Thoughts From The Frontline

This highly acclaimed blog is primarily focused on private money management, financial services, and investments. John Mauldin demonstrates an unusual breadth of expertise, as illustrated by the wide variety of issues addressed in-depth in his writings.

Thoughts From The Frontline

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  • The Lions in the Grass, Revisited

    I’ve come to South Africa a little bit ahead of my speaking tour next week to spend a few days “on safari.” Which is another way to say that I am comfortably ensconced in a game lodge next to Kruger Park, relaxing and trying to get some time to think. We’ve been reasonably lucky on the game runs: besides the usual lions, rhinoceri, water buffalo, etc., we’ve seen both cheetah and leopard, two animals that avoided my vicinity on every other trip to Africa. I’m here at the end of the rainy season, so everything is lush and green, and you have to get a little lucky to find the animals in the dense bush.

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  • When Inequality Isn’t

    Plutarch argued over 1900 years ago that it was income inequality that lay at the heart of the failure of the Greek republics. Other writings of that period demonstrate that the leaders were worried about the distribution of wealth in society. The causes of unequal distribution have certainly changed over time, but it seems to be built into our DNA to obsess over what we have relative to what others have.

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  • China’s Minsky Moment?

    In speeches and presentations since the end of last year, I have been saying that I think the biggest macro problem in the world today is China. China has run up a huge debt, and the payments are coming due. They seem to be proactive, but will it be enough? How much risk do they pose for the global system?

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  • Inequality and Opportunity

    Income inequality is going to be a central theme in political campaigns for the rest of the decade, so what I want to try to do is simply get some facts on the table so that at least we know what the research says and doesn’t say. A lot of emotional content is offered under the guise of economic research in order to support various political positions. The data suggest that the problem is both worse than we might think when viewed through one lens, and not that big a problem – or at least a very different problem – when viewed through another. I suggest that we look as objectively as possible at all of the data and not just cherry-pick the data that supports our views.

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  • The Problem with Keynesianism

    I think Lord Keynes himself would appreciate the irony that he has become the defunct economist under whose influence the academic and bureaucratic classes now toil, slaves to what has become as much a religious belief system as it is an economic theory. Men and women who display an appropriate amount of skepticism on all manner of other topics indiscriminately funnel a wide assortment of facts and data through the filter of Keynesianism without ever questioning its basic assumptions. And then some of them go on to prescribe government policies that have profound effects upon the citizens of their nations.

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  • Black Swans and Endogenous Uncertainty

    John is in Florida and feeling a bit under the weather, so this week we’re bringing back one of his most popular letters, from December 2007. In the letter he discusses the work of Professor Graciela Chichilnisky of Columbia University, one of whose key insights is that the greater the number of connections within an economic network, the more the system is at risk. Given the current macroeconomic environment, it is important to remind ourselves of how complacent we were back in 2007 and how it all fell apart so quickly, just as John outlined in this rather prescient piece.

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  • The Worst Ten-Letter Word

    This week we begin what will probably be a multi-week series on the subject of income inequality. Over the years, I’ve written many times about the lack of income growth for the middle class in the developed world. We have also looked at the growing spread between the top 1% or 5% or 10% and those further down the income scale. The widening spread is an undeniable fact. But what should be done about it? Do we take money from the more well-off, or do we increase opportunities for all? How do we increase opportunity without social expenditures for education and healthcare, and where will the money come from? What trade-offs do we get for the lost productivity and reduced savings that result from increased taxes? What institutional and policy barriers are there? These are all fundamentally important questions.

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  • The Economic Singularity

    I fully intended to write today about a recently released academic paper that illustrates nearly every bad idea currently being bandied about in the field of economics. The insidious part is that the paper is considered mainstream and noncontroversial. Simply reading it required me to up my blood pressure medicine dosage. It is going to take me a little longer to finish that letter, and I realized that it needs a certain setup – one that coauthor Jonathan Tepper and I conveniently wrote a few months ago and included in the book Code Red.

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  • A Most Dangerous Era

    The devil is in the details, we are told, and the details are often buried in an appendix or footnote. This week we were confronted with a rather troubling appendix in the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) analysis of the Affordable Care Act, which suggests that the act will have a rather profound impact on employment patterns. You could tell a person's political leaning by how they responded. Republicans jumped all over this. The conservative Washington Times, for instance, featured this headline: "Obamacare will push 2 million workers out of labor market: CBO." Which is not what the analysis says at all. Liberals immediately downplayed the import by suggesting that all it really said was that people will have more choice about how they work, giving them more free time to play with their kids and pets and pursue other activities. Who could be against spending more time with your children?

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  • Central Banker Throwdown

    Today investors are asking themselves a similar question: "Is the meltdown in the stock market the result of Fed tapering, or is there something else going on?" We'll address that question today and take a deep plunge into the emerging markets. We have a good old-fashioned central banker throwdown in progress, and if the results didn't have such an impact on our investment portfolios, it could actually be quite fun to watch. What happens in the emerging markets will unfortunately not stay in the emerging markets. It's all connected. There is more happening here than a simple correction. Let's put our thinking caps on and try to connect some dots.

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  • Forecast 2014: The CAPEs of Hope

    South Africa's Cape of Good Hope is one of the most dangerous stretches of coastline anywhere in the world, where the warm Agulhas Current (also called the Mozambique Current), rushing down from the Indian Ocean, meets the cold Benguela Current, pushing up from Antarctica. The difference in water temperatures alone is a recipe for legendary storms, but the two opposing ocean currents just so happen to converge where the African Continental Shelf drops off into a deep abyss.

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  • Forecast 2014: “Mark Twain!”

    In the 1850s, flat-bottom paddlewheel steamboats coursed up and down the mighty Mississippi, opening up the Midwest to trade and travel. But it was treacherous travel. The current was constantly shifting the sandbars underneath the placid, smoothly rolling surface of the river. What was sufficient depth one week on a stretch of the river might become a treacherous sandbar the next, upon which a steamboat could run aground, perhaps even breaching the hull and sinking the ship. To prevent such a catastrophe, a crewman would throw a long rope with a lead weight at the end as far in front of the boat as possible (and thus the crewman was called the leadman). The rope was usually twenty-five fathoms long and was marked at increments of two, three, five, seven, ten, fifteen, seventeen and twenty fathoms. A fathom was originally the distance between a man's outstretched hands, but since this could be quite imprecise, it evolved to be six feet.

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  • Forecast 2014: The Killer D’s

    We'll continue our three-part 2014 forecast series this week by looking at the significant economic macrotrends that have to be understood, as always, as the context for any short-term forecast. These are the forces that are going to inexorably shift and shape our portfolios and businesses. Each of the nine macrotrends I'll mention deserves its own book (and I've written books about two of them and numerous letters on most of them), but we'll pause to gaze briefly at each as we scan the horizon.

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  • Forecast 2014: The Human Transformation Revolution

    It is that time of the year when we peer into our darkened crystal balls in hopes of seeing portents of the future in the shadowy mists. This year I see three distinct wisps of vapor coalescing in the coming years. Each deserves its own treatment, so this year the annual forecast issue will in fact be three separate weekly pieces.

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  • Gary Shilling: Review and Forecast

    It's that time of year again, when we begin to think of what the next one will bring. I will be doing my annual forecast issue next week, but my friend Gary Shilling has already done his and has graciously allowed me to use a shortened version of his letter as this week's Thoughts from the Frontline. So without any further ado, let's jump right to Gary's look at where we are and where we're going.

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