Reflections on 2015

For some reason, at the end of the year there is a tendency to look back at what happened, and try to guess what is likely to happen in the New Year. Of course this could, and maybe should, be done at any time of the year, and the division into twelve-month periods, while important to farmers, seems a bit arbitrary elsewhere. Of course where I am, in the Southern Hemisphere, the New Year and the summer temperatures tends to introduce a degree of relaxation (or sloth!) and reflection is probably an excuse for not doing much else. So, I have reflected on 2015. One of the problems with such reflection is that I seem to have a rather wide range of interests, many of which do not go appear to go together for any other reason than I seem to have collected them.

One interest that has appeared in a number of my blog posts is governance. The reason for this is that in the 1980s I set up as a private researcher in New Zealand (against all wise advice) and I watched how private companies went mad for a while with a rash of takeovers on borrowed money, then go bust in the collapse. I looked at much of what I considered fraudulent activity go unpunished, apart from the bankrupting of some of the guilty and a lot of the innocent, then following that, I have watched governments seemingly act equally disgracefully on the world scale. Because of the widespread fraud, when I took up writing novels, fraud was one of the main topics for Red Gold, which was written in the first version about 1991. At the time I was also aware of the “Limits to Growth” arguments and accordingly those problems appeared in my futuristic novels.

Many of my posts last year involved the international scene, and while Ukraine held everyone’s attention for a while, now it has more or less slipped off the attention scale. Exactly why everyone paused is as yet unclear. Perhaps it finally occurred to some of those politicians who wanted nothing more than to irritate Russia that to continue on that line would lead to outcomes they really did not want. I am hoping that reason will prevail, and the various parties can come to some sort of sensible accommodation, but I am far from convinced that sense is going to be a useful driving force.

In the search for bad news, ISIS has taken the lead, and while the territorial ambitions of ISIS appear to have stalled, its ambitions seems to have switched and it now focusing more on international terror. What I find troubling about this is that while al Qaeda managed far more spectacular bits of terrorism, ISIS seems to have managed a far greater spread and intensity, and most disturbingly, at a far greater frequency. My guess for 2016 is that the refugee crisis will become far more serious because it is difficult to see how so many people can lie in camp sites indefinitely, but equally it is difficult to see how they can be absorbed into society as useful citizens because the whole concept of work is changing.

On the economic front, I notice a lot of people are picking that the financial state of the world will crash again. One of the bad signs, apparently, is that oil prices are slumping. I seem to recall that one of the bad signs previously was that oil prices were increasing. My guess is the real problem is the vast amount of money sloshing around is locked away in useless trading, as people are looking for quick and easy wealth. Eventually, trading assets with constant real value becomes a zero sum game. Everybody seems panic stricken that Chinese stocks are rapidly losing value. Well, a week ago they had a price to earnings ratio of over 60. The average American stock tends to look overpriced (by some analysts anyway) when the P/E is about 18, so it is hardly a disaster that the Chinese market is going to punish over-exuberant “get-rich-quick” investors. My guess is that all that is going on now is a significant reassessment of values. I saw one argument that even Apple is showing bear conditions. Perhaps, but perhaps Apple shares are overpriced for what the company is doing.

2015 was a great year for planetary science, with vehicles visiting Ceres and Pluto, but that cannot continue in 2016, although much of the data obtained in these two missions is probably yet to be released. At a personal level, nothing has falsified my planetary formation theory, which is encouraging to me.

So, what do I predict for 2016? Actually, nothing. No, I don’t mean nothing will happen, but rather any predictions of mine will be no better than laughable. I just have to wait and see.

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