National Treasury Union President Colleen M. Kelly recently described the 2014 IRS budget allocation as “woefully inadequate.” But the agency has not proven itself to be an efficient steward of taxpayer dollars. Here are ten ways the IRS lost the trust of the American people.
It’s easy to be negative about the U.S. economy these days. Find a glint of silver, and folks come running to point out all of the dark clouds looming about. This, of course, is what we got last week when the monthly jobs report was released from the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). Folks pooh-poohed the number of jobs and whining that they’re not enough or that it’s less than a bunch of economists thought that it might be. But you know what? Stuff ’em.
Given how poorly states like California and Illinois have funded the pension funds for their own employees, one would think that this would stop dead in its tracks any plan to have the government assist in managing private sector funds too. The spate of recent activity, however, suggests otherwise.
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President Obama crowed in his State of the Union speech about the economy, even mentioning “a rebounding housing market.” Maybe he was referring to friends in high places, like the seller of Penthouse One in New York, which just closed for $50.9 million, all cash. Millions of mere-mortal homeowners likely wanted to throw something at […]
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office is acting in a bipartisan way to cover up the biggest single threat to the bipartisan political alliance that is stripping America of its wealth: the United States Congress.There is no question that the following policy is bipartisan. Democrats and Republicans in Congress are completely agreed that the following information […]
Amidst all the revelations about how the American people, many of whom are absolutely convinced they live in a free society, have their telephone calls, emails, website visits, and who knows what else under surveillance by their own government, let’s not forget the massive infringements on financial privacy that have gone on for decades.Consider, for […]
The exercise had an awesome name, inspired by the movies: “Quantum Dawn 2.”On July 18, scads of U.S. banks, stock exchanges and government agencies took part in a digital fire drill — a practice run in the event all of Wall Street came under massive cyberattack.This isn’t the first time banks have come under an […]
The faces of the Detroit bankruptcy are the thousands of pensioners whose promised benefits are suddenly part of the restructure negotiation. When Motown filed for Chapter 9 last July, the city had $11.5 billion in unsecured liabilities. The vast majority of this was pension and health care benefits owed to retired city employees.The images of […]
The Largest Company in History:“The United States Corporation of Government (USCOG)”I follow global social and commercial networks, looking for entrepreneurial opportunities.Innovation surges when industry and government models change. Buggy whips. Landline phones. Railroads. The Soviet Union. Apartheid South Africa. All marked social and commercial innovation, both bad and good.We are witnessing a new form of […]
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We put in a good-citizen call to the SEC the other day.“There’s a massive scheme to manipulate stock prices,” we told the friendly agent.“I have to tell you that your call is being monitored so that we can better serve the public,” he replied.“Oh, don’t worry about that. The NSA is tapping our call anyway.”“Are […]
No other price pops during a boom like that of condominiums. The common view among savvy real estate types is condos are the last to jump and the first to crash. A decade ago, Bernanke’s post-Sept. 11 easy money fueled condo prices and in turn high-rise residential construction from coast to coast.In downtown Miami, 22,200 […]
Our grandparents believed in the value of thrift, but many of their grandchildren don’t.That’s because cultural and economic values have changed dramatically over the last generations as political and media elites have convinced many Americans that saving is passe. So today, under the influence of Keynesian economists who champion government spending and high levels of […]
So Janet Yellen’s first hearing took place a few nights ago. It was fairly boring. She’s expected to sail through and become the next chairperson of the Federal Reserve. Given that the last few years of extraordinary monetary policy have achieved a miserable recovery, what’s she going to do differently?Nothing. Just more of the same. […]
Imagine that everyone in your community is issued a credit card with the same account number. At the end of every month, the bill is totaled and divided equally among you. Suppose that during the first month, you choose not to use the credit card, yet you receive a bill for $100. The next month, […]
From the Tongue-in-Cheek Department of Laissez Faire Books…Washington, D.C. – Jeff Incast, a Democratic representative from California, has tabled a bill that would expand current insider trading laws.He said he was “distressed” by the acquittal of Mark Cuban, whom a jury cleared of civil charges of insider trading brought by the Securities and Exchange Commission […]
Hanging out in Rome, surrounded by ruins of all ages, you can’t help but have big thoughts about the state of the world. Here are a few of mine.No generation during the long fall of the Roman Empire was really aware of it. Each generation accepted the conditions they inherited and worked to survive as […]
I just spoke to a friend, Skinner Layne, who is from Arkansas, but now lives in Santiago, Chile. He emigrated there and is now heading a startup enterprise that is showing great promise. It is called Exosphere. I asked him about the backstory to the company. It turns out that he moved in 2008, six […]
The dream of virtually every American is to retire as early as possible. Who doesn’t want to have each and every day to do exactly what he or she wants to do?Sure, for some people, that would be work. They like having somewhere to go every day, being valued for their services, and the interaction […]
It’s come to this: A typical family’s health insurance costs as much as a typical family car.If you’re a typical American family, your “health” will set you back $20,728 every year. That figure comes gratis of Milliman, a benefits consulting group. A base-model Toyota Camry… the typical family’s most-popular make? It costs $22,055.Milliman’s numbers account […]
The study of crowds has always fascinated people in finance. It’s not hard to understand why. Markets can go to crazy extremes, extremes no one can make sense of. So, one favorite way to explain it away is to say that crowds do dumb things that individuals, upon cooler reflection, would never do. In a […]
Since before the tech bust, we’ve been suggesting that while Americans “think” they’re getting richer… they’re actually heading in the other direction. They’re getting poorer.This proposition has been easier for folks to entertain since housing busted and the financial crisis reversed the “wealth effect” in 2008. With that in mind, let’s take a look at […]
People will be paying more and getting less from their governments as health costs and pension obligations will force state and local governments to adjust their budgets over the next 50 years, according to a new report.The new report from the Government Accountability Office, a nonpartisan congressional agency that audits federal programs, paints a dreary […]
The countries of the developed world are experiencing a new class of refugee — members of the middle and upper classes. These rungs of the socioeconomic ladder are realizing that their countries of residence are in many ways going rapidly downhill without much hope of a short- or medium-term reversal. This is particularly true for […]
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What is the best single thing you can do for your children? Send them to Asia for school so they can get a good education and learn Mandarin.
Or so says a thinker and investor Jim Rogers.
Some investors achieve the status of being legends, their opinions on all matters of economics and politics sought by everyone. Rogers is an example of that in our time, and for good reason.
His life began in rural Alabama. Then he became an intellectual and professor. Enticed by Wall Street, he tried his hand at the markets and won. He then became a world traveler who set world records, and then became a best selling author.
It was my pleasure to be invited to moderate a private forum in Atlanta, Georgia, at which Rogers was the guest of honor. I got to ask the questions in front of an audience of financial professionals I’ve always want to ask him. We had lots of fun.
Rogers’s big picture forecast is that the U.S. and the dollar are in the process of relinquishing their dominant position in world affairs to Asia. All throughout Asia, people are saving money, working long hours and asking for more work not less. In the United States, we are racking up more debt, saving less, working less, complaining more, and asking only for more goods and services from government.
I was struck by how his analysis is so influenced by cultural observations. He pointed out that the Fed has contributed mightily to the wrecking of entrepreneurship in the U.S. Its low-interest rate policies are actively punishing savings. Its tax policies are punishing profitability and income earning. Its fiscal policies are encouraging dependence. Its educational practices are socializing another generation into laziness and dependence.
What a picture! As a result, he is urging young people to consider getting out. Get your passport, seek your education online, and find a position in Asia. Our great great grandparents uprooted themselves to seek a better life, and our children should consider doing the same. Travel is the first step. It opens up the world and helps us see new opportunities.
As for learning Mandarin, that’s what he is doing with his two daughters. He lives in Singapore in order to make sure this happens.
It’s radical stuff but he is walking the walk.
On the dollar, he is bearish. The Fed has been busying for five years trying to destroy the future of the dollar. Its policies have benefited only insiders but made a mess out of the rest of the economic infrastructure. He thinks that 2008 was a mere warmup for what is coming down the line. What will replace the dollar? He is mildly optimistic about the Euro, temporarily bullish on the Russian ruble, and he is also feeling very good about precious metals like gold and silver.
On commodities, he is sticking by his known love for real stuff over fancy financial products. To his mind, the world food supply is not as plentiful as people believe. Farmers are in a more secure economic position than Wall Street stockjobbers. As for the legions of MBAs that the U.S. is producing, he finds them mostly worthless. A better credential to have is evidence that you can drive a tractor and get stuff to grow.
On bonds, he sees the end of the long bull market coming to an end. The yield curve only looks like it does due to massive intervention by the Fed. This artificiality cannot last. It won’t take much beyond a slight change in the pricing of long-term debt instruments to set off a chain of events that will blow up the Feds balance sheet and utterly wreck whatever stability that exists in the debt outlook for the U.S government. The debt cannot be paid now, but when the world decides that holding the debt is too risky and expensive, the bond bubble will explode, destroying many portfolios in the process. The new crisis will cause new policy panics and bring about a series of catastrophic decisions that will make 2008-2013 look like a mere prelude to the real action.
As for oil, he is bullish but not concerning the U.S. productive capacities. He is not very impressed by the predictions that shale and fracking change much at all, and sees many other regions of the world friendly to the whole industry.
As for technology, he sees the action leaving the U.S. and the world center of innovation emanating from Asia. In fact, he is not very impressed at all but much of the technological production of the U.S. over the last ten years.
A pretty dark picture? It would seem so, unless you speak Mandarin.
The moment of the evening that stands out to me the most really amounted to a brief musing on the whole subject of forecasting. Before offering his forecasts, he eloquently defended the whole enterprise of making predictions.
Predictions can never before scientific, he said. The future is always uncertain and subject to an infinite number of changing variables. Those who presume to have found the magic key to knowing the future — whether they are using high-powered mathematical models or the old-fashioned crystal ball — will be humbled. Human affairs are just that way, and there is no technology that can fix that.
Rogers said that he has been plenty wrong many times in his life.
At the same time, he continued, forecasts are unavoidable. It is not just stock pickers and economists who make forecasts. We all do. We must. We have to act now with the presumption that we have some inkling of what is around the corner.
Riffing on what he said, we go to school hoping to use our education later. We save money hoping to find things later on which we will spend it. We choose our personal associations based on the presumption that people won’t suddenly become different next week.
We all make choices anticipating the future, knowing full well that we could be wrong. We can’t be disabled by the knowledge that the future is essentially unknowable. If we fear that we are wrong to the point of inaction, we doom ourselves as acting persons. In this sense we are all investors, whether we are betting on stock symbols or not. We seek to make judgments that pay off down the line.
How do we make the future slightly less uncertain? How can we work toward making the best predictions? We seek out information. We try to make sure it is the highest quality information. We find many sources for our information. We evaluate it in light of our own education, experience, and intuition. Sometimes this information makes all the difference. Even so, there is no perfect foresight. We can be spectacularly right ten times, and calamitously wrong one time. Or it can be the reverse.
Having said that, he moved on to make the predictions above.
Somehow his small talk gave me a bit of boldness of my own. Having been heavily schooled in the Misesian tradition against statistical prediction making, I love headlines that make fun of economists and how often they are wrong.
It’s just thrilling and fabulous to see big shots laid low by the relentless surprises of real life. Nothing gives me a kick more than to see a model blow up. To see arrogant know-it-alls — especially bureaucrats and politicians — explode in the face of reality that refuses to conform to their outlook restores my faith in prospects of human liberty.
But we can go too far with this line of thinking. We can’t just decline to forecast.
Education and learning improve our ability to forecast, certainly qualitatively but even quantitatively.
As just one example — one that Rogers returned to several times — was the belief on the part of the Fed and the Treasure through two presidential administrations that their stimulus would bring higher economic growth and low unemployment. It hasn’t happened. Rogers hasn’t been surprised by this, and I haven’t either. Anyone who has read deeply in the classical and Austrian traditions of economics could have seen this coming.
Our predictions have been better than theirs.
The beauty of having access to a great investor with a proven record is that you can know that his skills are likely to be more finely honed than the average person on the street. No one is infallible but some predictions — we can predict — are likely to be true more often than other predictions.
I said earlier that his soliloquy on forecasting inspired me. So let me forge ahead with some of my own. I don’t see any of the food problems that he sees. With massive federal subsidies and vast technological improvements in farming, we have far too many, not too few, farmers. Many dismiss the technological innovations over the last years as superficial, but I disagree. I think of Facebook, Twitter, Google, and smartphones as some of the greatest productive capital ever created.
As for the the coming Asian century, that could be right. But unlike the 19th and 20th centuries, the age of the superpower is over. One region’s prosperity doesn’t come at anyone else’s expense. Everyone can win in a world without borders and wars, and that is the world I believe is being born today. As for the dollar and the fiscal disaster, I’m a Rogerian in most every way.
The beauty of investor-intellectuals is that their ideas are tested in the real world. That’s what makes them different from the tenured professors running the universities. A man like Jim Rogers might not be right on all things; no one can be. But in the balance, I would take his forecasts over a thousand econometricians with nothing at stake in the outcome.