I love to go a-wandering along the mountain track.
And as I go, I love to sing, my knapsack on my back.
Val-deri, val-dera, val-deri, val-dera-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha.

– “The Happy Wanderer”

SALTA, ARGENTINA – Come with us, Dear Reader… We are about to launch on an excursion.

We will swing our arms gaily… and bend our heads towards the heavens, hoping for a fair wind and a clear sky.

Wandering around, we’re not sure where we’ll end up, but we expect it will be fun.

Val-deri… val-dera… val-deri, ha… ha… ha… ha… ha… ha… ha… ha… ha.

Travel Light

The more you travel, the more you want to travel light. And that means we need to dump the heavy claptrap out of our luggage. The more ground we cover… the more we discover we don’t really need it. We find plenty more wherever we go.

For every dumb thing you see in your home country… you see many more overseas. For every jackass politician in Washington, you find dozens more in Paris, Buenos Aires, and Rome. And for every dopey idea you hear…

…well you get the idea.

But watch out. Because travel can be disturbing. You also find people who are smarter, richer, and more cultured than you are.

You find cities that are more livable and more agreeable than your hometown. You often find cheaper drinks, better parking, and less annoying public employees. Most important, travel raises questions, notably: Who are we?

An interesting article on “us” appeared in the The New York Times last summer. In it, Colin Woodard outlined his research. As it turns out, America is not one nation. It’s more like 11:

Tracing our history, I’ve identified 11 nations, most corresponding to one of the rival European colonial projects and their respective settlement zones. I call them Yankeedom; New Netherland; the Midlands; Tidewater; Greater Appalachia; Deep South; El Norte; the Left Coast; the Far West; New France; and First Nation.

These were the dominant cultures that Native Americans, African-Americans, immigrants and other vital actors in our national story confronted; each had its own ideals, assumptions and intents.

Eleven American Nations

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Source: Colin Woodard and Tufts

As you can see, there are any number of ways to slice and dice us home-grown Americanos. That is, there are a lot of different “us”-es.

Culturally, people from Richmond and Raleigh have more in common with each other than they do with people from El Paso or Portland.

As for the machinist from Milwaukee, who is he? What does he think? What does he dream about? What does he want? Is he more at home with other metal workers from Hamburg, Germany, or with the welfare recipients and drug dealers of West Baltimore?

And how about you, Dear Reader? Who are you? Where do you fit in?

If the answer seems obvious, put on your walking shoes; you need to get out more.

Taxi Cab Economics

We left Paris last Thursday and took the long flight down to Buenos Aires. The weather was beautiful in the city on the Río de la Plata… So we got in a cab to go to Puerto Madero, a lively and modern part of the city, with sparkling shops and high-rise apartment houses built around an old harbor.

By the time we arrived at our restaurant – about 30 minutes later – we had a better idea of what was going on in the country.

“It’s easy to get elected here,” said the driver. “All you have to do is promise a lot of free stuff. But the government doesn’t have the money, so they borrow… And when they can’t borrow any more, they print more currency. And then, prices go up… people get mad… and they vote in the other guy, the other party.

“The inflation rate last year was 40%. It’s supposed to be 35% this year. Who knows?

“But the poor new guy, President Macri, now has to cut spending. And so the people blame him for cutting off their free stuff. And then you have strikes and demonstrations… And then they vote the big spenders back in.

“I’m afraid that the next election might bring back the Kirchneristas [followers of ex-president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner] and then we’re going to go downhill, just like Venezuela.”

The cab ride cost only $5. The economic analysis came at no extra charge.

We would have liked to stay longer in Buenos Aires. But we have work to do, and our work is up north. So, we headed up to Salta on Saturday… where we settled down and rolled up our sleeves.

Originario “War”

Here, there are cattle, corn, and alfalfa to be raised up…

…and originarios to be beaten down.

As to the first part of the formula, we are doing pretty well. See for yourself. This land was barren and dry a year ago. Now, after putting in irrigation ditches, it is greened-up, with lush fields.

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The crops at the ranch are coming in nicely

But it rained in the mountains, and the water is running so strong in the Río Calchaquí that it’s hard to get across. Rather than drive our truck through the river, we had to saddle a couple of horses to ford the fast-moving water.


As for the second part of the formula – our war with the originarios – there is not much progress to report. It’s “us” versus “them.” And we’re losing.

To bring new readers up to date, the “originarios” are local people who claim to be indigenous… and believe that their DNA gives them the right to take our land. We oppose them for three reasons.

First, it’s ours; we bought it from people whose ancestors had stolen it, fair and square.

Second, the locals aren’t really “indigenous”… they speak no Indian languages… worship no Indian gods… nor do they practice any more ancient customs than anybody else. One of the local chiefs’ mother was from Germany. Another directed his followers from his apartment in London.

Besides, tribes that lived there were slaughtered by the Inca and the Spanish long ago.

Third, we’re their only hope. The place requires investment. Machines. Money. If we leave, so does the only employer in the area.

The locals would all be unemployed, living in poverty for generations, supported by welfare payments of about $125 a month.

The local politicians can count. The “originarios” are many; we are just one and we don’t even vote.

So, the “war” goes on. The troublemakers claim they own our ranch. We claim we own it. The courts side with us. But the political authorities, and the press, generally, back the locals.

Stay tuned…

Regards,

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Bill

ECONOMIC INSIGHT: STUDENT DEBT BUBBLE LOOKS FOR A PIN

By Joe Withrow, Head of Research, Bonner & Partners

Unpaid student loan debt is piling up…

That’s the story of today’s chart, which tracks the delinquent balance of student loan debt that is more than 90 days past due.

Loans more than 90 days past due are considered “seriously delinquent” because the probability of repayment plummets at that point.

Chart

As you can see, $166 billion in student loans are now more than 90 days past due. That’s an increase of 20% over unpaid student loan debt at the start of 2016.

This has broad economic implications.

Because the federal government owns 92% of all student loans outstanding in the U.S., students failing to pay their loans will mean reduced revenue for the government. In other words, unpaid student loan debt will translate into higher government deficits as the government-owned loans go bad.

We have written before how federal debt is projected to hit $27 trillion by 2023, based on “business as usual” activity in Washington. But that projection does not include external events like student loan defaults, which will ultimately drive the debt even higher.

And as we wrote last week, higher debt can only result in one of two things: higher taxes or higher inflation… or both.

Joe Withrow

FEATURED READS

Is the Unemployment Rate Obsolete?
More Americans are working than ever. And the unemployment rate remains near historic lows. But as Bill has pointed out in the past, that official figure isn’t perfect. And in a world of part-timers and gig-takers, it may be obsolete…

Robots Are Picking Strawberries Now
The next time you go to a store to buy your produce, be sure you thank a robot for picking it for you. Machines are now sophisticated enough to pick strawberries, apples, even olives. The robots will replace farm laborers soon. After that, who’s next?

Why the Government Loves Electric Vehicles
Electric cars are the future. Just ask the government! The U.S. has spent billions trying to convince Americans to drive electric. The official reason: To protect the environment and boost economic development. And that’s true… sorta.

MAILBAG

In the mailbag, the focus remains squarely on Bill. Does our editor have a “liberal bias”? Or perhaps he’s even an agent of the Deep State…

Nothing to criticize about Obama, because he didn’t do anything – while Trump is a disruptor?

You seem to forget that under Obama, the fake money supply increased dramatically, regulations and taxes stifled the recovery, and the Deep State spread it into our institutions.

Are you an agent of the Deep State? Is that why you try to convince everybody that there is nothing you can do about it?

– Erich K.

To the question of “liberal bias,” I respond thus: You do not have a liberal bias. You have an incredibly cynical bias. Given the historical facts, the trajectory this nation is on financially, culturally, and politically, as well as having a disintegration of the national character, that cynicism is well placed. Your error is in not distinguishing between the obviously different motivations that exist between the totalitarian left and the Trump presidency. President Trump, for all of his natural bluster, which comes with being a promoter, represents the last attempt to reverse the disastrous course this nation has been set on.

And yes, whatever remains of “good” economic conditions or of resetting the foreign relations order, the damage that has been done before Trump, along with the corrupt intransigence of the Deep State (which is not a figment of your imagination), I believe, is simply too large to reverse.

– Dale F.

I happen to agree with Bill about almost everything he says, in most part because the logic of his arguments and their support in history confirms what I’ve learned of human nature and behavior, but in part too because he’s confirming my biases, as well.

Regardless, though, whether he is right or wrong about anything, his writings are important because they express thoughts most of us never encounter, and it is the voices from outside the conventional realm challenging us that frequently are most helpful, as they provide a broader perspective – they fill in gaps in our own knowledge and thinking.

Bill makes me think of Diogenes running around Athens, in that he may be no more successful with his effort, but I hope he never stops writing the Diary.

– A.R.

Spoken like the true liberal you must surely be, monsieur! 🙂 Those delivering that criticism might only prove the wisdom of Lucretius that the random collisions of atoms produce much gullibility, delusion and outright imbecility as its products. Of course, many other unfavorable nouns describe the human condition as well. Where you are coming from could not be clearer, but once one is trapped in ideology, intellect has left through the chimney.

– Steve B.

Most unfortunately, Bill, many of your Dear Readers clearly resonate with this sad summary description of my own late father: “Ignorance is the anesthesia that dulls the pain of stupidity.” Also most unfortunately within that maxim, a cure exists only for the ignorance.

But alas! Hope is not lost! Fortunately, there is indeed a quick and easy Daily Diary “cure” for stupidity: the unsubscribe link. Dear Readers too stupid to deeply appreciate Bill are invited to “cure” themselves without further delay.

– Gary C.

Well, I’m happy with your writing, and don’t see any bias. But then, I’m a Libertarian (the party for people who hate politics) with both liberals and conservatives in my family and I don’t want us to be forced to play on opposing teams. Most journalists seem to report it as a sport, and too many people think the idea is to make someone else lose.

Whose idea was it, to use the political process to manipulate the economy? Achieve peace, and prosperity, and freedom for all? Everybody knows governments cause wars, poverty, and slavery, given a chance.

Consumers need to flex their superior powers and refuse to buy what government is selling. Tell the voters to stop begging for more political intervention and believing campaign promises that aren’t believable. Start using the win-win tactics of voluntary social interaction.

– Sandra K.

You call the balls and strikes as you see them. I would strongly suggest that you are even-keeled and not biased. I think you provide thoughtful analysis based on a rigorous understanding of history and economics with the filter of what is fiscally good for the country.

Actually, I am a little shocked that some of your readers don’t perceive or understand this. It seems obvious to me. Unfortunately, ideology and tribalism trigger lots of emotions (“my country right or wrong”). I know I am guilty of my bias at times, but I do try to pause, think, and do a little research to sift through the facts before I hurl abuse at the heathen.

– Tom S.

Have you ever heard the saying: If you’re 40 and not yet a cynic, you haven’t been paying attention?

– Henry G.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT…

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