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The big picture view of an ever-changing global economy.

Russia Meteor: We're all going to die! But when? And how?

Friday's meteorite explosion over Russia has a lot of humans worried about death. Fortunately, there's a chart for that.
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A Geminid meteor streaks diagonally across the sky against a field of star trails behind one of the peaks of the Seven Sisters rock formation in this long exposure early December 14, 2010 in the Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada. The meteor display, known as the Geminid meteor shower because it appears to radiate from the constellation Gemini, is thought to be the result of debris cast off from an asteroid-like object called 3200 Phaethon. The shower is visible every December. (Ethan Miller/AFP/Getty Images)

BOSTON — The meteorite that exploded over Russia Friday morning — not to mention a scheduled near-miss today of Asteroid 2012 DA14 — has a lot of homo sapiens on Earth wondering about the Big Question: when, and how, are we going to die?

Fortunately, there's a chart for that.

First of all, we can relax about today's celestial fly-by, which scientists say has no chance of hitting us.

Even so, when it comes to human mortality, asteroids aren't much of a statistical problem.

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Obama: "A rising, thriving middle class" is our generation's task (VIDEO)

As the GlobalPost investigation America the Gutted reveals, we've got a long way to go.
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Graphic. (Kyle Kim/GlobalPost)

BOSTON — In Tuesday night's State of the Union speech, President Barack Obama made one thing perfectly clear: the American middle class is key to the world's largest economy.

And, yes, it's in trouble.

Here's the money quote from the speech:

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The Fed is more profitable than Apple and Exxon. Combined.

How economic crisis can sometimes be good for the bottom line.
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Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke testifies before the Joint Economic Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, October 4, 2011. Bernanke on Tuesday said the United States may face yet more slow jobs growth, as he warned short-term budget cuts and financial turmoil could further threaten the economy. (JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images/Getty Images)

The key to good business writing is the frame.

In other words, how do you take arcane figures and put them into an easy-to-understand context that's smart, useful and memorable?

Our friends at Quartz nailed that task today, with a post titled "The US Fed had a greater profit than Apple and Exxon combined last year."

Catchy headline: check. Interesting topic: check.

The skinny?

The Federal Reserve turned a profit last year of $89 billion dollars, its best year in history.

As Quartz points out, the combined profits of Apple and Exxon — America's two most profitable companies — top a little more than $82 billion.

So how did the Fed do it?

Economic crisis, of course.

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Trillion dollar coin: More key voices support it (VIDEO)

Is the trillion dollar platinum coin a beltway gimmick or is it solution to all of America's debt problems? The #MintTheCoin movement rolls on.
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Comedian Stephen Colbert hosts a rally with former Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain on Jan 20 in Charleston, South Carolina. (Richard Ellis/AFP/Getty Images)

The chatter this week in global economic circles is all about the coin.

The trillion dollar platinum coin.

The growing movement, naturally, has its own hashtag: #MintTheCoin.

It also has a simple idea, and one that took off yesterday when Nobel Prize-winning economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman came out in support of the measure.

Here's how Krugman explained it in a post that went viral yesterday:

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Montgomery Burns explains the fiscal cliff

You know it's a big story when The Simpsons piles on.
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Mr. Burns has a few excellent things to say about the fiscal cliff. (Screen grab/GlobalPost)

Fiscal cliff this.

Fiscal cliff that.

President Obama makes his pitch on Twitter.

John Boehner counters.

Blah, blah, blah.

There's been plenty of chatter on this week's biggest political and economic story, and rightfully so.

It's an important moment for the world's largest economy.

But, by far, the most entertaining fiscal cliff offering comes from our friends at Fox.

Not Fox News, mind you, but the part of Fox that's responsible for The Simpsons.

In a clip making the rounds on YouTube, evil billionaire Montgomery Burns — who, naturally, endorsed Republican Mitt Romney in November's presidential election — does his diabolical best to explain the fiscal cliff.

Funny?

Check.

Smart?

Ditto.

Political?

You betcha.

As Slate's Katie Kilkenny noted in September, this latest Simpson's offering confirms a decidedly more political direction for the Fox-produced show.

Here's how she analyzed an earlier clip that featured Homer Simpson trying to vote:

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Hillary Clinton for Treasury Secretary?

There's a case to be made, and a pretty good one, that Hillary Clinton is the right woman for one of America's most important jobs.
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U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks on the future of the global HIV/AIDS epidemic in a speech to the National Institutes of Health November 8, 2011 in Bethesda, Maryland. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

With the Nov. 6 presidential election disappearing into our foggy and distant past, the speculation over who will do what in Obama II has arrived.

Of course one of the most important jobs for the US and global economies will be filling the chair soon-to-be vacated by US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.

And, oh yes, the guessing game has begun.

Jack Yew, the current White House Chief of Staff, and close Obama pal? (Dr. Doom — aka Nouriel Roubini — predicted that pick on Twitter).

What about Lael Brainard, Under Secretary of the Treasury for International Affairs? She's already at Treasury, and has a good handle on things.

Sheryl Sandberg, the current COO of Facebook — as well as a former executive at Google after stints at both Treasury and the World Bank — is another intriguing choice now making the speculation rounds on the web.

So, too, are familiar names like Erskine Bowles, Roger Altman, Sheila Bair, Larry Fink, among others.

But the most interesting argument I've heard today comes from Mark Dow of the blog Behavioral Macro, published today on Business Insider.

His pick?

Hillary Clinton.

Now stay with him here:

"The last four years, actually five, were about financial repair. The Treasury Secretary was in triage mode, trying to fix the plumbing of our financial system and trying to support an environment that would allow balance sheets to heal ASAP. You wanted someone with deep financial expertise. Today, as I see it, our future challenges will be predominated fiscal, not financial. Fiscal issues are profoundly political. And the only path to sound fiscal policy runs straight through Capitol Hill."

And that means political skill may end up being more important than a resume featuring top jobs in Treasury or on Wall Street.

But that's not the entire argument Dow is making.

The most compelling part is his analysis that America's greatest economic challenges are global in nature. No single country — and certainly not one with the fiscal and structural problems of these United States — can work alone to fix its problems.

Again, here's Dow:

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America the Gutted: This terrifying graphic encapsulates America's middle class decline

If you're under 30, or if you have kids, this chart should make you shudder.
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America's middle class decline: this graphic will rock your world. (Jeff Haynes/AFP/Getty Images)
BOSTON – During GlobalPost's 10-month investigation into the gutting of the American middle class, there was one chart that repeatedly made our eyes pop. And if you're under 30, or if you have kids, it should horrify you.
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The US economy and the future of growth: well this is depressing

A new paper by Northwestern University economist Robert Gordon warns that the US economy is in for a very rough ride. For decades.
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If you look closely, you can almost see America's remaining credibility. Almost. (Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images)

The United States has produced one of the most successful economic stories in human history.

We've had a lot of inherent advantages: abundant natural resources, favorable demographic trends, relative political stability supported by the protective benefit of two oceans, to name a few.

But from colonial times to the present, our happy economy has also been powered by three separate industrial revolutions: 1) the introduction of steam engines and railroads, 2) the inception and widespread use of electricity and the combustion engine, and 3) the invention of computers, the web and mobile communications.

As Northwestern economist Robert Gordon points out in a new paper, these three interlocking events gave rise to a widespread assumption that "economic growth is a continuous process that will persist forever."

That's because each of these industrial revolutions produced a virtuous economic circle.

Each advance built upon the innovations of the previous ones, along the way boosting productivity and revving the American economy, which in turn made American consumers richer and more able to buy stuff.

Well, guess what?

Gordon writes that future growth in consumption per capita — the main engine of the consumer-based US economy — could fall below 0.5 percent a year for what he calls "an extended period of decades."

Yes, that would be a big deal. For some context, between 1860 and 2007 that annual growth rate was 1.9 percent.

What's driving this structural economic slowdown, according to Gordon?

He argues that six "headwinds" are buffeting the US economy, and that these factors were in place even before the Great Recession of 2008.

Count 'em: 1) changing and unfavorable demographics, 2) rising education costs and poor secondary school performance, 3) growing economic inequality, 4) increased competition due to globalization, 5) energy and environmental costs and challenges, and 6) high levels of consumer and government debt.

Taken together, these headwinds will slow growth dramatically into the foreseeable future.

Here's the money quote of Gordon's paper, which is titled "Is U.S. Economic Growth Over? Faltering Innovation Confronts the Six Headwinds":

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Global business executives love Barack Obama?

Yes, according to a survey by the Financial Times and The Economist that says Obama would be better for the global economy than Mitt Romney.
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A supporter wants four more years as US President Barack Obama delivers remarks during a campaign event in Dubuque, Iowa on August 15, 2012. He's apparently not alone. (Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)

Mitt Romney is a great businessman, right?

He loves free markets and hates regulation.

He also despises taxes.

He's got global experience, too, after leading the 2002 Winter Olympics to a successful outcome in Salt Lake City.

Oh, and he's rich.

So you might expect most business executives around the world would be in favor of a Romney presidency, particularly after the economic challenges Barack Obama has faced since moving into the White House in 2009.

But you'd be wrong.

That's the word today, anyway, from a survey conducted by the Financial Times and The Economist that asked 1,740 business leaders in a variety of industries about their 2012 presidential preferences.

Twice as many said an Obama victory would be better for the global economy.

Thirty-seven percent, meanwhile, thought it would make no difference who won the election.

Here's how the FT put it:

(The survey's) results run counter to general perceptions, at least in the US, where Mr Romney has gone out of his way to stress his support for business and his determination to reduce regulation.

The FT/Economist Global Business Barometer also pointed to general glumness about the immediate economic future.

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Europe's economy: From mediocre to worse (Infographic)

A new round of economic data shows that Europe's crisis isn't getting any better.
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German Chancellor Angela Merkel, pictured at the Christian Democrats' forum in November 2011. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Attention, German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

You still have a problem.

As much of Europe fritters away another August vacation, the economic world keeps spinning.

And unfortunately for the world's largest economic bloc, the news isn't getting better.

Overall, the euro zone economy contracted by 0.2 percent from the previous quarter.

As for Italy, Spain, Portugal and Greece? You don't even want to know.

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