Archive for the ‘economics’ Category

Feeding the Birds and the People

June 8, 2018

While staying on Kauai, Hawaii, I have been observing a cardinal every morning. This beautiflul red bird has lighted upon the deckrail, shortly after each sunrise each day. His visits demonstrate a boldness on his part to venture into areas of human domain. But that boldness is tempered with a shyness by which he promptly flys away as soon as I make any movement in his direction.

Comparing these bird encounters with similar episodes at our home in the Carolina Blue Ridge, I surmise a personality trait that seems to be characteristic of the cardinal breed. It’s probably my imagination that the  colorful creature has some comprehension of his special status among the kingdom of the birds. He seems to understand  (or so it seems to me) that this human is fascinated by his flashy appearance; he also knows that his bright profile is, in some settings, a liability, because the bright red makes it easier for nearby predators to catch sight of him and perhaps eat him.

However, Mr. Cardinal’s skittishness did not interfere this morning with my continuing attempts to capture a pic of him. I was pleased this morning to find that the different physical arrangement here in Hawaii have made it possible for me to snap the pic.

FeedCardnl

My Christian perspective on life in this world prompts me to accompany this amazing  (to me) photo with a scriptural reference. Here’s the first one I thought of, in the words of Jesus:

“Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?”

In this case, I, human, am representing the heavenly Father in dropping those cereal crumbs onto the deckrail for our scarlet friend.

Meanwhile, feeling satisfied that I have managed to capture, here in Hawaii, that flighty image of the bright cardinal which I could never manage to obtain back home, I’ll cast another crumb of interest in here for you to nibble on.

Before Mr. Cardinal visited this morning, I was continuing my read of Edward Joesting’s excellent book on Kauai, Kauai: The Separate Kingdom.   

https://www.amazon.com/Kauai-Separate-Edward-Joesting-III/dp/0824811623/

In chapter 7, Mr. Joesting reports on the beginnings of commercial agriculture on the island of Kauai. The earliest enterprises were initiated by a trio of American business partners who were working with Hawaiian leaders with assistance from Christian missionaries who had arrived in the 1820’s.

Long about 1835, some Americans leased a large tract of land from Kauikeaouli (Kamehameha III) Kaikioewa, the governor of Kauai.

What fascinates me about this development in Hawaiian history is the changes in motivation that Hawaiian working people found themselves adopting in response to the new capitalistic farms.

On page 131 of his book, Edward Joesting wrote:

“In agreement with the philosophy of the missionaries, the lease stipulated that native laborers be encouraged to work on the land. For this right the company would pay to the king and the governor twenty-five cents per month for each man. And it was further stated that each worker would be paid a satisfactory wage and be exempted from all taxation. This taxation had taken the form of labor performed for the chiefs and such other contributions as the chiefs wished to impose.”

As agriculture and business later developed in Kauai during the next twenty years or so, what this arrangement amounted to, economically and sociologically, was this:

Whatever ancient cultural motivations that had traditionally compelled Hawaiian working folk to labor for their tribe and their chiefs—these motivations were being supplanted by new incentives, directly related to 19th-century agricultural scales and practices, and modern, capitalistic business.

On page 132, Edward Joesing wrote:

“The idea of Hawaiians working for an employer who paid them wages, which could be disposed of as the earner saw fit, suddenly introduced a concept of independence that was not easily understood by the commoners and was feared by the chiefs. Adding to the independence of the commoners was the fact that the commoners no longer had to pay taxes to the chiefs. It was more than the average islander could comprehend. There was nothing in their history, no precedent, no legend, that could be used to bridge the gap. . .

On occasion the workers went through the motions of caring for the fields, accomplishing practically nothing. The plantation manager was beside himself (mad). He did not know the Hawaiians still could not comprehend the fact that their wages and the things they bought with them would be their own posessions and coud not appropriated at will by the chiefs.”

My rationale for combining these two different encounters—one with a fresh understanding of historical changes in 1830’s Kauai, and the other with a visiting cardinal this morning—my reasoning may not be entirely clear to you; it’s not even so clear to me, except it has something to do with this quote from a gospel:

“Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?”

FieldHawaii

King of Soul

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The Prescience and Presumption of Karl Marx

May 17, 2018

If you take the time to read Marx and Engels’ Communist Manifesto, you may be surprised at how accurate is their assessment of the 19th century industrializing world.

Before Marx and Engels were born, back in the last quarter of the 18th-century, the world witnessed two major revolutions, the American one in 1776. and the French version in 1789.

These two major historical uprisings evolved very differently, although they had both originated conceptually with the Enlightenment ideas of Liberty, Equality and Justice.

Here in the USA, all we had to do was eject King George III and his soldiers. We sent them packin’ back to the old country, England. Then we had what appeared  to be a virgin continent 4000 miles wide populated by indigenous tribes who had not yet been industrially developed.

In France it was a very different story. The newfound revolutionaries, after decapitating old monarchs and killing off their privileged network of landed royalty, still found their mob-enforced movement dragged down by a thousand-year-old heavy baggage of entrenched, fortified autocratic economy.

I can simplify an explanation the difference between the American and French Revolutions for you this way:

In France, the whole revolutionary process got a lot bloodier, more vicious, and it took a hell of a lot longer time to play out.

A few years after the revolting peasants decapitated Louis XVI and his queen Marie Antoinette, Napolean came along, took charge of the debilitated French state and rearranged everything. Later, after he went down, France  was in disarray for the next century, trapped in a revolving door of revolutionary fervor, anarchy, stubborn monarchists and a world that was changing faster than you can say “modernizing industry.”

Into this cauldron of overheating European political and mechanizing discontent, Karl Marx was born in 1818.

KarlMarx

Although the young communist was of German birth, his entrance to this world came in Trier, a town very near the French border.

Karl was a very smart guy. During the time of his educated, idealistic youth, he noticed and publicly identified many trends of modernizing industry and economics that were rapidly industrializing Europe and  eventually the entire world. Things were changing faster than a speeding locomotive.

Within all those changes, Marx identified a new socio-economic class that was establishing itself as the new people in-charge, after the fall of the French monarchy (the first of many monarchies that would be destroyed in coming years). This new, rising class of merchants, managers and craftsmen he called the “bourgeoisie.”

In his eerily prescient analysis of that emerging upper-middle class, Marx also hit on a description of  what we would later call ‘globalization,” Marx wrote:

“The bourgeoisie, by the rapid improvements of all instruments of production, (and) by the immensely facilitated means of communication, draws (sucks) all– even the most barbarian– nations into civilization. The cheap prices of its (the bourgeois’) commodities are the heavy artillery with which it batters down all Chinese walls, (and) with which it forces ‘the barbarians’ intensely obstinate hatred of foreigners to capitulate. It compels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeois  mode of production; it compels them to introduce what it calls civilization into their midst, i.e., to become bourgeois themselves. In one word, it creates a world after its own image.”

During the turbulent 1840’s, Marx labored with his associate Friedrich Engels to describe and evaluate these historical changes. Together they devised a fix for the world’s problem of a new bourgeois upper-class cruelly exploiting proletarian workers. Thus the Communist Manifesto developed. In 1848, they published the first version of their hot-off-the-press world-changing document. Here’s one part of their assessment of a rapidly industrializing 18th-century Europe:

“Modern industry has converted the little workshop of the patriarchal master into the great factory of the industrial capitalist. Masses of laborers, crowded into the factory, are organized like soldiers. As privates of the industrial army they are placed under the command of a perfect hierarchy of officers and sergeants. Not only are they slaves of the bourgeois class, and of the bourgeois State; they are daily and hourly enslaved by the machine, by the overlooker, and above all, by the individual bourgeois manufacturer himself.”

Marx and Engels identified the disruptive attributes of a new, capitalizing economic steamroller of modern industrialization. They foresaw its accompanying alienation, which would, it seemed, forever confound the proletarian working classes  in Europe, Russia and eventually every nation in the world. In the Communist Manifesto of 1848, Marx and Engels wrote:

“The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionizing the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society. . . Constant revolutionizing of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away; all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face, with sober senses, his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.”

The dynamic theorizing duo, Marx and Engels, had figured out that very disruptive bourgeois-imposed changes were in store for humanity. Little did they realize that the revolutionary, ostensibly corrective measures they would soon be positing would be ultimately just as disruptive, if not more-so, than the maelstrom of rapidly escalating industrialism that was fast overtaking 19th-century Europe.

Marx and Engels went on to concoct an elaborate prescription to fix the world and thus deliver us from the ravages of modern capitalism and its dehumanizing industrialization.

If you look at the implementation of their communist doctrine as it has evolved in the last  century and a half, you may be dismayed at how brutally the zealous proponents of Marxist communism (Stalin, Mao, Ho Chi Minh, Pol Pot et al) screwed up the original idealized vision for world communism.

Which goes to show that the best-laid plans of mice and men are generally worked out in programs and institutions very different from their original visions and versions.

Later, when Socialists came along, attempting to reconcile the old System of autocratic Europe with a perpetually revolutionizing Communist big-fix, Marx pooh-poohed the wimpish compromisers, remarking . . .

“. . . Socialism, however, (does not) understand the (necessary) abolition of the bourgeois relations of production, an abolition that can be effected only by a revolution.”

So here’s my question for Karl and Fred:

Hey, since you did identify  the extremely disruptive, debilitating bourgeois rearrangement of a capitalist, 19th-century world,   would your proposed communist remedy  be less disruptive and crippling than the total, ongoing revolution that a communist fix would require?

I think not.

Furthermore, if subsequent history is any indicator, the changes in human activity that would be necessary to manifest a communist society as idealized by Marx and Engels—such changes would require constant correction, and therefore perpetual revolution.

Doesn’t sound very beneficial, from a human standpoint.

Furthermore, this writer would suggest:

Since your theorized systems for world improvement dictate that the revolutionizing proletariat must cast aside their “opiate” of religion, and thus deny the presence and power of “God” . . .

it would seem that many of the simpleminded 21st-century religious proletariat workers out there in flyover country or Manchester or Italy or wherever—they might rise up and reject the technocratic decrees of their elitist deep-state Marx-inspired EU overlords.

I know you wanta write them present-day uncooperative proles off as “alt-right” and reactionary, but it seems to me they are the same “proletarian” workers that Marx and Engels thought they had identified as the future vanguard of true communism.

Apparently they have something else in mind than technocrat-generated statism, maybe just a “leave us alone” revolution.

King of Soul

Feb5, 2018

February 6, 2018

Floating in New York Harbor, this message was found in a bottle:

Sorry to burst the bubble here but

What the hell happened at 3 o’clock?

DowJ*1:5:18

Somebody yell fire in crowded theater?

Thundering herd, caught up in the Smoke and mirrors!

Blindsided by  a Flash Crash?

Blame it on the ‘bots!

Gotta be them damn short-selling ghosties

in the machine

again

Oh . . . what the hey. . .

The last thing I remember, Doc

I slid into the curve.

Downward, I remember

Downward, I can tell you that.

In the winkin’ of  an eye, and suddenly it’s every man for himself—

and the thundering herd turns tail, reverse

like some slumbering bearish curse,

Stampede!

Blind-sided by the ‘bots, or so I’m told.

Or did Jerome grab  the punchbowl

Already?

Did he pull the plug?

Did he pull  the rug

out, already, from under, 

toppling now, asunder

the elephant in our room?

Watch out!

We’re coverin’ our assets here. But it’s hard to hit

a moving target.

So I’ was thinkin’

This is more dire than a bull in a China flop;

caught in a freefall only the ’bots can stop.

Or until the final bell doth drop

Hell! It’s 4 o’clock;

but I’m still in shock.

We didn’t see it coming, from near, nor far!

you know how your assets are?

What about my precious metals?

Now the dust settles:

Dust bowl

Super bowl

punch bowl, where have we landed?

America has disbanded.

Yet the Eagles have landed.

Where the Eagles gather—’tis there the body’s found.

No more Patriot tricks to score touch down.

No, nay, hardly a sound

there’s no more joy in BeanTown;

mighty Brady has struck out!

Dynasty done, without a doubt.

Who’d’ve thunk it,

equivalent to a Philly gridiron dunk it!

Oh, you couldn’t hear the clock stop

as we watched the black swans flop.

No, we ne’er did detect that long-dreaded pin prick

as it burst our bubble like an e.d.wick,

yet we caught a twit from way, way down

in the beltway, political town

struck dumb now with some eerie Nunez memo

more cryptic than a dreary Ruuskie demo.

But I remember

it was 3 o’clock and then . . .

That’s all she wrote.

Glass Chimera

Yes, Toto, we’re in a brave new swirl.

January 28, 2018

Today while perusing a post on the Seeking Alpha financial network I came across what appears to be a very sensible explanation of what we see in the world of finance and business today.

This no-nonsense analysis is occasionally echoed by other writers on the SA site, most notably Mr. David Stockman, former budget director for President Reagan.

He was a high-flyer back in the day, the pre-Greenspan days.

But here I make reference to a different contrarian analyst, Mark A. Grant,  upon whose article I stumbled upon this morning.

  https://seekingalpha.com/article/4140703-universe-edge-restaurant?sht=p3a1ld&shu=8wcf#comment-77507865

From a distance, I’ve been following the contrarian school of thought ever since the fall of ’08. I say “from a distance” because I am neither an economist, nor a significant investor. I am a mere citizen who happens to be a consumer, an American, an author and a semi-retired person, age 66.

This contrarian school of alarmist financial analysis generally demonstrates a perpetual amazement; their astonishment revolves around the credit-mongering house-of-cards built by the central bankers of our preset world (the Fed, EuroCBank, Bank of Japan, People’s Bank of Japan, etc.). It’s not that the contrarians have much respect for of the central bankers’ delicate arrangement of interlocking currencies and trade incentives; rather, their astonishment arises from the mystery of why it has not yet fallen apart and produced a new crash.

You see, this new international construct is not founded upon traditional economics, but rather (as it appears to this layman) upon that (at the time) new-kid-on-the-block upstart school founded in the 1930’s by Mr. Keynes; it’s all about governments and banks perpetually tweaking national/international money spigots to produce certain desired effects.

Our current zombified house-of-cards scenario has been at work for a decade or so now, ever since the crash of ’08, with its aftermath of Great Recession or great whatever-it-is.

Getting back to the source of this present article: This morning I was reading Mr. Grant’s take on the present situation and comparing it for the umpteenth time to the contrarian undertow that continues to make perfect sense. This bearish complaint corner has been going on for so long I’m beginning to wonder if the fiat-wielding central bankers have actually managed to change, by their manipulations, the fundamental nature of money.

Maybe we actually are now in a brave new world where the old rules of debit/credit will never again apply.

With all these electrons flying around the planet–all these monetized digital representations of presumed wealth and bank-enabled assets–haven’t we truly ditched the old gold-backed world of currencies-dollars, pounds, francs, marks, drachmas, denarii, Euros, rubles, shekels, yen, yuan, SDRs and zlotys?

Could Bitcoin and such be nothing more than a flash-in-pan death-throes sparkle signifying the end of our great age of post-BrettonWoods expansion? 

Might this extended wave of central banks’ Quantitative Easing actually turn out to be the debt-driven tidal wave that propels us into a land that prime forgot, where all the rules and practices of days gone by are tossed aside forever in the liquidity flood and trash heap of history?

ShipWrek

We’re getting to a precarious place now where the only solution will be to tear up the score-cards, balance sheets, and start over. The central governments of the world are forever indebted to the central banks of the world. It certainly seems that way to this observer. I’ll be surprised if we ever get back to what Mr. Smith called “the wealth of nations.”

We ain’t in Kansas any more, Toto. Exactly where we have landed is unclear. And it just might be that tapping our ruby-slippered heels of old-school analysis are gone with the wind.

When this whirlwind of fiat-instruments does wind down to a dull roar and all the chips fall where they may, who/what institutional entities  will have wrangled control of the new asset-spewing beast? Whatever that entity turns out to be–it (they) will be in a position to dole out the newly-zombified assets to the world’s surviving movers and shakers. I guess most of us out here in lala land will be quakin’ in our boots.

As for us commoners, we may all of us have to settle for a mere meal-ticket while the big chips get re-assigned.

A meal-ticket  on a card or a chip, of course.

What troubles me is: what new rules or allegiances will be demanded by the powers–that-be?

What will it cost us, John Doe/Jane Smith, to even get in the game?

King of Soul

Solar Tech–what needs to happen

January 24, 2018

When I was a young man, idealistic and foolhardy, I attempted to start a newspaper.

I was in Asheville, a progressive southern town that was collectively trying to morph itself into a sort of Santa Fe of the South.

The year was 1977, and the gas-rationing effect of the so-called Arab oil embargo was still fresh in American minds. We, the generation who had convinced the gov. of the US to get the hell out of Vietnam, were convinced that we could also make a constructive impact on the way business and industry was conducted here in the USA.

Solar tech was a rising star in everybody’s minds, or so we thought at the time. With leadership from Mother Earth News and other early sustainability advocates, many of us free-thinking boomers thought we could shift American Big Business interests from dependency on costly oil to a widespread earth-changing acceptance of Solar, Geothermal and Wind technology.

Solari

So the fledgeling “newspaper” that we were promoting did a center-spread on Solar Energy and Solar Collectors. One of our fellows was a fellow named Jim Samsel; he was from Oregon, or had lived there, and seemed to know more about the subject than most us. He included some diagrams that, as I remember, helped us and the readers to get a visual on what solar collectors looked like and how they were supposed to work. We felt good about our tentative thrust into progressive energy conservation.

That was 41 years ago. Since that time, my life has shifted toward more down-to-earth activities such as loving my wife, raising the children, educating them and living as a Christian family. So my interests drifted away from quasi-experimental pastimes such as dreaming of solar tech, which was known to be expensive to install and maintain.

Since that time, my wife and I have purchased and lived in three houses. On none of them have we installed solar collectors. The expenses of of life and a growing family overtook my nascent interest in alternative, home-based, power installations such as solar.

Now we live in Boone, which is home to Appalachian State University.  Here at ASU, the alt-tech professors and students have put together a noteworthy Sustainability curriculum, with appropriate technology workshops and experimental projects that I occasionally hear about. I haven’t been keeping up with it, but I do know there’s a lot going on out there pertaining of improvements of solar collectors and storage cells.

And that is good. I say more power to them. I hope they can make a big  earth-friendly dent in the massive oil-based infrastructure that has for so long held us all in hydrocarbon bondage.

Solar1

Over the years,  I have occasionally pondered the plight of solar pioneers who have stayed with it, and I formed a little scenario in my mind that posits what needs to happen for solar to really get a significant foothold in our American infrastructure, by way of John Doe’s household and Jane Smith’s homestead.

My scenario starts with a fantasy: a widespread societal/economic attitude shift that inspires homeowners to install solar-panels on a massive scale—millions of homeowners thinking (believing) they can actually save money on their electrical bills by gathering energy from the sun on their very own rooftops. Makes a lot of sense if you think about it.

And the scenario works something like this:

Joe Blow has a few extra hundred bucks in his paycheck this week, so on Saturday he decides to go to the local Lowe’s or Costco or Sam’sClub and pickup another collector or two. He hauls them to the house and mounts them on the roof with a hardware system that has been patently engineered for simplicity of design and installation. The electrical connections below—hooking up to the panel and thereby the household electrical system—have previously been done by his electrician friends Wayne and Bryan.

Solarj

Then, after the connections and installation of the new panels have been accomplished in a half-day or so, he settles into an evening of relaxation with the surety that next month’s electric bill will be lower a a result of his incremental investments up on the roof. As time goes by, Joe uses a few extra bucks here and there to consistently repeat these simple periodic installations and thereby save $ by lowering his household’s power consumption.

Now what would it take for such a scenario to be reality instead of my tech-fantasy?

Starting with a look  back into history, back in the day, over a hundred years ago . . .

Henry Ford figured out how to actuate a new idea called mass production. Within a few decades, a Ford “in every garage” began to be a reality in American development and life. Every Joe Blow now understands that the reason this could happen was because Ford’s mass production assembly line enabled the company (and ultimately the wider automotive industry) to get the unit cost down to an affordable number that Joe and Jane Sixpack could actually spend to purchase a a car or truck for their family.

Now this is what we need for the solar industry in America–mass production and mass-market.

Who will take up the mantle? Who will heave the solartech excalibur out the stone of oil-dominance?

Tesla? GE? Some as-yet-unknown Startup in Phoenix, Detroit, Boone or Montgomery?

That remains to be seen, when and if it ever happens.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch . . .in a brand new 2018. . .

Now suddenly appears an Omen that  perhaps the previously-thought-to-be-conspiracy Industrial Establishment has finally gotten a hold of the Solar vision! The next new expansion manufacturing industry!

What omen is that? The President announces a 30% tariff on foreign-manufactured solar collectors (and washing machines.)

Does this protectionism portend a willingness of American Industry to, at last, leap into solar production because they can now, with a little gov. help, compete with the Chinese and South Korea?

Or, more cynically, does it indicate the continuing Establishment denial of Solar development on a large scale for the sake of continuing oil hegemony?

We shall see in the days ahead what the effects of this tariff will be on our still-nascent Solar industry in America.

SolarStLuke

  Glass half-Full

the Cloud Spinnin’

December 27, 2017

Crave and Dis were out on the net

analyzin’ what people do and don’t get.

They were striving like fools to make some sense of it all—

how stocks keep risin’ while Main Street’s in free fall.

As usual they couldn’t figure it out

‘cuz market keep whizzin’ up but never fizzle out.

What go up used to now an’ then come down

but in so many algos price discovery cannot be found.

Cuz them high-freq algo rhythms keep chasing differentials,

slicin’ and dicin’ in microsecond sequentials.

zig-zagging through zero on them slashing trades

with prancer and dancer caught up in their daytrade charades.

Fed and BLS try keep it all on an even keel;

thus wheelers and dealers can do what they feel

using that leverage to drive the thing high

while down in the flyover folks jez gettin by,

Out in the hinterland folk be livin’ paycheck to paycheck

while markets swirl with big Reserve ratchet.

Main Street and mall be sunk in some kinda funk

while stocks get high and bonds tend toward junk.

So here’s Fed pumpin’ air and BLS blowin’ smoke

while dis-ployees on the street can now take a toke,

maybe ease da pain a bit and sluff off the stress

while scammers keep on lookout for nearest egress.

Meanwhile back at the tranche it’s a tale of two Worlds:

cuz Feds stir deposits in Central Banks’  swirl

to keep all dem fiats floatin’ and spinnin’

and keep all dem dealers winnin’ and grinnin’.

Meanwhile back at the ranch it’s a tale of two Worlds:

gridiron boys diss it as  star/stripes unfurl.

Now politicos polarize while civility disappears

and folks get edgy cuz all these changes raise fears.

The lefties said we gotta heal and gotta come together,

with blah blah blah, kumbaya and all this carbon-driven weather.

But then the Donald popped out and he stole the show

cuz flyover folk said the lefties gotta go,

Said they made war on religion and so made way for jihad.

“No, it ain’t about about carbon, transgender, nor deleting our God.”

Them lefties wanna keep all our icons sexy and cool:

men, women and all in between, let ‘em drool.

Yet here come them jihadis to slap hijab on women

so men can’t be tempted while breathin’ or swimmin’.

Maybe lefties should reconsider morality and a little self-control

before they snuff out the disciplines of that religion of old.

Now we have progressive elites vs. them rich one-percenters;

we have media elites with Berkeley dissenters,

while Joe Blow and Jane Doe threaten to take up arms

cuz their kids can’t be programmed by ungendered schoolmarms.

It’s a Tale of two World-views out there, I tell ya,

with debilitating ideologies and digitizing money.

But don’t freak out as you wander through this fair;

from now on we pull money from thin air.

I mean it used to be soil and toil, blood and sweat

as we toiled and toiled our assets to get.

But now the new age has risen upon us:

Everyone’s due their guaranteed bonus.

Such a tempest we have now

in the swirling deficit cloud,

it insures us all winning

so the world keeps on spinning.

Cloud

King of Soul

Kiss George goodbye

November 12, 2017

You can kiss ole George goodbye.

He was great as a Father to our country. He was courageous as Commander of the Continental Army, when they ran King George’s redcoats back to England.

He performed wisely as our first President. Washington’s dignified leadership tempered the contentious impulses of our first politicians,  Jefferson, Adams, Hamilton, et al.

As a legendary figurehead  of American leadership he has served well for over two centuries.

Young George’s honest admission about the cherry tree incident  still inspires us to honesty and integrity.

But as the face on the dollar bill, his days are numbered.

Dollar

Most of your purchases are (are they not?) far beyond the 1-$2 range. And, think about it, what can you buy with a dollar bill these days?  A sugar drink at a convenience store? Probably not. They’ll supersize you into greater quantities of go-juice with your gas and you’ll be whipping out the plastic stripe.

These days all that used-to-be-money is just  swiped stripes and inserted chips and electrons flowing around the globe.

And that old greenback—what is it really? Used to be a silver certificate, then a Federal Reserve Note. Now the Fed has got the legal tender’s stability all figured out, so that the value of a buck walks a fine line between what it was last year and a what the CPI will allow you now.

Which isn’t as much as it used to be.

So these days we have, and have had for quite a while now, a comfortably numb currency inflation. That Federal Reserve Note in your pocket appreciates at a predetermined rate of 1-2% per year, and this calculated depreciation compensates for the variability of our paper dollar’s value since we ditched the gold/silver standard back in the 1960’s.

But I think this waffling Dollar will be with us for only a little while longer.

How much longer?

Washington’s greenback will probably float around until such a time as BrettonWoods doth move against Dunce’nGame for the last time. Then the weight of the world will be too much to bear.  Tensioned Tectonic shifts in the world’s monetary plates will render our legal tender to disability status, and those Federal Reserve Notes slipping in and out of international accounts will no longer be the world’s reserve currency.

’Tis then the Treasury will nudge Ole George into retirement. He’ll be on Social Security like the rest of us, with direct deposit, never even seeing the checks, never handling the cash, merely reaping the debit presence of those positive credit numbers. ’Tis then they’ll gently compel Ole George into retirement.  Maybe they’ll give him a gold watch for old time sake.

So long, George. We’ve felt so fat and happy having your pocketbook visage to enable our consumer shopping excursions. Your accomplishments have been Notable, expansive and historic, like Norman Rockwell scenes from our magazine covers and dime store excursions in all those bygone petrol-fueled Main Street purchase excursions.

Fare thee well, George. But I’ll never forget the smooth, crisp feeling of your fibered texture between my digits. Ah, those were the days, the dollar days!  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2KODZtjOIPg.

King of Soul 

The Tweaking of the Technos

September 2, 2017

‘T’was about two hundred year ago that the world tilted toward changing at an exponential pace.

The advent of the steam engine had a lot to do with this. Imagine, for instance, what native American tribes, living primitively, must have thought about the first locomotive when they saw a big huffn’puff thing speeding toward them along the steel track.

It was a terrible sight to behold– belching steam and screaming along across the landscape like it owned the place.

Locomotv

And in terms of world history, that wasn’t so very long ago. We humans have definitely picked up the pace of our progress.

We’ve come a long way since those groundbreaking days of the steam locomotives. Back in those early techno times our big deal was extraction. By means of steam-powered locomotion we extracted vast amounts of resources from vast landscapes for a vastly long time and then we transported those extracted elements vast distances, to industrializing cities where they were converted into vast products that were sold and distributed to vast markets of people whose consuming habits were fastly becoming vast.

All this vastness was enabled because our new powering technologies made everything happen on vastly larger scales, and in vastly faster timetables.

Eventually, the trains went the way of the buffalo when our cars and trucks began to roll off mass-production assembly lines and then all across the globe. Before you knew it, everybody and their brother were driving around via internal combustion vehicles of one type or another, spewing carbon emissions and additives and whatnot all around the globe.

Because so many people had jumped onto the industrio-techno bandwagon we found ourselves with vast labor markets which consisted of vast numbers of people cranking out all these vast inventories of consumer goods and services.

That whole industrial revolution thing wrought the humanic world into being a carbon-belching machine. After a century or two it has become an emissions-emitting perpetual motion device. But nowadays our whole vastly spinning automaton of techno progress is being re-evaluated. For the sake of equality-based prosperity, those vast labor markets are being tweaked by office-loads of technocrats who want to do what is best for mankind. But in a world of expending (used to be expanding) resources, it becomes more and more problematical to keep everybody busy in production.

By ‘n by, for management purposes more and more folks have become involved in producing information, so we can be smart about stuff. Information  used to be stored in libraries, but now is stored in digitized files. Our terminology has morphed. As we used to shovel dirt and ore and coal and whatnot we now move vast loads of information. For simplicity sake we now call it info. Furthermore, as our  exponential changes are happening at a vastly stepped-up pace we have  spun into calling it “data.”

We notice that, while the world economy used to run on vast extractions of elements, it now runs on vast iterations of data. And if you believe that, I’ve got some swampland in Houston I’ll sell ya.

But I digress.

In our 21st-century techno-world we have generated vast hordes of data-analyzers, experts, number-crunchers and technocrats, whose mission is to  keep everything cruising along on an even keel.

Their informed consensus is that we need  a steady state, which eventually morphs into a steady State. Old style capitalism is dead, y’all.

The most potent example of this trend is the Fed.

A century ago, we had banks that were fervently financing the great industrial expansion. Now all the banks have become mere bit-players; the real mover and shaker is the Federal Reserve, the financier of last resort, as they are moving vast file-loads of reserve fiat currencies around the world the way JP and John D used to move their earth-shaking  investments.

Now the Fed keeps it all humming along on an even keel, not too fast not too slow. No more boom or bust, no more depressions, but rather one long macro-recession/expansion whereby we perpetually power the world economy at a predictably stable theoretical 2% expansion rate so as to assure that the main characters have assets to pass around  like peace pipes and, along with that, generally everybody has a job to do so we  don’t have too many folks fall into non-productive dependency on the system.

Good luck with that, y’all.

Therefore,  let us henceforth have everybody producing something, but not anything that will aggravate the emissions hockey-stick curve. Let’s keep the proles fat n’ happy—or, excuse me—fit n’ happy, if possible without deepening the carbon footprint, lest we fall into deep sh_t.

A good way to do that is convert everybody to being producers of data instead of them being producers of carbon-spewing autos and such.

In olden days we had vast factories where workers cranked out trains and trucks and autos and washing machines and TVs and then microwaves and computers and now data and data and data and more data.

So now the world runs on data, don’t you know. And if you believe that I’ve got some swamp land in Houston I’ll sell you.

But I digress.

How ‘bout I give you an example of what it means to be living in a blahblah new world where our collective assets are studiously maintained by  tweaking  technocrats.

Check out this data from an analysis of labor/welfare incentives in Europe, posted  last week by Daniel Seikel.

https://www.socialeurope.eu/activation-work-poverty  

“If it were true that employment is the best route out of poverty, including in-work poverty, then, logically, the share of working poor should at least not increase if there is significant employment growth. The combination of employment growth and increasing in-work poverty suggests that activation policies might shift poor jobless persons/households to poor working persons/households. Therefore, it is necessary to analyse the effects of different labour market policies on in-work poverty. In particular, what impact do the different elements of activation policy – conditionality, re-commodification and active labour market policies – have?

In theory, two effects are possible. First, active labour market policies can improve the qualification of job-seekers and enable them to get better paid jobs. This can lift formerly poor households above the poverty threshold (disposable household income below 60 percent of national median income). Second, the demanding elements of activation – strict conditionality and a high degree of re-commodification – can force unemployed individuals to accept job-offers even if the pay-levels are low. In this case, the income of the successfully activated might be too low to lift the household above the poverty threshold – poor unemployed would become working-poor.

That’s true, Daniel, I suppose. I’ll take your word for it. But whatever happens, however all this turns out, I can see we’ve come a long way from

Locomotv

to

TweakTek

In the olden days, the command was:

Move that barge; tote that bale!

The new program is:

Tote that phone; send that file!

This is progress, and this is what progressives have called for. It’s no wonder the outcome is Twitter, in which all the complexity of former times is dumbed down to 140 bits or pieces per event.

Good luck with that, y’all!

Glass Chimera 

We all live in a Blueish Bussarine

April 13, 2017

It’s amazing what we humans have done with techno throughout the ages of time

Way back in the mists of anthropological mystery some Croation CroMagnon got a bright idea to knock off the angular faces of a stone. He kept chipping away at it until the thing was more or less round; it looked so cool he decided to make another one. Then he got the history-rocking idea  to punch a hole in the middle of each stone and  then connect the two together with a wooden pole.

Next thing you know he’s wheeling his stuff around on a cart, gathering his food a la cart. This was definitely an improvement.

Human history rolled along at a quicker pace after that.

Eons of time went by. Then a while back ole Isaac Watts put mind and metal together with the the potentialities of heat and water.  in an advantageous arrangement. that became know as the steam engine and so it wasn’t long before we homo sapiens were using the thing to power everything up. Some guy came along and slapped that steam engine onto a cart with a set of wheels and whammo we humans had ourselves a powered vehicle for purposes of transporting ourselves and all our stuff.

Wow!

Henry Ford happened along and he paired up assembly line strategy with mass production productivity. Next thing you know, everybody and their brother is out driving around on Sunday afternoon in a Model T or Model A.

Soon afterward, some other folks come along and did their version of Ford’s world-changing whirligig, so then we had wheeling around not only Models A and T but also models GM and MG and model GTO and BMW and model ’57 Chevy and ’65 Mustang and so forth  and so on.

All along the way, these fossil-fuel-powered motorized mobilizers were extending their influence into the other elements such as air and water.

Airplanes in flight, Boats on water, millions of them puttering along with their enginary cousins everywhere here there and yon and all over the world.

In 1966, a scant year after the historic ’65 Mustang made its mark on the prairies and the dusty deserts along Route 66, the Beatles came up with a new idea, the yellow submarine.

“We all live in a yellow submarine,” they sang.

This is a fascinating concept.  The Beatles never stated it blatantly in their song, but the idea is this: in our evolving 20th-century consciousness we can surmise that this planet–even as huge as it is–is nevertheless a closed ecological system, not unlike a submarine.

Another expression of this idea is seen at Disney World in what the Disneyites call “Spaceship Earth.”

While our ancestors thought of the earth as somehow infinite in its distances and its capacities, we 21st-century world-dwellers are understanding that what comes up must come down. Pollution up, pollution down. Carbon up, carbon down, and everything (as the stuff spewing from our exhaust pipes) that goes up eventually comes down. All that stuff we spew into  the air and all that stuff we bury in the landfills, it doesn’t just magically go away.

“Out of sight, out of mind” is a fallacy that perpetuates our fantasy of an earth that possesses infinite capacity.

We the people who inhabit the so-called “developed world” are now starting to take this emissions stuff seriously. Meanwhile, in other parts of the world, the so-called “third world” and “developing nations,” those folks are trying to develop their economies and their infrastructures under the constraints of our post-modern enlightened consensus about us all living in a limited-capacity closed ecosystem–a sort of yellow submarine.

In our present world, India seems to be in a developmental category that is somewhere between “developed world” and “third world.”

As I was strolling along yesterday on a high-tech promenade of Disney’s Animal Kingdom, I lingered to appreciate this old disabled bus.

It used to be a carbon-emitting transportation machine in a third world country, but now it has morphed into an ice cream booth in our hyper-entertained theme park of USA inc.

I would like to  thank the Artist(s) of India, whoever he or she was who decorated this bus. Nice work!

And I would like to commend the Disney person(s) who saw the historic value of this work of art. To me, it represents the idea that we all live in a blueish bussarine, and not everything that wears out must be thrown away.

Glass Chimera

Austerity or Stimulus?

February 25, 2017

Well this is an improvement.

When I was still a gleam in my daddy’s eye, Germany fought a world-sized war against France. But now, in 2017, all the obsolete ideology that then fueled both fanaticisms–fascist v. communist–has withered down into a battle of ideas.

Fiscal ideas, like whether budgets should be balanced, or put on hold until things get better.

From a Peace vs. War standpoint, I’d say that delicate balancing act is an improvement, wouldn’t you? Budgets and Economic Plans are, theoretically, much more manageable than tanked-up military campaigns.

Now Germany and France– those two nation-state heavyweights whose fiscal priorities set the course for the rest of Europe–they are getting along just fine now. They expend financial energies trying to keep the whole of Europe humming along on all cylinders. Budget deficits that drag down Euro economies are generated mostly in the lackadaisical southern  economies–Greece, Italy and Spain.

But those two mid-continent economic heavyweights–France and Germany, function as fiscal opposites, polarizing European values and budget priorities in opposite directions. They are two very different countries; and yet Germany and France are not as opposite as they used to be. A lot has changed since they finally made peace back in 1945.

At the time of that last Great War, early 1940’s, Germany was suffering through the death-throes of a dying monarchy. What was left of the Kaiser’s authoritative legacy had been lethally manipulated into a world-class death regime by a demonic tyrant who wore an odd, obnoxious little mustache on his flat German face.

France up to that time was still stumbling through a sort of awkwardly adolescent stage, having booted their kings and queens out back in the early stages of the industrial revolution, and then replacing, in stages, the ancient monarchy with a struggling new Republic.

What the French did as the 18th-century came to a close was similar to what we Americans did, but different. We had ditched King George III in 1776. The French cut off Louis XVI in 1792. On the other side of the Rhine, the Germans kept their Wilhelm top dog hanging on a thread until the Allies ran him down in 1918.

We Americans did a whole new thing after we rejected the old wineskins of monarchic government back in 1776; we had a lot going for us–a vast, nearly-virgin continent that stretched out for 3000+ miles, with plenty of room to grow,  and to expand our new-found explorations for Life, Liberty and Pursuits of Happiness.

The Europeans–neither the French nor the Germans–did not have all that fruited-plains expansion space like we had. They were cramped up over there in the Old World.

Having wielded a fierce guillotine ruthlessness upon their king and queen, the French tried to spread the wealth all around, ensuring that everybody got a chunk of it. They had wrung a blood-stained liberte from the palaces of privilege in 1789. Over the course of the next century and a half, they generally moved leftward the whole time, toward an egalitarian idea of solidarity.

The Germans have always tended toward authoritarian leadership, which is one reason why Hitler was able to pull off the abominations that he did. But we Allies put that to an end in 1945.

Thank God.

Now in the post-WWII Europe, the Germans have turned out to be pretty good kids on the block, considering all that had happened back in the day. The last 3/4 of a century has seen a remarkable recovery. They went through some serious changes, rebuilding after  losing two wars, and then being divide into two different countries.

Since 1990, when Germany became united again into one country, those krauts have established a pretty impressive record. They now have the strongest, most stable economy in Europe.  One reason it turned out this way is: the Germans have historically been, by necessity, very disciplined, rational people and they know how to get things done.

The French are different from that. You gotta love the French. As the Germans have made the world a better place with their great music (Bach and Beethoven), the French have brightened and lightened our worldly life with their very lively, expressive and impressionistic art, coupled with their unbridled Joie de vivre. And let’s not forget the original architectural piece-de-resistance of the Western World. It was French creativity married to inventive 19th-century industrialism that brought us the Eiffel Tower in 1889.

ParisGargoyl

The French do progress with style and artistry; the Germans get it done with impressive efficiency and precision.

As an American who has geneologic roots in both cultures, this fascinates me.

Their two different attitudes about generating prosperity also encompass, respectively, their approaches to solving money problems.

Or more specifically. . . solving “lack of money” problems.

A new book, Europe and the Battle of Ideas, explains how these two nations, as the two polarizing States of modern Europe, each lead in their own way to set policy, together,  for solving Europe’s financial problems. Their tandem leadership is enhanced by their two very different strategies.

The simplest way to describe their treatments of European deficits is this:

The Germans are into Austerity; the French are into Stimulus.

Or to put it into a classic perspective:

The Germans want to balance the books,  thereby squeezing all governments and banks into economic stability. The French want the assets to get spread around so everybody can have a chunk of it.

How do I know anything about this?

This morning I saw Markus Brunnermeir being interviewed; he is one of the authors of the new book, Europe and the Battle of Ideas.

  https://www.socialeurope.eu/2017/02/europes-future-will-settled-battle-ideas/

In this fascinating, very informative interview, the questions are being posed by Rob Johnson, President of Institute for New Thinking, whatever that is.

Together, these two guys explore the two basic problem-solving approaches to working out Europe’s economic deficiencies. And it just so happens that the two main strategies are related to those two old nationalized culture, described above, between Germany and France.

Sounds simplistic perhaps, but this comparative analysis makes a lot of sense when you hear these two knowledgable men talk about the present condition of economic Europe.

So, rather than try to explain it to you, I’ll simply leave you with this list of characteristics, as identified by. Mr Markus Brunnermeier. The list identifies how each country’s budgetary priorities contributes to a strategy for solving Europe’s fiscal woes.  My oversimplified version of it  looks like this:

France

Germany

1.Stimulus

1.Austerity

2.Liquidity

2.Solvency

3.Solidarity

3.Liability

4.Discretion

4.Rules

5.Bail-out

5.Bail-In

Consider these two lists of national characteristics as two different strategies for solving large-scale economic problems.

Here are a few notes I made while watching Mr. Johnson interview Mr. Brunnermeier:

For French, the problem is always liquidity. Stimulus will flush money out of markets again.

Germans see problems as solvency difficulty. Fix the fundamentals. Don’t throw good money after bad.

French: If you see it as a liquidity problem, just bail them out.

German. If you see it as solvency problem,  Bail in, to avoid future hazards. Bail-in means: Bond holders who essentially gambled with a country or bank and  then reap the gains on upside– they should take losses on downside.

There was a radical shift in attitudes in Europe over the Cyprus bank crisis in spring 2013. Who pays? Who covers the losses?

. . . Bail-in or bail-out?

French fear systemic risk so they tend toward governmental bail-outs.

The Germans, on the other hand, see crisis as an opportunity to address and solve the systemic deficiencies. So penalize  the depositors/ investors; others will learn from that, and you will have bank-runs in other places. Such circumstances provide incentives for institutions and individuals to take responsibility for their own actions and investments.

Just how the Europeans get all this worked out, we shall see in the days ahead. And the working-out may provide some lessons for all of us.

Smoke