The End of Work

Conventional economic wisdom is that the world suffers from a lack of [aggregate] demand. In plain words, people and businesses are not willing to purchase as much stuff as can be produced.

There are many suspected causes. Past debt may be causing people to not take on new debt. Stuff purchased with borrowed money is also stuff purchased so reduced borrowing reduces [aggregate] demand.

Another suspected cause is wage stagnation. Wage earners are more likely to spend whatever they get in a paycheck. Wealthier people might save or invest extra money. Less in wages, more in investment returns leads to less spent and more saved and invested.

If these are indeed causes, the proposed solutions are things like asset purchases by central banks to put money in the hands of banks (TARP), or lower interest rates to encourage borrowing, or even negative interest rates to cause savers to spend. A higher minimum wage will place money  in the hands of people who have a propensity to spend.

Still, I can’t help wondering: how did we get to a place where demand is lacking, after so many decades where there was lots of demand supporting the creation of great industries? I mean, human wants are infinite. Introspection shows me that I have lots of demand. Well, I guess it is not demand unless I have the dollars to do something about my wishes. The 2008 stock crash ruined my plans. My assets are returning to 2007 levels today, nine years later. By normal growth expectations my funds would have doubled in nine years. I certainly don’t want to borrow since I have so much less today than I reasonably expected to have. At current projections I have many more years to work after age 65. Looking at things “from the other side” so to speak, my lack of demand is merely a lack of assets/income. If I had more money I would demand more stuff.

So let’s look at ways I could have more demand, i.e., get more money. As I previously said, more borrowing is out of the question, Americans are leveraged up to the hilt.

I could drive for Uber on my days off. People around here actually make good money driving late Friday and Saturday nights so that other people can enjoy a drink or two in the evening safely.

Maybe it is a lack of opportunities to make more money that limits my demand. Why are there a lack of ways to make more money when people all around me desire things and services?

Uber is an example.  Uber fills many people’s desires or needs, and allows others to make money doing it. Obviously where Uber operates more people use it than use cabs where it does not operate. I laugh at the idea of getting a cab in the suburbs at a private house party where I had a few drinks. It would be an hour or more from calling a dispatcher to seeing a ride, if they arrived at all. Yet local governments are waging an ongoing war against Uber in many areas. The existing cab companies have a monopoly and give poor service at low cost, skimming the most valuable customers while ignoring all the others. Millions of dollars of potential commerce are stifled in preserving the  monopoly rent of a few established players. Millions of dollar value units of demand are never created because the potential providers are prevented from providing value to other people.

Those people around here who are making good money driving for Uber could never get a job with the local cab company. The demand for the crappy service they give is limited.  The pay is poor (I don’t know why, when the Uber pay is good for a hustler). The positions are not just when you want to work but you need to fit schedules and shifts and maybe give up other employment opportunities.

There are many other ways to make money that are effectively banned. Peter Schiff reports that financial regulation has become so oppressive that he today could not form his financial firm. I started an ISP in 1987 with a Unix server and a dozen modems in my basement. There were very few regulations applying to someone who wanted to run a computer in his basement and allow other people connect to it over a public telephone line with a modem. I closed down my ISP when the federal government created a law that required me to keep copies of every email my friends and neighbors sent through my system for some months in case they wanted to spy on them. Could you imagine starting an ISP today? What are the net neutrality requirements and where do I get software to implement them? Only a giant corporation could follow the rules.

Right now, in America, it is very difficult to compete with any established business. Big companies are C corps and pay a top tax rate of 35%. A small business or start up is an LLC and pay as an individual at a top federal tax rate at 39.5% A big company can have an HR and a legal department that allow it to navigate regulations. A small business is often a one or two person shop. A big company can get a special tax deal on pain of moving jobs out of the community. A small company does not get its phone call returned.

Main Street, small business, local start-ups are all suffering under our current political system. There is less growth and innovation, which comes mostly from small business and start-ups.

So I think a contributing factor to the lack of demand is the smothering of competition against entrenched interests.

 

 

 

America is Japan

What ails America is obvious. You will never hear it from the media, academia or the US government.

We have the Japan disease.

Japan had a huge  asset bubble, probably caused by its central bank but definitely caused by its government. Rents per square foot in Tokyo prime districts exceeded rents anywhere on earth. Homes were selling with 50 year (two generation) mortgages. A twelve year old son was on the hook for payments the rest of his productive life.

When, as is always, the bubble burst, banks and everyone owning assets faced staggering losses. Real estate, stock, bonds, everything.  The government, being the agent of the status quo, stepped in to stem the losses of the elite.  No Japanese bank or large conglomerate failed. That is what happened in the USA. When the financial system imploded from bad loans and other obvious crimes the Federal Reserve bought a trillion dollars worth of worthless real estate securities to stop one bank after another from failing.

Great, few financial  institutions failed. We got instead the Japenese economy. If you try to run capitalism where whoever has a profitable business is guaranteed to continue in business, you get frozen capital, misapplication of resources and stagnation. Thirty years and counting for Japan, Inc.

How Do We Spend for the Tax Increase?

The new administration is talking about reducing business income taxes from the highest in the developed world to one of the lowest.

Everywhere on the TV and in newspapers I see people (the establishment) asking how will we “pay for” the proposed tax reductions. Will it be a new value added tax? a border adjustment tax? something else?

Well, if we have to “pay for” any tax reduction with new taxes, what do we do when taxes are raised. When I buy something I have to pay for it. When I sell something, as in a yard sale, I get to spend for it. So if we have a tax increase, do I get to spend for it?

I suspect the “we” in these formulations are the government and not the people. How will we (the government) pay for a reduction in corporate income tax? In no way. The non-government portion of the country will have more money, the government portion of the country will have less. The only people with a problem about how to pay for tax cuts are the people who get to spend tax revenue.  That is not you and me.

 

The Men Will Retire to the Library for Brandy and Cigars.

Am I mistaken or was it not the norm in upper class households during the Victorian and post-Victorian era for the men and women to go to different rooms for after dinner conversation?

The men’s conversations would be courser; the women’s more genteel. No cad of a man would subject women to the uncensored content of the men’s salon. If a woman entered the men’s library the men would stand and immediately adopt language more fitting for feminine sensibilities.

Now of course, women demand the right to hear and participate in the men’s conversation. After all, if men have it, it must be better than what they were relegated to by the patriarchy.

 

Democratic Strategy

Suppose your party’s candidate is going to lose the election in a landslide. What follows? A resounding mandate for the other side. Lots of effective policy from the office of the widely supported President.

Why just sit and take it? One way to be a spoiler is to delegitimize the other candidate. I believe the FBI passed on Clinton to  avoid stepping into a political turd. First, FBI employees would be vilified and attacked in the mainstream media without mercy. Second, the resulting Trump victory would be viewed by many as not an endorsement of his policies but as the inevitable result of an undemocratic criminal prosecution. Even if you think Hillary personally committed crimes, you probably do not want all the people who believe in her positions disenfranchised.  If there were time for the Democratic Party to put up a replacement candidate you would be perfectly happy with the contest, but there is not.

Now of course you can say she should have thought of that before she betrayed her supporters. In a way, however, people who believe in her politics shouldn’t pay for supporting the only representative of their views on offer.

Much more important is that disqualifying her candidacy delegitimizes her opponent’s victory. Do you want the President selected by the discretionary decision of an FBI director, even if you agree with his conclusion? What of the people who do not agree with his decision? You cannot tell them they lost fair and square in a vote, except with a very sophisticated argument with many logical steps (don’t run criminals and you should know if your candidate is a criminal). Surely a victory at the ballot box without indictment of your opponent is the better foundation for a successful Presidency.

So now it appears criminal investigations of the email server, the foundation, the Dept of State grind onwards towards what? Do these Democrat controlled bureaus really want to bring charges against their candidate three months before the election with no possibility of resolution before the public is asked to decide? Are they impartial dispensers of justice or strategists trying to at least spoil the other side’s victory?

 

Collectivism Sucks

Thomas Szatz claimed that one of the ways people influence or control other people is by literalizing a metaphor.  Wikipedia says that “A metaphor is a figure of speech that refers to something as being the same as another thing for rhetorical effect.” An example might be calling a joke “sick.” A joke might have some similarities to an illness, such as causing revulsion, but no one would say that the teller of sick jokes should be given an antibiotic to stop the practice.

Metaphors work because the comparison conveys an understanding, or is intended to convey an understanding to the listener. When I say “that is a cutting remark,” I mean you to focus on the harmfulness and pain caused by your words.

Often people coin metaphors to try to get you to treat one thing in the way you treat some other thing which has some similar characteristics. When they coined “war on drugs” they meant that we should pursue reducing drug use in a way similar to an all out military operation, as opposed to a police operation or a mental health operation.

A more extreme step its to literalize the metaphor. Getting people to treat one object as exactly the same as another object, even when it is not. I suspect that he eucharist is a literalized metaphor. Jesus said that this bread is my body and this wine is my blood when he knew the jig was up and Rome was soon to arrest him.

Collectivist politicians compare society  to a single organism. A collectivist would have no trouble saying something is in the public interest. Unless the interest is unanimous, there really is no public interest. There is only the interests of individuals. There may be a majority’s interest. In fact politicians would have a much more difficult time selling laws if they were correctly identified as “in the majority’s interest.” The majority of people may be benefited by an FDA that banned drugs not sufficiently shown to the FDA as safe and effective. A minority of gravely ill people denied effective treatments because the FDA is not yet convinced would not be benefited.

Aristotle thought that the art of metaphor cannot be taught.

The question is always whether the metaphor is  apt.   It is possible, however, to recognizing when a metaphor is being literalized. In that case the intent is always to mislead because two different things are never exactly the same in all respects.

 

 

 

Democratic Socialism

Bernie Sanders is not the first person who believed that democracy could produce a kinder and gentler socialism.

Love, as much as it may guide us to greatness, can also blind us to the perilous paths we have chosen. And the perils of democracy are more bountiful than that of any femme fatale. Unfortunately, because democracy flatters the vast majority of the human race with the allure of its siren’s song—its chorus constantly promising “the people” that they are naturally fit to rule—many people today are still quite smitten despite the red flags.

 

These are not flaws of a know-nothing reactionary movement but features of democracy itself.

 

Yet, this may mean we are simply overdue for a massive heartbreak. As unpleasant facts would have it, 2016 appears destined to go down in history as the year when democracy’s scorned lovers finally call her a harsh mistress. Word is, democracy has found a new paramour, one Donald J. Trump, and much to her former lovers’ dismay, she insists on parading around with him in public.

Orwell understood the tendency of socialism to lead to tyranny, but he was an open avowed socialist. He thought democracy could lead to a less murderous form of socialism.

But democracy is turning its back on the Progressives who previously ran things: elites who control academia, the legacy media and certain parts of the US government (State yes, Pentagon no, Presidency sometimes, SCOTUS half and half). Academics get to use the tremendous prestige of “SCIENCE” to influence the public, the press gets to use distortions, omissions, and emotional visuals to influence the public, USG organs use their mantle of authority and expertise to forward their shared agenda.

 

The Progressive State has been winning all contests, taking over industry after industry with regulation (finance, health care, now, the internet).

 

[As an aside it is interesting that Progressives previously took over shipping, railroads, airlines and trucking through tariff regulation until it became clear that the USG was about to destroy all four industries. The Department of Transportation  and Interstate Commerce Commission deregulated airlines and trucking to save the industries, and competition supplied undreamed of inexpensive fares. US flag shipping is probably still moribund.]

 

The elite loved democracy as long as they could panic and guide the public to the results they desired. They loved democracy because they believed it would be a source of power for themselves. We got more and more democracy, direct election of Senators (reducing State power in the Federal government), arguments to replace the electoral college with popular vote, etc.

 

Unfortunately for the elite, several developments now undermine their influence on voters. The Internet gives every citizen the equivalent of a newspaper and a broadcast studio at trivial cost. Donald Trump can do an end run around the spin and filters of the legacy media with his twitter account. Academia is earning black eyes daily which undermines its authority. USG organs are having trouble keeping the public’s trust.

Why College Costs so Much

The US Government (USG) has decided that it is its job to help everyone purchase health care, houses, and higher education. It is not a coincidence that health care, houses and higher education costs are climbing out of control.

I’d like to go beyond generic “USG involvement” to examine some of the mechanisms causing higher education inflation.

A big one is the accepted legal theory of disparate impact. Disparate impact basically holds that if (i) some gateway results in fewer people from a protected class (certain races, certain colors, women, people over 40 years old, disabled, non-citizens etc.) than their share of the population passes the gateway, than (ii) it is presumed to be illegitimately discriminatory. This applies even if the gateway is neutral by any other examination. Once a disparate impact on a protected class is shown, the only defense to a civil rights lawsuit is business necessity. Not only does it have to be proven that the gateway has a demonstrable relationship to the job. Even more, the user of the gateway has to prove that there is no less discriminatory standard that would  do as well as that particular gateway in selecting appropriate candidates for the job.

Needless to say, with such amorphous concepts the party with the burden of proof loses. Just being sued is a sort of loss because if the burden of proof is against you the suit goes on until you affirmatively prove something in court.

In practicality, disparate impact made it impossible for any employer to give an IQ test to applicants. If you give an IQ test to any population we can predict with certainly some racial groups will come out with  higher scores than their share of the population. It has even undermined giving a knowledge test such as the fireman promotion test. The results are always skewed to not reflect the portions of the population each race enjoys. Even if the test is about which saw blade will cut through a metal door to rescue the people inside, if there is disparate impact the poor municipality has to go spend more money in creating another test which will yield more acceptable results, while still weeding out unqualified fire chiefs. How do you prove no other gateway would be more fair unless you try every other possible gateway?

So disparate impact made the employers throw in the towel on any objective test of applicants. How to get smart people, who after all do better then dumb people at most or all tasks? Simple, require a college degree. You can be pretty sure that the people who graduated from Stanford, Yale or Harvard have a higher IQ than the high school grad submitting an application. Middling college grads are probably smarter than non-grads. People with a few years of college are probably smarter than people who never went. Imperfect but better than nothing.

So the poor kids have to spend $70,000 a year for four years of borrowed money to be able to legally show prospective employers that they have brains. It is the only legal way for them to show their IQ.

Second on the walk of shame is the federal money loaned freely to college students and the bankruptcy exception for student loans. Non Dischargeable loans mean more loans can be made to questionable credits, unleashing a flood of [borrowed] money.  And federal subsidies and policies make even more lending to students possible.

What a golden age for students. Wait, if the USG subsidized car loans, would it mostly benefit drivers or car manufacturers? Drivers still have to pay off the inflated price of the cars sold. Car manufacturers would have more customers with money in their pocket that could only be used to purchase cars. Car manufacturers get the money, subsidised customers get the loan. Sudent loan largess has mostly benefited institutions of higher education to the detriment of student borrowers. The local university often has the nicest buildings, the best jobs, the finest grounds, the most events and parties, in the whole town.

The last thing I have time to write about is the ability to price discriminate. Imagine if before you purchased an airline ticket, the airline could demand to see your tax returns, income statement, expenses and net worth? Then imagine the airline could legally set a different price for you based on the information it learned. Student financial aid is a thinly disguised price discrimination scheme. The price is set so high that they expect nearly no domestic student to pay list price. Then they offer a discount designed to extract the highest portion of your disposable income that you can part with and your graduate’s disposable income over the next ten years. All for the coffers of the institution. Arn’t they nice benevolent institutions?

These are college material students and college educated parents they are fooling. Wow a $10,000 grant and $50,000 loan. Lucky me.