Firm Hand

What happens in a Democratic-Republic when the most powerful person has an agenda which seems at odds with the legislative body?

We found out today when Janet Yellen, who is not at all orange, testified before the Senate Banking Committee for the first time since … well, really since all Hell broke loose. Financial issues have largely taken a back seat since the circus came to town and the opportunity to return to such a basic issue had the wonderful air or normality to it.

That didn’t stop anyone from trying to bring in the clowns, of course. But real leaders, like Yellen, know better than to take the bait. It was delightfully boring, as all banking should be. But it still had its moments.

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National Brand

Around the surprisingly excellent Superbowl we have the usual display of ads. It’s one of the features of the big event – and for some the main event. But what do these over-produced ads usually bring the advertisers who are spending $20M and more for a minute?

Most of them are here to “build the brand,” or improve the image of the company more than actually sell a product. Anyone who has been in marketing for any length of time will roll their eyes at the idea. It’s usually an excuse for the worst excesses of advertising, the small telenovelas which are really money pretty much down the drain. Targeted advertising, driven by “Big Data,” is what really sells products, after all.

Still, branding is an important exercise all around. People are willing to pay more for a product they feel good about – whether that is corporate responsibility, perception of quality, or a connection to a greater good. And brands are more than corporations sometimes – the value of a brand can also come in a tag that says “Made in USA” or any other nation.

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Make America – Great Again?

What will it take to Make America Great Again? A big part of it, at least in terms of the public show, is the creation of manufacturing jobs. Of the four words in MAGA, the top two appear to be “America” and “Make”. It’s a noble effort all around, without a doubt.

But can this be done as a matter of policy? Can we turn back evils like bad trade deals and force the products which are consumed in America to be made in America?

Two stories from the opening daze of the Trump administration demonstrate just how unlikely this effort will be. Indeed, it’s entirely possible to cause more damage than good in many ways.

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Screwing It All Up

The news is full of Trumpestuous nonsense. Denials of Russian involvement in our election devolved into a tweetstorm lasting for days, apparently without sleep, causing many to question his mental health and/or drug use. You can read about this nearly anywhere, so consider this the main attraction of the circus.

Away from the noise there is a lot more going on, of course. As we have said here before, the real stories will be away from the nonsense presented front and center. For all of our reasonable worries about his stability and allegiances, Trump poses a far greater danger to our nation.

Where we should reasonably be about to enter a great period of economic activity, it is still entirely possible to screw it up.

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Economy of People

It’s a bizzy return-to-work week, and I don’t know how to say this any better.  This post, from 2013, is presented just as it was because so much of it is relevant.  This was elaborated on at length in my discussion series People’s Economics in 2015, but this is the summary.  I still believe that this is what we should be talking about rather than the nonsense which passes for “politics” today – and that nearly everyone is utterly missing the ability to analyze what is happening around all of us in any useful way.

The economic teachings of Pope Francis are a hot topic. People feel a need to weigh in on what he said whether they understand it or not. But it’s the simple fact that so many don’t understand where this comes from that is probably the most important point in the public debate.

To sum it up: Money should work for people, and not the other way around. That shouldn’t be controversial, but having forgotten this way of looking at things is may be at the heart of economic and social cycles. The simple answer is that it’s time we remembered. More to the point, that philosophy is at the heart of American tradition going back to our earliest days.

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May You Live in Interesting Times

Years ago, Barataria predicted that 2017 would be “The Year Everything Changes”. The lesson is, of course, that we all need to be careful what we wish for.

The basic underlying forces which drove that prediction have not changed. The holiday shopping season has yet to be fully tabulated, but it appears that the robust 3.6% gain predicted was met or even matched, with one estimate showing a 4.9% gain. Baby Boomers will still hit retirement age and there will definitely be a shortage of workers coming up, especially in certain skilled areas.

For all that hope, the upside will be limited by an incoming Trump administration. It’s not just that they are largely tied to political views which do not fit the situation, it’s that many of them have little to no experience making policy. To a large extent, nothing will get done. But what does get done will happen among the bureaucracy. That may mean more change than we all think.

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Bloated Pentagon Revealed

How much waste is included in the $580 billion dollar per year Defense budget?

Critics of President Obama’s reductions in the military will tell you that we have cut beyond the bone. The reduction from nearly $700B in 2008, achieved largely by reducing personnel in combat zones like Iraq and Afghanistan, has been impressive. But does this leave the military starved and incapable of doing its primary job of defending the United States around the world?

It’s been hard to tell because the Pentagon has proved unauditable for decades. But a new report shows that at least $25 billion every year cannot be justified no matter how you look at it. And the details of the report suggest that even a modest restructuring can save tens or even hundreds of billions of dollars without in any way hindering the men and women on the front lines.

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