President Trump

What goes through your mind when you hear these words?

President Donald Trump.

My brainy and / or more liberal friends shudder.  Then they gag.  Then laugh, hug each other, cry, and finally acknowledge that it could happen.

Quite a few other people are counting on it.  In fact, they plan to vote for him.

And why not?  Who’s to say he won’t make a great president?

The sad news is that our country doesn’t have any standards for what make a president good or bad.  Popularity got George Washington in for two terms and he’s voted our best president ever.  But the second-most successful president was also one of the least popular; Abraham Lincoln.

So Trump may become president, and he may be a great one.  At least, by his standards.

We have a pretty crazy country going on here.  It’s run by millionaires for one thing.  And those millionaires take lots of advice from very rich friends who make lots of money off the rest of us.

Anyone can be president in the USA.  Of course, certain conditions apply.

So, my advice to all of you who may be feeling a political chill, is to put on a sweater and deal with it.

Should you still be afraid?  Sure.  But not because Trump got in.  He’s just the symptom.

The reason someone like Trump gets elected (or any other idiot you’d like to nominate) is because not enough of us ordinary people care.

The reason Trump may be president is because there are too many special interests who are allowed to spend as much money as they want.

The reason our government feels like it’s going to hell in a handbasket is because it mirrors exactly what is happening in our society as a whole.  Yes, our poor government is also a symptom of our disease, not a cause.  What is that cause?

We’re getting older.  We’re getting poorer.  We’re getting dumber.

Perhaps worst of all, we are all of us getting tired of fighting the tide.  We don’t want to stand up in public and debate the issues.  We don’t want to demand better performance out of our candidates, out of our government, and out of our journalists.

I’m also getting older.  And poorer.  But I’m fighting the dumber.  And I haven’t given up fighting, not yet.

This is my weapon; the pen, and education.

So, to all of you who also haven’t given up as yet, get up and get out there.  Fight!

If you don’t, you’ll have to live with the alternative.

 

Fired Up

Anyone have a boss?  At work.  Not at home, and siblings don’t count.

I mean, do you have a person at work who decides how much to pay you and whether or not you still have a job?  That’s your boss.

Maybe YOU’RE the boss.  How many people report to you?  How many people report to them?  Do you have the authority to hire and fire all those positions?

Maybe you don’t, and you dream about the power.  Like King Midas dreamt about being able to turn anything into gold.  Be careful about what you wish for.

I have this “power.”  It’s not fun.  I get to go to work and be friendly with everyone.  I get to see everyone on their best behavior.

Then I hear stories.  So and so did this, or said that.  Always behind “so and so’s” back.  Ah, the drama.  Do you like drama?

I can’t stand drama.  I don’t need to watch it on TV.  I live it every day.

Let’s make this easy on both of us.  “So and so” is officially “Sue.”

So I eventually meet with Sue and what do I do?  I’m friendly and business-like at the same time.  And watching.  And wondering.  Am I going to have to fire Sue?

Meanwhile Sue is telling me about her problems, her sick parents, her troublesome kids.  I’m sympathetic.  And I’m still thinking to myself, will I have to fire you?

Finally, something happens that everyone sees, no one can ignore.  I’m going to have to call Sue into my office and find out what’s going on.

I want to ask her: “Do you want this job? Do you need this job? What are you thinking?”  But I can’t do that, either.  It’s not professional, and it leads her to the “right” answers.  No, I have to find out what’s going on inside her head, and hold her to her job description.

The problem is that the job description for managers is a lot fuzzier than for others.  So I have to hold Sue’s feet to a fuzzy fire.

I have to think about this every time I meet with my coworkers.  It makes for a very full day.  One of these days I’ll find a job without drama.  Chances are there won’t be any people involved.

 

 

All Fed Up

I attended an economic talk last week from a former Fed economist.  His name isn’t important, and what he talked about isn’t that great either.

It’s what happened at the very end of the talk.

He accepted questions from the audience, and on a lark I sent in my question.  I asked what his thoughts were about the crossing of the M2 and MZM curves I talked about yesterday.

Mine was the very last question!  And here’s what he said.

Velocity isn’t important.

I’m not even summarizing what he said.  That was how he dismissed my question.

Not important?  How long we hold onto money isn’t important?  One of the most fundamental forces working against the Fed and inflation isn’t important?

Better yet, one of the best behavioral indicators we have of monetary “stickiness” isn’t important?  What’s wrong with this guy?

Here’s what’s wrong.  He’s part of the old way of thinking, and can’t see the forest for the trees.  The old way of thinking got us into the savings and loan crises of the 1980s, the internet bubble of the 1990, and the Great Recession of 2008.

Fixing our economy, improving our society, and smoothing out our lives so that we can start planning our future more accurately is going to take a new way of thinking.  Paying attention to velocity is more important than an arbitrary number like unemployment.

And that’s why I’m all fed up.  And that’s why I went out and drank with my friends.  And that’s why I hope they don’t invite him back next year.

Now, let’s all get out there and make that money slippery!

 

Money Talks

Yesterday we talked about “sticky” money.  The fact that it sticks in your pocket for some amount of time.  Maybe a day, or maybe a year.  If it sticks in your pocket for a year, it’s very sticky.

If you’re really making lots of money, you might think that you wouldn’t spend money very fast.  But it’s not so.  Some people with lots of dough do double duty and get that money in circulation – fast.

And here is where the big picture comes in.  Our Federal Reserve Bank is like the Supreme Court of Banks.  They are the bank that all the other banks bank with.

One of the best things for us is that the “Fed” gathers great statistics.  The one stat that is most interesting to us is the velocity of a few forms of money.  The first type of money is the kind that us regular people keep around: checking accounts, savings accounts, what’s in our pockets and rolling around in the cracks of our cars.

The other kind of money is a really big aggregate.  It includes all the money that is tied up in stocks, bonds, fancy investments, and things like that.  It also includes all the money of regular folk.

As you can imagine, the aggregate money includes everyone.  So, the people with no money are lumped together with people with lots of money.  The result is that it shows us what the big money people are doing.

Enough talk.  Here’s the graph.

https://research.stlouisfed.org/datatrends/mt/page12.php

If you can see this, you notice the red line represents MZM, that’s the big aggregate.  This includes the people with lots of money.  The number starts out at 2.6 and has dropped down to 1.4.  This means that the big money people and all the regular people together spend their disposable dollars about 1.4 times a year.  Every 8.5 months.  It used to be every 4 to 5 months before.  What happened?

Meanwhile the M2 line shows what regular people have.  It dropped from 2.2 to 1.5.  This means that the velocity of regular money went from 5.5 months to 8 months.

The overall conclusion is that money is getting a whole lot stickier than it used to be.  But there’s another interesting thing going on here.

Look at the second quarter of 2001.  See how the red and blue lines cross?  For the first time since the Fed has collected this information, the MZM has gotten stickier than M2.  Why?

Notice how it’s in the shaded area.  That means the economy was in a recession.  Hmmm.

Is it possible that people with lots of money stopped spending it as fast as they used to?  It is possible that they like holding onto it, even more than those of us without lots of disposable income?

Of course it is.  Perhaps it’s because of legislation.  Or maybe potential investments have dried up.  But it shows that one of the forces the Fed is fighting is that people simply aren’t spending money like the should be.

When people don’t spend money, it means there is very little pressure for companies to increase prices.  And if they can’t raise prices, then there’s little inflation.  And if there’s little inflation, then there’s no incentive for banks to give us interest.  So no savings.

Worse, the biggest tool the Fed has for stimulating the economy is pumping money into it.  Into us.  But if we hold onto the money instead, then the Fed has a problem.  They have to pump even more money.  And that can cause other problems.

So, there it is.  Sticky money.  Some of it is stickier than others.  And it tells us that people with lots of money don’t spend it as fast as those of us with less.

The money is talking.  Is anyone listening?

Stay tuned!

 

 

 

Sticky Money

Behavior.  It’s what you say when someone sneezes.  And why you say it.  And where that phrase come from.  And why.

Behavior.  It’s also about how our species evolved.  And how all species evolve.  And where the first life-like molecules came from.

Big behavior.  Bitty Behavior.  Where do you want to sit?

I like looking at the big picture, mostly.  Sure, why we “bless” someone who sneezes is interesting, but not as interesting as why those sexy Italians can’t seem to make any babies.

Here’s a big picture item.  It’s called velocity by the bankers and economists.  It refers to the “sticky” component of your money.

What does sticky mean?  It means that when you get a dollar of disposable income, it sticks in your pocket.

What’s disposable?  That means it’s not rent, phone, or other expenses you HAVE to pay or you HURT.

Disposable income is what YOU get to CHOOSE to spend money on.  If you have any left over.  Do you want a fancy sweater?  That’s disposable income.  Do you want ice cream with those eggs and milk?  That’s disposable cash.

But if you never spend that disposable income, if you keep it in your pocket or savings account, then it’s sticky.

If you gave me a dollar and I spent it instantly, then it’s not sticky.  If the next person also spends it instantly, then it’s also not sticky for him.  And so on.  In one year, that one dollar may have changed hands a hundred times!  If that happens, we say the velocity is 100.

But if I wait a month to spend it, and the next person waits a month, then that dollar has a velocity of 12.  See?

Here’s the bad news.  Today’s money velocity is between one and two.  And the overall velocity is going down.

What does this mean?

It means that people are making their money stickier.  It means that we hold onto it longer.  And it means that whatever money our federal reserve puts into circulation, it ends up being less effective.

Sticky money.  Not a rock star, but something sitting in your pocket.

It’s something we measure, and something we can learn from.  Stay tuned!

 

Political Wars

What’s a “political” war?  Is it different from a “military” war?

Very different.  Let’s start with today’s war.

It’s against the new evil in town; the Daesh.  Formerly known as ISIS, ISIL, IS, and a few other names.

The new name is Daesh.  It’s an attempt to get all these names straight.  It our way of refusing to let the bad guys set our agenda.  It also respects innocent and good-hearted muslims.  It’s also a great way to “stick it” to those evil-doing Daeshers.

So, after the Paris attacks of 13 November, 2015, I started looking more closely at the doing of these devils.  Not only what they were doing, but what we were doing to them.

Turns out that they have a sophisticated organization going on.  Very complex, highly disciplined.  The only way to have that kind of organization so early in the game is if there was a lot of money available in the beginning.

A lot of money.

They get much of their income from robbing banks, stealing from innocents, and working the oil wells and refineries that they have taken over.  But they didn’t always have these sources, especially in the very beginning.

So where did the money come from initially?  Someone had to bankroll this outfit.  Who?  This is suspicion number one.

Suspicion number two starts with a report from the US Government.  They held a press conference stating that they were having a problem disabling Daesh oil wells and oil refineries.

Their solution?  Start bombing the trucks transporting oil products.

Really?  Can this be something the government expects us to believe?

We have bombs that can level cities.

We have missiles that can find a closet in a specific room for any address in the world.

And the US Government can’t disable a refinery?  What’s really going on?

That’s suspicion number two.

There’s something going on, something having to do with lots and lots of money, and probably connected to those oil fields and refineries.

Without getting all conspiracy crazy, there is one conclusion that appears inescapable: This is a politically run war.

Yes, politicians are calling the shots.  That’s what makes a political war, well, political.  A military war is run by professional military men.

In a political war, political interests, such as oil companies, are helping guide military policy.

I can hear their argument now.  “Take out the oil refinery?  Can’t do that, because someday my company will use it again.  Think of all the money that will cost to rebuild!”

Instead, our political leaders tell our soldiers to fight Daesh with kid gloves instead of teaching them the meaning of real war.

Real war?  The US hasn’t fought a real war since WWII.

To their credit, President George Herbert Walker Bush and General Herbert Norman Schwarzkopf, Jr. executed one of the best “wars” in modern US memory.  In the “First Gulf War” of 1992, they quickly and successfully repelled Iraqi forces from Kuwait.

 

However, compared to WWII, it’s a drop in the bucket.

WWII was our last true military war.  Korea, Vietnam, and the ongoing “Gulf War Two” are all being commanded by politicians.  These are the last people on Earth who should be in charge of making quick life and death battle decisions.

Politicians are trained to listen to all interested parties, drag their feet, and only then make decisions by consensus that please as many important people as possible.

Our fight, our war, against Daesh and terrorism in general is not a military war, but a political war.  Given the fact that there is “dark money” in the background, and that dubious excuses are being given by the US Government as to their battle success, the conclusion seems inescapable.

This is a political war.

And with history as our teacher, there can only be one outcome.

Tusok

 

Fashion Fighter

I hate shopping.  Just do.  I don’t shop, I hunt.

I need this thing.  This store should have it.  Enter.  Target acquired.  Purchase made.  Escape!

Sometimes shopping takes more time than I’d like.  So I try to have fun along the way.

One of these ways is fighting the fashion treadmill.

But first: What the heck is fashion?

It’s culture.  It helps define ourselves within our tribe, our generation, our clique.

If my peers and role models are wearing sweaters with yellow tassels, then I’m going to have to wear yellow tassels.

If the fashion models in Paris are all wearing pink leather boots, I’m going to do my best to be the first one on my street with pink leather boots.  No matter what.

All the boots and sweaters that I bought last year are out of style.  Throw them out!

I’d rather move than show my buddies that I’m out of style.  I’d rather die than show my friends I’m out of step with fashion.

These are the thoughts of today’s typical young woman.

How can I justify such a sexist statement?

By showing you some rock-hard data.  For instance, how many billions of dollars are spent each year advertising “style” directly to young women?

A lot.

How many chain stores, fashion brands and accessory items exist specifically catering to women, young women?  How often do these stores adjust their inventory so that they remain in sync with the latest fashion trends?

A lot.  And at least 4 times a year.

Which brings me back to the whole purpose of this story.  I hate shopping!

One of the things I do to amuse myself during the agony of shopping is doing my best to fight the fashion treadmill, in any way.  For instance…

I was out shopping for gloves today, and overheard a father-son team bantering about how nice a certain charcoal-gray hat looked.  The father was trying it on.

As fashion police, his wife chimed in with…

“No one would ever wear that to work.”

“I would,” I say to myself, still busy looking at gloves.

Her husband responds.  “I would.  It’s comfortable and looks good.”

“It doesn’t fit the style of your overcoat,” she says.

I’m thinking, “But it will keep him warm and dry and looks pretty good.”

I move closer to the group as potential backup for the embattled male ego.

The wife delivers a second punch.  “No one really wears those things,” she says.

My opening!

“I do.” I chime in quietly, uninvited, and acting demure.  I’m looking at the other hats.

She lets me into the conversation!

“You do?” she says, giving me a polite smile.  I can see that I can’t push too much – there are daggers buried in those looks!

The husband looks genuinely pleased to see me come to his aide.  He is fondling the hat.

“Sure!” I repeat to her, though not too eagerly so that she sees through my ploy.  I continue.

“I have two stetsons very similar to this.  One brown and one black.”

“And you wear these to the office?”

“Most certainly.”

I smile and retreat.  I’ve given him all the help I can safely give without getting either of us in deep trouble.

I find my gloves and get out.

Ah, another male ego supported in the wilds of nature.  And one small push against the evils of the fashion treadmill.

I feel satisfied!

 

 

Millionaire Magic

Want to make a million?

That question is relatively new, as society goes.  Back when we all scratched each other for ticks, we didn’t worry about accumulating cash.  We wanted babies and power.

Even a few hundred years ago the idea of individual ambition was far-fetched.  Only your lords and royalty were allowed to be ambitious.  The rest of the herd could only rise so far, success was measured by your belly.

Today’s society allows us to be ambitious, to take chances, and accumulate wealth without great fear of it being swept up by his highness.  Maybe our Uncle will sweep some up, but that’s in exchange for intangible goods.  Another story.

So, let’s make a million.  Here’s two recipes, tried and true many times since the invention of the Renaissance.  First, take an ordinary substance, like water.  Second, take a dash of technology, like sugar, food coloring, or a spice or other natural element.  Maybe a combination of all of these.  Then create a story about your new product and weave them together.  PRESTO CHANGO!  You have a product that can make you a million.

We are surrounded by such magical products that have made many millioinaires, and indeed, global mega-corporations whose reach extends deeply into all of our lives.  But what does it say about us, as a society, that we are willing to exchange some of our wealth for a bit of their magical product.  What does it say about comparing societies, perhaps some allow more magic than others?

The moral of today’s story is that we as individuals, and we as a society should question everything.  Value should be of a lasting and improving sort, not something that merely subtracts from our current existence.

And what’s that second recipe?  Let me know if you want to know – and I’ll tell you!  Here’s a hint – Ben Franklin is one of the first to put it to use!

 

Living the Gym

I hate exercising.  I hate to sweat.  Yet, I do it anyway.  Several times a week.

Why?

If I work out so hard that I feel like dying, then I know I must be alive.

I know, it doesn’t make much sense.  I’m hoping that if I say it often enough I’ll believe it.

But exercise is behavior.  It’s something we do; at least, it’s something that many of us do.  If you’re a die-hard writer, it’s hard to get up the gumption to sweat, especially since it might interfere with the creative juices.  Then again, pushing that damn pen (or keyboard) can be hard enough.

What does exercise tell us about others?  Or about our society?

We seem to like to exercise in groups, for one thing.  We like to be led, and we like something that is new and somewhat flashy.  Remember when fancy dancing was the rage, then lots of ab work on balls?  Then there was slidy things, and now it seems to be hot yoga and lots of boot camps.  It also seems that many people like to be seen when they work out, so it’s a form of parade where we show off our social status.  We work out in only the ‘best’ places.

How many people exercise because they know it’s good for them?  And indirectly good for their families because it means they’ll be around longer to help them and less of a burden on them in their old age?  How many people think that it’ll be a good thing for society because their health-care bills will be lower?

Or do we do it because someone will take a long look at us when we’re in our skimpy bathing suit?

Because that’s how you know you’re alive.

 

Yoga Reviews

This wonderful Chicago doctor is spreading the word (and practice) of yoga as a way to save money on health care!  How cool is that?

And that got me thinking.  There are TONS of different yoga teachers out there.  Literally.  Yoga teachers don’t weigh a lot, as a rule.  But if you put them on a scale and weighed them, there would be, like, a million of them.  And a million yoga teachers would weigh, probably, a thousand tons.

And there’s a zillion different styles of yoga, too.  Well, maybe not a zillion, but there’s a lot.  Even if there’s a fixed style that’s legally copyrighted and patented, it’s still going to change a little bit depending on the teacher and the class.

Anyway, it suddenly came to me; It’s like restaurants!  Look, there’s a godzillion pizza places, right?  And you might say, pizza is pizza.  So what does the local news media do?  They employ a restaurant reviewer.  Someone goes around and tries all the restaurants for you and then writes about it.  This place has great sauce but lousy crust, but the owner kisses everyone who comes in.  Another place has great prices but the sauce is never the same.  You get the drift.

We need someone to do this for yoga studios!  And teachers!  It’ll be fun!  Imagine the stories; This studio has great ambiance but I’m being herded through like cattle.  This other place does a full 15 minute savasana (I only go for the savasana anyway).  Or, so-and-so teacher can be a bit temperamental, but is worth standing in line for.  This other teacher is too nice, and never corrects your alignment.

Will this be a high-paying position?  Probably not.  Will it bring you fame and glory as a writer?  Probably not.  But is it a bona-fide profession?  The answer is YES!

Here’s where being a serious student of behavior pays off.  We can make solid predictions of the future.  Just as the profession of being a restaurant critic emerged as “restaurants” emerged, so too will Yoga-Reviewer soon come into being.  If it hasn’t already.  You’ll have to go incognito.  You’ll have to be knowledgeable in the art of yoga without coming off as too smart.  And you’ll have to travel all over your territory.  Can you handle it?

No, don’t nod your head… write me!

Hmmm.  What is the sanskrit word for writer’s pose?