Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Outlook: The Economy and Inflation

If I haven’t mentioned this before, let me do so now: keep an eye on “business news”. So many people are focused on the political issues that they don’t take time to look at the business pages. People also tend to consider business news as very specialized, I think. I mean that the stories involve finance and accounting concepts that are not sufficiently understood by the average, intelligent person. I would agree if the articles on the business pages in the normal daily newspaper or news web site were about actual businesses and markets, etc. Most articles, unfortunately, are actually about the government and its activities. What would pass as actual news in the business world is ignored there just as real news is ignored in the other sections. Further, the “reporters” in the business section are not people with an education in business, finance, or economics. Nor do they have business backgrounds or even a history of intelligent investing. They are people with journalism degrees who could not make it to the front pages. Years ago someone did a survey of the people writing for Money Magazine. They found that few of the writers had any investment background. The writers for Money Magazine were young, inexperienced, and had bought into the Money Magazine “philosophy” (and advertising strategy) without question.

So it would seem that I have just given you good reasons to ignore the business pages. Well, even so, it is the reports on the government that you need to look out for. A few of those reports are considered significant enough to reach the front page. Many of the others are important to know about. You need to have a broader view of the economy we live in and its prospects to better understand what could happen in the future. You need that for yourself, to better plan for yourself and your family.

For example, some people are carrying on about high inflation and you might think that inflation is raging and creating havoc. Look around you. Do you see prices in general going up? Significantly? There is some, of course, but nothing big has happened as of yet and may not for a while. People who are carrying on about inflation happening now are ignoring the actual situation. (I am not suggesting that there is no threat of inflation or hyperinflation. There is. But it is a threat, a possibility and can be avoided.) Many people are ignoring the issues of Social Security and Medicare and their impact on the budget, today. You don’t keep track of this stuff without looking at the business section (and reading this blog, of course!).

Okay, so lets talk about outlook, or what I have called the Inflation Watch in the past. This time I am broadening my focus.

In spite of all the pushing, money pumping, stimulating, and general noise making, the government, including BO and Bernanke, has been unable to get the economy functioning, producing consistently, and growing. They don’t know why. Their mental framework, the “understanding of the world” they utilize to make decisions, has not brought them to the shining success they expected. But don’t despair; they know why it didn’t work. We didn’t cooperate, we being the banks, the business, the capitalists, the consumers, all of the non-government types. It is our fault. They will just have to try harder. Don’t worry. They, BO and his gang and Bernanke and his colleagues, will not question their ideas.

In the meantime, the economy is floating along, not improving, deteriorating marginally in areas that are hidden. More houses are being foreclosed upon (funny how there are few if any news reports about foreclosures these days, which was big stuff a year or two ago). BO is considering “restructuring” Fanny Mae and Freddy Mac. You know that won’t be good.

There is more unemployment and few new jobs, relative to the available workforce. (Notice that in my area, just outside of Washington, DC, unemployment is low. Isn’t that strange. Notice also the various comparisons between federal government employee incomes and the private sector.) Industrial production rose for a while, but has now slowed, if not stopped growing. Imports are again exceeding exports significantly, and the gap is growing. The balance of payments (all money transfers as opposed to just trade) shows that foreigners are still keeping dollars (idiots).

Not to be left out, foreign governments are doing just as much to screw things up as the U.S. government. Many who are looking at the Chinese to be shining stars are ignoring the fact that their Communist government believes in doing the same thing that the U.S. government does. We are the great capitalist nation and the Chinese are emulating us.

Someone could reasonably say to me that it isn’t really today that we need to be worrying about. It is the future, maybe the intermediate future. I agree. There are certainly significant seeds of terrifying doom planted in today’s economy, i.e., the debt, the made-up money at the Fed, the lack of any savings available for investment, the flood of new regulations, etc. The list is very long. Even worse is the lack of understanding of the true nature of the situation where the decisions are being made or where the decisions are being evaluated, i.e., the press.

Nevertheless, the American economy is not just the government or the Fed. There are millions of other actors who are seeking their best interest and working to achieve their own goals. These people have learned over the last century how to work around and within the government actions to minimize the consequences of those regulations and laws. Their ability to do so is not unlimited. But they have shown amazing creativity and resilience. We aren’t necessarily doomed.

Just as the government and mainstream economists don’t question their premises, those who have cried doom often in the last decades don’t seem to question why that doom hasn’t occurred. At root, they seem to give the government a kind of power in the economy that means that the non-government population is completely helpless and their actions have no consequences. Destruction is inevitable. Consequently, these doomsayers tend to pounce upon any small indication that things are coming apart as proof to the government’s power.

We must keep perspective.

The economy today is wallowing. The people making decisions are idiots. In many respects the average American cannot be relied upon to make good decisions. Even so, there is a lot of good stuff going on in our economy and society (including us). We can make it through with only a little damage. It would help if people listened to us. It would help if the American voters put in a non-Dem house of the legislature. Unfortunately, we can’t count on those events.

So what is the “Outlook”? At best it is very uncertain. Under current conditions and leaders, the best we can look forward to is more of what we have had over the last couple of years: no growth and floundering. With some positive results in November, maybe things will move toward the early part of this decade (not really good but better than now). But the potential is there for disaster. It isn’t unavoidable, just a potential.

1 comment:

  1. Nice posting.

    "Nevertheless, the American economy is not just the government or the Fed. There are millions of other actors who are seeking their best interest and working to achieve their own goals."

    This is true, and it is part of what makes detailed prognostication so difficult. Is hyperinflation around the corner? I don't know. But I don't buy Peter Schiff's absolute certainty that it is. We can acknowledge that current government policy is destructive without knowing the exact form the destruction will take.

    In the meantime, I try to hedge against as many plausible bad outcomes as I can.