So, I Was Thinking About a Few Things

Some Loose Ends as the Year Draws Toward a Close

December Reflections – Not Exactly Santa’s List But Here We Go

It is that time of year wherein we are all prone to start thinking about the year that is almost over, and the one about to knock on our door. In that spirit, five things to reflect upon, in good and bad news categories, are rattling around in my head of late. Let’s take a look.

The Economy – Especially Inflation: Take a Deep Breath

It seems hard to get people at large to recognize it, but overall, the US economy is in terrific shape. Lots of challenges to be sure, and the good news is certainly not evenly spread, but by any measure, the country is in good economic shape. Much of that good news lies directly at the feet of Joe Biden, whose early economic decisions and legislative victories made all the difference in the world.

There is much talk now about inflation. That is indeed worrisome. When it gets above 6%, the risk of long-term damage is high, and we are pushing 8% right now. Where we to get into a spiral of hyperinflation, the damage would be substantial and hard to reverse. Just ask Dick Nixon and Jimmy Carter about that.

It’s Time to Take a Deep Breath and Relax a Bit

First, a pretty good inflation surge was inevitable. The economy is surging back to life and people who were locked in their homes for months are eager to get back to a full life. That was sure to mean too much money pushing too few goods and services – the very definition of inflation. Add to that the production and distribution effects of a global pandemic, and the problem is magnified.

However, I am willing to bet that this will moderate in the coming weeks and months to a much more manageable degree. It is already happening in some sectors. It is worth noting as well that there are real limits on what an administration can do short term on such a problem.

The Federal Reserve has the tools for this, and they are an independent body. I see them alert but not yet so concerned. To those who criticize Biden on this, I would ask what specifically is it you want him to do that he is not doing? To the Republican party, I would ask for any suggestion – anything at all – that they propose as an actual policy.

Long term inflation hits the middle class and small business hard, but I don’t see us there or actually heading that way. Remind me next Summer if I was wrong.

Pandemic – The “Gift” That Keeps on Giving

Hard to imagine that we are at the level of 800,000 Americans dying from this thing, and still trucking along at over 1000 deaths every day. The administration has done about all a government can do at this point, and what they have done will likely save our collective butts from this newest version of the virus, and those that follow.

But the sad, ugly truth is that a terrible percentage of Americans still refuse vaccines and common-sense defensive measures, egged on by feckless political, social, and religious leaders. This is where the deaths are occurring en masse. One would think at some point these folks would look at the map and the math and figure out they have been had. Apparently not.

For the rest of us, it looks like COVID will be manageable but not banished for a long time, maybe ever. The real key point now is getting the rest of the globe vaccinated and served with post infection treatments. The US – finally- is leading an effort to do just that but the global effort is still pitifully short of the mark. This is the number one thing that puts us all at risk.

Viruses are remarkable things. They adapt to challenges unlike any other organism, including us. We give it enough time, space, and victims and it will figure out how to get us yet. Vaccinate the world. Now.

Ukraine and Taiwan – Getting into the Other Side’s Head

I hate to sound like a broken record, but as I have for the last couple of years, I note with no small amount of concern the risk of violent confrontation with Russia over Ukraine and China over Taiwan. In both cases, we stand our best chance of avoiding such outcomes if we can get inside the thought processes of those aggressive leaders. If we think they think like us, have the same set of priorities, conflict is more likely and since they will initiate, we are more likely to lose such a fight.

These are not easy ones to manage. Both Russia and China see these as their territories and there are significant elements in both countries itching for a fight. If we come across as weak or as recklessly aggressive ourselves, the price will be high. Watch these two areas closely in the coming months. Let’s hope we can deliver the right messages and are prepared for the worst.

The January 6 Insurrection Investigation

The new year should bring some dramatic, important, even startling revelations. Data is coming out almost daily now that fits those descriptions, with more to come. A big IF remains around how fast and aggressively the Department of Justice and the Courts will deal with refusals to support the investigation.

We have little time to deal with this and zero margin of error. An excellent communications model is called for, along with swift and sure punishment for everyone – and I mean everyone – who tried to overthrow our government. If not, January 6 will be considered a rehearsal for the next attempt. Lots of small people who were there are getting sentenced. How about the leaders?

Fingers crossed.

Tis the Season for Giving. Boy, is it Ever!

One of the great pleasures of life is giving. At some point along life’s journey, most of us figure out that it really is a lot more fun giving than receiving. Sometimes it seems those who have the least live this value more than those who have the most, but that is another subject altogether.

A friend and colleague of mine from some years ago shared what seems to me a fine formula to structure one’s giving. He and his spouse took the old model of tithing and updated it a bit. They committed to giving away at least 10% of their income every year. 5% went to a main cause they supported, the rest divided among other causes and organizations they thought important. They set aside a small amount for unforeseen needs or opportunities. It is a fine approach that gives some coherence and gravitas, a sense of deliberateness, to giving. I recommend considering it.

This year, I sense a bit of an overcrowding on the call for giving that is problematic. This is, of course, the time of year for giving and many of us answer those calls. But the idea of Giving Tuesday, meant to offset the gluttony of spending often associated with the holidays, has spread to the point of endless mail and email calls to give. Add to that all those calls for end of year giving for tax benefits and the now ubiquitous calls for 2-1, even 4-1 matching gifts, and it is all too much in too short a time frame.

I would welcome someone coming up with a more balanced, year-round approach to giving. Surely with all the technology and things like online campaigns, we could devise a more rational, year-round approach to encourage giving and sharing. We should be thinking about sharing more than just the last six weeks of the year. This is one of the great joys of life. Let’s spread it around a bit.  But for now – yeah, go ahead and give until it feels good.

   Bill Clontz

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