Franc-ly You Must be Kidding

Last Friday the ongoing “Currency War” claimed an unlikely casualty – Switzerland, a nation best known for being solid in money and neutral in war. The central bank had to remove the ties to the Euro under pressure from foreign investors and the result was an upward explosion of 39%, before settling in at 15%, in the Swiss Franc (CHF, known by its French name Confédération Helvétique).

That may sound like good news for the alpine nation, and it is if you are holding a lot of CHF in a bank account. But if you make precise equipment or other things that the Alpine nation is known for, your stuff just got 15% more expensive. Managing this situation is going to be a tough one for the Swiss, certainly, but it’s a disaster for those who borrowed money from their famously solid and discreet banks.

It’s also an earthquake that rattles our whole idea of “globalism”.

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Do You Get It?

The Charlie Hebdo comics raise a lot of questions. Is it acceptable to deliberately offend people? Does free expression trump hurt feelings? Should there be an exemption for faith, a place where speech should be limited?

But there’s an even more immediate question: are the comics funny?

Not being French, I’ll never understand the French sense of humor. It tends to be deep, biting, satirical, and … well, not exactly laugh-out-loud. Good satire is often not really funny as much as painful, after all. Then again, bullets are even more painful.

Was that last comment satirical or just in bad taste?

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Forward! 2015 & Beyond

How will the economy perform in 2015? In many ways, it’s a lot like the weather. The first guess is that we should expect more of the same from 2014, which is to say a steady improvement. Last year was a turning point for many people as the bottom hit five years ago was finally shaken off. Progress was made overall – it’s really a question of who benefited and who will continue to benefit.

But when putting together an economic forecast for the coming year something stands out that is quite remarkable. There are hardly any trends for 2015 that should not be important in 2016 as well. Understanding why takes Barataria back to the fundamental principles, theories really, that have guided our understanding of the economy and where it is going.

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Inflation? Naw.

After years of low interest rates and quantitative easing that amounts to more or less printing $4.5T, it would be easy to predict that inflation is bound to rise eventually. More dollars means, by supply and demand, that they have to be worth less, yes?

But the opposite is happening as the US economy charges ahead as the strongest economy in the developed world. While we have stopped stimulating our economy, Japan and Europe are only accelerating their programs. The US is poised to lose the currency war with the strongest currency standing – and a guarantee of lower prices for a lot more than just gasoline in the near future.

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Je Suis Charlie

Another terrorist attack by Islamic fundamentalists strikes at a great Western institution. More than fragile human bodies, the target is picked out of revenge and the sense of fear it is supposed to instill. But this time, it was not a seat of power or finance that was hit – it was our values.

Free expression is a central value throughout the western world, only accepted after centuries of struggle and violence. It is something that we hold as a “certain unalienable right” at the core of who we are as a people. What exactly that means, however, has been an important question long before these anti-Western reactionaries committed their despicable act.

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