Friday, February 20, 2015

Dreams of a More Dynamic Reality

It occurs to me that after almost two years of blogging, in spite of attempts to maintain a distinct identity, I have been pigeonholed as right wing. To a degree this is understandable because I espouse free markets and monetary solutions over fiscal solutions. I worry that governments don't understand the problems faced by those who are mostly alone in the world, and that governments force circumstance on them which convey a tremendous lack of respect for the poor and disadvantaged. However, I also question how many among the supply side dream of better economic realities, even as I wonder whether it's possible for governments to do so.

Therefore, I don't "fit in" with political right categorizations as easily as one might think. It's been almost six years since I first became acquainted with online blogging, and in that time I've managed to become a bit of a nuisance to all concerned. Still, I need to do a better job of communicating on left leaning blog sites, and hopefully I can do so without being so confrontational in the future.

In spite of my desire to remain non ideological, identity and affiliation are of course inevitable. That also holds true for economists as a group, along with the messages economists convey to laypeople such as myself. While some online participants have moved on to other activities, there's still plenty to glean from the discussions that remain. Might all this outpouring of online energy, eventually translate into new local economic energy and dynamism?

Alas, not yet. The blogosphere appeared to shift about a year earlier, once monetary policy at the Fed began to move towards a "normalization" position. Was a torch being passed to the left? In retrospect...perhaps, for it would have been difficult to imagine Washington speaking of a general economic slowdown, had they not directly received this message from private enterprise. Over time, the U.S. regained some of the confidence which was lost in the worst days of the Great Recession. For all practical purposes, "victory" was being declared, in spite of protestations from market monetarists and others who were more attuned to circumstance on the ground.

One reason it was easy to declare victory was the fact Wall Street has taken the place of Main Street in many ways. After all, who really associates Main Street with macroeconomic anything?? All the dynamism one would supposedly want, could be found in the numbers, the statistics, the gains in wealth that were quite real. Hence, some right leaning blogs returned to topics more microeconomic and at times even superficial in nature. That doesn't mean everyone suddenly lost their interest in macroeconomic concerns. On the contrary. What's more: surely it's not just me noticing, that quite a few newer blogging voices lean left.

Sometimes the rhetoric gets so caught up in technical concerns that it's difficult to find the connections to reality. How can economies become more inclusive, in growth based terms? The problem I have with the present fiscal/monetary debate, is a lack of clarity. After all, the inclusion of the forgotten is where real growth and stabilization is possible, yet this fact just gets demolished in the constant static of middle class fears. It is the lower classes which - given the chance to prosper - could help the middle classes - not the more limited local participation of the upper classes. In particular, any discussion of infrastructure desperately needs better context, just as regulatory discussion needs specific and understandable context. Just as the supply side never delivered the more dynamic marketplace I dreamed of, it's hard to see how roads and bridges infrastructure is going to hire or make a future, for the millions of compromised individuals no one notices anymore.

What's really at stake in all this? When I advocate for human capital, I do so based on potential self worth, not the arbitrary worth that is assigned to individuals by institutions. Are capitalists any different from countless other power mongers? Of course not. The faux problem of capitalist "aggression" is hardly the reality of most individuals who simply want a chance to use their mind to better their lives and surroundings. The power mongers to worry about are those who use legal means to keep individuals from freely sharing their skills with others. When this occurs, all the petty power mongers then emerge, to take advantage of those who were denied the economic means to support themselves. The best way to defend human capital, is to defend it at the core, before it gets exposed to more belittlement than necessary.*

Human capital is the original economic reality, of which capitalism is but a late derivative. It holds a vital link with time - in spite of the negative labor/time association stressed by Branko Milanovic. Say what one will about time - it defines our existence for better or worse. Don't get me wrong, for I understand the capital minus time argument he posed in the above link. Still, I have to ask: if we lose the experiential element of the time component, what else do we have?

Time is the part of our reality which matters most. Whereas if human capital doesn't matter, time use doesn't matter and the automation which frees our time to live life as we desire, doesn't matter. Do we really want automation to completely assume the negotiation capacity and experiential aspects of our time based position? Should anyone remain convinced (!) that the human capital concept is demeaning, time value could be lost and we are uncomfortably close to losing it as it is. Should human capital be claimed for the importance it holds in a marketplace for time, automation would augment our lives and abilities - not the other way around.

Thus far, growth since the Great Recession has mostly taken place on exclusive terms. In other words, gains continue to be made on the part of intact families among the middle class. Even though these gains are not presently showing up in income, they show up for instance in the still considerable monetary flows between housing wealth and education at local levels, such as the walking path in a pecan grove near my neighborhood which was recently leveled to create new baseball and softball fields. Near term future wealth will likely continue to take place along these lines. While these fiscal improvements have real value, they do little to address relatively deserted Main Streets or the fact that marginalized citizens still seek means to participate in the marketplace and public areas.

The means to participate with others for the full course of a lifetime, is the human capital I want back. That's the economic dynamism I still dream about: tiny capillaries of Main Streets everywhere that can keep entire economic bodies vital and alive. Reciprocal monetary flows, which allow people from all walks of life to have reason to interact with the world in their midst.

When I think how some are convinced that human capital is demeaning, I cry inside - indeed that is why this post has gone "over the top" sensitive and a bit shy of logical. When people give up on one another as in the present, they give up on immigration as well. As to the robots, one could say they have already surpassed us if we insist on competing on their turf. Do we still believe in the integrity of experiential product? Do we still believe in the value of our time, and the time of others? We are the only ones that can provide those answers and meaningfully act on them. No product has to be "perfect" - whatever that is - and neither does the time we choose to share.

Most people, given the chance, don't want the handout of a condescending transfer payment - a non solution so poorly thought through it is not even a valid component of GDP. All too often, a transfer payment reminds someone they've arrived on what can be a really scary dead end street, where no one really knows or cares what happens to them. Most individuals try their best to remain a part of the world around them, as long as they are still able to get out of bed in the morning. There's nothing wrong with professional offices and big box retail holding valuable real estate on well traveled roads and the public places we hold in common. But there still needs to be plenty of room on these public byways for everyone else to participate and find positive experience as well. That is the message too many people of every political inclination thus far, have missed.

*Update: Here's a good example, how it is best to protect human capital "at the core", i.e. make certain that consumption definitions remain flexible and amenable to potential innovation. A post from Nick Bunker suggests the supply side remedy of "reforming  finance" so as to make the economy more productive. However, his reasoning is backwards. When individuals are free to utilize human capital to improve their surroundings, they need less financial assistance in all areas of their life.

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