, it doesn’t, but not for the reasons that most people think. The reality is that we have been in a secular (or long term) bear market since 2000, roughly the start of what we call a “Managed Depression,” and this small correction is nothing but a regression to the mean that proves it.

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