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Top Financial Stories, 2015

I generally ask myself at this time of year what were the biggest stories of the past twelve months in business/financial news. 

Of course, I choose the ones I do largely because they illustrate an important theme, and in the list below I'll spell out and boldface the theme. Yet the theme itself isn't the story.

In terms of regional mix, with this line-up I've one whole-Pacific-basin story (March). One story is Australian (December), two European (January and June), one Chinese (May) and one Middle Eastern (July), The remaining six are US based (February, April, August, September, October, November). A nice thematic point: I both begin and end with issues over different currencies both traditional and innovative.

January:

Currency wars I: Switzerland abandons a peg of the franc to the euro (at 1:1.20) that has lasted for more than three years. The suddenness of the abandonment takes many market participants by surprise.

February:

Economics of crude oil I: President Obama vetoe…

Keep checking your credit score! or ... don't

I'm getting pretty tired of these ads telling people to keep checking their credit score, aren't you, dear reader?


More on the Good King, forsooth

Bring me flesh and bring me wineBring me pine logs hither
Thou and I will see him dine
When we bear him thither."
Page and monarch forth they went
Forth they went together
Through the rude wind's wild lament
And the bitter weather

"Sire, the night is darker now
And the wind blows stronger
Fails my heart, I know not how,
I can go no longer."
"Mark my footsteps, my good page
Tread thou in them boldly
Thou shalt find the winter's rage
Freeze thy blood less coldly."

In his master's steps he trod
Where the snow lay dinted
Heat was in the very sod
Which the Saint had printed
Therefore, Christian men, be sure
Wealth or rank possessing
Ye who now will bless the poor
Shall yourselves find blessing

Good King Wenceslas

For the Catholic Church, the day after Christmas, tomorrow, is known as the Feast of Stephen. Lovers of Christmas Carols will remember that this is the feast commemorated in Good King Wenceslaus, for the 26th of December was the day when that monarch looked out upon the snow that was "deep and crisp and even."

Friendly or Hostile Cosmos?

In a philosophy group to which I belong, a fellow calling himself Barleycorn posted the following thought:

People like to think of the universe as some magical godly force of creation but really it's just the earth that houses life. The universe for the most part is death. Put anything living up in space and the universe instantly kills it. The universe is not your loving friend. This little bubble on earth called an atmosphere is the only thing stopping the universe from instantly murdering you. So why all the memes about the magical mystical universe and all this spirit science crap? And why do so many people feel like the universe will absorb or save your soul at death. No it won't. That's a very romantic idealistic view of the universe. Life struggles AGAINST the universe.

My reply was, and is, as follows:

First, the "little bubble" of life on earth is only possible because of a continuous stream of energy from the nearest star, and because we are held safel…

Hume on the Self, and his Own Loss of Hope

I've recently read Galen Strawson's 2011 book, THE EVIDENT CONNEXION: HUME ON PERSONAL IDENTITY. It is a follow-up of sorts to his book on Hume's theory of causation, which I discussed in a series of posts last January.

Hume believed himself to have been defeated in his efforts to explain personal identity. He says so pretty clearly in an APPENDIX he added in 1740 to his TREATISE ON HUMAN NATURE, though one of Strawson's point is that many other scholars don't seem to have realized how complete the confession of failure here is.

Here is Hume.

I had entertain’d some hopes, that however deficient our theory of the intellectual world might be, it wou’d be free from those contradictions, and absurdities, which seem to attend every explication, that human reason can give of the material world. But upon a more strict review of the section concerning personal identity, I find myself involv’d in such a labyrinth, that, I must confess, I neither know how to correct my for…

Report from a money market fund

I received an annual report from a money market fund recently. It includes a Q-and-A with two portfolio managers: Joanne M. Driscoll and Jonathan M. Topper.

I'll pass along a bit of their wisdom here. The first question is, "Please describe the market environment for the 12-month reporting period ended September 30, 2015?"

They respond in part thus:

"The steep decline in commodity prices was especially noteworthy as low oil prices have eased inflationary pressures in the U.S. economy -- keeping inflation well below the Fed's 2% target for price stability. ... the central bank left its benchmark rate unchanged at its main policy making committee meeting in July, but added that it expected to begin raising short-term rates before the end of 2015. At their September meeting, Fed policymakers delayed raising the key short-term interest rate, citing weaker macroeconomic conditions abroad and the heightened market volatility brought on by the People's Bank of Chin…