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 Politics of the Disassociated Man

Much to the chagrin of the anarchist, politics will always exist. Politics supersedes government. By definition politics is the conflict over the leadership, structure, and policies of government.  Government is the institutions and procedures through which a territory and its people are ruled. The mistake most make when analyzing politics is to confine the concept to the power struggle for control for government. There is plenty of political theater to keep us preoccupied.

Yesterday’s vote in the Senate to reverse a repeal by the Federal Communication Commission’s net neutrality rules is an example of such political theater where congressional Democrats hoped to leverage a vote for the return of net neutrality rules into an appeal to 86% of Americans who support the open internet principles to remember the Left during this coming November’s mid-term elections.

In this case the ripple effects of the attempt may be short-lived. The House now has to take up the resolution that vacates the repeal and even if the House passes the Senate’s resolution, there is the threat of a veto by the President and given Republican control of the House, both passage or an overturn of a veto is highly unlikely.

Whether voters even inject into their decision matrix the Democrats’ net neutrality vote, I believe, given increases in oil prices and the threat of inflation that net neutrality will be the last factor to be considered in the voting booth.

The importance of politics exceeds dramatics on C-SPAN. When you replace “government” with the word “society”, politics takes on a clearer and probably scarier meaning. Politics is really about the conflict over how society is structured and led, including the decision on how resources will be used, where ownership of resources will be directed, and the values that society will follow.  Government and the types of government available for use are merely tools for managing the conflict including managing resources and value.

Government rises to the top of organizing options when there are too many conflicting values. The United States is an example. I like to argue that the United States stopped being a country when it attempted the incorporation of non-European people into society. During the era after the American civil war, the United States embarked on becoming a nation-state, becoming too diverse and too large to organize itself organically based on traditional values. As a democratic nation-state becomes more diverse in part because its political leaders recognize that to maintain market share they must attract more voters, ironically, there is an increase in marginalization. There is only so much room under the tent that one can occupy without getting wet.

For the marginalized group or individual that prefers avoiding the rain with their own umbrella or poncho, navigating the politics is typically a non-option. They see government’s rules and initiatives as having failed them so participating in the conflict to control government is a waste of time. They would rather practice societal politics sans government participation. Getting others in society to get them what they want, when they want it, and how they want it may be achieved through voluntary exchanges of value outside of government rules and institutions. And given the over ninety percent of property is in private hands and when combined with digital communications technology, renewable energy, and shared transportation, the ability to become disassociated increases.

For the politician that wants to increase her market share in the political market place, disassociation creates a dilemma.

Cleta Winslow. Atlanta Political markets. Atlanta Political wars

Political war reminds me a little bit of trade wars. When country A is not allowed to sell its goods and services in Country B, Country A raises a fuss. It threatens a trade war. It puts tariffs on Country B’s goods and services. It accuses Country B of currency manipulation. Country A may even go as far as waging a military action against Country B in order to destroy Country B’s currency and disrupt the trade alliances Country B has with its neighbors. Country A’s goal is to be the dominant economic actor on the block. It will put up with a weakened Country B as along as Country B trades with the world on Country A’s terms.

Political wars are similar. This tidbit is not new but we need to be reminded: candidates are battling for power and privilege. To the extent that they have to craft welfare programs to win votes, what they can do for you is secondary. How they see themselves in political history, their legacy, is more important.

Political wars are quietly continuous. A smart incumbent maintains the illusion that she is looking out for her constituents by presenting the optics of an engaged and caring politician. Take Cleta Winslow, a member of the Atlanta city council representing the West End.  Ms Winslow has served as the District 4 representative for a quarter of a century. For the ten years I have lived in District 4, Ms Winslow has not faced much a challenge, at least until the last election challenge where fierce loyalty especially by older residents helped her keep her seat.

Demographics can be a potent weapon when warding off potential threats to one’s dominance of a political market. That weapon can backfire especially here in the West End as the residents become ethnically diverse. Loyalty t o Winslow based on what she did in the 1990s and her attempts to save a firehouse back in 2008 can only go so far with a younger African American population that sees bleak economic opportunities and more whites with capital moving in to takeover relatively cheap real estate.

The consumers of Ms Winslow’s goodie bags are leaving and new entrants into the 30310 political market may not like what she is selling. A couple contenders in the last city election were able to raise sizeable amounts of campaign funds and as the 30310 political market becomes more diverse, Ms Winslow’s political trade days may draw to a close.

Strategy wise, a potential deathblow to Ms Winslow’s hold on the 30310 political market would be a salvo of economic initiatives, preferably salvos that circumvent her influence as much as possible and led by potential candidates. These individuals should win over as many allies as possible to avoid last year’s scenario where there were too many opponents on the ballot. Opponents cannot afford to have their optics and influence diluted by too many candidates on the ballot. It creates too much noise.

New residents could just exercise patience and watch the demographics change in their favor, but delay won’t help the young and underemployed who would benefit the most from the election of an economic visionary.

Will Congress regulate.@facebook like a public utility? Given its potential benefit to partisan politics, probably not. #socialmedia

The Wall Street Journal’s Holman Jenkins, Jr. posted an article last Friday about Facebook’s apparent maturity as a business given its focus on regulatory issues such as the potential of Congress to regulate the social media company like a public utility. Mr Jenkins points out that Facebook’s fear of regulation, a fear shared by other “tech” companies, comes from the attention that large companies draw to themselves as the result of centralization of power. In this case, Facebook is perceived as one of the few central nodes of power in the digital space (along with fellow FANGs; Amazon, Netflix, and Google). Issue is, does Facebook have a monopoly status that justifies “public utility” regulation. My answer is no.

The classic argument for regulating a firm as a public utility is that the public has an interest in benefiting from the use of the public’s rights-of-way including the efficiencies that flow from making such uses exclusive to one firm in a given territory. Electric and water utilities quickly come to mind when we discuss public utilities and rights-of-way. Would you rather see your streets and driveways dug up to provide multiple pipes from multiple water or electricity suppliers or would you rather one supplier who is forced to comply with a pricing model that creates a competitive price and rate of return on the assets used by the utility to produce a good? For the most part, society has settled for the latter. We don’t like the idea of having an excess number of utility lines running overhead or into our residences for aesthetic or safety reasons.

Does Facebook fall into this public utility model? No, it does not. According to Facebook, the company makes almost all of its revenue from the sale of advertisement. Facebook uses its algorithms to identify potential viewers of content or purchasers of services for its advertisers and display ads these ads to content viewers and services purchasers in exchange for an advertising fee. Ad services, including the delivery of advertisements to consumers, by Facebook’s admission is a competitive business. Unlike electricity transmission and distribution, ad delivery is not a monopolized industry. As Mr Jenkins points out in his piece, ads are ads, digital or otherwise, and Facebook is no where near dominating a $540 billion advertising industry.

Even if Facebook had a monopoly on the delivery of advertisements or advertisement services, would a regulator risk creating a state action by regulating Facebook’s advertising services? Bearing in mind that the latest buzz around Facebook ads was spawned by the delivery of advertisement messaging produced by Russian nationals allegedly designed to disrupt and defraud the American electorate, would Congress require that Facebook vet the firm generating advertisement content? Would Congress risk the overturn of legislation requiring Facebook vet advertisers if found violating the First Amendment?

I think that even advertisers confident that their messaging does not violate the public interest would think twice about placing advertisements on Facebook’s platform. More important, from the perspective of the regulator, an administrative agency would not to create the risk of creating First Amendment violations and having to defend those violations in court. As the U.S. Supreme Court held in Edenfield v. Fane:

“The commercial market place, like other spheres of our social and cultural life, provides a forum where ideas and information flourish. Some of the ideas and information are vital, some of slight worth. But the general rule is that the speaker and the audience, not the government, assess the value of the information presented. Thus, even a communication that does no more than propose a commercial transaction is entitled to the coverage of the First Amendment.” 113 S.Ct. 1792, 1798 (1993)

Finally, political parties may not want to impede the returns to electioneering that social media has been providing for the past decade. According to the Brookings Institution, since the 2008 national elections, political parties have been determining how best to convert the amplification and engagement created by social media during a campaign season into two-year and four-year governance.  Political parties have been encouraged to use social media in a number of ways including the following:

  • Acknowledging that the electorate is using social media as a “trust filter” of political news and information;
  • Realizing that politicians have decreasing control over debate topics and that control is shifting to social networks;
  • Making continued use of social media platforms to directly engage constituents;
  • Using social media platforms as “virtual surveys” of constituent sentiment and gauging feedback from the surveys; and
  • Leveraging ordinary citizens’ use of social media to persuade the electorate.

It is 2018 and Congress should view social media that has greater benefits as an electioneering tool if it is not regulated. From a regulatory perspective, there is no economic or legal justification for regulating social media as a public utility.

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.