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Top Financial Stories 2016

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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.

January:  Collective bargaining. The U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments Jan. 11th about public sector unions, mandatory fees, and the economics of the free-rider problem. In the spring, after Scalia's death, it splits 4-4 on the subject.

February: Economics of crude oil. Iran takes a stand-offish posture toward the efforts of other oil-producing nations to cut production, wants to get itself back to pre-sanctions levels.

March: Smartphones and privacy. The face-off on iPhone encryption and the demands of the FBI go before the U.S. Congress as this month begins.  Later in the month, FBI backs away, says it may have found another way.

April. Rise of Social Media. Twitter wins a bidding war for the right to stream regular season NFL games. This is illustrative of the way social media are taking over general entertainment functions, esp. in the US.

May. Commodities. After a long downturn,  basic commodities seemed to be on an upswing by May, indicated for example by Rio Tinto's $5.3 billion expansion of a copper mine in Oyu Tolgoi, in Mongolia. And by agricultural pricing.

June. European Union. Britain votes to leave, 52/48, in a referendum with enormous implications for the whole continent and beyond.

July.  Africa. Protesters in Zimbabwe demand that Robert Mugabe step down, due to deepening economic dysfunction. Some of his staunchest supporters, the war veterans, desert him.

August. Economics of health care. The degree to which the unfolding of Obamacare has not gone as planned, or advertised, becomes conspicuous, and makes a rather late but potent appearance in the Presidential campaign. In November, Trump will become President elect, with a mandate to "repeal and replace," whatever exactly that means.

September. Latin America. The People's Republic of China cuts off new loans to Venezuela, worsening the latter country's economic crisis.

October.  Market structure issues. A London-based trader, Navinder Singh Sarao, loses in his efforts to avoid extradition to the US. Sarao is blamed by many for the 2010 Wall Street "flash crash."

November. Marijuana. Several states in the US vote on two distinct tiers of proposals to legalize (at the state level) the MJ industry. Most of these proposals for liberalization are approved.

December. Automation. Uber removes its self-driving cars from the streets of San Francisco one month after launching the program there, vowing to reconsider how it can comply with California regulations. The incident reflects the way in which automation is poised to wreak havoc on various legal and social structures, and the sometimes-successful pushback by those structures.

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