Saturday, April 10, 2010

A Late Night Conversation and Random Thoughts Theiron

I couple days ago I ended up pulling an all niter. Had a bunch of work that needed to get done so I was working until about 1 o'clock. I had to wake up at 4 the following morning. Since I would have the opportunity to take a nap the next day I just stayed up. Ended up having an interesting conversation with the night shift folks.

Personally I am not so sure about the security and stability of China. Their ability to keep totalitarian rule going is something I doubt. Buying people off with letting them own property, make money and such works OK as long as the economy is good. However if it gets too good they have problems. Right now their system works to a large part because the rural poor from the inland area are forcibly held in place. Also sooner or later rich people will want the same sort of social and political freedom as they have for the economy.

While there is was some debate on how bad things could get in the US the picture is bleak. At best I see a rather painful decade coming up. When people eventually get back to work and businesses grow and borrow and invest we are going to see inflation. I just can't see a way that when the massive amount of new money gets moving through the economy it will not decrease the value of currency. It might be catastrophic hyperinflation which could lead to war or a full on default. It could just be late 70's to early 80's style high inflation and interest rates. One fellow saw the Fed getting shut down and replaced with a true government currency. Avoiding adjustable rate interest debt like the plague and generally being financially fit is good advice. If you can afford it putting a few spare bucks into silver and gold isn't a bad idea either.

We were generally not enthusiastic or optimistic about this new health care bill. That it started by being billed as stopping big, evil insurance companies from hurting people and ended with people being forced to buy health insurance from big, evil insurance companies is sad, ironic and not at all surprising. Personally I think we the people are getting taken for a ride but soon enough government may well stick it to insurance companies. In general our government likes to start a program (special education is a great example) and then gradually remove funding but still under threat of something bad, force the program to continue.

There was significant concern voiced by one fellow that since the government is now in the health care business they can and probably will stick their nose further into people lives. Even aside from trying to centrally manage (or at least shot call) 1/6th of our economy it is a great excuse to get all up into peoples business. Think of it like the Commerce Clause but for personal behavior.  Since you doing X might arguably cost the government money via health care it is now taxed/ restricted/ banned could become a common summary of upcoming legislation and decree's.

In some ways the recent problems with the Euro were surprising to us. Then again if you really stop and think they shouldn't be. First of all the relatively recent times where the Euro has pwned the dollar have not been about the Euro's getting stronger but about the dollar getting weaker. Secondly lets look at Europe. In general northern Europe and particularly Germany have solid economies though now and then their socialist programs (they are expensive) cause issues. Southern Europe is a big financial mess. They have relatively similar socialist programs as the rest of Europe but without the economies to support them if things go less than perfectly. Europe is an expensive place to do business and especially the kind of business that employs lots of people. Those whose industry can be anywhere often avoid Europe's high wages and crazy powerful unions. The last couple years chaos has hurt them albeit slower and to a smaller degree than the US but I am not convinced these issues haven't been building for awhile.

There was some talk of the world reserve currency shifting away from the dollar. Personally I think that baring a complete economic melt down of the US, that is unlikely. I think this because there isn't any better option. The Euro certainly isn't as solid as it seemed not too long ago and in terms of managing it the Europeans have too hard of a time getting anything agreed on. I don't think anyone is stupid enough to go with the Chinese Yuan because of a lack of long term history and well, China is not the kind of government one would want to trust with something that big. The Japanese Yen is all over the place and their whole weird pseudo fascist system plus people still vividly remember their Lost Decade. The Pound Sterling is probably in some ways worse off than the Dollar. Russia is a totally unstable Gangsterocracy and heavily dependent on energy prices staying high. That whole "basket" idea seems unreliable and outright nutty. I have a hard time seeing enough nations being willing to buy into it. Then again it is so nutty and prone to manipulation that governments might love it. I see the dollar staying as the world reserve currency for the foreseeable future, if just because better options are not currently available.

 Also, at least for relatively short periods of time coffee helps you stay awake.

Lastly I have been enjoying The Drudge Report as of late. If I have just a 15 minute coffee break to get the news a glance there and one at the BBC News front page gets me up to date.

Since it is late I am going to bed now.


Chris said...

I hear you about the new healthcare plan being a good opportunity for .gov to poke its nose under the tent flap.

With AF tricare, every year we have to take a Preventative Health Assessment. The PHA is a web-based form that asks all sorts of invasive questions:
- How much do you drink? When? Where?
- Do you smoke? What? How often?
- Do you use birth control? What kind?
- Do you own guns?
- Do you wear your selt belt? What about speeding?
- Do you participate in any "high risk" hobbies like hunting, ATV-riding, etc? Which ones? How often?
- A whole series of invasive mental health questions.

Usually "I don't want to answer this" is not an option. So you must either (A) lie or (B) provide a ton of very personal details to feed the database. Failure to complete the PHA will get your commander on your case in a hurry and is not an option.

Each of the questions has in-depth followups if you check "yes." If the system doesn't like the followups then you will be selected for a face-to-face discussion with some medtech, who is generally a cranky, disrespectful junior enlisted person with no accountability who can screw you over by flagging your records with things like "refer to mental health" or "probable substance abuse."

I understand it is the military and Uncle Sam owns me and thus has an interest in keeping me healthy. But I have a feeling that now that Uncle Sam owns everyone's health, he will have a strong interest in "preventative health assessments" for everyone as a "best practice." I just see obvious ways that the system could be abused -- data mining, control granted to unaccountable bureaucratic medtechs, forcing normal people to either regularly perjure themselves or divulge everything...

b3n said...

Some really good thoughts in this post, I have to disagree on the reserve currency though. All signs point to the's Jesse's post on it that pretty much spells it out.

I agree on timing mostly though, if history is any indicator with the Pound losing its reserve currency status then it will slowly fade over time. Of course with 90+% of our dollar value already faded away how much more time is there? When did the fade start?

The other reason I think we are doomed to fail is Triffin's Dilemma :

When the outward flow of our capital reverses due to falling dollar demand that is when you see mass inflation. It's less about printing and more about all of the existing dollars coming "home". Here's a FED chart that shows our export of the dollar falling off a cliff, trying to recover and starting to fall again:

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