A hiatus in publishing and some parting words for now

After many years of naive hope, I have finally come to accept that I am not, for the foreseeable future, going to be able to update this website.

I have been meaning to finalise some thoughts on history, empires, macroeconomics, finance, politics and how all of these fields shed some light onto the future of the EU and the world around it, as well as track how things progress on a regular basis. Unfortunately, I have to admit that there simply is not enough time in the day for me to dedicate to such endeavours at the moment.

When I started blogging about the EU, I was about to turn 24. I had just finished a masters in European Political Economy at the LSE, and struggling to find a job in a London that was still reeling from the financial crisis. Blogging helped me follow and understand current events for the subsequent 9 years. I’ve written intermitently while working in for local government, macroeconomic and fixed income research organisations, academia and online publishing, while doing a masters and then (or actually now) a PhD, while working as a free-lance consultant. I’ve been as a resident of the UK and now of Sweden. I got married and now have a child.

I think there might have been a window of opportunity in 2011/12 where if had been savvy enough to make the right moves I might have been able to make a play for living off this website. However, we can’t all be Mike Duncan or Nouriel Roubini, and if such a moment ever actually existed I clearly did not see it and I obviously did not catch it. Which is ok. Life turned out wonderfully nevertheless and I ended up working for and with other people who taught me a lot more than my own very confident self-satisfaction with the rightgeousness of my isolated foresight would have allowed me to learn.

One thing about blogging is that it is a pretty difficult way to engage with people, particularly the people I’d like to engage with. Mind you, plenty of histerical and paranoid weirdos do rear their ugly heads, but you can’t engage with them. You do it once or twice and then you realise what you are doing and what this conversation would look like if you were having it in real life and you stop. Blogging can be a relatively lonely thing, which is not good if you are trying to figure things out. It’s easy to inflate your own epiphanies if you have no one to bounce these sort of ideas against who would otherwise put a big fat finger onto your logical blindspots. And not for nothing but there are not that many people who have the interest, bordering on the obsession, to discuss these things to the level of degree that would be satisfying to someone willing to spend a week researching them and 4 days writing a post about them.

Inevitably, posting was never as regular as I wanted it to be and was largely a result of how busy I was. The more paid work I had, the less time I was able to dedicate to this website. Moreover, the less I studied, the fewer interesting explanations I came across to explain seemingly unusual or complex events in the real world. However, until the end of 2015, I’d been able to find the time and the interest to post something about what’s going on in the world. That all ended in 2016 with the birth of my son.

This might come as a surprise to no one else but myself, but it turns out that having a child takes a lot of time. And not just for a while. It’s basically a commitment for life. And while people keep on telling me that it’s going to take less time as he grows up a becomes more independent that change never seems to happen. What changes is how he needs attention, not how much of it he needs. Parenting, if you want to/can be engaged, takes time. Days start earlier and end sooner than before. When he’s awake and not in kindergarten, he’s all that I need to do. You sleep less, which makes you tired  and slower, both physically and intellectually.  And all throughout, I still have my job(s) and my PhD to do. But all of that is ok. That’s great, actually! I’m thoroughly enjoying parenting and I can’t imagine a better place to do it than Sweden. It’s wonderful! Most importantly, I want to do it as well as I can and that means I need to prioritise it over (most) other things.

So, I need a job to pay the bills. I want to finish my PhD. I want to spend time with my wife and I want to take care of my son. I need to cook (sometimes), eat and sleep. Unfortunately, based solely on the small list of things in this paragraph, I’m already well over the 24 hours that it takes our planet to rotate on its axis. So I have to take a hiatus from publishing on this and any other websites, because, well, priorities!

It has taken me almost 3 years to realise this. These 3 years have been marked by events I wanted to discuss here, like Brexit (which I started and never finished writing about), the elections in the USA, polling, Macron, the rise of populism as supported by income inequality and special interest lobbying, Russia’s projection of power, China’s silk road initiatives, the Portuguese economic recovery, the Swedish economy, the upcoming Swedish election, Swedish political dynamics, the migrant crisis, the Middle east and the EU’s role within it, bond markets, economic red-flags and political red-herrings, American exceptionalism and the cycle and collapse of empires. But I haven’t had the time. And I’m not going to have the time for it anytime soon either. So I have to accept that I won’t be able to write about any of this in a meaningful way anytime soon. Sure, I keep on hoping I will at some point. The end of my PhD certainly provides a light at the end of the tunnel. But for now, it is a distant light; about a 2-year march away. This hit me today as I noticed that a draft post on dismissed hypothesis about the collapse of the Roman Empire had become one of the most viewed posts on this website, even though it was incomplete and was at best in the early stages of its writing. It was sort of a wake up call for me and I realised I had to accept that I am no longer able to keep up with things. Thus the decision to take a break.

 

My concerns about the future

Before I go, I do want to leave you and myself with some thoughts; not so much of in depth analysis but rather of selectively recorded list of concerns that I can come back to in 2 years to check whether I had any useful foresight at all:

  1. I’m really concerned about the rise of unilateralism. This is literally the rise of people who do whatever regardless of what the consequences might be for their neighbours. These are overconfident learders at the edges of the political spectrum, with no experience. To use the chess analogy, it’s not just that they aren’t thinking of the game 5 moves ahead. They’re still bothered by the game three moves ago and trying to ract to that. They are literally spitting into the air and will soon be surprised when it falls back on their face.
  2. Inevitably, the above issue also makes me concerned about the future of Europe, the multilateral arrangement par excellence. I’m plagued with the questions like “What do we do about extreme rightwing parties?”, “What do we do about Russian interference?” and “How do we deal with shocks we are not prepared for?” – so far all I’ve come up with is “Be better at arguing, train and prepare better”, “Be proactive at monitoring them and us” and “adapt”, which are not the most satisfying of answers.
  3. Nationalist authoritarianism, of course, concerns me too. It is the domestic counterpart of unilateralism. An overconfident belief in and exercise of one’s authority based on group think, social alienation and lack of tolerance for change, the political embodiment of our species’ fear of entropy and its axieties about evolution. It’s really worked out well in the past for Europe, so I can see why Hungary, the Czech Republic and Poland would want to have a go at it again…
  4. I’m also worried about the global economy. As long as China continues to run a current account surplus, it can basically absorb any financial shock that comes around. But everytime that Trump lies, humiliates, gambles and erodes domestic and foreign interlocutors, confidence in the US economy is eroded and the world comes a step closer to the end of the US dollar’s supremacy. When the confidence that supports the entire global economy is exhausted, the world will go through a paradigm shift not seen since the 1940s. Again, I don’t think we’ll be there in 2 years, but I suspect we will certainly be closer.
  5. The Euro-zone economy is not in great shape either despite what you may have heard. Sure we are back to growing, but I think that that’s more thanks to reversion to the mean and ECB asset purchases than national policies. To be frank, I don’t really think that the underlying issues of institutional moral hazard and adverse selection that caused the financial crisis to trigger the EZ sovereign have necessarily been addressed. Sure, Eurostat has better means to monitor the quality of statistics being submitted to it by national statistical bureaus, but the issue is not just hidden actions, as much as undesirable preferences. Sure, real estate markets have been reformed, towards more liberalisation in some places and less in others. But real estate and tourism is not all that an economy runs on. More importantly, we are still collectively ignoring the connections between Mundell and Rodrik’s trilemas (again something I wanted to have explored more but only looked at superficially).
  6. Finally, I find the rise of violence around the world, particularly around the western world, to be extremely concerning. Contrarily to what I would have thought, it turns out that if our leaders speak in alienated or violent terms about segments of the population, people with nothing else to do will escalate it in order to make themselves feel better. As long as the world continues on this path I can only see the incidence of hate crimes increasing.

To conclude, I’m not necessarily optimistic about the next 2 years, during which I expect to be too busy to post. I don’t expect anything dramatic to happen. I do however fear that things will progressively get worst.

  • My impression is that Trump’s agenda is one of isolationism in order to facilitate tax breaks. As the EU is unable to fill the power vacuum he’s leaving behind, I’m not so sure I’m very confortable with the alternatives.
  • We are going to continue to play with populist nationalism for a while. Everyone I speak with keeps on saying that that’s fine. They say the best way to deal with these people is to put them front and centre so everyone can see how stupid they are. Unfortunately, that did not necessarily solve the problem in Belgium, Hungary or Poland. You still need someone better to replace them. We need more Macrons and I’m not sure that there’s that much of an abundance of brilliantly-educated, well-spoken, charismatic, liberal, rich debaters without a past out there waiting to do the job.

 

Anyway, that’s it from me. Thank you for your visits and I hope you continue to enjoy the content of this website. Despite all of the above, I have absolutely no intention to delete this blog and all of its associated materials.

I hope to see you soon. Farewell for now.

Kind regards,

Filipe

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