Wednesday, June 28, 2017

What Problems Are We Solving by Increasing Complexity?

The incremental increase in systemic complexity is rarely if ever recognized as a problem that additional complexity can't solve.
The Collapse of Complex Societies fame has observed that societies increase complexity to solve pressing problems that cannot be resolved with existing solutions.
What is complexity in this context? More organization, more layers of management, higher levels of specialization, an expansion of roles and differentiated areas of expertise, more channels of communication, more feedback loops, and an increase in the quantity and types of communication.
All of which consumes more energy and more treasure, not just to build the infrastructure of this increased complexity but to train the staff and maintain the higher costs going forward.
Which raises the obvious question: how does increasing cost solve anything? Doesn't increasing the cost of a system create the problems resulting from taking money from some other source to pay the higher costs?
There are several different answers to this question.
1. The problem that must be solved is an existential threat to the society, and therefore cost is no longer an issue. World War II offers a historical example of an existential threat requiring a vast expansion of complexity and cost.
The upside of this dynamic is the problem is resolved relatively decisively by either victory or defeat. The downside is the vast sums borrowed to fund the war effort must be paid, or at least the interest must be paid--or the enormous debts must be renounced, crippling trust and the credit system.
2. The gains reaped by increasing complexity more than offset the higher costs. Amazon seems to offer a commercial example of this dynamic. By investing heavily in complex technology, Amazon has created financial incentives for consumers to shop online and have their purchases delivered to their door.
Consolidating consumption is this fashion lowers costs in many ways. Instead of 100 consumers getting in 100 vehicles and driving to a mall/retail center, a handful of delivery vehicles distribute the purchases, reducing energy consumption, air pollution, traffic congestion, fuel burned while waiting in traffic, etc.
The increased complexity of online shopping and delivery has impacted the higher fixed-cost bricks and mortar retail sector, as this higher cost shopping-distribution system is experiencing stagnant sales and plummeting profitability.
3. The initial costs of increasing complexity are offset by lower operating and maintenance costs. With the costs of labor and labor overhead (healthcare and pension costs) rising, investments in automation complexity may reduce operational expenses significantly, more than offsetting the costs of increasing complexity via automation.
But many of the increases in complexity in our socio-economic system aren't intended to solve existential or cost problems; they're designed to address political issues or to foster perceptions that problems are being addressed.
Many increases in complexity are intended to reduce exposure to liability--legal threats that increase operational costs without offering much in the way of offsetting benefits.
Increasingly complex laws and regulations are passed to mitigate politically pressing issues, and the pressure on politicians and regulators to "do something" leads to regulatory and legal thickets that may well have limited impact on the problem but serve to signal to constituencies that "your problem has been addressed."
The added costs of this complexity are rarely considered in the political process, which focuses on easing the short-term pain of political pressure.
Another source of increasing complexity that yields diminishing returns is institutions and agencies whose raison d'etre is to generate and enforce regulations. These agencies must continually produce more regulations to justify their budgets and staffing, and adding systemic costs is not an issue.
The regulatory institutions have no mechanisms, processes or incentives to reduce systemic complexity or accurately assess the costs of increasing regulatory burdens.
This incremental increase in systemic complexity is rarely if ever recognized as a problem that additional complexity can't solve. In solving liability, regulatory and political issues with added layers of complexity (that created more complexity as they interact in unexpected ways), we have increased the systemic load of complexity in ways that may only become visibly destabilizing when the system stops working or slides into insolvency.
Why is insolvency a potential result of rising complexity? Rather than pay the higher costs by taking funding from other programs--a politically risky move, as those whose funding has been cut will ignite a political firestorm of protest--our political "leadership" has borrowed the costs of increasing complexity from future earnings and future taxpayers.
All borrowed money accrues interest, and eventually the mountain of debt crushes the economy by either bleeding investment and consumption to pay the interest or by destroying the purchasing power of the currency as the government inflates away the debt by debauching its currency.
What problems are we solving by increasing systemic complexity? What problems are we exacerbating by adding systemic complexity? We'll know the answer when systems start breaking down and a stark choice between destroying the purchasing power of our currency or insolvency presents itself.
Of related interest:
Check out both of my new books, Inequality and the Collapse of Privilege($3.95 Kindle, $8.95 print) and Why Our Status Quo Failed and Is Beyond Reform($3.95 Kindle, $8.95 print, $5.95 audiobook) For more, please visit the OTM essentials website.

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Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Proximity Is Destiny

Privilege is unearned proximity to power in all its manifestations.
My friend G.F.B. recently coined an insightful maxim: Proximity Is Destiny. The power of this concept lies in its unification of physical proximity and abstract proximity.
We all understand physical proximity can be consequential. As the Titanic settled lower in the ice-cold Atlantic, those close enough to the lifeboats to secure a seat (mostly the first and second class passengers) lived and those who were not died.
College graduates seek internships at the most successful companies because they know the connections they make by working within the headquarters might lead to a job offer: physical proximity to movers and shakers (and those with the power to hire) is destiny.
But proximity to abstract manifestations of power is even more consequential in an economy/society in which wealth and power are predominantly abstract.For example, getting an internship in the Federal Reserve doesn't mean you can obtain proximity to the Fed's money/credit spigot as a result of your physical proximity to the building or staff: the really powerful proximity--being close to the Fed's money/credit spigot--is entirely abstract.
Abstract proximity is structural, and often invisible. We can't discern an individual's proximity to money/ credit/ privileged-information spigots by their physical locale or appearance, though we may infer their income/wealth from various status signifiers.
But signifiers don't tell us much about abstract proximity. Two individuals may own the same status signifiers, but one earned them the hard way, and the other had the advantage of proximity to insider information.
Privilege is much in the news recently, and I wrote a short book exploring the nature of privilege: Inequality and the Collapse of Privilege. The point of the book is this: privilege requires a centralized power hierarchy, as only a centralized power hierarchy can impose or nurture privilege, often through informal power structures.
Privilege is unearned proximity to power in all its manifestations: in our world of abstract structures of power, privilege often appears informal, masking its structural nature.
This informality enables a useful (to the privileged) confusion of privilege and merit. Two individuals may appear to enjoy similar status--both own homes in upscale neighborhoods, drive luxury vehicles, vacation in exotic locales, own second homes, belong to churches, temples, clubs, charitable organizations, etc. well-stocked with wealthy, influential people, etc., but the sources of their status are very different.
One was handed all this by family connections and inherited wealth, while the other worked his/her way up from humble beginnings. The individual who managed to work his/her way up the social-mobility ladder needed proximity to opportunity, and might have been helped by mentors and plain old luck, but privilege played a relatively modest role in the journey, as millions of other people with similar social status had roughly similar proximity to opportunity.
This inherent difficulty in differentiating privilege from merit allows the privileged Elites to claim their advantageous position is all due to merit: I worked harder than the other guy, etc., when in fact it was proximity to abstract privilege and power that lofted them to the top of the pyramid.
The Power Elites always have need for hard-working, smart, honest strivers to serve their enterprises and institutions, and so they recruit non-privileged strivers to their inner circles: prep schools, elite universities, prestigious organizations, the "right" church, temple, etc., internships in higher management, scholarships, foreign postings that serve to quickly advance careers, and so on.
This proximity is very close to what they offer their own offspring. But there's a difference, of course; their offspring can be dull-witted and lazy, and they will still get access to all these advantages.
And there is another unstated difference: the merely merit-based striver will not be invited to private gatherings, nor encouraged to find a mate in the Elite class.
Proximity is destiny, and it's proximity to abstract but very real structures of privilege, power and capital that count.
As I detailed yesterday, proximity to the flow of cheap credit creates fortunes, fortunes that aren't earned via merit, innovation, genius or the creation of new goods and services; proximity to cheap credit is the core dynamic of rentier skims based on the acquisition of income-producing assets.
With sufficient income and capital, you also gain proximity to the machinery of governance--our pay-to-play "democracy" in which influence can be bought to benefit the few at the expense of the many.
Proximity is destiny. To understand this, we must first illuminate the abstract structures that enable proximity to the abstract but oh-so-real levers of privilege, power, wealth and influence.


If you found value in this content, please join me in seeking solutions by becoming a $1/month patron of my work via patreon.com.
Check out both of my new books, Inequality and the Collapse of Privilege ($3.95 Kindle, $8.95 print) and Why Our Status Quo Failed and Is Beyond Reform ($3.95 Kindle, $8.95 print, $5.95 audiobook) For more, please visit the OTM essentials website.

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Monday, June 26, 2017

If We Don't Change the Way Money Is Created, Rising Inequality and Social Disorder Are Inevitable

Centrally issued money optimizes inequality, monopoly, cronyism, stagnation and systemic instability.
Everyone who wants to reduce wealth and income inequality with more regulations and taxes is missing the key dynamic: central banks' monopoly on creating and issuing money widens wealth inequality, as those with access to newly issued money can always outbid the rest of us to buy the engines of wealth creation.
History informs us that rising wealth and income inequality generate social disorder.
Access to low-cost credit issued by central banks creates financial and political power. Those with access to low-cost credit have a monopoly as valuable as the one to create money.
Compare the limited power of an individual with cash and the enormous power of unlimited cheap credit.
Let’s say an individual has saved $100,000 in cash. He keeps the money in the bank, which pays him less than 1% interest. Rather than earn this low rate, he decides to loan the cash to an individual who wants to buy a rental home at 4% interest.
There’s a tradeoff to earn this higher rate of interest: the saver has to accept the risk that the borrower might default on the loan, and that the home will not be worth the $100,000 the borrower owes.
The bank, on the other hand, can perform magic with the $100,000 they obtain from the central bank. The bank can issue 19 times this amount in new loans—in effect, creating $1,900,000 in new money out of thin air.
This is the magic of fractional reserve lending. The bank is only required to hold a small percentage of outstanding loans as reserves against losses. If the reserve requirement is 5%, the bank can issue $1,900,000 in new loans based on the $100,000 in cash: the bank holds assets of $2,000,000, of which 5% ($100,000) is held in cash reserves.
This is a simplified version of how money is created and issued, but it helps us understand why centrally issued and distributed money concentrates wealth in the hands of those with access to the centrally issued credit and those who have the privilege of leveraging every $1 of cash into $19 newly created dollars that earn interest.
Imagine if we each had a relatively modest $1 million line of credit at 0.25% interest from a central bank that we could use to issue loans of $19 million. Let’s say we issued $19 million in home loans at an annual interest rate of 4%. The gross revenue (before expenses) of our leveraged $1 million would be $760,000 annually --let’s assume we net $600,000 per year after annual expenses of $160,000. (Recall that the interest due on the $1 million line of credit is a paltry $2,500 annually).
Median income for workers in the U.S. is around $30,000 annually. Thus a modest $1 million line of credit at 0.25% interest from the central bank would enable us to net 20 years of a typical worker’s earnings every single year. This is just a modest example of pyramiding wealth.
Next let’s say we each get a $1 billion line of credit which we leverage into $19 billion in loans earning 4%. Now our net annual income is $600 million, the equivalent income of 20,000 workers. We did nothing to improve productivity, nor did we produce any goods or services. We simply used the power of central banking and fractional reserve lending to skim $600 million in financial rents from those actually producing goods and services.
Note that we are not uniquely evil or avaricious in maximizing our private gain from the central bank system; we're simply responding rationally to the system’s incentives.
The system concentrates wealth and subverts democracy not because participants are different from the rest of us but because they are acting rationally within a perverse, exploitive system. Would you turn down $600,000 a year? How about $600 million a year?
It makes no sense for banks and financiers not to maximize their gains in this system. Those who fail to maximize their gains will be fired.
I hope you understand by now that the current system of issuing money and credit benefits the few at the expense of the many. The vast privilege and the equally vast inequality it generates is the only possible output of the system.
This inequality cannot be reformed away; it is intrinsic to centrally issued money and private banking with access to central bank credit.
The problem isn’t fiat money; it’s centrally issued money/credit that is distributed to the few at the expense of the many. If we want to limit the subversion of democracy and reduce wealth inequality, we must decentralize and democratize the issuance and distribution of money.
In the current system, money isn’t created to reward increasing productivity. It is created to increase the wealth and power of the privileged.
If we want to connect the creation and distribution of money/credit with productivity, we must issue new money directly to those creating value and boosting productivity, bypassing the privileged few in central and private banks.
By concentrating wealth and power, centrally issued and distributed money doesn’t just subvert democracy. It also optimizes inequality, monopoly, cronyism, stagnation, social immobility and systemic instability.
The status quo "solution" is Universal Basic Income (UBI), a form of subsistence designed to quell the righteous urge to throw off the monetary yoke of the privileged financial Elites. If scraping by as a debt-serf on UBI is the New American Dream, we need a new economic/social system.


If you found value in this content, please join me in seeking solutions by becoming a $1/month patron of my work via patreon.com.
Check out both of my new books, Inequality and the Collapse of Privilege ($3.95 Kindle, $8.95 print) and Why Our Status Quo Failed and Is Beyond Reform ($3.95 Kindle, $8.95 print, $5.95 audiobook) For more, please visit the OTM essentials website.

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.
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Sunday, June 25, 2017

A Stock Market Crash Scenario

The one thing we can know with certainty is it won't be easy to profit from the crash.
After 8+ years of phenomenal gains, it's pretty obvious the global stock market rally is overdue for a credit-cycle downturn, and many research services of Wall Street heavyweights are sounding the alarm about the auto industry's slump, the slowing of new credit and other fundamental indicators that a recession is becoming more likely.
Few have taken the risk of projecting a date for the crash, this gent being a gutsy outlier: Hedge Fund CIO Sets The Day When The Next Crash Begins.
Next February is a good guess, as recessions and market downturns tend to lag the credit market by about 9 months.
My own scenario is based not on cycles or technicals or fundamentals, but on the psychology of the topping process, which tends to follow this basic script:
When there are too many bearish reports of gloomy data, and too many calls to go long volatility or go to cash, the market perversely goes up, not down.
Why? This negativity creates a classic Wall of Worry that markets can continue climbing. (Central banks buying $300 billion of assets a month helps power this gradual ascent most admirably.) The Bears betting on a decline based on deteriorating fundamentals are crushed by the steady advance.
As Bears give up, the window for a Spot of Bother decline creaks open, however grudgingly, as central banks make noises about ending their extraordinary monetary policies by raising interest rates a bit (so they can lower them when the next recession grabs the global economy by the throat).
As bearish short interest and bets on higher volatility fade, insiders go short.
A sudden air pocket takes the market down, triggered by some bit of "news." (Nothing like a well-engineered bout of panic selling to set up a profitable Buy the Dip opportunity.)
And since traders have been well-trained to Buy the Dips, the Spot of Bother is quickly retraced.
Nonetheless, doubts remain and fundamental data is still weak; this overhang of negativity rebuilds the wall of Worry.
Some Bears will reckon the weakened market will double-top, i.e. be unable to break out to new highs given the poor fundamentals, and as a result we can anticipate a nominal new high after the Wall of Worry has been rebuilt, just to destroy all those who reckoned a double-top would mark The Top.
Mr. Market (and the central banks) won't make it that easy to reap a fortune by going short.
As the market lofts to new nominal highs, the remaining Bears will be hesitant to go short, and Bulls will note that despite the dire warnings of analysts and the gloomy data on auto sales, credit expansion, productivity, wages, etc., the market keeps chugging higher.
This will infuse participants with complacency and a general sense that the market has weathered the worst than could be thrown at it.
When the surviving Bears have become wary, and the market's resilience in the tide of negative news seems to point to further gains--at that point, the market finally rolls over and "surprises" everyone.
Nice, but when will this happen? Nobody knows, but the key is there can't be a crowd of analysts predicting a decline and begging everyone to go to cash. There can't be huge short interest and massive bets on higher volatility. Everyone betting the farm on a decline and a spike in volatility must first be destroyed before the market can possibly fall.
The crash has to catch almost everyone off guard--those who lost their shirts betting on the market responding rationally to deteriorating data (i.e. those who bet on rising volatility and a market decline), those steeped in complacency and those secure in their quasi-religious faith that the central banks "have our backs and will never let the market drop."
When these conditions are met, the Crash-o-Meter pegs the upper limit of vulnerability.
Pavlovian training is deeply embedded, so the first drop will trigger a Buy the Dip frenzy. This reverses the downturn and creates the last exit point. But so well-trained are traders, few take the last exit; most feel assured that further gains are just ahead.
Central banks are presumed to be all-powerful, and the past 8 years support the conventional belief that a new central bank policy announcement will always reverse any downturn.
But contrary to expectations, selling momentum builds and the trading bots start selling in earnest, the goal being to liquidate the position entirely to escape risk. Central bank pronouncements steady the market and trigger wild spikes higher--but only for a few hours. Things have changed. Central banks cannot reverse the tide of fear, and spikes higher are seen as selling opportunities.
Alas, every bot has the same goal, and the bid disappears. That's one crash scenario; there are many others. The one thing we can know with certainty is it won't be easy to profit from the crash.


If you found value in this content, please join me in seeking solutions by becoming a $1/month patron of my work via patreon.com.
Check out both of my new books, Inequality and the Collapse of Privilege ($3.95 Kindle, $8.95 print) and Why Our Status Quo Failed and Is Beyond Reform ($3.95 Kindle, $8.95 print, $5.95 audiobook) For more, please visit the OTM essentials website.

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Friday, June 23, 2017

The Over-Criminalization of American Life

The over-criminalization of America has undermined justice, the rule of law and legal egalitarianism.
While the corporate media devotes itself to sports, entertainment, dining out and the latest political kerfuffle, America has become the Over-Criminalization Capital of the World. The proliferation of laws and administrative regulations, federal, state and local, that carry criminal penalties has swollen into the tens of thousands.
The number of incarcerated Americans exceeds 2.3 million, with the majority being non-violent offenders--often for War on Drugs offenses.
Holly Harris has written an important summary of this profoundly destabilizing trend: The Prisoner Dilemma: Ending America's Incarceration Epidemic (Foreign Affairs, registration required).
The over-criminalization of America is a relatively recent trend. As Harris notes:
It wasn’t always like this. In 1972, for every 100,000 U.S. residents, 161 were incarcerated. By 2015, that rate had more than quadrupled, with nearly 670 out of every 100,000 Americans behind bars.
The over-criminalization of America is rooted in federal laws and regulations, and state and local governments have followed suite. here is Harris's account:
The burgeoning U.S. prison population reflects a federal criminal code that has spiraled out of control. No one—not even the government itself—has ever been able to specify with any certainty the precise number of federal crimes defined by the 54 sections contained in the 27,000 or so pages of the U.S. Code. In the 1980s, lawyers at the Department of Justice attempted to tabulate the figure “for the express purpose of exposing the idiocy” of the criminal code, as one of them later put it. The best they were able to come up with was an educated guess of 3,000 crimes. Today, the conservative Heritage Foundation estimates that federal laws currently enumerate nearly 5,000 crimes, a number that grows every year.
Overcriminalization extends beyond the law books, partly because regulations are often backed by criminal penalties. That is the case for rules that govern matters as trivial as the sale of grated cheese, the precise composition of chicken Kiev dishes, and the washing of cars at the headquarters of the National Institutes of Health. State laws add tens of thousands more such crimes. Taken together, they push the total number of criminally punishable offenses in the United States into the hundreds of thousands. The long arm of the law reaches into nearly every aspect of American life. The legal scholar Harvey Silverglate has concluded that the typical American commits at least three federal felonies a day, simply by going through his or her normal routine.
Federal policies reward states for building prisons and mandating harsher sentences:
...federal incentives for states that safely decrease their prison populations and reconsider ineffective sentencing regimes...would represent a stark reversal of legislation signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1994, which did just the opposite, offering federal dollars to states that imposed harsher criminal penalties and built more prisons, which contributed to the explosion of incarceration rates during the past two decades.
How did we become a Gulag Nation of tens of thousands of laws and regulations and mandatory harsh sentences for non-violent crimes--a society imprisoned for administrative crimes that aren't even tried in our judiciary system? I would suggest two primary sources:
1. The relentless expansion of central-state power over every aspect of life. As I describe in my book Resistance, Revolution, Liberation: A Model for Positive Change,the state has only one ontological imperative: to expand its power and control.There are no equivalent mechanisms for reducing the legal/regulatory burdens imposed by the state; various reforms aimed at reducing the quantity of laws and regulations have not even made a dent in the over-criminalization of America.
The second dynamic is the political reality that the easiest way for politicos to be seen as "doing something" is to pass more laws and regulations criminalizing an additional aspect of life. The state and its elites justify the state's relentless expansion of power and control by claiming problems can only be solved by centralizing power further and increasing the number and severity of penalties.
Criminalization is the ultimate expansion of the state's monopoly on coercive violence. As the state expands its power to imprison or punish its citizens for an ever-wider range of often petty infractions, increasingly via a bureaucratic administrative process that strips the citizens of due process, another pernicious dynamic emerges: the informal application and enforcement of formal laws and regulations.
In other words, the laws and regulations are enforced at the discretion of the state's officials. This is the systemic source of driving while black: a defective tail-light gets an African-American driver pulled over, while drivers of other ethnic origin get a pass.
This is also the source of America's systemic blind eye on white-collar crimes while the War on Drugs mandates harsh sentences with a cruel vengeance.When there are so many laws  and regulations to choose from, government officials have immense discretion over which laws and regulations to enforce.
Prosecutors seeking to increase their body count will use harsh drug laws to force innocents to accept plea bargains, while federal prosecutors don't even pursue white-collar corporate fraud on a vast scale.
The over-criminalization of America has undermined justice, the rule of law and the bedrock notion that everyone is equal under the law, i.e. legal egalitarianism.
The over-criminalization of America breeds corruption as the wealthy and powerful evade the crushing burden of over-regulation by either buying political favors in our pay-to-play "democracy" (money votes, money wins) or by hiring teams of attorneys, CPAs, etc. to seek loopholes or construct a courtroom defense.
Meanwhile, the peasantry are offered a harsh plea bargain.
The over-criminalization of America is one core reason why the status quo has failed and cannot be reformed. That is the title of one of my short works, Why Our Status Quo Failed and Is Beyond Reform, which explains why the ceaseless expansion of centralized power leads to failure and collapse.


If you found value in this content, please join me in seeking solutions by becoming a $1/month patron of my work via patreon.com.
Check out both of my new books, Inequality and the Collapse of Privilege ($3.95 Kindle, $8.95 print) and Why Our Status Quo Failed and Is Beyond Reform ($3.95 Kindle, $8.95 print, $5.95 audiobook) For more, please visit the OTM essentials website.

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.
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