In last weekend’s Thoughts from the Frontline, I talked about how the economics profession in general and central bankers in particular have consistently failed with their economic projections, and I pointed to the need to deepen our understanding of complex systems behavior.
This week’s letter is going to be an examination of academic economics today and why it fails to explain reality, and I’ll point readers in a direction that can offer a more fruitful explanation of how the economy really works. I readily accept that I will be drummed out of most economists’ Lamb’s Book of Life for espousing too many heresies of the first order. I should hasten to say that much economic research is quite useful and does help to explain how the world works. It is just certain specific branches of economics that have been problematic, but these are the branches that have most influenced government and Federal Reserve policy.
This is going to be a short letter summarizing my impressions from the last few days I spent in Washington, D.C.
I gave you my own thoughts last week (see “Skeptically Optimistic”). Today we’ll review several other forecasts from people who deserve your attention. Of necessity, I must leave out some good ones, but I think the ones I cover will give you plenty of useful information.
As we’ll see, a great deal will happen in the first third of the year that could (and likely will) radically change the course of events in the last two-thirds. Furthermore, the possible outcomes are in the hands of inherently unpredictable individual humans otherwise known as politicians (and not just in the US, thank you very much!) instead of dispassionate market forces. Fancy quantitative models will be of little help.
Instead of trying to answer questions about the future, I’ll try to list those we should be asking as 2017 opens. These are the things that I sit and meditate about when I consider the future of economics, markets, and investing. Today’s economy is something like an old-fashioned Swiss watch. It’s a thing of beauty when all those delicate little gears mesh just right. If you ever take the time to actually study the inner workings of the marvelous manifestations of human ingenuity that keep us all alive, it is difficult not to come away awestruck by the ability of the human mind to craft such complexity. But if any of the gears get just a little out of whack, the entire contraption can grind to a halt.
I’m going to have a few things to say about the recent FOMC meeting, and we’ll use it as a springboard to chew the fat about the new season and upcoming episodes of our very own soap opera: As the Fed Turns. Just as devotees of As the World Turns used to speculate about what their favorite characters were up to, we can have a little fun opining about the Fed’s next moves. Now, a Trump presidency offers a lot of potentially juicy drama, too, and we’ll certainly want to chat about it. And of course, we won’t be forgetting that this is soap opera with real-world implications for the markets and our investment portfolios.
Today we’ll look at stock valuation several different ways, see what history tells us about the future, and then think about how to react. There are good reasons to think that the Trump rally could morph into the stereotypical and expected Santa Claus rally. Toward the end of the letter, I will comment on why. It’s actually kind of a rational process. And then what?
Italians are headed to the polls this Sunday (and thus this letter is reaching you a little earlier than usual) – but no one is quite sure what is on the ballot. On the surface, the voters are considering whether to approve constitutional reforms that should make the government operate more effectively (or not, depending on your point of view). But many people think the real question is whether the current government should stay in power and whether Italy should remain yoked to the Eurozone.
Last week’s letter with my thoughts on what Trump should do generated more responses than any other letter had in the last 17 years. As you might suspect, with a topic so controversial, not everyone agreed with me.