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Columnists

Predicting 2023 is a Fool’s Errand

But I’ll try anyway. At least, I will try predicting for those few areas where I have some degree of confidence. I have great confidence, for example, that 2023 will see several more “once in a hundred-year” natural disasters as Mother Nature unleashes her anger at our having pushed the temperature of the globe towards destructive levels. I strongly recommend that anyone with beachfront property in Florida unload as fast as possible. I also cannot imagine any set of circumstances that will reduce the number of migrants attempting to enter the United States illegally. Given GOP control of the House, no immigration legislation that might restore some order will see the light of day. I fear that death rates from mutating viruses, whether COVID or RSV or just the normal flu, will continue at abnormally high rates. The politicization of vaccine and masking mandates will inhibit government at all levels from taking rational measures to protect the public. Nor should we expect any relief from drug overdose deaths so long as politicians continue to exploit fentanyl as a political tool to bash immigration and China rather than develop policies to reduce demand. Mexico long ago replaced China as the principal source of fentanyl. In turn, Mexican cartels contracted with American criminals to move fentanyl across the border much more efficiently through normal trade channels rather than entrusting it to bedraggled migrants swimming the Rio Grande. I also expect that mass shootings will continue throughout 2023, given the freedom of sociopaths and the disaffected to lay their hands on extremely lethal guns. All those factors will contribute to a further decrease in American longevity rates.

On the bright side, I predict that Americans will feel the effects of a gradually improving economy throughout 2023. The rate of inflation should continue to decrease. The world’s shipping and transportation industries will continue to sort out the pandemic-induced disruptions in global and local supply chains. With China abandoning its ‘zero-COVID lockdown’ policy, Chinese production of consumer goods will return to more predictable flows. Chinese death rates from COVID will spiral but most workers will get back to their jobs. The major warehouse operators, Amazon and others, will find a new steady state of inventory management as the double whammy of the pandemic and post-pandemic disruption of consumer buying patterns recedes. American and Canadian oil and gas production will continue to increase while the new sanctions on Russian oil and gas appear to have hit the point of diminishing returns. Unemployment will continue to stay at low levels, no matter what the Federal Reserve does with interest rates. Without increased immigration, we have no way to replace the millions of American workers who left the workforce because low wages, bad bosses, and exhausting commutes made working not worth the money.

The two major infrastructure bills passed by the Biden administration will also create jobs aplenty. Twenty-twenty-three will see the start of literally thousands of new projects, large and small, across the country. The $66 billion dedicated to fixing transportation networks and electric grids will contribute to the improvement of supply chains, further reducing inflationary pressures. The only worry here is that the Federal reserve will focus on the low unemployment numbers and the consequent upward pressure on wages as a reason to further ratchet up interest rates. So far, the Fed looks to be treading carefully.

This will be a bad year for the Republicans. Republican House leader Kevin McCarthy, with only a five vote majority, must keep his far-right MAGA members happy without alienating his members from swing districts. Losing either faction risks imperiling his hopes to become Speaker. As of this writing, one should not discount the seemingly impossible; that the Democrats might actually make their leader, Hakeem Jeffries, the next Speaker of the House. Assuming he does become Speaker, McCarthy’s majority is so small and so disunited that it will have little opportunity to do anything more than waste the next two years in pointless investigations, giving Democrats ample campaign ammunition. Senator Mitch McConnell robbed the MAGA wing of the GOP of the opportunity to threaten a government shutdown until September by cutting a deal with Democrats to pass a budget through September 2023. McConnell, unlike the MAGA crowd, knows that actually shutting down the government almost guarantees an electoral disaster in 2024. Speaking of 2024, watching a half dozen or so Republican presidential aspirants try to game the declining influence of the once all-powerful Donald Trump in pursuit of their own dreams of securing the nomination will make for political theater.

Sadly, the Ukraine war will drag on. The first Russian lightning strike ran into a buzz saw of unexpected Ukrainian resistance. The Ukrainian counter offensive pushed the Russians back but ran out of steam when the Russians dug in along defensible lines. The same thing happened on the Western Front in World War I. I expect that the Ukraine War will, like World War I, bog down in a dreadful war of attrition without notable advantage to either side for the next year, at least. The effort to squeeze Moscow economically will become more difficult to sustain without unintended consequences for the global economy. Neither Russia nor Ukraine will have the resources to gain a significant advantage, no matter how much Iran and the West, respectively, support them. Attempts by MAGA politicians to cut aid to Ukraine will allow Democrats to paint them as ‘Putin’s tools’.

As for other things we should worry about, i.e., the growing confrontation with China, the impending trade war with Europe, the likelihood of a Greco-Turkish War, the fate of an ultra-right government in Israel, threats to Democracy throughout the world, etc., etc., I simply lack the confidence (or the space) to predict. Stay tuned as things play out.

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