Sunday, May 26, 2024

Is Hyper-Inflation that Destroys a Currency a "Solution"?

When predicting the future, we're best served by following "what benefits the wealthy and powerful," as that is the likeliest outcome.

This contrarian sees a strong consensus around the notion that hyper-inflation is the inevitable end-game of nation-states / central banks issuing fiat currencies, i.e. currencies that are not restrained by being pegged to tangible assets such as gold reserves. The temptation to issue (via "printing" or borrowing new currency into existence by selling sovereign bonds) more currency becomes irresistible to politicians and central bankers alike. as the means to mollify every constituency, from elites to the military to commoners dependent on state-funded bread and circuses.

This unrestrained creation of new money far in excess of the expansion of goods and services (i.e. the real economy) devalues the currency, as "all the new money chases too few goods and services." Gresham's law kicks in--bad money drives good money out of circulation--as precious metals, fine art, gemstones, etc. are hoarded and the depreciating currency is spent as fast as possible before its purchasing power declines even further.

The Cotillion Effect also kicks in: those closest to the spigot of new money get first dibs on converting the depreciating currency into tangible goods, leaving the non-elites to sweep up the "trickle-down" shreds left as the currency loses purchasing power daily.

The consensus holds that there is no way to stop this decay of purchasing power to near-zero, i.e. hyper-inflation, once it starts. As in a Greek tragedy, the fatal flaw of the protagonist--in this case, fiat currency--leads inevitably to its destruction.

In the real world, things having to do with money tend to occur because they benefit powerful interests. This leads us to ask of hyper-inflation: cui bono, to whose benefit? Exactly which powerful interests benefit when a currency's purchasing power plummets to near-zero?

The idea here is that there will be pushback if it doesn't benefit the wealthy and powerful. So either hyper-inflation somehow benefits the wealthy and powerful, or it escapes their control and wipes them out along with the powerless commoners. That raises the question: didn't the wealthy and powerful see what was coming and couldn't they have reversed the policies generating hyper-inflation? If not, why not?

There are a couple of different threads to follow here. One is that capital is what matters to the wealthy and powerful because they own the vast majority of it while credit is what matters to the poor, as credit is their only way to acquire a bit of capital to invest in their own enterprise / household.

The poor owe debt, the wealthy own debt: debt (such as a home mortgage) is an asset to the wealthy, who buy the loan for its income stream, while debt is a liability to the commoners that must be serviced out of their earned income.

If wages rise in parallel with high rates of inflation, those who owe debt find their burdens lightened as their mortgage payment remains fixed while their income rises with inflation. Imagine how cheering it is when one finds a once-onerous $200,000 mortgage can now be paid off with a month's salary due to hyper-inflation.

On the flip side, the wealthy and powerful who own the debt are less delighted, as the purchasing power of the currency used to pay off the mortgage has diminished, effectively robbing them of most of the value of their original purchase of the mortgage. Where the $200,000 they paid for the mortgage could have bought two nice luxury vehicles, the $200,00 they now receive in full payment can barely buy a used clunker.

This raises an interesting question: why on Earth would the wealthy and powerful let hyper-inflation destroy the value of all their debt-based assets and income streams? Isn't that completely counter to their interests? If so, why would they let that happen?

At this juncture it's important to draw a distinction between ancient examples of hyper-inflation and the present-day economy. In the declining era of the Roman Empire, the government drastically reduced the silver content in the coinage to generate the illusion that everyone was still being paid in full with only a fraction of the silver contained in old coinage. This artifice was quickly uncovered, and old coinage disappeared from circulation due to hoarding and inflation caused prices and wages to soar.

The difference is back then, the poor owned virtually nothing. Today, the poor "own" debt service: they owe interest and principal on the vast quantities of debt owned by the wealthy, who will lose out when the value of their debt-based assets crash to near-zero in hyper-inflation. Hyper-inflation is incredibly beneficial to debtors with earned income and incredibly destructive to those who own the debt being wiped out.

This leads to a second thread: the wealthy shift their wealth overseas as inflation picks up, wait for the hyper-inflationary storm to wipe out the value of literally everything in their home economy, at which point they return, foreign cash in hand, to scoop up all the best assets at fire-sale prices.

This certainly works on small developing-world economies, but it doesn't work in large economies such as the U.S. with $156 trillion in assets to convert into other nation's currencies and assets. In large economies, the wealth of powerful elites is generated by a functioning economy that produces goods and services and maintains a stable currency. Buying a castle and some gold overseas is not a replacement for productive capital that generates income and capital gains.

Wiping out the value of the nation's currency also destroys its value as a reserve currency and in global trade, two additional disasters the wealthy and powerful would seek to avoid at all costs. If we tote up the winners and losers of hyper-inflation, the commoners who owe debt win as long as wages rise with inflation, while the wealthy and powerful lose out. Given the vast asymmetry of wealth and power, do you really think this is going to happen?

We must also draw a distinction between borrowing currency into existence via paying interest on a sovereign bond and "printing" currency, as some studies have found borrowing currency into existence precludes hyper-inflation, as the interest payments on the rising debt act as a negative feedback loop on future borrowing: as interest consumes more of the state tax revenues, political and financial pressures to curtail runaway borrowing/spending emerge.

What seems more likely because it serves the interests of the wealthy and powerful is interest rates on sovereign bonds soar, enabling the wealthy who sold off all their risk assets such as stocks and commercial real estate to earn a healthy, low-risk return in Treasuries. The central bank is ordered to stop "printing money" and the government cuts spending across the board, leading to howls of outage but since the interests of the wealthy and powerful are at stake, too bad, suck it up, kids, everyone takes a cut.

Risk assets deflate, the purchasing power of the commoners' debt service stabilizes, and the ensuing deflation only hurts those who didn't bail out of speculative risk assets at the top and stash the cash in short-term Treasuries. Then, when rates max out, the smart money shifts capital into long-term sovereign bonds and waits for the deflation to send risk asset prices to the basement. Then the long-term bonds can be liquidated for cash, and the deflated assets scooped up at fire-sale prices.

If we ask cui bono, which scenario is more likely: hyper-inflation or a deflationary crushing of risk assets and soaring interest rates? Yes, a bunch of zombie / marginal borrowers will default, and those holding the debt will be wiped out, but all that is foreseeable and can be remedied by selling when everyone is bullish on real estate and risk assets.

As for the commoners, deflating prices increase the purchasing power of their wages. Those with little or no debt will benefit from deflation, as their wages will go farther and they'll finally be able to afford risk assets once prices return to pre-bubble levels. As for interest rates, we all paid 12% mortgages in the early 1980s and life went on because the loans were modest in size compared to today's bloated Everything Bubble.

Other than China, it doesn't appear that global money supply is going parabolic:



As this chart indicates, inflation is tolerated as long as it's stretched over a century and wages rise along with prices.



When predicting the future, we're best served by following what benefits the wealthy and powerful, as that is the likeliest outcome. Is hyper-inflation a "solution"? Not to the wealthy and powerful.

new podcast: CHS on Gold and What Currency Systems Make Sense (31:37 min).



My recent books:

Disclosure: As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases originated via links to Amazon products on this site.

Self-Reliance in the 21st Century print $18, (Kindle $8.95, audiobook $13.08 (96 pages, 2022) Read the first chapter for free (PDF)

The Asian Heroine Who Seduced Me (Novel) print $10.95, Kindle $6.95 Read an excerpt for free (PDF)

When You Can't Go On: Burnout, Reckoning and Renewal $18 print, $8.95 Kindle ebook; audiobook Read the first section for free (PDF)

Global Crisis, National Renewal: A (Revolutionary) Grand Strategy for the United States (Kindle $9.95, print $24, audiobook) Read Chapter One for free (PDF).

A Hacker's Teleology: Sharing the Wealth of Our Shrinking Planet (Kindle $8.95, print $20, audiobook $17.46) Read the first section for free (PDF).

Will You Be Richer or Poorer?: Profit, Power, and AI in a Traumatized World
(Kindle $5, print $10, audiobook) Read the first section for free (PDF).

The Adventures of the Consulting Philosopher: The Disappearance of Drake (Novel) $4.95 Kindle, $10.95 print); read the first chapters for free (PDF)

Money and Work Unchained $6.95 Kindle, $15 print)
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Friday, May 24, 2024

Would Returning to the Gold Standard Resolve Our Most Pressing Monetary Problems?

We all know the problem with fiat currency: the temptation to print more currency is irresistible, but ultimately destructive.

Money in all its forms attracts quasi-religious beliefs and convictions. This makes it difficult to discuss with anything resembling objectivity. But given the centrality of money (and its sibling, greed) in human affairs, let's press on and ask: would returning to the Gold Standard (i.e. gold as money / gold-backed currency) resolve our most pressing monetary problems?

The conviction that the answer is "yes" is widespread. In this view, President Nixon "closing the gold window," in 1971, i.e. ending the convertibility of the US dollar to gold in international foreign exchange (FX) markets, is the Original Sin that doomed us to the inflationary Hell of fiat currency, i.e. currency unbacked by anything tangible such as gold or silver.

In this view, the only way to avoid the consequences of this Original Sin--the eventual reduction of fiat currency to zero value via hyper-inflation as the currency is "printed" without restraint--is to return to the gold standard.

So far, so good, but from here on in it gets tricky. We have a long history of precious metals being the only form of money in various economies, and an almost as long history of paper money augmenting precious-metal "real money" (in China, for example) and the issuance of copper coinage to grease small transactions.

Gold-backed currency rolls off the tongue rather easily, but what exactly does this mean? In theory, it means every unit of paper / digital currency in circulation can be converted on demand to a physical quantity of gold or silver at an exchange rate either set by the nation-state's government or by the market.

This conversion acts as a governor on the issuance of new currency: if the nation has $100 billion in gold/silver, it cannot issue $1 trillion in currency, as the whole idea of conversion is that each unit of currency can be fully converted to gold/silver. So in a truly gold-backed currency, the money supply in circulation must be limited to $100 billion.

There are various tricks that can be played here, of course. The government can assign a conversion rate that doesn't align with the actual market value of gold/silver, for example. Or it can limit conversion to the settlement of foreign trade with other nations.

Let's return to Nixon's Original Sin and stipulate that there is no such thing as "free trade", as all trade has geopolitical and domestic-economic elements. Those nations whose domestic growth depends on increasing exports, i.e. mercantilist economies, will naturally trumpet "free trade" as a cover for their exploitation of trade for domestic growth while they restrict imports.

Many observers seem to forget the US was engaged in an existential geopolitical struggle with the USSR in the 1950s, 1960s and beyond. Gaining and maintaining allies and "spheres of influence" were core dynamics in this global contest, and the US had over-riding reasons to support the war-devastated economies of its allies in Europe and Asia by enabling them to export goods to the US.

The US also had over-riding reasons to maintain the US dollar (USD) as a reserve currency, a currency that is available in sufficient quantity globally to grease commerce and credit and also act as a stable foreign exchange reserve for both private enterprises and nations.

Issuing a reserve currency offers an exorbitant privilege--what we might call monetary hegemony--but it comes with a price, a price explained by economist Robert Triffin as Triffin's Paradox, which has two key paradoxical dynamics:

1. The issuing nation must run a sustained trade deficit in order to "export" sufficient quantities of its currency into the global marketplace to meet the expansive needs of global trade and other nations. (This helps explain why the USD is roughly half of all reserves (48%) while China's RMB is only 2% of reserves: exporting nations running surpluses don't "export" their currencies for use by others.)

2. This need to serve international trade / geopolitical goals is fundamentally in conflict with the goals of the domestic economy: the currency cannot serve two masters equally well.

Why did Nixon end USD conversion to gold? He had no choice, as the geopolitically necessary trade deficits were rising to the point that America's gold holdings would have diminished to zero were the rising trade deficits settled in gold.

Existential challenges take precedence. To say that the US should have given up its reserve currency and insisted our struggling allies maintain balanced trade with the US is to ignore the geopolitical realities.

We must also recognize that markets discover the price/value of competing currencies, and so nations whose currency is priced higher than others will have difficulty exporting their goods, as these goods are priced in their own strong currency and are therefore more expensive in nations with weaker currencies. Nations with weaker currencies will have an easier time selling their goods to nations with stronger currencies, as their goods are cheaper as a result of their weaker / lower value currencies.

Those nations blessed with surplus essential commodities (energy, food, minerals, etc.) will naturally tend to run surpluses with nations less endowed with tradable goods, and as a result, the nations running trade surpluses will end up with the lion's share of the gold and silver. This generates global "haves and have-nots," with all the attending sources of conflict: "our lead will take your gold."

We might also note that fiat currencies issued by the sale of sovereign bonds are not actually "backed by nothing": they're backed by the interest payments made on the bonds and the entirety of the nation's economic-political-social stability and productivity which guarantee repayment of the bond at maturity.

We all know the problem with fiat currency: the temptation to print more currency is irresistible, but ultimately destructive: once currency is issued in excess of the actual expansion of goods and services, the result is devaluation / loss of purchasing power, a.k.a. inflation. Here's a snapshot of global money supply:



In response, central banks are adding gold reserves: gold reserves are now larger than the reserves of the second-largest reserve currency, the euro:



Where does this leave us? Not with an easy answer, but with more complexities, starting with credit. As David Graeber explained in his book Debt: The First 5,000 Years, credit has been an essential element of commerce from the earliest days of commerce, for very compelling reasons. How do we graft credit onto "money" when credit is itself a form of "money"?

We'll also have to consider the other crisis we face, soaring wealth-income inequality, which arose without restraint in ancient economies that used precious metals for money.

Looking at the history of Rome, we note that the wealth of Rome's elite in the Republic era has been estimated as 30 times the wealth of the average free male citizen, where by the Imperial era the elites had amassed fortunes 10,000 times the wealth of the average free male citizen. There was no fiat currency, so we must accept that politics is part and parcel of "money," social stability and economic vitality or stagnation.

We'll grind through these additional complexities in my next post. I discuss these issues with Richard Bonugli in a new podcast: CHS on Gold and What Currency Systems Make Sense (31:37 min).



My recent books:

Disclosure: As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases originated via links to Amazon products on this site.

Self-Reliance in the 21st Century print $18, (Kindle $8.95, audiobook $13.08 (96 pages, 2022) Read the first chapter for free (PDF)

The Asian Heroine Who Seduced Me (Novel) print $10.95, Kindle $6.95 Read an excerpt for free (PDF)

When You Can't Go On: Burnout, Reckoning and Renewal $18 print, $8.95 Kindle ebook; audiobook Read the first section for free (PDF)

Global Crisis, National Renewal: A (Revolutionary) Grand Strategy for the United States (Kindle $9.95, print $24, audiobook) Read Chapter One for free (PDF).

A Hacker's Teleology: Sharing the Wealth of Our Shrinking Planet (Kindle $8.95, print $20, audiobook $17.46) Read the first section for free (PDF).

Will You Be Richer or Poorer?: Profit, Power, and AI in a Traumatized World
(Kindle $5, print $10, audiobook) Read the first section for free (PDF).

The Adventures of the Consulting Philosopher: The Disappearance of Drake (Novel) $4.95 Kindle, $10.95 print); read the first chapters for free (PDF)

Money and Work Unchained $6.95 Kindle, $15 print)
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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Is Anyone Else's Life as Stupidly Complicated by Digital "Shadow Work" as Mine Is?

We seem to have entered a world of anti-leisure and anti-productivity in which the unpaid "shadow work" demanded to keep all the complicated digital bits in motion obliterate our leisure and productivity.

Is your life as stupidly complicated as mine is? Of course it is unless you've withdrawn from all engagement with the digital realm and all devices containing digital components.

To rephrase the question: is anyone else a boiled frog like I am? Yes, a frog slowly boiled by the steadily increasing burdens of the "shadow work" required to maintain a life that has become, without us noticing, dependent on constant unpaid effort to keep all the stuff we now depend on functioning.

There are illusions galore in this mimicry of technological "empowerment:" the illusion that we "own" all the stuff that becomes a brick once a digital component fails or we fail to accept the new terms of service. The illusion that all these services and devices "free us" to enjoy more leisure. The illusion that performing all the unpaid shadow work needed to keep all the complicated stuff functioning is "worth it" rather than a form of digital servitude. The illusion that we have a "choice," an illusion that's broken once we "choose" to opt out of the shadow work and everything ceases to function.

Parody abounds in the digital realm. Pathetically wretched services and products are touted as "Progress" with a capital P. "Consumer choice" when your smart phone screen dies is reduced to buying a replacement phone from one of the phone quasi-monopolies. Do you really want to endure learning a new system, or would you rather bite the bullet and stick with the same monopoly so you don't have to spend unpaid hours trying to figure out a new system?

Our dependence on the quasi-monopoly platforms is complete, and so we are wary of violating the infinitely capacious caprices of their terms of service, which mean exactly what we want them to mean, which means you can be sent to the Demonetization Gulag in Digital Siberia without warning or recourse.

Consider a typical experience of the stupidly complicated time-sink unpaid shadow work we endure on a daily basis. A payment platform that we depend on recently informed me mid-day on May 18 that I was required to update "business information" by May 18 or my ability to access my own earnings would be suspended.

Well, thank you very much for the advance notice. So I navigate their wretchedly confusing site to the "business information" page and discover it's blank: there is literally nothing there. (Metaphorically, how apt.) Okay, so all of us busy digital shadow workers know the drill: reload the page--no dice. Okay, open another browser and try that--nope, the page I need to update to avoid being sent to the Demonetization Gulag is still blank.

It's obviously hopeless now, but we continue to play along because we're trapped in Kafka's Castle, always churning 24/7 with busy-work that is completely unproductive. So we email tech support, knowing it will be useless.

And sure enough, it is utterly useless. The tech rep (or chatbot, who knows) apologizes for the inconvenience, but has no solution. All of us shadow workers know we have to enter the rat-maze again and hope the page loads so we can jump off the train taking us to the Demonetization Gulag. Perhaps our prayers to the Digital Gods and Goddesses are answered, or the Matrix self-corrected, who knows, but the page finally loads hours later and we dutifully enter the same data the platform already had on record. This seems to satisfy the Kafkaesque requirements, and we breathe a sigh of relief.

But wait, there's more! No sooner do we get that unpaid waste of our lives done than we receive another email from the same platform demanding another update to our "business information." Gee, is it really asking too much to send a single email with all your required updates instead of torturing us with a string of emails?

So back we go to the same page and re-enter the exact same information and click "update." Um, is this a parody of technical simplicity and productivity, or is it simply a gigantic waste of time, a form of digital servitude we cannot escape?

Then the final slap of parody: the "how did we do?" email requesting us to waste even more time answering a questionnaire about their wondrous tech support. You mean the tech support I was forced to contact because your site was broken, the tech support which did nothing to address the problem? No thank you, I'm already boiled alive and don't really feel like wasting more of life rating your "service."

Want to sign up for a short-term vacation rental platform? Sort through these 4,000 photos and select all those with a frog (live or boiled) and then move to the next excruciating step of our "validation process."

Please submit photos of your bank statements, a voided check, your big toe, a retinal scan and your passport. Or go ahead and lose access to your own money. That's a heckuva "choice," isn't it?

We're sorry, we cannot accept your form because it's out of date. Oh, do you mean the form on your website?

Please follow the instructions via this link. Um, the link you sent to explain how to navigate your system is dead. It seems monopolies don't need to bother fixing dead links and outdated instructions.

Social critic Ivan Illich's 1981 book Shadow Work describes how the modern wage-earner economy demands unpaid shadow work to do all the necessary domestic / daily-life work so the wage earner can spend hours commuting to work, performing at work and then returning home too drained / zombified to do much in the non-paid-work realm. Highly processed "food" (that makes us ill) is offered up as a "time saver" and a plethora of "conveniences" (that break down after a few years of service) are available for purchase to reduce the shadow work.

The digital realm has created an entire new universe of unpaid shadow work over which we have little choice or control other than to give up access to our own earnings and the proliferating accounts we now need to function in the digitally-dependent world: the airline booking accounts, the subway / bridge toll accounts, the insurance accounts, the bank accounts, the rental car accounts, the healthcare accounts, and so on, dozens upon dozens of accounts that must constantly be updated, new passwords entered and recorded in our own paperwork, and then all the accounts we might need to maintain a livelihood.

This digitally boiled frog looks at the time-sink of unpaid shadow work required to "be productive" (heh) and wonders: what happened to the techno-enthusiasts' promise of greater leisure? We seem to have entered a world of anti-leisure and anti-productivity in which the unpaid shadow work demanded to keep all the complicated digital bits in motion obliterate our leisure and productivity.

This is a world ruled by rather tiresome irony and parody.





New podcast: CHS on Leafbox (1:20 hrs)--authentic community, going grey, Doom Loops and more.



My recent books:

Disclosure: As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases originated via links to Amazon products on this site.

Self-Reliance in the 21st Century print $18, (Kindle $8.95, audiobook $13.08 (96 pages, 2022) Read the first chapter for free (PDF)

The Asian Heroine Who Seduced Me (Novel) print $10.95, Kindle $6.95 Read an excerpt for free (PDF)

When You Can't Go On: Burnout, Reckoning and Renewal $18 print, $8.95 Kindle ebook; audiobook Read the first section for free (PDF)

Global Crisis, National Renewal: A (Revolutionary) Grand Strategy for the United States (Kindle $9.95, print $24, audiobook) Read Chapter One for free (PDF).

A Hacker's Teleology: Sharing the Wealth of Our Shrinking Planet (Kindle $8.95, print $20, audiobook $17.46) Read the first section for free (PDF).

Will You Be Richer or Poorer?: Profit, Power, and AI in a Traumatized World
(Kindle $5, print $10, audiobook) Read the first section for free (PDF).

The Adventures of the Consulting Philosopher: The Disappearance of Drake (Novel) $4.95 Kindle, $10.95 print); read the first chapters for free (PDF)

Money and Work Unchained $6.95 Kindle, $15 print)
Read the first section for free


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Sunday, May 19, 2024

Maybe We're Closer to "You'll Own Nothing" Than We Realize

Maybe we should rephrase the slogan to "you'll appear to own things you don't actually control and be happy."

The World Economic Forum's catchphrase you'll own nothing and be happy was widely mocked as an eyebrow-raising vision of a "sharing economy" future without the implicit agency granted by full ownership. Renting stuff that one needed only for one-time use has long been a market, and car-sharing makes sense for urban dwellers who only need a vehicle on occasion.

But to own nothing still implies powerlessness and poverty, not happiness, which continues to be associated with owning income streams and nice things, i.e. wealth.

Given our dependence on software / digital rights and the phantom wealth of credit-asset bubbles,"how much do we actually own?" is a fair question. Consider the recent New York Times article Why Tech Companies Are Not Your Friends: Lessons From Roku, which was reprinted in other publications with the more accurate title Our Gadgets Are Not Ours.

The gist of the article is that since we don't own control of the software, our "ownership" of the device is illusory. Here is an excerpt:

More than a decade ago, when we bought a TV it was just that--a big screen that let you plug into it whatever you wanted. Nowadays, the vast majority of TVs connect to the internet and run the manufacturer's operating system and apps. Even though you bought the TV, the software component, a major part of what makes the product work, remains controlled by the company.

Changes to the product's software interface and data collection practices can happen at any moment. In extreme examples, a device can stop working. In 2020, for instance, Amazon deactivated the Echo Look, a camera that helped people organize their wardrobes. It issued a promotional credit for owners to buy a different Amazon gadget that lacked similar features.

The less extreme, more common situation is when companies stop supporting older products because they need to sell new gadgets. Apple's original Apple Watch from 2015, for example, no longer gets software updates and now barely works.

This issue is not new but has grown more problematic as more of our devices rely on apps and internet connections, said Nathan Proctor, a director for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, a consumer advocacy organization. With computers, consumers could modify their machines by installing a different operating system. But with many other types of electronics with locked-down software systems, from streaming devices to e-book readers, those modifications are typically not possible.

"When you get to the core of it, do you even own it anymore?" he said.


Indeed. Now think about the "ownership" of software-dependent systems such as vehicles and Smart Homes, and income streams running through software platforms such as Stripe. Payment software platforms can block your access to your money and delete whatever illusion of control you might have had by informing you that you violated their "terms of service," which are open-ended and cannot be questioned.

One's "ownership" of money and income streams turns out to be highly contingent.

As for vehicles, if the software fails (or is rendered inoperable), your vehicle becomes an expensive brick. So what exactly do we own if the vehicle is inoperable?

Widening the scope of our inquiry, consider our ownership of a house that is mortgaged. If the fine print doesn't preclude the lender calling the mortgage, then should the lender (or current owner of the mortgage) call the loan, the "owner" must pony up the sum owed or the "ownership" reverts to the lender.

Given the valuations' dependence on phantom capital asset bubbles, we might say that "ownership" of a mortgaged house is more an option bet on future valuation than actual ownership, for should the Everything Bubble pop and the house value drops below the mortgage owed, then "ownership" means "ownership" of an asset with negative value, i.e. it's worth less than zero as the "owner" owes more to the lender than the property is worth.

If the house is in a high property tax state / county, "ownership" includes a hefty annual payment which may well have no upper statutory limit. If the "owner" owes $20,000 in annual property tax, the "ownership" is in effect a lease, as non-payment of the taxes/"lease" eventually leads to confiscation of the property as a means of collecting back-taxes.

The same dynamic occurs in condominium "ownership" when common-area fees and special assessments have no statutory limits and must be paid. This article on outsized special assessments being mandated for older condo buildings raises the question, what exactly does the owner own, and what is in essence an open-ended lease?

New Florida Law Roils Its Condo Market Three Years After Surfside Collapse: More units are being dumped on the market because of six-figure special assessments tied to repairs for older buildings.

Ivan Rodriguez leapt at the chance to buy a unit at the Cricket Club, an exclusive bay-front condominium in North Miami. In 2019, he liquidated his 401k retirement account to purchase a nearly 1,500-square-foot unit with water views for $190,000.

But because of a recent state law that requires older buildings to meet certain structural safety standards, the condo board recently proposed a nearly $30 million special assessment for repairs, including roof replacement and facade waterproofing. It would amount to more than $134,000 per unit owner.

Rodriguez, 76, didn't have the money. So he reluctantly put his two-bedroom condo up for sale, joining dozens of others in the building who are doing the same. After originally listing his unit for $350,000, he kept marking it down until finally it sold for $110,000 last month, or 42% less than what he paid for it.

Every time a potential buyer learned of the assessment, he said, "they'd run in the opposite direction."


Maybe we should rephrase the slogan to you'll appear to own things you don't actually control and be happy. Does that generate the intended warm and fuzzy feeling?





New podcast: CHS on Leafbox (1:20 hrs)--authentic community, going grey, Doom Loops and more.



My recent books:

Disclosure: As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases originated via links to Amazon products on this site.

Self-Reliance in the 21st Century print $18, (Kindle $8.95, audiobook $13.08 (96 pages, 2022) Read the first chapter for free (PDF)

The Asian Heroine Who Seduced Me (Novel) print $10.95, Kindle $6.95 Read an excerpt for free (PDF)

When You Can't Go On: Burnout, Reckoning and Renewal $18 print, $8.95 Kindle ebook; audiobook Read the first section for free (PDF)

Global Crisis, National Renewal: A (Revolutionary) Grand Strategy for the United States (Kindle $9.95, print $24, audiobook) Read Chapter One for free (PDF).

A Hacker's Teleology: Sharing the Wealth of Our Shrinking Planet (Kindle $8.95, print $20, audiobook $17.46) Read the first section for free (PDF).

Will You Be Richer or Poorer?: Profit, Power, and AI in a Traumatized World
(Kindle $5, print $10, audiobook) Read the first section for free (PDF).

The Adventures of the Consulting Philosopher: The Disappearance of Drake (Novel) $4.95 Kindle, $10.95 print); read the first chapters for free (PDF)

Money and Work Unchained $6.95 Kindle, $15 print)
Read the first section for free


Become a $3/month patron of my work via patreon.com.

Subscribe to my Substack for free





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Thursday, May 16, 2024

The Decay of Everyday Life

So where does this leave us? We're on our own.

This month I've described what can be summarized as The Decay of Everyday Life: the erosion of the fundamental elements of everyday life: work, opportunity, social mobility, security and well-being, which includes civility, conviviality and a functional, competent social-political order.

In other words, Everyday Life includes far more than the financial statistics of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the stock market, wealth and income. Everyday Life is fundamentally about relationships, agency (i.e. control of one's life and ownership of one's work), the fulfillment of life's purposes (livelihood, family, friends, community and self-growth), leisure time and the experiences of everyday living, both the stressors and the joys.

As I've explored in recent posts, the experiential elements of Everyday Life have decayed over the past 40 years: life is more difficult and less secure in ways that are not offset by technological advances. Indeed, the most highly touted technological advances (Internet and mobile phones) have increased the burdens of shadow work and introduced new pathways of addiction and stress that have reduced well-being. Rather than being free, they include structures of control that we have yet to grasp, much less limit.

Here are my recent posts:

Precarious: One Misfortune Away from Insolvency
Squeezed for Decades, America's Working Class Is Finally Up Against the Wall
Lost in the Vast Wasteland of Social Media
Hikikomori and Lying Flat: When "Making It" Becomes Hopeless
Withdrawing from the Rat Race Is Going Global

The Decay of Everyday Life echoes the title of one of the more important books I've long recommended, The Structures of Everyday Life Civilization and Capitalism, 15th-18th Century Volume 1 by Fernand Braudel. The book outlines how changes in the economic structure led to changes in everyday life.

The structures I outline in the five posts describe the economic structures that shape our daily lives and the political and social structures we inhabit. While I focus attention on the way globalization and financialization have hollowed out our economy and increased the precarity of labor, in the larger context we can identify these structural drivers of decay:

1. The balance between labor and capital has been skewed to capital for 50 years. Labor's political power and share of the economy has declined while capital's political and economic power has become dominant. This has driven income-wealth inequality to extremes that are destabilizing the economy and the political-social orders.

Increasing the sums labor can borrow to keep afloat only works until debt service consumes all disposable income, crushing consumption. The end result is mass default of debt and the erasure of debt-based "assets" held by the financial elites (top 10%).

Labor will have to restore the balance with capital or the system will collapse in disorder. History is rather definitive about this causal chain.

2. Process and narrative control have replaced outcomes as the operative mechanisms and goals of the status quo. The illusions of limitless "progress" and "prosperity" have generated a mindset in which outcomes no longer matter, as "progress" and "prosperity" are forces of Nature that can't be stopped, so we can luxuriate in Process--completing forms and compliance documents, submitting reports to other offices, holding endless meetings to discuss our glacial "progress", mandating more Process, elevating managers who excel at Process--with the net result that building permits that were once issued in a few days now take months, bridges take decades to build, and incompetence reigns supreme.

To obscure the dismal outcomes--failure, delays, poor quality, errors--narrative control is deployed, expanded and rewarded. The managerial class has been rewarded and advanced not for generating timely, on-budget, high-quality outcomes, but for managing Process and Narrative Control: everything's going great, and if it isn't, the fault lies elsewhere.

The net result of this structure is that the competent either quit in disgust or or assigned to Siberia, while the incompetent are elevated to the highest levels of corporate and public-sector management.

3. The dominance of monopolies and cartels has fatally distorted markets and politics, undermining the foundations of everyday life. By eliminating competition and buying political-regulatory complicity, monopolies and cartels lock in ample, stable profits, profits that are increased by squeezing labor and reducing the quality and quantity of goods and services, to the point that quality services and goods are either luxuries available only to the elite or simply unavailable at any price, as the knowledge, systems and values required to produce high-quality goods and services have been irrevocably lost.

4. The dominance of digital communications in everyday life has increased the unpaid shadow work we're forced to do and injected new forms of narrative control, digital hypnosis, addiction and derangement into daily life that cannot be reversed in any meaningful way other than drastically limiting our exposure to the toxic flood tide.

So where does this leave us? We're on our own. The status quo is incapable of unwinding the fatal distortions generated by the dominant economic structures, and so it is also incapable of "saving" us from being seated at the banquet of consequences. This is why the only rational response is to focus on increasing our Self-Reliance.

Rather than becoming enraptured by the apologists and cheerleaders proclaiming everything's great, launching a lifeboat and setting a course for land is a strategy with much higher odds of success.





New podcast: CHS on Leafbox (1:20 hrs)--authentic community, going grey, Doom Loops and more.



My recent books:

Disclosure: As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases originated via links to Amazon products on this site.

Self-Reliance in the 21st Century print $18, (Kindle $8.95, audiobook $13.08 (96 pages, 2022) Read the first chapter for free (PDF)

The Asian Heroine Who Seduced Me (Novel) print $10.95, Kindle $6.95 Read an excerpt for free (PDF)

When You Can't Go On: Burnout, Reckoning and Renewal $18 print, $8.95 Kindle ebook; audiobook Read the first section for free (PDF)

Global Crisis, National Renewal: A (Revolutionary) Grand Strategy for the United States (Kindle $9.95, print $24, audiobook) Read Chapter One for free (PDF).

A Hacker's Teleology: Sharing the Wealth of Our Shrinking Planet (Kindle $8.95, print $20, audiobook $17.46) Read the first section for free (PDF).

Will You Be Richer or Poorer?: Profit, Power, and AI in a Traumatized World
(Kindle $5, print $10, audiobook) Read the first section for free (PDF).

The Adventures of the Consulting Philosopher: The Disappearance of Drake (Novel) $4.95 Kindle, $10.95 print); read the first chapters for free (PDF)

Money and Work Unchained $6.95 Kindle, $15 print)
Read the first section for free


Become a $3/month patron of my work via patreon.com.

Subscribe to my Substack for free





NOTE: Contributions/subscriptions are acknowledged in the order received. Your name and email remain confidential and will not be given to any other individual, company or agency.

Thank you, Julian N. ($70), for your splendidly generous subscription to this site -- I am greatly honored by your support and readership.

 

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Thank you, Daniel R. ($7/month), for your marvelously generous subscription to this site -- I am greatly honored by your support and readership.

 

Thank you, SG ($7/month), for your monstrously generous subscription to this site -- I am greatly honored by your support and readership.

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