Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Wrap Up for May 2016

More than anything else this month, I've thought about missed production potential. In spite of the efforts of governments and private donors to support a time and knowledge based marketplace, there's no getting around the fact that asymmetric compensation - whether public or private - can only create a secondary (or beta) market. Until knowledge use is approached more directly, it will be difficult for nominal income to maintain a strong link with other forms of capital, in an age of automation.

Even though one could easily argue that time/knowledge based product is not "necessary" (in today's survivalist framework), time based product remains the most important contributor to longevity and experiential reality. Just the same, it has not been easy to categorize time based product. Unfortunately, when time based product is not considered separately from tradable product, experiential components become more difficult to quantity. This is when "results based" programs become all about taking care of public and private budgets, rather than coordinating the marketplace for actual human preferences in production and consumption of time based product.

Russ Roberts talks with Arnold Kling about his latest book, "Specialization and Trade: a Reintroduction to Economics"  http://www.econtalk.org/archives/2016/05/arnold_kling_on_1.html

"Ramos Leite says that while other countries also suffered from depopulation, in Portugal it started later, with the bulk occurring after hefty investment in road, power and water networks in the past two decades." (emphasis mine) I'm still trying to sort out how best to think about this occurrence, which is vastly different from rural circumstance in the U.S. However, given lower population densities in U.S. cities, it seems mobility issues might be more pronounced for U.S. citizens in general.

"Trump is an extinction level event", claims this NY Magazine article, "Democracies end when they are too democratic". Regular readers know how I feel about this. With better understood separation between the coordination of time based product and other forms of product, direct democracy could coordinate economic options for time based product at local levels. Whereas representative democracy should be able to provide economic options to coordinate capital intensive infrastructure for tradable sector support, at national levels.

Timothy Taylor takes a look at U.S. healthcare spending in an international context.

City Hall's impact fees are one of the primary reasons, why builders aren't particularly inclined to build homes in a starter range.  http://blogs.wsj.com/economics/2016/05/05/how-city-hall-exacerbates-the-entry-level-housing-squeeze/?mod=WSJBlog

From an AEI article, "Increasing the employability of poor people must accompany job creation efforts", Angela Rachidi writes:
...a difficult reality is that in poor communities is that most most non-workers give reasons for not working that have little to do with the availability of jobs. In fact, less than 10% of poor non-workers (18-64 years old) report that they are not working because they "could not find work". Instead, most report being ill or disabled (32%) or not working because of home or family responsibilities (25%). 
In response to Rachidi, I also believe that incentive to return to the workplace means reestablishing the worth of time value, for those who might participate. When health is involved, one has to be careful that work commitments don't lead to extensive health setbacks, once again. Creating a mutual self support workplace would mean a process of exploration for all involved, as to what time based product might even consist of.

"Embracing Radical Localism", from Brookings
Time and again - and in nation after nation - central governments have failed to confront difficult social and economic problems, causing responsibility to informally devolve downward to cities and metropolitan areas. Yet official power has remained vested in central and state governments, primarily in siloed, anachronistic bureaucracies...which national political parties will willingly devolve official power to their rising cities so that the design and delivery (and even the financing) of solutions can happen closer to ground?
In 1900 Georg Simmel published "The Philosophy of Money". As noted in "The Mind and the Market":
In this and other works, Simmel explained how the development of the market economy made for new possibilities of individuality...Simmel reminded his readers that money allowed for the cooperation of individuals who would otherwise have nothing to do with one another...Unlike the guild, a "living community" that "included the entire person, socially, politically, and legally," modern life was based upon looser, more temporary associations, and demanding of the individual only a small part of himself"...As a result, the modern individual can belong to a greater range of groups, but groups that are looser and less encompassing. What Adam Smith had pointed out was "becoming true to a greater degree than even he had imagined: individuals were increasingly interdependent, but ever less dependent on a single group or individual. 
From Michael Bloomberg: "Here's Your Degree. Now Go Defeat Demagogues"

According to JP Koning, medieval money was a bit more complex than one might think: http://jpkoning.blogspot.com/2016/05/what-makes-medieval-money-different.html

Steve Horwitz provides a quick summary of Hayek's "Use of Knowledge in Society":

George Selgin, Monetary Policy Primer, Part 3: The price level
Part 4: stable prices or stable spending?
Part 5: the supply of money
Also, Interest on reserves and the Fed balance sheet and the recent youtube presentation

Lots of productivity tables included in this post, from Dietz Vollrath: https://growthecon.com/blog/More-Decomp/

An Econlog post from Scott Sumner, includes a link to an ebook, "Currency and Credit' by Ralph Hawtrey, and a Mercatus video which highlights Scott's rationale for his recently published book.

Lars Christensen notes the sharp slowdown in G20 money base growth, since early 2014: https://marketmonetarist.com/2016/05/15/the-verdict-from-g20-money-base-growth-money-is-tight/

David Beckworth recently presented a paper on the international impact of the Fed, at a conference on international monetary stability at Stanford's Hoover Institute.

As Justin Fox emphasized, "Millions of Americans can't afford even the cheapest housing." http://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2016-04-18/what-makes-housing-too-expensive

George Selgin's productivity norm talk with David Beckworth: https://soundcloud.com/macro-musings/george-selgin

Almost all the good jobs created since the recession have gone to college graduates. http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2016/01/white-working-class-poverty/424341/

From a recent post by David Glasner:"...cost is no less an equilibrium constant than price. Cost cannot be logically prior to price if both are determined simultaneously and are mutually interdependent." Glasner's reasoning also has bearing on any "presupposed" value for time in a knowledge use system setting. Indeed it is simpler to quantify time in relation to a mutual time use framework, than to determine time value in relation to otherwise random resource capacity. Even though time value needs to function as a constant in the sense of both commodity price and full participation, the length of time required to generate asset formation, would also depend on the initial description and characterization of infrastructure patterns.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Notes on Expanding Non Tradable Sector Horizons

Recently I finished the 1937 edition of "Economic and Social History of Medieval Europe", by Henri Pirenne. I enjoyed this book and it also provided an apt starting point for my summer reading, which will include the "Wealth of Nations" (in its entirety) by Adam Smith and some other classics.

Towards the end of his medieval history, Pirenne notes that nations were gradually assuming more prominent roles, which included loosening production restrictions placed on rural areas by the medieval towns and cities. Governments were inspired by the self contained organizational patterns of medieval cities, but wished to broaden what in some respects had become a closed economic framework. Hence one could categorize this national government "awakening", as a moment in time when increasing production rights also meant the expansion of tradable sector horizons. Pirenne's descriptions provided an interesting contrast to Jerry Muller's description of Hegel's rationale, for a growing state presence, in "The Mind and the Market".

Henri Pirenne provided a useful perspective, and he packed some important information into a relatively small book. For instance, he highlighted crucial differences between tradable sectors (including monetary flows) either intended for local consumption patterns, or the altogether different agenda of international trade. Even though the relatively closed economies of medieval cities provided more stability for (resident citizen) workers than the changeable cycles which international trade workers were exposed to, those patterns of stability were lost, once economic stagnation began to set in.

As nation states of the late medieval era gradually assumed greater roles, national governments also extended new privileges to rural areas. This process included a greater extension of production rights, which had been suppressed by medieval cities and towns that claimed those rights for their own citizens. Even so, the impetus for doing so was not solely based on a free marketplace ideal.

Rather, broader private property designations would strengthen national consolidation of economic power, through greater quantification of resource use. Even though it's easy for libertarians to be cynical re certain aspects of private property origination, negotiations such as this were nonetheless a win-win, for the flood of economic activity made possible as a result. The gradually emerging national governments knew they would gain from increased total output, by granting production rights to those who were struggling to participate in a changing economy.

Given what was made possible for tradable sectors centuries earlier, why not production reform for non tradable sectors in the present? Indeed, the primary argument against broad innovation for today's non tradable sectors, is that production rights (for rural and other areas) would need to be accomplished without diluting the value of the non tradable sector wealth now enjoyed by today's prosperous regions. Fortunately, by creating an internal loop between asset and time based services formation, knowledge use systems should not pose a problem for the non tradable sector wealth of prosperous areas. Still, knowledge use systems would not form a closed economic framework in the sense that was once the rationale of medieval cities and towns.

Production rights (for the alternative equilibrium of knowledge use systems) would hinge on the ability to quantify time value for services creation and asset formation. Why would any national government consider this possibility? By far the most important incentive for doing so, are the looming long term budgetary concerns which have yet to be addressed. Presently, there is no relief in sight, for the 21st century burdens of national responsibility - especially given the reality of economic stagnation.

By expanding non tradable sector horizons, governments could finally respond to what has become a growing lack of economic access - one which many nations face to varying degrees.  I don't particularly recommend production reform for today's non tradable sectors because it's the humane or moral thing to do. Nevertheless, my approach to reform must seem a bit dry, to some readers who are more accustomed to the arguments of the heart. I remain convinced just the same: addressing economic access is the economic thing to do.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Production Rights Versus Consumption "Rights"

If only it were possible to connect the dots, between so called consumption "rights" to healthcare and education, versus a far more logical framework of production rights in the marketplace. In a recent Dissent magazine article, Patrick Iber and Mike Konczal ask:
Should healthcare and education be rights, or products that those with enough money can purchase in markets?
Iber and Konczal also referenced the additional services gains which occurred after the Great Depression. However, it helps to remember that much of the twentieth century wealth - as it once existed - has basically been tapped, while today's wealth holdings are greatly changed. For instance, some of today's most important wealth holdings involve knowledge based product. Much of this wealth has little to do with increased gains in scale, such as tradable goods production once made possible. What's more, other aspects of today's wealth exist in the relatively passive holdings of housing and retirement accounts. For instance, as Timothy Taylor noted:
It used to be that most US corporate stock was held by taxable US investors. Now, most corporate stock is owned by a mixture of tax-deferred retirement accounts and foreign investors.
Again, governments are trying to find more money (more promises of consumption "rights" in education and healthcare?) from revenue sources which are already highly distorted from earlier subsidies and handouts. Barring any further consumption promises, governments still disregard the slow motion budget train wreck of earlier consumption "right" promises. The only real beneficiaries in all of this - the ones most responsible for today's fragile civilization - are those who benefit from purposely limited production rights.

What's wrong with this picture? Besides the civilizational aspect (cough cough), progressive hopes will be dashed, since non tradable product is a completely different dynamic than the expansive wealth of twentieth century tradable sectors. In other words, the supply of time/knowledge based product is possible, only insofar as society elects to make it possible. Nothing of this sort has yet occurred. One cannot grant consumption rights to a time based product which in relative population terms, scarcely even exists. Indeed, consumption rights are never truly possible, except in temporary supply side conditions. In fortunate circumstance, production rights are - at the very least - a possibility.

The hidden and somewhat confusing nature of today's wealth creation, represents a danger zone for any nation which might attempt fiscal measures to address inequality. Even though many nations would not allow substantial inflation to occur (this time), some political candidates - and I'm not convinced it would strictly be a progressive national leader problem - will nonetheless attempt to "promise the moon" to their preferred constituents.

Inequality that results from the limitations of time based product, is a problem which extends across the entire spectrum of supply and demand. Hence it can only be addressed by the creation of more time based product. Remember that arbitrary limits on production rights, have also meant limits this time on housing and access to the regions which continue to prosper. Should nations choose to generate more production rights, they would make possible a broader and stronger marketplace foundation.

But what happens, if policy makers and the elite choose instead to continue limits on the production rights of time/knowledge based product? Should policy makers and leaders decide to pursue "greater equality" in today's mature general equilibrium conditions, they may attempt to do so with little increase in inflation. But what if private interests become spooked just the same? Bad deflation could result, such as Taiwan is now experiencing. While I understand the desire to address inequality, this time - in the 21st century - inequality needs to be addressed on supply side and monetary terms.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

My Biggest Concern

I'm afraid we're losing our perception of what a diverse and truly desirable marketplace actually consists of. Also, we appear to be in danger of losing the vitality of the one which still exists. There is a certain amount of over confidence in particular, regarding the ability to maintain strong economic conditions in spite of lagging labor force participation and excessive requirements for access. Equally concerning, are growing negative reactions to capitalism as concept - most of which are actually reactions to the forces that threaten to destroy true marketplace freedom and economic mobility.

Even though no major economic depression has (yet) occurred in my lifetime, sometimes I'm still reminded of the last one. Yesterday, while sitting down to sandwiches and some fresh vegetables, Dad recounted a memory from 1932, that was triggered by a jar of Miracle Whip dressing on the table. Perhaps his recollection would not have been so vivid, were it not for the unfortunate combination of depression circumstance alongside an unexpected hurricane in the coastal town where they lived at the time.

That storm took place well before the days of what one might consider sufficient advance preparation. Everyone - including some less fortunate neighbors - was lucky indeed that the old wooden frame house was not blown apart. Instead, during the storm, it fell off the block supports which were underneath. For days afterward, there was no electricity or gas. Meanwhile, the only meals for the kids were a loaf of bread and - yes - the aforementioned jar of salad dressing. "I couldn't eat Miracle Whip for a long time after that! Times were hard.", Dad said. Then he mused, how on earth did Grandpa get by without coffee?

It's too easy now, to assume that high levels of social unpreparedness are no longer a problem for most populations in developed nations. But is this really so? Multiple systems of social coordination appear to be slowly breaking down. Each time something negative occurs, people react to the results of the problems that weren't previously resolved, instead of responding to issues as they present themselves.

There is too little recognition of the mutual responsibilities between government and private interests, which would otherwise help people maintain the liberties and freedoms they take for granted. Private interests use governments to destroy competition, while governments continue to maintain infrastructure expectations that were based on historic high points of tradable sector revenue.

As a result, young individuals are increasingly priced out of the very places where they would normally expect to begin their lives as adults. I can scarcely imagine how difficult life would have been for me, if I had not been able to gain good work while starting out in the seventies - even without the completion of a college degree. There is no comparison for those attempting to enter the workplace now. Even though there were periods when unemployment was high, the levels of economic access were still far greater for all concerned.

We need to rethink how it will be possible to work with one another in the near future, and closely consider what it takes to maintain our personal freedoms. I fear that our political representatives have lost the ability to coordinate the resource capacity among populations which would allow the gains of recent centuries to remain intact. This political season only illustrates how high the stakes actually are, in terms of an economic and social trajectory that is anything but normal. I know it's not easy to think about economic basics when everyone is in a state of reactionary fervor. But there is simply no other time to do so, because the next election season always overrides anything else that is going on. It's time to back up and reassess our situation while we still can.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The Economic Problem With Technocratic Rule

Perhaps we shouldn't be surprised - what with today's political "silly seasons" - when some authors suggest democracy is outdated, hence it's time for a change. Arnold Kling in a recent post highlighted a new book,"Against Democracy" by Jason Brennan. From the review:
Brennan argues that democracy should be judged by its results - and the results are not good enough...democracy is the rule of the ignorant and the irrational, and it often falls short. Furthermore, no one has a fundamental right to any share of political power, and exercising political power does most of us little good. On the contrary, a wide range of social science research shows that political participation and democratic deliberation actually tend to make people worse - more irrational, biased and mean. Given this grim picture, Brennan argues that a new system of government - epistocracy, the rule of the knowledegable - may be better than democracy, and that it's time to experiment and find out.
Some of Kling's commenters were glad that Jason Brennan had written a new book, nevertheless weren't happy with the gist of his argument. One noted, "I was initially excited...However as soon as I learned he would like to see democracy replaced with rule by arrogant technocrats, I despaired."  From another response, "Indeed, although the cynic might argue that this is already the situation we have. If so, the question remains whether it would be for the best if this truth was formally acknowledged."

"Democracy is outdated" arguments have multiple dimensions, and the best way for me to respond is that a world without democracy is also a world where many would gradually lose their economic freedom. Without sufficient rights to create product for the marketplace, social and political freedom would suffer as well. Alas, the task of "proving" democracy's worthiness is beyond my time and ability. However, I'm concerned that a technocracy such as Brennan prefers, would not lead to a good economic outcome, especially in a mature economic equilibrium that needs to further evolve.

Presently, some among the elite - regardless of ideological motivation - are united in their desire to maintain production rights as they currently exist. This motivation has resulted in marketplace limits which are not only difficult to overcome, but would likely worsen if not addressed, soon. Even though knowledge use limits aren't necessarily problematic for the resource management of tradable sectors, they are, for non tradable sector formation. Why the difference?

Tradable sectors greatly contributed to marketplace expansion, because of earlier gains in scale. Product that is mobile in nature can always be replicated, even though less employment may be needed to make it happen. Whereas less employment in non tradable sector formation, only leads to less knowledge/time based product in aggregate. Less participation in non tradable sector employment, means less marketplace capacity in terms of both supply and demand. If a lack of time based services employment were not problematic enough, these lower employment levels are reflected in insufficient housing formation. This helps to explain why technocratic preferences for knowledge use limits, means limits in total marketplace capacity and output.

In short, just because a knowledge wielding elite may be smarter than the average voter, does not mean they would be naturally inclined to deliver the economic results that nations need. Indeed, if more citizens were given the chance to use the knowledge which has become so important in their daily lives, perhaps they would not appear so "stupid"! One can only hope that arguments to limit personal freedoms, will not win the day.

Instead of taking away citizen responsibility, it's better to let citizens know what is really at stake, and doing so is all the more important now for governmental budgets, pensions and retirement expectations. Today's governments need the help of all their citizens for long term growth, if they are to overcome the natural inclinations of special interests to divide the spoils of economic stagnation.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Economic Time Value is a Perishable Commodity

Of course, all time value is a perishable commodity. However, economic time value deserves special consideration, in part because of today's general equilibrium demands on the part of non tradable sectors. Unlike the majority of other resource capacity, the time we "spend" on anything, is time we can't regain. Yet the fact time is a perishable commodity is often missed. Indeed, one's personal time use options get little respect, if and when they aren't backed through monetary representation. Fortunately, we have the potential to make time value count on economic terms - a possibility that should not be lightly dismissed in an era of automation.

Some would say that time value is a precious commodity as well, and I agree. That said, precious is not to be confused with exclusive, which defines the nature of asymmetric (partial aggregate) compensation for time value in general equilibrium. Exclusive is that which has been "proven" in terms of personal stamina and worthiness. When we arbitrage for skill preference on general equilibrium terms, we lose the ability to arbitrage for aggregate skills capacity. The primary inequality in all of this is not one of general resource use, but of lost aggregate time value which is now beginning to impact nominal income levels.

And even though the broader compensated mutual assistance of time based product would not always appear as though "precious", that does not change the fact everyone spends time in personal effort with others that cannot be regained. In other words, time availability for productive and economic endeavor is the ultimate scarcity. This is important as a reasoning base, for compensating mutual assistance as a basic commodity good. Further, more that is truly precious can be found, in a marketplace for time value capable of greatly expanding the definition of practical and experiential time product.

For anyone who needs the full economic value of their their time as a starting point for personal responsibility, mutually compensated assistance would serve as a social contract - one which could help populations preserve the broad economic gains of recent centuries. By defining time value as a perishable commodity GDP component, the economic role of time value could address today's confusion, regarding long term growth potential.

Lost time value is all the more evident, for youth who consequently have few means to accumulate assets for future goals. In particular, arguments against childhood labor which gradually prevailed in recent centuries, are a mixed blessing. While formal schooling is valuable up to a point, childhood mandatory schooling does not correlate with the kinds of learning that provide either the most practical life skills or personal challenges.

The separation of children and young adults from the marketplace has gradually led to diminishing returns. Part of the confusion in this regard is the nature of labor itself - little of which is "hard" in the same sense as that which took place centuries earlier. Hence today's students have been expected to spend years on efforts which have little economic/social reinforcement or impact with others. The result is like trying to build a strong net, but through the early years of net building, not allowing the strands to connect with one another.

If education is to contribute to future economic gain, policy makers need to recognize time value as the perishable commodity it actually is. Years spent sitting in dutiful rows taking notes, is time that could have been spent applying the fruits of education and exploring them on terms that make sense to one's spirit. A quote attributed to Benjamin Franklin illustrates the much needed integration of education with daily life, quite well:
Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I may learn.
Involvement is not a matter of classroom respect on the part of teachers and students. Involvement won't count until students are monetarily compensated for assisting their peers, on terms that allow them to coordinate the process among themselves. Until young people are able to do so, the belittlement of one another, the crude imitation of the meritocratic and hierarchical structure of their elders (i.e. "I'm at the head of the class, she's at the tail"), will only continue. No one can afford to keep pretending that the "important things in life are not about money" (especially for purposes of national accounting!), when absolutely everyone recognizes money as a life structuring priority for obvious reasons.

Even though there is a humane aspect to bringing economics and money into the social mechanism of mutual support, rationale also exists for doing so at a broader level. Specifically, by treating time value as a perishable commodity for purposes of GDP, it becomes possible to support the present evolution of production capacity not just in the sense of technology for tradable sector potential, but also that of non tradable sector potential. By bringing time value into the realm of long term capital gains, societies may gain the confidence to free the productive potential of environmental design, as well.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Some Rationale for Production Reform

Production reform would give individuals the right to produce, or the right to design and create product for themselves and others in specially designated settings. One's ability to take part in product outcomes can be more effective than a fixed income level - especially for anything that gets used in regular consumption patterns. Greater participation in local production/consumption design, could help prevent the distortions that often occur with minimum wage requirements in general equilibrium conditions. Production rights would also mean being able to respond and adapt to the constantly changing nature of resource patterns.

Granted, production reform is more of an issue for non tradable sector activity, than that of tradable sectors. With some exceptions, many forms of tradable product aren't perceived as "necessary". Hence tradable sectors have experienced fewer production restrictions, than non tradable sectors. Many technological gains in recent centuries, are due to the freedom and flexibility of the tradable sector marketplace.

Production options for non tradable sectors - particularly housing and time/knowledge based services - became severely constrained by comparison, in the twentieth century. Even though municipalities continue to prefer traditional housing, they are less able to provide it for lower income levels, which lack the resources necessary for new infrastructure costs.

Since lower income levels (thus far) face requirements to purchase the same professional services, housing and physical infrastructure as others, that means less discretionary income in aggregate, to support the tradable sector activity which is everyone's economic growth base around the globe. Yet lost retail opportunities are only the tip of the iceberg, as fewer individuals remain able to form families, own property or otherwise maintain an active presence in the marketplace.

Even so, it's not just the plight of lower income levels, which has led to more fragile economic conditions, of late. Why? The burden of today's non tradable sector organizational patterns, falls equally on citizens and governments alike. Despite the fact governments still tap into vast revenue sources, the monetary flows necessary to fulfill non tradable sector responsibilities have become too unbalanced, in relation to other existing resource capacity. Production reform is needed for non tradable sector activity, in order to provide economic stability well into the foreseeable future.

Consider some "big picture" factors in this regard. Too many pensions are becoming an endangered species, even as municipalities continue to come up short in revenue for infrastructure maintenance. And a recent Bloomberg article provided an apt reminder, why more sustainable services formation is needed in the near future:
A 65-year-old couple retiring this year would need 57 percent of their Social Security payments just to cover their health-care expenses. For a couple 10 years younger, with plans to retire in 2026, that jumps to 88 percent. For a 45-year old, it's 116 percent.
At this rate, how would any Social Security be left for retired individuals to provide the taxation necessary for the local municipalities in which they reside? Let alone anything else, especially for a 45-year old? Or...if pensions can't be relied on as a fallback (for Social Security) to continue paying property taxes, what is? Does anyone really wonder why a 68 year old woman was glad to be able to "pass into the eternal love of God", instead of having to vote for either Clinton or Trump as the candidates to remedy domestic concerns? God knows I wish my outlook were as positive as that of Deirdre McCloskey, but the facts of recent years suggest otherwise.

All the more reason, why I stressed in my last post that innovation needs to take place across multiple disciplines, so individuals and governments alike might regain the capacity to coordinate their ongoing responsibilities. Only consider the legal dimension, which in some instances can derail low income levels as surely as any health crisis. Alongside the need to directly confront unemployment issues, is the equally large issue of bringing aggregate resource capacity into better alignment - regardless of public or private labels.

Thus far, political factions do everyone a disservice by pretending these problems are all about victims and aggressors, instead of confronting system imbalance problems head on. Among other glaring discrepancies is the "maker taker" reasoning, which would turn everyone into a "loser" if they have not maintained economic access. It's time to back off the hysterical judgments, for too few now hold the vital production rights which continue to destroy time value on the part of everyone else. Governments have already tried to make up for extreme differences in time value, for too long.