Practical analysis for investment professionals
17 February 2017

Weekend Reads: Populism, Equity Markets, and the Gig Economy

Posted In: Weekend Reads

Equity markets in the United States are soaring to new heights and Ben Bernanke says the economy has “room to run.”

But amid all this good news, the rise of populist sentiment throughout the globe has brought with it a wave of uncertainty, volatility, and fear.

This creates a disjunction: How to reconcile the bullish behavior of the markets with the underlying sense of unease?

Search me.

Nevertheless, these dual trends warrant closer examination.

For starters: What is populism? The term is everywhere and applied variously to religious nationalists in Poland and radical leftists in Spain.

The Economist has a great summary of populism’s myriad and conflicting definitions. The gist: Populism is extremely malleable and perhaps “too mushy to be tied down to a single description.” It has been used to “describe everything from fascist and communist movements in Europe to America’s anti-communist McCarthyites and Argentina’s Peronistas.”

Communists and fascists, McCarthyites and Peronistas — nothing to worry about there, right?

Apparently not. The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) crested the 20,000 mark and keeps heading up. The number hardly captures reality in all its nuances, but the US unemployment rate suggests something resembling full employment.

And yet, when was the last time the global situation was this unstable? You’d probably have to go back to the Cold War. The future of the neoliberal consensus, the European Union, and Western democracy are all up in the air.

Just a few things to think about heading into the weekend.

Below are some of the stories on these and other topics that have captivated me over the past few months.

Populism around the World

Thus far the UK Brexit vote and the election of President Trump mark the watershed moments in the recent populist tide, but the phenomenon is far more widespread.

The Death of Retail?

We might be near full employment, but retail has seen better days. Now retail shopping isn’t my thing. I hate parking lots and waiting in line and suffer from buyer’s remorse after almost every in-person purchase. So I much prefer online shopping. And I’m not alone, apparently. So does retail have a future?

The Gig Economy or a Rigged Economy?

Retail stores are closing, so what’s a worker to do? The gig economy may be an option. But what is it, exactly? Freelancing? Odd jobs? Contract work? All of the above? And is “gig economy” just a clever euphemism for exploiting workers and tearing up the social safety net?

Photo Bomb

One of the few downsides of working in finance is the relative dearth of visual imagery. Sure, there are innumerable compelling and informative charts, graphs, and talking heads that are great for communicating and visualizing data, but they tend to lack a certain transcendent quality. So taking a page from my photophile colleague Lauren Foster, here is some photography that has captured my attention lately.

An All-Time Fave

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All posts are the opinion of the author. As such, they should not be construed as investment advice, nor do the opinions expressed necessarily reflect the views of CFA Institute or the author’s employer.

Image credit: ©iStockphoto.com/Photoevent

About the Author(s)
Paul McCaffrey

Paul McCaffrey is an editor at CFA Institute. Previously, he served as an editor at the H.W. Wilson Company. His writing has appeared in Financial Planning and DailyFinance, among other publications. He holds a BA in English from Vassar College and an MA in journalism from the City University of New York (CUNY) Graduate School of Journalism.

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