Saturday, January 17, 2009

worrisome things

There are lots of things to worry about. The price of gas, I worry about that a fair amount. I have nothing to do with it other than to use it in my car- for example, I do not invest in petroleum related things directly, although I have a 401k that might. But I worry about it because every time it goes up these things happen:

1) Various experts say that it is not a big deal
2) The price of everything goes up
3) Various experts start talking about the economy going sour
4) The economy gets labelled as "being in a recession" or something to that effect.
5) It gets more expensive to do things.

So this gives you a few associated things to worry about: for example, why are various experts so full of shit? How many times does this have to happen to prove that it is a big deal? When are we going to get away from gas, anyway? And so on...

It is funny that gas that is less than two dollars a gallon is "cheap gas". When gas goes over two dollars a gallon, people worry-- I know I do. But how did it get from ninety eight cents a gallon to where it is now?

The Saudi oil minister was being interviewed on TV. He said "Saudi Arabia needs to sell oil at $55 a barrel to keep the country running". Right now, oil isn't going for anywhere near that. It is going for the same price it was when gas was, like, seventy five cents a gallon. So what is going on with that?

The other thing to worry about is what people want versus what they are actually doing. People everywhere want a better standard of living, and to know where their next meal is coming from, and to be free from oppression. Yet, where these things are the most lacking, people have more children than they can afford, they aren't able to produce enough food, and they end up with awful self-serving governments.

Something related to that is what has happened to America in the last years. I characterize like this: the 'economic powers that be' took a look a few years ahead, and saw where things were going. They made a whole bunch of money on jacked up gas prices, then they pulled a whole bunch of money out of the stock market. Now, yes, there were all of those "investment instruments" that bundled in rickety mortgages and were, in turn, it looks like the money in these was used to secure yet other things. Again, you have to wonder about the experts who managed all of that.

Now, it's not a 'conspiracy', but it is two groups of people with financial power where each group acted the same way, and there were these two ways they acted:

Group 1) operating corruptly, serving their own interests and bilking people out of money (like Madoff, that guy in Europe that committed massive fraud)

Group 2) big groups of investors acting on a very large scale, moving lots of money very quickly in order to protect it's value.

There is commentary about a "house of cards" and so on, but really, how many "bad mortgages" for what total amount of money were there? Some commentary makes it sound like the whole financial mess is due to people who bet on adjustable mortgages because they could sell their house at a high value before the rate went up. I am sure there were people who did this, and that these were some of the debts that were rolled up into these "instruments" that eventually got much better ratings than they should have. But I doubt very much that this is really the basis for what happened.

Regardless, whatever happened has had the effect of devaluing the US currency. Because a huge amount of money has been pumped into the system, making it possible for loans to occur once again from all of those bankers who have come down with terminal risk aversion. And real estate will go up again, for the simple reason that they aren't making any more and actual people need to buy homes, not as investments, but as places to dwell.

Really what people worry about is the modern cost of living. I would say that there is less of a 'keeping up with the Joneses' mentality but there is definitely an 'optimal comfort level' mentality. That is, given where one is with one's wage-earning ability, that one is able to live well enough. And yes, that means some gadgets, nice food and entertainment.

But, with regards to the rest of the world, without a significant impetus towards something better, America ends up being less of a "growing concern" and more of a stagnating one. Hard working hard playing America #1 has always been striving to stay well ahead of the international Joneses, and the Euro has been worth more than the dollar for a while now.

It would be really great if the U.S. could be the green energy revolutionary, come out with the best and most viable alternative energy methodologies and capitalize on those. But, a lot of that is being farmed out to Asia- those superduper batteries for the cars of tomorrow, the electronics. Will the new government cause something to happen to improve this situation? A lot of people are hoping so, and worrying about if that hope is well founded or not.

There is always a way to find something to worry about, but it seems very easy lately.


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