Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Some Musings On Nominal "What Could Have Beens"

Notes for today's post kept going into different directions, so I finally erased it all to provide at least a summary of my thoughts. Initially I wanted to tell a story about greater density levels in small town and rural areas that existed prior to the rise of two automobile households. Certainly I'm not the only Baby Boomer with fond memories of neighbors who once lived in closer proximity, before both parents owned cars. Even though some would like to recreate communities which resemble that earlier reality, it may well be a slow process, getting there. Hopefully in the next decade, the Internet will make it possible for like minded people with similar goals for their lives to come together to form more affordable common interest communities...defined once again by people and what they actually want, rather than what is just convenient or profitable for local developers.

However, a major emphasis of those earlier notes was on the redefinition of lifestyle expectations, for populations from the sixties forward. Looking back, I really find myself wishing that nominal targeting had been a part of those years so that economic growth could have happened more incrementally. As it was, those earlier gains of the post war era were quickly captured and consequently expressed in hard and fast rules that everyone was expected to live by, even when personal income didn't match the realities. Over time, the finance capture that resulted from those regulatory definitions, slowly began to exacerbate actual differences in income levels, as well.

Had nominal targeting existed all along, more efficient, affordable and innovative housing options for both lower and upper incomes might have been just one of the positive results. Potential suppliers, knowing full well that income realities needed to be taken into consideration in overall context, might have been more inclined to build for the markets which actually existed, instead of being unrealistic by competing, building and zoning for the subsets they preferred. All too often, the kind of low tech construction which should have served primarily as "I don't have to be practical" signaling devices for relative wealth, instead came to define even the buildings that lower classes were expected to commit and sacrifice for.

To a considerable degree, inflation prior to the Great Moderation was created and maintained in terms of non tradable product (construction and services) not well matched to consumers at lower income levels. While neither of these product definitions have yet to experience any real reform, inflation has nonetheless been cancelled out by higher unemployment levels now called for to moderate aggregate demand. For instance, people who should have been able to experience ownership in more flexible and innovative terms, instead were expected to either maintain overwhelming definitions of ownership, or suffer the social stigma in the U.S. that was a result of renter status. Hard and fast definitions of economic gains from the mid twentieth century, also translated into high levels of inflation right up until the Great Moderation.

While there's no guarantee things could have been different, I like to think how it all might have played out, had consumers not been held hostage to what local economies ultimately decided to offer. There's simply no getting around the role which low efficiency lifestyle options played for inflation and subsequent limitations to hiring. In those years, municipalities chose to look past variances in income levels, and structure instead according to the market they wanted to cater to. For a long time, they were accommodated. However, a lack of accommodation now still rests on the earlier hard definitions which caused such inflationary problems in the first place.

When some worry about "runaway inflation" in the present, they miss the reality that the conditions which created this particular form of inflation are long past, for the perimeters of wealth capture - as they presented themselves in a time of economic growth - were quickly taken advantage of in non incremental ways (no consideration for nominal targeting), almost as soon as they presented themselves. In other words, real growth of the present not only needs to take place in different terms, but with different perimeters altogether. And, once it does, it will probably not be as amenable to capture by finance as it was in the past. Not only will people have a better idea what is actually possible to achieve with income, they will be more apt to consider income in a total context of economic possibilities as well.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Wealth - How Do We "Hold" It?

Some of the confusion re appropriate monetary policy can be traced to difficulties in deciphering what wealth actually represents. What is most important - the "action" itself or the environments where economic activity take place? Today, different strategies also reflect differing societal opinions as to the purpose of the GDP measure in this regard. Where credit, savings and their associated interest rates tend to emphasize passive aspects of the environment, the corresponding nominal targeting efforts of central banking emphasize active and ongoing components of the economy. When finance takes too much of ongoing economic activity into its own domain, the delicate balance between environment and activity of the environment becomes disrupted and nominal targeting tends to take the hardest hit.

A fortunate aspect of the (recent) twentieth century definition of money measurement (GDP) is the philosophical intent behind it, in spite of distortions in capital formation which can stand in the way of its actual dynamic purpose. In fact, a primary problem whenever economic activity becomes centralized, is the degree to which centralization takes away the experience that money measurement attempts to capture in time between economic actors. Centralization - especially where it is not actually needed for economies of scale, takes away from the processes of diffusion which are most capable of creating monetary velocity.

Mass production allowed extensive economic diffusion through a significant portion of society - until recently - in developed countries. In other words, peak forms of production created their own positive forms of decentralization, when a majority of society could participate in the most active parts of the economic experience. However, increased services associated with greater production, gradually became bogged down in static and centralized wealth formations. Unfortunately, too many knowledge based components inadvertently became "sticky" by definition.

In other words, knowledge use over time lost some of its capacity to be used as flexible and interchangeable components in dialogue, mediation and formulation settings between disciplines. What's more, knowledge use has increasingly been limited within specific disciplines themselves. By way of comparison, components of resource use in factory and other production settings were not really as limited by definitional status of use until more recently, as components gradually came to involve more knowledge use elements.  Earlier divisions of labor in factory settings were somewhat misread as not being of a free nature in terms of choice. But in a sense, it was divisions of labor in knowledge use settings which actually suffered the greatest loss of economic freedoms, a loss which has also translated into the economic gridlock of patent issues in the present.

Previous peaks - for mass production utilization in developed countries - gave us active elements of the monetary base representative of individual capacity. The problem for us now is that because of growing issues with knowledge use limitations and services definitions, diffusion has become more centralized and dependent on passive wealth holdings. Sufficient activity may appear measurable, but the lack of velocity indicates a lack of participation from the same wide range of actors on monetary terms. Because we have previously funded and purchased services primarily through more concrete forms of wealth definition, the first impulse is to continue doing so. The effect however, means we are still trying to get at greater diffusion by way of the path that created less diffusion we have already taken which had already centralized more monetary activity .

In a sense, losing our "religion" for economic dynamism in the present is a return to full circle, where present day thoughts of a gold standard are more associated with static formations of wealth holdings, and less associated with the experiential spark of daily economic activity. What, then, of the market fluctuations of Wall Street? Yes there is still an experiential element which represents ongoing and active economic activity, that continues to create new ideas of product. On Main Street, there is still of course a circumscribed quantity of retail that reflects this. In the midst of it all, people struggle to overcome regulatory hurdles for even the most basic elements of daily provisions.

Even though much of today's passive wealth holdings can be at times discouraging, at least they serve to protect the definition of measure which is really built for more active and direct forms of economic activity. One of the primary problems of these passive holdings is the fact they don't create the same kind of economic diffusion and monetary velocity into overall populations that recently existed. While these measures show up as extreme variances in income, they are also brought on to a large degree by the fact that many services cannot be tapped into efficiently and directly. Thus multiple savings devices are intended for additional services expenses at some point in the future, rather than providing additional investment for active use now.

The ways in which we think about services and skills use in the near future will also have a big effect on how we think about the definition of money itself - a definition which is by no means static. Whether or not we have access greatly depends on how we think about holding wealth as well. The definitions society attaches to economic access ultimately translate into the systems we use to accommodate and direct money use.

Economic dynamism can in fact be recaptured, but new definitions of value in use need to be incorporated, in order for that to happen. In other words we could create new highways for knowledge and skills use, with new points of economic entry and departure that are organized for maximum participation. Much about nominal targeting growth levels also depends on the degree to which services are diffused through society, and whether decentralization is allowed to once again be an important element of wealth creation.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

When Does Work "Want" To Be Experiential?

There are so many aspects to what we consider vital work in the first place, and I felt it would be helpful to spend a bit of time breaking them down. For instance, we may not always need to "save" certain forms of work (for posterity) where technology can perform those functions well, and we don't actually miss those functions in any vital capacity other than the monetary reimbursement itself. Or, we enjoy the functions but don't want to have to do them at the breakneck pace that innovation in large scale agriculture, for instance, seeks to remedy. I became more grateful for large scale agriculture after the occasionally pleasant toil in gardens - which at times - mostly provided bird, mammal and insect feasts!

The work we enjoy (and also find necessary) that isn't always available in the traditional sense of salary, can not only be apportioned by equal time but it can be envisioned in ways that lets everyone participate. Of course we don't need equal time measure (arbitrage) for work that anyone is willing to do directly (i.e. without skills arbitrage) for money, that robots are not already doing. Also to consider: When does the experience element we value lead to product outside ourselves, and when does it simply affect relationship dynamics amongst ourselves? That matters, even if we don't presently think of it in terms measureable by money.

There's the work we need, the work we desire, "busy work" to keep from having to think or which helps us think, the work we are willing to do and that which we also have to do. There's the work we're happiest doing ourselves, and the work we actually benefit from doing with others, which is what this post seeks to get at today. And - of course - there's the work which in the bigger picture sometimes seems a bit silly, in that it may exist mostly to capture profit and little else!

However there's a lot to be said for capturing profits and under any circumstances, that's how we generate dynamism in the first place. It doesn't really help to "rain" on the profits parade, tempting though it may be (and "distorted' though the profits may seem), without a clear understanding how we might capture the experiential work we want through more rational means. Plus, we want to do so in ways which continue to allow profits. After all, it is the profits which generate further economic choices on our part, and continued momentum for the process itself.

Presently, people are engaged in a struggle as to whether or not many jobs might eventually "go away". To a degree, this depends on whether we're willing to get at the core of what we actually want out of work. What work is experiential, and why does it matter? The work that matters in this regard, is especially the commons of knowledge use which we want to preserve.

While we often think of commons in terms of resources outside ourselves, we are also capable of creating a knowledge use commons wherever we structure work in equal time. Value in exchange is certainly here (profit as driver of further choice), but we can structure value in use (skills arbitrage) as a prior to best capture the value in exchange dynamic. When work "wants" to be experiential that in fact benefits us, for we can think how it would be structured, recorded and measured through knowledge commons. Equal time use also allows us to take advantage locally of the wealth of knowledge now being spread through the digital realm, in real time.

In a recent post titled "Spontaneous Order is More Than Markets", Don Boudreaux of CafĂ© Hayek points to two authors with books related to this subject. If you have time, check out the "Glory of the Commons" link. And of course, I'm always glad when Elinor Ostrom gets a mention. But it was this unexpected quote from Hayek, that my recent post about families and economic dynamism seemed to echo:
Part of our present difficulty is that we must constantly adjust our lives, our thoughts, and our emotions, in order to live simultaneously within the different kinds of orders according to different rules. If we were to apply the unmodified, uncurbed, rules of the micro cosmos (i.e. the small band or troop, or say our families) to the macro-cosmos (our wider civilization) as our instincts and sentimental yearnings often make us wish to do, we would destroy it. Yet if we were always to apply the rules of the extended order to our more intimate groupings, we would crush them. So we must learn to live in two sorts of worlds at once.
...And yet those two worlds are often forgotten (or defended in the wrong terms), as people struggle for a single economic world that is rapidly falling away. Few are yet prepared to face the workplace as it has increasingly become defined. While some have spoken of spreading the ownership of capital, we no longer live in the kind of world that thought process seemed to symbolize. The real issue in this regard are separations of working classes which are no longer possible in terms held until only recently, and I will address that in my next post. Now, back to the main subject!

One of the primary things people like about work is its experiential characteristics, something which no robot even needs to have, in spite of what science fiction may continue to imagine. What we have to consider: even though people want much out of work that is not necessarily experiential, this factor makes the work feel important enough that we attach it to our identity, and consequently make room for it in our lives.

A simple way to explain this and I recall an example where someone walked away from a great salary: not everyone is capable of getting up in the morning and going through the required ritual, only to be hidden away all day long doing grunt work and having no one around to speak to. Note to progressives - no one should have to either, even if we want to continue rewarding them handsomely for doing so...out of guilt, perhaps, for the good fortune and pleasure of the lifelong knowledge job?

Even so, we have to be careful about the experiential element of work being lost to a greater degree in the present, because our reliance on a resource rich world to continue funding experiential elements in a collective sense is now being brought into question. Not addressing the issue only means even more experiential work will be lost. How do we think about this?

Part of this discussion goes back to the choices people might actually want to make with one another in a system of equal time measure, which I feel presents viable options to further knowledge based growth from the technological advances of the present. Just the same, the question of experiential work remains important in a larger sense as well, in that budget choices continue to be made now which - when people don't really think about it - they wake up one morning to find that the work they deemed meaningful has been "downgraded" in some not quite quantifiable sense. The dreaded word "efficiency" includes negating experience elements, and people may be compelled to rationalize that personal experiences are not really important.

In healthcare terms - for instance - it is often quite clear when the value in exchange paradigm that demands "results" runs headlong into the experiential element, which may not provide a concrete perimeter to shift expectation levels. What we feel about the experience in this circumstance may become separate from the experience itself. A patient with a chronic condition for instance which is worsening, reaches a point where it's hard to seek a doctor yet again, in the knowing that more expensive tests will be done, more prognosis (or not), more of the same "result" - blood test or whatever, that does not change the significance of the overall issue.

If we were going to do something different in terms of this example, what would it be? Of course a doctor or nurse with a good bedside manner always helps. But the bigger issue is that this described circumstance - which is rapidly running into diminishing returns - is bleeding money all the while at a frightening rate. What a person really needs when they reach this point is something that allows them to make peace with the process itself, rather than a frantic and expensive denial that perhaps delays the inevitable for a little while longer. Also, think about the actual measure nations do for longevity that is part of the prolonging itself. What gets left out is the time shared element which might give a person reason to live longer, in the first place.

Much of the experiential element in any circumstance is simply dialogue. What's more, there are many circumstances in the workplace when additional dialogue is not even really necessary. That's especially true when what we need is a concrete result that benefits from action to get the needed result quickly. Just the same, healthcare in many respects is a far more subjective environment than most that adhere to specific product. Yet it has increasingly put a stop to the kinds of dialogue that might help individuals outside the healthcare environment itself. When we are in reasonably good shape, we can learn how to take care of ourselves on our own, but when we reach a certain point, we need the shared space of time to validate our own concerns that only one on one time with other individuals can provide.

The degree of validation we need from others in one on one time varies, and is dependent on what we actually want to accomplish - is it a matter of understanding a broader aspect of life, or is it something as seemingly simple as some technological quirk that goes right over our head? Even the process of asking for help - when we can't find or figure out online directions - depends on whether we want to know the solution or answer for future reference. Or, is finding that tech answer what we need in just a one time situation, for instance.

For the most part we don't really think about economic activity in terms of individual to individual assistance, even though we struggle with that part of life on a consistent basis. We learned a long time ago not to think of our own person to person concerns as economic. Just the same, that's the part of our lives that we need to reclaim, and not just for the supposedly "feel-good" reasons that of course automatically suggest themselves. Plus, we shouldn't have to feel bad about that aspect anyway. We also need to reclaim person to person assistance for our economic lives for practical reasons: some days we just can't figure out the online answer when no one else is around who can help.

Fortunately, we are able to take many aspects of validation, confirmation and questioning of our own thoughts online, and this post is certainly not to diminish that tremendous benefit. The problem for us is that we also need to be able to express these vital elements of our lives both economically and with others in concrete ways, especially at local levels where arbitrary divisions have often left us unexpectedly powerless to help one another in economic terms. It really is a coordination problem, but not just in terms of coordinating what already is. We also need to coordinate what we in fact, do not want to lose from our lives.

P.S. I apologize for the extra length today! This subject was originally intended for two posts, but an important issue came up in the midst of this undertaking that I wanted to address sooner, rather than later, in the next post.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Prescription? Simply Use As Needed

...In other words, even though I advocate for a right to heal on the part of all citizens, and for fully thought out responses to fragility in healthcare systems, I generally do so in value in use terms and not from a position of anger or any desire to disrupt today's value in exchange systems. Consequently I wish to apologize for the frustration I vented in two recent posts in that regard, which stemmed partially from being reminded that patients can't always receive adequate nutrition in hospital settings when they are in fact having a difficult time eating on their own. To be sure, when a hospital runs short on nutritional supplements, lipids and other forms of intravenous assistance, that is just one more reason for a patient to remain in home environments as long as possible, when they can at least try to continue eating something which is personally prepared for them.

This post also serves to highlight an older physician who made me aware - early on in my economic studies - of the degree to which our healthcare system was in fact fragile, long before Obama ever took office. I remember the day and the setting well, for it was one of the single days of the week that he - like so many doctors - was able to set aside for patients on Medicare, Medicaid, low income veterans and others on disability. There were so many that it always meant a very full schedule in the attempt to serve them all. It was clear that those patients meant a lot to him. Certainly he mattered to them as well, for people who were waiting that day in the hall brought little gifts and baked goods, some of which were already sitting on his desk.

He basically told me, "Don't ever take healthcare as you see it now, for granted. There are many kinds of potential disruptions which could mean that Medicare and Medicaid might not even be available at some point in the near future." I know that plenty of people would disagree with his words, and the point here is by no means to dissuade anyone. What I want to do is simply provide some real options for alternate organization, structure and service product framing, just in case his words should come to pass. In other words, many of the posts I write also serve as little "open as needed" boxes in the case of emergency. What's more these suggestions tend to be along the lines of value in use, or helping people find more meaningful ways to help themselves, than would be possible in ad hoc circumstances.

More importantly, it's not just this so-called "marginal" aspect of healthcare for older populations or lower income individuals that many physicians can't really afford to take on. Hardly any one would go to medical school now without "crunching the numbers" on the kind of  work that actually pays. Even so, specialists have much more leeway in this regard for Medicare reimbursements, than the general practitioners who have to limit their time with Medicare patients to less than ten minutes.

Just the same, the places where such pay may actually be lucrative (here in the U.S.) are already experiencing some overcrowding. Thus the specialist may find himself or herself limited to options which may not in fact cover both education plus ongoing business overhead costs. The result today is fewer individuals who are inclined to go into traditional healthcare, in spite of their desire to do so - at a time when physicians continue to be needed in many places of the world without the resources to pay for their expensive educations or consequent expected overhead. Plus, with political circumstances such as those that exist in the U.S., it's not hard to see where today's efforts to maintain current healthcare structures could readily backfire.

How to think about this scenario? For one thing, the possibility of doctors ending up driving taxi cabs is always real in fragile economies of all kinds. For the rest of this post, I want to focus on those who - if they in fact had means to do so - might reach out to one another across nations to help create value in use settings for healing. By so doing, much valuable knowledge could be preserved for future generations, even when nations lose the ability to use that knowledge through optimal value in exchange. Already, physicians who struggle to practice in places economically unstable, sometime find themselves either endangered or their services in a highly compromised position. The more of us who are prepared to heal when the need arises, the less a danger this may in fact remain.

Helping people help themselves in value in use scenarios, means doing so with the understanding that equal time measure be a part of the process. This allows coordination of knowledge and skills sets, free markets in group arbitrage, and just in time knowledge use across local service settings rather than transport to larger population centers. Plus, knowledge coordination by digital means is inexpensive, whereas transport can be expensive indeed. People can elect to gain knowledge skills based on the needs they observe, along with their desire to provide what they feel to actually be of use or gain. This in turn allows for more experiential aspects of healthcare product than are currently possible.

Plus, those who would be taught to heal in informal settings would do so in the understanding that they pose no threat to the customer base for the kinds of services that physicians provide to higher income individuals, who in fact are able to support their education and subsequent overhead. Just the same, these voluntary circumstances are far preferable to the two tier healthcare system that might otherwise result over time with Medicare, if in fact it could be preserved.

Who might wish to participate in such settings? Certainly there are physicians who are retired and yet still have plenty of energy for what could be a very hopeful endeavor. Potential for coordination of activities exists along a wide spectrum, which is not always included in normal healthcare scenarios. Others who might utilize a physician's approach to training would include doctors who have left practice for financial, family related, social or political reasons, or possibly due to licensing issues. Other possibilities include physicians working in non profit settings who would see this as a way to make greater use of healing in a larger sense.

As for those who might be considered for training, clearly first on the list would be people who don't have the money or resources to go to medical school, or may otherwise have been rejected. In some countries that are short on physicians, young people with clear potential in medical skills have also been encouraged and trained at a young age, in recent years. And then there are the physicians who are frustrated - of course - that they can only take so many Medicare patients in the course of a week, who might see a day or two of training for others as a more useful alternative for the long run. These are just some of the possibilities in the ultimate sense of a physicians' skills, but opportunities for healthcare knowledge preservation go well beyond the basic set suggested here.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Labels Only Go So Far...

There have been several interesting posts as of late, re how people refer to themselves. In particular George Selgin's recent explanation as to why he doesn't call himself a libertarian, is worth reading...and serves as yet another reminder that the term libertarian is shorthand which only goes so far, if indeed it is even "useful" in my circumstance! (At the very least it's closer to an appropriate label for me, than Austrian) Early on in the process of discovering blogs some years back, I quickly learned that the more hardcore libertarian blog sites were not really "safe" to visit, given my viewpoints! The term "bleeding heart libertarian" didn't seem to fit, either. But by the same token, I have to be careful how I word arguments in comments on some of the more progressive sites which I visit - if indeed I'm capable of leaving a reasonably sympathetic comment at all - well at least I try.

So, how to categorize myself? Deep down I mostly feel like a liberal  - after all I started out that way and only felt "left behind" after I lost access to office work. That in turn prompted me to take a belated plunge into self employment, after which I chastised myself for not doing so much earlier in life when the opportunities for what I wanted to do would have been far more substantial. At any rate, the (resulting) bookstore saw its share of both conservative and liberal visitors, all of course welcome.

Certainly, I share the desire of any liberal (U.S. definition or otherwise) to have a world where knowledge use is a central aspect of wealth creation and organization. But just as I believe the conservative takes concrete forms of wealth too much for granted, I also have concerns that the progressive (Lars Christensen's preferred description and recent reference) takes knowledge wealth too much for granted in its present formation. I like Lars' reasoning as to using liberal by the older designation, and thus need to use the term "progressive" more often.

One area where I "part company" with liberal/progressives so to speak: their interpretation as to how a knowledge based job scenario might be maintained in society. One might find two arguments, the first that we just need government to "save" jobs and that robots should just be scaled back. Here my primary disagreement is that government can't save jobs just because it may "want" to do so. It's people at local levels who have to save respectable working arrangements for all concerned,  because they in fact want to.

Also I have issues with progressive interpretations as to efficiency, and in particular Noah Smith recently mused that economic scenarios as currently structured are relatively efficient. While I wildly disagree with that assertion, my reasoning might not make immediate sense to either conservatives or progressives. Again, this is not easy to explain in a single blog post, and is something I probably need to focus on more often. Inefficiencies have a lot to do with structural ideas of how our lives could - or should be organized. Consequently they involve definition of experiential product as well as value in use structures for societal organization, which affect the bigger picture. In other words, what appears as "ultimate" efficiencies we are supposedly utilizing in the present are often mostly static interpretations of how people actually want to live.

Part of what also makes me different from a traditional progressive: I no longer believe redistributive taxation can get us to either the desired state of services which Democrats believe in, or a "survivable" standard for low income. As to the latter, I believe this issue needs to be addressed through active and ongoing redefinition of product on multiple levels. What might I call myself with such an odd belief?? Who knows. I'm not sure if a bleg would help...mmm, probably shouldn't go there! Just the same, when we try to arbitrarily define product by completely obstructing potential innovation, the relevance of experience, and those deemed not "worthy" of participation, we aren't just holding back our minds: we are also holding back our destinies.

Suffice to say, the fact that I don't easily fit into a label requires a fair amount of explanation that doesn't come across in a blog post or two! For me, it's also a reminder of the years of playing music professionally, when there was never really an apt way to describe one's personal preference for categories, or the music an audience might expect to hear at any given moment.

In spite of their talk of freedom, some of the hardcore libertarians believe in concepts which strike me as profoundly unfree, in that they see little role for any societal coordination for common purposes. Often I come across wealth defined in static terms which don't seem a good fit for the lives of the younger generations in particular. My last post is a fairly good example why I am somewhat hard to categorize, in that my arguments for redefinition of services are - as far as I can tell - mostly my own. In particular, I wish to demean no one when I say that things need to be done differently, and perhaps that's when the "impartial economist" part of my nature really comes out - when I see something as profoundly inefficient or just simply not sustainable in its present form.

Whatever labels might be attached, I continue to hope that people can be freed by - and for - the marketplace of ideas. There seems to be an entire value in use economic realm just under the surface that people want to be able to tap into, which is discouraged and sometimes even outlawed altogether. On the other hand, there is much in the squabbles over the "real" values in exchange political models that go right over my head, and Scott Sumner's recent post as to having hippies for friends is no exception!

By the same token I am of course sympathetic to the neoliberal label, even if I have not personally spent enough time to consider the neoliberal concept in the historical or social context which it deserves. In the U.S. one doesn't really suffer the consequences of leaning neoliberal in the manner they might elsewhere, for instance. Also, even though I advocate for change, much of what concerns me in this regard is not so much in a complaining or agitating sense, but simply out of concern that we could lose some aspects of life which are very important to us.

Aaaaand, in the course of seeking out labels in the grouping I use to apply to the bottom of posts, there was only one which seemed to apply: Market Monetarist...till the next time!

Friday, July 19, 2013

Direct Democracy as a "Tool" For Healthcare Reform

Yes I can imagine readers shaking their heads already! This post is mostly about more "daydreams", but I really need them right now as anyone who read the last post might gather, given my present frustrations with the limitations of hospital systems. (I've also been in the somewhat odd position of having observed them up close regularly in the past decade, all the while knowing I don't really have the means to access them myself). In some capacity, whatever work we would choose for our lives, we still need to take some active part in healthcare provisions in and for the places we live, if we can ever expect to receive the health related assistance and support we actually need for ourselves (here in the U.S.). And that doesn't mean the inadvertent or default help we find ourselves trying to provide for one another as a last ditch effort as we get older.

What's more, when we are artificially separated from both illness and aging in general by our institutions, these normal parts of life tend to hit us like a ton of bricks when we get older, and can eventually isolate us all the more by the process. If the people who are around us when we falter are the same as other times of life, such transitions do not have to be so jarring. However, in order for economic and social integration to be possible, we have to recreate both our environments and our work obligations to place the most vital elements of our lives into closer proximity to one another. To do so requires direct democracy in services, where we would be free to choose and to use skills sets that we learn in the course of our lifetimes.

In the present it's all but impossible to even imagine what direct democracy for services might look like, or how it could function in practical terms, even though we already have the digital capacity for it. Just the same, we need to take many services, especially healthcare, out of the endless struggles of the representative democracy where they are only getting reduced over time in our present institutions. By equalizing our time coordination with health practices of every variety imaginable - both traditional and alternative - we can fully integrate healthcare knowledge at local levels that include our participation for the full course of our lives. That way, we are invested in community to a degree where municipal bankruptcies might be less of a problem, for one thing. Perhaps our elected officials can concentrate on something else for a change that they're better equipped to deal with (whatever that is).

Unfortunately, representative democracy has become mostly a bad joke in service based terms, as government increasingly uses the limitations of money in services to arbitrarily divide people of all walks of life from one another. In recent decades, it has only become more difficult for government to force the resource sets of limited groups, institutions and suppliers into the demand sets of entire populations. What's more, most of those resource sets are shifting to the most economically successful parts of the country, which only continues to slow mobility and economic dynamism elsewhere. The result is entire populations and municipalities being left out of the process of wealth creation, altogether. That is a situation which can't be reversed until knowledge use becomes a more central part of wealth creation processes in general.

Until that happens, we struggle to use knowledge as a sort of wealth based "backwater" in a larger societal sense. In other words, the knowledge we think we can "afford" is highly rationed through its attachment to domains of capital use formations which are supposedly primary. Or, knowledge is held hostage to the supposed "makers" of "true" wealth, in spite of their lack of any organized focus in any growth based terms for the larger society. In that backwater, we get various pools and eddies of knowledge use in the cities which often amount to highly specialized afterthoughts that don't coordinate with much of anything else.

Our fragmented bits of knowledge get served up with laws, to "make up" for what we have increasingly come to believe we can't pay people to accomplish with their minds. I suppose all we need now is the humanoid robots (pardon the snark). But if we don't start making much better use of people and far less use of the actual outdated laws still on the books, any potential coordination and marshaling of the actual scarce resources of this earth will only make less sense over time. Detroit is but an early example for the U.S. in particular.

What is it in particular about healthcare, that currently distorts monetary valuation of other knowledge so as to appear semi-worthless? As services have become the most important component of the economy, the primary service default for all of us is critical care, if and when our lives are endangered. And, it just so happens we've defined that default setting as necessarily tended to most every time, by a highly selective group of individuals with highly paid skill sets.

What's more, we expect those skills to take place in environments that are extremely limited in the world by their very nature. Over time this combined set of factors has usurped many other aspects of life that money and human imagination might actually be allotted to. Not only has this left individuals and governments unable to tend to the growing imbalances, it increasingly causes people to question the value of large sets of educational possibilities that supposedly don't "contribute" to anything. It's time for these economic and social imbalances to be addressed by reform that makes us all a part of healthcare itself, before we all become convinced that nothing in the world is affordable but healthcare. Not to mention the limitations of population access the current system still implies even with the sacrifice of other wealth based educational values and goals.

For healthcare needs, we could start anew by reclaiming the areas of healthcare options which our institutions have little room for, through entrepreneurial terms in coordinated local markets. We would use freedom of speech to make certain that alternative options once derided and then silently reclaimed through pharmaceuticals would be brought back to light. That also means freedom in knowledge use and participation, and education both formal and informal. What's more, we need to be able to tap into knowledge sets by way of interchangeable means in both larger and smaller economic settings, for the most efficient outcomes possible.

Rather than individual specialization (in less populated areas particularly), our primary choices for healthcare participation (alongside other areas of learning), could likely come from several areas that are of interest to us when we are young. In other words we can actually put our high school "classes"  - however they might be structured, to good use. Over time we would be able to utilize skills at different levels of engagement and priority, so as to coordinate with the multiple skills sets of other locals to perform many of the functions now associated with decades of learning. Plus, no more "down" time necessary (unless desired) just because of an arbitrary graduation point.

Intensive care of any kind especially needs to be approached in terms that allow community coordination with other ongoing economic activities. When entire communities are able to plan for healthcare in as many of its important aspects as possible, no one need bear too much of the burden, either financially or in terms of societal expectations. There are aspects of healthcare that are intuitive and ongoing, and there are other aspects that are needed in specific timeframes and careful specifications. This last designation is the one that could benefit immensely from both just in time knowledge use and careful evaluation of aptitude and potential on the part of all community participants.

Each of us has a unique capacity that is helpful in health based terms, and our actual possibilities for participation go much further than anything that exists in the health based options of the present. When we can all provide through our own unique capacity; time or resource cost, complexity and always greater choice are organic and implicit to the system itself. Whereas, under the current system, growth is perceived as a negative and choices have to be constantly pared back. The choice for a way forward is clear.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

A Letter (Plea) To Government

This is not a letter that is easy for me to write, but these thoughts have been on my mind for a long time and so I'm going to have to do something about them. It's time to take stock of what is happening to this country. I can't just silently stand by, watching my nation keep sliding downhill, because this unnecessary decline matters far too much to me. Slowly but surely, you are putting most all of your citizens into positions of solitary confinement like that of any prisoner, where they can neither help themselves nor one another. And even though you are no longer in a position to be able to help anyone but your rich friends, you adamantly remain unwilling to admit it.

You only know how to "help" your citizens with various schemes that mostly enrich you and your favorite rich friends. But your 30 year mortgages, non negotiable student loans, and mandated healthcare are now about as far from any practical reality for most of us as it gets. Even the hospitals with plenty of money at their disposal, are losing the ability to play this game of captured suppliers, for the most basic of necessities. All the while, you continue to expect people with a pauper's salary - or nothing at all - to buy the goods you insist on fashioning for the wallets of the rich.  When confronted with that fact, you mostly get indignant and say people should "have a living wage". How is anyone ever going to have a living wage when you constantly raise the bar of entry and access on their living and working standards for your own gain?

Let your people learn to help themselves and one another again while they still can, while there is still a chance. Quit needlessly dividing them and setting them against one another for your own gain. Don't let them remain in their solitary confinement, convinced that if they do something for their very survival, they are somehow breaking one of your endless laws. Laws were supposed to be about creating ways for people to have understandable ways to work and live amongst one another, but you have used them mostly to put people down and destroy them for no good reason. That has all but destroyed the very society that was once so strong. People have great resilience and have tried again and again to survive, but you have insisted on knocking them down time and again, every time they try to stand up.

You have allowed people in the U.S. to believe that they were actually part of a free nation, when every day you have proceeded further in your intent to make it nothing of the sort. You pretend to know the best answers for everything, in spite of expecting people to become educated for a substantial part of their lives, and yet you stand in the way at every turn of allowing them to utilize the knowledge they learn in the belief it can be of benefit to them. It matters not to you if the skills of your citizens are wasted, or that it becomes ever more difficult for all of us to utilize the knowledge and skills of one another in either economic or social terms. You continue to pursue policies in which you pretend to have the best interests of the public at heart, all the while as a ploy to allow someone to gain advantage over others in the marketplace.

Worse, you scoff at the monetary policies which could actually help people regain their economic livelihoods and destinies. Sadly, too many in Washington have come to believe that getting monetary policy right does not really have anything to do with potential solutions at all, when nothing could be further from the truth. There are days when I think that your ignorance is going to win the day and ruin us all, and I have to remain strong in my belief that this is not in fact going to happen. In your efforts to divide us, it has become mostly about legislating how we might actually be able to fight one another in the streets, instead of coming together to find solutions and moving away from the need to fight one another at all.

Stop. Just stop this insanity, if for no other reason than you are not going to remain strong either, if you destroy the majority of your own citizens in this madness. Quit obfuscating the issues. Quit grandstanding. Don't regale us with speeches of hope and change when you intend nothing of the sort, and don't tell us how you're going to end the Fed or the free market for that matter because it seems like the latest fad. Don't write healthcare laws that expect everyone to pay up even when they are unemployed, and especially don't tell people to cease and desist offering advice for the unemployed who have no where else to turn to for help. You mostly ignore such admonitions when they come from people with money, will you ignore them too even from the people who are no longer gainfully employed, and have figured out exactly what you did to put them in that position?

Perhaps you think that the unemployed are not paying attention, or that it doesn't matter if they are. But they can't help but see how you seek to put even more in their position, through the arbitrary limitations that are your rewards to the ones who are willing to pay for your big party in Washington. They see how you force people to travel to cities and stay there, for hospital care that can no longer even account for such basics as nutrients and lipids. Only a few years ago, any patient who could barely eat (or nor at all) could at the very least expect to receive something as important as lipids during their hospital stay, to help keep their weight up.

But in the present, the arbitrary limitations of suppliers means that even something as basic as this cannot be maintained, and patients now have been known to stay in the hospital for more than a month with almost no lipids (despite the protestations of onlookers) until the Medicare runs out and the patient has to foot the entire bill for the remaining stay. In the circumstance which angered me so, only when Medicare wasn't paying anymore, were lipids finally hung by the bed. "I was there and I saw what you did." Even basic toiletries that one might expect to find at a dollar store are now out of reach of the hospital's budget and the patient expected to do without unless they are brought from home, but even then may be removed from the patient's room. It's been said repeatedly that something as important as healthcare should be run without the free market. There's no free market here, and this is what it looks like.

One often hears that marginal governments are bound by extractive institutions which have too few means to redistribute wealth, but in the present it almost seems that the U.S. government is the most extractive of all. After all, it feeds off the unrealized dreams, knowledge and skills capacity of its own citizens for its own glory, people who could be tending to one another in the places where they actually live if laws only allowed. Meanwhile, those in the vicinity of Washington are gradually becoming the most prosperous area of the country.

I know you think the Great Recession is over, because all of you spend your days around others who are gainfully employed and thus it seems life has returned to normal. But it hasn't. Please don't ignore that fact. There is still a chance to turn this around, regain faith and trust in your own citizens and give them a chance to do what they were born to achieve in the first place. Let them help themselves while they still can, please do not stand in their way any longer. Quite ignoring us, while there is still time. And no, no one paid or asked me to write this letter on their behalf, for I am a long term unemployed individual. When I pray for this country and for the people of the world every night, it is solely my own doing.

Becky Hargrove

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

GDP is Still A Good Measure For Economic Dynamism

While I certainly advocate for NGDPLT in a specific sense, it is still helpful to clarify the benefit of Gross Domestic Product as the "right idea" in a broader sense. Plus, any defense on my part feels appropriate now, what with monetary confusion all around and even suggestions as to new, supposedly more "evolved"  measures.  Of course, the GDP as measure which some complain about (even Bernanke has slipped into musings as to a "happiness" measure) can do a much better when it is in fact given more reasonable aspects of economic activity, to measure (or, it is what it is). Certainly, everything that registers monetarily is not a sign of progress - "broken windows", sticky markets, back door deals and all. But that doesn't mean the tool which sometimes seems to account for a carnival of absurdities is the absurdity!

What makes the GDP measure all the more appropriate is its intent to capture and reflect economic momentum. By doing so it suggests that the use and management of capital is only part of the story for economic activity and dynamism, in spite of what the financial realm and excessive focus on credit would suggest. Just the same, we are getting some strange arguments now that not only are services supposedly insignificant in wealth based terms (in spite of their representation in the economy) but that even consumption is somehow not a valid part of wealth creation. Ever notice how the hard right conservative suddenly becomes quiet as to continued progress and growth (even though normally such discussion would be ongoing), whenever "stick in the mud" austerity rears its ugly head? Austerity is nothing, if not a static idea as to what represents wealth in the first place.

Even though GDP measures are utilized especially for demand side rationale, they have significant implications and potential for coordinated supply side strategies, which have yet to be explored. For all the things that need to happen in structural terms to make our economy more meaningful, most of these can find adequate expression in the measurement of economic momentum, and even more so through nominal targeting. Particularly the fact that services can be thought of as pure velocity, gives additional meaning to the GDP measure for the potential it continues to hold.

Often, people hold different ideas as to what economic dynamism actually entails. Dynamism is what is actively occurring throughout the components of a system: or whether the interlocking parts are still creating motion in the entire structure along a reasonable constant (velocity). Differences in income might create problems insofar as they significantly block flows along major arteries of the system, and nominal targeting is also capable of considering this possibility. Perhaps we give the leaders of nations more credit than they deserve, for following the kinds of visions we thought they had. What once worked so well together in fiscal and monetary terms presently appears inadvertent, even arbitrary at times. Amazingly, fiscal policy supposedly entails a sense of economic direction, but most fiscal efforts today in the U.S. are about maintaining what has been, rather than envisioning a shared future.

For the U.S., present day requirements of the military and the entitlements of a retiring generation have become the main fiscal "meal", which leaves both political and business constituents fighting like dogs over any scraps that fall from the table. That leaves little real room for governmental negotiation in terms of economic direction, especially given the enormous amount of time lost to discussion about the "leftovers" in fiscal terms. Discussion about government debt loads and fiscal capacity are now are beside the point. It has become more dangerous by the day to wait for government to fulfill promises it can't uphold. This is a historical moment when the public needs to step forward to redefine and reclaim economic dynamism on its own terms. The considerable work which has gone into GDP measurement, alongside nominal targeting, can be most helpful for such efforts.

Few individuals in our political system are prepared to take part in such a dialogue for they are still hopelessly divided, as to maintaining what is left of the older reality. Implicit in any argument that GDP does not matter, lies a very real confusion what wealth creation actually is in the present. That makes it all the more important for the public to understand the continued usefulness of GDP measures, before moving forward. It is in large part the divisions of our political system that have led to a real loss of dynamism. Even as Market Monetarists ask for central banks to provide forward guidance, citizens also need to find their own commitments to focused action and shared economic visions, so that belief and trust in forward guidance is truly possible.

We are really fortunate that the public is able to take part in these concerns to a degree previously impossible, for it is the citizens of the U.S. who have the capacity to step forward and plan for a better future, when their government falters. We need our government, our monetary system in some capacity with plenty of resources for adequate measures, and the tool of GDP which can be made more meaningful through a basic rule of nominal targeting. But none of those can any longer be expected to get the job done on their own. Shared visions can create new economic dynamism, and also allow us to make better use of the important tools we already have in place.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Families and Economic Dynamism

Many variations on the story exist: there's a really neat piece of furniture (or two) just stashed and wasting away in a great uncle's barn or attic, and one or two of the grandkids would like to be able to take the piece, strip it down and make it beautiful again. Surely, uncle wouldn't mind, let's ask. No no comes back the answer, I've got some definite plans for that...Or, there's the determined shopper who doesn't have a spare inch of room left in the house and yet "keeps the economy humming" by going back for more, as in "shop till you drop".

Oddly enough these individuals are trying their best to remain dynamic or relevant in their own way, even if the results don't really make sense to anyone else - which occasionally makes observers want to pull their hair out. But in both circumstance, it helps to remember what represented economic dynamism - until recently - to these older folks in the first place: how people were able to interact with physical product was what mattered, whether the product held value in its (still unmet) potential as in the furniture piece, or value in its "unexpected" affordability (i.e. bargain), which is why it might still be considered a "treasure" long after it is actually needed for anything.

For this earlier version of capitalism (albeit the one we're still caught in), one's home turf ultimately became the primary staging area for much of what mattered in life, even if people in general weren't really able to show up on this particular stage all that often. In a sense, all that square footage served as a sort of museum, for those previous hours of production and dynamic activity in the factories themselves. Those efforts were finally symbolized in the prize which a fortunate consumer could turn to, as the remaining representative of their own economic participation.

In previous centuries, much of our experiential economic dynamism was tied up in physical product that represented these earlier circumstance. Even though our experiential realities are gradually moving towards the product of the mind, we don't yet know how to express that socially, politically, or monetarily...let alone locally. And in some important ways, our ideas of family unit are taking the hardest hit. In earlier capitalism, dynamism was loosed from the producers who held the definition of physical product tightly in their workshops. Today, we seek to loose the experiential definition of product from the knowledge workshops of our cities, and yet we've not even started the "heavy lifting" in this regard in health based terms, before product in other experiential realities even has a chance to flower.

In the meantime, family is expected to somehow carry on in the world (Get married! Have kids! Umm...job, living quarters?) as though it never experienced such a stab through the heart of economic dynamism in the first place. Just like the first decade of the 21st century, we're supposed to be able to consume and pay taxes. We're still trying to live as though nothing has changed, even if the flow of the monetary spigot was interrupted without so much as a question re...why has the loss in dynamism not been probed in understandable ways across disciplines? Why has no one tried to take apart the parts of the engine to see why the vehicle doesn't run? Today I sound like a bratty kid. Why indeed!

Some of what follows was written first (yesterday), so I hope that "patching" it with the above does not appear too arbitrary. Recently I have described families as value in use environments. While value in use skills sets are helpful in limited circumstance between family and friends, they should not be stretched to a point where everyone's patience understandably wears thin, something that has happened since the Great Recession. Consider the advantage that value in exchange provides by way of greater choice. The more economic choices we have in life, the easier it becomes to interact within our more personal environments in spite of the limitations they might suggest.

When familial relations include real economic choice instead of mostly expected sacrifices, everyone has a better chance of keeping their integrity, dignity and self respect. This principle also holds true for the arbitrary limitations of building structure, a holdover from the past which often forces family members to interact exclusively with one another under one roof. What everyone really needs is greater autonomy (smaller dwellings if necessary) alongside a much greater variety of regular societal interaction and options (than one's family), to so as to preserve one's sense of sanity. What's more, no one should have to be demeaned for such a basic and human need - problems come mostly when such separation impedes social and economic reciprocity.

Even though value in use skills sets have limitations in familial terms (i.e. your mom is really tired of that soup you love to prepare), there are still ways to create value in use skills arbitrage at community or local levels which approximate true economic choice, because of the greater number of individuals involved. What's more, it can be done so as to have the same positive effects of value in exchange which especially assists family relationships. The idea of monetary compensation for personal work at home matters for similar reasons, in that our primary choices of personal (as opposed to business related) work need to be our own, or we end up sacrificing our own identity otherwise. The minute we accept some form of economic compensation for the work we freely choose to maintain personal environment (if that were even societally possible), the idea of ultimate choice in our personal space is destroyed.

While our personal environment work choices often (fortuitously) line up with those of other family member preferences, they no longer carry the economic connotations they once did in many instances. Indeed, family law still reflects a time when expectations were far greater in that regard, as to such coordination being less about choice and more about necessity. In many ways, greater economic choice for people of all ages, as well as the "modern conveniences" of the 20th century, allowed each family member to pursue more individual paths for personal time. Indeed, if we were to draw a line for monetary compensation, how would anyone possible know where to actually place it? The expectations of every individual and household are unique and different.

Value in use services can be made to approximate free markets for value in exchange, by the recognition of choice as it becomes coordinated with other economic and social activities. That's an important distinguishing factor about services that are willingly sought by various parties in an open free market: no one needs to disentangle personal priorities or desires as they would in home environments, as all parties consciously agree to the definitive transaction. What's more, the experiential product that so many seek, has a chance to happen when local economies once again become real through skills capacity.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Knowledge And Mobility As Value In Use

Interesting, how history books tend to portray aspects of past "mobile" populations as barbarous indeed. And yet, progress in capitalistic terms continues to rely on new definitions of mobility and dynamism, even as overall growth slows around the world. Unfortunately, few ideas have been forthcoming as of late. What gives? Have the purveyors of capital thrown up their hands in agreement with the intellectuals that it's time for the ladder of progress to be pulled up and destroyed? What's more, how did the titling of property, only a decade ago associated with human progress and achievement, come to appear as though a noose around the necks of the middle class and - inexplicably - a primary wealth option mostly intended for the fortunate?

This post picks up on the thoughts of my previous one in that both harvest and knowledge commons are value in use structures, and so my readers might want to read it first if they haven't already. Some of what is considered here, in terms of value in use and exchange, is also important for my own thought processes in general. First, given my mention (yet again) of "The Mystery of Capital" (first paragraph link), it would be also be helpful to explain a primary purpose of the quest for titling property in the developing world: to turn value in use into value in exchange.

In a developing world context; greater mobility, flexibility and dynamism are implied for the property owner (and others) by the titling process itself, just as these elements previously "held" (i.e. not so much now) for the developed world. My point is not to negate the immense gain which can still be a result of value in exchange for titling: rather, to point out the circumstance in which property as wealth has bogged down in the developed world through excessive dependence on static formations, leading to further distortions in turn. GDP for instance is a dynamic measure whereas property in and of itself is not dynamic. Unfortunately that has also lead to developed nations pulling back on further GDP formation in monetary terms, at the expense of younger generations.

Some of what we think of as informal economies, in any nation, also involve value in use. And, certainly, earlier tribal formations were strengthened by value in use association both for knowledge and scarce resources. Some of the more (supposedly) barbarous hordes one recalls must have operated primarily by value in use terms. Of course, there's a lot to be said for value in exchange, or governments would not attempt to rely on monetary means exclusively. Thinking along value in exchange lines, particularly as captured by institutions, also makes scarcity appear as a greater part of life than it otherwise might. What's more, the value in exchange so amenable to tax capture, allows a nation to focus on fiscal activity in far more substantial ways.

But the same value in exchange that can be so conducive to economic activity for nations and citizens, can eventually lead to threadbare economic and social linkages. Particularly in the present, when the only real value in use institutions left are family and religion (in the U.S.) and they never should have been expected to carry such a heavy load by themselves. Why has this happened?

In order to turn knowledge use into value in exchange, institutions have to utilize knowledge and skills in highly distilled forms, which means not only do a lot of knowledge and skills sets go untapped, but important social functions are increasingly scaled back. What amounts to monetary convenience for governments and institutions, unfortunately creates artificial scarcities that become far more noticeable over time. Consequently, the institutional wealth capture processes which begin as a source of strength for nations and individuals, slowly turn instead into economic fragility for all concerned.

Knowledge use as value in exchange requires arbitrary cutting off points, a problem which has finally become evident in the increasingly arbitrary cutting off measures of inflation by central banks around the world. However governments didn't remove the numerous value in use measures people once relied upon, out of spite. Governments made a series of promises to citizens in the 20th century they sincerely believed could be upheld. Is it possible to move towards value in use settings which - instead of completely undermining the entire contractual arrangement between governments and citizens - make it more flexible in nature?

Let's now consider the mobility elements introduced in yesterday's post, of localized knowledge use in coordination with other planned commons settings for city and country alike, so that no one need give up their hunter gatherer instincts. Yes I know, the American Indian was doing a really good job of the harvest commons once and people weren't paying a lot of attention. That said...

The above linked book is extremely helpful for thinking about ideas for publicly managed commons. Like so many books, it sat in my library for years before I finally read it. However in this post, I especially need to focus on aspects of knowledge capture which are capable both of providing monetary links between value in use and exchange, as well as better definition for a monetary anchor. Previously I spoke of a knowledge prior, or defined value in use knowledge.

An interesting thing about knowledge as priority: it represents all points along a scale in terms of both practicality and experiential, whereas knowledge use as a monetary prior (value in exchange) is generally forced to select a single attribute, one not necessarily applicable to given locations or situations. Tribes, for instance, were able to capture knowledge as value in use, for they could apply it to their own specific localized circumstance and time arrangements - as opposed to generalized knowledge definition and the strictly defined time setting of institutions.

Most important for value in use settings is that they allow the individual a productive role in various processes and enterprises - be they skills or knowledge related - that may not exist otherwise. One good example is a revival of heirloom seeds, which allows people to continue growing fruits and vegetables which otherwise might have disappeared, as value in exchange encourages some companies to move towards seedless varieties for the marketplace. The biggest problem of course is that when everything becomes value in exchange, people lose both their monetary and skills links, which ultimately separates them from the process itself. Herein lies the real issue for future work prospects: not one of robots and automation, but making certain that adequate measures for value in use also exist along standard monetary economic spectrums, so that people do not lose their economic links over time.

Aspects of the experiential factor especially need to be taken into consideration, before many Luddite arguments can actually be understood for their relevance. For instance, equal time use coordination between participants allows the "slow" food experience, along with numerous production elements which may no longer work well in a value in exchange capacity. Plus, they can readily be coordinated into local economic settings as a "part of the mix" for all who prefer convenience some days (value in exchange) over coordinated experiential settings when there's time to do so.

Such orchestrated environments (of all kinds) can provide tremendous added value, for portions of society who don't have the money to experience something similar in a normal value in exchange convenience setting. Luddite situations become problematic mostly when they are presented as the only societal choice to buy with one's time, such as today's building and construction definitions. So, before we decry lack of efficiency or productivity in any element of economic life, or too much efficiency a few things one might consider:
  1. What is the experiential element that would be lost to efficiency, and how necessary is it to remove that element in a monetary context? If it is an element that people would miss, can it be societally replaced in a value in use context  people want to coordinate?
  2. Can we create adequate context for participation, so that people can understand how they could replace the missing element through value in use means?
  3. Do we make the experiential element a valid societal choice, have we presented some as forced elements, or has an arbitrary decision already been made not to offer the element at all?
There is a whole new world that could be created through value in use settings, which can still be connected to the coordinating efforts of government, albeit in far more flexible terms than presently exist. If governments no longer have to struggle with providing basic needs and provisions for their citizens, perhaps they would not be the backstabbing and hateful beasts which they so often seem in the present! One can only hope.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Economic "Advice" For The Long Term Unemployed?

...Or is there really such a thing! Before writing about many subjects, I've sought time to consider what others have already written. But when it comes to life solutions for those who have basically lost access to money, there's little real discussion to be found: just appeals to government and non profits for money already in short supply, instead of the self help or DIY one might readily expect for other problem solving circumstance. Why no guidelines for those individuals who are more than willing to help themselves for the long run?

Over the years this has seemed an incredible anomaly to me, because people who need direction in this regard are evident most anywhere, even if they are no longer a "statistic" being tracked. Not only is there little in the way of advice for them, but people are reluctant to even think about the ongoing realities such individuals face. Worse, others begrudge them and question crucial aspects of their reality. The actual prospect of life beyond income makes little sense in environments which require income at every turn. Because no one wants to think about it, everyone tries to "hide" the problem elsewhere instead, which only serves to shame such individuals all the more.

It's one thing to speak of "getting by" in a relative sense financially, or even to talk up numerous good points of "voluntary" monetary abstinence. But long term strategies for long term unemployment are another matter. Perhaps it's easier for me to think about unemployment in what-might-be-done terms because I was such an avid reader of DIY anything for a long time. In those initial years when conditions made it difficult for me to gain work, I'd come across self help finance articles and think, yes but this is what you try to do when you have a job!  Is it just that society needs to somehow get a "plan", before such individuals can follow through on any DIY unemployment solutions of their own? People don't have a lot of places they can readily migrate to now, and that was a prime solution for a long time.

As best as I can tell, the long term unemployed fall into at least three broad categories. I'll consider first the transitional state, where the traditional avenues of reconnection continue to be proffered. Certainly, an individual tries to remain in this realm as long as possible, whether by support groups or other networking efforts. However there is little in the way of strategy that is different from the short term aspects of employment loss. It is only when the resumes and job applications pile up in most every potential place of employment (particularly if one can't move) that other options need to be considered. Even with the present recovery, employers now expect employees to be in better financial circumstance overall than was previously considered necessary. Once, it was not uncommon to see employers reach out to homeless individuals and offer them work.

While gaining compensation for disability can be a lifesaver; just the same, having to do so can be a blow to one's sense of self worth.  For anyone with health concerns that mean a physician is willing to agree to the prognosis, this tends to be the rational option. One of the odd aspects of this route is the fact that many who are opposed to government assistance in general will take it because there is little other choice, in terms of salvaging one's lifestyle. The fact that anyone makes the choice for disability is not a strike against them -  how else do they expect to survive?  It is just another indicator how we need to think through better means of ensuring a lifetime of work options for all.

The next strategy is "falling back" on family. While this may work for some in the short term, it is a lousy option for the long term under many circumstances. Unless - of course - there is the possibility of taking on more responsibilities on the home front which one is in agreement with. Hidden here are also individuals living in what approximates servitude, because they feel they have little economic choice. Without economic freedom, there is little other freedom to make a family life count in terms of positive choices. Much of present day pressure in familial arrangements can be directly traced to the lack of economic access so many experience.

With no job, government or familial assistance, here's where life can get dicey. All too often, prison or homelessness turn into primary "options" for lack of a better expression. To seek many forms of escape is to tempt addiction. In the short run, everyone looks for the "shortcomings" an individual holds, if they are in fact confronted with the reality. To be sure, shortcomings are not hard to find, and even those who are willing to rise above the fray will be questioned. At the very least, any residual desire to live a long, normal life seems questionable at best and may be put to the test many times. All of the good habits one diligently tries to follow: habits which once could be counted on to help, can of course still be followed. And yet, luck plays a role in all of this.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

For Money To Matter, Our Work Time Has To Matter

Yet another report of unhappiness on the job, only matched - so it would seem - by the unhappiness of not having a job at all! And yet in this WSJ report, there was a bit of an unexpected twist at the end of the article: it turned out that those with low income are happier in their work, perhaps because of the potential "lousy" life options if - in fact, they have no job at all. I had to think about that one. In my last seven years of mostly full time work, it had become progressively more difficult to make money stretch for ongoing responsibilities and obligations. Whereas prior to that, I still had a fair amount of freedom and flexibility, even if self employment meant not much money left over for the doctors visits or vacation time that those years of office work had made possible.

But was I not happy on the job? While the self employment was the happiest even with the obvious above mentioned minuses, working for others was still a tremendous boost for self identity in general. I still remember a couple of days of "calling in sick" in my early twenties and how "illegitimate" it felt for that bit of extra time spent exploring the back roads of nearby areas: pleasant memories to this day. In retrospect, perhaps I needed to blow off a bit of steam from some job related matter. However, the mental "break" I took wasn't indicative of any lack of appreciation for my work, and the job itself was never taken for granted.

Perhaps one's psychological makeup matters for job choice and appreciation. Some are born taking good fortune for granted, and thus not so concerned if a work situation does not feel worth the effort. Certainly I've known people who refused to take the "lesser" jobs which finally felt so necessary for this blogger, when the better ones ran out. There's some rationale to a choosier logic which makes sense: the lesser job route can in fact mean a definite loss of respect in the social life, of those who are able to maintain their identities better with no job at all.

Herein also lies a basic problem: a job in today's terms needs to be able to do at least three things. It needs to somehow maintain our personal level of self respect. Also, at least be able to provide a modicum of both personal responsibility and free time, for us to commit for the long run. Most importantly, it needs to allow us to save enough for an exit option, if in fact the work area is no longer tenable. I became aware that local economies were actually the bigger part of the problem, when - starting around the turn of the century - many cities and their outlying areas in the U.S. became less conducive to  life on a minimum income. What's more, those lower income jobs are the ones on the rise since the Great Recession, in everyplace U.S.A.

What some of my readers now realize: this blogger is adamant that the idea of a living wage is not the issue at all. This is a problem which has grown slowly over time and in layers, as more "bits" of unnecessary overhead, rent capture or other external costs are added on. That in turn raises business costs to meet the most recent add on, rents again rise to take advantage of added wages, and so the cycle continues. The role of the central banks in all this is to maintain money for the system which the citizens in fact create.  Nonetheless they get the blame for "inflation" that local economies create, and central banks are hardly the reason that local economies have - even if inadvertently - put more pressure on their lower income citizens to look elsewhere for a life, even as these lower income jobs come into greater abundance.

We mostly ignored this while it was happening to the lower classes, but now it has started to impact the middle classes to a significant degree, as these two linked posts from Marginal Revolution show. Perhaps the real story of civilization is especially that of many communities just pushing their own citizens out over time. From the second link:
...lower wage and mid wage occupations saw significantly bigger declines in their real wages than did higher-wage occupations...occupations in the bottom three quintiles saw their median wages decline by 3 percent or more.
Part of such wage differential can be attributed to the overall local development complexes. They encourage new housing for income levels beyond what is actually present in the area, in job potential. That is, each community would strive to gain higher income residents rather than cater to lower income residents, in that more expensive building choices also create larger tax bases. There are actually plenty of rational reasons (for the short term) to encourage consumption higher than the abilities of one's citizens, or local economies would not do so on such a consistent basis. The problems of course come in the long term, when infrastructure sometimes needs to start from scratch and there is little money to do so. Municipal bankruptcies due to replacing outdated infrastructure are already a reality.

Even if one takes the idea of high paid city union workers or pensions out of the mix, there are still the security and infrastructural elements which make any municipality want to continue increasing a tax base over time. However, the tipping point is finally a reality in which not enough high income citizens exist to fulfill the dreams of home builder contractors and would be financiers. We are left with a situation in which not only are too few jobs adequate to maintain this once understandable definition of local wealth, but both individual and municipality have become economically fragile by the process itself. No amount of livable income or sufficient work time can presently make up the difference, for either.

If municipalities can reconsider both infrastructure and construction needs based on technological innovation, decentralized infrastructure options and true income matching in product offering, these problems can eventually be overcome. But until they are, the idea of middle class and individual responsibility now hangs in the balance. We can no longer use the buildings we live and work in as a wealth based means to hijack our own time. After all, our time feels too short as it is, to do all we want to accomplish in a day.

If there is a paradox in all this, it would be that in order to take care of the middle class, we start by taking care of the problems of the poor. Had we stopped to do that in the first place, i.e. allowing full throttle technology and innovation for lightweight building and construction, middle class definition would not have become such an issue. This quote from The Browser (Joseph Brodsky) illustrates the hapless situation of the present: "The formula for prison is a lack of space counterbalanced by a surplus of time." The lack of space in our lives and too much time on the hands of those left out, are the prison we now live in. We have the capacity to overcome prisons of every kind, through the use of our own imaginations. Society only needs to find the will, to let it happen.

If You Choose Not To Decide...

In a recent comment thread at The Money Illusion, I was once again reminded of one of my favorites with this Neil Peart quote (drummer of Rush): "If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice" in regard to Fed activity and QE. While that has always been true of decision making processes, the ramifications are in fact more apparent now to everyone, than they have been in the past. There is an ever growing  awareness on the part of the public, when those in power use the rationale of extreme "discretion", for what is in fact blatant lack of concern or empathy for lack of economic access. Egypt is a prime example of the fact that governments cannot simply keep allowing political factions to blame one another, instead of seeking economic and social progress.

To be sure, using government as an ill thought out attempt (or backstop) for lack of economic access is no solution, and so present attempts to do so mostly add to the confusion. But too many in power on both sides of the aisle have allowed the impasse over structural solutions to stop progress in its tracks. We are paying people in Washington a lot of money to engage in senseless, often faux cultural fights not to mention endless rent grabbing, while our economic base continues to crumble from neglect.

Too many Republicans and Democrats know they have nothing to lose from looking the other way, as to policies they can't help but recognize as incapable of providing further economic progress. Most days when I have sufficient energy and resolve, I want to give people in power the benefit of the doubt. But on days when I am somewhat weary, it can be tempting to believe that they are waiting for millions of us to simply give up the fight for economic and social inclusion. Thankfully I don't feel that way very often (Yes I feel that way today).

Because there is not a recognizable point of agreement as to what structural and supply side solutions might entail, that does not mean no choice has been made. It only means that a nation of its own free will gives up on hope and prosperity. The lack of economic cohesiveness only gives politicians an excuse. For in choosing not to decide, they still have made a choice as to the slow motion economic downfall we continue to experience in the U.S. As Bonnie Carr (dajeeps) points out in this recent post, San Francisco's Fed president John Williams actually argues - what's more gets away with the argument - that timidity can be a virtue for central bank tools such as bond buying. Giving up on the future has become virtuous: just shoot me now!

Indeed, being a supporter of structural supply side solutions puts me in the oddest sort of company, because that means I inhabit a space which is literally full of negativists and do nothings using limited versions of such arguments for excuses. Others likely wonder why I don't just root for government to give me some sort of paycheck and then shut up. It would probably make more sense but sure wouldn't be much of a life. As it is, I spent much of my younger days seeking economic access to such a degree that it meant very little time left, for the work of the mind. I'm not quite so willing to give up the intellectual challenge now, even with no paycheck in sight.

Suppose visitors from another planet were to come, and spend a little time surveying the vast accumulation of knowledge, resources and tremendous capacity of our planet...only somehow it seemed no one was quite "getting it right". They could be forgiven for wondering, what is holding this planet back? They could be forgiven for wondering why everyone is pointing fingers at one another instead of putting minds and resources together to further evolve.

There is now a "virtuous", unfortunately quite sustainable circle of blame all around, which provides the most convenient excuse the world has likely known to avoid any pretense at working things out. Except, and this is important, folks: the world is watching quite closely this time. Your attempt to keep the status quo just as it is, instead of using the vast knowledge and resources at your disposal for real economic access, is nothing but economic, historic and social downfall. Today I am tired, and I do not understand why you just don't get, ALL OF YOU in power, what you are doing to this world that has tried so hard to succeed. There's no excuse for the fact that you are simply giving up, when so many of us do not want to give up. None at all. Economic domestic summits. Now.