Friday, June 18, 2021

USA 2021: Capitalism for the Powerless, Crony-Socialism for the Powerful

The only dynamic that's even faintly "capitalist" about America's Crony-Socialism is the price of political corruption is still a "market."

The supposed "choice" between "capitalism" and "socialism" is a useful fabrication masking the worst of all possible worlds we inhabit: Capitalism for the powerless and Crony-Socialism for the powerful. Capitalism's primary dynamics are reserved solely for the powerless: market price of money, capital's exploitive potential, free-for-all competition and creative destruction.

The powerful, on the other hand, bask in the warm glow of socialism: The Federal Reserve protects them from the market cost of money--financiers and the super-wealthy get their money for virtually nothing from the Fed, in virtually unlimited quantities--and the Treasury, Congress and the Executive branch protect them from any losses: their gains are private, but their losses are transferred to the public. The Supreme Court ensures the super-rich maintain this cozy crony-socialism by ensuring they can buy political power via lobbying and campaign contributions--under the laughable excuse of free speech.

Cronies get the best political system money can buy and you--well, you get to carry a sign on the street corner, just before you're hauled off to jail for disturbing the peace (and you're banned by social media/search Big Tech, i.e. privatized totalitarianism, for good measure).

The Federal Reserve is America's financial Politburo: cronies get a free pass, the powerless get nothing. While the three billionaires who own more wealth than the bottom 165 million Americans can borrow unlimited sums for next to nothing thanks to the Fed (i.e. Crony-Socialist Politburo), the 165 million Americans pay exorbitant interest on payday loans, used car loans, student loans, credit cards and so on.

Capitalism (market sets price of money) for the powerless, Crony-Socialism (nearly free money) for the powerful--thanks to America's Crony-Socialist Politburo, the Fed. Consider the "free market" plight of America's working poor: earning low wages that are rapidly losing their purchasing power makes them a credit risk, i.e. prone to defaulting, so lenders (i.e. capital's exploitive potential) charge high interest rates on loans to the working poor.

Since they pay such high rates of interest and earn so little, they default on their debt at higher rates--just what the lenders expected, and what the lenders created by charging sky-high rates of interest: gee, you're having trouble paying 24% interest? Too bad you're poor. You see the point: low wages, poverty and exorbitant rates of interest are mutually reinforcing: a primary driver of defaults and poverty is paying sky-high rates of interest and all the late fees, bounced check fees, etc. that go with 24% interest rates.

The Crony-Socialists have a much different deal with the Fed and its crony-bankers: the super-wealthy arrange for the corporations they own shares in to borrow billions of dollars to fund stock buybacks (which in a less exploitive era were illegal market manipulation). The super-wealthy Crony-Socialist's personal wealth rises by $100 million thanks to the stock buybacks, and then the super-wealthy Crony-Socialist borrows $10 million for next to nothing against this newly conjured "wealth" (thanks, Fed!) to fund living large.

Crony-Socialist corporations pay no income tax thanks to loopholes and the Crony-Socialists who own the shares report $1 in salary and zero income because they borrowed their living expenses against their Fed-conjured wealth. Do you discern the difference between capitalism for the powerless and crony-socialism for the super-wealthy?

If you can't yet discern the difference, then ask yourself: can you borrow $1 billion from the Fed's cronies to buy back shares of your own company, and then borrow $10 million for near-zero rates of interest against the newly conjured "wealth"? You can't? Well, why not?

If you answer "I don't have enough collateral," you missed the key point here: thanks to America's Crony-Socialist Politburo (the Fed), the super-wealthy have no exposure to the market price of money. The Fed manipulates the cost of money to near-zero, and then funnels unlimited sums of this nearly-free money to corporations, financiers and the super-wealthy.

Collateral is unnecessary in Crony-Socialism; that's just a excuse given to the powerless. Crony-Socialists borrow $1 billion for next to nothing, buy Treasuries with the free money, put the Treasuries up as collateral (but wait, didn't they borrow the money? Never mind, it doesn't matter), originate some financial instruments (CDOs, etc.), post those as collateral, and then leverage up another bet on that fictitious collateral.

If the bets all go bad, the Crony-Socialist claims the whole fraud is now a systemic risk and so the losses are transferred to the public / taxpayers to "save the financial system from collapse." Isn't Crony-Socialism fantastic?

Just as the rich kid caught with smack gets a suspended sentence and probation while the powerless kid gets a tenner in the War on Drugs Gulag, the super-wealthy Crony-Socialists avoid all the consequences of their gambles and frauds. America's Crony-Socialist Politburo (the Fed) takes care of its cronies and the powerless bear the brunt of predatory exploitation that's passed off as "capitalism."

The only dynamic that's even faintly "capitalist" about America's Crony-Socialism is the price of political corruption is still a "market": what's the current price of protecting your monopoly or cartel from competition? It's moving up fast, so better get those bribes (oops, I mean campaign contributions for the 2022 election) in now before the price of corrupting "democracy" goes even higher.










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Read excerpts of the book for free (PDF).

The Story Behind the Book and the Introduction.



Recent Podcasts:

Charles Hugh Smith on the Era of Accelerating Expropriations (38 min) (FRA Roundtable Insight)

Covid Has Triggered The Next Great Financial Crisis (34:46)

My COVID-19 Pandemic Posts


My recent books:

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

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

Pathfinding our Destiny: Preventing the Final Fall of Our Democratic Republic ($5 (Kindle), $10 (print), ( audiobook): Read the first section for free (PDF).

The Adventures of the Consulting Philosopher: The Disappearance of Drake $1.29 (Kindle), $8.95 (print); read the first chapters for free (PDF)

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



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Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Is Inflation "Transitory"? Here's Your Simple Test

Is inflation "transitory" in your household budget? Really? Where?

The Federal Reserve has been bleating that inflation is "transitory"--but what about the real world that we live in, as opposed to the abstract funhouse of rigged statistics? Here's a simple test to help you decide if inflation is "transitory" in the real world.

Let's start with some simple stipulations: price is price, there are no tricks like hedonics or substitution. Nobody cares if the truck stereo is better than it was 40 years ago, the price of the truck is the price we pay today, and that's all that matters.

(Funny, the funhouse statistical adjustments never consider that appliances that used to last 30 years now break down and are junked after 3 years--if we adjusted for that, the $500 washer would be tagged at $5,000 today because it has lost 90% of its durability over the past 30 years.)

Second, inflation must be weighted to "big ticket" nondiscretionary items. The funhouse statistical trickery counts a $10 drop in the price of a TV (which you buy every few years at best) as equal to a $100 rise in childcare, which you pay monthly. No, no, no: a 10% rise in rent, healthcare insurance and childcare is $400 a month or roughly $5,000 a year. A 10% decline in a TV you buy every three years is $50. Even a 50% drop in the price of a TV ($250) is $83 per year--absolutely trivial, absolutely meaningless compared to $5,000 in higher big-ticket expenses.

You can forego the new TV but not the rent, childcare or healthcare. That's the difference between "big ticket" nondiscretionary and discretionary (meals out, 3rd TV, etc.).

Third, we jettison the painfully obvious manipulation of "owners equivalent rent" for housing costs. Housing costs are the prices we pay for rent, owning a home and paying property taxes, insurance and maintenance costs to own the home. (Have you priced having a new roof put on your house by a licensed, reputable contractor? No? Well, it's become a lot more expensive than it was a few years ago. Where is that enormous price leap in "owners equivalent rent"? Just how stupid does the Fed reckon we are?)

OK, here's the test: let's say markets finally take a deflationary dive from overvalued heights. Housing, stocks and other risk assets fall 30%. Trillions of dollars in "wealth" (that didn't exist prior to the Everything Bubble inflating) has vanished, generating a reverse wealth effect as all the owners of these assets feel poorer and less inclined to borrow and spend. This is classically considered highly deflationary: demand drops, prices drop.

The three billionaires who own more assets than the bottom 50% of Americans (165 million Americans) will be crying, but how does life change for the 165 million Americans who own a vanishingly thin slice of these assets? Does their rent drop? No, for the reasons I explained in The Fed Is Wrong: Inflation Is Sticky: the big corporate landlords have to keep rents high to placate their lenders. (And let's not forget greed: the greedy never want to lower prices, preferring to cling to the Fed's fantasy of "transitory" trouble.)

Now let's ask about the higher-income 150 million Americans who own homes and pay property taxes, who pay healthcare insurance, college tuition and fees, childcare and elderly care. Even if there is a deflationary crash in stocks and housing, what are the odds the overall costs of owning and maintaining your home will drop significantly?

What are the odds that local government will let property taxes drop with valuations? Shall we be honest and say zero? If real estate valuations plummet, then property tax rates will rise to compensate. Or other "creative" fees will be imposed to make up the shortfall in tax revenues.

What about childcare? What are the odds that childcare costs will drop 30%? Shall we be honest and say zero? The costs paid by childcare providers only go up, and so those who don't charge enough (marginal providers) will close down, generating a shortage of supply that elevates prices.

What about elderly care? Will assisted living facilities suddenly drop 30% just because asset bubbles pop? No. The costs of assisted living march higher regardless of what asset valuations and interest rates do.

What about healthcare? Will all those costs drop 30% because assets declined? No. Everyone exposed to real-world pricing of healthcare will be paying more.

But what about the roofing contractor? Won't they charge 30% less? The biggest expenses for the contractor are workers compensation insurance, liability insurance, disability insurance, FICA (Social Security and Medicare) and healthcare insurance, and none of those will drop a single dollar even if stocks drop 30%.

Just as 85% of local government expenses are labor-related, most of the expenses of the roofing contractor are labor-related. The roofing materials dropping a few bucks might lower the cost by a few percentage points, but the material costs are based on the costs of the manufacturers, distributors, truckers, etc., and these are also based on labor-related expenses, taxes, insurance and healthcare--none of which will drop a dime, regardless of what asset prices do.

Economist Michael Spence elucidated the difference between tradable and untradable goods and services. If you want your washer repaired, that service in untradable, as shipping your broken washer to China for repair is not financially viable. As labor costs rise in China and other offshore economies, that raises costs even for tradable goods.

The majority of essential services are untradable and the costs are dependent on "big ticket" expenses which cannot go down without imploding the economy and government: taxes, insurance, healthcare, childcare, elderly care, etc. cannot drop 30% because they're based on labor costs, highly profitable systemic friction (Big Pharma, the Higher Education Cartel, Big Ag, healthcare and other quasi-monopolies) and the need for ever-higher tax revenues to provide services which the public demands.

Let's also ponder the consequences of the extreme concentration of wealth and income in the top 5% of U.S. households. The top 10% own roughly 85% of all wealth, and the top 1% own more than half the financial wealth.

Any significant drop in financial assets will have almost no effect on the bottom 90% because they don't own enough of these assets to be consequential. So the deflationary effect of the reverse wealth effect will be concentrated in the discretionary spending of the top 10%: the luxury imported vehicles, the $100 per plate dinners (those $60 bottles of wine add up), the $500/day resort vacation, the $2,500/week AirBnB rental, etc.

The declines in the cost of these discretionary luxuries may well be noteworthy, but there are thresholds below which prices cannot drop. The high-end restaurant has equally high-end expenses, and so marginal providers will close, leaving only those few who can maintain profitability as demand for luxury dining craters.

The resort has high expenses as well, and once profitability has been lost, resorts will close just like other marginal providers. Supply shrinks along with demand, and the survivors keep prices high enough or they too will close.

So the essential "big ticket" costs will keep rising and the discretionary luxuries only the top 10% can afford will drop--but not by much as all those luxury providers have the same high fixed costs.

So to recap the test: what are the odds of these "big ticket" expenses dropping 30% if asset prices drop 30%?

Taxes: zero.

Healthcare: zero.

Childcare: zero.

Elderly care: zero.

Costs of doing business: zero.

As for housing: the mortgage doesn't drop if the market value of the house drops 30%, and any declines in insurance will be modest. The costs of maintenance won't drop much, either, and might actually increase as the supply of skilled workers declines. (Nothing is more expensive than the "cheap" repair that has to be redone correctly.)

Rents may drop in areas nobody wants to live anymore, but rents will rise in places people do want to live.

The larger point here is the long economic cycles have turned. The 40-year decline in interest rates has turned, whether we admit it or not. The 40-year decline in the prices of goods due to financialization (lower interest rates, higher speculative assets) and globalization has turned. The 40-year expansion of the workforce has turned. The 40-year decline of oil/fuel/resources prices has turned. The 40-year fantasy that we can depend on other nations for our essential resources and components is drawing to a close.

Untradable goods and services, cost thresholds, resource security, the end of financialization / globalization and declining interest rates matter. The fantasy that the top 10% can prop up the economy by borrowing and spending the phantom wealth of insanely overvalued asset bubbles is drawing to a close.

Is inflation "transitory" in your household budget? Really? Where?










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Read excerpts of the book for free (PDF).

The Story Behind the Book and the Introduction.



Recent Podcasts:

Charles Hugh Smith on the Era of Accelerating Expropriations (38 min) (FRA Roundtable Insight)

Covid Has Triggered The Next Great Financial Crisis (34:46)

My COVID-19 Pandemic Posts


My recent books:

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

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

Pathfinding our Destiny: Preventing the Final Fall of Our Democratic Republic ($5 (Kindle), $10 (print), ( audiobook): Read the first section for free (PDF).

The Adventures of the Consulting Philosopher: The Disappearance of Drake $1.29 (Kindle), $8.95 (print); read the first chapters for free (PDF)

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



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Sunday, June 13, 2021

Seven Things Nobody Talks About that Will Eventually Matter--A Lot

Nobody seems to notice the 'diminishing returns' on Fed manipulation, oops, I mean 'intervention'.

Perhaps it shouldn't surprise us that everything that will eventually matter is ignored until it does matter--but by then it's too late. Here's a short list to start the discussion:

1. The Federal Reserve has transformed the American populace into a nation of dismayingly over-confident gamblers. I've been writing about moral hazard--the separation of risk from consequence--since 2011. Punters who are insulated from risk will have an insatiable appetite for risky bets, which is precisely what we see on a mass scale, as the confidence that the Fed will never let markets drop is 99.99% because the Fed has indeed reversed every decline, no matter how modest, month after month, year after year.

The Fed has perfected moral hazard: everyone from the money manager betting billions to the punters gambling their stimmy money is absolutely confident I can't lose because the Fed will always push the market higher. Hence the advice to never sell and keep increasing the size of one's bets because losing is transitory (heh).

2. The Fed's perfection of moral hazard radically incentivizes increasing debt and leverage to maximize one's bets because the bigger the bet, the bigger the payoff--the Fed guarantees it! Margin debt is at extremes, and many wildly successful stock and options punters have reaped fantastic gains by maxing out their Robinhood margin as their winnings increase.

Since the Fed guarantees that anyone holding until the Fed gooses markets higher will be a winner, maximizing leverage is completely rational: hedging is a foolish waste of money that could have been placed on a sure winner--any long bet.

Margin and shadow-banking leverage is through the roof, but nobody sees any risk from this extreme expansion of debt and leverage. Never mind that leverage unwinds faster than it builds...

3. As longtime technician Louise Yamada reminds us, volume is the weapon of the Bull. Yet volume is lower than the holiday season before New Years. The Bull is nowhere in sight if we look at volume, yet every new high is proof-positive that the Fed doesn't need no stinkin' volume-- markets will loft higher forever with or without volume. OK, if you say so...

4. Inflation is Kryptonite for markets, yet nobody feels any need to discount the possibility that inflation isn't "transitory". There are numerous reasons to doubt the Fed's bleatings, reasons I've laid out in The Fed Is Wrong: Inflation Is Sticky
The Sources of Rip-Your-Face-Off Inflation Few Dare Discuss
A Couple Things About Inflation.

5. Everyone seems to be assuming the calendar has been reset to September 2019 with absolutely nothing different, yet profound cultural changes have occured beneath the status quo's radar. I addressed a few of these cultural shifts in Post-Pandemic Metamorphosis: Never Going Back
The 'Take This Job and Shove It' Recession.

The incentives to opt-out--and the quiet time needed to realize this provided by the lockdown-- are weighing on the entire spectrum of the workforce from professionals to the working poor. But conventional pundits are blind to the consequences of 'Take This Job and Shove It'.

6. The insanity of leaving the nation dependent on foreign suppliers for essentials goes largely unremarked. Never mind the national security risks-- all that matters is Corporate America squeezing the last few dollars of profits out of the dead carcass of globalization.

7. Nobody seems to notice the diminishing returns on Fed manipulation, oops, I mean intervention: what $1 trillion accomplished 12 years ago takes almost $4 trillion--and what about the next fireball of deleveraging / margin calls? What will that take to reverse? $8 trillion? $10 trillion? And all of that will be consequence-free, no matter how bloviated? If you say so....






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Read excerpts of the book for free (PDF).

The Story Behind the Book and the Introduction.



Recent Podcasts:

Charles Hugh Smith on the Era of Accelerating Expropriations (38 min) (FRA Roundtable Insight)

Covid Has Triggered The Next Great Financial Crisis (34:46)

My COVID-19 Pandemic Posts


My recent books:

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

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

Pathfinding our Destiny: Preventing the Final Fall of Our Democratic Republic ($5 (Kindle), $10 (print), ( audiobook): Read the first section for free (PDF).

The Adventures of the Consulting Philosopher: The Disappearance of Drake $1.29 (Kindle), $8.95 (print); read the first chapters for free (PDF)

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



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Friday, June 11, 2021

The Fed Is Wrong: Inflation Is Sticky

The Fed's god-like powers will be revealed for what they really are: artifice and illusion.

The Fed will be proven catastrophically wrong about inflation for the simple reason that inflation isn't transitory, it's sticky: when prices rise due to real-world scarcities and higher costs, they stay high and then move higher as expectations catch up with reality.

Consider the dynamic of Fed-inflated bubbles raising rents. The house that once sold for $200,000 is sold to a pool of investors for $800,000, and the property taxes, insurance and debt service rise accordingly: even though the house didn't change, thanks to the Fed's bubble, the entire cost structure is higher.

So what happens next? The investors jack the rent up to cover the higher costs. As for refinancing to lower the monthly mortgage payment--that trend has reached the end of the line. As inflation gathers steam, mortgage rates can only go up, not down.

As for getting the county assessment office to lower the valuation on the house--good luck with that. The Ratchet Effect is in full force: assessed values rise easily and decline with great resistance.

So rents stay high even as real estate values decline. Landlords can't drop rents without triggering panic in their lenders, and so they leave units empty and try gimmicks such as "free month rent when you sign a lease," gimmicks which leave the skyhigh rent skyhigh so lenders look at the numbers and are assured that rents are high enough to cover their mortgage payments and other expenses.

Consider the orchard left to die during the drought. The farmer won't be replanting that orchard--it's simply too risky to assume there will be sufficient water in the future and prices will stay high enough to compensate for the heightened risk. So supply drops as marginal producers drop out and survivors avoid risk by not expanding production. Prices stay high.

Consider deglobalization. Having outsourced essential components, U.S. corporations are at the mercy of factors beyond their control: currency arbitrage, suppliers taking advantage of scarcity, other nations tightening the screws on exports of essentials, and so on.

Consider the pool of local restaurants. many have closed, some new ones are opening, but the reality is all those who can't raise prices enough to cover expenses and make a profit will burn through their cash and close. The survivors will raise prices because they have no choice: there is no alternative (TINA) to raising prices except closing down.

85% of local government expenditures are for labor, and labor costs never go down, they only go up: the ratchet Effect. Public unions are under pressure to secure higher wages and benefits, and the inexorable rise in healthcare costs is squeezing local government budgets. What to do? Raise taxes and fees--there is no alternative (TINA). Jack up parking fees and tickets, double or triple fines, slap on new junk fees, raise sales taxes, property taxes, taxes on mobile phone service--raise them all because TINA.

People are awakening to the Federal Reserve's Big Lie, which the Fed assumes will become "truth" if they repeat it often enough: inflation is transitory, blah, blah, blah: wrong, wrong, wrong. People are awakening to the embedded dynamics of inflation and their expectations have already started changing. Those who can't raise prices will close down, those who can will raise prices.

The Fed's trick of substituting debt for income has also reached the end of the line. As the chart below depicts, America has built an illusory castle of "prosperity" by borrowing trillions of dollars as a substitute for earnings from being productive. The costs of all these layers of debt can only rise now that interest rates are near-zero while inflation is at 5% officially and 10% or more by any real-world measure.

There's only so much disposable income left after servicing debt, and the more debt you pile on, the less income there is to spend on goods and services.

This is a longstanding cycle of civilization. As productivity rises, the human population expands up to the carrying capacity of the biosphere. Labor's earnings rise as producers expand production to meet rising demand. Human population and appetites for goodies keep expanding, overshooting sustainable supply while labor expands to the point that it is in oversupply. Wages decline and labor thus loses purchasing power just as prices of essentials soar. Discontent and disorder increase and states and economies fall.

The Fed's god-like powers will be revealed for what they really are: artifice and illusion. The Fed is wrong: inflation isn't transitory, it's sticky, and there's nothing the Fed can do about it. They might as well stand on the shore and order the tide to reverse.






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.

My new book is available! A Hacker's Teleology: Sharing the Wealth of Our Shrinking Planet 20% and 15% discounts (Kindle $7, print $17, audiobook now available $17.46)

Read excerpts of the book for free (PDF).

The Story Behind the Book and the Introduction.



Recent Podcasts:

Charles Hugh Smith on the Era of Accelerating Expropriations (38 min) (FRA Roundtable Insight)

Covid Has Triggered The Next Great Financial Crisis (34:46)

My COVID-19 Pandemic Posts


My recent books:

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

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

Pathfinding our Destiny: Preventing the Final Fall of Our Democratic Republic ($5 (Kindle), $10 (print), ( audiobook): Read the first section for free (PDF).

The Adventures of the Consulting Philosopher: The Disappearance of Drake $1.29 (Kindle), $8.95 (print); read the first chapters for free (PDF)

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



Become a $1/month patron of my work via patreon.com.




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Tuesday, June 08, 2021

The Sources of Rip-Your-Face-Off Inflation Few Dare Discuss

We're getting a real-world economics lesson in rip-your-face-off increases in prices, and the tuition is about to go up--way up.

Inflation will be transitory, blah-blah-blah--I beg to differ, for these reasons. There are numerous structural sources of inflation, which I define as prices rise while the quality and quantity of goods and services remain the same or diminish. Since the word inflation is so loaded, let's use the more neutral (and more accurate) term decline in purchasing power: an hour of your labor buys fewer goods and services of lesser quality than it did a decade ago or a generation ago.

While the conventional discussion focuses on monetary inflation, i.e. expansion of money supply, the real rip-your-face-off sources have nothing to do with money supply. The rip-your-face-off sources are scarcities that cannot be filled by substitution or globalization.

Consider skilled hands-on labor as an example. Let's say some essential parts in essential infrastructure require welding. There is no substitute for skilled welders. But wait, doesn't economic dogma hold that whenever costs rise, a cheaper substitute will magically manifest out of a swirl of dust? That dogma is false in cases such as skilled labor.

The only substitute for a skilled welder is another skilled welder, and while theory holds that there will be cheaper welders who can be brought in from elsewhere, this is also not true: due to deficiencies in education and a cultural bias against manual labor, there is a shortage of skilled welders virtually everywhere.

But wait, can't we just offshore the project? Globalization always lowers costs, right? So by all means, load your busted boat trailer on a container ship to China, find a welder in Shanghai to do the work, and then ship the boat trailer back. Weeks later, you discover the plan and the specs weren't followed, so all the time and money was wasted. It would have been so much cheaper and faster if you'd just paid the welder in town a few extra bucks and had it done right in a few hours.

But wait--we'll just automate welding and have a robot do it all for next to nothing. OK, fine, pal--you manufacture the robot and program it to trundle out to the busted boat trailer, examine the breaks and do the welding so it actually works again. Go ahead and do that (at gargantuan expense), and then let's see the robot do it right in dozens of different jobs in all sorts of situations, and then add up the cost of all that compared to the relatively low cost of an experienced welder.

Meanwhile, back in the real world, people with high levels of craft skills and experience are scarce, and the fantasy of robots replacing them are untethered from reality.

As I've noted before, central banks can conjure trillions of dollars out of thin air but they can't conjure up experienced, motivated workers willing to work for lousy pay. As I noted last week, the minimum wage would have to double to even get close to the purchasing power of the minimum wage I earned two generations ago. If an economy can't pay its workers enough to live, it doesn't deserve to exist and should be shoveled into the dustbin of history.

Will Skilled Hands-On Labor Finally Become More Valuable? (8/20/20)

Fans of automation are rarely if ever the people tasked with designing, manufacturing and programming robots. Fans of automation don't recognize any limits on the cost and efficacy of automation because their faith in technology is quasi-religious, but in the real world, there are many tasks that don't lend themselves to automation.

If automation was as cheap and easy as many seem to think, then why does Amazon need 1.3 million human employees? In terms of automation, what could be easier than vast warehouses, vehicles and delivery? Amazon certainly has the money and talent to automate everything that can be automated, so why is Amazon hiring hundreds of thousands of humans and boosting wages for 500,000 humans? Amazon to raise pay for 500,000 workers (April 2021, NYT.com)

Although it's heresy to true believers in automation, humans are cheaper and create more value than robots in many settings. Simply put, there are limits on the cost effectiveness and value creation of robotics and automation.

A strong case can be made that automation has drastically reduced the quality of services and created the illusion of effectiveness. For example, you go online, check the inventory in your local outlet, drive down there and discover a bare shelf even though the online app indicates dozens in stock. Where is the value in this travesty of a mockery of a sham?

Those at the top of the wealth-power pyramid avoid the systems they profit from like the plague. Abysmal customer service, poor quality goods, apps that don't work--that's all the debt-serfs will ever experience. Those who own the systems know how awful it all is and they never touch any of the goods and services they pour into the slop buckets of the commoners.

Few seem to have noticed that we're already on the downside of Peak Globalization: labor costs are rising in China, too, for the same reason labor costs are rising here and elsewhere: the number of people willing to do dirty, boring, difficult work for low pay and no benefits is diminishing. Some of this scarcity is due to demographics, as the workforce shrinks, some of it is increasing opportunities for flexible gig work that pays as well or better, and some is a rejection of the status quo. Post-Pandemic Metamorphosis: Never Going Back (6/7/21).

Young Chinese take a stand against pressures of modern life -- by lying down (Washington Post)

Apologists for the wunnerfulness of globalization also fail to take into account the nationalization of critical resources or resources being cut off for geopolitical reasons. Nice copper mine you got there, but now it's ours, and we're raising prices. Go find a substitute for copper, cobalt, rare earths-- gosh, there are no substitutes? Wait a minute, economists promised us scarcity was impossible because there's always a substitute.

In the real world, essentials for which there are no substitutes are scarce, and the world is awakening to the power of those who control these essentials. Globalization was always based on the notion that there was always another place to stripmine, but now the entire planet has been stripmined, put under the plow or clearcut.

The primary source of cost-cutting and profit-boosting--lowering quality and reducing quantities-- have reached limits: if the package gets any smaller, we'll need a microscope to see it. Cutting corners has been going on so long that there are no corners left to be trimmed. Shrinkflation has reduced cereal boxes such that the boxes are not wide enough to stand up on the shelf.

Producers have to raise prices to maintain profits, period. And anyone who lets profit margins slip is cashiered, to be replaced by someone even more pathological and ruthless.

So let's review the sources of inflation:

-- Scarcities of labor across the board. (see job openings chart below).

-- Deglobalization / Peak Globalization.

-- Cost and value-creation limits on automation.

-- All the corners have been cut, now prices have to rise or companies will bankrupt themselves.

-- The 'Take This Job and Shove It' Recession (5/12/21) -- Never Going Back -- people are abandoning the status quo hamster wheel.

Few are willing to acknowledge these sources because they run counter the the fantasy world narrative that's spinning the frenzied hamster wheel. Purchasing power is prosperity, and since purchasing power is in free-fall, so is prosperity--at least for the bottom 90%. Trillions in free money have masked the decline temporarily, but what's transitory isn't inflation-- it's the illusion of prosperity that's transitory. And that's why nobody in a position of power wants to discuss prices being driven by scarcities caused by actual physical limits.

Those who think prices can't double or triple haven't experienced scarcities caused by actual physical limits. There are no substitutes for essentials or skilled labor, globalization has already stripmined the planet and central banks can't print experienced workers willing to work for rapidly devaluing wages in dead-end jobs while billionaires pay pennies in taxes.

We're getting a real-world economics lesson in rip-your-face-off increases in prices, and the tuition is about to go up--way up.




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My COVID-19 Pandemic Posts


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