Threats

The threat was workaday, routine, almost thrown off as a procedural matter, but it was a threat nonetheless.

Reading from a script, she advised me that my government would take action if I failed to carry health insurance for any period of time. She didn’t just rush in, she knew it was a priority, telling me that she had to read this piece of information to me, but this was a priority among all the other pieces of bureaucratic swill sitting on the screen in front of her.

Someone had impressed upon her the essential nature of hammering home the punitive consequences of the Affordable Care Act. (Note the non-reference to ‘health’ in the official title.)

So much for a government of the people.

Cable Magic

Bubbles are notorious for only being clear after they’ve burst.

There’s never a shortage of people willing to predict bubbles, which makes me think that might be the the biggest bubble, in bubble-sighters. Current thinking seems to be that bonds are in a bubble, that we’re buying new highs in the price of US govvie debt based on nothing but the idea that they’re going higher still.

If true, this bubble has been a long time coming. When President Reagan charged Paul Volcker with the job of killing inflation, it set in train the virtuous circumstances we have today, namely, low interest rates and relatively acceptable liquidity. That was 35 years ago now. Seems to me that we’re just about where we should be given the initial aim.

The difficulty lies with the fact that we might have gone a little too far. Negative interest rates are such an odd phenomenon, and are now so common, that talk of bubbles and such is almost the easy way out. The reasons we got to this extreme place are well known; thank you JP Morgan, Goldman Sachs, AIG, Morgan Stanley et al, but that doesn’t help with the fact of it.

Markets often overshoot what appear to be reasonable stopping points or rest areas. They’re more like trampolines than much else, absorbing energy and sending it back in the other direction. Witness the cable. With stocks dipping for only a week after Brexit, it was up to the currency to absorb the damage, and it did so pretty well.

That’s the wonder of open, market economies. When stuff happens, the pressure can be relieved in many ways, with the effect that the energy from shocks doesn’t wreck too much. In this case, almost all of the damage was done to the currency, the beauty of which is that people’s daily lives aren’t horribly dislocated. That’s a very good thing.

Focus

This week in markets it’s…well, it’s the same every week: What will the central bankers do? Janet & Co meet to do something or other Tuesday and Wednesday, which will mean something else to markets and something completely different to you and me. Three – or is that two? – degrees of separation is a good thing.

Which actually should be a way of looking at this tomfoolery. In my daily life, eggheads moving interbank borrowing rates a few basis points this way or that means nothing. I have no debt, so there’ll still be no interest payment. My living costs change meaningfully only with decadal moves in oil prices, so now we’ve had that for this ten years, they’ll stay about the same. In fact, now that I have just paid my premium in the last ten minutes, health insurance is now my single biggest expense apart from keeping a roof over my head. And that’s thanks to morons in DC who FAILED TO READ A 1,700 PAGE BILL THEY PASSED ON A CHRISTMAS EVE.

Ignoring the big picture is what people do by default, but I am beginning to believe it’s the only way to stay sane. Working, working for onesself, controlling outgoings, expanding incomings, saving, investing, finding cashflow and diversifying; these are the nibbles we can all make at escaping the tyranny of the big.

Local is good, small is powerful.

Educated

Knowledge is power, but not all knowledge. Skill is money, but not all skills so translate. Whatever information or ability we have above what we need to exist is useful…but some is more valuable than others.

The key, in my opinion, is knowing what’s in demand. There’s that wonderfully simple Eco 101 again. If others do not have, or are prepared to pay for, your edge, you will experience some kind of demand. Otherwise, you are supply, which means that you are a price-taker.

Markets work in all kinds of ways.

Public schools purport to be the starting place for our journey to acquire marketable knowledge, skills and information. That was true when I attended Henley Beach Primary in the early 1970s, but emerging even then was the future of government schools. If governments are the day-care for socialists and statists, state-funded education is their training wing.

Training, of course, is a foolish notion. Indoctrination is more accurate, because standard liberal foundations for advanced knowledge- you know, reading, writing and ‘rithmetic – are no longer the backbone of educational institutions. Now the mode is soft leftist junk: social justice, tolerance, diversity…all the emotionally driven clap-trap that avoids hard science, mathematics and the business of learning how to learn.

If conservatives want to make our way forward, let’s go backwards first. Let’s start with the schools and stem the flow of fools first. A long term goal it is, but the only one with any chance of long-term success.