Patriotism

This is a piece first run for the election four years ago, updated a bit for today.

Election Day is not a national holiday, at least not in the traditional sense. But it is the one day that our nation asks something from all of us, even if it’s just a few minutes. If you follow calle ocho through Little Havana in Miami on Election Day, you’ll see a long line houses with the red white and blue of US and Cuban flags stretching off into the horizon. Families sometimes come together across generations, as with any holiday, before they go off to vote. Cuban exiles in Miami are a people that know what it means to be free because freedom and good times are often best measured against their opposite.

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2012 Predictions

The election is a week away.  It’s time to make a few predictions and offer some analysis, if only so that everyone can make fun of me when this is all over.

Regular readers know how much disdain I have for the horserace that characterizes most of the reporting, but in the end it comes down to that.  Still, there are many issues revolving around the ability to call this thing properly that are fascinating, at least to someone too far into it.  My fondest hope is that at least some of them break in ways that defy conventional wisdom and shake things up.

Ready?

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Breaking the Oil Cycles

News shown out over the highway in big glowing numbers – 3.289, a number lower than anyone had seen in a while.  That was the price per gallon of gasoline the last time the little purple car was filled up and piloted back down the highway.  A few months earlier it was 3.929 at the same station, about 20% higher or $7.68 over a tankful.  How can that possibly be?

Many things go into the price of gasoline, but the most important is the cost for crude oil.  Something around 60% of the cost at the pump is the raw material that fuels our lives, the rest being more or less fixed costs in refining, transportation, taxes, and profit.  It’s the price of oil that is notoriously volatile, driving the changes at the pump.  And something is about to be done about it, too.

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Work Creates All Wealth

On a bizzy day, it’s time for another repeat.  This one is from October 2010, just before the Republicans took the US House.  I’m going to leave it just the way it is because I think the message is still important – but we’d be in a much stronger position if we too this to heart, IMHO.

As Democrats contemplate holding the minority position in Congress yet again, 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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Inequality

Income inequality is one of those things that we find almost impossible to talk about in US politics.  Simply raising the issue automatically leads to charges of “class warfare”, a term that is empty enough in meaning to raise emotions without much intellect.  Yet it is important.

One of the great features of recent global economic turmoil is the downturn in the developed world amid continued growth in the developing world.  What’s the main difference between the two?  According to a survey by the Economist, one of the main features is that the developing world generally has increasing income equality but the developed increasing inequality.  Emotional arguments aside, there is a distinct trend that raises real questions of global competitiveness, at the very least.

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Paralysis

“It is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.”
– Franklin Delano Roosevelt

One of the key features of the time we live in is paralysis.  Uncertainty creates risk aversion, since risk is much more difficult to calculate.   After a few years living like this and people start to live day to day.  It eventually becomes “survival mode” when tomorrow becomes very difficult to imagine.  The result is nothing – and that often comes even when one person is calling the shots, let alone a system based on consensus among many.

The evidence is all around us that something unusual is happening.  Change is coming faster and in ways that are not often talked about adequately.  The economy is not simply recovering the way it has after any other post-war recession.  What should we do?  FDR had it right – try something and see if it works.  If that goes against every instinct you have right now, you’re not alone.  But let’s see if we can convince you that there are, in fact, some things that point to very different actions than we’re all used to.

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Singularity

Imagine you are in a space ship hurtling toward a black hole.  You might try to turn the ship around and fire the engines full force.  The problem is that the blast from your engines only adds mass to the black hole, making its gravitational pull even harder.  What do you do?  Fire the engines harder to try to hit escape velocity?

That may sound like a silly analogy for our ecnonomy, and it is definitely far from complete.  But as the brilliant John Mauldin discusses in his “Thoughts From the Frontline”, the black hole of debt is posing some very unusual economic problems.  This “singularity” is, simply put, a place where the normal equations that describe the universe of economics no longer apply.  What can we do when everything we know no longer works?

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