A Short Amount of Common Cents on September 28, 2018

September 28, 2018, by John Norris

This week, the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC), the monetary policy making body of the Federal Reserve, raised the overnight lending target 0.25% to 2.25%. This was so widely expected as to be a fait accompli. However, the statement, which the FOMC releases after every meeting, removed any mention of monetary policy being ‘accommodative.’ This was NOT expected, and had tongues wagging. Is the Fed signaling the beginning of the end of this tightening cycle? Or just the end of the beginning?

Inquiring minds wanted to know for, I don’t know, about 30 minutes. Although the world’s primary central bank had thrown out the biggest talking point in recent memory, it seems everyone’s interest was elsewhere. Namely in the confirmation proceedings of one Brett Kavanaugh for the US Supreme Court.

Ooh…he isn’t going to go there, is he? Well, yes and no.

To sort of quote Sheldon Leonard who played Nick the bartender in the movie It’s A Wonderful Life: “I don’t know Brett Kavanaugh from Adam’s off ox.” I mean, prior to all of this hullabaloo, I had absolutely no idea the man walked the earth, none whatsoever. Today, however, I know quite a bit about him, or at least his high school self from close to 40 years ago.

Now, one of my brothers-in-law summed it up nicely when he basically said Kavanaugh was/is a DC apparatchik (my word not his) who willingly subjected himself to great scrutiny, and should have been expecting this type of thorough, shall we say, examination. In other words, he knows the game; has played the game, and should have expected others would play the game against him. To be sure, I had a hard time taking issue with this.

While we certainly need to do a thorough vetting process of all nominees for the Supreme Court, this time seems particularly ugly to me, and certainly far more reaching. I think it safe to say the gloves will be off the next time, the time after that, and so on. Go ahead and throw decorum out the window, and don’t bother blaming anyone as ‘we’ are all to blame in some form or fashion. By that I mean we and not just our politicians.

I will go out on a limb here and say we secretly love this type of thing. We want our ‘team’ to not just beat but to humiliate the competition. After all, by demonizing someone’s political views we dehumanize them in the process. They become deserving of our scorn. By being in public service, they have availed themselves to the scrutiny and any corresponding humiliation. Make no bones about it: they get what they deserve, and we are more than happy to give it to them.

All is fair in love, war, and politics.

This is bothersome to me. Oh, it isn’t because I have rose-colored remembrances of the civility of yore which didn’t really exist. After all, as I have written here in the past with apologies to Billy Joel, the good old days weren’t all so good. Yes, I will leave that folly and fiction to guys like George Will and Albert Hunt.

It is bothersome to me because ‘it’ isn’t getting any better and the divide between us seems to be getting wider. After watching these Kavanaugh proceedings, any person foolish enough to deliberately put themselves through this isn’t smart enough or worthy to be a Supreme Court justice. The same could be said for our representatives and senators, though not quite on as national a scale.

Certainly, some people crave power so much they will stop at nothing, and no amount of dishonor, to get it. So, we will never have a shortage of people wanting to go to Washington. To be sure, many of them want to do so with the greatest of intentions and the best of resumes. However, as our willingness to assassinate characters expands and our claws sharpen, the abilities and capabilities of the so-called talent pool will undoubtedly diminish. I simply cannot fathom them taking a different course, whatsoever. Intuitively, these lesser individuals will do whatever it takes to keep their authority, namely by offering the contemporary equivalents of bread & circuses for the hungry masses.

I don’t mind telling you, at this point in time we, as Americans, should be high-fiving one another. There are no major international wars. Surely, I jest? According to what I read at pewresearch.org, the US has the fewest number of troops deployed overseas in something like 60 years…the VAST majority NOT in conflict areas or active hot spots. Further, our economy has been expanding for close to a decade, and has inexplicably accelerated here in the 7th inning. The stock market continues to generate wealth. Consumer confidence is, well, consider this little snippet from today’s online Wall Street Journal:

 

“America’s low-income earners boosted consumer sentiment this month, evidence that an economic expansion is benefiting a larger swath of workers.

The rise in consumer sentiment to 100.1 in September from 96.2 in August was powered by gains among households with incomes in the bottom third, according to the University of Michigan’s survey results.”

 

Couple that with, getting back to the start, what the FOMC said in its statement:

 

“Information received since the Federal Open Market Committee met in August indicates that the labor market has continued to strengthen and that economic activity has been rising at a strong rate. Job gains have been strong, on average, in recent months, and the unemployment rate has stayed low. Household spending and business fixed investment have grown strongly. On a 12-month basis, both overall inflation and inflation for items other than food and energy remain near 2 percent. Indicators of longer-term inflation expectations are little changed, on balance.”

 

That is a bullish statement. So as people asked me about the 1990s: “what didn’t you like? Was it the peace or the prosperity?” The facts are just that, and the FOMC will back me up on at least half of that seemingly outlandish statement.

So, let me close this short Common Cents with my opinion, and it is mine alone: we have a really great thing going on here in the United States. Let’s be diligent in making sure we don’t screw it up by hating each other.

 

Have a great weekend

John