Monday, February 2, 2015

Needed: A Vital and Inclusive Marketplace

When it comes to work flows, income streams and investment - everything about the surrounding environment matters. But how can time use and resource options generate anything resembling a "reliable" salary? Today, dependable salaries tend to be the result of either government favors or perhaps the "right" location for private interests. Are market participants generating reliable income streams simply because others have been excluded? Are there ways to generate reliable income that does not depend on special favors or legislative willpower? The marketplace needs to find out.

Arbitrage possibilities in one's environment are not as easy or "automatic" as they might appear - especially now. Even so, arbitrarily imposed wages continue to reduce marketplace potential. There needs to be fewer judgement calls and morality plays, and more serious inquiry which allows everyone to thrive by purposeful economic activity.

Difficult though it sometimes was, I am grateful for the experience of self employment - particularly the years as a bookseller which taught me how fragile income streams could be. My last bookstore location closed in the year that the above linked Borderlands Books opened. Even though I hated giving up the perks of professional healthcare and vacations, self employment was very empowering. But it didn't take many years to realize that populations as a whole, need to work together more closely for the marketplace formations which hold personal meaning. How many such as myself finally "let go", when they want nothing more than to remain economically connected with others in their own midst?

Many small business owners attempt to keep their doors open as long as possible, whether or not profit is even part of the equation. After closing that door for the last time, one's identity is often not quite the same. The fact that many businesses can't even afford to pay employees enough to maintain a reliable car should give lawmakers pause...but does it??

Instead of seeking out ever more business income from the pockets where it still exists, governments need to make certain that as much business income exists in aggregate as possible. National government is starting to look like many Main Streets where a couple of business thrive while others die on the vine. Neither governments or populations benefit in the long run, from allowing business and services formations to refuse access and participation to others. The actual monetary and resource needs of local workplaces deserve a lot more research and attention than they are getting. Why haven't economics departments already paired up with local communities to make certain Main Streets do not die? Why haven't economics departments stressed the importance to the public of making certain they are monetarily represented in the marketplace?

Even if I had an economics degree, or the kind of job many economists gain, neither would address these concerns in the ways they need to be dealt with. How can economics aspire to the level of real science with meaningful models if it is not willing to work with real life applications in developed nations? If today's economics departments were already reaching out to the public to make certain long term growth is not lost, I probably would not have allowed these concerns to take over my daily existence. As it is, those who have personally known me, remained befuddled by what has become my life's challenge.

Granted, some funding efforts now seek to address these issues, particularly monetary concerns. But how much funding exists for local economic stability? Some private funding sources perpetuate surface level arguments which are intended to sway public opinion. Unfortunately, this process doesn't capture what is actually at stake. Nor is leaving economic outcomes to political parties, a strategy for long term growth.

It's far too easy to highlight prosperous businesses as somehow representative of the whole, especially when political leaders are anxious to emphasize economic gains. But not all monetary flows are the same, and most are but a trickle of the ones which the media generally covers. As a result, stringent rules and guidelines end up applied to the "winners", which only makes it more difficult for anyone else to approach the game board. Instead of concern for the marginalized, either "glory" or wrath is expounded on the winners. One ends up with a partial marketplace which is either exonerated or smugly dismissed. As to the latter, here's Hyman Minsky, on page 101 of "Stabilizing an Unstable Economy" (1986):
A fundamental question that economic policy analysis must confront is whether, and over what domain, market processes can be relied upon to achieve a satisfactory economic performance. The general view sustained by the following analysis is that while the market mechanism is a good enough device for making social decisions about unimportant matters such as the mix of colors in the production of frocks, the length of skirts, or the flavors of ice cream, it cannot and should not be relied upon for important, big matters such as the distribution of income, the maintenance of economic stability, the capital development of the economy, and the education and training of the young.
At the end of the day, the real battles for life and work are not about the false choices of capitalism or government, even though it seems that way to many in major cities who have known stable incomes through adult life. Rather, economic battles are about individuals, who not only want but need to manage and arbitrage the resources in their own environments, if they are to survive and remain responsible. Too few in power at any level realize this. Consequently, doors are still being slammed shut to economic access, in every way imaginable. Anyone who lives in small towns, rural areas, city and suburban areas in decline, knows that good government and special (private) interest jobs are reserved for the fortunate and lucky few. What is everyone else expected to do??

There's a lot of hubris in governments which rely on the marketplace for their own wealth, but skew the workplace so that those with limited means no longer have a chance to prosper. Then policy makers turn around and claim that problems are simply the fault of the marketplace! If Mister Minsky had to spend a day in the life of someone happy to pay the months' bills from the arbitrage of self employment, one would hope he might have realized just how arrogant his quote sounds, even thirty years after the fact. I hope I can get through the rest of his book without too many more rants like this one.

Economies become stable when struggling businesses have a chance at success. Economies become stable when money is allowed to represent the people who are trying their level best to carve out some form of economic access. Financial concerns need to recognize that they exist purely because of the efforts of a striving public, not the other way around. Financial concerns need to be responsive to real life economic scenarios, not the other way around.

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