Some thoughts on how I model the economy

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.

If you needed the internet that bad, you would have created it yourself

Monday 11 June 2018. We will see a repeat of the weeping and wailing that Hillary Clinton’s supporters did as they witnessed what they thought was impossible: an electoral loss to Donald Trump. Advocates for the treatment of broadband access as a telecommunications service will weep and wail not because of the loss of internet service, but because they will be out of bullets when the scare tactics imposed on millions of consumers do not come to fruition. As June goes into July into August into election season into Kwanzaa, another argument for attracting anti-Trump voters will fade away.  As the tyrannical Fake Left jump onto social media and create new forums and hashtags for the next rally, they will soon take for granted that the internet still works after all.

What I find disconcerting is the emotion attached to internet access. “If everyone is not connected, we will all sink into the pits of Hades.” “If I am not online, I am inconsequential.” “The internet is crucial to our daily living and well-being.”  None of this is true. Unlike water and energy, internet access is not a necessity for the continuation of life. Approximately 11% of Americans do not use the internet, according to data from Pew Research. More than likely, these individuals are getting information they determine as pertinent to their lives from old tried and true sources: first hand observation, published news sources, direct contact with government agencies, family and friends. These data sources are not as fast or as glitzy, but they have worked for centuries and more than likely were used by the individuals who built this digital world.

I expect the percentage of Americans not using the internet to fall over time when you consider that in 2000 approximately 48% of Americans were not online.  Our children are already internet savvy and this use of online services will only continue as they get older. As we on the tail end of the Baby Boom enter retirement, we may find ourselves using it more to connect with fellow Boomers who, unfortunately, may not be up to travel for various reasons.

What we need to avoid is allowing political factions such as the Fake Left to play on the emotions stemming from the belief that without net neutrality rules, consumers won’t be able to get to the websites of their choice, see speeds from their favorite websites slow down, or have their data sold to third parties they did not approve.  This narrative should be seen for what it is; another way to get votes.

If the Fake Left were really concerned about protecting your privacy and the speed at which you access data, they would tell you that you are responsible for reading the fine print of every service agreement for every information service provider you access. Arguing that terms and conditions are written in “legalese” is no excuse for skipping over disclosures and subjecting your privacy to abuse.  If, as the Fake Left argues, the internet is that crucial to everyday living, so crucial that it should be treated like a utility, then equal fervor should be applied to the consumer who decides to use online services.  In other words, the Fake Left should stop encouraging people who can’t fly to buy an airplane and attempt to fly it without bearing the consequences.

If you can’t get what your want from an information service provider in terms of privacy or speed, then maybe you should invest in consumer encryption services such as a virtual private network, or using a heavily encrypted network or browser such as TOR.

There are also the old methods of information gathering: a telephone (landline) and a newspaper, from which you can access by paying cash, the ultimate form of encrypted currency. Bottom line, there are ways to protect your individual privacy without implementing more onerous rules on society.

Courts and regulatory agencies as markets

For most of us every day folk, courts are places where we want a judgment that says, “We are right.” But courts are also “rules markets.” Rules markets are where frameworks for how we engage each other going forward are produced and depending on how broad the issue is defined, those rules may be forcibly consumed by others who were not a party to the conflict that brought the original rule producers together in the first place.

The recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission provides an example. While the issue in that case focused on whether Colorado’s equal rights agency applied its civil rights rules in a neutral manner where civil rights violations were alleged, some Americans questioned why the consequences of that case should spill outside of Colorado and impact citizens and businesses in other states. The short answer is that externalities, whether positive or negative, from a court ruling enter society because of the structure of our legal system. The legal structure is centralized and the ripple effect of legal decisions spreads out to more citizens the higher up the legal rule production hierarchy you go. The interpretation as to what the rule should be for governing a relationship or conflict becomes the “law of the land” where the highest court becomes the market for producing legal rules.

I heard some of this concern from every day folk during a CSPAN session the day after the Masterpiece Cakeshop ruling. “Why did this conflict have to escalate?” some asked. It escalated because a centralized legal system provides opportunities for individuals occupying a minority class to extend its views on how society should work to the rest of America by accessing and participating in the rule making process.

Conflict is a high cost for entering this “centralized rules” market, but a higher price is paid by the rest of society where we are subjected to rules produced by a small number of participants seeking to produce rules that favor their behavior and the detriment of limiting or modifying everyone else’s.

In my opinion, the limitation of the behavior of others as a result of rules produced in a centralized market is a negative externality or negative benefit. No matter the noble intent of the rule producers, where the rule produced impacts my behavior, it impacts my liberty.

One way to limit the negative externalities of centralized rulemaking is for parties to enter into voluntary agreements, agreements limited to the parties resolving the immediate conflict. It would be a lot cheaper for parties in actual conflict or anticipating conflict if the rules were produced as a result of voluntary engagement designed to head off conflict versus the other way around. It would also be less expensive for members of society who are not direct parties to the conflict since they would not be subject to rules that they did not produce.

Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd v Colorado Civil Rights Commission: Colorado must be neutral in application of civil rights laws

The U.S. Supreme Court told the state of Colorado that it must be neutral in its application of equal rights laws in an opinion released today by the high court.  In Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd., et al. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, at issue was whether the State’s requirement that the appellant create a cake for a same-sex wedding would violate the appellant’s right to free speech by compelling him to exercise his artistic talents to express a message with which he disagreed and would violate his right to the free exercise of religion? The Court answered in the affirmative, holding that Colorado did not apply its civil rights laws in a neutral manner.

In its analysis, the Court reiterated that religious and philosophical objections to gay marriage are protected views and, in some instances, protected forms of expression. Masterpiece Cakeshop’s claim that the State compelled him to use his artistic skill to make a statement endorsing a gay couple’s wedding had significant First Amendment implications regarding the sincere religious beliefs expressed by the appellant.  Statements made during the Colorado Civil Rights Commission’s hearing of the gay couple’s complaint against Masterpiece Cakeshop were, according to the Court, clearly hostile to the appellant. The Colorado Civil Rights Commission had a duty under the First Amendment to not base laws or regulations on hostility to a religion or religious viewpoint.

The individualist can’t help but be concerned about how the State apparatus, a civil rights agency, could be used to help extend one couple’s view of how the world should be over those who don’t agree with the view. Yes, as individualist we promote the individual’s choice to live their life as they see fit, according to their own personal rules. This includes exercising their personal sexual preference. So- called cultural conservatives are guilty of these attempts as well, most notably in the area of abortion where they show a heavy penchant for regulating a woman’s womb.

The Court made a call in the individualist favor although promoting individualism was the furthest thing from the Court’s mind. This holding is a reminder that sometimes the entire State apparatus has to call its own bluff when it comes to its claims that government is protector of liberty.

For Blacks, government is god

Every Monday and Wednesday night I allow myself a little political entertainment by tuning into YouTube and watching Yvette Carnell, founder and editor of Breaking Brown.com. Ms Carnell brings a passion and data driven analysis to political and social events impacting descendants of slaves brought to the United States from Africa. Ms Carnell “keeps it real” about the economic plight of black Americans and is especially scathing of those who fail to view politics as an avenue for obtaining resources, particularly capital, as reparations for the kidnapping and enslavement of Africans and the lingering effects that slavery has on the present members of the African Diaspora brought to America.

Where Ms Carnell loses me is when she proposes that government is the only option for righting wrongs perpetrated by the holders of capital on slaves imported from Africa. Government, as I interpret Ms Carnell, should bear the burden of providing the descendants of African slaves with treatment equal to those received by whites who have certain privileges available to them as a result of their lineage. Ms Carnell rejects talk of black American self-reliance arguing cogently that black American descendant of slaves brought from Africa are at a severe disadvantage because it was never the intent of government to extend sufficient capital in the direction of blacks so that they could thrive in America.

Ms Carnell’s 43,000 YouTube subscribers for the most part agree with her and I know plenty of people, some of them friends, who would sympathize with her position. Government has been the source of oppressive tactics and strategies against blacks in America for centuries. Some blacks also consider government the source of positive change in American society, from the banning of the separate but equal doctrine for schools, common carriers, and other public facilities, to extending universal suffrage to black voters in the South. So while blacks in America perceive the real world as one of pain and suffering, government, the entity that has and still does keep a boot on the throats of blacks, is also viewed as a very present help in trouble.

But rather than god, what if blacks treated government as a protection agency option? I came across this phrase when I read The Sovereign Individual by James Dale Davidson and Lord William Rees-Mogg.  The authors, proponents of a movement from onerous customs and tax districts like the United States, described various governance structures for occupied territories and how modern digital communications technology could enable individuals to either live outside of the barriers of traditional governments or carve out their own sovereign niches within them.

Admittedly the problem with the approach of The Sovereign Individual is the level of capital that one would need in order to exercise the type of autonomy described in the book. It takes a great degree of capital to negotiate the occupancy of a physical space where the individual doesn’t pay traditional taxes; where within carved out areas the individual provides for their own police services and can exercise the right to legally exclude anyone who does not fit their criteria of community.

The biggest problem I believe is mindset. There is a malaise within the black population; a narrative that any attempts at freedom would be met by actions similar to those that took place in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1921. Between 31 May and 1 June 1921, a white mob attacked the black American community of Greenwood, a thriving community within Tulsa known as “The Black Wall Street.” Where conversations arise about furthering black economic empowerment, naysayers raise their heads citing the egregious state actions that occurred in Tulsa that Memorial Day weekend.  Almost 100 years after the military and terrorist attack on Greenwood, the survivors of the attack have not been compensated. Petitions to the government have resulted in dedication of a park and some scholarships for descendants. Can anyone say that the State has dome right by its black American parishioners? Can blacks afford to use the memories of these behaviors to prohibit them from getting out of State-sponsored hell?

For blacks, government is god. This god is not benevolent and sooner or later, the church service has to end.

Toward a New Political Market: Rewiring Democracy to Make Entry More Expensive

Democracy has created a political market where prospective providers of political packages challenge each other for the vote and indirect control of society. The perception that democracy is about equal expression of multiple voices within society creates an opportunity for prospective providers of political packages to delineate the market by creating different packages for a variance of voter: marital rights for the LBGTQ community; increased funding for and an increased number of social welfare programs; or progressive changes in affirmative action programs where greater access is created for middle to upper income white women. The reality of democracy, where democracy is an institution that allows more factions to vie for control of society in a bloodless transfer of power, would still result in factions delineating political markets and offering more packages only because the pot has to be sweetened to garner voters into a faction’s camp.

Is this expansion of the supply-side and demand-side of the political markets a bad thing? I believe the answer is yes for the following reasons.

First, the suppliers of political packages and the voters that demand them are creating an ever increasingly expanding State.  As an instrument of the State, government has expanded way beyond what the framers of the Constitution intended.  Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution provided limited duties for the government; limited duties that included providing post offices, a national defense, the regulation of domestic and foreign commerce, the coining of money and protection against counterfeiting, the regulation of bankruptcies, the promotion of science and useful arts, and establishing courts. Any other police powers would be left to the individual states.

Today, the federal government is involved in many parts of the individual American’s personal life. The federal government has weighed in on abortion; the regulation of marriage; on the use of contraceptives; the amount of privacy for sexual acts between consenting adults; the use of radio frequencies by individuals; who a proprietor may serve or not serve in her store; whether an individual must enter the markets to buy health insurance; the amount of information businesses must share with consumers; the amount of information companies must share with investors; and the manner in which a private corporation must manage its communications networks.

For the individual who is best able to determine and promote her personal and economic self-interests, this expansion comes with administrative rules and procedures. It comes with limits on individual experience, growth, and decision-making. It comes with limits on freedom.

The mention of freedom provides a segue to the second reason: taxation. Among Congress’ powers is the power to lay taxes. Even with the limited powers of the Congress, I would expect the amount of taxes levied and collected from Americans to grow along with the population of the United States and the infrastructure and other needs the government would be expected to provide. But along with extra-Constitutional supply of political packages comes the additional costs of supplying those packages and a heftier tax bill to go along with it.

The limited enumerated powers afforded to the U.S. government per the Constitution do not support social welfare programs such as social security, Medicare, or Medicaid, yet programs like these account for a significant and growing portion of federal government expenditures.

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, in fiscal year 2016, the federal government spent $3.9 trillion.  Social security spending accounted for 24% of federal budget spending. Together, Medicare, Medicaid, Children’s Health Insurance Program, and other medical aid subsidies accounted for 26% of federal budget spending. Safety net programs such as refundable portions of the earned income tax credit, the child tax credit, supplemental security income, food stamps, school meals, and low-income housing assistance contributed nine percent of federal government spending.

For those believing that defense expenditures and aid to foreign governments take a larger share, think again. Military spending accounts for 16% of the budget. In addition, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, interest on money borrowed by the federal government amounts to six percent of the federal budget.

Approximately 84% of the fiscal year 2016 budget was financed by government revenues including taxes. Whether debt financing increases or not, Americans will still be on the hook for paying federal outlays or paying the debt as increased burdens due to increased programs and policies are crafted.

And the burdens will increase. Analysis by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget estimates that the federal debt load as a percentage of gross domestic product will increase from 77% today to 96% by 2029.  Spending is expected to increase over the next ten years, from 20.8% of GDP in 2017 to 28.6% of GDP in 2027.

We have a political market place that is delivering tyranny. By creating more market participants, more issues are being spawned that lead to more expensive solutions chasing in some cases problems that do not exist. For the problems that do exist, the solutions that political packages promise are not blossoming. Democracy is failing. It is creating a society built on burden creation. A growing number of individuals no longer wish to carry the financial burdens the current representative democracy creates, especially when they are seeing no returns from their expenditures.

I propose one solution here for now: reduce the number of voters which will lead to a new voter base that providers of political packages will have to adjust to. The United States should require states to impose voter registration requirements every two years, with the registration closing one year before the midterm and general elections. Just like new immigrants are required to take a civics test in order to become naturalized citizens, Americans should be required to take a rigorous civics test in order to vote. Such a test will meet three goals.

First, a civics test will move the U.S. closer to ensuring a better-informed voter is entering the voting booth. In theory, a voter becomes a more effective citizen when they stay abreast of current political events and can apply critical thinking skills to assess those events. Today, this is just not happening.

Second, the required time to prepare and take the exam along with paying a nominal fee for taking the exam will leave the door open to only the most serious and informed voters. If democracy is to have any validity, shouldn’t participants demonstrate the concept’s importance by investing the time into taking the exam? Is this not the type of voter you want making decisions on leadership and issues placed in a referendum?

Last, a civics test challenges the very notion of democracy itself. I take to heart the following quote from Winston Churchill:

“The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.”

In today’s social media world, that argument extends into perpetuity given the overwhelming level of misinformation regurgitated by users of Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms. I at times wonder why these individuals are allowed into a voting booth and indirectly cause the creation of policies that for the most part work against my freedoms and liberties.

Democracy needs a reboot. It might just need to be tossed, at least on the national level. ….

 

The physics of capital

Is capital is fixed? Like energy can it neither be created or destroyed? In an hour from this writing financial markets in the United States will open up for trading. These markets act as the medium for converting cash into stocks or bonds. The law of energy would describe this conversion as the creation of a disordered state where the original form of matter, in this case cash, is turned into a more disordered state, in this case a security.

The market process does not follow the law of energy precisely. Whereas after converting matter into a disordered state means that the resulting products cannot be recombined into the original form, the stocks and bonds purchased with cash can be sold in the markets with the result being the original form, cash.

The market provides a conduit for energy transfer, the transfer between cash and securities. I consider the energy transfer that we see in the financial markets as an echo of the original and most important form of capital: information and knowledge. Information and knowledge are the “big bang” of our capital universe. The information that we derive about and from the land allow us to create and use knowledge about farming, mining, fishing. As the land becomes increasingly valuable as a source of goods and services, we use this knowledge about productivity as leverage for creating banks and banking and payment systems. Through lending and borrowing money is created and these funds can be used to expand productive capacity or invest in stocks or bonds.

Information isn’t the capital of the 21st century. It has been the premier capital of human existence. All other substance we refer to as capital emanates from this origin and is a reflection of the value of information.

I would argue that knowledge and information represent another divergence away from the laws of energy. Knowledge and information are not fixed. Man is always discovering something new whether about himself as a sovereign or about the universe around her. The more she discovers and the better she is at communicating her discoveries, the more capital in the form of currency that she can accumulate.

Currency transmits to the markets the value its holder has. It should also signal us to look behind the currency to determine who the holder is.  The rapper who has $300,000 in currency but owns no productive property and has no prospects for another hit album in a year has low value. The markets will not want to trade with him on a continuous basis versus a writer with $50,000 in coin but also owns land that she rents out for farming and is able to write software apps when not writing music. The market will see her as high value and will trade her currency.

This creates a political dilemma for politicians who claim to represent the interests of the poor. They must now come to terms with an information gap spurred on by a lack of critical thinking skills in America. Solving real world problems not only benefits the individual but benefits communities overall as solutions are distributed throughout communities. The ability to bring solutions to real world problems enhances value and creates currency. For the poor access to quality education or other resources that provide a conduit to knowledge should be at the top of the policy agenda if they are to survive an economy that asserts a greater need for knowledge and information talent.

Capital may, after all, not be fixed and can be created. Information is the most important source of capital and like energy needs an infrastructure that allows its generators to signal and transmit value.