A New Era
Inflation has finally forced the Fed’s hand. For the past 17 years we’ve operated in a low inflation environment that didn’t punish us too harshly for money printing and big budget deficits. Interest rates trended lower over a few decades, and with borrowing costs falling, borrowing money became an easier political strategy than raising taxes.
Both political parties took note, and neither tried to balance the budget or pay much attention to spending. The Democrats hiked taxes a little, and the Republicans cut taxes a little. But behind the political games, there was a practical consensus: if you can borrow money at 2%, and inflation stays around 2%, why raise taxes or cut spending?
Economists even invented a term “modern monetary theory” to legitimize this approach, basically saying, well shoot if we can print money for anything, anytime, let’s do that! It’s a pretty good system while it works, and a pretty bad one when it doesn’t. I think we pushed that theory to its breaking point.
Now, we are in a different era.
THE SHORT STORY is that globalization and free trade are deflationary. If you can source labor and goods cheaper, if many countries can compete on cost and quality, if countries share technologies and build supply chains across borders, that process delivers resources to consumers at lower prices. Especially to US consumers, because we are the top of the food chain: we get to print the money that everyone needs to make the global system run.
Nationalism and protectionism are inflationary. Covid sent the world off in a lot of new directions, isolation and practical pressures building mistrust, a breakdown in relationships. Now we’re in an economic war with Russia and China at the same time. There are nationalistic movements in every major economy. Fun.
So, while it’s easier to explain the current conditions through local political narratives, Trump didn’t cause covid, and Biden didn’t create all the global inflation. We did print and spend too much money, with both the Fed and the government being extremely stimulative at the same time. But this didn’t lead to a slow economy. It made the economy run too fast: GDP last year grew at 5.5%! We had 2.6% growth in the past quarter, although Fed rate hikes are likely to push us into recession.
In light of the upcoming election, may I give you some advice about the future? Take it or leave it.
The United States is where you want to be when there’s trouble. The idea that the system is broken or that this is “late-stage capitalism?” That’s nuts.
- We are the world’s leading producer of oil. The idea that government policy holds down oil production is incorrect. Market forces determine energy investment in this country.
- The dollar is crushing most other global currencies. Inflation in dollar terms is much less troublesome than it is in euros or pounds.
- We spend a trillion dollars on the military for times just like the one we’re in.
- Clearly, both Russia and China do not want direct military conflict with the United States or NATO. They can bluster and threaten and wheedle. But they don’t want to tango.
- America is a mercantile empire. It’s not just the borders with Mexico and Canada. We do well when the world does well.
- “Capitalism” is just what humans do. We try to gather resources and improve our situation. We compete for resources.
- Democracy is imperfect. You have to hear everyone’s BS instead of just some people’s BS. It’s exhausting. It’s just a lot better than Not Democracy.
- Talent and money move in the direction of freedom every time.
The culture war is a destructive class war.
- Your friends and relations are not going to end western civilization because they believe things you disagree with.
- People argue about values because people with different amounts of money get different choices in life. This is a class war.
- Most people’s anger is made up. It’s about a story they’ve heard on the news, not something that’s happened to them personally in real life.
- The world is really complex. Religions and political ideologies are oversimplifications. Our political ideologies are getting very outdated.
- Kids always rebel against their parents. If you’re worried about kids being transgendered or gay, don’t. Those are ways for young people to explore the idea that they can be whoever they want. You know what they’re going to be in 15 years? Married, and just as boring as you. Calm down.
- There’s always a moral panic that justifies some people having power. Don’t fall for that nonsense.
- Distrust in the institutions is a product of propaganda. Unethical people try to upset the apple cart so they can pick up some apples.
- For god’s sake, get a newspaper subscription. If you aren’t paying for journalism, your “news” is just advertising. It’s propaganda.
- Journalists aren’t corrupt. Every day they stake their reputation and careers on delivering the truth. They’re not pundits and they’re not politicians. Make a distinction between news and editorials.
- You don’t get shed the responsibility for the complexities of life by Not Knowing Things.
- In the internet age, knowing what’s true and what isn’t is literacy. We are going to face an increasingly sophisticated set of tactics to persuade people to believe and do things that are false.
- This means comparing different news sources to find out what is left out or falsely stated. It means googling statements to see what’s real. Step your game up.
- If you have some money, I’m pretty sure nationalism, populism and insurrections aren’t in your interest. Best figure out which class you’re part of and vote your position.
There is not going to be a civil war
- This is not Weimar Republic Germany in 1933. You are not starving, and likely, almost nobody you know is starving. Look around. It’s pretty good. Not for everyone. But this is a pretty good place to be, and if you are healthy and have good fortune, you can improve your situation. America isn’t broken. Far from it.
- There is no hyperinflation. The dollar isn’t broken. The dollar is king.
- Do you own some assets? I bet a revolution isn’t in your best interest.
- Do you believe that if the structures are destroyed, things will be the same, but better?
- A good number of people who are taking a piss on the government are dependents on the government.
- If you were to guess, what percentage of people who claim the election was stolen receive federal benefits? Social security, Medicare, Medicaid, government pensions, military pensions or disability income, subsidized medical care?
- I bet you more than 50% of people who claim to hate the government literally couldn’t go one month without a functioning government.
- The states that bluster the loudest about states’ rights are dependent on the federal system and would be 3rd world countries on their own. The UNITED States conveys great benefits to all Americans.
- Don’t vote for anyone who claims the election was stolen. Those people are lying. As a point of fact, established through many court systems in many states, it was not. Anyone who claims the election was stolen is bidding to be a member of a government that they are undermining. That is treasonous behavior that should be punished, not rewarded.
- Claiming the election was stolen is the rationale for political violence. Don’t support that.
- We need a strong legislature, and our legislature was attacked by the executive! Look around the world: Putin, XI, Erdoğan, Kim Jong-Un. That’s what it looks like when the executive has all the powers and is not democratically elected. Read this article in the Washington Post by Alexi Navaly, in jail for opposing Putin in Russia.
- The safeguard to personal freedom is the balance of powers. Don’t support anyone who tries to break down the structures of government.
- There are some conflicts that can’t be avoided. They have to be won. We have crossed over into outright conflict with Russia that we’ve been putting off for more than 15 years. We are in conflict with China. Fine, let the world compare the ideas and systems. Let people see a better way of life. It’s time to compete and to win.
- If America wins, our financial futures will be better than if the empire comes apart. Don’t shrink back from necessary conflict. Stir up your courage and resolve. Fight to win.
- The US should support Ukraine and hold together with NATO. It’s in America’s interest and your personal interest for free people to triumph over oppressors.
- If you’re afraid of the future, go to work. Or volunteer. Do something real. America needs contributions from everyone. Labor force participation is 62% of people above age 16.
- Personal freedoms are the American way. Freedom means that people get to do some things I think are wrong.
- Religions should prioritize spiritual development and human welfare. Not politics. This is also the law for 501c3, tax exempt organizations.
- Americans who repeat Putin’s talking points about the corrupt west are, uh, on the wrong side of things.
- “Christian Nationalism” is not Christianity. It is just like Zionism in Israel. “My kingdom is not of this world,” said Jesus. Any religion that compromises its values for political ends doesn’t have the authority it claims, and it doesn’t understand the deeper meanings of life.
- Beware of anyone who says they can make the world more moral through coercion, that the government should codify personal religious beliefs into laws. That’s not how it works. Morality is people choosing well, not fear and coercion.
- Nobody will do God’s work through lies and division. Beware of people who breed mistrust between you and people you love. They are false prophets concerned with money and power. It is the devil’s work to set people with common interests against one another.
In the end, we all have common concerns and interests. We want to be peaceful and prosperous and keep our children safe. We are on the same team.
It’s time for people to act like Americans, not Republicans or Democrats. This is a time of challenge and a time of great opportunity. Pull together, tell the truth, work hard, show compassion, let love energize your efforts. Be optimistic, courageous and happy.
Love is the guide to the future when the stars are uncertain.
Jeremy L. Strickler, CFP®