Expect the Unexpected.

Change and innovation lead to un-foreseen effects.  Caller ID allows people to tell whether they are being called by someone they know or by some unknown person.  If the call comes at the dinner-hour, it’s 99.9 percent sure to be somebody trying to raise money for the local fire department or somebody conducting a survey.  In either case, most people don’t want to talk to the caller.  In 1997, the response rate to telephone surveys was a measly 36 percent (unless you count “Go to Hell!” as a response).  By 2014 it had fallen to 9 percent.[1]  How exactly is anyone supposed to measure public opinion if the public won’t give it?  Hard for politicians to pander to the voters if they don’t know what the voters want to hear.  Maybe they’re stuck pandering to the donors?  We could end up back in the land of “Dewey Beats Truman!”

“Baby Boomers” are entering the “golden years.”  One natural response to having the kids out of the house is “downsizing” to a smaller home or an apartment.  Lots of older people with—comparatively—lots of money are entering the market for smaller homes and apartments.  This pushes up the price of what used to be “starter homes” (now to be re-labeled “finisher homes”?) and the rent for apartments.  Between 1995 and 2005, the average share of income devoted to rent was 24 percent.  By Summer 2015, it had risen to 30.2 percent.[2]  This is likely to make things more difficult for younger people with—comparatively—less money.[3]

The “fracking revolution” has brought down energy prices.  (By August 2015, they were at a six-year low.)  The fall in energy prices has damped down inflation.  Low inflation means that—for the third time since 2010—Social Security recipients will see no increase in their benefits.  On the other hand, Medicare premiums are not linked to the inflation rate.  So these will rise in 2016.[4]  The disposable income of retirees is likely to shrink.

When energy (if not yet the climate) became a grave concern back in the 1970s, a sustained drive got underway to make all sorts of things more energy efficient.  Today, American houses are 31 percent more energy efficient than they were forty years ago.  On the other hand, American homes are 57 percent larger than they were forty years ago.  In the 1970s the average American home was about 1,300 square feet.  In 2012 the average American home was 1,864 square feet.  The most recently built homes are averaging 2,657 square feet.  This cancels out the gains in efficiency.[5]  Several puzzles arise.  Where does the extra space go?  Garages?  Bigger bedrooms for the kids?  A bathroom every ten feet?  Why are homes larger when families are smaller?  What is it like to live in one of these homes?  Do family-members retreat into their own space and close the door?  Is the same thing true of the improved gas mileage of cars?  Is efficiency improved, but we drive more?

The current, much-discussed surge in opiod addiction has led to a surge in deaths from drug overdoses.  That, in turn, has led to a rise in the number of organ donors.  They now provide better than ten percent of all organ donations, up from about 3 percent in 2006.[6]  So, higher death rates for some mean longer lives for others.

After the San Bernardino terrorist attack liberals characterized the attack as a “mass shooting” and called for tighter gun controls. Unlicensed gun-dealers, a common “bete noire” of gun control advocates, came in for special presidential attention.  Gun sales zoomed upward.  In December 2015, Americans bought 3.3 million guns.  All of these sales have been from licensed gun-dealers because the government background check system has been swamped.  Attorney General Loretta Lynch has asked for the hiring of 430 additional people just to process the background checks of Americans complying with the existing gun laws.[7]

The Americans with Disabilities Act bars discrimination against people with disabilities.  Some of this is left open to interpretation by government officials.  As a result, the state of Iowa will issue gun permits to blind people.[8]

Should these random reports make people cautious in regarding business plans, campaign platforms (“The New” Anything), or succeeding at their New Year’s Resolutions?  Just asking.

[1] “The bottom line,” The Week, 5 September 2014, p. 32.

[2] “Noted,” The Week, 28 August, 2015, p. 14.

[3] “The bottom line,” The Week, 15 October 2015, p. 36.

[4] “The bottom line,” The Week, 30 October 2015, p. 36.

[5] “The bottom line,” The Week, 20 November 2015, p. 32; “Noted,” The Week, 27 November 2015, p. 16.  .

[6] “Noted,” The Week, 20 May 2016, p. 18.

[7] “Noted,” The Week, 5 February 2016, p.8.

[8] “Noted,” The Week, 20 September 2013, p. 16.

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