Cooperation, Not Combat

The trade war with China accelerates as the Trump administration’s latest tariffs have been matched. Talks have broken down, and Trump seems to think that the taxes are paid by China, not US consumers. He’s not going to back down anytime soon.

Where does it stop? If the end goal is an even trade between the two nations, it’s not actually possible to accomplish it this way – unless it drops to zero. There are systemic problems in world trade generally and China specifically which create this issue that can and must be worked out. A competent administration would do that hard work and create a world that is much more even all around.

But no, we’d all rather just bully our way to prosperity or something.

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Industry 4.0

Call it the “Fourth Industrial Revolution” or the more hip “Industry 4.0” if you like. What matters most is that industry, or the process of making things, is changing in ways that seem fundamental and permanent. The world is moving on to a new era which, difficult as times like this can be to understand, appears to be rather well defined and describable.

If you do a deep dive into Industry 4.0, however, there is still something missing. It’s the “why” of the process which seems to be at least assumed, if not elusive. Not just why it is happening, but why it is being driven now and why it is expected to cast aside Industry 3.0.

What’s missing in the increasing chatter of Industry 4.0 appears to be the fundamental force behind it, which is the decline of what we might call “capitalism” in favor of a purely market centered, low overhead “marketism” approach.

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“Winning” A Trade War?

When things become chaotic, the need for original sources on the ground becomes even more important. Without direct accounts of what’s happening everything comes down to some kind of spin applied at a distance. Writers don’t always deliberately set out to misinform, but a world changing constantly is a world where information at a distance is probably outdated at best.

The problem with original sources is that they can be very hard to understand. Leaving aside other languages and pretending that google translate can handle that adequately, everyone has a different perspective. Every culture has its idioms and biases. Some things simply do not translate well.

Here is just one example of a “nearly original” source and how to read it.

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Capital Controls

The currents of the oceans carry warmth to northern latitudes. The jet stream can be ridden by jets carrying travelers to new adventures. In much the same way, money flows around the world in waves which make nearly every aspect of our economic life possible.

That may be coming to a halt soon, however. The climate change that brings us trade wars also shuts down the financial weather systems which move in a predictable bounded chaos. Our ability to predict the economic future, always right in bulk but rarely precise, may be closing down.

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Panic, But Slowly

The economy has been expanding since the start of 2010. It hasn’t been rapid, and It’s only now enough to absorb the workers who need jobs, but it’s real. It’s only natural for economists to ask, “When does it end?”

That’s not because they are extremely un-fun people. It’s their job. Recessions are a much bigger problem when no one sees them coming, and history shows that we never really see them coming. And that economists are always worried about the next recession, but we don’t really listen to them.

So is it time to panic? As Groucho tells us, “There’ll be plenty of time to panic later.”

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Inflation is Hip

Inflation is certainly surging, it remains to be seen how much of a problem that is. What we do know is that some regions of the nation, particularly cities where businesses have embraced technology, are surging ahead quickly. Some a bit too quickly.

In a nation already divided, the success of some cities is only accelerating the divide. If they become too successful their high cost may ultimately slow growth. But for now, the benefits of the recovery are heavily centered on a few places.

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Other People’s Money

The stock market is high. What gets a market feelin’ good and oblivious to everything around it is a powerful drug, one that has the ability to cloud judgement like nothing else. The opium of markets is OPM, or Other People’s Money.

Where the stock market should be feeling blue and dealing with the realities of a world unraveling with trade wars and debt, it’s taken another course. It’s decided to just get high the best way it can. In that state of euphoria none of that other stuff matters, and everything is good. We have plenty of OPM to go around.

Right now, the stock market has a serious OPM crisis that very few people are talking about.

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