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A mountain lake in British Columbia

economics102

The British Labour Party and economic decision making

It appears the British are getting ready to elect a Labour Party government which is hoping to introduce some “structural” changes to economic decision-making.

This blogger believes economic changes are urgently needed but also figures the changes proposed by the Labour Party will only change the faces making decisions and will do nothing to change the well-being of English people.

0*V_sRwC4Rvi4GfN3ZWhen socialists realize that central planning does not accomplish what they want they try to reform by decentralizing the central planning. To see how the British are likely to try this, see this article in The Economist.

The main issue in capitalism versus socialism is who gets to make decisions about what economic projects are undertaken and who gets to do them.

There are three main ways in which this decision-making can be done.

The first is that major decisions are made by bankers who get to do this via their control over money creation. Fractional reserve banking means bankers create money when they make loans and this gives them a great deal of power to decide what projects go ahead and by whom. The capital in capitalism comes from the money created when loans are made. Even small decisions like who gets to build housing and who gets to buy the houses are made by bankers when they approve the loans and mortgages. Any meaningful reform will require changes in the way in which money is created. There are ways to do this. Not only will bankers object to the loss of power but a lot of people have an emotional committment to money and will fiercely oppose changes. Another strong feature of this system is that governments pass legislation that restricts competition and allows some people to make profits. This system we call capitalism.

The second approach to decision-making is called socialism or central planning. Decisions are made by political leaders or their bureaucrats. Socialists like to use words such as “democratic” and “public interest” but in reality make decisions according to their own values and interests. Because of this socialist economies tend to be an inefficient use of resources. Decision making is still made by a few people even if they claim it is on behalf of others.

The third way of making decisions is a true market or perfect competition. We like to think our economy is based on markets but a lot of it is based on legislation that restricts competition such as patents, copyright,licensing and tariffs. In North America one area of life in which competition is allowed is religious services. As we are committed to freedom of religion the government does not interfere. One often hears of people who go church shopping.

Greens often say they want an economy based on small business but they also automatically reject everything said by economists. This is unfortunate because economics has worked out the theory of small business and can say exactly what to do.

In order to have perfect competition all participants in a market, sellers and purchasers, must be so small that no one can influence the price by increasing or decreasing the amount they buy or sell. There must also be perfect knowledge. All participants need to know all prices. Entry to and exit from an industry needs to be easy which means there can be no patents or copyright.

For the purposes of this post decision-making is made by customers who vote with their buying decisions. Price changes are signals to producers to increase or decrease production.

One of the reasons this blogger likes the true market economy is that it allows a lot of decisions to be made by individuals. One of the problems is that individuals to not have a lot of power. People with common vested can form powerful lobbying groups and can get governments to pass legislation which restricts competition and provides them with excess profits.

Socialists talk of giving workers influence over economic decisions, but their proposals give decision-making to boards or councils. Workers are also consumers and with a market system they will have the same influence as all consumers. A market system also allows for a great variety of products. For example, if schools were based on a market there could easily be schools based on different educational philosophies and parents could choose which they wanted for their children. A voucher system could ensure that all children got an education.

Socialists also argue that capitalism encourages greed. This may be true when decisions are made by bankers, but in a true market there are no profits, just wages and a return on investment. If there are profits being made in an industry, more people will go into it until there are no profits.

If the British Labour Party gets elected and is successful in changing the “structure” of their economy, they may change the size of a few of the units for which decision are being made. However, they will still be steering the same ship in the same ocean. Jeremy Corbyn is not radical or brave enough to change the way in which money is created or to drop a committment to economic growth, both of which are urgently needed to protect people from an economic collapse.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fake promises in the next presidential election

It appears the next American presidential election will be a battle of fake promises as Donald Trump and a left-wing democrat appeal to American emotions.

Trump will almost certainly bases his campaign on the formula that worked last time; vague general promises (make America great again) and some easy to keep promises that appeal to his core supporters (move embassy to Jerusalem.). Most of his promises will be appeals to emotions.

White House Flag Democrates RepublicanThe democrats will base their campaign on a promise of full employment as reported in this recent article in The Economist. Full employment has been an American policy goal for a long time, If it were possible it would have been attained a long time ago. To promote it now is an emotional appeal to counter Trump’s emotional promises. And it is destined to failure and will probably destroy the economic future of a lot of Americans.

One could probably predict that both Trump and the democrat will come out of the election with DBS degrees. (The D stands for doctor and the rest all English speakers should know).

The main issue, which will not be acknowledged during the campaign, is the size of the resource base for future economic activity. This blogger believes there are loads of energy and mineral resources left on the planet. However, we have cherry picked those which are readily available. Those which are left are so difficult to extract they are for the most part useless for future economic development.

If this analysis is correct then promises of full employment will be impossible to keep. Attempting to keep them will accelerate the use of the remaining energy and mineral resources and bring forward a major economic collapse.

Another factor when employment is an issue is our commitment to the work ethic. Some people believe their salvation depends upon their working hard and others worry that some people will receive benefits which they have not earned or to which they are not entitled. Everyone must do their share.

This blogger believes the material standard of living to which we have become accustomed is based on the agricultural surplus which allows a few people to produce enough food for everyone. As this surplus is the result of several millenia of technological development it should be a part of our inheritance. All of us should be entitled to a standard of living equal to everyone else regardless of what we do with our time.

With our standard of living dependent upon jobs and with our psychological well-being also dependent up on our having a job, promises of full employment will have a very strong appeal to many Americans. The success of the promise depends upon the ability of the economy for even more growth. This blogger has serious doubts about that. I am old enough to remember when people were saying we will just have to get used to an unemployment rate of three per cent.

The economic challenges facing the people of this world are overwhelming. Solutions will required a major rethinking of values about work and economic growth. An American presidential election would be an ideal time for a serious debate about the economic future.

The toughest part of this issue is how to deal with it. In the past I have voted for candidates with the least chance of winning because they have been the most honest. I have also deliberately spoiled by ballots. Both of these seem like a cop-out. I do not have the personality nor the skills to be a candidate let alone convince people of my economic policies. I do not even have the skills to go to election meetings and challenge the candidates. I also believe any candidate who tried to be honest would be nailed to the cross by fake election promises and appeals to emotions.

 

 

 

 

 

Even more fake news

Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me you ears;
I come to bury fake news, not to praise it.

Whenever you have war, whenever you have conflict, whenever you have disagreement the first casualty is the truth. This has been the case since the start of civilization but we are now more conscious of the issue since the American president started using the term “fake news”. Not only has he become a master of using it but he also claims others use it against him. He is not the first to distort the truth but he may be more blatant than his predecessors. His success is sickening.

It may be the challenge of fake news is to use the truth to overcome emotions.

police-clip-art-1194984609285255522police_man_ganson.svg.medA lot of us dislike being lied to and a lot of us dislike hearing the truth, especially if it is not what we want it to be. This provides opportunities for those people whose desire for power over people is stronger than their ethics.

Most politicians quickly learn to use distortions of the truth to avoid upsetting people. My experience is that municipal politicians are less likely to say untrue things than those who stand a chance of being elected at a provincial or national level. As a journalist I frequently voted for the candidate with the least chance of winning because they were the most honest.

When a politician is as blatant with distortions of the truth as is the current occupant of the White House it is tempting to hold him responsible. But there is a more serious problem in that a lot of people are believing his distortions. He is saying what a lot of people want to hear. When so many people want to hear and believe things which some of us believe are not true there must be a serious problem facing our society. Rather than criticizing the messenger we should be trying to identify and correct the problem.

In my days as a reporter I tried hard to be accurate and was sometimes in trouble for being too accurate. They mayor did not like being quoted as referring to the Queen of England as “Liz”. Most of my reporting was for small town newspapers.

An issue for me was the accuracy of what people said. A British Columbia cabinet minister said the gypsies from Quebec were sent to B.C. to encourage separatism. I did not believe it but I reported it and the editors wrote an editorial criticizing the minister who later went onto become the premier. I still feel guilty for my very small part in helping him become premier. I would not want to be covering the White House.

In our society court cases are the ultimate situations of conflict. Most witnesses in court cases take an oath to tell the truth and the whole truth and nothing but the truth. I never heard a lawyer take a similar oath. Frequently they try to hide the truth. In Hereford, England, the prosecutor in the magistrates court was a police inspector and was much admired for ensuring the magistrates knew anything in favor of the defendants. He once told us he kept quiet until he became an inspector. After that there were no more promotions.

Distorting the truth is an ancient activity. We know that because we have the word sophistry. On a day-to-day basis I hear lots of arguments which are good examples of the art, often from the female of the species. I figure most of the arguments presented by feminists are highly sophisticated. Google logical fallacies.

The Economist points out that some publications reflect the beliefs of their readers rather than their owners. This is because some owners are more interested in profits rather than the truth.

Maybe there is a market for fake news because we are all emotional people and we do not like things that will cause us suffering. With the economy on a down trend it is likely a lot of people are going to experience unemployment and suffering and maybe even hunger, There will be fertile ground for politicians who promise things they cannot deliver.

It is our responsibility to evaluate the truth of what other people tell us. A part of the evaluation should be asking what are the special interests of that person. Will they benefit by distorting what they say?

Most of us feel betrayed if we discover somebody has lied to us. Probably the best defense is a commitment to tell the truth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A simple market solution to internet privacy

The issue of internet privacy is easy to solve and in a way which should appeal to those who claim to believe in a free market economy.

Governments should pass legislation that all computer data should be publicly available without charge. This means we should be able to see what information about us is available and any business should also have access the same information. We should also be able to see who has accessed the information.

securitycamera-1-800pxWe would be responsible for deciding what personal information to make public realizing that it would be out there forever. We would also see who was using that information and would be responsible for protecting ourselves from exploitation.

Those of us who live in small communities are already used to others, including some business people, knowing quite a bit about us. It is now a question of scale. Once upon a time I worked on a small town newspaper in Ontario. As the junior reporter one of my duties was to write obituaries. Each day at lunch the elderly couple with whom I boarded wanted to know who had died. They also wanted to know which funeral home as Conservatives and Liberals were buried by separate undertakers

We often want and expect governments to protect us from people who would exploit us. But in the long run we all have to take responsibility for our behavior and our own protection. We are the ones who take the consequences.

Internet privacy is an issue because some people can make lots of money if they have exclusive access to the data. Making data free would change the dynamics of social media and some of it might become subscription based.

One of the biggest current economic fallacies is that we have a market economy. What we really have is an economy in which governments legislate to restrict competition so that some people can make profits. One of the fundamentals of a market economy is that knowledge, technical and market conditions, is known to all participants. Another fundamental principle is that customers pay the full cost of the goods or services they consume. Subsidies whether from the government, advertising or the sale of data make for an inefficient economy. What I am suggesting in this post is that we make the internet a part of a market economy.

In a true market economy there are no profits as competition keeps prices such that people can earn a wage and a return of investment but no profits. Therefor a market economy would take care of another current issue – equality.

I do not expect this idea to be taken seriously as those who profit from a noncompetitive economy have a lot of political power. Therefore internet privacy will provide a lot of work for lawyers and that Mark guy will become even more exploitive, richer and more powerful.

 

Why we need free range kids and free range education

There is an ancient wisdom saying that happiness is the result of right action. Therefore, if one wants to be happy one should be careful in chosing one’s actions. This blogger would also say we should choose our actions ourselves rather than letting others do it for us.

These thoughts were prompted by an article in The Economist about educating bright children so that they can contribute the most to society. The issue is who decides what is “the most”.

Student Character Holding Big Pencil ClipartMy concern is that The Economist is evaluating education by the incomes and the numbers of patents that people produce in their careers. This is from a magazine whose writers are dedicated to continued economic growth at a time when further growth may be difficult. It may be that in the future success will go to those capable of coping without a lot of material things.

As this post is mostly about values I should state I value highly individual thought and decision making. People should be encouraged to have different life and educational experiences. Children should be raised “free range” and education should cover a variety of topics including cross discipline. One of my concerns about educational trends as reported by The Economist is that the goal is to have every body thinking the same – with a common devotion to economic growth. If we are to cope with negative growth we must have people educated to think outside the box represented by The Economist.

How do we define success? How do we measure success? Is economic success the responsibility of schools? For some people success is living a long time, or ending life with lots of money and/or toys, or having done lots of travel, having done lots of things or having had lots of sex. Each of us should define success for ourselves rather than going with another person’s definition.

Economics is about relationships and economic success should be about good relationships rather than resource exploitation. One of the fundamentals of good relationships is that there should be a more or less equal exchange between those involved.

Sometimes it feels as if a lot of people are prepared to sacrifice ethics for profits. Corporate culture appears to encourage this. That some major Canadian corporation (banks and telecommunications) encourage their sales people to use exploitive techniques is an indication that our economy is not based on good relationships

When the economy is on a down trend education is so young people can get good marks on exams. Some people spend large sums of money hoping to give their children a slight edge. If we were not so competitive we might find a greater happiness in co-operation.

The future is going to be difficult because we do not have the energy and mineral resources to support continued economic growth and even more people. To survive we need to educate children to think outside the economic box; we need free range children and free range education. We need people who will not accept the status quo and who will think independently of Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, both of whom are dedicated to conning us into buying more stuff – or voting for candidates of their choice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Economic growth, sustainability and degrowth

A lot of people realize there are problems with the economy but few if any understand what is happening. Therefore we have varied reactions. Many people cling to faith in economic growth, some are exploring the concept of sustainability and a few are looking at “degrowth”. This blogger thinks of the three approaches as points on the ray of a matrix.

Predicting the future is difficult although the shorter the term the easier it is. Economists are little help because most are paid directly by business people or indirectly through government. Very few people get away with telling the whole truth to the people who pay them. Most economists find it expedient to say what their employers want to hear and that is mostly that the economy will continue to grow and that there will be continuing profits.

Nor can we expect the truth from political leaders as their positions depend on maintaining the support of the people. It is hard to think of any government leader telling us we will have to tighten our belts and remaining in power. Are citizens mature enough to listen to that? It would be interesting to see a political leader try.

trafficOur recent economic memory is based on a tremendous use of energy and mineral resources. Not only have we fought two world wars we have also had the resources for an incredible standard a living in which the rich have grown richer and the rest of us have done okay. The result is we have a strong committment to economic growth and a belief that it will continue forever.

Many economists are fond of regression analysis because it assumes constant economic growth. It is a mathematical formula which takes a series of data points and calculates the best fitting straight line through them. It is generally assumed this line will angle up.

This guy thinks we would get a more truthful picture of what happens in the economy if we were to use fractal analysis. Fractals are series of ups and downs each with a subseries of ups and downs within them. The sea coasts are often used as examples. The mathematics of fractals is not as clear as regression analysis but there are some useful concepts. I am fairly certain those people who do “black box” analysis of stock markets are using fractal analysis. They are apparently having some success. The concept of fractal dimension can be calculated (two minus the Hurst exponent) and changes indicate a change in direction.

If we were to apply fractal analysis to economics it would be easier to see and accept ups and downs in the economy and easier to develop mechanisms to deal with them.

The word “sustainable” as applied to economic growth is a buzzword in some circles but I find it challenging as its meaning is not clear. I suspect it is mostly a cover for continued economic growth.

To the extent that some people use fewer energy and mineral resources it is good but I suspect that sustainable development maintains a committment to economic growth. Sustainable to me means going on forever and that is what a lot of people believe about economic growth.

The reality is that the quantity of goods and services we can produce and exchange depends upon the quantity of energy and mineral  resources we have and can retrieve with a reasonable expenditure of energy. The concept of sustainable development is probably 100 years too late.

Our committment to economic growth is so strong I am not aware of any career economist having thought about what happens when the economy goes into decline. This is unfortunate as the economy regularly goes into recession and this time it may be extended.

This blogger figures current economic problems are because we have used up the most accessible energy and mineral resources. Sure, there are lots left but they require massive amounts of energy to retrieve them. Solar may help but not yet. I fear that we will be forced into degrowth.

If so the challenge will be to figure out how do distribute fairly the goods and services we have, how to cope with leisure, how to create money that will not disappear during a crisis and how to not fight over the available resources.

Money will be a special problem as fractional reserve banking works only in times of economic growth. When growth stops and banks stop making loans  the money supply goes down and because it is fractional reserve the money supply goes down with a multiplier effect. Ouch. A super big ouch.

There are lots of anecdotal evidence from around the world that we are going into a down economy. This could easily be an explanation for a lot of the negative news, both economic and non-economic, to which we are becoming accustomed.

If we could get away from our committment to economic growth we could focus instead on happiness. This concept is impossible to measure although there is some evidence that people do not need a lot of material things to be happy.

What ever happens and wherever humanity ends up it looks as if we will experience a lot of human suffering. I would like for us to minimize the suffering and maximize the happiness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Self-driving cars: promises and some problems

Self-driving cars will be an incremental but disruptive step into science fiction in that we will be abandoning a major part of the economy and replacing it with something different. Science fiction will become a reality. Do we really want to go there? Probably we have no choice but to drive down this road.

A recent special report in The Economist discusses some of the technology and outlines the promises of autonomous vehicles. There are also some economic problems of which we should be aware – the resource base, marginal cost and potential disruption in the money supply.

driving-clipart-45The promises are mostly based on a continuation of the North American growth economy. We will be continuing to use machines to move individuals or small groups mostly to places of employment. Probably self-driving vehicles will be used in combination with mass transit, especially if vehicle sharing comes into its own. Great benefits will accrue to a lot of people in the form of greater inexpensive mobility which will also allow us to contradict Facebook with more direct social activity.

Self-driving vehicles may add to the over population problem if there are fewer accidents and fewer fatalities.

One of the problems will be the availability of resources. This blogger figures the economy is currently on a down trend because we have used up the most easily accessible energy and mineral resources. Sure, there are lots left in the crust of this planet but the amount of energy required to retrieve them makes them mostly useless.

The exception is solar energy, the cost of which has been dropping and will probably continue to drop. This could mean a major change in economic power as it appears solar will become cheap enough for individuals to make their own decisions about using it. No longer will bankers and governments be deciding which power provision projects go ahead and by whom.

The replacement of the current fleet of internal combustion vehicles with electric and driverless vehicles will probably mean a lot of the current infrastructure will need to be replaced. This will require large quantities of mineral resources which may be very expensive. Henry Ford realized that in order to sell automobiles they had to be inexpensive enough for working people to buy them. Since then we have extracted a lot of the most easily accessible mineral resources. It is not clear we will able to retrieve or recycle enough resources for the transition.

The economic concept of marginal cost creates a couple of problems for the introduction of self-driving vehicles. This states the price of an item is equal to the marginal cost of producing the last item. As the cost of solar energy is falling and is likely to continue falling at some point solar will determine the price of electricity. When that happens all those firms currently producing electricity from hydro, gas or oil will find their facilities and investments worthless. Not good news for bankers or for the rest of us when all that debt has to be written off.

Recycling may be another source of problems. Most of us accept that recycling is a civil responsibility and believe that doing so will help to save the environment and the economy. However we may find marginal cost interferes with some things. Suppose a pound of copper can be recycled for half the cost mining new stuff. Does this mean manufacturers will be able to purchase recycled copper for half the cost and their customers will benefit from the cheaper prices? Not likely. Copper prices will be set by the last pound mined and the recycler will make a windfall. So the benefits of recycling will likely go to the recyclers rather than the rest of us. This is what happened in the oil industry as prices rose. We all paid higher prices and those producers who could extract the stuff at lower cost did very well. Recycling may be a joke on us.

Most of us know how to manage our money but few understand how money is created in our economy. Most of the money we use to exchange goods and services is based on the debt created when bankers make loans. This works so long as the economy is growing and bankers make more and more loans.

Economists seldom if ever talk about what happens when the economy stops growing and loans have to be written off. Loans are being written off all the time but so long as the economy is growing they are replaced with even more loans. However, when large amounts have to be written off such as the recent mortgage crisis the money supply goes down and without money it becomes difficult to exchange goods and services and lots of people lose their savings and their employment. Because of the fractional reserve system we use the money supply goes down with a multiplier effect.

I do not know how much of the current money supply is based on debt to the automotive and energy firms. The introduction of self-driving electric vehicles could hit the banks and us with a double whammy if firms in both industries cannot repay their debts. We could lose a lot of the money supply as well as a lot of people losing their savings and pensions.

A lot of changes are likely to be forced upon us. Some of those changes we may not appreciate.

Through the millenia of history when there have been major economic upheavals up to 90 percent of populations have died. If something like that happens in the near future, the technology of self-driving electric cars will not be lost and the promises may be available to the survivors.

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