Capitalism – a meaningless concept in which we can believe

As one surfs the economic forums of Medium and other media one often sees the word “capitalism” in the headlines but mostly I ignore these items because the word’s definitions are generally so vague the word is meaningless.  Because capitalism is such a meaningless word it is something in which we can believe while ignoring a less pleasant reality.

When we study economics we can try for an honest understanding so we can solve problems and reduce human suffering or we can seek rationalizations for things which will make us rich in spite of exploiting others, destroying the environment and overusing scarce resources.  If I were the chief executive of a large corporation or a politician I would want the second approach to economics.  Guess who pays the salaries of most economists.  This blogger makes no money out of his study of economics, so he can take the first approach.

The main feature of the economic organization with which most of us are familiar is that a lot of it is based on legislation which restricts competition.  Patents, copyright, licensing and subsidies all work to restrict competition  and/or distort prices.  These are so pervasive that we cannot say we have competitive market economy.

The problem with a perfectly competitive economy is that it does not allow for profits.  Competition reduces profits until each firm makes wages and a return on investment but no profits.  If one wants profits one needs government to pass legislation to restrict competition and most current  governments are happy to oblige.  Once upon a time this blogger used to make pottery.  I suggested that in order to make a good living we should form the Canadian Potters Association and get the government to pass legislation that all the people in Canada should eat only from dishes make by members.  Other potters laughed but lots of other occupations have that legislation: teachers, doctors, lawyers, septic tank installers, most large corporations (patents and copyright), etc.

Like lots of other people I would like to see an economy with more equality and less exploitation.  I believe the best way to get it would be to have more competition.  To get there we should repeal or at least reduce copyright, patent and licensing legislation and drop all subsidies.

This would leave many people exposed to economic adjustments which often cause suffering. A guaranteed income scheme would be a better way of coping with these problems than restricting competition.

Bill Gates and vested interests

The world’s richest man thinks robots that displace human labour should be taxed and the money used to fund philanthropic employment in health care and education.  This proposal would suit the interests of the one per cent but there are probably better ways to deal with problems created by the agricultural surplus.

Bill Gates deserves some credit for his philanthropy and for recognizing educational and health care needs although one has to be concerned about the economics of how he became the current chairman of the board of the world’s elite.

To evaluate proposals like this we need to look at the vested interests of the person making them.

Mr. Gates’ foremost interest has to be in maintaining copyright and patent legislation as that is the foundation of his fortune.  If our society did not have that legislation he would be just another clever computer nerd, we would all be using cheaper and better software and there would be a great deal more equality in our society.

His second greatest interest has to be promotion of the social monitoring and tracking industry. The future of his fortune probably depends upon the success of Microsoft in tracking and monitoring all people so the information can be sold to advertisers.  I fear this not so much because of the advertising but because once the information is collected it will also be available to governments and the one per cent for social control.  I switched my computer to linux minx because I figured Microsoft was getting too blatant and too untrustworthy in its collection of information.

Another major interest of this guy is full employment and the work ethic.  He needs for everyone to be working so we can all purchase his software and be subject to targeted advertising.  If that does not happen his position as the richest man on earth becomes precarious.

Another of Mr. Gates interests is the maintenance of poor people in this world.  Without them he would not get brownie points for philanthropy.

Will his proposal help to save jobs?  Probably not because the root problem is that we have used up the most easily available energy and mineral resources.  Those that are left will take so much energy to extract their value is limited.

The development of robots should be seen as part of a long-term technological development which has given us a high agricultural and material goods surplus and which allows all the benefits of modern civilization.  The challenge is to use the technology for the greatest enjoyment of human lives.  It may be the greatest benefit would come from a new emphasis on doing arts, crafts, music  and theatre rather than marketing more elaborate gadgets.

So there are two things which might interfere with Mr. Gates’ desire for full employment and his future.  First is the depletion of energy and mineral resources which will reduce our economic activity and the second is if more and more people get fed up with the marketing conspiracy and reduce their interest in contributing to economic growth.
 

Why your savings and pensions are at risk

The fractional reserve way of creating money means a lot of people are at risk of losing all or part of their savings and pensions.

If there is too much money supply in the economy then we have inflation and people with savings or pensions lose some of their purchasing power and those who owe money benefit because they repay their loans with less purchasing power.  Now you know why governments and the people who speak on their behalf promote mild inflation.  This is at least unauthorized taxation if not theft.

pexels-photo-2105902If you have deflation, then people who are owed money win because they are repaid with more purchasing power than they loaned.  The borrowers lose because they have to repay with more purchasing power.

To be fair to everyone we need to manage the economy so that just the right amount of money is available at all times.  At a time when the economy is on a down trend, this is very important as too much money puts us in danger of hyperinflation.

Getting this amount right has long been a challenge to central banks although the common sense answer is fairly simple.  The money supply should vary with the quantity of goods and services we want to exchange and it should be flexible up and down.

The wrench in the simplicity is the fractional reserve way of creating money.  When banks make loans they must (or should) keep a fraction of the amount on reserve for when the depositor wants his/her money returned.  As the amount is only a fraction banks are at risk of a “run” if depositors lose faith.  And because of the fractional reserve there is a multiplier effect involved.  Does not this sound like a set up for a crisis?  The mechanics of this process are a little complex although I have always found it easy to understand. To figure it out I suggest you Google “fractional reserve” or look at my free e book Funny Money: Adapting to a Down Economy or look at the essay Going to Market on this weblog.

The other end of the wrench is  that interest is charged on the loans made by the banks.  Mainstream economists have given little or no thought to the consequences of this. Because all of our money is created by the making of loans, if all the outstanding debt were to be paid off at one time there would not be enough money to repay it all because of the interest.  The charging of interest on the debt/money means there is never enough money available to repay all outstanding debt. Inflation is built into the fractional reserve way of creating money.

The system works only so long as the economy and the money supply continues to grow.  An upset in either means crisis of which we have had many.

The relationship between money supply and economic output is expressed in a formula, MV=PQ, some times known as the quantity theory of money.  Money times the velocity at which it circulates in the economy is equal to a price index times the quantity of goods and services produced.

I get ticked off because this is frequently taken to mean there is a direct, proportional relationship between the money supply and the inflation rate or price level.   Can’t people see there are four variables in this formula?  Total output is an important part of this formula.  If it should happen to go down something needs to happen to another variable.

Our society has a strong commitment to economic growth and a need to keep it growing so that people will not suffer from unemployment.   Some desperate people are trying to stimulate growth by increasing the money supply. This may increase inflation but it will not lead to growth unless we can find inexpensive energy and mineral resources to support it.  I suspect the new American president has  his eye on parks and reserve lands to encourage more economic activity.  He will probably succeed in the short term to be followed by a major economic collapse.

This blogger thinks we need some major economic reforms, not only in our financial system but in our commitment to economic growth.  We need to minimize our production and exchange of goods and services so we are using fewer energy and mineral resources.

A lot  of people operate on faith in our financial system and ignore suggestions we need reform.  I think the risk is so great that prudent people will at least give some thought to these issues.  It is your savings and your pensions and your future that is at risk.

 

 

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Please send the link to this post to your friends and social media.  Promoting a weblog can be difficult.  I get some referrals from LinkedIn.  I used to get quite a few from Reddit but I have been “shadow  banned” for linking to my own weblog.  Self promotion (and free speech?) are serious offenses on Reddit. I figure my strength is in the thinking that goes into the posts and I thank you for helping.  (r/economics   r/libertarian   r/economiccolapse  r/Degrowth )

The economic foundation of racism

Is racism an ugly fact of life or is it a symptom of a much larger problem?  I suspect it is mostly the latter in which  case it is a serious problem with lots of potential for inflicting injustice on people who really do not deserve it.

A discussion of racism should start with some basic principles.

* We do not have to like everyone and it is okay to disagree with others.  We do not have to associate with people we dislike.

* Some people enjoy hurting others.  If you want to really hurt another person say something negative about them that is true.

* Physical violence is wrong.

* Verbal and psychological violence is wrong.  It is disgusting and immoral but it should not be considered criminal  because it involves values, morals and some very fine lines.  It may be that a part of growing up is to learn how to cope with negatives and some people may have to do more learning than others.

* Some members of minority groups are obnoxious and we do not have to like or associate with them.

* We sometimes fear the unknown and strangers.

* Minority groups can be racist against majority groups

There is some anecdotal evidence that racism and negativity based on being a part of a group is increasing.  The question is whether or not this is itself a problem.  This writer thinks it is mostly a symptom of a deeper and larger problem of a shortage of energy and mineral resources.  There are lots of these resources left on the surface of our planet but we have “cherry picked” the most easily accessible and those that are left require a lot of time and energy to extract.  The result is that our economy has started into a serious decline.  Lots of people sense that the decline is happening but do not have a clue as to why.

This is where racism comes in.  When things go poorly, we need scapegoats so that we do not have to ourselves take responsibility – in this case for using up the resource base.  Actually we have a double scapegoat scenario developing.  Some people are blaming foreigners for our problems while others are blaming these evil racists among us for the problems.  This writer blames everyone.

Whoever is to blame, we are facing a very difficult situation around the world.  Normal people are aware of this – Brexit, Trump, the Italians – even if people do not understand the negative forces at work.  Some people have a propensity to hate but to treat the rest as criminal is itself an injustice.

The native Peoples in our part of the world have and Indian prayer – that they not criticize another person until they have walked a mile in that persons moccasins.  Most of the people who are considered racist deserve the benefit of that prayer and the rest of us have a need for some clear understanding without which the problem will not be solved and we will all experience a lot of suffering.

My ebook Funny Money: Adapting to a Down Economy discusses this problem and outlines some policies which might ease the suffering.  You can  get a free copy from the link at the top of this weblog.

That evil man destroying people and resources

The day after the American election the skies around our place were overcast but all indications were that the sun rose and set as normal.  The question now is what sort of economic policies Donald Trump will implement.  Expect to see more resource exploitation, legislation and policies to restrict competition and more subsidies to business.  His economic policies will probably differ from Hillary’s mostly by degree.  Some people and the environment will probably suffer.

The most important thing to keep in mind is that he is unlikely to be able to do all the things he wants. About half of Americans did not want him to be president and most of these will be against at least some of his policies.  Many of those who voted for him will have conflicting vested interests and he will have to make some tough decisions.

Being president of the United States requires two skill sets – campaigning and governing. Trump has proven himself a master of the first set and now has to prove himself as a governor.  A lot of his campaign was based on emotions and he demonstrated an excellent understanding of people and their emotions.   His win must have been a blow for people who are politically correct. One of the buttons he pushed was sexuality.  He demonstrated that at least half of those who voted have not been suckered by the sophistry of feminism.  I wonder how many women had fantasies in which they were the object of his attentions and how many went on to vote for him.

His emotional campaign could become a big problem for him as many people will feel disappointed if he can not or will not keep promises.

As this is written Trump’s economic policies are mostly unstated but he prides himself on being a businessman so we can expect America to be open for business and we can expect policies which will allow a few people to make lots of money by exploiting other people and resources.  But then this is the history of North America and most of the world.

This writer believes our current economic problems are with the available energy and mineral resources.  Yes, there are lots of these still in the crust of the earth.  But we have “cherry picked” the most accessible and those that are left require so much energy their value is limited.  As not many people believe this, or care, we can expect the new president to encourage the exploitation of what is left, even those that are in parks or other reserves.  The consequences of this policy will be to bring forward the timing of a major economic collapse.

We boast we live in a market economy based on competition but a lot of economic legislation restricts competition so business people can make profits.  If we had perfect competition there would be no profits.  There may be little room for more legislation to restrict competition but if business people can think up some we can expect President Trump to be sympathetic.  He has already indicated he will restrict trade.

Us Canadians sometimes talk about corporate welfare bums who thrive on government subsidies.  Americans are probably already familiar with the concept and the new government will probably continue and increase the trend  No doubt some business people will be claiming a need for subsidies to extract the more difficult energy and mineral deposits.

I was disappointed rather than surprised with the election results because I fear a major economic collapse.  Also I suspect Mrs. Clinton would have followed similar economic policies even if not as blatantly.  We are in the same ship with the same storms and neither is likely to even try to get into a different sea.

Regulating those evil payday lenders

Here is a link to an article from the Mises Institute opposing regulations for the American payday lending industry.

This simple proposal to regulate short-term lending raises important questions about how we treat poor people, about the role of money in our economy and how we regulate business activity.

This writer believes we should have a collective responsibility to ensure every one has the opportunity for the same standard of living as most other people.  Probably the best way to meet this responsibility would be a universal basic income scheme.  Such a program would not stop everyone from mismanaging their finances but it should eliminate the need for a lot of short-term credit.

Money can be an instrument of exploitation and is based on the debt created when banks make loans.  Debt is a path to slavery, especially for poor people.

We need a radical revision of the way in which we create money.  We treat money as a commodity which has its own intrinsic  value.  We would be better to treat money as a tool to facilitate the exchange of goods and services.  As a tool rather than a commodity there would be no need for interest.  Also the total amount of money available needs to be flexible up and down as the quantity of goods and services we need to exchange expands or retracts.  This guy has written extensively on this topic on his weblog and in his book.

As much as possibly economic forces, competition, should be used to regulate business activity. The more competition the fewer profits and the less need for regulation.  Regulations tend to restrict competition, allow greater profits and increase the demand for more regulations.

This writer is not enthusiastic about supporting the payday loan industry but does recognize that in our society there is a need for short-term credit.  I also believe there is a need to reform our financial system and the reforms could reduce the need for credit from all of us including the poor.

Economic problems: Labour, capital – and resources

How can we understand what is happening to the economy if some of the basic principles are incomplete.  I am thinking of the idea that there are two factors of production – labour and capital.  I believe we also have to take into consideration the resource base.

This note was prompted by an article on Bloomberb  by Satyajit Das titled Productivity Won’t Save the World in which the focus of the analysis is labour and capital.  I do not know the origin of this idea but I understand Karl Marx promoted it. Neither a shortage of labour or a shortage of capital are satisfactory explanations for current economic problems.  There are a lot unemployed or underemployed people  and there is no shortage of bank credit which makes up most of the capital we need.

It seems current economists sometimes give lip service to the concept of scarce resources and then assume we have available unlimited energy and mineral resources.  This writer believes current economic problems are because we have used up the most easily accessible resources.  Yes, there are lots of energy and minerals on this planet but the cost of extracting them reduces their value.  It is little wonder the economy is going down.

The focus on labour and capital is convenient for those who want government to control the economy.

Mr. Das starts his article with the old line that Thomas Malthus was wrong because we have survived more than 200 years since he made his dire prediction and then proceeds to point out it may now be coming true as increases in productivity are declining.  Some years ago this writer took an industrial first aid course which was focused on a written and practical exam.  “If the examiner asks if your patient requires rapid transport to hospital,” said the instructor, “an appropriate answer would be ‘not yet’ to show that you are monitoring the situation.”

Since  Malthus made his forecast other people have warned of problems with the resource base and so for they have not happened.  The lesson from the first aid instructor is valid here too.  Not yet.

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