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Economic Analysis

“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...

Growth

Thoughts from the Frontline

August 31, 2014

“It's said that power corrupts, but actually it's more true that power attracts the corruptible. The sane are usually attracted by other things than power.”

– David Brin in The Postman

“For every good idea, ten thousand idiotic ones must first be posed, sifted, sniffed, tried, and discarded. A mind that's afraid to toy with the ridiculous will never come up with the brilliantly original."

– David Brin, Orbit interview

Employers Aren’t Just Whining – the “Skills Gap” Is Real

Outside the Box

August 27, 2014

Paul Krugman and other notables dismiss the notion of a skills gap, though employers continue to claim they’re having trouble finding workers with the skills they need. And if you look at the evidence one way, Krugman et al. are right. But this week an interesting post on the Harvard Business Review Blog Network by guest columnist James Bessen suggests that employers may not just be whining, they may really have a problem filling some kinds of jobs.

Unsurprisingly, the problem is with new...

A Nation of Shopkeepers

Thoughts from the Frontline

August 25, 2014

“To found a great empire for the sole purpose of raising up a people of customers may at first sight appear a project fit only for a nation of shopkeepers. It is, however, a project altogether unfit for a nation of shopkeepers; but extremely fit for a nation whose government is influenced by shopkeepers.”
– Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations

AI, Robotics, and the Future of Jobs

Outside the Box

August 19, 2014

This past week several reports came across my desk highlighting both the good news and the bad news about the future of automation and robotics. There are those who think that automation and robotics are going to be a massive destroyer of jobs and others who think that in general humans respond to shifts in employment opportunities by creating new opportunities.

As I’ve noted more than once, in the 1970s (as it seemed that our jobs were disappearing, never to return), the correct answer to...