Global System to the Test

It’s become popular in the politics of many nations to re-think free trade and globalism. Many people believe that something has gone terribly wrong and, for many reasons, politicians typically point to foreigners or a faceless “global order” as the problem.

This belief is not limited to the US by any means. It ranges from a sense of discomfort to a belief in “fair trade, not free trade” to outright sneering at “globalists”. Is there something wrong in the global order?

The short answer is yes, but the long answer is incredibly long and, interestingly enough, green on the back.

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The Storms Behind, The Storms Ahead

How many disasters can we take at once? The short answer is that while the US is continuing to rebound nicely as the economy restructures, it’s still a very delicate process. Unemployment is low in much of the nation, or at least a lot lower than we have seen for a long time. But the process is uneven, bypassing rural areas and older workers unable or unwilling to essentially start over with entirely new careers.

Upsets like major storms are enough to put the whole process in jeopardy, especially when there are two right in a row. This should be the year when everything changes, but it hasn’t been working very well. A lack of leadership and a general sense of drift isn’t helping us take off. The storms? Big enough for a solid recession, without a doubt.

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Underground Economy

This is a repeat from 2013.  What’s amazing is that the Underground Economy, that part which is off the books, has not been studied properly for a solid five years.  It may still be 12% of GDP, but we don’t really know. 

It’s good to have a lot of money, assuming that not everyone has a lot.  Inequality is apparently bad when it gets too big, but it also makes the whole economy possible in small doses.  But how much money is really out there, and where is it going?  It turns out that this is more complicated – and hidden – than most thought.

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The Wealth of Nations

The rapid pace of change has created a world filled with excitement and energy. At the same time, it’s created a world filled with anxiety and fear. At the intersection of both of these is hatred, distrust, disrespect, and every other force you can think of which can divide people.  Rather than bring us together, closeness has us running to define boxes to hide in, regardless of how small.

The great force which should unite but instead often confuses and separates is the driving force of our time: technology. That one simple word is the savior and excuse all at the same time. But what is it, really?

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Yes, Not Again

In celebration of a decade of Barataria, I have to present another repeat.  This is from March 2008.  It’s an interesting time in that it was six months after the stock market peaked and six months before the financial collapse became obvious.  One of the great themes of Barataria since this time has been how we’ve seen it all before and we’re about to see it again.  The real story here isn’t that I called it at this time – it’s that so few people saw what was obvious as it happened around us.

Imagine that a new technology comes along that spawns a whole new industry. Not only is this industry a revolution in how people lead their lives, it’s immensely popular and generates a big pile of cash. The field starts out wide-open with many small entrepreneurs, but gradually they become rich as they are bought out by a few big players. Soon, the industry has consolidated and re-investment slows dramatically. Those who made big money start to put it into real estate, specifically in Midtown Manhattan, Florida, and Los Angeles.

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Simply Too Big

Perhaps you believe, as many people do, that the largest banks in the nation such as JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs should be broken up. They are simply “Too big to fail” and the cost of a bailout by taxpayers to avoid a systemic failure is too great. Who should break them up? The federal government, by legislation? The Federal Reserve, by regulation?

How about the free market – because they are not as profitable?

For all the shouting and consternation about big banks, one simple fact has gone overlooked. With their tremendous size and ability to “make the market”, as shown by the “London Whale” incident, they do not actually rule the world. They are about as profitable, and usually less so, than smaller banks. The reasons are not obvious but they are demonstrated. And those who should be doing the shouting are not the “99%” but the shareholders.

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Shipping Meltdown! (or not?)

Santa Claus isn’t coming this year! Global shipping has collapsed! Big ships are stranded as the companies can’t even pay the docking fees!

Clearly, it’s time to panic. The bankruptcy of Hanjin shipping has created a wave of horrifically bad stories predicting the end of international trade as we know it. Recession must be just around the corner as the global system collapses, right?

Um, no. Not even close. The story we have been told is a good example of two key features of financial reporting today. The first is that no one has the slightest idea what they are talking about and the story is completely free of the context anyone might need to understand it. The second is that the only big news is bad news – probably in part due to the first problem.

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