Why you really don’t need that ironic reindeer jumper | Julian Baggini

Don’t buy less, buy better. After all, being wise and bearing gifts is part of the Christmas story

To the modern cynic, the arrival of the magi in Bethlehem uncannily foreshadows how Christmas would become primarily about the giving of useless gifts. According to this, revisionist reading, our contemporary offerings are now made not for the worship of God, but to placate Mammon, since our economic salvation depends on this ritual of excessive spending. The narrative that Jesus came to save our economic skins was given extra credibility with news that retails sales in November were significantly up on last year, thanks to the shopping scrum that was Black Friday. This is a myth now more potent than the story of the baby of the manger. It persists, however, because it’s a story that is equally convenient for both defenders and detractors of the economic status quo.

It’s easy to see why the cheerleaders of laissez-faire should like the narrative. What better way to beat back the puritanical enemies of consumer goods, designer brands and throwaway fashion than to remind them that without all this there wouldn’t be the tax receipts to fund the hospitals, schools and art galleries that they cherish?

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The Lessons of Mr. Market, Philosopher in Chief

Once again, the markets prove that nobody knows nuthin’.

Following a bit of oil-driven turmoil the past few weeks, financial markets took off on Wednesday and Thursday. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index had the biggest daily back-to-back gains since March 2009. Underinvested fund managers, short-sellers and even long-only, fully invested money managers worried that they didn’t have enough global equities.

Once again, Mr. Market has confounded so many of the world’s smartest investors.

Capital markets are thought of as a mechanism for buying and selling long-term debt or equity-backed securities, but that definition falls short. Mr. Market is a philosopher, a patient teacher to those who come to class aware of the wisdom on offer. The lessons for those who pay attention to this graduate-level philosophy class are rich, deep and highly counterintuitive.

As you read the many predictions for 2105, do you remember how many strategists were forecasting a collapse in crude oil prices at the start of the year? That’s right, precisely zero.

Recall the beginning of 2014, when 72 out of 72 economists were anticipating higher rates and lower bond prices. How did that work out?

Exactly.

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