Pay Attention

We spend two things and only two things, as far as I am aware. Time and money. This fact fascinated me a while back and I wrote a blog post called Spending Time, advocating for using the same care in how we spend our hours and our days that we give to our finances.
Something similar clicked the other day when I was asked if I was paying attention. Interesting term, I thought. What else do we pay? Besides money of course. I’ve been trying to think of anything else, but so far I have not been able to.*
Not sure why I keep getting hit with heart attack ads but it is a little creepy

I write about the future here, and the idea of time and attention as a new form of currency rings true. Note the way online ads compete for your attention. The whole thing with Face Book has made us all painfully aware that we are the product being sold by companies on the cutting edge of technology. Just today, I had to click my consent to new terms for Yahoo. Basically the terms said I understand they will use all content I provide in any way they please. 

Why do they want this data? It is not that I am inherently interesting to Yahoo, Google or Apple. They want to use the data to place specific content where I see it. They want my attention, or rather to sell my attention to their advertisers.  My attention is worth money, it turns out, if I have demonstrated an interest in the advertiser’s product. Once they have my attention, they take up my time, and they hope for some of my money. These are the things I spend. These are the ways I pay.
I like these ads for earrings better!

The scarier part is the idea of using my predispositions  —  my politics, my spiritual beliefs, my hobbies and interests, and even facts about my health, my job and my family — to not only sell me products but to also incite me to action. Attend a rally? Support a cause? If you know enough about me, will you know exactly what buttons to push to get me to act?

Maybe you will. Unless, of course, I pay a great deal of attention to what I see. I predict one of the rising costs of democracy, and of personal freedom, in the brave new future we are creating every time we touch our keyboards, will be the necessity to pay close attention to what appears to randomly flash before our eyes.
Assume you are seeing any online content for a reason. An algorithm somewhere calculates you are likely to respond in a way someone else desires. Do you want to do so? Maybe you do, maybe not.  So pay attention. Your attention matters.
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*After writing this post, I began to think about how we pay another person a compliment. Interesting. Expect a post on this idea soon.

Ah, the stock market …

In spite of a year of disturbing news ranging from North Korean threats to Russian meddling to a president with record low approval ratings and an embarrassing compulsion for lying, the stock market keeps going up. It’s hard not to look at Wall Street and say “Really? What gives with you people?”

In fairness, I’m a moderate independent who neither voted for, nor liked, Donald Trump the candidate. However, like many Americans, I would have been happy to have been pleasantly surprised. If, once elected, he had rolled up his sleeves, left behind his junior high school name calling and applied a well-honed business acumen to improving our economy, I’d have given a sigh of relief.

I think we can all agree that isn’t what happened.

And yet, the Dow Jones has climbed from 20,000 to over 26,000 in the last year, reflecting the fact that most of the stocks in my (and maybe your) little retirement accounts are worth a good bit more. A good bit of a little isn’t all that much, but one appreciates the increase. Plus, news about jobs and wages is fairly good, too.

Much of the mild but general improvements in the economy at large are being attributed to the president before our current leader. The economic ship is a giant one, it responds slowly to changes at the helm. It apparently was on a good course last January, and it hasn’t been run aground since. The current administration may even be continuing to nudge it away from the rocks. I’ll take what little good news I can get.

That hardly explains the exuberance of the stock market, which can and occasionally has made drastic changes in the course of a single day.

What drives these changes? The biggest single investors are large funds, such as teacher’s pension funds in various states. These are conservatively run and, in my humble opinion, not the trendsetters of the stock market. They follow.

The mood of the market, if you will, comes from individuals and smaller groups with considerable wealth of their own to manage. These folks, or many of them, appear downright giddy these days. Why?

I’m going to take a guess. I think the common wisdom among this group is that under the current administration they are going to get even richer. Nothing makes the money on wall street happier than the idea that more money is going to be made.

This could be due to a generic GOP lessening of regulation when it is good for wealth (repeal of Dodd-Frank reform) and a tightening of regulation when it is good for wealth (repealing net neutrality). It’s really not about small government, you see, but rather about laws that make it easier to take a chuck of money and make more. This is great for those with a chunk to start with, but less so for those getting by, who will now see a little more skimmed from them in dozens of different clever ways.

This sense that times are good for the wealthy could also be coming from the biography of the current president. He came from wealth, he has wealth, and he is a wheeler-dealer who has spent his life working to increase his wealth. Surely he is going keep the good times rolling.

Or, this positive exuberance could be no more than the enthusiasm of a classroom full of misbehaved children who have just figured out that their substitute teacher is an idiot. Oh boy. Are we going to have fun today.

Or maybe it’s a combination of all three. What do you think?

Never in my life have I seen the behavior of the stock market so at odds with the mood of the country. I live in North Carolina, a politically mixed state that went for Trump, and in which a wide variety of people generally get along. No matter how we voted, most of us here seem to be watching the news and feeling pretty pessimistic about the future.

Can it be true that the future looks bad for most of us, and looks really, really good for the few that set the mood on Wall Street? Maybe for the moment, but I don’t think that is a sustainable situation. We are all interconnected, perhaps in ways we are forgetting.

 

 

 

 

Did we just witness the dawn of America’s four party system?

One the most fascinating parts of being clairvoyant, I think, would be having a sense of when times are changing. Of course, they are always changing, but I mean the really significant stuff. You might not know it, but World War II doesn’t happen, at least not like it did, if the heir to the Austrian throne doesn’t get assassinated twenty-five years earlier in 1914. You probably don’t have your cell phone, at least not as good a one, if Russia fails to shock us with their successful launch of Sputnik 1 in 1957. And so on.

I suspect that you and I have have lived through times that changed the world in large ways, but it takes years to see the effects, especially in an age with cable news shouting about the significance of everything every minute of every day. But someone like my character Ariel would know right away, finding herself overcome with dizziness as the probabilities shifted heavily one way or another.

I don’t have any of my characters superpowers, but today, I’m going to pretend I do. I’ve got a feeling that at the end of last week we witnessed the birth of the U.S. having in essence a four party- system.

How do we get four parties? Well, the Tea Party, embodied in the Freedom Caucus in the House of Representatives, has been around since 2009 and has a clearly articulated platform that is often but not always at odds with mainstream Republicans. It’s connected loosely to the already-established Libertarian party, but differs with many Libertarians on social issues. At it’s worst, this group wants almost no government, except for that needed to enforce it’s socially conservative legislation. The group is not known for it’s tolerance or its compassion. At it’s best, the tea party calls for fiscal responsibility and fights for everyone’s right to privacy and self-reliance. The Tea Party has shown that is can work with moderate Republicans when it has to, and with Populists when it must. In truth, though, this group would rather not work with anybody, and it truly dislikes the progressive agenda.

Moderates used to come in two flavors, Republican and Democrat. Today both are feeling endangered, and I’m going predict that they eventually join forces. This group best represents the establishment, as they are not in favor of anybody’s extremes. As such, at their worst they support adding more wealth to the wealthy, and keeping power right where it is. At their best, they support stability, cooperation and a stable economy, at least for many, and they do have a core belief in tolerance of others. This group can find common ground with the Tea Party, and with Progressives, but is just put off by the populist movement.

Progressives have long been around as the left wing of the Democrats; they became more visible with the growth Green Party in 2000 and gained a strong voice with Bernie Sanders in 2016. At their worst they are painted as radicals and socialists, representing too much government spending and control. At their best, they are the party most willing to help the average person, which gives them overlap with the populist movement. They are the most tolerant of all the groups, giving them common ground with moderates, and they are the most anxious for positive change, making them the most popular with our youngest voters. They hold a deep dislike of the Tea Party.

Finally,  there are the Populists. This group was largely disregarded until Donald Trump gave them a voice in 2016, but I do not think they are force that will go away anytime soon. They tend towards being socially conservative, and are not known for their tolerance of anyone outside of their own group, giving them some common ground with the Tea Party on social issues. However, many of them favor a strong social safety net and policies that will benefit the working class over the rich, giving them some room to work with progressives on financial policies. The group they really dislike is the moderates of the status quo.

What do you think? How am doing at predicting the near future of politics?  It’s been a fun exercise, and I’m already speculating about what sort of legislation might get passed by different coalitions. Time will tell if I’m anywhere near correct.

Should I hope for calm or cheer on the storm?

djiThe words “The Dow hit 20,000” may not mean much to you, but if you are lucky enough to have some savings invested somewhere, you probably do know that it is worth more on paper today than it was last October. And you are probably happy about that.

But does this high-rising Dow really mean that our country is on the right track? That could be a possible explanation, if it weren’t for the fact that the stock market is far too moody to behave so simply.

In my opinion, the health of stocks as a whole is a sort of aggregate thermometer of how calm the wealthiest parts of America feel. Money, big money and big institutions, appear to care little about politics and a lot about predictability. The stock market fumbled and finally did it’s housing-bubble fizzle on George Bush’s invasion-laden watch. Then it rose steadily in the midst of Obama’s alleged socialism. I think that those with a lot of money understood that life was stable then, and that there was no real socialism to be found.  Stocks floundered in the late stages of the election, hating the whole mess right along with the rest of us. They likely would have risen in relief at the election of either candidate.

moneyI don’t think Mr. Dow (actually short for an index of large companies known as the Dow Jones Industrial Average) got overly excited until Mr. Trump began to put forth his cabinet nominees. As their wealth and ties to institutionalized money became apparent, major investors began to consider that the next four years could be exceptionally good for big business.

But will they be?

I wrote a book about prescience, the ability to see into the future and understand the true likelihood that an event will or won’t occur. Constructing the plot of d4 forced me to spend quite a bit of time considering how such an ability could work.  What’s more, several of my characters were attempting to use their prescient skills to make money in the stock market, so I ended up learning quite a bit more about Mr. Dow Jones and all his friends, too.

crystal-ballI think the market will get very nervous if our new president’s ill-considered interactions with foreign governments raise the possibility of an international crisis of some sort. I think the market will become unhappy if the 2016 election results are tied more firmly to Russian influence, and a rocky period will follow until the matter is resolved, possibly with the president’s removal.  I think the market will level out and become bumpy if internal protests and unrest continue to grow, or if the 2018 election proves that the majority of the American people truly do want a regime change.

How likely are these events? Well, my talented and courageous character Ariel could answer that question if she were real, but alas, she is not. As her creator, I have no ability to foresee the future. My confidence that the 2016 election could not possibly turn out the way it did certifies that I should not be trusted to make predictions.

But I do have investments. Thanks to a 401K and several years with one company, I have a little account, some financial security and a personal interest in seeing the stock market happy.

And, I have a passion for social justice. I want to see my nation at peace, behaving with compassion and inclusion within our borders and outside of them. I want to see the current administration hamstrung as much as possible regarding its horrible agenda and I want to see it exit as quickly as it can.

cropped-lightening-2These two aren’t compatible interests. I could hang on to my little investments for four more years, hoping that politics goes smoothly and that I will make more money. Or I could sell everything now while the Dow is happy and then hope for the worst for our current regime. Or hedge my bets and do some of both. Oh, if I only knew how this all was going to go.

That’s why the stock market is a gamble. I don’t know what the next four years will bring and neither does anyone else. But I do know that I have to go with my principles instead of my pocketbook. I’m going sell investments and move funds to safety, and then sit back and cheer on any storm that returns America to the compassionate values that I hold dear.