Sunday, August 20, 2017

Could New Time Value Counter Negative Wage Growth?

If the zero sum political mindset coming out of Washington weren't enough, the Fed's reliance on an outdated Phillips Curve framework, is another reminder of inept policy. In spite of Tim Duy's hopes that wage growth will soon improve, as Marcus Nunes aptly illustrates, "Faster wage growth is not in the cards."

Earlier this month, Eric Basmajian of Seeking Alpha, was also focused on the bigger negative wage growth picture. in "The Slowdown is Happening", he wrote:
The impact of negative wage growth is beginning to rip through the economy as the economic data shows serious warning signs...The biggest market theme that is ultimately causing the slowdown in the economy, and the stock market, is the inability of wage growth to outpace shelter inflation...Growth in employment has been slowing for over two years. As employment growth slows, the growth in total wages earned slows as well. Wages are the driving factor behind all consumption.
Even as the cost of new homes has fallen slightly, the rising cost of existing homes, more than makes up the difference. Basmajian continues:
...rent inflation is severely negative which is signaling immediate distress to the consumer. In fact, the only time this metric was negative during the past 30 years was in recessions so its current standing at -1.1% is very alarming. This negative growth in wages cannot be shrugged off anymore because the adverse effects are bleeding into headlines left and right.
Part of the decline in wage growth, is directly attributable to the organizational patterns of the present. Too many aspects of time value in the marketplace have become difficult to quantify, which in turn means difficulty in determining the necessary resource utilization for aggregate output.

Further, the fact so many time based services rely on limited revenue streams at the outset, means the wage compensation of non tradable sector time based product, is diverging. Less of this time based product, will continue to receive "full" compensation and benefits in the near future. And the services product of non tradable sector activity, is a larger category than the wages of tradable sectors which remain more broadly represented by aggregate output gains.

While today's non tradable sectors likely have few options for reversing wage divergence, better internal alignment of services capacity, could assist the real wage capacity of workers with lower income levels. Fortunately, time value could become a more important component of quantifiable output and wealth creation. Matched time (time arbitrage), as a unit of economic measure, would make it possible to generate a defined form of local equilibrium for non tradable sector activity.

Perhaps "defined equilibrium" would be a more benign description of economic possibility. In part since the word "alternative" is becoming associated with extreme viewpoints, I may be using it less. Defined equilibrium seems to provide better clarity, since it suggests unique "takes" and qualities for group preferences in local settings.

Defined equilibrium settings are all about the generation of new wealth. A marketplace for time value, could mean productive agglomeration with more flexible strategies for risk taking and investment, in terms of both human capital and asset creation. With a little luck, new approaches to wealth building could ease the pressure on more highly sought after regions of economic activity. That pressure is evident - for instance - in the higher costs of existing housing, in relation to new housing.

When units of time are purchased via other units of time, individuals can directly contribute to time based commodity formation, on mutually agreeable terms. Hence time arbitrage would expand equilibrium capacity, whereas labour (time value) in traditional non tradable sector activity is additional velocity in an already existing equilibrium. Time arbitrage could eventually contribute to real wage growth, since it takes place in a framework which reduces two basic areas of consumption costs. More than anything else, the costs of housing and time based services have made consistently rising nominal wages appear as though a necessity.

Hopefully, others who are moderate in outlook, will come forward with more ideas that can counter negative wage growth, as well. Too many moderates have not been taken seriously by the public in recent years, because they have not been proactive on economic reforms to an extent society can continue moving forward. Unfortunately, it's no longer enough to defend capitalism in hopes that all will be well, at this critical juncture. It's time to allow economic experimentation for small groups - experimentation which doesn't require making harsh demands on those who don't wish to participate. Fortunately, economic inclusion and integration, need not mean that everyone has to walk the same economic path.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Moderates and Other Impartial Spectators

Is it possible to remain impartial as the statues of an earlier era come down? As it turns out, Adam Smith, in "The Theory of Moral Sentiments", has plenty to say which highlights the polarization and political struggles of our time. Here, I'll include most of a quote which was also noted by Timothy Taylor:
In a nation distracted by faction, there are, no doubt, always a few, thought commonly but a very few, who preserve their judgement untainted by the general contagion. They seldom amount to more than, here or there, a solitary individual, without any influence, excluded, by his own candour, from the confidence of either party, and who, though he may be one of the wisest, is necessarily, upon that very account, one of the most insignificant men in the society. All such people are held in contempt and derision, frequently in detestation, by the furious zealots of both parties. A true party-man hates and despises candour; and, in reality, there is no vice which could so effectively disqualify him for the trade of a party-man as that single virtue. The real, revered, and impartial spectator, therefore, is, upon no occasion, at a greater distance than amidst the violence and rage of contending parties. To them, it may be said that such a spectator scarce exists any where in the universe. Even to the great Judge of the universe, they impute their own prejudices, and often view that Divine Being as animated by all their own vindictive and implacable passions. Of all the corrupters of moral sentiments, therefore faction and fanaticism have always been by far the greatest.
While it's becoming more difficult to keep the open mind of an impartial spectator, in some respects the South has struggled with impartiality for a long time. Adam Smith's above quote serves as a reminder of the isolation I've often felt. There's a "price to pay" when we keep our distance from the fray, especially if we're white, and have never left the the South for a long period. Even though I've been fortunate over the years to encounter inspiring individuals with a moderate outlook, much of my inspiration has come from books whose authors lived well beyond my own environment and culture.

Now, tribalism even continues to grow in importance, as economic stagnation gives moderates less of a chance to build a more broadly shared economic consensus. Similarly, there's little room for middle ground, regarding the statues from the days of the Confederacy, which are now being removed. Yet as a Southerner with family roots going back generations, I unexpectedly find myself with mixed feelings.

Will history be "lost"? There's a mostly forgotten part of our economic history, which for me holds more meaning than those statues. For some observers, the harsh circumstance of our recent past - and what so greatly contributed to those circumstance - was never seriously considered. There's no denying that whites have remained guilty of excluding others who are perceived to be "too" different. Yet this exclusion was also a reflection, of a broader context in which everyone in the South remained essentially excluded from the dynamism and vitality of our own nation, for generations. Is it not evident for example, that military bases which bear the "wrong" names, serve as a sort of national apology, to encourage the Southern youth still willing to sacrifice their lives for a now united nation.

Oddly, I can't help but believe that things would have turned out differently - much more positively - had Abraham Lincoln not been assassinated. Since he died when he did, many in the South suffered harsher conditions and loss in the aftermath of the Civil War, than would otherwise have been the case. In some instances, the victors destroyed or took many of the worldly possessions of poor folk who had never owned a slave in their lives. Lincoln received a lot of blame from the South which he did not deserve, because he didn't want the devastation to go beyond what he perceived as necessary to win the war. He'd hoped for a level of understanding, which simply never had a chance to evolve.

Consequently, it wasn't just that the South lost the war, it was the ways in which everyone was forced to experience defeat, which left much of the country in what was essentially a third world status for rural areas, well into mid twentieth century.

What's mind boggling for Southerners such as myself is that tribalism suggests we're either "supposed" to harbor perpetual anger about what happened, or else completely deny the connections between long standing economic hardships and morally imposed punishment. Why should I have to take such an extreme position, regarding the devastation that happened to all the people involved, regardless of race? Was I supposed to either deny or be totally angry about that hardscrabble world, one still evident in the photo albums and memories of my family's past?

Perhaps the healing has been more difficult than it should have been, because the South continued to suffer for generations as the rest of the nation prospered. I wish for everyone concerned, that real healing was not so far out of reach. The worst aspect of it all, is that Lincoln didn't live long enough, to prevent the excessively harsh treatment of the people whose culture I've experienced and made my own peace with, over the course of a lifetime.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

A Level Target is Representative, Not Interventionist

John Tamny of Forbes, insists that the intentions of market monetarists are interventionist. He writes:
While they surely mean well, "Market Monetarists" like David Beckworth and Ramesh Ponnuru ascribe to the Federal Reserve an ability to centrally plan money supply which is no different from the Soviet era conceit that governments could plan production. And that's exactly what the economist and pundit are calling for, a planning of production. Their commentary is very explicit that specific rates of money growth from the Fed will lead to specific GDP outcomes.
He continues:
Where there's production, there's always money to facilitate the exchange of what's produced.  
If only the latter assertion were actually true. Just one of the unfortunate results of a slow but steady monetary tightening, is the decline in brick and mortar retail. Despite the recent prevalence of online shopping, this retail "substitute" only represents a portion of brick and mortar losses.

And so far as "planning" goes, no market monetarist predicts - nor would they want to - that a level target would lead to "specific" GDP outcomes. A level target rule would be put into place, to encourage free markets to the greatest extent possible. If anything, a level target could be thought of as the most obvious means by which to protect production which already exists.

Tamny's interventionist argument, while leveled at market monetarists, is also reflective of further interventionist arguments against the Fed itself. Nevertheless, the role of the Fed is complex, in that the use of fiat monetary representation is essentially quite new. Presently, a level target could help to smooth the process by which which the dynamics of tradable and non tradable sector activity interact with each another. Services generation has meant substantial changes to the real economy, as both fiscal and credit based relationships have become more complex.

Nevertheless, those who attack the Fed more directly, also have issues with the fact that both governmental and financial intentions for Fed policy are by no means benign. Money is vital as an institutional path, and its marketplace role needs to be more broadly understood, so as not to be continually hijacked by competing interests.

To the degree a central bank may be thought of as interventionist, also depends on how policy makers approach monetary representation. Why, for instance, do some policy makers downplay the role of money, in an institution purportedly created to provide monetary representation for a nation's citizens?

There are three competing factions within the same institution that are attributed to interventionist intentions: monetary representation, government (fiscal) activity, and financial activity. Yet the market monetarist goal, which is a further adaptation of earlier monetarist roles, is to promote economic stability. This monetary "well being" for the greatest number possible, by forming an accurate representation of all economic components, is different from the fiscal and financial activities which are always partial income claims on a given set of equilibrium conditions. Interest rates in particular, tell stories about those claims. The Fed may be complicit in such claims to the degree that it chooses to give priority to governments and/'or financial interests, for whatever reason. Of course when central bankers do so, the result can be lost monetary equivalence for society as a whole.

Fortunately, many have moved past the simplistic rhetoric of individuals such as John Tamny, but the arguments he employs can still be misleading. In short, it helps to consider context. Some groups may consider a level nominal target to be "interventionist", should it appear to prevent further spending for the preferred programs of one's constituency. Likewise, a level target might frustrate the preferences of financial interests in terms of central bank actions. When it comes to charges of interventionism, context matters.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Economics as Means to Confront Isolation

One of the main reasons I continue to promote a marketplace for time value, is to confront the social isolation which results from the restricted marketplace patterns of today's developed nations. And "solutions" such as basic income, would only add to the isolation that already exists, essentially, by paying people to give up on real societal participation - in some instances for the full duration of their lives. It's difficult for me to see how families or individuals with no economic connections, could even appreciate a guaranteed income "consolation prize". "Give it up" money mostly serves as a reminder that what one seeks to contribute to the world, is supposedly not necessary, now or ever.

Imagine how much better it would be, to monetarily compensate individuals for helping one another, and do so with our full societal blessing. What if the youth who live in areas with limited economic opportunity, could generate new wealth via the time they exchange for assisting peers and neighbors with life's daily challenges? Is this not better than standing on a street corner, selling drugs? Would it not be better than an economically imposed isolation which breeds hate, fear, violence, and resignation?

Somehow, if people were raised in a mutual assistance culture, the ever present drive by shootings that I hear about on the daily news, would surely diminish. Last night, an older gentleman only a few years younger than myself, lost his life to crossfire in the street, when all he was doing was sitting in his garage, talking with a friend. It's difficult to imagine that with a culture which considers mutual assistance as genuine wealth, how anyone would instead find need to turn to divisive identity groups, gangs and identity politics.

For centuries, people didn't need the formal economic interaction of compensated time based services. After all, there were numerous means by which to coordinate resource use patterns, which ensured that people would come together to get things done. Only as earlier coordination patterns give way to automation and technology, are we faced with the reality of a society which is quickly forgetting how to work, negotiate and reciprocate for mutual wants and desires. No dialogue regarding the future is complete, if it doesn't include a profound determination to reduce the growing isolation of our era.

Even though some still dismiss isolation as a first world problem, it's well past time to quit doing so. No one can afford to ignore that the domestic integrity of developed nations is slowly unraveling. We can overcome isolation by recognizing why free markets were such a civilizing factor in the first place. Free markets allowed people to discover commonly held interests, mutual trust, and lifelong opportunities. The non tradable sectors which have intentionally denied people similar free market options such as these, are proving to be a slow motion train wreck.

Let's don't allow the centuries long free market gains of our tradable sectors, to slip away. Let's not retreat into anti-growth dogma and the exclusionary visions of tribal identity politics. We can overcome all this craziness. Together, we can rebuild a stronger economy, one fully capable of overcoming hate and isolation.

From the America I still remember:
This is For All The Lonely People

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Some Notes on Equilibrium Corporation Rationale

Might the gig economy include a positive "endgame" for many of us in the years to come? There's at least one problem, for anyone who gains employment on these terms. Today's gig economies don't provide the forms of economic continuity, that are capable of assisting individuals with their personal responsibilities and aspirations over time.

Yet government dialogue to date regarding gig economy "shortfalls", doesn't quite capture this thorny issue. Tim Harford was supportive of a government approach in a recent post, but the "essential" government benefits he highlighted, aren't the same as the economic connections which matter for citizens in a knowledge centered economy. Plus, should governments take a benefits oriented approach (to address what employers can't provide), more imbalance would result, in terms of what I recently described as equilibrium flows. We need a new institutional approach which contributes to the total stock of equilibrium, instead of making ever more demands on the circulating revenue we still have.

Equilibrium stock growth is particularly needed, to address the looming problem of government debt. Without a proactive response in the near future, as Timothy Taylor stressed, "Pretty much everyone agrees that the US fiscal outlook for the long run--a few decades into the future--looks grim unless changes are made."

Fortunately, a better utilization of human capital, would address the ongoing budget dilemmas of the present. No one can expect taxation to redistribute wealth to everyone, when only the skill sets of a relative few are even being tapped on economic terms. Even now, the wealth of human capital potential, is still being subtracted from the total equation. A better approach is needed, which can ultimately return human capital to the total wealth equation.

Today's non tradable sectors have limited both production and consumption, through a process that can be described of as making the "perfect" the "enemy of the good". One needs highly regulated "perfect" homes and skill sets, increasingly, just to live a normal life. Alas, this "perfect as the enemy of the good" scenario, is the very definition of economic stagnation.

Budgetary entitlement costs, for instance, are being squandered on time centered services markets which were never designed for full inclusion to begin with. Yet by the time many individuals realize the underlying problems for these markets, they are already well past the age when one might normally choose a career path, to focus on structural solutions for these areas.

Hence there is a complete lack of market design that would allow older individuals to negotiate for simpler time based market options, instead of the high cost default positions of the present (such as ambulances, life flights, hospitals, and nursing homes). These default scenarios can hardly be considered markets in the true sense of the word. And since there's little formal economic definition for simple assistance, people often "go without" until their situations become dire. I found myself wishing that Noah Smith could be put into a time machine, when he recently argued that we didn't need more markets, How would he feel if he grew old, with no family or friends nearby, and had insufficient formal economic means by which to feel comfortable in negotiating with neighbors for assistance?

This is what happens in too many local communities, in which citizens are inexplicably expected to run to the nearest city (or further), every time a problem arises. We would all benefit from simpler market patterns close to home: casual, but still formal economic arrangements, by which we could negotiate for the simple desires and needs that make a life. We live in a world where our family and friends either live elsewhere, or have the kinds of obligations that make it difficult to provide such measures. Yet without a marketplace for mutual assistance, people needlessly go without, so as not to unduly "impose" on others.

The lack of a local marketplace for services diversity, means problems which go well beyond what people such as myself experience as we age. These are the local economic options that could benefit young people, in the years when they are preparing resource capacity for adulthood responsibilities. Yet these are also the local economic options people need, when they wish to spend their prime working years in the communities where they can maintain close ties with family and friends.

Not everyone can chase after the desired jobs of the cities, as centralized productive agglomeration drives up the costs of economic access. When societies don't remain proactive to economic circumstance as they (inevitably) change, informal economies spring up in their place, such as has unfortunately occurred in Mexico. And not every informal economic activity is conducive to civility and progress. Lest anyone think informal economic devolution couldn't occur here, it's still an eventual likelihood for economies that are too taken for granted, as if the golden goose will never cease to lay its golden eggs. It may be that the process of devolution begins with illegibility.

Adaptation in the present, would include a thorough reexamination, as to how a safety net might strengthen and maintain our stamina to remain economically and socially engaged. Among the most important qualifications of any safety net, is that it gives individuals a reasonable chance to maintain constancy in their routines and organizational patterns. Any time in life we end up with little choice but to set aside the economic patterns we rely upon, often the skills sets we are working on in these time periods may be temporarily set aside, if not completely abandoned. One of the most important functions an equilibrium corporation could provide, would be communities which serve as platforms for economic constancy, through the mutual employment of broad services diversity.

Without economic consistency in our lifetime efforts, many of us experience episodes when it proves difficult to maintain logic and consistency - either for ourselves or for others. In spite of what each of us endures, what others remember most, is how we react to unfortunate circumstance. In other words, it doesn't matter what life throws our way, others will remember how our response impacts them. Indeed, I've been trying to move my blog towards a more positive stance, in part to compensate for the negative impressions I inadvertently left on others over the years. Without a strong economic foundation, it only becomes more difficult for people to keep the promises which are so important for personal integrity. Perhaps we can build a new institutional economic foundation, which could make the preservation of a logical and rational society, a more realistic possibility.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Say's Law Musings and Equilibrium Effects

The much maligned law of markets may still have useful applications for equilibrium dynamics. Often, discussion revolving around Say's Law has been an attempt either to affirm, or negate, its existence. But what if there are subtleties involved, in which this classical construct functions, at a certain, critical point? Do the supply and demand relationships that exist between tradable and non tradable sectors, hold important clues for output potential?

After mulling this over the past few years, I thought of a way to frame how Say's Law appears to function: via what I'll call "equilibrium stock" and "equilibrium flow". These terms differ from the normal usage of stock and flow, which is also important since in traditional definition, stock lacks a recognizable alignment with flow at a macro level.

In GDP measure, as far as I can tell (please someone correct me if I'm wrong) we don't yet have a way to conceptualize how differences between stock and flow affect output. Why? Because traditional stock accumulation has little definitive active economic context. Plus I'm still crazy enough to imagine that a better macroeconomics can keep our society from falling off the edge of a cliff, given events of late. Here's Wikipedia:
A stock variable is measured at one specific time, and represents a quantity existing at that time (say, December 31, 2004) which may have accumulated in the past. A flow variable is measured over an interval of time. Therefore, a flow would be measured per unit of time (say a year). Flow is roughly analogous to rate or speed in this sense.
For example, U.S. nominal gross domestic product refers to a total number of dollars spent over a time period, such as a year. Therefore it is a flow variable, and has units of dollars/year. In contrast, the U.S. nominal capital stock is the total value, in dollars, of equipment, buildings, inventories, and other real assets in the U.S. economy, and has units of dollars.
Whereas, equilibrium stock would consist of product which is derived via internalized costs, for product which has not been previously sold (the time arbitrage I've suggested would function this way as well). Theses costs can be readily discerned, and while they generally take place within one institution, in some instances they may be coordinated with other institutions, so long as product costs are met as product enters the marketplace.

Product which takes place in these circumstance, establishes the perimeters of a given marketplace equilibrium, whereby additional flows take place. In other words, output gains for this "first marketplace" position, is when increased equilibrium supply can meet (the overgeneralized Say's Law interpretation of) increased equilibrium demand.

Unlike equilibrium stock, equilibrium flow is externalized, so that cost and output patterns cannot be readily discerned at the time of marketplace entry. While I've emphasized the example of government compensation for time based product, even government expense for tradable sector product is subject to this equilibrium constraint, in terms of already existing aggregate spending capacity. Distinctions such as these could apply to endless debates re government restrictions on growth potential, since plenty of private activity is also further riffs on equilibrium flow.

For purposes of GDP, equilibrium stock would categorize what is internally or recognizably purchased at the time of marketplace entry in the previous year, because this holds important clues about existing flows, which are important for monetary representation as the currently existing agreements which economic participants seek to uphold. Why return Say's Law to ongoing dialogue? It's not enough to explain that new income generates new income (arguments which essentially "replaced" Say's Law), without considering whether income derives as a source of equilibrium stock or flow, in the previous year.

One reason why a "natural" interest rate can appear as though negative: far more economic activity may take place in terms of equilibrium flow, instead of as equilibrium stock. Nevertheless, there are important reasons why some prefer less output, if that is necessary to control what derives from a dependent, or secondary, market position. Importantly, supply side factors which control how knowledge is utilized in the marketplace, carry more ongoing responsibility for employment limitations, than the missteps of fiscal and monetary policy.

Consider that the only equilibrium stock component of real estate, is new building construction. So far as real estate is concerned, mortgages, "reused" land, and rent are all components of equilibrium flow, since they function as claims on already existing income and/or resources. Yet even the equilibrium flow element of land costs, simply tells a value story about scarcities in productive agglomeration. Indeed, this is why I have doubted the efficacy of land taxation as a reliable revenue source.

Also note that incentives for the entrepreneurs of non tradable sector activity in a dependent market position, are not the same as incentives for tradable sector entrepreneurs, who gain from output expansion. In part since a dependent market position only encourages non tradable sectors to limit both supply and employment, those earlier supply and demand structures appeared less relevant, as non tradable sector activity began to dominate the marketplace.

Fortunately, a marketplace for time value, or time arbitrage, could restore entrepreneurial incentive for both output and employment. I believe that time arbitrage could give Say's Law greater validity in the future, than what has been possible since the secondary market dominance of the 20th century.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Thoughts on Wage Stagnation and Resistance to Inflation

Just as many pundits and policy makers became intolerant of any inflation, so too, have plenty of citizens. Even though the Fed acknowledges these concerns (via gradual monetary tightening as far as the eye can see), far too many observers still describe monetary policy as inflationary. What some individuals recognize as necessary monetary accommodation for mutual obligations in the marketplace, others conflate with Fed recklessness and asset bubbles.

Why have populations become so intolerant of even small amounts of inflation? One reason is the lack of wage growth in recent decades, which in turn makes the prices for some of life's most basic necessities, more difficult for lower income levels. Unfortunately, much of this lack of wage growth, results from lower aggregate output levels, due to the required inputs for the non tradable sector activity which is responsible for much of today's marketplace bottlenecks.

It is not emphasized enough, how the rising output of tradable sector activity in particular, contributed to rising wages for centuries. The fact we cannot rely on this dynamic in the present, means that many related relationships for monetary flows have also changed. Even though non tradable sector activity cannot be expected to achieve output on the exponential terms of tradable sectors, substantial output gains are still possible for non tradable sector activity, which could bring these sectors back into a better balance for output and long term growth.

Much of today's non tradable sector activity could be organized so that it does not generate a constant level of internal inflation. If populations were actually able to benefit from good deflation in housing, healthcare and education, no one would even have cause to worry about inflation. In the meantime, non tradable sector prices are exacerbated by Fed tightening, since today's organizational structure only leads to further scarcities in basic consumption necessities such as housing and time centered services.

Due to the structural nature of the present day economy - in which non tradable sector activity remains dependent on tradable sector activity - there are real problems, when overall growth stalls and inflation is discouraged at the same time. In particular, government debt - which has become responsible for much of today's high skill knowledge use - remains dependent on a level of growth which is no longer occurring, and citizens are understandably resistant to any further taxation, since their wages remain stagnant.

Fortunately, there are proactive ways to respond to today's economic impasse. However, doing so, means addressing wage stagnation in ways that increase the consumption potential of real wages, instead of succumbing to money illusion. If non tradable sector activity can be generated which borrows from the long term good deflation patterns of tradable sector activity, much of the social and political pressure of the present, would be alleviated. Since wage stagnation is not going away any time soon, the best anti-inflation approach we have, is one that is capable of producing real gains in wages, through the innovation of our non tradable sectors.