Humanity, Boiled Away

How can we sum up 2015? In many ways, it’s the year when people everywhere exploded. On the right, the pent up frustration and anger felt by people losing their privilege in a rapidly changing world lit up, ultimately crystallizing in the campaign of a certain rich person whose name will not be used. On the left, anger that bled onto the streets from black bodies killed by authorities sometimes ignited, burning cities and flaring up the “Black Lives Matter” movement.

The numbers? Economic growth sputtered along just over 2% in real terms, and 5.2M jobs were added – good enough to finally raise the Fed Funds Rate. But these once critical figures waned in importance. This year, people demanded attention.

Yet as much as this was a year about people, not numbers, the explosions make it hard to be hopeful about “humanity” – which is to say decency and respect.

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Careful What You Wish For

Is the Federal Reserve nothing but a tool for big banks? According to an op-ed by Sen Bernie Sanders (I-VT), it sure looks that way. The presidential candidate and hero to millions of progressives made the case for an audit, tighter controls, and other measures to rein in the nation’s central banking system.

There are clearly problems with the Fed and it’s very mixed charters to tame inflation, encourage full employment, maintain the value of the US Dollar, and regulate banks. The more presence and power the Fed gains the more this is an important issue. But today’s “progressives” aren’t in a mood for just reform – many are in a mood to “End the Fed!”

While that position is understandable it’s horribly misguided. But it’s a great highlight for the tension inherent in not-that-subtle difference between a “liberal” and a “progressive”.  And it’s ultimately a rather irresponsible position that Sanders is taking.

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Joseph’s Journey

Joseph was wandering, a stranger in a foreign land. He wanted nothing more than a refuge for the evening when he came into the public house full of people already for the night. It was nearly Christmas – a night when it wasn’t good to be loose in the cold alone and afraid.

But unlike his namesake, he had no family in tow and was not following a star. Joseph came that night to a bar lit up with neon beer signs to guide him.

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Stop & Count Our Blessings

The snow came overnight, the first real blanket of white this year. It arrived with the Winter Solstice as if some weather fairy took pity on us for the earthy brown we’ve sullenly marched past the last month. “Minnesotans need this to be in the mood,” the fairy must have said, and made the grey air clump up solid and sprinkle down.

It has been that kind of year. Normal people would be thankful for the warmth, but those who are used to magic expect more than a climate of easy survival. The cold is supposed to invigorate the northern world, bringing a stinging cheer which says, “Keep it moving, you have work to do!”

The rest of this season said to us, “It’s dark, it’s wet, it’s time for a nap. It’s time to stop.” And now, with the sprinkle of white melting around the edges, we will shortly.

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Starts With an Idea

When Martin Shkreli was arrested the internet erupted with a dark sense of joy. Finally, the most hated pharmaceutical and finance guy in America was going to get justice – if not for raising the price of drugs 5,000% but for an unrelated ponzi scam.

This came up during People’s Economics, the discussion groups which represented a kind of “Barataria Live”. Our section on High Finance asserted that the complex and overlarge finance system inherently encourages this kind of bad behavior, which is to say that any regulation or law you might write is irrelevant compared to the kind of damage guys like Shkreli can do before they are caught.

Two interesting thoughts came out of this and subsequent discussions which provide logical ways for us to get past this problem and move to a better future. And there may be more.

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Can We … Talk?

People’s Economics,” the three-part series of talks held at the Sidhe Brewing Company in St Paul, are over. Viddy will be up soon so that everyone can see the result for themselves, but I’ll give you my take. It was a great experience and, as usual, the comments after my li’l schtick were the highlight.

There’s nothing better than people sitting down over a few beers and talking about real stuff.

For that reason, the rumors that this will be followed by “Barataria on Ice” are completely untrue. Besides, I can’t skate. The most important part wasn’t the performance but the chance for people to sit down and simply talk. Non-partisan, totally real, honest talk. And I think that we’re going to start seeing more of it, too.

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Ready for Anything! (?)

By the time you read this, the Fed Open Market Committee (FOMC) has probably raised their benchmark Fed Funds rate and given guidance for the next few years. More importantly, everyone has freaked out one way or the other and the stock and bond markets have probably done something that has everyone puzzled.

We still live in a financial world that defies expectations. It has to be “experienced”, just like the various things you did in your mis-spent youth that built “character”. The question becomes – what great wisdom are we learning from all of this?

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