The Goodlatte-McCaul Immigration & Border Security bill, HR 4760, failed to pass a few minutes ago. I believe that Mr. Trump will gain more traction from the failure of both bills to pass and from the further weakened position of congressional Republicans as their majority starts looking like the majority that former president Barack Obama had in the first two years of his first term in office. I would go further and argue that the sweet spot for Donald Trump would be the finish the second half of his first term with at least one chamber of Congress under the control of Democrats.
While on the surface the disruption may seem abnormal or undesirable, disruption, as represented in a split Congress, disruption is what Americans should expect. A majority of interests cannot exist without a minority of interests. There is no such thing as congressional harmony. There cannot be harmony given the political goal of a party: to persuade the electorate that the party should have a monopoly on the power and prominence that comes with office. Mr. Trump, I believe, already had a sense of this going into office and the dysfunction of his party may have strengthened the rationale for his findings.
For example, take Obamacare. The premature consensus was that with majorities in both chambers, Mr. Trump would be able to move a repeal of the controversial Affordable Care Act through a friendly Congress. Pundits and constituents were wrong. The Affordable Care Act is still on the books thanks primarily to its provisions that extend care to children up to age 26 and its protection of consumers with pre-existing conditions. Mr. Obama put a bomb in the ACA that Republicans are now afraid to detonate.
Another example: tax reform. While the GOP was able to pass some measure of tax reform, the level of difficulty in getting a bill to Mr. Trump to sign caught Congress watchers off guard. Did Republicans doubt their chances so much in November 2016 that they started a new Administration and entered the 115th Congress with no coordinated plan?
It doesn’t help that the electorate does not look favorably on Congress. The average approval rating for Congress is 17%, according to a May 2018 Gallop poll. Among Democrats the approval rating is approximately 12% while Republicans hold Congress in slightly higher regard at 22%. The President’s approval rating is another matter.
According to Gallop, Mr. Trump’s current approval rating is approximately 45%, up from a low of 35% back in December 2017. While his overall approval rating gives him some cushion against the low view of his colleagues in Congress, what is being overlooked is his performance among independents and Democrats.
Mr. Trump’s approval rating among Republicans is 90%. No surprises there. Among independents, Mr. Trump’s current approval rating among independents is 45%. At the low point the approval rating among independents was 29% but has been hovering in the thirties throughout 2017 and 2018. Meanwhile, a small number of Democrats are flirting with the idea of liking Mr. Trump. While his favorable rating among Democrats has mostly been in the single digits, since his inauguration his weekly average favorable rating has been in the double digits twelve times. It is currently at 10%.
I see Mr. Trump having room to maneuver away from the congressional Republicans and while moving away from the party may seem disruptive, disruptive is the modus operandi in today’s economy. We hail disruptors like Elon Musk, Brian Chesky, and Garrett Camp for using technology to upend the electricity, hotel, and transportation industries. Mr. Trump is doing the same thing, albeit not with the smooth intellect of an Elon Musk.
He has shown no fear in governing as an executive, using the executive order option with no hesitation. And while his ability to transfer his deal making skills from the world of real estate to the game of thrones has taken heat, his negotiations with Kim Jong-Un could move him toward silencing critics.
Politics is about creating the political packages that win over the pawns necessary for winning the throne. Mr. Trump, so far, is beating the Democrats.
This is still a work in progress. The old saying is money makes the world go ‘round. Spoken from a consumerist view, the conclusion I can understand. You want to eat, sleep, and shit in relative peace and safety you need coin. Lately I have been taken a harder look at my role in this political-economic ecosystem. I have concluded that we are merely extraction points for tax and sales revenues with intravenous tubing going into one side of our bodies and coming out of the other.
This may sound cynical but I suspect most heads of households feel this way as they try to balance their budgets with increasing expenses. Will I be able to send my son to college? Can I pay that medical bill? Will I meet my mortgage? The frustration stemming from increasing difficulty to obtain the basics is like a stroke, sneaking up on Americans. In a credit-driven economy, that heart attack may be on the horizon.
Forty-five economists surveyed by the National Association for Business Economics today have a less rosy outlook on the 2018 economy versus three months ago. Although expected growth in gross domestic product is still positive at 2.8%, the forecast is down from a previous forecast of 2.9%. Current trade policies, according to economists surveyed, will have a drag on future growth with 82% of economists expecting a recession by 2019.
As I discussed in an earlier blog post, data from the Federal Reserve and the International Monetary Fund are not holding out the sunniest expectations for the economy over the next two years. Inflation is expected to peak at 2.8% in 2018 but fall to 2.4% and 2.0% in 2019 and 2020, respectively. The years 2021 and 2022 will see inflation at 1.9% climbing slightly to 2.0% in 2023.
Also constraining spending will be the rise in interest rates as the Federal Reserve exceeds its targeted 2% federal funds rate goal. America runs on credit and the more expensive is to purchase, the less of it Americans have to spend. According to IMF data, the ten-year bond rate ended at 2.4% in 2017. The rate on a ten-year note sets the interest rates for lending in the United States. By the end of 2018, the rate on the ten year is expected to climb to 3.2%; in 2019, 3.7%; and in 2020, 3.8%. The rate will then level off to 3.6% in 2021 and 2022; and hit 3.7% in 2023.
If the last decade is any indication of how well household incomes keep up with inflation, then many American households are in trouble. Average annual growth in household incomes for the lower (.70%); second (.64%); third (.29%), and fourth (.90%) quantile of household income are all growing at rates lower than expected inflation. The top quantile is seeing growth in annual income at a rate exceeding inflation (2.8%).
Many Americans would be upset with this scenario. Why can’t we get ahead? Why this gap in wealth and income? As I mentioned earlier, we are extraction points. We sit, along with natural resources, at the start point of a conveyor belt. At the other end of the conveyor belt is capital made up of coin and credit. The conveyor belt is fueled or supported by a transportation, communications, and energy infrastructure. Riding on top of the belt are the components trade, government rules, markets, and money. They are to the conveyor belt as application programming interface is to a computer network; a go-between that enables work and income to be extracted from human resources and transported to the eventual owners of capital.
For example, human resources enter markets in order to sell labor or buy goods. Government rules determine the level of tax revenue that will be extracted from human resources. The amount of money held by a human resource transmits information about that resources economic and financial value; her spending power.
Communications networks provide the conduits for transmitting information about a human resources value. Transportation networks move human resources to areas of employment where human resources convert natural and other resources into goods and services. Transportation networks also move the goods and services produced to end users. The facilities that create goods and services and the vehicles that transport goods and services run on various forms and sources of energy, including coal, nuclear, oil, electricity, solar, wind, and geothermal.
The top 20 percent occupy the capital side of the belt. Social justice warriors who argue the use of politics in order to close the gap between the top 20 percent and everyone else are making a losing argument. Politics is ineffective as a wealth and income gap closer because of the grasp that capital has on the conveyor belt. Central bankers and treasury ministers derive their influence and prestige from ensuring the conveyor belt (which we can also call a tax and payments system) operates at optimal to deliver returns (income) to the conveyor belt’s bond holders. Capital invests resources in lobbying, advocating, and the electoral process to ensure there are politicians in place that will make rules that do not impede the conveyor belt.
Those who are fed up with being extraction points want to stay off of the conveyor belt. We want to limit or eliminate our use of the communications, energy, and transportation networks that power the conveyor belt. Use of unlicensed spectrum to create our own networks; use of renewable energy sources in order to remain off grid; avoiding the purchase of vehicles in order to avoid the taxes and surveillance that are attached to them should be a goal.
I do not endorse living like a hermit (although I have no problem with prolonged peace and quiet), but we should pursue self-sustainability in order to minimize the consumerism that pulls us into unnecessary trade and market engagement. We will free ourselves to accumulate more capital while starving the beast that created the imbalance in wealth and income in the first place.
I am always reminded when watching a congressional hearing that the first duty of Congress is to keep the Executive in check. Today was no exception as I tuned into the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary’s hearing on the Employment Based Immigrant-Fifth Preference Program. The chairman of the committee, Senator Chuck Grassley, Republican of Iowa, called the meeting to discuss the problem of fraud in the program.
The EB-5 immigrant investor program promotes foreign direct investment in the United States by granting a green card (permanent residency) to an immigrant and his or her family where the immigrant invests $1 million or $500,000 in an investment that targets rural or underserved urban areas.
I was less interested in the fraud aspect, hoping that between any discussion of the downside of theft that the panel and its lone witness would shed some light on its benefits.
I should have known better….
A number of Democratic members of the panel, Senator Dick Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, and Senator Diane Feinstein, Democrat of California, decided to go off script and ask questions that had more to do with the issue of children being separated from parents detained at a Mexican-U.S. border non-port of entry versus how to tweak an investment program so that underserved communities in the United States get some economic attention.
It is no wonder that Congress gets blamed for not getting things done. One could argue that one thing these senators could have gotten done was ask why there were no immigrant investor regional centers in the United States Virgin Islands or Puerto Rico. Given the high rates of poverty in both territories and the need for more economic development, attracting investment to underserved areas like U.S. Caribbean territories should have been among the committee’s priorities. If they had any sense of awareness, one look at the calendar should have told them that it was that time of the year where Caribbean territories are preparing for another hurricane season. Maybe one of those foreign immigrants they give so much credit to as innovators could be incentivized to invest a million or so dollars in the USVI or Puerto Rico in exchange for a visa….
… but that’s asking too much …
The political takeaway here is that criticism of any sitting president’s policy is the “doing something” that Congress is best at. You have to apply an entropy effect approach to understanding congressional politics. Taking time to conflate the EB-5 program with President Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy on immigrants trying to enter the U.S. without a visa should not be a surprise. It should be expected.
Yesterday the Bank of International Settlements issued an annual report with a 24-page chapter discussing cryptocurrencies. The report is critical of cryptocurrencies and the premise of decentralization. It argues that cryptocurrency lacks the stability in value and pricing brought about by a centralized payments system. While I am not surprised by the report’s bias toward centralization (BIS is after all the central bank of central banks), I appreciated the detail the report went into when describing decentralized ledger transactions and comparing that system to a centralized, central bank-based system.
The volatility of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin experience may be enough for most consumers to ignore cryptocurrency as a store of value or a medium of exchange. As was a little perplexed last year when I saw a number of black Americans pushing cryptocurrency as the next big and best bet for achieving wealth. The sidewalk marketing was being done in an environment of unexplained rising Bitcoin value. I am not lying when I say I felt good about Bitcoin falling from highs of about $20,000 end of last year to around $7,000 today. These people I saw riding buses through Brooklyn telling people to get onboard something so bloody technical that most never understood it needed a reality check, and the relative quiet I experience on social media from the silence was refreshing.
More importantly a pullback invites putting cryptocurrency and money in the proper perspective. First, analyzing new currency spawned by financial technology requires separating ourselves from the emotions. In the American black community, the first cool dude with swag that can push the right emotional buttons on a people who are over-indexed on emotions will win the day, at least temporarily. Sheep, as Jim Cramer is fond of saying, get slaughtered.
Second, analyzing currency should come with the realization that we understand little about currency, money, markets, and economics. We conflate markets with consumerism and that is a mistake. Consumerist activity is low hanging fruit; easy to grasp because we are quick to meet our emotional needs with a gift bag. Meanwhile, those pushing Bitcoin on us didn’t have a clue as to the economic justifications for the increase. They asked us to view crypto the way we go out and buy houses and cars: come on down because the price is right. That kind of thinking, like the show, is corny.
Currency, whether digital or real, contains a message about an underlying economy. Cryptocurrency has no underlying economy. It cannot transmit messages about the value of an underlying economy because there is no underlying economy to begin with. The realities of an underlying economy keep a currency in check with market transactions providing consumers and producers with information as to how well the economy is doing and whether it is viable enough to project the “good faith” backing of a currency. Crypto does not have an underlying economy. While more vendors are using it, its use is nowhere near the use of real currencies.
For black people to push crypto on poor black people was abominable.
What the high price for a Bitcoin tells us is that if an underlying economy is developed, it will not be a world where the poor will be allowed to play. The price is transmitting a prediction about exclusivity. For example, urban cores like Atlanta, New York, and San Francisco are pricing the poor and middle class out of housing and other amenities. Why not develop a currency that reflects that new reality? Has it ever really been about inclusion or does the reality reflect exclusion?
On 13 June 2018, the Federal Communications Commission issued a notice of unlicensed operation to Reginald Simeon, an operator of a radio station in Brooklyn, New York. The Commission alleges that Mr. Simeon’s station, operating from a residential property on East 49th Street in Brooklyn, may be operating on the 88.5 Mhz frequency without a license. The unlicensed operation is, according to the Commission, a violation of section 301 of the Communications Act of 1934. The Commission also alleges that power emissions from Mr. Simeon’s station violated Part 15 of the Commission’s rules as to allowed field strength of signals at 250 micro-volts per meter for three meters.
While there is the legal and regulatory issue of whether or not Mr. Simeon’s station operated without a license and whether the signal strength was too strong, there is, too me, the more important issue of whether the Commission is about to deny the Haitian community another outlet for receiving news pertinent to the community’s members.
Section 301 of the Communications Act of 1934 requires any person that owns or operates an apparatus that transmits energy, communications, or signals by radio must have, subject to certain exceptions, a license to do so. Mr. Simeon has 30 days to answer the Commission’s complaint and make a showing as to whether he or not section 301 applies to his operations.
The Commission has made “pirate radio” (a derogatory term in my opinion) a priority lately. Arguments against pirate radio include interference with licensed broadcasts; interference with public safety broadcasts; and potential health effects from unregulated radiation. Besides, some critics of pirate radio may argue, if radio operators want to avoid getting a license without getting in trouble why not simply stream their broadcasts via the internet?
Part of the answer to the streaming question may lie in the preferences of the culture. As Justin Strout pointed out in a 2009 article on Prometheusradio.org when discussing pirate radio and Haitian communities:
“For different communities, radio stations are the best way to reach people,” offers Brandy Doyle, a regulatory policy associate for the Prometheus Radio Project, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit advocacy group for low-power communications. The organization forms coalitions to push Congress to reform the rules and regulations that prohibit people from gaining access to the airwaves. “We find that even in the age of the Internet, people still want radio stations,” says Doyle. “In Florida, many of the unlicensed stations are operated by Haitian communities and other Caribbean communities that [have] immigrants who come from places where radio is really vital and important. They come to the U.S. and they can’t get a radio station license. They’re trying to reach the Haitian community in Miami, for example, where it’s really local. In many parts of the world, radio is much more central to daily life than it is in the U.S.”
Congress, however, seems keen on making operating a radio station without a license more expensive. HR 5709, the Preventing Illegal Radio Abuse Through Enforcement Act, provides the following:
“Any person who willfully and knowingly violates this Act or any rule, regulation, restriction, or condition made or imposed by the Commission under authority of this Act, or any rule, regulation, restriction, or condition made or imposed by any international radio or wire communications treaty or convention, or regulations annexed thereto, to which the United States is or may hereafter become party, relating to pirate radio broadcasting shall, in addition to any other penalties provided by law, be subject to a fine of not more than $100,000 for each day during which such offense occurs, in accordance with the limit described in subsection (a).” The limit described in subsection (a) is $2 million.
As a consumer, I do not care for internet radio. It is a costly tie-up of bandwidth. Also, during power outages, connecting to news and information is more difficult online versus via radio. All I need is a supply of batteries to keep my radio charged.
Policy wise, I do not see the Commission or the aforementioned Congress pursuing some type of middle ground policy that would keep small stations serving Caribbean communities alive. With Democrats and Republicans supporting the bill (it has been forwarded to the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce), I see eventually passage by the full House and the U.S. Senate.
Hyun Song Shin, head of research for the Bank of International Settlements, provided some insights on the BIS’ discussion of Bitcoin found in BIS’ annual report released earlier today. Mr. Hyun described the cryptocurrency as a poor medium of exchange, questioning the cryptocurrency’s low use. Transactions are “slow and costly”, according to Mr. Hyun. From the BIS website:
“Cryptocurrencies promise to replace trusted institutions with distributed ledger technology. Yet, looking beyond the hype, it is hard to identify a specific economic problem which they currently solve. Transactions are slow and costly, prone to congestion, and cannot scale with demand. The decentralised consensus behind the technology is also fragile and consumes vast amounts of energy. Still, distributed ledger technology could have promise in other applications. Policy responses need to prevent abuses while allowing further experimentation.”
In his brief description of the Bitcoin production process, Mr. Hyun warned that the ability of miners to choose which transactions to process may result in users paying a higher price to get their transactions onto the cryptocurrency’s distributed ledger. The process is a congested one, but as production capacity lessens, so to does a miner’s incentive to extract Bitcoin.