Author Archives: Alton Drew

About Alton Drew

I graduated from The Florida State University with a Bachelor of Science in economics and political science (1984); a Master of Public Administration (1993); and a Juris Doctor (1999). I am a member of the Maryland Bar and practice political law. You can follow me on Twitter @altondrew. You can email me at altondrew@altondrew.com.

To wake up means leaving a political world created in someone else’s image and moving to one in your image….

Clarity of thought on the process for getting what we want, when we want it, from who we want it should first start with acknowledging that we live in someone else’s thoughts.  Our economic, political, and legal environments resulted from a thought process that we were not invited to participate in.  I believe proof of this can be provided by asking the average 21st century citizen a number of foundational questions.  “What is economics?” “What is the law of supply and demand?”  “How did this rule come about and why?” “What is law?”  “What is the history of law?”  “Can a monarchy be referred to as a government?”

Imagine you are a hunter/gatherer.  Your survival would require that you be in tune with your environment.  It would require that you are aware of the changes in the seasons; how seasonal changes impact animal migration; and note when certain trees and plants grow and the type of fruit that they may bear.  You have knowledge of these processes.  But even the hunter/gatherer lives in “another’s thoughts”.  Just like today’s 21st century citizen could not explain the genesis of economic, political, or legal philosophy, the hunter/gatherer could not explain the genesis of Earth itself.  “Why do we have trees?”  “Why was this planet created in the first place?”

For the 21st century citizen or the hunter/gatherer, “living in the now” of having to satisfy their basic needs and occasional pleasures limit their responses to the above questions with catch phrases like, “It is God’s will.” “It is what it is.” “What the fuck do I care.”  They may visit “the past” either for sentimental reasons; to lay a platform for blame; or to escape the overwhelming nature of the present.

The fear of the future is not a commonality between hunter/gatherer and the 21st century citizen.  The hunter/gatherer consumed what he had at hand.  There was little to none of any technology that allowed him to store items for days much less overnight.  This is not to say that he was not concerned about shortages or theft.  Shortages meant he had to keep on the move and theft meant establishing kin relationships that expanded the number of his tribe hence his security.

Today, the 21st century citizen crudely tries to occupy “the future” by borrowing today against tomorrow’s income.  He prepares for his retirement years by putting away a portion of his income today so that his nest egg takes care of him tomorrow.  The markets have pushed his fear buttons such that he rushes to E-Trade to open up an account.

I say crudely occupies the future because 21st century man operates primarily in fear.  The economic, political, and legal environment provided for him recognizes his fear.  The environment’s framers share most of the masses, but if there is one unique fear held by the environment’s framers it is fear of mass passion.

To maintain order, to keep his peace, the environment’s framers build a system that hopefully brings predictability of and order over mass behavior.  The framers, to ensure an ordered, predictable economic, political, and legal environment must themselves be inter-spatial.  Their system thrives on economic, political, and legal rules steeped in precedent.  Precedent provides a platform for settling current disputes.  Precedent mitigates uncertainty. Precedent brings order.

Order serves a role other than providing the framers “peace and quiet.”  Order serves as a carriage for the transmission of value.  Order provides a path for commerce to flow.  Order creates less friction for information to flow.  The framers meant for order to connect a non-existent past, “the now”, and the non-existent future.

Many a self-awareness guru will argue that “the now” is a realm of quiet, an open space for the mind, the moment where we are constantly aware of the noise too much thought can bring; the place where two non-existent realms, the past and the future intersect.

The irony is that for the political leader, he wants the masses distracted by a now filled with noisy moments.  He is nothing but the chief chimp banging on a cage filled with other primates.  This is where he paints a noisy economic, political, and legal environment for it is only in such an environment that he can create a narrative that says, “In all this noise and uncertainty, I am the only one who can save you.”

For an increasing number of the African Diaspora, the “Save Us/Chimp” mentality is being challenged, especially among younger blacks.  They are willing to take emerging digital technology and use it to create their own micro-economies.  They grew up hearing stories about social security not being available when they retire.  They are facing increasing costs of housing and crushing student debt.  They have diminishing confidence in the nine-to-five world that their parents and grandparents try to convince them to embark on.  A growing number don’t believe that the government can save them.

Operating more on the willingness to do it their way and less on the paralyzing fear instilled by their elders, political messages steeped in the “savior” narrative are falling on deaf ears.  The new economic, political, and legal outlook may be one where black people say, “The things you promise, we can get on our own with our ingenuity, the internet, and certain aspects of government.  We’ll create and live in our own economic thoughts.”

The weight that partisan and electoral politics played in the political philosophy of black people may be taking a back seat to economic politics, a new thought creating a new world order designed just for us.

Could local governments see a bump up in taxes collected on telephone lines?

Some employers are requiring their employees to work from home in response to more government stay-in-place policies as the United States grapples with COVID-19 also known as the coronavirus.  Prepping an office for remote work may call on employees to add another line to their home, especially where the employee works with sensitive data or the addition of another line is a requirement of a client.  For example as a precaution I have been using an Ethernet connection at home for the purpose of data stability, faster transmission, and the security of wired connection from node outside the apartment to my desktop in my home office.

I haven’t heard it discussed much with all the attention given to the virus and the slow down in the economy it has created, but I expect along with an uptick in the number of additional lines at home should come an uptick in telecommunications taxes collected by local governments.

In Baltimore, as an example, Article 28, Section 25-2, imposes a tax “on each person who leases, licenses, or sells a telecommunications line to any customer: (1) for wired service whose billing address or fixed service address is in the City;  or (2) for wireless service, whose place of primary use is in the City.”

Article 28, Section 25-3 assesses a charge of $4.00 per month or any part of a month for any wired or wireless line.

Can’t say how much, but the stay-in-place policy may be a positive for local government’s telecom tax coffers.

,

 

Corona virus, broadband, and Atlanta’s labor-capital symbiosis..

Again, another surreal day in Atlanta.  Midtown and Peachtree Center near empty at rush hour.  It is the end of day one of Mayor Keisha Lance Bottom’s “stay in place” edict as citizens are now required to stay in, coming out for only for essential activities i.e. seeing your doctor, heading to the grocery store, buying provisions from a hardware store, etc.

A municipal corporation has to justify its right to assess property and sales taxes by not only making its jurisdiction an attractive one for commerce and trade, but by creating an environment that protects the physical safety of its citizens.  Mayor Lance Bottoms was not ready to wait on Governor Brian Kemp to make up his mind about a state-wide shut down, preferring to go ahead and let Atlanta residents know that her administration was ready to take care of residents within her physical jurisdiction even if it meant pushing social distancing to the extreme.

Pushing social distancing to the extreme in this case means a further separation between the “do” labor versus the “thought” labor who are responsible for feeding capital with the knowledge and information necessary for increasing returns on said capital.  As recent as last week, “thought” labor could engage with “do” labor where a computer programmer making $50 per hour could still engage the cashier at the corner deli who made $10 per hour.  That tangential relationship, no matter how brief, represented some exchange between two worlds that take for granted how much they need each other.

A virus and a broadband connection may be busting up that tangential relationship forever.

My spidey-sense, after receiving these optical signals about where the market and society is going during this pandemic, called on me to help Jeff Bezos add to his fortune by signing up for Amazon Prime.  I am adjusting to staying at home and having to struggle with a tech support that is no longer just a short walk to the next hall.  It is not helping that we have rainy, overcast weather here in Atlanta compounding the feeling that I am working during a never ending weekend due to how slow it is on the street.  Depending on the mood of the clerk or waitress I lucked up on, that tangential brief relationship could have gone to making my day a brighter one.

I believe that Atlanta and other major cities are becoming the ground zero for a future where people will only be found outside jogging either by themselves or with a partner, and ordering food and groceries via broadband, delivered first by a human, then later by driver-less car or drone.  The once a week Uber Eats delivery may become a daily ritual with a greatly reduced tangential relationship with the “do” laborer attached.

Atlanta’s investors should be paying more attention to how the future of social distancing will impact the use of city infrastructure.  If we are spending less time driving on the streets or strolling along the Beltline or through the parks, how long will it take the taxpayer to figure out that she shouldn’t have to pay for this infrastructure?

And while I did see a bunch of people taking their morning stroll along the Beltline, I suspect that was more out of boredom than an attempt to pursue consistent use of the infrastructure.  I could be wrong, especially if more Atlantans find being restricted to home bringing them one step closer to catatonic.

While Atlanta continues to react to social changes brought about by America’s response to a virus, the city should be proactive about what the combination of technology and social distancing will do to Atlanta’s economic and financial structure ten years from now.

Menendez provides an end around the Corona virus aid hold up.

Last Friday, U.S. Senator Bob Menendez, Democrat of New jersey, introduced S. 3550, the Municipal Bonds Emergency Act.  The bill aims to amend the Federal Reserve Act to permit the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System to engage in certain open market operations during unusual and exigent circumstances.  The Federal Reserve’s authority would be extended to purchase bonds with any maturity period versus the current six month maturity period under Section 14 of the Federal Reserve Act.

Mr. Menendez’s rationale for the bill is to provide cities with another avenue of financing the rising costs of addressing the COVID-19.  Mr Menendez’s argument for the bill may get an additional boost given that the U.S. Senate failed to advance a bill that is apparently blocking negotiations for a corona virus response bill that would provide between $1 trillion to $2 trillion in support, including financial aid for individuals, small businesses, and affected airlines, according to reporting by Reuters.

The bill holding up the process, HR 748, is a designed to repeal an excise tax on high-cost employer-sponsored insurance coverage. It appears that Republicans want to get the bill, which was introduced back in July 2019, out of the way before proceeding to a, now estimated, $2 trillion stimulus package that contains financial support for banks, hospitals, other health care providers, and individuals.

Until tomorrow, we stay in wait and see mode….

 

How would Bill Ackman’s “shut ’em down” approach impact Georgia?

Bill Ackman appeared on CNBC two nights ago where he recommend that the United States go on a 30-day lock down in order to combat the Corona virus.  Mr Ackman is chief executive officer of Pershing Square Capital, an investment firm with billions of dollars under management.

CNBC is a business channel, but Mr Ackman was able to share that the source for his policy recommendation stemmed from an emotional place, in this case how Mr Ackman is dealing with the poor health of his father. Mr Ackman argues that the primary tactic for dealing with the virus is to kill it and that killing it means that everyone go into quarantine and spend time with loved ones for 30 days.  Hopefully this period away from work and other social contact would deprive the virus of its ability to spread with the warmer months eradicating the remnants of this virulent and deadly strain.

Mr Ackman’s argument doesn’t sound implausible given what we know about how the virus spreads.  Going around looking like bandits while giving each other elbow taps may aid in reducing the virus’ spread, but in the end, sick people staying away from well people may be the better of the tactics.

But just as CNBC is a business channel, this blog is a political channel so we come to the question of politics.  What would be the political impact on Georgia from shutting down a chunk of the American economy for 30-days in order to fight and kill a virus?  Would there be any increase in political power and capital for elected federal, state, and local officials from such a move?

As with any policy, it depends on how you manage the cons.

What is at risk economically in Georgia due to COVID-19?

Here are a couple examples of industries at risk in Georgia due to COVID-19.  The film industry has a growing influence on Georgia’s economy.  It is estimated that the industry spent $2.9 billion toward hotel, travel, film crews, catering, props, and equipment.  According to the Georgia Department of Economic Development, Georgia exported $10.8 billion of aerospace product and services.  In addition, the aerospace industry has a $57.5 billion overall impact on Georgia’s economy.

As a young management analyst with the Georgia Department of Audits in the 1980s, I saw first hand how important Georgia’s agricultural industry is to the state when I conducted an analysis of the state’s poultry labs.  Today, agriculture is still the state’s leading industry with an estimated annual impact of $75 billion.  In addition, poultry farmers raise 1.3 billion chickens a year and put 9.3 million acres of farmland into production.

Approximately 270,000 workers are employed in Georgia’s advanced manufacturing industry, an industry producing $61.1 billion in output for Georgia.

Conclusion: So far, I see no backlash to the State’s “no shutdown” decision

Since 28 February 2020, Georgia governor Brian Kemp has issued six executive orders addressing the COVID-19 outbreak.  None, at the time of this writing, have ordered a shutdown of the state’s businesses.   Georgia’s active workforce dwarfs the 555 confirmed cases and 20 deaths in the state so far.  Given no shutdown has been ordered by the state, it has been left up to local governments to issue rules on business closures.  Reportedly, Governor Brian Kemp is heeding advice from experts to avoid a shutdown at this time.

Admittedly it is too early to tell the extent of any current damage to these industries.  If Georgia businesses go from voluntary compliance with recommendations of social distancing to a statewide shutdown of businesses, it is at that time that we should see some concrete impact on the state’s economy.  At that point, the question will be, for how long and after that period, the next question will be how much of Georgia’s economy do we have left?

 

 

 

 

Government, on the other hand, is serious business…

State government as corporate body ….

State government is the result of the morphing of colonial stock companies and trading posts.  What does state government do?  In the simplest of terms, state governments in the United States:

  • Sell protection services; i.e. family welfare programs, state militia and state police services, and transportation services.
  • Finance themselves via tax collection and fees for the aforementioned services.
  • Provide the aforementioned services via its own staff or through private contracts.
  • Act as brand managers where regulatory agencies describe and implement the philosophy and policies that guide how protection services are to be delivered.
  • Continuously validate the right to tax and govern the populace by keeping their promises to deliver these services.

Competing for the right to manage the franchise …

Political factions compete for the right to describe and implement the philosophy and policies that guide how protection services are to be delivered.  Think of them as management companies that, through their own internal mechanisms, choose the potential managers that appear on your ballot during an election.

Democracy allows the individual citizen to participate in the selection process.  Voters must suffer the silliness of the campaign season, where the management companies seek to persuade the voter that a particular faction should be allowed to provide the state’s protection services.

Maryland is to Nike as Georgia is to Asics …

Nike and Asics are brands that compete on the tangibles and the intangibles.  How are their shoes priced? How do their shoes look on your feet? How do their shoes enhance your performance on the field or the court?  Most times the decision comes down to the intangibles, down to how the shoes make you feel emotionally.

You can probably say the same thing for an airline.  Should I fly Delta or get on Southwest?  Southwest may win on price, but do they connect to as many destinations as Delta?  Is customer service more important to me than consistent on-time arrivals?

In a mobile nation as the United States, a state’s management company, the ruling faction, must keep in mind the brand messaging for its state. It has to be more than how well parties compete with each other in the silly season of political campaigns.  A Georgia citizen may appreciate the terrain, topography, and climate of the Peach State.  It may even appreciate the diversity of the citizenry; that the state is accepting of all peoples, religions, personal views.

But if the price of living in Georgia i.e. taxes paid and other costs of living are not exceeded by the benefits i.e. the protection services a state is supposed to provide, then that citizen may find herself heading to Maryland or Florida.  It goes to the adage that once you win the office you find governing to be a different animal.

Conclusion: Political parties should be prepared to be government brand managers …

When the silliness of the campaign is over, the real work begins.  Government is serious business.  The hand shaking and rhetoric on the campaign trail has to be translated into service delivery that gets your management company another four-year contract.

Part I. Three questions before voting: Why are we a union? (And when is California grape season?)

I only eat grapes produced in California.  This is the time of the year where the only grapes I find in the local grocery stores are either from Chile, Mexico, or Peru.  The taste of grapes from those countries never appealed to me.  Maybe the pickers are in a rush to get the grapes to the American market sacrificing sweetness for the chance that the consumer has a taste for grapes from Central and South America.  Maybe it’s the soil; its nutrients, irrigation, or the environment they grow in.  I don’t know.  I just prefer the texture and taste of California grapes.

I have been to California three times; twice to San Francisco and once to San Diego.  Nice towns; picturesque.  The people never really stood out as warm and hospitable, but after near forty years in the South, I probably expect too much in terms of hospitality.  Last time that I was in Brooklyn, for example, I had to adjust my “friendly meter” because New Yorkers have no time for spare eye contact and smiling with a brother.  Not to say New Yorkers are rude.  On the contrary, New Yorkers are some of the nicest people I have met.  Their way of expressing themselves in public is simply different from people in the South.

For Americans of a more cosmopolitan ilk, being able to visit different regions of the United States and experience the culture and food may excite them.  From a political perspective, however, does it mean that these states, have to bear the costs and burdens of being united under one federal government?  Why should Americans want to maintain this union?

The reason I pose this question is primarily due to the upcoming presidential elections and the expectations voters impose on the candidates.  My general observation of the electorate finds a voter who expects one of these men, either Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, or incumbent president Donald Trump to help make their lives better.  They expect that the current or future president should utter words and implement policy that emanates from the halls of the White House and trickles into the voter’s bedroom, office, grocery store, schools, and bank accounts.  They expect to be saved.  They expect to be uplifted.  They expect to be made whole.  They expect to prosper and have a good life.

Candidates play on these expectations by pushing the right emotional buttons, by sharing the properly tuned narrative that hopefully gets the voter to exercise their franchise in a candidate’s favor.  One example of this is the mantra emerging from the Corona virus crisis, “We are all in this together.”  Federal, state, and local elected officials have been trying to assure Americans that under their leadership the virus will be contained and that if Americans take the proper precautions, this too shall pass….

Assure the voter.  Ensure the vote.

The average voter takes little if any time to re-read her national history much less critically analyze the Constitution of the United States.  This failure to take another look at the nation’s make-up creates a thought void that a politician can play on.

To fill the void, the voter should challenge any and all narratives they have been subjected to since first watching “School House Rock.”  One such narrative is the purpose of the “perfect union.

The purpose of the union, of an interstate compact, was to ensure that goods, services, and labor could move freely between and through the States.  The primary purpose was never about creating one happy culture but one happy commercial flow and customs and tax zone.  For an example, Article I Section II notes the apportionment of direct taxes among the States.  And in the discussion of Congress’ power and duties, found in Article I Section VIII, four of the first five clauses discuss taxes, duties, imports and excises.  They also discuss Congress’ power to borrow money, regulate money, and mint coin.

Feeling good about mother, apple pie, (California grapes) and the flag are not mentioned.

And while the rationale stated in the preamble expressed the expectation of a perfect union, the establishment of justice, providing a common defense, providing for the general welfare, and securing liberty, this thought, this view or philosophy of the world was held by the aristocracy who had a vested interest in protecting the flow of capital and increasing its returns by having a national government structure in place that protected its flow.

Democracy was an ingenious way of preventing collateral damage.  In order to validate the hierarchy, a narrative had to be created that a “perfect union” was necessary for the benefits of liberty to flow and an aristocracy of learned and/or propertied white men should lead it.

I ask why a union with, say, Delaware, be viewed as necessary to my well being or welfare?  Does Delaware supply me clothing, food, education, or manufactured goods?Does Delaware provide me financial capital to seed my enterprises or personal consumption, and even if it did, does allowing its two U.S. senators and a couple congressmen to vote on affairs that directly impact my state provide a worthy exchange for my liberty?

If a voter cannot demonstrate how being in a union made up of different cultural views, terrains, economies, justify the potential negative impact their votes can have on her state or more importantly, her personal freedoms, then excitement about a national vote is severely misplaced.

If she accepts the status quo, that the perfect union provides her personal benefit, then her second question should be, what is the best political-economic mechanism to guide the union’s path?

That question I leave for Part II.  Until then, I will wait patiently for the California grape season…