Assorted Things

I went to my first yoga class last night with a friend. I did pretty well, I was told. Quite flexible. This coming from a former ballet dancer!

I found out from a friend at my old unit that we just lost someone… I don’t know who yet but I don’t think it’s someone I know since I was never in the affected battalion. But…you never know.

With regards to my last post about free trade, I got in an annual Christmas argument with my dad. One of the things I came up with (on the fly) was that yes, I disagreed with the protectionist leanings within the Democratic party, but the thing is, they’re actually dealing with those issues! The Republicans have let free trade and globalization atrophy, so that you see this deterioration of public support for free trade in the last decades. The Democratic party has been fiercely debating the topic within itself, with some of the older pro-union people unwilling to let go of unrealistic business liabilities, and most of the younger people (those my age and younger) on board with more competitive business practices. What no one is really arguing for yet, but what I’d like to see, is a government system that provides for the same benefits that companies offer, so that people aren’t induced to stay at companies longer than they should just because they’re afraid of losing those benefits. The government is the only organization that can smooth over the high turnover rate for today’s knowledge-based economy.

[EDIT: The next day I came across this study from the Financial Services Forum, recommending what I mentioned above. “Among the Proposals: Raise taxes on winners to share benefits of globalization more widely. Replace TAA and unemployment insurance with a big new program for displaced workers that offers wage insurance to ease the pain of taking a lower-paying job. Provide for portable health insurance and retraining. Create a way for communities to ensure their tax base against big factory closures. Eliminate tax hurdles for businesses that do what International Business Machines is proposing: Offer 50 cents for every $1 (up to $1,000 a year) that workers set aside to pay for training.”]

This was the first Christmas that I really noticed those huge walls of gift cards at the grocery store. I know they’ve been around for a while but I read quite a few articles about them this season, and I also somehow knew to go to the grocery store to get cards, instead of going to the individual stores to get them. Some article about Christmas spending that I read was discussing how there’s no dropoff in sales as a result of gift cards, because the sale is computed at the time the card is activated. The companies get that money immediately… But what may happen is the extension of Christmas-related purchases into January as people go to redeem their gift cards and possibly spending more than the card’s value.

Related to that, I have noticed that since internet-based trading really took off in the late nineties that stock market patterns have changed. It used to be that August-November was pretty volatile, but this pattern has not held so much anymore. What I attribute this to is the rise of quant-based trading and computer modeling. In the same way that the Fed has been credited with smoothing out market volatilities through interest-rate targeting, traders and firms have smoothed out volatility by anticipating patterns and hammering them out until they disappear. Financial derivatives and computers have changed the way Wall Street reacts to things. Certainly this will give rise to its own problems (jamming of systems that could cause crashes and halts), but the market seems far more fluid now in general.