Saturday, August 30, 2014

Is There Capitalism After Cronyism?

The more the Status Quo pursues the same old Keynesian Cargo Cult script of central planning and free money for financiers, the more self-liquidating the system becomes.

Judging by the mainstream media, the most pressing problems facing capitalism are:
1) income inequality, the basis of Thomas Piketty’s bestseller Capital in the Twenty-First Century

2) the failure of laissez-faire markets to regulate their excesses, a common critique encapsulated by Paul Craig Roberts’ recent book The Failure of Laissez Faire Capitalism.

These critiques (and many similar diagnoses) reach a widely shared conclusion: capitalism must be reformed to save it from itself.

The proposed reforms align with each analyst’s basic ideological bent. Piketty’s solution to rising wealth inequality is the ultimate in statist centralization: a global wealth tax.

Roberts and others recommend reforming capitalism to embody social purpose and recognize environmental limits. Exactly how this economic reformation should be implemented is a question that sparks debates across the ideological spectrum, but the idea that capitalism can be reformed is generally accepted by left, right and libertarian alike.

Socio-economist Immanuel Wallerstein asks a larger question: can the current iteration of global capitalism be reformed, or is it poised to be replaced by some other arrangement?


Wallerstein and four colleagues explored this question in Does Capitalism Have a Future?(Oxford University Press, 2013).

Wallerstein is known as a proponent of world systems, the notion that each dominant economic-political arrangement eventually reaches its limits and is replaced by a new globally hegemonic system.



Wallerstein draws his basic definition of the current dominant system--let’s call it Global Capitalism 1.0--from his mentor, historian Fernand Braudel, who meticulously traced modern capitalism back to its developmental roots in the 15th century in an influential three-volume history, Civilization & Capitalism, 15th to 18th Centuries:


From this perspective, there is a teleological path to global capitalism’s expansion beneath the market’s ceaseless cycle of boom-and-bust. This model of ever-larger systems of global dominance has been further developed by Braudel disciples such as Giovanni Arrighi (The Long Twentieth Century: Money, Power and the Origins of Our Times).

It is this latest and most expansive iteration of capitalism--one dominated by the mobility of global capital, state enforcement of privately owned rentier/cartel arrangements and the primacy of financial capital over industrial capital--that Wallerstein and his collaborators view as endangered.

Amidst the conventional chatter of social spending countering markets gone wild--as if the only thing restraining rampant capitalism is the state--Wallerstein clearly identifies the state's role as enforcer of private cartels.

This is not just a function of regulatory capture by monied elites: if the state fails to maintain monopolistic cartels, profit margins plummet and capital is unable to maintain its spending on investment and labor. Simply put, the economy tanks as profits, investment and growth all stagnate.

This is why Wallerstein characterizes this iteration of capitalism as “a particular historical configuration of markets and state structures where private economic gain by almost any means is the paramount goal and measure of success.”


Even those who reject this description of free markets and the self-interested pursuit of profit can agree that the prime directive of capitalism is the accumulation of capital: enterprises that fail to accumulate capital lose capital and eventually go bust.

As economist Joseph Schumpeter recognized, capitalism is not a steady-state system but one constantly reworked by “creative destruction,” the process of the less efficient being replaced by the more efficient.

In Wallerstein’s view, Global Capitalism 1.0 could end in the frustration of capitalists to continue reaping large and fairly secure profits. If capital can no longer accumulate capital, this iteration of capitalism runs out of oxygen and creative destruction will usher in a new arrangement. (Wallerstein’s chapter in the book is titled why capitalists may no longer find capitalism rewarding.)

Though the status quo believes that amending the political-financial rules is all that’s needed to maintain the current centralized arrangement, Wallerstein believes that following the old rules will actually intensify the coming structural crisis.

As the state-cartel crony-capitalism that dominates the financial and political realms unravels on multiple levels, it's difficult not to agree with Wallerstein that the more the Status Quo pursues the same old Keynesian Cargo Cult script of central planning and free money for financiers, the more self-liquidating the system becomes.

This entry is drawn from an essay published in The American Conservative Magazinea Kindle Edition is available for only $3.98/issue.




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, Dan A. (book/DVD), for yet another thoughtfully generous contribution to this site -- I am greatly honored by your steadfast support and readership.Thank you, Glenn H. ($50), for your marvelously generous contribution to this site -- I am greatly honored by your support and readership.

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Friday, August 29, 2014

Can a National Quasi-Religion (Pro Sports) Go Broke?

Attending costly games is on the margins of the household budget. When the credit card gets maxed out, attending is no longer an option.

Please understand I'm not suggesting professional sports isn't the greatest thing since sliced bread: I'm simply asking if attending pro sports games has become unaffordable to the average American.

Who cares as long as we can watch the games for free on television, right? That raises another issue: in the next recession, will advertisers still pay billions of dollars for broadcast TV ads on sports channels when ads on mobile devices distributed via Big Data analysis can directly target the (shrinking) populace who still has disposable income to spend?

Before we look at the money side of pro sports, let's note the glorious shared experience of "our team" winning and hated rivals losing.Sports is one of the few experiences that unites a remarkably diverse populace, and one of the few spheres of life that isn't politicized to ruination.

We all get to live vicariously through sports, and the stranger cheering beside us is suddenly a "friendly" in a largely hostile world.

With apologies to Dallas Cowboys fans: Joe Montana to Dwight Clark-- The Catchin January 1982: (Cowboys fans have many memorable moments to savor, including a number in this game)

The problem is that attending a game is prohibitively expensive. A seat in the nosebleed section might only be $15, but there's parking (or train fare), and the $10 beer and the $10 hotdog. That's $40 - $50 for one fan or $80 for two people.

Given that the average wage is $44,000, $80 for "cheap seats at the game" is not inconsequential. Given that many clubs are now pricing tickets by demand, it's easy for two people to spend $200 to attend a game.

How many people can afford to attend games on a regular basis without maxing out a credit card or drawing on a home equity line of credit (assuming there's home equity to tap)?

Cities desperate to retain pro franchises are on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars spent building $1+ billion stadiums. Many claim that they'll recoup the money from hotels and shopping malls built adjacent to the stadium, but this gargantuan cash flow has yet to actually materialize.

The winner take all dynamic of our pop culture has driven salaries and team overhead costs into the stratosphere. This pushes costs so high that teams literally can't afford a losing season. Alas, not every team can win the conference, much less the championship.

The assumption that TV ad revenues will continue to support the enormous costs of the system is rarely questioned. The ads have to work to make sense, and in an economy in which the average wage earner is making less money every year (measured by purchasing power rather than nominal dollars), and more and more of the dwindling income is devoted to healthcare, taxes, debt service and essentials, there are two questions here:

1. What good is an ad if the viewers have no disposable money to spend?

2. Rather than pay to broadcast an ad to every viewer, few of whom are in the market for whatever item you're selling, why not target the core audience directly with mobile ads?

If an advertiser is marketing beer that (in Mike Royko's memorable phrase) tastes like it's been strained through a horse, where's the most bang for the ad buck--a broadcast ad to sports fans who have seen hundreds of beer ads and are either already fans of the swill being advertised or consumers who will never buy the product, regardless of ads, pricing, etc.?

The typical ad-industry justification is that if Swill A can capture 1% of market share from Swill B, spending tens of millions of dollars on TV network ads is a wise investment.

But does this argument hold up when advertisers can target beer buyers with a history of buying Swill A and B directly via their mobile phones as they enter the supermarket? Which ad do you reckon has a higher probability of modifying consumer choice, another beer ad that viewers mute/ignore, or a coupon delivered to the beer buyer at the point of purchase?

In short, the mobile ad revolution has barely begun, and while broadcast ads on TV, radio and the Internet will all still attract advert money, it seems highly likely we've reached Peak Broadcast TV Advertising income.

Take a glance at this chart of household income: every sector from wealthy to low-income is bringing home less money. What does that tell you about the future of advertising?


Based on anecdotal evidence submitted by readers and correspondents, it seems that much of the discretionary spending on things like attending sports events and concerts is being funded with debt or drawdowns of savings/equity. In other words, people are charging big-bucks tickets on their credit card, not paying for them out of weekly earnings.

There may be a generational component as well. Most of the people in the top 10% of household income are Baby Boomers in their peak earning years. On the face of it, they can easily afford to pay for costly tickets, parking, beer, etc. at one of the sports industry's new secular cathedrals (i.e. stadiums).

But these same people are often also paying for kids' college and funding care for their aging parents. $200,000 a year looks great until you subtract taxes, college costs, assisted living costs for a parent, a big mortgage and rising costs for essentials.

My point is: going to games is now like going to concerts or a fancy restaurant: each consumes a major chunk of dwindling discretionary income. As credit and income tighten, it's getting easier to decide to forego the concert, game or high-end dining experience.

In other words, attending costly games is on the margins of the household budget. When the credit card gets maxed out, attending is no longer an option.

I haven't found any studies on this question, but I also wonder if Gen Y is as committed to the idea of investing so much time and money in sports as their elders. If they are indeed less invested, this adds additional weight to the idea that we've reached Peak Pro Sports.

I confess I'm jaded. I don't have the time or emotional surplus to invest in following sports, and I tend to see the sports industry as just another bloated cartel that rips off its customers because it can, enriching a handful of super-wealthy owners who bask in the reflected glory of a secular religion.

Put the trends together and it certainly looks like the sports cartel has already sucked up all the oxygen in the room. In the next recession, we may find that pro sports will no longer be able to support the sky-high costs of its overhead and secular cathedrals.



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, Kevin M. ($5/month), for your monumentally generous subscription to this site -- I am greatly honored by your support and readership.Thank you, Deward T. ($50), for your marvelously generous contribution to this site -- I am greatly honored by your steadfast support and readership.

Read more...

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Housing Echo-Bubble Is Popping

There is nothing remotely "normal" about the echo-bubble's rise, and we can anticipate that its deflation will be equally abnormal.

Conventional wisdom on the resurgence of the housing markets takes one of two paths:

1. Housing is not in a bubble, it is merely returning to "normal"

2. Housing is bubbly in some markets, but prices will continue to rise

Here's an alternative view: housing is in an echo-bubble that's popping. Courtesy of the excellent Market Daily Briefing, here are some charts that make the case that the housing echo-bubble was just another Federal Reserve-induced speculative asset bubble that's popping, like every other speculative bubble in recorded history.

First up: home prices, as measured by the Case-Shiller Price Index. Note the near-perfect symmetry of the echo-bubble: it has taken roughly the same time-span to inflate and reach a top as the first housing bubble from January 2004 to its peak 2+ years later.

The echo-bubble has topped out at about 50% of the decline from the primary bubble top to the trough in 2012.
The distorted fundamentals of the echo-bubble are revealed in this chart of mortgage debt to wages. Current levels of mortgage debt are double historic levels, and 35% above the level of 2001, when the primary housing bubble lifted off.
The third charts tells us the echo-bubble is popping. Note that housing sales lead price by about six months: sales started falling in late 2005, and prices rolled over in mid-2006.

Housing sales rolled over in December 2013, and sure enough, prices are starting to weaken in many markets.

The echo-bubble doesn't pass the sniff test as a "normal" housing recovery. Exhibit #1: who's buying and who's not buying:

1. Marginal buyers using 3% down-payment FHA/VA loans who wouldn't qualify for conventional mortgages. The risk of marginal borrowers defaulting is high, a reality reflected in FHA's default rate:

When lending sources dried up during the financial crisis, the FHA propped up the housing market by insuring the lenders it works with against losses and enticing them back into the market. But the FHA’s default rate shot up as its loan volume expanded, depleting its cash reserves to levels below what is required by law. In September 2013, the FHA tapped taxpayer money to cover its losses for the first time in the agency’s 80-year history.

2. Who's not buying: Upper-Income, Educated, Married with Children, and Still Not Buying:Declining Homeownership among "Prime" First-Time Home Buying Candidates (Fannie Mae Housing Insights, Volume 4, Issue 4)

3. The dominance of all-cash buyers--generally investors (those close to the money spigots of the Fed's free money for financiers) and foreign buyers.

Note the difference between mortgage credit expansion, which has lagged price gains. This suggests many of the sales (about 35% in many hot markets) were all-cash purchases that did not require a mortgage

Take away the Fed's zero-interest rate policy (ZIRP), its free money for financiersand foreign buyers seeking a safe haven for their hot money, and what's left of the supposedly "normal" housing recovery? Not much.
There is nothing remotely "normal" about the echo-bubble's rise, and we can anticipate that its deflation will be equally abnormal.

How do we know when an asset class is in a bubble? When everyone who stands to benefit from the continuation of the expansion declares it can't be a bubble.



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, Steve S. ($5/month), for your splendidly generous subscription to this site -- I am greatly honored by your support and readership.Thank you, Jennifer G. ($50), for your superbly generous contribution to this site -- I am greatly honored by your support and readership.

Read more...

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Why Artifice Rules the World: We Have No Choice

There's only one small problem with relying on artifice: we haven't actually fixed what's broken in the real world.

As I noted yesterday, we now game dysfunctional systems rather than actually repair them. Rather than fix the dysfunctional system of higher education, for example (as I proposed in my book The Nearly Free University and The Emerging Economy), students and their parents go to extraordinary lengths to game the Ivy league university admissions system.

Rather than actually address the structural causes of unemployment, we lower interest rates to zero and reckon the resulting financial bubble will fix unemployment (and everything else).

To avoid having to deal with unemployment as an issue, the unemployment rate is heavily gamed by counting marginal jobs (working 1 hour a week--you're employed!) and removing tens of millions of unemployed people from the work-force.

The primary tool of increasing prosperity is the expansion of asset bubbles that supposedly boost the wealth effect, an internalized belief that one is wealthier. This internal belief is presumed to encourage more borrowing and spending which is then presumed to lift all boats in the economy.

This is of course all artifice: the elaborately choreographed applications to the Ivy League, the massaged statistics designed to manage our perceptions of reality rather than address reality itself, and the selling offree money for financiers as a policy that magically helps everyone, even those far from the money spigots of the Federal Reserve.

How did we arrive at a systemic dependence on contrivance and artifice to manage problems? We have no choice. Why do we have no choice?

Because any attempt to actually fix dysfunctional systems necessarily steps on the toes of deeply entrenched vested interests that profit from the dysfunctional Status Quo-- interests who will devote every resource in their command to water down, co-opt, divert or defeat any reforms that lessen their share of the national income or their political power.

As a result, true reform of hopelessly dysfunctional systems is politically impossible. Since politicians are elected to give everyone more of what they want, politicos have no choice to but to game the dysfunctional systems via perception management and statistical sleight of hand to make them appear to give everyone more of what they want. Meanwhile, the politicos collect personal fortunes from the Elites and insiders benefiting from the dysfunctional Status Quo.

Artifice and perception management appear to be win-win: everybody seems to win if they see dysfunction as not just "the way the world works," but as a positive approach that benefits everyone in some fashion.

There's only one small problem with relying on artifice: we haven't actually fixed what's broken in the real world, and those dysfunctions continue to fester beneath the glossy surface of gamed statistics and happy stories we tell ourselves about how well everything is working.

At some point--the actual date is unpredictable, but 2021-2025 is as good a guess as any--the dysfunctional systems will break down and no amount of artifice, bogus statistics or perception management will mask the rot.

Once reality crashes through the thick constructs of artifice, faith in the Status Quo will be lost. At that fragile juncture of destiny, the opportunity to fix what is broken will finally emerge.



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, Price T. ($50), for your splendidly generous contribution to this site -- I am greatly honored by your support and readership.Thank you, William H. ($50), for your superbly generous contribution to this site -- I am greatly honored by your steadfast support and readership.

Read more...

Monday, August 25, 2014

It's Not Just Politics That's Broken--The Status Quo's Model of "How the World Works" Is Broken

The Status Quo is dysfunctional because its model of how the world works is broken.

Much has been written about the dysfunction in Washington D.C. Pundits have been wringing their hands for years over the rise of bitter partisan politics and the resulting gridlock. The impact of this--what I have termed profound political disunity--extends beyond the narrow confines of domestic politics, a reality reflected in Foreign Affairs new survey of our winter of political discontent, Dysfunction Junction.

But all these discussions of our dysfunctional politics ignore the larger truth, which is the entire model of the Status Quo is broken. Even if reformers succeeded in ridding the political system of cronyism and favors-for-campaign-contributions--two essentially impossible reforms, given the legalistic cover provided for cronyism and bought and paid for representatives, the basic model of "how the world works" that dominates the world-view of leaders across the political spectrum would remain broken.

There are only three alternatives:

1. The current gridlock continues, and the policies in place grind on with minor tweaks.

2. The Democrats win a sweeping victory and are able to unilaterally impose their reforms.

3. The Republicans win a sweeping victory and are able to unilaterally impose their reforms.

Why do we know the entire model is broken? Because all three alternatives lead to a continuation of the same ruinous model of "how the world works":

1. A continued reliance on Keynesian Cargo Cult "stimulus," i.e. borrowing and blowing trillions of dollars to prop up inefficient, bloated, corrupt, wasteful crony-capitalist cartels and politically untouchable fiefdoms.

2. The continued destruction of open, transparent markets via intervention by the central state and bank.

3. The continued expansion of the Welfare State, i.e. entitlements such as Medicaid and ObamaCare subsidies and implicit entitlements such as farm price supports, corporate tax breaks, mortgage interest deductions, etc.

4. The continued expansion of the National Security State, whose premises are A) everyone on the planet is guilty until proven innocent and B) only Total Information can protect "us" (i.e. the National Security State itself) from threats.

5. The continued erosion of civil liberties via death by a thousand cuts.

6. The rising dependence on borrowed money to fund standard government services.

7. The rising dependence on manipulated/gamed statistics to manage perceptions that the Status Quo is eternal, powerful and improving everyone's lives, even as it serves the narrow interests of self-serving Elites and insiders.

8. The expansion of a Permanent War State that recognizes no boundaries between domestic and international threats, hence the militarization of local police forces and the rise of private mercenaries in the guise of for-profit domestic prisons and police forces.

9. A central bank (the Federal Reserve) that will continue to support the most rapacious, opaque and self-serving financial Elites with free money for financiers.

10. The continuing purchase of political favors by monied Elites via lobbying and campaign contributions.

11. An ever-rising dependence on generating the appearance of stability, transparency, competence and expertise as a substitute for actual stability, transparency, competence and expertise. In other words, an expanding reliance on gaming dysfunctional systems rather than actually repairing dysfunctional systems.

12. An increasing reliance on zero-interest rates, debt and free money for financiers as the "fix" for every economic ill.

The Status Quo is dysfunctional because its model of how the world works is broken. It won't matter if gridlock remains in place or one of the parties gets to impose its "brand" of policy-tweaks; since no one on the political spectrum has any concept that the current model described in these 12 points is broken, fixing the political dysfunction won't fix the systemic dysfunction.



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, Aryeh N. ($5/month), for your fabulously generous subscription to this site -- I am greatly honored by your support and readership.Thank you, Henry G. ($5/month), for your wondrously generous re-subscription to this site -- I am greatly honored by your steadfast support and readership.

Read more...

Sunday, August 24, 2014

The New Misery Index

The Status Quo is desperate to mask the declining fortunes of those who earn income from work, and the Misery Index 2.0 strips away the phony facade of bogus unemployment and inflation numbers.

The classic Misery Index is the sum of unemployment and inflation, though later variations have added interest rates and the relative shortfall or surplus of GDP growth.

Since the Status Quo figured out how to game unemployment and inflation to the point that these metrics are meaningless except as a meta-measure of centralized perception management, the Misery Index has lost its meaning as well.

I propose a Misery Index 2.0 of four less easily manipulated (and therefore more meaningful) metrics:

1. The participation rate: the percentage of the working-age population with a job

2. Real (adjusted for inflation) median household income: an imperfect but still useful measure of purchasing power

3. Labor share of the non-farm economy: how much of the national income is going to wage-earners

4. Money velocity: a basic measure of economic vitality

The foundation of Misery Index 2.0 is jobs, earned income and the purchasing power of earnings.Inflation is easily gamed by underweighting big-ticket expenses and offsetting increasing costs with hedonic adjustments, and unemployment is easily gamed by shifting people from the work-force to not in the workforce. This category of zombies--not counted in measures of unemployment--has skyrocketed:


The participation rate is the more telling metric: if fewer people of working age have jobs, the claim that the Main Street economy is "doing better" rings false.


Even though the rate of inflation is heavily gamed, real median household income is the best available gauge of purchasing power. Purchasing power simply means how many goods and services will your income buy?

For example: if your daily salary buys 20 gallons of gasoline, and a year from now you get a raise but your daily pay only buys 15 gallons of gasoline, the purchasing power of your earnings fell despite the higher nominal salary.

Real median household income has declined, meaning the purchasing power of earnings fell.


This chart also shows labor's share of the non-farm economy: that broad measure of earned income (as opposed to corporate profits, unearned income and rentier income) relfects a steady decline in labor's share of the national income.

Once again, claims that the Main Street economy is "doing better" make no sense if labor's share of the national income is declining.

An economy in rude good health has a high velocity of money. An economy bedeviled with high taxes, rentier skims, cartels, politically untouchable fiefdoms, quasi-monopolies and free money for financiers provided by the central bank has a declining velocity of money.
You can fake unemployment and inflation, but it's harder to paper over the weakness reflected in money velocity:


Central-planning always leads to ginned-up phony statistics, because centrally planned economies always stagnate due to corruption, malinvestments, and some are more equal than others skims and scams by insiders, cronies, cadres and apparatchiks.

The Status Quo is desperate to mask the declining fortunes of those who earn income from work, and the Misery Index 2.0 strips away the phony facade of bogus unemployment and inflation numbers.



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, Arooj S. ($300), for your outrageously generous contribution to this site -- I am greatly honored by your steadfast support and readership.Thank you, Creig F. ($25), for your wondrously generous re-subscription to this site -- I am greatly honored by your steadfast support and readership.

Read more...

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Is the $5 Bill the New $1 Bill?

Events, food purchased away from home and live entertainment are increasingly unaffordable to the bottom 90%.


It's starting to feel like a $5 bill is the new $1 bill: everything that could be purchased with one or two dollars not that long ago is now $5 or even $10. A few days ago I was enjoying the Butte County Fair in California's farmbelt (the Central Valley), and it seemed like a rural county fair was a price baseline that was far enough away from the urban artifice of $100 meals at fancy bistros to reflect the statistically elusive real-world inflation.

Everything was $5, or close to it: the carnival rides for kids: $5. The games (ring toss, etc.): $5. Funnel cakes, cotton candy, etc.: $5.

Whatever wasn't $5 was $10: pulled pork sandwich, etc. There was almost no need for $1 bills, except at the admission booth: adults, $8/day, kids/seniors $4.

So let's add up the costs for a family of two adults and two kids. Let's say the kids each get four rides--that's 4 X $5 = $20 X 2 = $40. Each kid gets two food items: $5 X 2 = $10 X 2 = $20, and gets to play two games: $5 X 2 = $10 X 2 = $20.

That's $80. The parents get something to eat and maybe play a game or two: that another $40. The admission fee is $16 for adults and $8 for the kids, $24. Parking is $5.

The family spends about $150 at the county fair for a day. Add an extra kid or a few other purchases and the cost pushes up to $200.

This trend of $5 being the minimum purchase price and outings costing $200 is not unique to county fairs. Some friends attended a S.F. Giants baseball recently, and they were delighted to buy seats online for a discounted price of $64 each. Add in $25 parking (or $20 in BART train fare) and a few $10 cups of beers and $10 hotdogs, and it costs $200 for two people to attend a major-league baseball game (at least in a desirable locale with a winning team).

Now I readily confess to being frugal. Not making much money for extended periods of time tends to encourage frugality. Frugality is also only way most of us non-silver-spoon types can accumulate capital (savings) to invest in ourselves and our own enterprises.

$200 seems like a lot of money when I think of what else it can buy. $200 bought all the gasoline for our 2,000-mile camping trip last summer (our 1998 Honda Civic gets 40 miles to the gallon on the highway), and all the groceries for our household for a month (recall we have a garden, eat low on the food chain and shop almost exclusively at Costco and ethnic markets).

$200 will buy a new Skil 77 worm-drive Skilsaw ($149.99) or a new designer-label men's suit at a premium outlet (after being dragged to the outlet by foreign friends awhile back, I bought an excellent Calvin Klein suit for less than $200 that will last decades).

Meanwhile, earned income is declining when measured in purchasing power. The median household income in Butte County is about $43,000, and $54,000 nationally.

Courtesy of chartist extraordinaire Doug Short, here is a chart of the changes in median household income since June 2009:


How long can households afford $200 outings as their real (adjusted for purchasing power) incomes continues eroding?

We are constantly reassured that inflation near-zero--2% annually or less. On the ground, it seems that stuff manufactured in the global supply chain is still relatively cheap, as are energy and food, at least compared to what they cost elsewhere or could cost if supply chains get disrupted.

There are no limits on the cost of government services or government-controlled sectors such as healthcare. Our city garbage service fees just jumped from $356 quarterly to $453, a 27% increase. Note to Federal Reserve: 27% is not 2%.

Our monthly healthcare insurances (paid entirely by us, as we're self-employed) leaped $300 per month over the past few years, from $900/month to $1,200/month. These increases add up to thousands of dollars a year. That is not 2% inflation.

Clearly, healthcare, government services, events, food purchased away from home and live entertainment are increasingly unaffordable to the bottom 90%.



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, Murphy Design ($50), for your superbly generous contribution to this site -- I am greatly honored by your support and readership.Thank you, Wendell D. ($25), for your most-excellently generous contribution to this site -- I am greatly honored by your support and readership.

Read more...

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