Competition was never about protecting consumers.

I became suspect of the “competition protects consumer” narrative way back in 1987. In the spring of that year I started work part-time at a gas station. On the first day my manager explained to me how the gas station determined its gas prices. I told him I was under the impression that the station used some type of mathematical pricing formula ala what I learned in college as an economics major. “Bless” his heart. I can still see the look on his face when I laid that “what I learned in the classroom” nonsense on him. “No”, he said. “That’s not how you do it. What you do is each morning look across the street and see what the other station is charging and then change our prices to reflect theirs.”

It was a rude awakening for a 23-year old: that the theoretical stuff you learned as an undergrad was so much nonsense. That consumers of gas station fuel were being taken on a roller coaster ride of gas pricing based on what the gas station across the street was charging.

Of course, there are other factors that contribute to the changes in gasoline prices at the pump; the supply of oil, the price of a barrel of oil, decisions by oil supplying cartels, i.e. OPEC, the barriers to entering the local retail gas market, and regulations against price gouging. If local regulations allowed more retail gas operations to enter the market, in theory prices should fall. And if antitrust rules are enforced, retailers would be prohibited from acting in concert to raise prices. For the past 130 years this alleged consumer centric view of competition has dominated economic and legal thinking. As Americans left the farm and moved to the city, their self-reliance values were replaced by consumerist values. Americans became targets for a progressive philosophy that replaced self-reliance with the narrative of government protection. Trusts, large monopoly firms, had to be broken up to ensure that the emerging consumer class was not taken advantage of via high prices or low quality of services. “Competition” was to be the rallying cry.

But is competition as we know it today realistic or just a coopting of a term for political gain? What are firms really competing for and who does the promotion of competition actually benefit? In a corporate-capitalist system, analysis of any economic issue should begin with a question concerning the preferences of those holding capital. The entrepreneur and investor choose an activity that may result in increasing the amount of capital they hold at the end of the day. For the investor in particular she is concerned not primarily with consumer choice but with the ability of her capital to be placed and optimized in as many markets via as many opportunities as possible.

For the holder of capital, real competition is synonymous to the wealthy person in the Book of Matthew who gave his serfs a certain amount of talents and required that each one of them maximize returns on those talents. He wanted them to compete with each other like an episode from “The Highlander” with the victor receiving a portion of the returns in exchange for the labor they expended in generating those returns.

And the consumer’s role in this vendor competition? Simply, the consumer’s role is to be “coined.” Once the consumer gave up their willingness to be self-reliant, he put himself at the mercy of the entrepreneur and the investor. The consumer protection narrative is designed to ensure his comfort with exchanging personal and economic liberty with the convenience of having his needs provided by the capitalist. The illusion of choice makes him available for exploitation in the vendor competition scenario. The greater the number of consumers available for exploitation, the greater the opportunity for the entrepreneur to demonstrate to capital that it has the ability to maximize returns on and to capital. For the investor, this means that the larger the number of consumers, the more the market can be segmented and greater segmentation creates greater opportunities for creating monopolies within sub-markets. A monopoly structure leads, per microeconomic theory, to opportunities to increase prices. Contrary to the progressive narrative that a competitive market structure is the most desirable, a monopoly market structure is the ideal for entrepreneur and investor.

Consumer protection is valid only to the extent that it makes a buyer available for entrepreneur and investor exploitation. To limit the level of exploitation, the consumer should pursue self-reliance in as many areas of economic life as possible. It will require embracing more inconvenience in return for more peace and liberty.

Can Blacks use the law of discovery to carve out new territory and capital?

One of the failures of black leadership is its unwillingness to pursue a truly self-interested agenda for the people they allegedly represent. The current narrative of assimilation does not work. It puts blacks in an unequal and weak position compared to whites and other non-white populations who have pursued a capital acquisition policy first versus a political empowerment/assimilation approach still preferred by most blacks. It never discusses in any significant way the acquisition of productive capital around which communities can be built. Rather, the assimilationist argument centers on fluffy subjects such as social justice, membership of degreed blacks on the boards of white-owned corporations, and affirmative action in the workplace and in colleges and universities.

To be fair, a number of grass roots advocates do bring up the topic of access to capital by black-owned firms, but the problem is that business capital, whether in the form of loanable funds or equity investment is small compared to the number of black businesses in need of funding. Also, there is the risk that terms and conditions underlying the funding of black enterprise firms may not representative of the black population primarily because the boards that direct these underwriters are probably not members of the community in the first place. Just take a look at the names and faces of the members of the typical executive committee or board of directors and you see my point.

Blacks, as a people, simply are not calling their own shots. If you listen to the rhetoric of current black political leaders, liberty and freedom as it pertains to capital, are not a part of the lexicon. Black political leadership is more concerned with keeping blacks available to vote for white Democratic Party candidates as opposed to self-reliance. Probably in the minds of black political leadership, self-reliance would be akin to self-determination or nationalism and these leaders are afraid that such an approach would sever their attachment to America. But the attachment to America is false one, as I have argued before, because blacks did not come here voluntarily and apply the law of discovery.

To summarize Chief Justice John Marshall, the European came to North America but while acknowledging its Native American occupants, the law of discovery, of showing up first, gave title to the country making the discovery. That Native Americans were there first was irrelevant. Once, say England, made its discovery of what would later become the United States, it created a title that excluded claims by any other European power. Establishing this “title” over the land meant of course establishing control over its natural resources; land, air, water, minerals, the stuff that supports production, transportation, communications, energy generation and distribution.

To the activities that land, water, air, minerals, paid, indentured, and enslaved labor supported, the European was able to attach “coin”; to monetize. He would later create a centralized banking system to underwrite his government’s issue of debt as well as serve as the lender of last resort to commercial banks. The European’s financial system would, in conjunction with public sector investment, underwrite technological innovations that would further spur the design and production of consumer goods and services.

Blacks have been left largely out of the ownership of productive capital in the American political economy and as I have discussed in previous posts, it is too late and probably impractical to attempt any action under the laws of discovery for the purpose of acquiring the natural resources that underpin an economy that would support 43 million people on a self-sustainable, self-reliant way. But I do not think this is impossible.

Cyberspace provides “territory” that blacks can conquer and extract capital from. From the time I immigrated to the mainland I have always believed that blacks had the intellectual resources to construct their own vibrant economy. It boils down to a willingness of the black population to use broadband technology to connect to and import resources from outside of the United States and mixing those resources with the access to land, air, minerals, and water that blacks have here in the United States. It means the black population using its engineering skills to build a renewable energy infrastructure that provides electricity to its population. It means building communications networks using unlicensed to spectrum to tie black households to basic services. It means using the black population’s legal talent to advocate for laws that protect the importation of items into the United States that can be processed by plants designed and built in the U.S. by black engineers. It means using financial talent to reinvest these proceeds back into the black population and further growing its resources and income.

The great thing about applying the “law of discovery” to cyberspace is that no one has to be kicked out or enslaved. There is still plenty of territory to carve up; to reverse colonize but this time with equitable results.

What Woodrow Wilson left out of the definition of public administration: capital

Back in 1887, Woodrow Wilson wrote an essay on the importance of the study of administration of government. Mr. Wilson, who would go on to become president of the United States, is usually referred to as the father of public administration. By his definition:

“Administration is the most obvious part of government; it is government in action; it is he executive, the operative, the most visible side of government, and is of course as old as government itself. It is the object of administrative study to discover, first, what government can properly and successfully do, and secondly, how it can do these things with the utmost efficiency and the least possible cost either of money or of energy.”
Other scholars have offered their tweaks on the definition. Charles H. Levine, B. Guy Peters, and Frank J. Thompson define public administration as:

“[T]he implementation of government policy and an academic discipline that studies this implementation and that prepares civil servants for this work.” It is “centrally concerned with the organization of government policies and programs as well as the behavior of officials (usually non-elected) formally responsible for their conduct.”

George J. Gordon and Michael E. Milakovich define public administration as:

“… all processes, organizations, and individuals (the latter acting in official positions and roles) associated with carrying out laws and other rules adopted or issued by legislatures, executives, and courts.”

And Melvin J. Dubnick and Barbara S. Romzek provide the following take on this branch of political science:

“The practice of public administration involves the dynamic reconciliation of various forces in government’s efforts to manage public policies and programs.”

Looking back on my public administration studies and my time as a practitioner, I can say that the above definitions capture the various facets of the discipline; that academics and practitioners do not vary much from these definitions when either studying the administration of public policy or carrying out public policy and managing institutional systems. The problem, however, with the study and practice of public administration in a market-oriented political economy is that the study of public administration rarely if ever addresses public administration’s impact on private capital, specifically, how management of public capital positively impacts returns to private capital.

In getting to his description of public versus private capital, Thomas Piketty first describes national capital “as the total market value of everything owned by the residents and government of a given country at a given point in time, provided it can be traded on some market.” National wealth includes land, dwellings, commercial inventory, other buildings, machinery, infrastructure, patents, bank accounts, mutual funds, stocks, bonds. Mr Piketty found that public capital or public wealth are assets and liabilities held by government and other social entities including towns and other social insurance agencies while private capital or wealth is made up of assets and liabilities held by individuals.

One question that public administration does not address is how best to deploy public capital to boost returns to private capital. While there is literature discussing how public sector spending can boost gross domestic product or even productivity, the study of public administration silos itself by discussing fiscal policy, infrastructure, and public goods, and leaving the discussion of private capital to the markets.

Why is this discussion necessary? Public sector spending needs discipline. How many of us have asked the federal government to provide a cost analysis of each tax dollar we spend and then provide some data on returns on that tax dollar? I wager none. But if public spending on the public goods that act as inputs for private sector production was done at low cost to the tax payer while providing a low cost input for the private sector, could public administration play a more meaningful role in the production of returns on private capital?

It is a question worth pursuing.

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.

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.

 

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.

Capital, technology, social media, & fake connection

Capital uses technology to create a singularity in the individual. This process toward “self-actualization” is the wrong one because the journey to self has nothing to do with technology or capital.
 
The downside of using technology to create a singularity is that as part of validating its use, technology markets itself to the masses as a way of creating a collective consciousness, a fake singularity.
 
I call it fake because trying to create a oneness with multiple, diverse, un-self actualized minds is dangerous and only leads to narcissism on steroids. It is the mistake that liberals, for example, have been making for the last 130 years of political history in the United States. One need only look at social media and see the effects.
 
Meanwhile, the masses, believing they are creating some good through collective behavior are merely being used by the few that herd them up into single-minded, over-emotional mania.
 
Eventually this fake singularity collapses on itself with violent repercussions as all shifts in mass political behavior eventually does as this fake singularity is exposed for what it truly is; a distraction.
 
What are the masses being distracted from? The fact that progressives have learned how to hoard and leverage inside information, move to urban centers, monetize this inside information, and raise rents on the poor, forcing the poor to move to lower quality areas.
 
Meanwhile, rich, liberal urbanites become more “singular” meaning less diverse as they show their true value system, one that was never built on diversity, but where a diversity narrative was merely used as a Trojan Horse that allowed them to infiltrate minority communities and run out people that neither look, act, or think like them.
 
Atlanta, Manhattan, San Francisco. We see it, but cognitive dissonance allows us to ignore it. The fake singularity has no room for an organic collective.