If you had to sum up 2014 in one short sentence, what would it be? Barataria is a blog of social commentary and observation in the largest sense, which naturally includes a lot of politics and economics – the places where the citizens of this great nation express their true values. So for the the purposes of this humble effort, one thing comes clearly to mind for this year:
The system largely works.
That may sound horribly pro-establishment, especially with the terrible failures of the system that made the news this year. Police brutality went unpunished as many people came to fear that there is an open season on their families simply for having the wrong skin color. The Republicans took the Senate easily with a record low turnout, an expression of apathy more than direction.
But this points to the power of the systems we have as much as the successes do, and why the goals looking ahead have to be about getting control so that these mechanisms do what we need them to. The systems work – as they didn’t at all in 2008 and sporadically after that – but for whom?
In the stillness of a cold winter day, obligations chilled between frosty holidays, two years stretch out in a lounging recline to define the moment. One is the year past, and the other is the year ahead. For the whirl of politics, defined in soundbites and constant lobbying, the break is an unusual calm for clearer heads.
Next year, 2015, will be the year in which the campaign for a new President takes shape. That will in turn define 2016 in politics and set us up for what is certainly shaping up to indeed be the Year Everything Changes in 2017. For the long journey that will come to define whatever hero we place in the office to define our world at the start of the next boomtime. For all that, it is shaping up to be one person who can take it – if she really does want it.
This next year is likely to be the one that defines Secretary Hillary Clinton, and in so doing may define the next great era of the United States. It’s all about how she manages “inevitability”.
As good as things are in the US, there is one threat that remains to the strength of our economy – the rest of the world.
Europe is flat, Japan is a basket case, and Russia is just beginning what should become an epic collapse mirrored only by their experience 25 years ago. China may be hitting the wall, which for them is a rate of growth less than 8% per year – it’s a catastrophe when everyone has financed today based on huge expectations for tomorrow.
Yet, for all that, the total product of the planet is expected to grow by 3.8% in 2015. The developing world is picking up the Great Convergence and with US leadership should still take us into the next boomtime in 2017. But there are risks all around us.
The holiday has come. If you’re safely tucked in to your warm winter bed the last thing you may want to think about is shopping. If it ain’t done by now, well, it may not be done. It’s all good. But that is what defines the season for many people and the success of it determines whether or not visions of sugarplums dance in your head about now.
Even if you’re not into the whole rush-rush buying frenzy, a good strong retail season is good for everyone. We can say that this year because if you’d rather think back on the blessings of the year, as any righteous person should, this has been a very good year for the economy. All that remains is for people to accept it and move forward with glad tidings of the season. The shopping sesaon, that is.
It is dark outside when the alarm goes off, not at all a time to wake up. The usual 8 hours and 41 minutes of daylight we can expect on a Winter Solstice is never enough to keep us going, even on a relatively warm and mild December that developed late in the month. Here in Minnesota the sky has been grey and the snow has gone, heralding a brown Christmas with muddy dog prints on the floor with every outing.
But today is the first full day of Winter all the same, even if it doesn’t quite feel like it. The dark tells us so.
This is the end of the year traditionally. The new year should begin at Solstice, as is the ancient European tradition, just as the day begins at midnight. The only reason it doesn’t is that the Romans used a calendar, the Julian, that was off a bit by the time Pope Gregory XIII got around to revising it and everything moved ten days. No matter. The world since the Renaissance has increasingly been what we decree, not what we see.
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer,
With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
There has to be more to it, doesn’t there? Doesn’t this “Santa” guy have some ulterior motive?
The story of today is the price of oil. A month ago it looked as though it couldn’t go any lower as US wells were pegged to a production price of about $80 per barrel. Now, it’s at $60 per barrel. There are signs that many US wells will indeed keep operating as improvements in efficiency and a lower operating cost once the sunk costs once well is started leave room for more profit even at this low price. Cheap oil may be here to stay longer than we thought.
But with that, we still have the problems in Russia. The Ruble has fallen off a cliff, a problem often blamed on the price of oil. It’s deeper than that, and the flailing Russian response has in some ways made things worse. The currency has lost about 60% of its value in one year, versus about 40% for oil.
That’s not to say there aren’t threats as well as opportunities in the US beyond oil itself. Cheap oil changes a lot of games, and is worth thinking through.