Of Trade Wars and Hot Mess

As I listen to U.S. Senator Mike Rounds, Republican of South Dakota, discuss with Bloomberg Television U.S. trade action against Canada and Mexico as inappropriate because of their statuses as allies to the United States, I have to ask myself, if they are allies and given the increase in costs consumers face because of tariffs, why not remove tariffs from all items imported?

The reality is that trade is war, no matter a country’s cultural or political affinity with its neighbor. Tariffs are barriers to markets. Canada and Mexico, just like China, are telling the U.S. to stay out of their markets unless invited to deliver a particular set of services or products. There are no allies in trade.

So why is the term “ally” used during these discussions? Ally is a term used to keep the “pawns” i.e. the electorate on board with destructive policies; to make voters feel like they are a part of something bigger than themselves; that they are somehow a part of the decision making process.

In reality, the only “skin in the game” the electorate has is the skin, limbs, and lives they lose when a trade war becomes a live fire war

Understanding your country as a payment system

A macroeconomy is a payment system. Historically, the first payment system was the one where an individual paid himself. His effort i.e. getting up in the morning, finding something to eat, killing it and cooking it, was exchanged for survival i.e. eating, housing, and sex. As he sought comfort, convenience, or security, man decided to enter into an extended payment system called trade with people outside of himself. The results of his efforts represented by a portion exceeding the amount necessary for his survival could now be exchanged for additional comfort, convenience, or security.

The payment system has expanded with trade, becoming local, then regional, now global. The value of the trader’s effort is now represented by hard and digital currency.  But the system is also imbalanced.  It is bloated having been converted into an extraction conveyor belt excavating more out of natural and human resources.  The bankers depicted in Pieter van der Heyden’s The Battle about Money have programmed the conveyor belt to extract more from one’s effort in exchange for access to units of survival that have been increasingly expensive.

This imbalance has led to a widening of the income and wealth gap. The imbalance has also led to a macro payment system that intrudes on the privacy and civil liberties of the individual in order to extract more of his effort and more of his financial resources. It surveils him in order to market items to him that will persuade him to spend more of his coin.

The imbalance has spawned political, social, and economic factions based not on familial ties or lineage but on artificial classes of haves and have nots. Why do I say artificial? Because the reasons usually presented by the political elite for the existence of these classes never takes into account the hoarding of capital, an activity political elites take a heavy hand in.  For if the political elites were truly concerned about reducing these gaps, they would promote initiatives that promote getting into the hands of current consumers the technology that would make them self-sufficient.

Such promotion may result in getting the individual off of the payment system plantation, an end result the elite is not interested in.

Political intelligence that matters to markets

A business or an investment fund is simply a betting pool for people who have coin or credit. The bet represents all the information that the investor has acquired over some period and the dollar amount of her bet represents the minimum cost of the information acquired. This means that the actual cost of creating the investment fund, asset, or business means nothing to the investor.

All that matters is an outcome that recovers her cost for accumulating information that helps her determine whether her preferred outcome-a return of and on her capital-will be realized. Information on sunk costs mean nothing to her (much to the chagrin of the run-of-the-mill economist).

For information traders entering information markets what should matter is providing information that addresses existential threats to profits and revenues. The information trader must have awareness of the outcome the investor is interested in.

Investors watching political markets are interested in whether a decision poses an existential threat to a firm or a firm’s profits or revenues. Existential threats posed by government come in the form of a revocation of a license, denial of access to natural resources, or denial of access to financial capital. The investor wants to know the likelihood of the occurrence of these events.

In hind sight this is why the Trump Effect became vacuous. The expectations surrounding the Trump administration’s impact on investment never took into account government’s prime operational mandate which is to exploit the natural environment of a physical area. It does this by managing the extraction of resources from that physical area. In the case of American government, it has determined that extraction would best be carried out by a private sector driven by a profit motive.

Businesses provide efficient methods for extracting resources and converting the resources into “taxable events” i.e. goods and services for sale. Businesses convert human resources into taxable events by employing labor thus making humans available for taxation by government.

The subsequent uncertainty experienced by the financial markets post Mr Trump’s inauguration was the result of investors listening to the “emotional marketing” of the 2016 campaign. Rhetoric regarding bringing back manufacturing jobs into a political economy that favors information as its primary resource or building more bridges to nowhere via infrastructure knowing that the multiplier effect is limited by a project’s termination date was baseless but pulled on enough heartstrings of investors that they forgot or were forced to overlook even further government’s prime mission.

Also, the financial markets can’t risk forgetting that the U.S. is a federal system and states have to be considered when assessing the American economy. States have to be on board with any policies that address contraction or expansion of licensing or access to natural resources. For example, it is one thing for the federal government to increase access to radio frequencies by mobile telephone companies. But if the states do not put in place rights-of-way policies that allow mobile phone companies to deploy tower facilities, then having a license to transmit wireless signals is meaningless and the firm faces a scenario of less revenues.

When discerning what information matters, the focus should be on political information that threatens the continued existence of a firm or threats to its revenues and profits. Investors need to discern between the emotional or campaign marketing noise and substantive political intelligence that addresses a firm’s existence.

Should the Caribbean brace for a Federal Reserve rate hike? #Caribbean #trade

The Federal Reserve is expected to raise rates on its federal funds rate, the rate at which its member banks lend each other money overnight, at least three times during 2018. I see this move as having a potential negative impact on Caribbean immigrants here in the U.S. given their lower incomes relative to other immigrants and the U.S. overall, and the level of poverty among Caribbean immigrants. I see the Federal Reserve’s expected rate hikes having an impact on remittances as well because rate hikes, designed to control inflation could very well discourage employing Caribbean born labor.

The Federal Reserve has an overall positive outlook on the American economy. While growth is expected to continue, the central bank views the growth as fragile.

The Trump tax cuts are expected to provide the economy with an additional boost. The pay increases Americans are receiving as a result of the temporary cuts are expected to re-enter the economy in some form. Unemployment is at 4.1%, the textbook case for full employment, a point at which additional hiring and the resulting spending may create increases in prices for goods and services.

There is a 78% chance the central bank will raise intra-bank lending rates and in theory when this happens, the rates you pay for revolving loans and mortgages are expected to follow suit. On the other hand, the even with low unemployment, wage increases are expected to be sluggish.

Caribbean immigrants may bear a higher burden stemming from price increases versus other immigrants and the overall U.S. population. According to data from the Migration Policy Institute, twenty percent of Caribbean immigrants live in poverty compared to 19% of overall foreign born U.S. residents and 15% of the overall U.S. economy. Caribbean immigrant median income ($41,000) falls well below the overall U.S. median income ($55,000) as well as the median income of all immigrants ($49,000). Assuming Caribbean immigrants, like the overall U.S. population, has the bulk of its wealth in a house, poorer Caribbean immigrants will have less of a buffer protecting them from a credit-shortage induced recession.

As prices increase and access to credit is reduced due to rate increases, there may be a negative impact on the ability of Caribbean immigrants to send money back home as household budgets are reduced. Take for example remittances sent to St.Kitts-Nevis. According to data from The World Bank, remittances increased to $36 million in 2007 from $29 million in 2002.  Remittances climbed to $51 million in 2012, but have remained flat into 2017 where the amount of remittances was $53 million. All things being equal, interest rate increases could start sending these numbers in the opposite direction.

Rate increases could make importing products such as food and machinery more expensive for residents of St Kitts-Nevis or other Eastern Caribbean islands. In theory, a rate increase should depreciate the value of the U.S. dollar, making American imports cheaper. Some analysts would argue, however, that higher interest rates would make the American currency more valuable as foreign nationals seek higher yields on their capital and drive up demand for American currency. If the dollar becomes more expensive, the cost of purchasing could go up as well.

According to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency’s World Factbook, 56.8% of St Kitts-Nevis’ imports come from the United States. As American goods become more expensive, St Kitts and other Caribbean countries that are heavily tourist dependent, may have to look for alternative and less expensive sources of food, a search that involves increased transactions costs or bite the bullet of increasing costs of American goods.

My simple take on what a city is

People move to Atlanta for various reasons. An individual may be a recent college graduate that received their first job offer from a company located here. Others are moving here to start a new business or expand an existing one. Some are leaving a traumatic experience that occurred in another city, like death in the family or divorce hoping that Atlanta provides a platform for a new life. Others simply like the weather and the city’s southern charm.

Whatever the reason, I think continued success here needs to be based on a couple realities about cities in general and Atlanta is particular. While we tend to look at a city from a perspective of what can this city do for me, we should round out our perspectives by asking what does this city expect from me? What is its role? To whom do the benefits of a city truly flow?

I admit that my connection to Atlanta is far from emotional. The city doesn’t feed an emotional need for me. While I would not want to live in a town with one traffic light and no movie theater, I don’t rely on a place for happiness.

What I appreciate and do need from a city is its ability to function as a hub for trade. A city should foster an environment that drives thought. It should have the infrastructure that provides an adequate platform for the exchange of ideas. It should, as a community or society, provide a safe environment for exchanging information. Since people are the primary source of information, people should feel safe and secure moving about and engaging with each other.

City governments promote themselves as suppliers of protection and infrastructure for its city’s residents. City governments exercise a near monopoly over protection services, organizing and regulating violence in order to meet their marketing message. I won’t get in to how individuals can and should compete with government to provide these services for themselves, but for now bear in mind that individuals can, but government does its best to dissuade the individual from doing so.

To stay viable as a service provider to taxpayers, city governments are expected to create public policy that supports the city’s function as a trading post in the digital age. For example, reviewing and approving broadband provider requests to use public rights-of-way to lay cable or construct and deploy cell towers in an expedited fashion provides information entrepreneurs increased assurance that they can conduct commerce in the city. It also provides broadband providers assurance that they can maintain returns on their capital while meeting their customers needs.

The city’s other function is that of a tax collector for its investors i.e. bond holders, members and employees of government, income-transfer beneficiaries. It aims to turn every resident into a tax-generating event, whether through the payment of sales taxes, property taxes, or business licenses. By providing infrastructure i.e. cell towers, streets, airports, the city contributes to the increase in the number of information seekers and information providers that trade in its jurisdiction, leading to an increase in entities that pay taxes and the amount of taxes collected.

How does knowing this contribute to your success in Atlanta or any other city? You can best guess the value you are bringing to Atlanta’s table when you understand what is being traded in the city, the information that is being demanded. You can best structure your labor or entrepreneurial activities to meet those trading needs. You become an asset.

Unfortunately, the State will wish to extract a significant portion of your success via income taxes. We’ll save that for another discussion.