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.

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.

Politicians need to familiarize themselves with the new face of labor new technology has created

Too many politicians have been emphasizing employment in the area of technology and not paying enough attention to how technology has changed society and, in some ways, contributes to further divides in society. Nor are politicians demonstrating an understanding of the basic technological platform that underlies the economy and how this platform is evolving in order to produce at increasing efficiencies and higher returns on capital.

The Third Industrial Revolution described by thought drivers such as Jeremy Rifkin encompasses an integration of communications, energy, and transportation networks running on top of the internet of things. The internet of things is a digital world where it is projected in 12 years that 100 billion devices will be connected not just to the internet but to each other.  But this revolution is more than connectivity; it is about productivity and explaining the impact of greater productivity to the voter will be the tricky part for incumbent politicians and new entrants alike.

For example, the Trump Effect post the 2016 general election where markets responded positively to Mr Trump’s election was based on expected deployment of new transportation, energy, and communications infrastructure along with increased gross domestic output and incomes. The technology sector has been an overall darling of the market and politicians have been quick to tout the low hanging fruit of innovative new technology as a potential driver of economic growth.  And the numbers seem to support technology’s prominence.

American Entrepreneurship reported last March that since 2010, employment in the technology sector has expanded by 200,000 jobs annually. Approximately 11.5 million workers are employed by the tech sector, contributing $1.6 trillion to United States gross domestic product. Demand for tech workers is outstripping supply.

But even as demand for technology workers remains strong, the manufacturing sector, the one Mr Trump touts a lot on the continuous campaign stump, is seeing less hiring and ironically increased productivity. Pew Research reports that real employment in manufacturing fell from approximately 17.5 million in 1987 to 12.4 million in 2017, a decrease of 29%. During the same period, the real productivity index for manufacturing increased 81%.

Should politicians spend time providing workers a more balanced picture of the economy by educating workers on the need to pursue skillsets necessary for higher paying tech jobs? Yes, especially if they want to distinguish themselves as more trustworthy and knowledgeable about the economy than their opponent.

Properly educating the American worker (and hopefully garnering more votes as a consequence) will require politicians to explain the “productivity paradox.” In an article posted on Vox.com, Timothy B. Lee explains why the increase in innovation is apparently accompanied by a decrease in productivity. As technology innovates rapidly, progress is made in producing cheaper versions of items that have existed for decades. These items become more abundant with the savings eventually spent on more personal services items, items that are produced in slower growth industries.  Ironically, wages in these personal services areas, such as health care, child care, education, consulting, etc., trend upwards. A smaller number of producers will provide the nation’s material goods while slow growth industries take up a larger share of the national economy.

So, although productivity in manufacturing is increasing, the former factory worker will have to start looking for jobs in the slower growth areas of health, education, child care, and other personal services.  Had Republicans been frank during the 2016 campaign about the changes new technology is creating in the labor market, they would have been able to better neutralize criticisms from the left that current policies from the Trump administration are hurting the very people who voted for him. It is probably too late to make corrections to the lack of messaging on technology to avoid losses in the upcoming midterms but adjusting the narrative right after the midterm elections would be wise.

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.

Learning how to disconnect from the State’s political noise

It has been two months now since I got rid of cable. The noise out of Washington has gotten to be a bit much. Americans appear to be ever increasingly losing their minds over the man sitting in the Oval Office. In less than three years his critics in the electorate will have an opportunity to enter a ballot box near them and vote for someone else.

If engagement in the ballot box and with C-SPAN’s Washington Journal were so fruitful we would have less tension or at least fewer reports on Donald Trump. Social media would be quieter or at least focused on something hopefully less mind numbing (I know that’s a lot of hope.)

As the good people at Reason.com reported back in 2012, one’s vote, in the end doesn’t matter. Given that voting is about the most active political engagement most Americans will engage in, voting amounts to a colossal waste of time.  Citing work done by the National Bureau of Economic Research, of the one billion votes cast in 40,000 legislative elections between 1898 and 2001, only seven contests were decided by a single vote. There are higher payoffs from just about any other activity than voting.

And what does government provide that we feel so emotionally invested in calling each other names, not speaking to each other, or worse, unfriending people on Facebook? Not much for our tax dollar.

For example, do you like the state of your roads or other infrastructure? The American Society of Civil Engineers gave America’s roads, bridges, and ports a grade of “D+” in a 2017 survey. The score has stayed relatively the same for the last 20 years, and given Congress’ inability to fund budgets, especially the transportation portion, I believe that grade will be on the United States’ report card for awhile.

How about America’s education policies? Are policymakers effectively addressing how well the State educates kids? Well, no. Remember Common Core, the initiative detailing what children grades kindergarten through 12th grade should know at the end of each school year? While enthusiastically supported by a Republican and Democratic president, a report by the Brookings Institution in 2012 determined that the policy would have little to no impact on a student’s ability to learn.

The news isn’t so rosy on the collegiate level either. For all its equating of democracy to equality, Blacks and Latinos are equating democracy to a racial disparity in accessing college education. In a USA Today article citing statistics from the National Center for Education Statistics, it was reported that Blacks and Latinos, while enrolling in college on a relatively similar proportion as whites, were enrolling in for-profit schools and community colleges at a higher rate than whites. This is considered problematic, according to the article, because of complications surrounding financial aid.

These are just some examples of the State’s failure to deliver on the benefits that it promises to its “extended employees”, the constituents who vote for the politicians that promise the good schools, good roads, and bountiful opportunities. One would think that more Americans would disconnect from a government that hasn’t kept its word, but on the contrary, like the population who have endured abusive relationships, there is that small fraction of the population that somehow believe that abuse is love.

So how does one disconnect from the State’s political noise? First remember that you cannot avoid the State. The State influences you via its rules and statutes; its courts; the media; and the taxes it levies. You cannot violate its rules without bringing harm to yourself. Your actions should lead to maintenance and survivability of self and family; top optimize your sovereignty. Your goal is to minimize contact with the State and replace its “services” with services provided via voluntary, private arrangement.

A couple approaches that you may have already thought of. For example, avoid owning property. The State encourages its citizens to own property so that a nexus for taxation exists. Work hard to improve the value of your property and every year there is the State swooping in for its cut.

A mistake I made was having my son educated in State schools. If you can, educate your children at home. This way you can devote more time to inculcating life survival skills and critical thinking skills very early. Schools focus primarily on programming children for allegiance to the State’s values. An independent thinking, self-actualized child is one of the biggest threats to the State. Trust me. It’s not some teen-aged gang banger that the State is afraid of. The gang banger can be shot down and no one will raise a fuss.

Another approach, stop voting. Don’t feel bad about not going to the polls. First of all, you are not required to. As we discussed earlier, your vote doesn’t matter. More importantly, the tyranny of the masses that is democracy is fueled by the vote. Why further threaten your individual sovereignty by giving wanna be master any authority to write oppressive rules.

Finally, divorce yourself from government issued currency and form a trading community that uses a non-government issued currency, hopefully one backed by a natural resource. The Treasury issued, Federal Reserve Bank distributed currency is backed by  an economic infrastructure that may be working for some but not for the majority. The currency’s demand should be a reflection of the economy that lies behind it, one that is productive.