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Economic Analysis

Why the Fed Is So Wimpy

Outside the Box

October 1, 2014

Another in what seems to be a small parade of scandals involving secretly recorded tapes of Federal Reserve regulators emerged last week. What a number of writers (including me) have written about regulatory capture over the past decade was brought out into the open, at least for a while. My brilliant young friend (40 seems young to me now) Justin Fox, editorial director of the Harvard Business Review and business and economic columnist for Time magazine, published a thoughtful essay this...

The End of Monetary Policy

Thoughts from the Frontline

September 28, 2014

We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats’ feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar…

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

–  T. S. Eliot, “The Hollow Men

Future Bull

Outside the Box

September 24, 2014

In a conversation this morning, I remarked how rapidly things change. It was less than 20 years ago that cutting-edge tech for listening to music was the cassette tape. We blew right past CDs, and now we all consume music from the cloud on our phones. Boom. Almost overnight.

A lot has changed about the global economy and politics, too. Things that were unthinkable only 10 years ago now seem to be reality. What changes, I wonder, will we be writing about a few years from now that will seem...

Where’s the Growth?

Thoughts from the Frontline

September 21, 2014

In 1633 Galileo Galilei, then an old man, was tried and convicted by the Catholic Church of the heresy of believing that the earth revolved around the sun. He recanted and was forced into house arrest for the rest of his life, until 1642. Yet “The moment he [Galileo] was set at liberty, he looked up to the sky and down to the ground, and, stamping with his foot, in a contemplative mood, said, Eppur si muove, that is, still it moves, meaning the earth” (Giuseppe Baretti in his book the The...

“Finest Worksong”

Outside the Box

September 17, 2014

“In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is” – Yogi Berra, as cited by Ben Hunt in today’s Outside the Box. Or, to put it in macroeconomic terms, “Why is global growth so disappointing?” In the aftermath of the Great Recession, fearing a deflationary equilibrium (which, as Ben notes, is macroeconomic-speak for falling into a well, breaking your leg, at night, alone), the Fed bought trillions of dollars in assets … and saved the world. Sort of. If you...

What’s on Your Radar Screen?

Thoughts from the Frontline

September 14, 2014

Toward the end of every week I begin to ponder what I should write about in the next Thoughts from the Frontline. Much of my week is spent in front of my iPad or computer, consuming as much generally random information as time and the ebb and flow of life will allow. I cannot remember a time in my life after I realized you could read and learn new things that that particular addiction has not been my constant companion.

An Independent Scotland?

Outside the Box

September 10, 2014

The United States is just starting to think about the upcoming elections (for whatever reason, the vast majority of people don’t focus on politics until after Labor Day), but there is another election happening “over the pond,” where the polls have just made everybody do a double-take. I am of course referring to the referendum on Scottish independence, which will be held next week. Voters opposing the measure were a clear majority for months, but their numbers began slipping a few weeks ago;...

Myanmar Shadow

Things That Make You Go Hmmm...

September 9, 2014

I have something different for you this week, folks.

Some time ago I wrote a piece on Myanmar, in response to which I received a landslide of emails during the weeks after its publication. At the time, I promised to write further about this amazing country; but, as is so often the case, time has intervened and taken me in ever-different directions.

However, this week a chance meeting with an old friend during a truly epic Singapore rainstorm brought Myanmar firmly back to the front of my...

Europe Takes the QE Baton

Thoughts from the Frontline

September 7, 2014

If the wide, wide world of investing doesn’t seem a little strange to you these days, it can only be because you’re not paying attention. If you’re paying attention, strange really isn’t the word you’re probably using in your day-to-day investing conversations; it may be more like weird or bizarre. It increasingly feels like we’re living in the world dreamed up by the creators of DC Comics back in the 1960s, called Bizarro World. In popular culture "Bizarro World" has come to mean a situation...

What does a “good” Chinese adjustment look like?

Outside the Box

September 3, 2014

People of privilege will always risk their complete destruction rather than surrender any material part of their advantage. Intellectual myopia, often called stupidity, is no doubt a reason. But the privileged also feel that their privileges, however egregious they may seem to others, are a solemn, basic, God-given right. The sensitivity of the poor to injustice is a trivial thing compared with that of the rich.

– John Galbraith, The Age of Uncertainty

Malinvestment occurs when people do...