Unlike West African counterparts, Kenya shows appetite for US dollar …

While the US dollar has been declining against a number of currencies, the Kenya shelling does not appear to be one of them, at least during the first week of December. According to data from OANDA, a foreign exchange brokerage, from the period 1 December through 5 December 2020, the Kenya shelling price of a US dollar increased 0.625% from 109.268 KES on 1 December 2020 to 109.951 KES on 5 December 2020. The current Bank of Kenya exchange rate is 1 USD for 111.0618 KES.

The Kenya shilling price for the euro, British pound, and Chinese yuan also increased during the same period. The euro shilling price ticked up from 131.076 KES to 133.253 KES (1.660%). The pound-shilling price advanced 1.0358% from 146.162 KES to 147.676 KES while the Chinese yuan advanced 1.2936% from 16.6311 KES to 16.8665 KES.

The Kenyan central bank’s inter-bank interest rate is 3.96% while the 91-day treasury bill is yielding 6.86%.

High points from Federal Reserve vice-chair Richard Clarida show how Biden will play economy in 2023 …

News and Analysis

Yesterday, vice-chairman of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve, Richard Clarida, reiterated the Federal Reserve’s call for continued stimulus spending to reboot an American economy severely slowed down by a government-ordered commercial lockdown resulting from efforts to stem the virality of Covid-19. In describing combined fiscal and monetary efforts to reboot the economy, Mr Clarida shared the following:

“Although spending on many services continues to lag, the rebound in the GDP data has been broad based across indicators of goods consumption, housing, and investment. These components of aggregate demand have benefited from robust fiscal support—including the Paycheck Protection Program and expanded unemployment benefits—as well as low interest rates and efforts by the Federal Reserve to sustain the flow of credit to households and firms. In the labor market, about half of the 22 million jobs that were lost in the spring have been restored, and the unemployment rate has fallen since April by nearly 7 percentage points to 7.9 percent as of September.”

Mr Clarida challenged naysayers who had argued that interest rate cuts, asset purchases, and loan programs would not facilitate growth in gross domestic product by reminding them that the unemployment rate has fallen almost seven percentage points since April and that the labor market has replaced almost half of the 22 million jobs lost last spring. But even at this rate of progress, Mr Clarida made it clear that it may take another year before the American economy gets back to its previous 2019 peak.

The Federal Reserve’s decision to modify its inflation target policy, where inflation may be allowed to run moderately over two percent and federal funds rates remaining relatively unchanged (0 to .25%) over the next three years, is expected to result in an unemployment rate of four percent and inflation returning to two percent.

Assuming the polls hold and Joe Biden is able to take over the Oval Office on 20 January 2021, a first glance expectation is that Mr Biden will pursue spending bills that, in addition to increases in transfer payments, will increase pools of public capital available for access by private firms or private-public partnerships. Mr Biden’s “Build Back Better” initiative appears, in theory, to call for creating these opportunities.

One potential area for increasing pools of public capital is the financing of energy infrastructure projects. According to language from his campaign platform:

“Biden will immediately invest in engines of sustainable job creation – new industries and re-invigorated regional economies spurred by innovation from our national labs and universities; commercialized into new and better products that can be manufactured and built by American workers; and put together using feedstocks, materials, and parts supplied by small businesses, family farms, and job creators all across our country.”

Mr Biden may not have much re-creating the wheel to do. The United States Department of Energy has a number of financing programs in place that can be used to finance these endeavors. For example, the federal government offers what it calls a “Small Business Toolbox” that helps small businesses, no matter their experience level with government contracting, navigate the requirements for financing.

Mr Biden will have to finance these procurement programs so that these programs can turn around and finance the private companies ready to carry out the federal government’s energy infrastructure agenda. If the Federal Reserve remains on its modified inflation glide path, Mr Biden will have three fiscal years of low interest rates to borrow the funds necessary for his energy infrastructure plans and create the collateral employment of labor that may come along with it.

Mr Biden is likely praying that the “blue wave” narrative, where the Democratic Party sweeps the White House and the Congress, comes to fruition in November. With both chambers of Congress under Democratic control, there may be greater ease at delivering the necessary government financing for his initiatives. If he learned anything from the Obama administration’s first term in office, it is the need to move fast during his first two years to secure the necessary spending bills.

If Mr Biden does not get the “blue wave” then he will have to apply his ‘across the aisle” skills to get Republican senators to buy into his infrastructure plan.

Meanwhile, America is going through a structural employment shift, one that many wage earners will not recover from. Shrinking tax bases due to lower labor force participation and increased tax bills for those who are still working but making less money doth not make a certain second term.

The COVID/AI Era of Law …

For five months now, the United States has been in lock-up.  One of the ugliest hashtags I have seen and heard used is #AloneTogether.  At first it reads like an oxymoron.  If we are alone, how can we be together.  It sounds like the status of the last few years of my first marriage.  Sharing space with an energy pulling against you is draining.

The COVID-19 pandemic may be casting a new meaning on that phrase.  If you have the misfortune of having to share more time in energy draining space with a spouse that you are considering divorcing, #AloneTogether may be the last rallying cry before calling a divorce attorney.

Technology may also impact how we view the phrase.  Zoom calls and TEAMS meetings are a growing part of the workplace lexicon.  The spaces that we enjoyed being alone in at home have become offices and digital conference rooms where everything from sales pitches to digital happy hours are taking place.

For the extra sensitive, walking down a sidewalk and observing people take the extra precaution of taking a wider berth around you while hindering their own breathing by wearing a mask can be disconcerting.  The slightest attempts at saying “hello” or “good morning” are increasingly avoided because of fear that the slightest exhale from a fellow human may lead to a 14-day quarantine or time in a hospital on a ventilator.

In theory, the state quasi-mandated environment of staying away from each other should result in a reduction in analog contacts as our world goes increasingly digital.  Hard for kids to get into school fights when kids are at home distance learning.  Tough to get in a shouting match with a restaurant cashier over an order when Uber Eats, Grub Hub, or Door Dash is picking up your food.

There will be controversies; they will continue.  We are humans, taking conflict to levels that exceed what other lifeforms endure.  Legal philosophy should have us asking “Why are we engaging?” or “What is engagement?”.  Society will have to come up with tweaks to the rules for human engagement in a digital age where a corona virus is forcing on a global scale the reconstruction of society.  Should judges have to consider new threshold principles before trying to apply statutes, laws, rules, code, from a pre-COVID, non-artificial intelligence world to an issue before them arising out of a digital environment?  Will we need a new definition for personal spaces? For zones of danger?

In the area of political law how we structure political engagement and eventually the rules for engagement are already taking on a new twist.  For example, the recent squabble in the United States over funding for the U.S. Postal Service appears to be a result of the controversy over the use of mail-in ballots and the possibility of mail fraud.  As I ponder these questions, I suspect that new legal principles will appear as COVID-19 continues to change how we address the question of whose rule should prevail during political conflict.

What does the narrative of fair trade with China mean?

This morning I watched the Fox Business Network‘s Mornings with Maria.  They have been featuring news clips of an interview that U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had with host Maria Bartiromo where he criticizes China’s trade policy toward the United States and warns Americans of the Chinese intent to steal American intellectual property and Americans’ personal information.  The United States has been making it clear for years that it is unhappy with what it describes as an imbalance in trade between the two nations.

China has a potentially large consumer market, its emergence stymied in part to its current status as a creditor nation where it finances other nations, including the United States versus living off of the dead aid provided by western nations as part of their policy of noblesse oblige toward emerging, lesser developed countries.  In addition, given its growing economic power, it is easily in a position to influence economic affairs in southeast Asia.  As a provider of inexpensive telecommunications equipment it has been able to enter Europe’s telecommunications market providing competition for American made telecommunications products.

But at the heart of the American narrative may be the fear that the Anglo-American world view or philosophy is being challenged by an alternative Chinese view that, if not held under control, will replace the Anglo view thus making the current American narrative on political economy i.e. the greatness of the republican form of government combined with a free market, less attractive for leadership in other nations to use the American model for governing their domestic and foreign trade affairs.

Pompeo and other American leaders have been using the media to signal to Americans that China’s actions are a threat to the American economy thus a threat to the American way of life.  I can see the broad strokes.  For example, if China continues to lock the US out of additional trading opportunities in China and can price the US out of European and other Asian technology and manufacturing markets, America’s wealth and trade influence would shrink and the US would be forced to become more self-reliant.  America, facing a challenged supply chain, would see shortages and increasing prices for goods and services thus the threat to the American way of life.

Pompeo also describes China’s activity as a threat to American democracy.  That threat I don’t buy into and I see it more as a jingoistic ploy than anything else.  Democracy refers to a citizen’s ability to participate in the process whereby political leaders are selected.  Pompeo has yet to state his case in a cogent manner.  He has insinuated that China has deployed an influence campaign targeting voters and elected officials alike but has provided no specifics.

In addition, the terms fairness and balance are continuously uttered, likely part of the jingoism campaign, as Americans tend to conflate fairness and balance with democracy.  A fair and balanced trade relationship between two countries has nothing to do with how the leaders in each respective country are chosen.  Americans should be asking themselves and their leaders why connecting these points creates such a sound political narrative that US electorate would have no other choice but to support any legal initiatives or actions that promote escalated tensions.

And the legal actions and initiatives are being turned up.  The Justice Department recently told PBS News that 60% of its trade cases are against China and that its actions against China are more in line with stopping illegal activity versus expressing an intellectual bias.

I see law as the codification of an originating philosophy transmitted via a narrative and  refined by politics and policy.  What is missing here is the jurisprudence.  For the citizen to properly understand the government’s legal actions against China trade policy, the focus has to come off of messages that conflate democracy, fairness, and balance, and look for the philosophy that is being promoted.  Conflation promoted by government officials should open up the citizens’ minds to questions about the mismatch between the politics, the policy, and the messaging.

Getting to the why is critical.

Watching “X-Men: Days of Future Past” through the civil rights movement’s civil war …

I have heard some commenters refer to Stan Lee’s “X-Men” as a treatment of the civil rights movement of the 1960s.  I have never taken to the comparison of black people to “mutants.”  While I acknowledge that Mr Lee may have had a noble cause in starting a discussion on equality, diversity, and the inclusion of different cultures, ethnicities, and creeds into the American melting pot, but to be likened to a plant or animal with inheritable characteristics that differ from those of the parents, leads to questions such as, “Did Mr Lee and the good people at Marvel take a look at the definition?” “Who exactly are the parents that blacks differ from?” “Should we get rid of our inherited and unique characteristics in order to be equal?”

I won’t harp on the above questions too much because for the average movie goer the bandwidth may not be available for considering such social questions beyond the need just to get away and watch an exciting movie for a couple hours.  On the other hand, anyone who has read the comics as a kid or has delved deeply into the Marvel Cinematic Universe tends not to be too put off by the social observations.  Besides, lasting imagery and coming away from each viewing having observed different angles on the characters or the message are characteristics that push a movie toward the classic realm.

I hadn’t seen “X-Men: Days of Future Past in a couple years so revisiting it tonight on the FX channel gave me a chance to go a little deeper into the messaging.  The story was set in two time periods: in 1973 with the central event being the Paris peace talks to bring the Vietnam war to an end; and fifty years later where mutants are brought to the brink of extinction by an army of mechanical sentinels.  The X-Men must reach back telepathically to the past to stop an event that that, if left unchecked, will contribute to the start of the global war on mutants.

Three principal characters stood out such that they caused me to unpack the possible civil rights connection.  “Charles Xavier”, played by Patrick Stewart and James McAvoy; “Erik Lensherr”, played by Ian McKellen and Michael Fassbender; and “Raven Darkholme”, played by Jennifer Lawrence.  Charles Xavier and Erik Lensherr are trying to prevent Raven Darkholme from killing the man who would eventually create the sentinels responsible for near annihilation of mutants.  Raven represented to me the militant arm of the civil rights movement, an arm led by leaders such as Stokely Carmichael, Huey Newton, and Bobby Seale.  Raven, at one point during the story, expresses to Charles her anger and disappointment stemming from his apparent abandonment of his fellow mutants particularly during the period of crisis where mutants were facing an existential threat. This anger and disappointment was also expressed by the more militant arm of the civil rights movement where they saw the non-violent, peace first approach of leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King as ineffective.

I saw Charles as representing the more moderate arm of the civil rights movement.  He did not see violence as the way to forge any peace with non-mutants but did not display to me any naivete of kumbaya and hand holding with non-mutants.  Charles’ preferable approach was to connect all mutants and teach them how to see themselves as great individuals.  While it could be easy to liken him to a Dr. King, Charles’ realism kept him slightly to the right of Dr. King.

Erik was the separatist. And yes, the civil rights movement did have separatists most notably Malcolm X.  Erik’s degree of pragmatism altered with changes in the facts on the ground.  He would have gladly took up arms against non-mutants, but if Raven’s assassination attempt today meant extinction of mutants tomorrow, then neutralizing Raven in the short term in order to secure a separate but strong mutant nation in the long run was the logical play.

This to me has always been the beauty of the science fiction/fantasy genre.  It provides an alternative backdrop for taking a look at ourselves.  The “X-Men” movie franchise has been able to paint that canvas by using the time machine and taking us back to the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, using events from those decades to provide us with teachable insights.  Using mutants as an analogy for race is not perfect.  As I discussed earlier I don’t particularly care for it and I would digress a bit and say I don’t care for the term “race” either, but in this specific space it works.

There is no such thing as economic equality

“Who is creating equal. I’m trying to find the equation.” — Louie Bagz

Byron Allen, a black billionaire media business owner, appeared on Fox Business News today sharing his insights on economic equality.  Economic equality has been one of the major topics during the last five or six weeks since the death of George Floyd last May.  At first glance, you could argue that Mr Floyd’s death had nothing to do with economics and that the media’s highlighting of the plight of black people in the American economy is another angle to either drive up ratings by keeping the story hot or to keep the American public distracted from other undercurrents.  Frankly I think it’s a bit of both.  Conflating an economic argument with an act of horrific brutality gives Emmy and Pulitzer chasing journalists something more to talk about.

On the flip side, you can make an argument that Mr Floyd’s death was related to economics based on an economic decision he made that tragically led to his death.  Mr Floyd was trying to make a purchase with a counterfeit twenty-dollar bill.  Somewhere in his decision matrix he concluded that his optimal currency for use in exchange for some other good or service was a dollar bill not recognized as legal tender in the United States.

But currency connotes more than just money in circulation.  The amount of currency one is in possession of transmits a message about the value that an individual brings to market.  Is this individual willing and able to pay for goods and services that I have in my inventory such that I am willing and able to supply such goods and services?  In Mr Floyd’s case that value, at that moment in time, may have been zero.  But did that necessarily mean he was not economically equal to the merchant he wanted to trade with or anyone else for that matter?  I would argue no for the simple reason that there is no such thing as economic equality.

Let’s first define “economic.”  Economic, which is derived from “economy”, entails the management of income and production.  To be economic is to derive and apply certain rules regarding the management of resources in order to achieve some targeted income or production goal.  An economy is a system of rules or decision-making matrices that determine how wealth and income are to be distributed and how production is to be managed.

“Equality” is to do or to make something equal.  Two or more items are said to be equal when they are of the same quantity, size, or value.  Two or more individuals may be considered equal where they have the same abilities, rights, or rank.  But can Mr Floyd’s decision-making matrix be equal to mine?  Would his approach to deciding between producing more bread versus producing more wine equally reflect mine? For the simple reason that no two people are alike I would conclude that economic equality does not exist because no two economic decision-making systems for income, output, and wealth are alike or can be alike.

Can we find economic equality on a macro or national level?  Specifically, can we find economic equality between Anglo-Americans and Afro-Americans?  Again, just like on the individual level, you won’t find the non-existent.  Anglo-Americans, as a collective, follow the rules of income, wealth, and production as determined by a minority made up of political, banking, and religious elites for the benefit of the masses to the extent sharing those benefits with the masses protects the interests of the elite.  After acquiring by force land, minerals, and waterways, Anglo-Americans were able to apply technology and free labor to build an economy and refine a political economy that applied rules of wealth distribution for its people.

Afro-Americans were not at the table when the rules of acquisition and distribution were made.  You cannot enjoy economic equality when you were never the author of the economy’s rules.

But even if Afro-Americans had garnered a sufficient amount of land and other resources such that they could design their own economy, would there be “economic equality”?  I would argue no because differences in lineage, history, environment, and values, to name a few characteristics, would likely create a decision matrix different to those of Anglo-America.  Even if per capita production and quality of goods and services were on par, I would argue that because of the difference in decision rules, both economies would not be equal.

And would it necessarily be a bad thing if both groups were not economically equal where each group decided via its own standards how best to distribute income and wealth?

Public policy should encourage banking to go back to its roots: financing commerce while supporting high yield…

The unbanked are unbanked because they have nothing to bank.  In a nation driven by capital formation and returns on capital, focusing on the unbanked seems like putting the horse before the carrot.  The American Treasury Department and the central bank should be focusing public policy on encouraging capital formation and generating high yield.  Nothing in the U.S. Constitution says that consumers should be encouraged to borrow or that banks should be obliged to lend to the consumer class.

Political responses such as the Community Reinvestment Act, the Dodd-Frank Act, or the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Board cater to voters but overlook the need for encouraging the accumulation of capital goods necessary for driving the American economy.

More importantly, political responses mentioned above serve to incentivize consumers to enslave themselves to credit even while the last four decades have seen real wages go stagnant.  The political class on the left is quick to leave out consumers’ complicity in the financial downturn of 2007-2009 where consumers were encouraged to borrow against their shrinking means to repay.  Consumers do not need protection from banks.  We need our mindsets redirected in our approach to banking.

Each household needs to rebuild their capital buffer.  It is easier said than done especially in a transition period where the timeline for capital’s replacement of labor with automation and artificial intelligence is being sped up.  Not only is more work being done from home but businesses are determining whether the benefits of keeping employees at home outweigh the costs of bringing them back in-house.  A number of employers have been transparent with updating employees on their engagement with companies offering AI-driven resources that increase efficiency.  Larger companies are partnering with technology companies whose mission is to reduce the time employees spend on certain tasks.  These are threats to labor and income and in this environment not only is the consumer tasked with increasing household capital formation but with seeking additional or alternative opportunities that provide for increases in income, savings, and investment.

One way, in my opinion, to increase capital while deriving additional income is for public policy to encourage high yield on capital.  The consumer who flips her mindset from shopper to investor needs an environment where her savings can accumulate at a faster rate; where higher residuals can be reinvested into her principal holdings and create appreciation.  Public policy should support full employment of capital and maximum prices for capital. How does the US get there?

One way to get there is for banks to abandon their risk-based interest rate pricing model, where higher interest rates is the price that riskier customers must pay for borrowed funds.  Rather, banks should abandon consumer lending altogether.  Lending money to a consumer in a stagnant income, labor replaced by automation environment so that the consumer can build a deck, finish a basement, or send a kid to school is what I call low value enterprise lending where the loan is being applied to a consumer’s wage income versus residuals the asset provides.

Instead, interest rates should reflect the competition between borrowers seeking to demonstrate their enterprise ideas will provide the greatest returns to capital and equity.  High interest rates should not be charged because of a high risk of failure.  Rather, high rates should be charged because where the lender sees high returns to equity in the enterprise, the lender seeks to capture some of that value.

Banks, then, should abandon consumer lending and put energy and resources into commercial or merchant banking.  Consumer involvement in banking should be limited to establishing savings or investment accounts with banks or owning stocks in banks.

Again, the upside from this model for banks, a focus on lending to merchants that leverage real assets to make income.  The upside for the consumer is less borrowing and more investing thus greater capital formation.  Also, the consumer may learn how to plan purchases over a long term versus seeking the psychic value of getting something now and paying for it later.  For example, a consumer may put away cash over some determined period of time to purchase that new deck without having to burden themselves with debt.

Or, a consumer may seek out a group of private consumer lenders who are not connected to the banking system thus reducing the chances of shock to the system should a borrower renege on a loan.  They will be forced to rely on the courts, lawyers, and mediators for resolving any conflicts with private lenders.

 

 

Identifying the economic value within the African Diaspora and designing currency to transmit it …

Today while waiting for a haircut, a lovely young lady, who was waiting on her companion, asked me if I was a professor.  I was caught off guard by the question for it seemed almost prescient in nature.  I had been an adjunct professor back in Maryland, I told her.  She then asked if I had been on television. Again I informed her that I had made two appearances on a business news channel.  I expected the exchange to end there since her companion was finished with his haircut, but fortunately the conversation did not end there.  She proceeded to ask my opinion about the current state of the economy as it impacted black people.  I was happy to oblige since the topic was interesting and yes, when you get to engage a very attractive woman on the state of the political economy (underscore very attractive), you don’t pass it up.

The conversation turned to whether African Diaspora communities could use their own currency.  My answer was yes, but to get there we have to first identify a resource that could be used to generate an underlying value for the currency.  A true community is built on a resource the extraction, processing, and distribution of which leads to an industry that generates the income necessary for sustaining the communities members.

Second, there has to be a banking/financing resource in place to convert the assets of the underlying resource into loanable funds.

Right now we have very little of the above two components.  For example, Africans in America hold very little of its capital.  By some estimates, Africans in America hold approximately two percent of total capital in the United States. In addition, consider farm holdings by Africans in America.  Africans in America hold approximately two percent of all farms in the United States, according to the website ShoppeBlack.us.

Compounding the farmland problem is the lack of strong financial infrastructure through which not only lending can be accomplished but also trade in the securities that have underlying them black farm output.  There are approximately 45 black-owned farms located in 20 U.S. states.  There are, however, 14 black owned banks located in eleven states to support these farms.  It is a strong financial infrastructure that provides funding for land acquisition, seed, and new equipment and the current black owned facilities for lending are not enough.

Money is created when loaned funds for land acquisition, seed, and equipment are placed in a farmer’s checking account.  At this point black-owned banks could issue currency distributed by the Federal Reserve or create its own currency where a special currency is designed to be used by black farmers and any other industries related to or depending on black-owned farms including black-owned suppliers, black-owned restaurants, black-owned pharmacies and wellness stores, etc.

There is theory and there is application. With one to two trillion dollars in output, Africans in America could invest in more farmland while expanding their financial infrastructure in order to support lending, securitization of debt, and issuance of their own debt.  Where more land is not available, the next move may have to be the cultivation of intellectual capital and thus make greater inroads into the creative industry space.

On the other hand, Africans in America, rather than trying to replicate the existing model, may have to consider a completely new model for generating and trading currency, one where the resource is unique to and managed solely by Africans in America.