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  • Prisoner of the Bureaucracy

    I wrote some time ago that Greece had a choice between Disaster A: staying in the euro; and Disaster B: leaving the euro. I have recently come back from four days in Greece, meeting with lots of people at all levels of society, and will share with you in this letter my analysis of their choices and the results. I'll also have a few things to say about what the developments in Greece might mean for the rest of Europe and the developed world.

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  • Forecast 2013: Unsustainability and Transition

    As we begin a new year, we again indulge ourselves in the annual (if somewhat futile) rite of forecasting the year ahead. This year I want to look out a little further than just one year in order to think about the changes that are soon going to be forced on the developed world. We are all going to have to make a very agile adaptation to a new economic environment (and it is one that I will welcome). The transition will offer both crisis and loss for those mired in the current system, which must evolve or perish, and opportunity for those who can see the necessity for change and take advantage of the evolution.

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  • Where Will the Jobs Come From?

    For the last year, as I travel around, it seems a main topic of conversation is “Where will my kids find jobs?” It is a topic I am all too familiar with. Where indeed? Youth unemployment in the US is 17.1%. If you are in Europe the problem is even more pronounced. The basket case that is Greece has youth unemployment of 58%, and Spain is close at 55%. Portugal is at 36% and in Italy it’s 35%. France is over 25%. Is this just a cyclical symptom of the credit crisis? Much of it clearly is, but I think there is something deeper at work here, an underlying tectonic shift in the foundation of employment. And that means that before we see a true recovery in the unemployment rate, there must be a shift in how we think about work and training for the future of employment. This week is the first of what will be occasional letters over the coming months with an emphasis on employment. (This letter will print a little longer, as there are a lot of charts.)

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  • A Dysfunctional Nation

    European leaders launched the euro project in the last century as an experiment to see whether political hope could become economic reality. What they have done is create one of the most dysfunctional economic systems in history. And the distortions inherent in that system are now playing out in an increasingly dysfunctional social order. Today we look at some rather disturbing recent events and wonder about the actual costs of that experiment. What type of "therapy" will be needed to treat the dysfunctional family that Europe has become? And maybe I'll throw in a "fun" item to finish with, so let's get started.

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  • There Will Be Contagion

    Greek is having an "orderly" default. The taxpayers of Europe are in theory going to lend €130 billion to Greece to pay back €100 billion in Greek debt that is owed to private lenders. Greece has to pass several difficult tests in order to get the money. €100 billion of debt to private lenders will be written off. Thus the net effect will be that they owe €30 billion more. How does this help Greece, except that they get €30 billion more they cannot pay?

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  • Unintended Consequences

    For every government law hurriedly passed in response to a current or recent crisis, there will be two or more unintended consequences, which will have equal or greater negative effects then the problem it was designed to fix. A corollary is that unelected institutions are at least as bad and possibly worse than elected governments. A further corollary is that laws passed to appease a particular group, whether voters or a particular industry, will have at least three unintended consequences, most of which will eventually have the opposite effect than the intended outcomes and transfer costs to innocent bystanders.

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  • Kicking the Can Down the Road One More Time

    In This Issue:

    Kicking the Can Yet Again
    It’s Not Just Greece
    Who is Going to Buy that Debt?
    You Have to Admire the Commitment
    The Problem with US Employment
    Washington DC, Vancouver, NYC, Maine, and now Europe

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  • The Contagion Risk of Europe

    The Contagion Risk of Europe
    Will the Euro Survive?
    A Greek Coup?
    No Good Deed Goes Unpunished
    Home Again, Home Again

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  • Kicking the Can Down the Road

    How often did we as young kids go down the street kicking a can? 'Kicking the can down the road' is a universally understood metaphor that has come to mean not dealing with the problem but putting a band-aid on it, knowing we will have to deal with something maybe even worse in the future.

    While the US Congress is certainly an adept player at that game, I think the world champions at the present time have to be the political and economic leaders of Europe. Today we look at the extent of the problem and how it could affect every corner of the world, if not played to perfection. Everything must go mostly right or the recent credit crisis will look like a walk in the Jardin des Tuileries in Paris in April compared to what could ensue.

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  • The Last Half

    There are a number of economic forces in play in today's world, not all of them working in the same direction, which makes choosing policies particularly difficult. Today we finish what we started last week, the last half of the last chapter I have to write to get a rough draft of my forthcoming book, The End Game. (Right now, though, it appears this will actually be the third chapter.) We will start with a few paragraphs to help you remember where we were (or you can go to www.investorsinsight.com to read the first part of the chapter).

    But first, I recorded two Conversations yesterday, with the CEOs of two biotech firms that are working on some of the most exciting new technologies I have come across. I found them very informative, and we will post them as soon as we get them transcribed.

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  • The Last Chapter

    This week you will get a kind of preview as this week's letter. I am desperately trying to finish the first draft of my book and am one chapter away from having that draft. I have promised my editor (Debra Englander) that she would see a rough draft next week, and the final version will be delivered on the last day of September. More on that process for those interested at the end of the letter. But this week's letter will be part of what will probably be the 4th or 5th chapter, where we look at the rules of economics.

    There is just so little writing time left that I have to focus on that book for a little bit. I am writing this book with co-author Jonathan Tepper of Variant Perception (who is based in London), a young and very gifted Rhodes scholar with a talent for economic analysis and writing. We each write the first draft of a chapter and then go back and forth until the chapter has been much improved. Alas, gentle reader, you will only get my first draft. You will have to wait for the book to get the new, improved version. But this is the last one I have to write. And Jonathan has done all his initial chapters. We are on the home stretch.

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  • Some Thoughts on Deflation

    The debate over whether we are in for inflation or deflation was alive and well at the Agora Symposium in Vancouver this this week. It seems that not everyone is ready to join the deflation-first, then-inflation camp I am currently resident in. So in this week's letter we look at some of the causes of deflation, the elements of deflation, if you will, and see if they are in ascendancy. For equity investors, this is an important question because, historically, periods of deflation have not been kind to stock markets. Let's come at this week's letter from the side, and see if we can sneak up on some answers.

    Even on the road (and maybe especially on the road, as I get more free time on airplanes) I keep up with my rather large reading habit. This week, the theme in various publications was the lack of available credit for small businesses, with plenty of anecdotal evidence. This goes along with the surveys by the National Federation of Independent Businesses, which continue to show a difficult credit market.

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  • You Should Be Careful What You Wish For

    'Everyone' is upset with the level of fiscal deficits being run by nearly every developed country. And with much justification. The levels of fiscal deficits are unsustainable and threaten to bring many countries to the desperate situation that Greece now finds itself in. We must balance the budget is the cry of fiscal conservatives. But there are unseen consequences in moving both too fast or too slow in the effort to get the deficits under control. Today we look at them as we explore what a fine mess we have gotten ourselves into. (I am working without internet today so the letter will be shorter with fewer references than normal.)...
  • Six Impossible Things

    Economists and policy makers seem to want to believe impossible things in regards to the current debt crisis percolating throughout the world. And believing in them, they are adopting policies that will result in, well, tragedy. Today we address what passes for wisdom among the political crowd and see where we are headed, especially in Europe....
  • Europe Throws a Hail Mary Pass

    In a 1975 playoff game, the Dallas Cowboys were nearly out of time and facing elimination from the playoffs, down 14-10 against a very good Minnesota Vikings team. The Cowboys future Hall of Fame quarterback Roger Staubach had no very good options. He later said he dropped back to pass, closed his eyes and, as a good Catholic, said a Hail Mary and threw the ball as far as he could. Wide receiver Drew Pearson had to come back for the ball and, in a very controversial play, managed to catch the ball on his hip and stumble into the end zone. Angry Vikings fans threw trash onto the field, and one threw a whiskey bottle that knocked a referee out. After that play, all last-minute desperation passes became known as Hail Mary passes. (That was a very thrilling game to watch!)

    And that is what Europe did last weekend. They threw a Hail Mary pass in an attempt to avoid the loss of the eurozone. Jean-Claude Trichet blinked. Merkel capitulated. Today we consider what the consequences of this new European-styled TARP will be for Europe and the world. We do live in interesting times.

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