Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Globalization = Permanent Instability

Globalization continually creates imbalances that fuel a perpetual instability that gradually impoverishes every sector other than global capital.


Globalization has two guaranteed consequences: permanent instability and endless boom-and-bust cycles. As noted in Forget "Free Trade"--Focus on Capital Flows, the key engine of globalization is mobile capital: capital that can borrow money for next to nothing in one nation and then move that capital to other nations where yields are higher and opportunities for exploitation riper.

This mobility of capital is an enormous benefit to the owners of the capital, but it creates extraordinary instability for those who are not as mobile. When mobile capital encounters anything that reduces profits--higher taxes and rising labor costs, competition or restrictive regulations--it closes factories and fires its workers in that locale and shifts to another locale with greater opportunities for high returns.

The workers left behind have limited means to replace the lost wages, and the local government often has few resources to repair any damage left by the exploitation of resources. The advantage of mobility is reserved for capital, and to the relatively limited cohort of workers who can immigrate to other nations to find work.

This illustrates two key ontological characteristics of financialized globalization: perpetual instability and a never-ending cycle of boom and bust as capital sparks rapid development in one locale and then moves elsewhere once profits decline.

The scale of global capital is difficult to grasp; trillions of central bank-issued dollars, euros, yen and renminbi are sloshing around the global economy, seeking low-risk profits.

Capital has no loyalty to anything but its own expansion, and the damage it leaves in its wake is of no concern to the owners of capital.

There are even less visible consequences to the globalization of markets, capital and labor. Once goods and services are priced globally, local supply and demand no longer set the local price. As my colleague Mark G. has observed, consumer prices can rise even if there are deflationary surpluses in the local economy because price is set by global supply and demand. As a result, measuring inflation and deflation locally is meaningless in a globalized economy.

This financialized globalization of goods, services, credit and currencies continually creates imbalances that fuel a perpetual instability that gradually impoverishes every sector other than global capital, which being mobile, can exploit the imbalances for its own profit.

Correspondent Mark G. recommended a recent article by China-based economist Michael Pettis, How to link Australian iron with Marine le Pen:

"In a 'globalized' world, no country, not even the US, can protect itself from the consequences of imbalances elsewhere. The global economy is a system in which certain types of imbalances are impossible. I especially focus on the requirement that global savings and global investment always balance, but there are others. Because an imbalance at the global level is impossible. if there are imbalances in one country or region, there necessarily must be the opposite imbalances in another, and the more open an economy, the more likely it is to respond to imbalances elsewhere.

It is impossible, in other words, to understand any non-autarchic economy in the world except in the context of global imbalances.

As I say in my book, The Great Rebalancing: Trade, Conflict, and the Perilous Road Ahead for the World Economy, in a globalized world anything that affects the relationship between savings and investment in one country--and nearly everything affects that relationship -- must have the opposite effect on the rest of the world. There is no way of escaping the fact that imbalances generated in one country become a problem for everyone."

Here is Mark's commentary:

The logically following converse of Pettis' point is that only economies enjoying autarchy in any category of economic activity can ever hope to reach reasonable price stability in those activities, and then only if these activities are also made non-tradable by local practice. Restated, "free trade" between large central states is a prescription for perpetual instability at all levels.

Ricardo's theory of comparative advantage is only advantageous if you enjoy an advantage in a particular field. Otherwise it is merely a road map to rapid impoverishment. The only localized response--even at continental level--is to embark on a series of successive financial bubbles. This is pretty much what we've seen everywhere in the world for the last three decades.

Thank you, Mark, for summarizing the consequence of central bank-funded mobile capital and the imbalances and boom-bust cycles this free money for financiers generates globally.

Of related interest: A Thought Experiment in American Autarky (January 17, 2014)



Get a Job, Build a Real Career and Defy a Bewildering Economy(Kindle, $9.95)(print, $20)
go to Kindle editionAre you like me? Ever since my first summer job decades ago, I've been chasing financial security. Not win-the-lottery, Bill Gates riches (although it would be nice!), but simply a feeling of financial control. I want my financial worries to if not disappear at least be manageable and comprehensible.


And like most of you, the way I've moved toward my goal has always hinged not just on having a job but a career.
You don't have to be a financial blogger to know that "having a job" and "having a career" do not mean the same thing today as they did when I first started swinging a hammer for a paycheck.

Even the basic concept "getting a job" has changed so radically that jobs--getting and keeping them, and the perceived lack of them--is the number one financial topic among friends, family and for that matter, complete strangers.

So I sat down and wrote this book: Get a Job, Build a Real Career and Defy a Bewildering Economy.

It details everything I've verified about employment and the economy, and lays out an action plan to get you employed.

I am proud of this book. It is the culmination of both my practical work experiences and my financial analysis, and it is a useful, practical, and clarifying read.

Test drive the first section and see for yourself.     Kindle, $9.95     print, $20

"I want to thank you for creating your book Get a Job, Build a Real Career and Defy a Bewildering Economy. It is rare to find a person with a mind like yours, who can take a holistic systems view of things without being captured by specific perspectives or agendas. Your contribution to humanity is much appreciated."
Laura Y.

Gordon Long and I discuss The New Nature of Work: Jobs, Occupations & Careers(25 minutes, YouTube) 



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, Peter E. ($5/month), for your astonishingly generous re-subscription to this site-- I am greatly honored by your steadfast support and readership.

Read more...

Monday, October 27, 2014

Forget "Free Trade"--Focus on Capital Flows

In a world dominated by mobile capital, mobile capital is the comparative advantage.


Defenders and critics of "free trade" and globalization tend to present the issue as either/or: it's inherently good or bad. In the real world, it's not that simple. The confusion starts with defining free trade (and by extension, globalization).

In the classical definition of free trade espoused by 18th century British economist David Ricardo, trade is generally thought of as goods being shipped from one nation to another to take advantage of what Ricardo termed comparative advantage: nations would benefit by exporting whatever they produced efficiently and importing what they did not produce efficiently.

While Ricardo’s concept of free trade is intuitively appealing because it is win-win for importer and exporter, it doesn’t describe the consequences of the mobility of capital. Capital--cash, credit, tools and the intangible capital of expertise--moves freely around the globe seeking the highest possible return, pursuing the prime directive of capital: expand or die.

Capital that fails to expand will stagnate or shrink. If the contraction continues unchecked, the capital eventually vanishes.

The mobility of capital radically alters the simplistic 18th century view of free trade. In today's world, trade can not be coherently measured as goods moving between nations, because capital from the importing nation owns the productive assets in the exporting nation. If Apple owns a factory (or joint venture) in China and collects virtually all the profits from the iGadgets produced there, this reality cannot be captured by the models of simple trade described by Ricardo.

In today's globalized version of "free trade," mobile capital can arbitrage labor, currencies, interest rates, regulatory burdens and political favors by shifting between nations and assets. Trying to account for trade in the 18th century manner of goods shipped between nations is nonsensical when components come from a number of nations and profits flow not to the nation of origin but to the owners of capital.

This was recently described in a Foreign Affairs article, (Mis)leading Indicators:
If trade numbers more accurately accounted for how products are made, it is possible that the United States would not have any trade deficit at all with China. The problem, in short, is that trade figures are currently calculated based on the assumption that each product has a single country of origin and that the declared value of that product goes to that country.Thus, every time an iPhone or an iPad rolls off the factory floors of Foxconn (Apple's main contractor in China) and travels to the port of Long Beach, California, it is counted as an import from China, since that is where it undergoes its final "substantial transformation," which is the criterion the WTO uses to determine which goods to assign to which countries. 
Every iPhone that Apple sells in the United States adds roughly $200 to the U.S.-Chinese trade deficit, according to the calculations of three economists who looked at the issue in 2010. That means that by 2013, Apple's U.S. iPhone sales alone were adding $6-$8 billion to the trade deficit with China every year, if not more. 
A more reasonable standard, of course, would recognize that iPhones and iPads do not have a single country of origin. More than a dozen companies from at least five countries supply parts for them. Infineon Technologies, in Germany, makes the wireless chip; Toshiba, in Japan, manufactures the touchscreen; and Broadcom, in the United States, makes the Bluetooth chips that let the devices connect to wireless headsets or keyboards. 
Analysts differ over how much of the final price of an iPhone or an iPad should be assigned to what country, but no one disputes that the largest slice should go not to China but to the United States. That intellectual property, along with the marketing, is the largest source of the iPhone's value. 
Taking these facts into account would leave China, the supposed country of origin, with a paltry piece of the pie. Analysts estimate that as little as $10 of the value of every iPhone or iPad actually ends up in the Chinese economy, in the form of income paid directly to Foxconn or other contractors.
In a world dominated by mobile capital, mobile capital is the comparative advantage. Mobile capital can borrow billions of dollars (or equivalent) in one nation at low rates of interest and then use that money to outbid domestic capital for assets in another nation with few sources of credit.

Mobile capital can overwhelm the local political system, buying favors and cutting deals, all with cash borrowed at near-zero interest rates. Mobile capital can buy up and exploit resources and cheap labor until the resource is depleted or competition cuts profit margins. At that point, mobile capital closes the factories, fires the employees and moves on.

Where is the "free trade" in a world in which the comparative advantage is always held by mobile capital? And what gives mobile capital its essentially unlimited leverage? Central banks issuing trillions of dollars in nearly-free money to banks and other financial institutions that funnel the free cash to corporations and financiers, who can then roam the world snapping up assets and arbitraging global imbalances with nearly-free money.

There's nothing remotely "free" about trade based not on Ricardo's simple concept of comparative advantage but on capital flows unleashed by central bank liquidity.



Get a Job, Build a Real Career and Defy a Bewildering Economy(Kindle, $9.95)(print, $20)
go to Kindle editionAre you like me? Ever since my first summer job decades ago, I've been chasing financial security. Not win-the-lottery, Bill Gates riches (although it would be nice!), but simply a feeling of financial control. I want my financial worries to if not disappear at least be manageable and comprehensible.


And like most of you, the way I've moved toward my goal has always hinged not just on having a job but a career.
You don't have to be a financial blogger to know that "having a job" and "having a career" do not mean the same thing today as they did when I first started swinging a hammer for a paycheck.

Even the basic concept "getting a job" has changed so radically that jobs--getting and keeping them, and the perceived lack of them--is the number one financial topic among friends, family and for that matter, complete strangers.

So I sat down and wrote this book: Get a Job, Build a Real Career and Defy a Bewildering Economy.

It details everything I've verified about employment and the economy, and lays out an action plan to get you employed.

I am proud of this book. It is the culmination of both my practical work experiences and my financial analysis, and it is a useful, practical, and clarifying read.

Test drive the first section and see for yourself.     Kindle, $9.95     print, $20

"I want to thank you for creating your book Get a Job, Build a Real Career and Defy a Bewildering Economy. It is rare to find a person with a mind like yours, who can take a holistic systems view of things without being captured by specific perspectives or agendas. Your contribution to humanity is much appreciated."
Laura Y.

Gordon Long and I discuss The New Nature of Work: Jobs, Occupations & Careers(25 minutes, YouTube) 



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, Aaron W. ($10/month), for your superbly generous subscription to this site-- I am greatly honored by your support and readership.

Read more...

Sunday, October 26, 2014

We Don't Have One Problem--We Have Three Interlocking Sets of Problems

The additional sets of problems added as "solutions" only guarantee that the third and final crash of asset bubbles just ahead will be far more devastating than the crashes of 2000 and 2009.


The conventional view tacitly assumes the global economy is dealing with one problem: recovering from the Global Financial Meltdown of 2008-09. Stimulating a "recovery" has been the focus of central banks and states everywhere.

Short-sighted political expediency is a hallmark of the modern state's reaction to crisis, but political expediency isn't the only flaw in the central banks/states' obsessive focus on "recovery;" it's not even the primary flaw.

The real flaw is the central banks/states don't even recognize that we face three interlocking sets of problems, not one. Each set of problems is layered on top of the previous layer, and each sets reinforces the other two. In other words, the entire problem set is more than just the sum of the three problem sets.

1. Financialization of the economy. As the post-industrial funk of the 1970s dragged on, the neoliberal ideology of liberalizing credit markets and eliminating the regulatory wall between investment banking and commercial/mortgage banking was presented as the fundamental fix to post-industrial stagnation: free up credit, leverage and speculation, and the results would be an expansion of asset prices and growth.

The first wave of financialization in the 1980s did indeed boost asset valuations and growth, but it did so by eroding the productive economy and the middle class that arose from gains in productivity. Financialization substitutes finance for productive investments, such that financial games such as originating subprime home mortgages become far more profitable than non-financial capital investments.

I've covered the immense structural damage wrought by financialization for years. Here is a small sample of essays from the 10+ pages of links available in the archives:

Why have the central banks and central states allowed financialization to hollow out the real economy? Because they have no choice. As I explained in Why the State Has Failed to Reform Our Broken Financial System (October 16, 2014), extreme financialization is the last source of the monumental profits the state needs to fund itself, and the last source of economic "growth" in an economy gutted by previous rounds of financialization.

2. Extremes of credit, leverage, risk and speculation. As conventional financialization failed to reflate the asset bubbles of the late 1990s that crashed in 2000, central banks and states opened the doors to extremes of credit expansion, leverage and risk. Financial fraud and embezzlement became the models of choice as lenders and borrowers alike engaged in a monstrously profitable churning of securitized mortgages, liar loans, initial public offerings of companies with no hope of generating profits, and all the other tricks of the finance trade.

The inevitable result of these extremes of supposedly low-risk leverage and sleight of hand was the Global Financial Meltdown of 2008-09, when bubbles in credit, risk, stocks and real estate popped.


3. The central bank/state "solutions" to the Global Financial Meltdown are the third set of problems. The monetary/fiscal solutions--dropping interest rates to zero, printing trillions of dollars, yen, euros and yuan out of thin air and giving banks and financiers free access to all this loot, with the implicit promise that any bets that went bad would be backstopped by the taxpayers--have not only done nothing to repair the damage done by the first two problem sets but have unleashed even more destructive dynamics.

The analogy I have used is monetary heroin: the first hits of quantitative easing had an immediate effect on moribund assets. But each successive wave of monetary heroin has had diminishing effects as the addict became habituated to the endless stimulus.

The central bank solution to this habituation is to increase each new dose of stimulus. Unfortunately, at some point the dose becomes large enough to kill the addict: The Fed's Failure Complicates Its Endgame (July 30, 2014)

Each monetary/fiscal "fix" inflated a bubble that crashed. Rather than face the harsh consequences of financialization and successive waves of monetary extremes, central banks and states have elected to reflate the bubbles as the politically expedient solution that leaves the crony-cartel-state status quo intact.

But the additional sets of problems added as "solutions" only guarantee that the third and final crash of asset bubbles just ahead will be far more devastating than the crashes of 2000 and 2009.



Get a Job, Build a Real Career and Defy a Bewildering Economy(Kindle, $9.95)(print, $20)
go to Kindle editionAre you like me? Ever since my first summer job decades ago, I've been chasing financial security. Not win-the-lottery, Bill Gates riches (although it would be nice!), but simply a feeling of financial control. I want my financial worries to if not disappear at least be manageable and comprehensible.

And like most of you, the way I've moved toward my goal has always hinged not just on having a job but a career.
You don't have to be a financial blogger to know that "having a job" and "having a career" do not mean the same thing today as they did when I first started swinging a hammer for a paycheck.

Even the basic concept "getting a job" has changed so radically that jobs--getting and keeping them, and the perceived lack of them--is the number one financial topic among friends, family and for that matter, complete strangers.

So I sat down and wrote this book: Get a Job, Build a Real Career and Defy a Bewildering Economy.

It details everything I've verified about employment and the economy, and lays out an action plan to get you employed.

I am proud of this book. It is the culmination of both my practical work experiences and my financial analysis, and it is a useful, practical, and clarifying read.

Test drive the first section and see for yourself.     Kindle, $9.95     print, $20

"I want to thank you for creating your book Get a Job, Build a Real Career and Defy a Bewildering Economy. It is rare to find a person with a mind like yours, who can take a holistic systems view of things without being captured by specific perspectives or agendas. Your contribution to humanity is much appreciated."
Laura Y.

Gordon Long and I discuss The New Nature of Work: Jobs, Occupations & Careers(25 minutes, YouTube) 



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, Brenda W. ($60), for your superlatively generous contribution to this site-- I am greatly honored by your steadfast support and readership.

Read more...

Saturday, October 25, 2014

From Home-Grown Tomatoes to Home-Made Pasta Sauce

It's surprisingly easy to make a pasta sauce from scratch with home-grown tomatoes.


I am a lazy cook as well as a lazy gardener. So making a pasta sauce from our home-grown tomatoes was a bit intimidating; it sounded like a lot of work.

Imagine my surprise when it turned out to be pretty easy, and the results were also surprising: it's easily one of the best pasta sauce I've ever tasted, despite the nothing-special quality of our home-grown tomatoes.

A quick Web search pulled up this recipe and instructions from Daniel Gritzer, who made several batches with different types of tomatoes as a taste test: How to Make the Best Tomato Sauce From Fresh Tomatoes.

I found his instructions easy to follow and his explanations thorough. It's far more information than you need to make the sauce, but it's good background for those like me who've never made pasta sauce from whole tomatoes before.

Based on Gritzer's experiments, I felt confident that the type of tomato didn't make much difference.

Gardeners are almost obligated to rave about the wonderful quality of their home-grown produce, but quite frankly, these tomatoes were beautiful and nutritious (we use lots of different kinds of compost in our garden) but not that great in terms of taste or texture. Perhaps due to the clay soil and limited sunlight of our urban garden, our cherry tomatoes taste much better than larger varieties.

Here are the tomatoes I harvested from our garden. I'm not sure of the variety, though I know the organic seeds came from my primary source,Everlasting Seeds.

There are undoubtedly heirloom tomatoes optimized for clay soil and limited sunlight, but I haven't run across any yet. But setting aside quibbles of taste/texture, aren't these gloriously ripe tomatoes?


First step: chop the tomatoes into chunks. Nothing fancy here:


Stew the tomato chunks for 10 minutes over relatively high heat. The idea is to soften the chunks but not turn them into mush.


Put the stewed tomato chunks through a food mill. This is a very forgiving process; just push the chunks under the food mill blade and grind away. Once all the pulp has been squeezed through, what's left is the seeds and a bit of skin.


Dice the garlic and onions. Gritzer did a second taste test, between adding the raw onion and garlic to the fresh tomato sauce and sauteing the onion and garlic first before adding them to the sauce. His testers preferred the sauce with the sauteed onions.


Saute the onions and garlic while the sauce simmers (to reduce/thicken it a bit). If you want to add mushrooms or other veggies (or meat), do so after the garlic and onions have softened and been added to the sauce along with the herbs and seasonings.


The finished sauce. I didn't time the entire process carefully, but it took about an hour. Given the excellent results and the quantity of sauce (enough for multiple meals for multiple people), this seems like a worthwhile investment of time and energy.


This strikes me as one of those meals (home-made pasta sauce from real tomatoes, wow!) that will impress others while actually being a very simple and forgiving process with palate-pleasing results.



Get a Job, Build a Real Career and Defy a Bewildering Economy(Kindle, $9.95)(print, $20)
go to Kindle editionAre you like me? Ever since my first summer job decades ago, I've been chasing financial security. Not win-the-lottery, Bill Gates riches (although it would be nice!), but simply a feeling of financial control. I want my financial worries to if not disappear at least be manageable and comprehensible.


And like most of you, the way I've moved toward my goal has always hinged not just on having a job but a career.

You don't have to be a financial blogger to know that "having a job" and "having a career" do not mean the same thing today as they did when I first started swinging a hammer for a paycheck.

Even the basic concept "getting a job" has changed so radically that jobs--getting and keeping them, and the perceived lack of them--is the number one financial topic among friends, family and for that matter, complete strangers.

So I sat down and wrote this book: Get a Job, Build a Real Career and Defy a Bewildering Economy.

It details everything I've verified about employment and the economy, and lays out an action plan to get you employed.

I am proud of this book. It is the culmination of both my practical work experiences and my financial analysis, and it is a useful, practical, and clarifying read.

Test drive the first section and see for yourself.     Kindle, $9.95     print, $20

"I want to thank you for creating your book Get a Job, Build a Real Career and Defy a Bewildering Economy. It is rare to find a person with a mind like yours, who can take a holistic systems view of things without being captured by specific perspectives or agendas. Your contribution to humanity is much appreciated."
Laura Y.

Gordon Long and I discuss The New Nature of Work: Jobs, Occupations & Careers(25 minutes, YouTube) 



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, Thomas W. ($25), for your wondrously generous contribution to this site-- I am greatly honored by your steadfast support and readership.

Read more...

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Does Anyone Else Think the Stock Market Is Living on Reds, Vitamin C and Cocaine?

This state of delusion would be amusing if it wasn't so tragic.


The stock market's wild swings of sentiment have got me thinking it's living on reds, vitamin C and cocaine. This is a famous line from the Grateful Dead songTruckin'.

I've marked up a one-month chart of the S&P 500 (SPX) to illustrate what I mean:


Reds are slang for barbiturates, a class of depressants/sedatives (downers). Cocaine induces euphoric highs in which the cokehead feels he possesses god-like powers--for example, he might imagine he is a Federal Reserve member, or even its chairperson.

There are multiple interpretations of the role of vitamin C in the lyric, but for the purposes of the chart it serves as a modest dose of something healthy to keep the drug-ravaged market from crashing.

After multiple swings between cocaine highs brought to earth by downers, the market seems to be tripping on acid again. Though no one can know precisely what hallucinations are spinning through the manic-depressive sentiment of the market, it seems the market has responded to the withdrawal of its free-money cocaine--supplied of course by the Federal Reserve--by entering a drug-induced fantasy that everything's been fixed in the global economy: Europe is growing again, China's housing crisis has passed, U.S. corporate profits will feed corporate buybacks forever, and so stocks can loft higher again--a Bull Market without end.

This state of delusion would be amusing if it wasn't so tragic. The acid will wear off soon enough, and a mega-dose of vitamin C will not be enough to restore the shattered health of a manic, drugged-out market careening between euphoria and fear.



Get a Job, Build a Real Career and Defy a Bewildering Economy(Kindle, $9.95)(print, $20)
go to Kindle edition
Are you like me? Ever since my first summer job decades ago, I've been chasing financial security. Not win-the-lottery, Bill Gates riches (although it would be nice!), but simply a feeling of financial control. I want my financial worries to if not disappear at least be manageable and comprehensible.


And like most of you, the way I've moved toward my goal has always hinged not just on having a job but a career.
You don't have to be a financial blogger to know that "having a job" and "having a career" do not mean the same thing today as they did when I first started swinging a hammer for a paycheck.

Even the basic concept "getting a job" has changed so radically that jobs--getting and keeping them, and the perceived lack of them--is the number one financial topic among friends, family and for that matter, complete strangers.

So I sat down and wrote this book: Get a Job, Build a Real Career and Defy a Bewildering Economy.

It details everything I've verified about employment and the economy, and lays out an action plan to get you employed.

I am proud of this book. It is the culmination of both my practical work experiences and my financial analysis, and it is a useful, practical, and clarifying read.

Test drive the first section and see for yourself.     Kindle, $9.95     print, $20

"I want to thank you for creating your book Get a Job, Build a Real Career and Defy a Bewildering Economy. It is rare to find a person with a mind like yours, who can take a holistic systems view of things without being captured by specific perspectives or agendas. Your contribution to humanity is much appreciated."
Laura Y.


Gordon Long and I discuss The New Nature of Work: Jobs, Occupations & Careers(25 minutes, YouTube) 



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, Mary D. ($10), for your splendidly generous contribution to this site-- I am greatly honored by your steadfast support and readership. 

Read more...

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