Trump Takes on the CIA

The Trump presidency is going to be one for the ages.  He challenged the establishment media again in his last press conference, essentially calling the people at CNN a bunch of liars and propagators of fake news.

As I write this, there is less than one week to go until Trump is set to take the presidency.  We’ll see if he can make it there.

Rosie O’Donnell stated earlier in the week that she supports delaying Trump’s presidency by imposing martial law.  I don’t think even Obama will try to get away with this though.

The scarier aspect is just how many enemies Trump has accumulated inside the establishment.  The worst of the worst characters are all against him.  He should realize that he shouldn’t even trust everyone who has supposedly supported him.  If I were Trump, I would not be trusting of the war hawks from the Bush era such as John Bolton.

It is good that Trump is realizing who is enemies are and just how dangerous they are.  He should fear the Bush family, John McCain, and Lindsey Graham just as much as the media and the Democratic establishment.

Trump’s biggest challenge is perhaps the spy/ intelligence agencies.  They are putting out these lies about Trump.  At least Trump is understanding that they are his enemies.

Trump is going to be the first president since Kennedy to boldly take on the CIA.  Of course, we all know how Kennedy’s presidency ended.  I know that Trump is keeping some of his personal security, but I really hope he knows how dangerous the situation is for him.

If the establishment insiders do try to assassinate Trump, it is possible it could ultimately work against them.  Think about when Obi Wan Kenobi allowed Darth Vader to strike him down.  He allows this only when he sees that Luke is watching.

Well, in this situation, the entire country is watching.  If they try to strike down Trump, only the most naive will believe a lone-nut theory.  You would really have to have your head in the sand to not understand that it was the establishment (the powers-that-be, the deep state, whatever you want to call it) responsible for it.

Trump is not a libertarian.  There are many positions he takes that are anti-libertarian.  Still, sometimes certain things have a way of taking shape.

Just the fact that Trump took on the establishment and won the presidency is a great accomplishment.  It means that the American people do have a say.  It means that we are not fully controlled by the establishment.

I think Trump serves a purpose of gaining long-term liberty for us.  He is throwing a wrench into the whole system.  His ideas on how to fix the problems aren’t as relevant as the fact that he is exposing the awful system.  While the insiders try to delegitimize Trump, he is helping to delegitimize them.

I’d like to make something of an analogy here.  Perhaps we can see certain similarities with Mikhail Gorbachev.  He was the head of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union from 1985 to 1991.  He became the head of state of the Soviet Union in 1988.  He also oversaw the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

Gorbachev had a lot of bad ideas.  He was a communist.  But in the end, he was a decent enough human being to not use violence in opposing the tearing down of the Berlin Wall and the breakup of the Soviet Union.  Maybe he just saw the writing on the wall, but it is easy to imagine many dictators not letting things go so easily without a violent fight.

Gorbachev was about the best we could have hoped for at that time in the Soviet Union.  There wasn’t going to be a libertarian head of state there, or anything close to that.  Gorbachev was just good enough that it allowed the state to collapse and for some liberty to find light.

Perhaps it is the same with Trump.  We all know he has his shortcomings.  But maybe he has just enough honesty and is principled enough to keep standing up against the evil establishment.  Maybe he will serve the simple purpose of exposing just how evil the establishment and all of the cronies are.

Trump has put himself in great danger.  For this, he has done a service to the American people, whether they know it or not.  He is exposing the media for the liars that they are.  He is exposing just how rotten the entire system is.

I don’t know if Trump will personally win his fight with the CIA, but either way the American people are the beneficiaries of this fight.  It is removing the legitimacy of this agency and the entire bureaucratic structure.  For this, we can thank Trump for his service so far, even before he has become president.

Excess Reserves Fall With Adjusted Monetary Base

One chart that we have to pay particular attention to this year is the excess reserves held by banks.  You can find that here.

This is an important piece of economic data, coupled with the adjusted monetary base.  You can find the adjusted monetary base here.

The excess reserves have been falling.  There was a peak of $2.7 trillion in August 2014.  Just for some context, excess reserves were around $2 billion prior to September 2008.  Prior to the financial crisis, most banks did not hold any significant amounts of excess reserves.  This is why the federal funds rate (overnight borrowing rate) was so much more important back then.

Since the peak of about $2.7 trillion over 2 years ago, the total excess reserves now stand around $1.925 trillion.  We have seen a drop of nearly $800 billion.

In August 2014, the adjusted monetary base was just over $4.1 trillion. (It had been just over $800 billion prior to September 2008.) The monetary base is now around $3.4 trillion.

In other words, the excess reserves have dropped with the dropping monetary base.  The excess reserves have fallen slightly more.

If excess reserves were to drop without a corresponding drop in the monetary base, then this would be highly inflationary.

The Fed is supposed to be maintaining a tight money policy now.  QE3 ended in October 2014, but the Fed is still rolling over maturing debt.  There are some technicalities of why the monetary base may be gradually decreasing.

The important thing right now is the relationship between excess reserves and the monetary base.  If we see a divergence at some point, it is going to give us a good indication of the economic environment that is coming.

The Fed has raised its target federal funds rate, which means it is paying a higher interest rate on reserves.  This should keep banks from lending, but it hasn’t seemed to have done much up to this point.

If the monetary base continues to gradually decrease or flatten while the excess reserves start going back up, then this will indicate a greater chance of recession.

If the monetary base flattens while the excess reserves keep falling, then this will indicate a higher likelihood of increasing inflation in the near future.

We will continue to watch these two sets of data throughout 2017.

Trump Needs to Stop “Saving” Jobs

The next four years are going to be interesting. Trump has really split many libertarians on whether or not to support him.

Of course, the answer is simple. As libertarians, we should cheer him on when he is right, and we should oppose him when he is wrong. And when he is wrong, we should explain why he is incorrect and what the libertarian answer is.

Trump has been great in opposing much of the establishment. Most of the people I most loathe are enemies of Trump. Therefore, I conclude that Trump must have some good qualities.

For this piece though, I must oppose him. He is simply wrong on the issue of bringing jobs back to the United States.

Not long after being elected, Trump took credit for saving jobs that the company Carrier was going to move outside the country. This was an issue that divided many libertarians.

Libertarians are often divided on the subject of targeted tax deductions. Some will say that any tax deduction should be supported because it means less money for the government, and it is allowing someone to keep more of their own money.

Some libertarians oppose targeted tax deductions because it does not put everyone on a level playing field. They say if we are going to lower taxes, it should be done for everyone, or at least everyone paying that particular tax. In addition, when the government uses debt to finance some of its expenditures, the decreased taxes for one company or individual really can come at the expense of others.

I tend to side more with the first group, while still being sympathetic to the latter. Still, with this Trump/ Carrier story, I thought the libertarian critics might be on to something. And as it turns out, I now think they were on to something important.

Trump is already starting to act as something of an economic dictator. He should not be singling out individual companies unless those companies are getting specific government benefits in the first place.

After Trump was criticizing Ford and General Motors (two companies, particularly the latter, that we should not feel sorry for because of government favors), he is now going after car companies based outside of the United States. Trump recently went after Toyota, saying they could face a big border tax if the company built cars in Mexico and then sold them in the U.S. market.

As this article points out, Nissan could really be in trouble, as it produces more than 800,000 cars per year in Mexico, and it has been producing cars there for a long time now.

Many of these plants have been established for a long time, and it would be very costly to move them into the United States. In the case of Nissan, the inexpensive (relatively) Versa and Sentra are produced in Mexico. These are cars that are affordable to some Americans who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford a new car at all. If Trump forces these companies to move operations to the U.S. or face a border tax, the price of these cars will rise significantly.

With all that said, here is the biggest problem with Trump on this issue. He is simply wrong in his economic analysis. It should not be his goal to create jobs. It should not be his goal to bring jobs into the United States from foreign countries.

This is a major economic fallacy than even many conservatives and libertarian-leaning people get wrong.

In order to increase our living standards, the key to success is increased productivity. We don’t want to create jobs for the sake of creating jobs. If it is being done through government interference, it is harming production and misallocating resources.

Trump needs to learn the concept of comparative advantage. Perhaps no cars should be built in the United States from an economic efficiency point of view. Some jobs are better left for others. Is Trump going to try to bring manufacturing back to his hometown of New York City? After all, New York City barely produces any manufactured goods. They are mostly dealing with digital services.

If cars can be made cheaper in Mexico, that is fine. There are plenty of jobs to be done as long as we live in a world with scarce resources. There is nothing wrong with Americans specializing in providing services. This should all be sorted out by the free market.

Now, it could be the case that some of these jobs in Mexico (or anywhere else) might not have gone there in the first place if the U.S. government did not impose high corporate taxes and a high regulatory burden. Of course, this should be corrected in the form of reduced regulations and lower corporate taxes (and even individual taxes). This is something that Trump could work towards fixing that would actually improve our economy and our living standards.

Placing tariffs on goods for the sake of punishing companies is counter productive. It just hurts American consumers, which is basically everyone living inside the United States.

Trump should stop trying to save jobs, other than freeing up the marketplace. If he continues with these threats – or worse, imposes tariffs – it is going to make the economy worse.

Creating jobs does not make us wealthier. Increased production that is in accordance with consumer demand makes us wealthier.

6 Major Lies of the Obama Administration

After nearly 8 years of an Obama presidency, and despite a major defeat for Democrats in the last election, Obama remains somewhat popular. While a lot of people aren’t necessarily happy with the state of the union, many still see Obama as a likeable guy.

If Obama really were just a nice guy who happened to oversee some bad policies, then maybe we could have some sympathy towards him. But, while I don’t think Obama is the sharpest tool in the shed, he isn’t naïve either. He has known that he has overseen evil over the last 8 years.

His administration has continually lied to the American people for 8 years, and Obama himself has helped in the lying and deceiving. Here is a list of 6 of the biggest lies of the Obama administration, many of which cost countless lives and impacted tens of millions of people.

  1. When pushing for the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), he stated over and over again that if you are happy with your doctor and your health insurance plan, then you can keep it. It was not long after the implementation of Obamacare that health insurance plans that were previously available were no longer available due to the changes and mandates in the law.
  2. The Obama administration claimed that Assad (in Syria) used chemical weapons against his own people. There was no evidence of this at the time, and it was easy to see that it was a lie being told to justify war in Syria. Like so many things that high-level government officials say, it was likely the exact opposite. It was most likely the enemies of Assad (likely funded by the U.S. government) who used the chemical weapons.
  3. Obama and company lied about Libya. He first said that regime change would be a mistake. He said that Qaddafi was a threat to the civilian population. It was another lie to justify war, which has caused massive death and destruction in the country. Libya is now far more dangerous and unstable than it was before. It is Obama who was a major threat to the civilian population of Libya.
  4. The CIA and other elements within the U.S. government helped to overthrow the democratically elected leader in Ukraine. After this, the people of Crimea voted (with over 96% approval) to join Russia. The people there are mostly Russian speaking, and it is no surprise that they wanted to break away from the unstable Ukraine where living standards are far worse than in Russia. Then the U.S. government and its puppet media tell the lie that Putin invaded and annexed Crimea. Putin did not invade Crimea. He simply accepted their vote and will to join Russia.
  5. When a Turkish airline was shot down over Ukraine, the Obama administration almost immediately blamed Russia with no evidence. Even if it was shot down by Russians, this does not automatically implicate the Russian state. Obama responded with sanctions against Russia. There is still no proof that the Russian state was responsible for this in any way.
  6. In the lead up to the Iraq War, the Bush administration would make hints that Iraq played a role in the 9/11 attacks. They would not directly say that, but they allowed others to say it without correction. They steered the narrative that way without officially lying (although many other lies were told). This is what Obama is doing with the allegations of Russian hacking. As Julian Assange stated in an interview, Obama is playing a lawyer. He is being very careful with his words. There is absolutely no evidence that Russia was involved in the information turned over to Wikileaks or hacked the election in any way. I will take Assange’s word over Obama’s word any day. Are we really supposed to trust an anonymous CIA source? These are many of the same people and all of the same agencies that lied about weapons of mass destruction. If a high-level CIA person says something important, you should believe the opposite until you can prove otherwise. Obama is playing war games with Russia and joining the war hawk conservatives in trying to delegitimize Trump. Obama is knowingly lying and deceiving about this.

Obama may seem like a fun guy who likes to play basketball, but he is an apologist for the regime. He originally campaigned that he would have a transparent presidency. Now he seeks to punish anyone who dares to tell the truth about the government’s lies and all of its crimes.

Obama has major blood on his hands. It was reported recently that in 2016 alone, the U.S. government dropped 26,171 bombs on foreign countries.

Obama is not a nice guy. He is a killer. He is a liar. He has intentionally helped to commit these evil crimes.

He will now retire from the presidency and make a lot of money giving speeches and live in a huge house with his family. Meanwhile, tens of millions of people and their countries lay in ruin because of his policies.

Guaranteed Income: Coming to a Town Near You?

The government in Finland is starting an experiment, and it could make for an interesting story as it progresses.  The experiment involves giving 2,000 citizens of the country a guaranteed basic income.

The participants will receive 560 euros per month (about $590 currently), and they will get the money regardless of their changing circumstances.  The experiment will run for an initial period of two years.

The participants were selected at random, but to initially qualify, the person had to be receiving some form of unemployment benefits or income subsidy.  The participants will receive this basic income instead of the subsidies, but they are allowed to find work without losing the basic income.

I wrote about this previously when the Swiss voted down a referendum that would have implemented a basic guaranteed income for all the people of Switzerland.

This isn’t just a proposal amongst socialists.  There are actually libertarian leaning people who favor this idea.  While I think it is wrong, it is understandable based on the idea of incentives.

The reason the Finns are trying out this experiment is because it is easy to conclude that paying out unemployment benefits discourages people from getting work.  In a relatively free market economy, work is available for most anyone who is not severely disabled.  But if someone is getting paid unemployment, they aren’t going to find a low-paying job that barely exceeds the unemployment check.

The Finnish government officials think that giving a basic income will get people to find work and will actually be less of a drain on the welfare system.  If the people are working, from the government’s perspective, at least they are paying taxes.

But what if this experiment “works”?  What if it does incentivize more people to find work?  Does that mean the government will give a basic income to everyone, or just newly unemployed people?  You could see that it would result in a lot more people seeking to be fired from their job.  Therefore, you would have to conclude that every citizen would get the guaranteed basic income.

The next question is whether all of the rest of the welfare state can be repealed.  This is highly doubtful.  Even with a basic income, you will always have some people with extraordinary needs.

(Don’t get me wrong here.  From a libertarian perspective, there should be no basic income or government welfare.  Any welfare should be funded through voluntary charity.  I am just writing this based on the perspective of the welfare statists.)

This is why libertarians should not endorse a guaranteed basic income.  It is not the lesser of evils.  You will not get rid of the rest of the welfare state.  It would be naive to think so.

This is also the reason that this idea will probably not be expanded.  It is not coming to the United States.  Most Americans wouldn’t go for it.  But most politicians wouldn’t go for it either.  If you eliminate the rest of the welfare state, then that would eliminate the lobbyists and special interests if we are to believe that the rest of the welfare state would go away.  The politicians and bureaucrats thrive on the system of special interests.

I consider this idea of a basic guaranteed income as analogous to school vouchers.  I am against both ideas because it is still theft (a transfer of wealth).  But I can’t even support either one as the lesser of evils because things would evolve from what is originally promised.

In the case of school vouchers, any private school that accepted them would all of a sudden be subject to a lot of government rules that go with the vouchers.  The rules and curriculum requirements would get worse over time.  Private schooling would be destroyed.

In the case of a guaranteed basic income, maybe a lot of the rest of the welfare state would go away at first.  But then the lobbyists and special interest would be right back at it trying to get little handouts for the groups with extra special needs.

So while I don’t think this idea is going to take off in the United States, I also don’t think libertarians should encourage or promote the idea.  It may incentivize more people to work, but it will also ultimately expand the welfare state even bigger.

Libertarian Optimism in 2017

If you are relatively new to the libertarian movement, then you may not know just how much libertarianism has grown within the last decade.

If you think you are lonely now, other than seeking out your libertarian-minded friends and websites, try to imagine how lonely it was ten years ago or more.

If you filled a room with 100 adult Americans at random today, you would have a pretty good chance of finding at least a couple of libertarians in the crowd.  Perhaps they were supporters of Ron Paul.  You would probably find a few more who are libertarian leaning and sympathetic to your cause.

If you went back in time 10 years (January 2007) and filled a room with 100 random adult Americans, you would have been lucky to find one person who shared similar views.  You would have been lucky to find ten people who somewhat understood the term “libertarian”.  You probably wouldn’t have found five or more people who had ever heard of Ron Paul.

It was in early 2007 that Ron Paul was gearing up for his second presidential bid.  His first was in 1988 on the Libertarian Party ticket.  This would be his first run for president as a Republican.

Little did we know that one year later we would find ourselves flooded with Ron Paul signs everywhere and online polls that put him as a frontrunner.  It was still a small minority supporting him, but the passion was overwhelming.

Since that run (and his 2012 bid), the libertarian movement has grown by leaps and bounds.  There are more radical libertarians today than at any other time in American history.

You might hear the objection, “Yeah, but you have nothing to show for it.  You can’t get libertarians elected to office, and government keeps growing.”

While there is a lot to be pessimistic about for sure, there are also many reasons for optimism.

First, it is now impossible to have this conversation without talking about Donald Trump.  Not only was Trump divisive to the country, but he was also divisive for libertarians.  Some libertarians love him and some hate him.  I have stayed in between these two groups, as have others, pointing out his strong points and his bad points.

But just the fact that Trump was elected should tell us something.  This would have been almost inconceivable four years ago with some of the positions he has taken.

I know the hardcore Democrats and the establishment media (mostly the same thing) will say that it just proves there are more racists and homophobes than what they originally thought.  But most of the people who voted for Trump aren’t racists or homophobes (and neither is Trump).  They voted for him for various reasons, but there was a general theme that he represented an anti-establishment stance.

Trump’s election, regardless of what you think of him, represents a repudiation of the establishment, which includes much of the media. They tried to do everything they could stop him, and it simply didn’t work.  And not only did Trump defeat Hillary Clinton and the Democrats, but let’s not forget that he defeated the Bush family and the entire Republican establishment as well.

Trump stood in a South Carolina debate and declared that we were lied into the war in Iraq.  And yet he still managed to win the Republican nomination.  Again, this would have seemed impossible four years ago when they were talking about how crazy Ron Paul was for his non-interventionist views.

No matter what Trump does in office, we should view his election optimistically.  It obviously was not an overwhelming victory, as he supposedly lost the popular vote.  Still, not many people were giving him a chance.

A second reason to be optimistic is the use of technology and free speech.  I understand there are attempts to silence people now, claiming that there is too much “fake news”.  Of course, the most fake news is coming from the people who are calling it fake news.  It is the establishment media that lies about weapons of mass destruction and about Assad using chemical weapons.  They are probably lying about Russia hacking the DNC computers too.  And they certainly had more than enough lies and placing things out of context with Donald Trump.

With the Internet and social media, we have open communications.  When the truth is allowed to be told, it tends to triumph over the long term.  We no longer have the gatekeepers of the so-called mainstream media.  And even for those who listen mostly just to the mainstream media, they still get the benefit of having the media’s hands forced to report stories that go viral that they otherwise wouldn’t have.

There are other reasons for optimism, particularly in the United States.  The majority of Americans do not believe that guns should be banned or heavily restricted.  Many states have loosened gun regulations.  And despite Obama’s attempts at further federal restrictions, they all failed.

Also, consider schooling as another thing to be optimistic about.  You can see the glass half empty and say that Common Core is a disaster and many of the colleges have turned into breeding grounds for the Social Justice Warriors.  But the hardcore left and the proponents of big government are over playing their hands.  They are making themselves look like fools, and they are delegitimizing the system they try to defend.

Parents see what a joke Common Core is.  Many people are opting for private schools or for homeschooling.  Homeschooling has grown exponentially over the last couple of decades.  It was almost unheard of 30 years ago.

One last area that needs mention is drugs.  While the war on drugs rages on, many states have legalized medical marijuana and some have mostly legalized recreational marijuana.  This has been a big turn in public opinion just within the last decade, and I don’t see it slowing down.  I don’t see that the federal government is going to be able to stop this wave from continuing.  The states have essentially nullified the federal drug laws, at least as they pertain to marijuana, and they are doing their own thing.  This decentralization is positive for liberty.

In conclusion, while there is still much to be pessimistic about in the short run, there is much reason for long-term optimism.  As Harry Browne used to say, human nature is on our side.

2017 Financial “Predictions”

I am not into making financial predictions.  The whole basis of Austrian school economics is that humans act.  Unless you can predict the actions of 7 billion people on the planet, then you cannot make predictions with any certainty about economic activity.

Still, there are certain assumptions we can make, and we can also take reasonable guesses on how people will act and react based on certain policies.  So with that said, here are some possible scenarios for 2017.

First, there is the Trump factor.  If we can survive three more weeks of Obama and his propaganda against Russia, then hopefully we will get someone who is at least somewhat honest and may actually have the American people’s interests in mind.

Not only can we not predict what 7 billion people will do, we can’t even predict what this one man will do.  He is a total wildcard.  From a liberty perspective, we should expect the good, the bad, and the ugly.  But at least there is hope that there will be more good than we have seen in a long time.

On economics, Trump is mostly bad.  Still, he is better than what we have had.  If he tries to ram through “stimulus” spending on infrastructure projects, it will just be more Keynesianism.  It will be more wasting of resources, although not as wasteful (or deadly) as war.  These bursts in spending can give a temporary illusion that the economy is getting better, but it is actually causing damage by misallocating resources.

Our biggest hope from Trump on the economic front is that he repeals some regulations.  Obviously repealing Obamacare would be great, but we can’t be sure that is going to happen.  If he could get a repeal of Dodd-Frank, that would be helpful for business.

The second major factor (but perhaps the most important) is the Federal Reserve.  We shouldn’t expect a lot from the Fed, but the damage has already been done.  From 2008 to 2014, the Fed increased the monetary base by a factor of almost five.  Although a good portion of this new money has been held as excess reserves by the banks, it has still done its damage.  It has misallocated resources.  It has impacted interest rates and savings.

The Fed has had a tight monetary policy for over 2 years now.  The federal funds rate has stayed near zero, with only two hikes (December 2015 and December 2016) since being brought to near zero in late 2008.  But this rate is over played and over exaggerated as to its effects.  The federal funds rate is not impacting the monetary base.  It is only impacting the incentives for banks to lend money because the Fed has to pay a higher interest rate on bank reserves in order to raise the federal funds rate.

If anything is having an impact right now, it is the excess reserves held by banks.  After the huge build up since 2008, the excess reserves have been reduced over the last couple of years from $2.8 trillion to about $2 trillion today.  I think this is playing a large role in holding off a recession.

This chart of the excess reserves is perhaps the most important thing to watch in 2017.  This, coupled with the adjusted monetary base, will tell us how much money is floating around out there.

While we have seen 8 years of slow growth under the Obama administration, it is surprising that Obama was able to escape a recession on his watch (not counting the 2008/ 2009 financial crisis that was already happening when he entered office).  With the very mild growth we have had, it is hard to say how much of it is real and how much is illusory.

While we have seen the oil bubble pop, there hasn’t been a lot else that has popped.  Precious metals have been a tough investment for Americans, but some of that is due to the incredibly strong U.S. dollar.

I think we have not seen everything play out from the previous monetary inflation from the Fed.  There are still asset bubbles (particularly stocks) that have not corrected yet.  Therefore, given the Fed’s relatively tight monetary policy now, it is likely we will see a recession during Trump’s four-year term.  For his sake, it is better if it happens sooner rather than later.

Until there is a major economic downturn and a Fed reaction of more monetary inflation, we should expect continued strength in the U.S. dollar.  This will make it tough for gold investors to see big gains.  However, I still recommend holding gold as part of a permanent portfolio.

Regarding stocks, we should expect to see Dow 20,000, and maybe more.  But again, this is a bubble waiting to pop.  Maybe it will last for another year, but I think the downside risk is far greater than the upside at this point.

Regarding bonds, I am contrarian to many libertarians on this.  I know rates have gone up lately.  But if we hit another recession, I expect long-term rates to decline again and to possibly test their all-time lows.  To a libertarian, investing in government bonds seems like a stupid idea.  But if most everyone else thinks it’s a good idea, then it doesn’t matter.  If there is relatively low price inflation and people are seeking safety, then they will see long-term government bonds as a safe investment vehicle.

Overall, you should prepare for a recession more heavily than you should prepare for high price inflation or a booming economy.  The high price inflation may come later when the Fed fires up its digital printing press again.  You shouldn’t expect high consumer price inflation (as measured by the CPI) in 2017.

For now, it is important to diversify and to keep your investments relatively safe, unless you have a business venture that offers greater opportunities.  Now is a good time to rebalance your portfolio and to make any achievable resolutions for a productive 2017.

Thomas Sowell Says Farewell

Thomas Sowell has decided to call it quits at the age of 86.  He wrote a farewell column, stating that he will no longer be writing his regular articles.

I have been quite harsh on Sowell in the past.  You could say that it is similar in how I have been critical towards Rand Paul.  I could easily write an article being critical of Elizabeth Warren or Joe Biden, but it is too obvious.

I point out the many flaws in Sowell (and Rand Paul) because many libertarians mistake them for being libertarians.  Sometimes I am not even sure how friendly they are towards liberty in general.  Overall, I think Sowell is a statist.

For the record, given a choice, I much prefer Rand Paul over Thomas Sowell, and that is with the full acknowledgement that Paul has been very inconsistent and unprincipled on many issues.  But at least Rand Paul shows signs of recognizing the morality (or immorality) involved in politics, and he also takes some stances that oppose the state.

Sowell is a lot like Milton Friedman was.  He is a good economist on a limited number of issues.  He is good at explaining the harm that certain taxes bring.  He is good at explaining why price controls don’t work.

Sowell grew up in a relatively poor household.  In his farewell column, he describes it: “My own family did not have electricity or hot running water, in my early childhood, which was not unusual for blacks in the South in those days.”

While Sowell is a good writer (ignoring his statist views), there is nothing special about him beyond that.  He is a typical conservative.  Maybe he is considered an anomaly because of his race.  You could say he beat the odds by staying out of trouble and having a successful career.  Of course, there are many black males who escape poverty and find success in the United States.

Sowell is only different because he is black and he tends to side with conservatives/ Republicans.

Incredibly, Sowell shows his statist views with just a few lines in his farewell column.  This is why I don’t understand why so many advocates for liberty are fooled by him.  He does not hide his statist views, even if he doesn’t call them as such.

Sowell states, “It is hard to convey to today’s generation the fear that the paralyzing disease of polio inspired, until vaccines put an abrupt end to its long reign of terror in the 1950s.”

Interestingly, this is one of the topics in which I have most harshly criticized Sowell.  I don’t take it easy on someone who wants to use the force of the state to stick needles into my children without my consent.

It is questionable on whether the conventional wisdom is even correct that vaccines ended polio.  It might have gone away without the polio vaccine.  There are other factors including vitamins and overall sanitation which impact the spread of viruses.  Indoor plumbing and hand washing has done far more for disease prevention than any vaccines.

Then we get to the heart of the matter, which is Sowell’s world view.  After talking about the improvements in our society, Sowell writes, “In some other ways, however, there have been some serious retrogressions over the years.  Politics, and especially citizens’ trust in their government, has gone way downhill.”

Sowell continues: “Back in 1962, President John F. Kennedy, a man narrowly elected just two years earlier, came on television to tell the nation that he was taking us to the brink of nuclear war with the Soviet Union, because the Soviets had secretly built bases for nuclear missiles in Cuba, just 90 miles from America.”

He goes on: “Most of us did not question what he did.  He was President of the United States, and he knew things that the rest of us couldn’t know – and that was good enough for us.  Fortunately, the Soviets backed down.  But could any President today do anything like that and have the American people behind him?”

So this is what bothers Sowell.  The American people have lost trust in their politicians.  I suppose we should just trust what the government tells us and go along.  At least that explains why Sowell is an apologist for war and the spying state.

If the government tells us there are weapons of mass destruction, trust those public officials.  If the CIA tells us the Russians hacked the election, just trust them without proof.  If the NSA needs the power to spy on us to prevent terrorism, just trust that they are doing the right thing and keeping us safe.

There you have it.  At the age of 86, with his farewell column, Sowell has proved that he is a statist and an apologist for the regime.  That is why he never liked Ron Paul.  And we can be sure that Sowell’s opposition to Trump has more to do with Trump’s anti-establishment views than Trump’s economics.  Sowell had no trouble being an apologist for the Bush administration for 8 years, with only light criticism of a few of his economic policies.

Just because someone says they are in favor of free markets doesn’t necessarily make it so.  The truth is in the details.  And it certainly doesn’t mean they are a friend of liberty.  Sowell has shown over and over again that he is a statist who just happens to understand that price controls don’t work.

Have a Productive 2017

As the 2016 calendar year comes to a close, it is time for the ritual of making New Year’s resolutions.  Unfortunately, for many people, I think these resolutions just end up in failure, and they can often just further demoralize people in their negative views about whatever it was they were trying to fix.

I think the close of the calendar year is a better time to reassess goals and take a mark of where you are.  If you have a goal of saving a million dollars, then you can use the end of the year to assess where you are in your goal.  It is also a time to figure out if your goal is realistic or if it needs to be adjusted in any way.

In terms of making a resolution, I am not against the idea.  But it should be an actionable step that is realistic.  If you haven’t been to the gym in the last six months, what makes you think that you will all of a sudden start going for 5 days a week on a regular basis?

Instead, start going to the gym one or two days per week.  Or better yet, start taking a short walk each day.  Or you could join a recreational sports team, where you will more likely show up and also more likely to have some fun.

If you are trying to eat healthier, maybe it should start with drinking one more glass of water each day.  It could start with giving up your least favorite unhealthy food that you tend to snack on.  Don’t pull away your favorite unhealthy food.

In terms of diets, I think it only works if you are agreeing to a lifestyle change and you are really willing to commit to it.  These weight loss programs are mostly a joke because they are temporary.  It is rather easy to do anything for a month.  The challenge is to make the lifestyle change.  You are better off making a small step that will last a lifetime rather than making a big step that will be temporary.

This goes for overall productivity too.  I am a big fan of productivity.  This does not necessarily mean working long hours, although it could mean that during certain times.  I would rather have one hour of highly focused and productive work than 8 hours of unfocused work.

Productive work does not necessarily have to be making money directly.  Sometimes you need to be productive to set yourself up for success in the future.  When you see an entrepreneur on television who grew a business into a highly profitable venture, you don’t hear a lot about all of the work that went into it at the beginning.  The entrepreneur didn’t know that the ideas or products would necessarily lead to wealth.  But the upfront work had to be done.

There is a saying: How do you eat an elephant?  One bite at a time.

This is an important saying.  If you have some big or final goal, you have to break it down into small, actionable steps.  I am currently writing a book on economics.  The chapters will be short (just over 1,100 words, on average).  Each chapter is like writing an article.  Instead of working on a 40,000 page book tonight, it is easier to work on an article (chapter) that is 1,200 words.

I think habits and discipline are important.  If you do nothing, then you will be guaranteed to produce nothing.  If you do something, at least there is a chance of something happening.

As a writer, I force myself to sit down and write on most nights.  I don’t always know what I am going to write about when I sit down.  I am forced to write though, and usually the words start coming out once I start focusing.  Writing is a lot like exercising.  You have to keep doing it or else you will get weaker.

For 2017, my suggestion is to set a doable goal that will set a new habit.  It could be this: I will spend one hour per day, five days per week, working on a new project.

If you don’t know what you want to do, then you need to figure this out.  You might spend your hour figuring out ideas.  And each day does not have to be the same thing.  I don’t recommend doing too many projects at one time, because you will end up with a bunch of unfinished things.  But it might be reasonable to do the following: write on a blog two days per week, do a short podcast or video two days per week, and spend the other day figuring out ways to market these things.

You have to set your own goals and decide on your own projects.  But it is important to get into good habits that will allow you to set aside the time to work on them.

You may be busy, but there is almost always time in the day.  If you are a single mother with a job and a baby that doesn’t sleep well, then maybe you have an excuse temporarily.  But most excuses are just excuses for not doing anything.  Most people can find time.

If you ever want something done, then give it to someone who is already busy.  The busy person will find a way to get it done.  The person with a lot of free time will find excuses to put things off.

Take small and actionable steps that are realistic.  Don’t fail in your resolutions.  Here is to a productive 2017.

Are We in a Mini-Boom Period?

When the vote totals were coming in and indicating a Trump victory, the stock market futures were way down.  There was an assumption that a Trump victory was bad for stocks.

What stock investors don’t like is uncertainty.  Within 24 hours of the Trump victory, stock investors seemed to lose all worry about any ramifications of a Trump presidency.  In fact, it may be helping stocks right now.

We are close to Dow 20,000.  This would have been impossible to predict in March 2009, when the Dow bottomed out at around 6,500.  At that time, Dow 20,000 in fewer than 8 years looked highly improbable.  Then again, in September 2008, a quintupling (five times) of the monetary base seemed improbable.

The latest consumer price inflation (CPI) numbers are also in.  In November, the CPI was up 0.2%.  While the rate of increase declined from the previous month, the year-over-year is now at 1.7%.  The median CPI is stable at 2.5% from the previous year.

There is no major price inflation according to the government’s statistics.  But there is a slight uptick from the last few months.

Still, just because consumer prices are not rising at a significant pace, it doesn’t mean that there isn’t asset price inflation.  It doesn’t mean that there aren’t bubbles.  It doesn’t mean that we can’t be in an artificial boom.

To the average American middle class family, we are not in a boom.  They mostly see stagnant wages with rising healthcare costs, particularly insurance premiums.

But in terms of assets, there does seem to be something of a mini-boom going on.  And I don’t say this in a positive light.  This is a mini-boom that is built on artificial stimulus from the past.  Most of the boom is not a result of an increase in savings and capital investment that has led to greater productivity.

The biggest bubble seems to be in stocks.  Many will say there is a bond bubble, but that is taking a much longer-term vision.  Interest rates have gone up over the last couple of months, but they are still very low by historical standards.  And if there is an economic downturn, people seeking safety will buy bonds.

The only time low-interest bonds are not in demand in a fearful environment is when price inflation expectations are high.  Since there is little fear of price inflation outside of some gold bugs and advocates of the free market, we shouldn’t expect a massive spike in interest rates any time soon.

If there is a recession, people will buy bonds and the long-term rates will fall.  It will be stocks that take the biggest and most immediate hit.

The other major asset is real estate.  We already went through a recent bubble and bust.  Now we are back into a bubble phase in some areas, but it is not as widespread as before.  I think California will likely get hit the hardest.

Overall, I do think we are in a bit of mini-boom that is artificial.  It is the result of an extremely loose monetary policy from 2008 to 2014.  And while we can’t time anything with any certainty, it is hard to imagine the boom will last for long because the Fed’s monetary policy is currently tight, at least in terms of the monetary base.

The excess reserves held by banks have come down a little, which means a little more lending and more fractional reserves.  This could be contributing to the mini-boom.  But the Fed is now paying a higher interest rate on bank reserves, which should incentivize banks to keep those excess reserve levels high.  We’ll have to keep an eye on these numbers though, because they are very relevant to our short-term economic future.

I am very bearish on stocks right now, with the full realization that we will likely get Dow 20,000 and beyond.  I don’t know when and where it will end, but it isn’t going to be pretty when it does end.

For Donald Trump’s sake, I hope it ends quickly.  If the market crashes in 2018 or beyond, he will take a lot of the blame for it.

Despite the relatively lackluster performance of the Permanent Portfolio, it is still my favored investment strategy, at least for a good portion of your financial assets.  It will lessen the blow of a crash in stocks.

When the bust comes, it may be bigger than the boom that preceded it.

Combining Free Market Economics with Investing