As you can see from this historical chart of the S&P 500, my prediction might turn out to be about right, give or take a few months. And now the latest news is that consumer confidence rose by an "unexpectedly" high number.
My real estate broker tells me that the market for homes in our part of California is white hot. Every property is getting multiple offers, and real estate hasn't been this affordable in a few decades. Prices aren't rising, but they abruptly stopped falling.
Inventories have shrunk, which is generally a good sign for the future, and the public has an unusual level of confidence in an American president for a change.
Gas prices no longer seem so high, and the war in Iraq appears to be "won" in some fashion, depending on how you define that sort of thing.
We still have high unemployment, which will dog us for some time, and a crushing debt that seems impossible to fix but probably isn't. But for now the media is tired of reporting bad news, partly because doing so is bad news for their own bottom lines, so expect to see some new media-driven economic bubbles forming by the end of the year.
Disclaimer: Don't get your financial, legal, or medical advice from cartoonists.
1. Your best time for thinking might be the other guy's best time to take a nap. If that's the only time you can have a meeting, one of you isn't going to be operating at peak performance.
2. Credit for success is distributed across the team. So is blame. If you believe people are motivated by a desire for credit, or a desire to avoid blame, teamwork is a blunting force.
3. In any group of three people, there's generally at least one disruptive moron.
4. People have different work styles. Some people like to do everything just right. Others like the quick and dirty approach, fixing things as they go. In a team, you spend half of your time arguing over the best philosophy for every action.
5. To mediocre minds, a brilliant idea and a dumb idea sound identical. A team will vote out the best ideas along with the worst.
6. The dominant team members will get their way over the objections of the meek, no matter how competent the meek might be.
7. In a team, you must continually explain yourself, defending every thought and every action.
8. Everyone has a different risk profile. Your appetite for risk won't be shared by the group.
9. Everyone wants to do the fun stuff and not the boring-but-necessary parts.
10. You eat when the team agrees that it's time for lunch. That means you're often hungry while trying to work, or wasting time eating when you're not hungry.
11. All meetings last longer than they should.
One of the implications of more people working for themselves, and working from home, is that people will be somewhat freed from the tyranny of teamwork. I wonder if that bodes well for the future of humanity.
As you approach your car, it senses your phone's proximity and unlocks the doors nearest you and adjusts the seats for you.
All of this technology already exists in some form, or will soon. In the future, the only computer you will ever need will be in your pocket.
Obviously all the technology to make this happen already exists. It's a matter of getting the cost down, negotiating all of the various licenses, and building an interface that is easy to use. It's probably ten years out, but it seems inevitable.
[Update: I will acknowledge "it already exists" if you can point me to any link for a system that can do these two things:
1. Stream 3 different HD shows from a central DVR to different rooms at the same time.
2. Stream iTunes-selected songs to multiple rooms, each its own song, at the same time.]
Each of those investments would pay for itself if only you could solve the financing problem. No one wants to plunk down a pile of cash today for a house he might sell tomorrow. And if your payback is over ten years, it's no wonder most homeowners are saying no thanks.
The city of Berkeley came up with an interesting financing approach. The city will pay the cost of having solar panels installed on your home and then get the money back over many years through a special property tax on the property. The tax stays with the property even if it is sold. The homeowner gets little or no financial benefit, but it's good for the planet, so a typical Berkeley resident accept the inconvenience of the installation process and paperwork, and the bother of hosing down the panels every week. I like where this plan is heading, but I don't see it working too well outside of unselfish Berkeley.
And so I decided to apply the awesome brainpower of all you Dilbert Blog readers to come up with a better plan for financing the green retrofitting of homes, both for solar panels and for the more mundane improvements, such as whole house fans. If you succeed, you will put millions of people to work, save the environment, and end dependence on foreign oil (as soon as we all have electric cars).
The first part of the puzzle is coming up with a way to calculate savings for these various green investments. I'm in the process of sizing the solar panel installation for my new home construction and I can tell you that it's more guessing than science. Given all the other green engineering in the home, no one knows how much electricity it will really need. So I can only hope that my whole house fan, for example, will pay for itself over time. Every home is different, so calculating returns for green upgrades is dicey.
One solution would be for the government to mandate some sort of average payback for each sort of greening investment. You might have to tweak the number for region, size of home, and a few other simple variables. But that's a start.
This approach works for Energy Star appliances. Each appliance is assigned one number that is the estimated annual energy cost even though everyone knows that the actual cost will vary a great deal based on region and how many times you open the fridge door, for example. So while the numbers are inaccurate for any particular user, they still guide people toward lower energy consumption on average. I could see similarly inaccurate yet helpful average numbers applied to other greening investments.
If I knew that on average a whole house fan pays for itself in ten years, it wouldn't matter too much if the real payback for my particular home was closer to five or fifteen years. It would still be a good investment as long as the investment stayed with the house, as with the Berkeley model, when I sold it.
The problem with the Berkeley model is that the homeowner doesn't get much if any financial benefit from participation. To make this work in other parts of the country you need to appeal to people's more immediate self-interest. They need to see money in their pockets on day one.
One solution would be to mandate that banks wrap any greening investments into existing mortgages, so long as the borrower is current on payments. That should work for banks since the investment would free up cash for the borrower, through lower energy costs, that is more than the cost of the extra loan payments. In theory it would reduce the banks' risks while increasing their profits. And they could use the government's inaccurate generic estimates for green investments when evaluating these mortgage add-ons.
The next problem is that when you sell a home you get little benefit for any of the greening investments. Green home improvements are somewhat invisible to the potential buyer who makes his or her decision on factors such as location and square footage and the loveliness of the kitchen. To fix this situation, imagine the government mandating that all homes have an annual energy rating, similar to the Energy Star program. For existing homes it could be as simple as disclosing the average power bills for the past three years and the average number of occupants. The energy figure should be prominently displayed, by law, on the real estate listing. When buyers can see those costs, the green investments immediately have resale value.
If every home in the U.S. spends $10,000 on solar panels and other green upgrades, that's a trillion dollars in economic stimulus. It would fix the economy, solve global warming, and reduce dependence on foreign oil (assuming electric cars).
This concept needs lots of tweaking to work. Go.