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.

Immigrants coming from the Caribbean and Latin America to the United States over the next two years should prepare for a rough patch thereafter.

The International Monetary Fund today released a report describing a robust 2017 and 2018 U.S. economy, but 2019 and 2020 may be brutal for Americans as the economy is expected to taper off during those two years.

First the good news. Growth in gross domestic product was 2.3% in 2017 and is expected to climb by 2.9% in 2018. In 2019, the United States will see a slight tapering off in GDP growth at a growth rate of 2.7%.

Now, the bad news.  By 2020, the next presidential election year, growth will fall off almost abysmally when Americans see a GDP growth rate of 1.9%. It won’t get better in 2021, 2022, or 2023 as the growth rate continues to decline with growth rates projected at 1.7%, 1.5%, and 1.4% respectively.

At first blush the unemployment rates may look good during those periods. For example, by the end of 2017, the unemployment rate was 4.1% which is considered an indicator of an economy at full employment. The numbers, at least on the surface get better. In 2018, unemployment is expected to be at 3.5%, under the historical full employment mark. The U.S. will continue to see low unemployment in 2019(3.5%), 2020(3.4%), 2021(3.5%), 2022(3.7%), and 2023(3.8%); all figures again reflecting full employment.

Now we have to reconcile the low unemployment rate with low GDP growth. I suspect that more members of the tail end of the Baby Boom will contemplate retirement and may opt for leaving the workforce. As more people leave the workforce, all other things remaining equal, the number treated as unemployed also falls. Also, as the population ages, people on fixed incomes will adjust their budgets to reflect their new spending realities. Reduced spending by Baby Boomers will contribute will contribute to the slowdown in growth.

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.

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.

While the economy will be in a sluggish mode, immigrants should be mindful of the social mood. A lot of the animosity toward undocumented immigrants has been tossed at immigrants from Mexico and Central America. Today, media is honing in on the Trump administration’s preferred policy to separate parents attempting to enter the U.S. across its border with Mexico without visas from their children.  I suspect this treatment will be carried out at all points and ports of entry. But given the animosity hurled at immigrants during booming years of an American economy, the social fabric may be a bit worn and the welcome less warm during a sluggish one.

The court in AT&T-Time Warner produces a rule that is overall positive for Caribbean media consumers

Tom Wheeler, former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, told C-SPAN’s Peter Slen on last Monday’s segment of The Communicators that the absence of open internet rules tells content providing internet service providers that they can discriminate and favor their own content.  Mr Wheeler also opined that on 11 June 2018, major local monopolies will be told that it is fair to discriminate. Over time we will see internet services discriminate in a way that benefits their bottom line. Mr Wheeler believed that an AT&T-Time Warner tie-up would present consumers that type of anti-competitive dilemma.

The United States District Court for the District of Columbia disagreed with the former Commission chairman, issuing an opinion yesterday in United States of America v. AT&T, Inc., that says that AT&T Inc.’s acquisition of the media giant did not violate anti-trust law.  Vertical mergers rarely get denied by the courts. Given that AT&T and Time Warner do not play in each other’s space, in my opinion, finding the acquisition to be harmful to consumers would have been a bit much. What I always find fascinating is the expression of entitlement by consumers of media services; as if media consumption and the digital means by which content is consumed is a right.

Take for example the reaction to the merger by a leading member of the Fake Left, Senator Ed Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts:

“This ruling is an assault on consumers, choice, and innovation,” said Senator Markey.  “The telecommunications market needs more competition, not more consolidation. We need a telecommunications market where pay-TV gatekeepers don’t favor their own content providers, but allow minority, diverse, and independent programmers to reach Americans’ screens. I fear this decision will only further fuel merger mania in the telecommunications and other markets.” 

“Today’s decision underscores the need to restore robust net neutrality rules, so broadband providers like AT&T cannot use their gatekeeper role to harm competing services and content. Without net neutrality protections in place, AT&T will be free to block, slowdown, or charge fees to competitors like Netflix and Hulu to favor their own DirecTV Now streaming service and HBO content. Speaker Ryan should schedule an immediate vote on my CRA resolution to restore the FCC’s net neutrality rules.”

Both Mr Wheeler and Mr Markey come around and paint yesterday’s court ruling with the net neutrality brush while at the same time, unwittingly, making the court’s argument: that there should be a showing that this vertical merger would substantially erode competition. Bear in mind that United States of America v. AT&T, Inc. has nothing to do with net neutrality per se, but Mr Wheeler and Mr Markey have opened the conflation door by arguing that application of Title II-based net neutrality rules would mitigate AT&T’s gatekeeper role. This is speculation and fades further when you compare their speculation with the court’s description of how the industry works.

While I found the first 30 or so pages of the opinion to read like a script proposal for a Netflix docu-drama, the court’s description of how the video distribution industry works makes Mr Wheeler and Mr Markey’s assessments sound like paranoia. AT&T has no incentive to hoard content. On the contrary, part of the company’s reason for acquiring Time Warner is to create another stream of revenue: advertising fees. As more consumers cut or shave the cord at home and go mobile, AT&T’s lost subscriber fees must be recovered from other sources. AT&T decided to chase advertisement revenue. Time Warner’s content is traction for advertisement revenue. It is more efficient to get this new content on to as many distributor platforms as possible in order to maximize revenues. This means licensing content to a Netflix or Hulu or even using Time Warner’s production capacity to create content for these other platforms. Blocking or slowing down access to Netflix or Hulu would make no sense because AT&T would risk degrading the value of the content it provides to these platforms as a result of licensing or sales agreements.

Would Title II-based net neutrality rules increase competition in the production and delivery of content? No. Netflix and Hulu were spawned in a light touch, Title II free regulatory zone. They didn’t need permission to create the applications necessary for accessing content. They didn’t need permission to place those applications on the internet. The demand for content comes from consumers and the data on consumer tastes allows Netflix and Hulu to create even better more engaging content. A socialist-style, government approach to dictating how consumers access content and transmit their preferences about content is not what the consumer needs.

This is why the decision in United States of America v. AT&T, Inc., costs me nothing. I am not being compelled to buy content I don’t need because the light touch environment that went back into effect on Monday means that over the top platforms like Hulu and Netflix and the new AT&T will provide me with even more enticing offers to view the edgier content I suspect that will be spawned from competition. Consumers have put content providers and distribution platforms on notice that they can choose providers and distributors at the swipe of a smart phone screen and by allowing vertical mergers and the convergence it spawns, those screens will carry more interesting and diverse content.

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.

America needs a new civil rights paradigm; one that puts the individual first

There is racism in America. America’s institutions were designed to route capital away from various groups based on race. America’s founding was race-based evidenced by a European policy of removal of Native American tribes from ancestral homes in North America where removal was based on a theory of discovery that, on one hand acknowledged the occupancy of America by Native Americans, but on the other hand, chose to abide with what it identified as a global rule where the country discovering the occupied land can declare acquisition by discovery of the occupied land and remove the occupants by force.

Europeans used a similar argument when it entered the African slave trade and removed people from their homes in Africa and transported them to North America. Like the Native American, Africans were given sub-human status justifying their removal as nothing but chattel property for use as unpaid labor.

America’s history is steeped in racism and as part of its redress federal, state, and local governments have embarked on an almost 60-year initiative to guarantee the rights of individuals to receive “equal treatment” by prohibiting discrimination against classes of individuals (race, age, gender, sexual orientation, etc.) who are pursuing certain endeavors, activities, or opportunities including education, employment, housing, borrowing on credit, housing, or voting.

I see two problems with these attempts at redress of wrongs allegedly perpetrated on certain groups. First, there is the total disregard of the individual where civil rights laws attempt to extend the “tyranny of the masses” that is becoming increasingly virulent in democracy. Groups of unknown individuals identified only by the class that they may fall in may now, backed by the force of the State, restrict the ability of the individual or an association of individuals from engaging with who they want or engaging in certain aspects of the market on terms that best serve their individual or group interests.

The second problem, particularly as it involves blacks in America, is that civil rights laws create a reliance on another group’s “safety pin”, a false and dangerous narrative that says that blacks should seek protection from a group whose wealth has been built on a history of systemic and systematic initiatives designed to keep power. There is a fallacy that the group that has kept its boot on the neck of black people is expected to remove the boot solely on the power of morals.  Rather than seek true economic and political empowerment via total independence, the current civil rights framework has the group with the boot creating the framework for redress on its terms while blacks hope and pray that the pressure of the boot is relieved just enough so that they can swallow a couple mouthfuls of fresh air.

Both problems, the attack on the individual’s freedom to disassociate and the lack of empowerment for and among blacks promoted by the civil rights framework, are best addressed by the dismantling of the current framework. Dismantling the framework eradicates the erroneous interpretation of the role of the State as protector of the individual and introduces many blacks to the reality that true empowerment comes from the ability to set your own course toward liberty.

Civil rights is anti-individual and anti-empowerment. The framework must be abandoned. It fosters weakness.

A market-based, voluntary open internet, privacy regime is doable

The best protection on the internet is self-protection and a self-protection regime does not have to be implemented via any additional government rules. Rather, for a subscriber to broadband access services provided by an internet service provider, the subscriber should avail themselves of the opportunity to enter into voluntary agreements as to the level of privacy and open internet protections they wish to purchase. The discussion regarding the confusing legal verbiage of written terms and conditions offered to a broadband access subscriber by an ISP should raise the question, “Would transparency best brought about if negotiation of agreements were more bilateral in nature?”

Before delving in any further to the primary question, let me attempt to dispose of one other question that arose in your mind when I posed the first question. “Do people have time to negotiate an agreement for broadband access services?” My response: “Why not?”

Advocates for net neutrality rules captured in the Federal Communications Commission’ 2015 Open Internet Order argue that broadband is now an essential part of the life of the individual and that today’s economy is robust because of high-speed access to the internet. Broadband access, the advocates would argue, should be treated like a utility service given its importance in sustaining the household.

Some would argue that broadband access does not arrive to the level of human necessity, no matter what a number of international organizations have argued.  Among those in disagreement with the “broadband equal to a utility” argument is FCC member Michael O’Rielly, who on a number of occasions has clearly expressed that people do not need broadband to live.  Mr O’Rielly is not alone in his assessment. His two other Republican colleagues, FCC chairman Ajit Pai and FCC member Brendon Carr also agree that 20th century treatment of a competitive 21st century technology such as broadband should not be regulated as a utility.

But for the sake of argument, let us say that broadband access arises to the level of a utility service. If it is that important to life, why would you not negotiate its terms and conditions?  During a negotiation for broadband access, more than likely the ISP would offer some canned language describing minimum services with a list of add-ons and opt-ins for the subscriber to voluntarily agree to. The ISP may offer different tiers of service where each tier provides various levels of privacy protection, transparency, and options for download and upload speeds. If technology permits, there could even be allowance for traffic from chosen websites that receive priority.

In the end, a subscriber’s willingness and ability to pay for different tiers of service will determine the level and amount of privacy and openness she receives on the internet.

I think an answer from the second question provides an answer to the first. Negotiating terms and conditions of service should lead to more transparency because the consumer had a direct hand in creating her services package.  The subscriber would have first hand knowledge about the amount of privacy protection she has bargained for.  But the direct hand in negotiating agreements requires the subscriber’s willingness to educate herself on how her product works. This is a level of knowledge that consumers fail to obtain because they may consider gaining that knowledge to expensive and time consuming. Hence their love for consumer protection agents. They can punt the responsibility of an alleged important, utility style service to them.

Blacks live in a population, not a community

Black Americans have built their collective around a history of pain and suffering, a misery that a significant portion of the black population have never directly experienced. A part of the reason for the collective mentality stems from being a libations people. Some blacks in America have continued some semblance of the practice of commemorating the ancestors. All groups have some degree of reverence for the elders but I find that blacks in particular take the reverence to another level. Take for example John Lewis, the representative to Congress from Georgia’s 5th district. Mr Lewis, who has served in the U.S. House of Representatives since 1987, rarely fails to remind us of his experiences marching with Dr Martin Luther King. For black Americans to turn Mr Lewis out of office would be sacrilege even though his effective over the years is highly questionable. As a messenger who reminds black Americans of pain and suffering, Mr Lewis is one of many architects of the narrative of a black community.

I have argued before that blacks do not have a community. At the risk of sounding like a fan of “trap music”, the poor and middle-income strata of blacks live in a mental, spiritual, political and economic ghetto where payday lenders, pawn shops, and tax preparers offering advances on internal revenue refunds make up the population’s financial district. Ride on MARTA in Atlanta and you observe that mobile broadband is the low cost digital source of entertainment for blacks in this income bracket. Over-indexed on both mobile broadband and social media, Facebook and Twitter are the databases and noise exchange platforms for the population.

Philosophically, Black Americans view the real world as a hostile place driven by ever present racism and a slave history that white Americans have not yet reconciled with their current privilege. Since this attack is directed at people with dark skin who can trace their lineage to Africa, most reactions from the black population comes from a collectivist albeit not entirely monolithic place.  Blacks feel trapped; they feel under siege.

Notice that I have been using “population” more than the typical word, “community.” Blacks do not have a community. Many view community as a social term. The social taint of the word is secondary. Community is an economic term with the accompanying social ordering of its members based on their contribution to the extraction, organization, and distribution of resources. At the base of a mining community is a mine and surrounding that mine is an ordering of human resources organized in such a way where you recognize leaders and followers; where you can identify where political and economic power is deployed and which classes are exercising what levels and amounts of that power.

It is the social orderings stemming from political and economic power that serve as platforms for a group’s culture, for the groups values as transmitted by the group’s leaders. I don’t see that in the black population.

Didn’t see it in Canarsie or Crown Heights. I haven’t seen it in West End Atlanta. I haven’t seen it in Baltimore. I haven’t seen it in Charlotte Amalie.  I saw populations of black people employed by non-blacks who actually owned the “vibranium.” I don’t see a community.

This lack of community along with the lack of values spawned from political and economic decision- making means, in my opinion, less of a barrier to pursuing individual self-interests.  Claims of community are empty for the black population where so-called community leaders and leading politicians have not been able to make heads or tails out of the centuries old relegation of blacks to the bottom of the political and economic totem pole. This major flaw in the community narrative is the cue for more blacks to “go their own way”, getting away from the false premise that skin color and pain throughout history should be enough to sustain monolithic thinking and poor political and economic gains.