The Equanimist

Part III.C. Regarding US Unemployment

1. ‘The proof is in the pudding’

Relatively-high, steady unemployment is not compatible with civil society when a relatively acquisitive, motivated people confront social programs that only reinforce hardship and success.

Now, it appears that there are more US Americans who would work than there are US jobs to do. This is not the case. The US people need challenging, satisfying work now more than ever because they are “on edge” and strapped for cash. Moreover, innovation will be product of a lot of hard work.

Notwithstanding that recent “boom” times were characterized by relatively high US unemployment (see Fig. 1 below for data on the US Unemployment Rate since 1948) there must be work for the unemployed to do.

2.

Human-capacity utilization is being slashed instead. It would appear that the steward class does not see high employment as a responsibility of US stewardship. US pundits wonder aloud, who’s at fault for high unemployment?

Many so-called conservatives cry, “People refuse to work! Fat, lazy, beer-drinking, out-of workers – socialists living on the fat of the land are the problem. It’s un-American.”

The left is flabbergasted. “Now, now… It’s the corporate fat cats,” they tell the middle class, as if they had taken vows of poverty. “It’s CEOs and corporate lobbyists, who laze about smoke-filled rooms, while you build America.”

3. ‘Finger-pointing’ (AKA, Proximal cause)

Of course, an individual must be incentivized and make a choice to work. Individuals do not incentivize themselves. Who is responsible to incentivize workers? Are they doing that or not?

Data on US income inequality clearly show diverging pay scales of small-and-shrinking proportion at the bottom and large-and-growing proportion at the top. That is, it looks like the topmost tier is and has been consolidating wealth and removing some portion of monetary incentives for decades.

Further, relatively “high-paying” (middle-class) jobs are disappearing to foreign nations where they can be done more cheaply. In place of such jobs, so-called “McJobs” have appeared. Many find such work neither satisfying nor worthwhile.

But, now, all jobs are coming under the axe as stewards and managers ‘restructure’ to ‘maximize efficiencies and profits’.

These data strongly suggest that US workers are and have been losing battles for middle-class wages and satisfying jobs. Individuals within the steward class that makes policy and those under them, who manage finance and companies, and those under them, who manage divisions, and so forth must be accountable because stewards create jobs, set pay scales, hire and fire.

However, in that stewards want to live a little bit better than they have at any instant (e.g., now) are they not just like their compatriots? They’re just a little better at getting what they want.

4. ‘The meat of the matter’ (AKA, Distal cause)

What an individual feels and believes and can accomplish for itself has steadily gained importance in the western world, esp. the US. Now, it appears that the individual matters more than societal concerns, of which we admit fewer and fewer over time. The result is a new west where, much like the old west, it’s every man for himself. A middle-class democracy cannot exist indefinitely in such a state.

Some examples stand out from the pack. Bernard Madoff and Allen Stanford clearly take first and second place, respectively. Others fade into the woodwork. If, for example, we assume that Ben Bernanke had compelling evidence to suggest that the Merrill deal must go through and pressed Ken Lewis to make the deal, does it matter if Mr. Bernanke did what he believed was best for the country in pressing Mr. Lewis to complete the deal? It must! Can Mr. Bernanke have violated US law if he did what a preponderance of evidence suggested was best for the country despite the fact that a relatively small group of risk takers suffered a financial setback, or, he might have violated the terms of an imperfect law? Which is more important, an individual or the country? The country or the law?

The good of a country does not change over time. Our understanding of it does, and so, our laws change to better approximate the national interest because a country’s laws exist first and foremost to effect the national interest! As such, absent foreseeable, avoidable and/or greater wrong, it hardly seems an act can violate law if it is reasonable, appears the best of alternatives and is intended to effect national prosperity.

Yet, secular, self-centered individuals now want and believe that they can do whatever they like within the law without repercussion (because “it’s a free country”, virtually everything not specifically addressed by current law). The law is become sacrosanct. The law is become an offensive weapon.

This may be par for the course among third-world ruling classes, but, it cannot work within the context of a middle-class democracy precisely because it obviates the possibility of a middle class: When one societal group is so inclined, capable of outmaneuvering another group and consistently allowed to take advantage of same, the long term result must be oppression or eradication of the weaker group, here, the US middle class.

Approaching an extreme in the US, when a plurality of individuals threatens civil society, self-centered and selfish individuals give only cursory thought to others – rarely more than is absolutely necessary – and, generally, persuade themselves of the rightness and goodness of their own interests: freewill, as a philosophy, does not allow the possibility of responsibility for actions that do not violate the law but only actions that violate the law. Believing thus absolves law-abiding individuals of guilt and, in so doing, sets in motion a positive and pleasurable feedback loop. Moreover (in free countries like the US) coupled, extreme visions of freewill and individuality effectually subvert the justice system: laws addressing specific actions cannot possibly foresee infinitely-diverse bad actions, and, because we do not admit an enforceable “spirit of the law”, bad actors are free to act unless there’s a law that prevents them from doing so.

When bad actors act in the self-interests described, while they fight to keep the law off their bad actions and achieve success as a result, they attract and make converts of others.

The result is a socioeconomy so corrupt that is does not see itself as corrupt. Corruption is become business as usual. And, rising unemployment over time (as illustrated below) is just a symptom.

Fig. 1, Unemployment Rate 1948 Jan – 2009 Aug, based on unemployment rate data by month over a period 1948 Jan thru 2009 Aug obtained from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Red line is linear regression calculated by Microsoft Excel. Upper (green) and lower (yellow) brackets highlight amplitude of swings.

The unemployment rate has clearly trended up over this time period (from approx. 5% to approx. 6.3% – a rise of approx. 25% in the portion of the population that is unemployed at any instant). More disturbing, however, is the change in unemployment-cycle amplitude in the postwar period, illustrated by the brackets. The highs and lows seem to be diverging. But, finally, the troughs are getting higher. During “boom” times US unemployment is staying higher.

5. The positive feedback loop in action

I can make more money if I pay less. I want to make more money because I want and believe that I deserve more. Nobody is stopping me from employing fewer people. And, I can employ them at a lower rate.

Since I don’t believe that I have any responsibility to employ people, and, I have no responsibility to my fellow countrymen, I will find ways to increase productivity with fewer workers and pay them less.

…I have done so, and, I have kept more money. I live a slightly more lavish lifestyle and have consolidated more wealth. But, I know I can live a more lavish lifestyle and consolidate more wealth if I can further increase worker productivity while keeping money in my pocket. Moreover, I can pay even less if I outsource relatively “high-paying”, middle-class jobs to “business-friendly” nations.

I will invest in technologies that eliminate the worker and outsource middle-class jobs to lower-class countries where I will pay middle-class workers according to lower-class rates.

…Success!

Other people see what I am doing. They are impressed. And, they do it, too.

The unemployment rate ticks ever up. Some hypothesize that the natural unemployment rate might not be even 5% but something higher. And, so forth and so on.

Of course, the principles that underlie this logic extend beyond employment to all facets of human endeavor.

6. A curious justification: human rights

While the justification described may be sufficient to have set the loop in motion, still, present justification for actions that negatively impact the domestic socioeconomy jibe nicely with “progressive-”liberal ideology. Specifically, so-called “bleeding hearts” would put an end to injustice in the world. Irrespective merit-of-the argument, the argument supports substantial US investment in foreign countries: it takes a lot of money to elevate a poor population from poverty into the middle class.

Will to furnish that money never existed in the US steward class. (The same people have used profits of outsourcing and insourcing to pay themselves more.) Yet, the plan was clearly lucrative over the short term.

Jobs were moved overseas, and, money that would have lined US-middle-class pockets went with them. This would have been fine and could have been sufficient to raise many poor foreigners out of poverty if it had been temporary. But, wages of poor foreign workers did not rapidly approach US-middle-class wages, and, adequate foreign demand would not develop. (It seems plausible that many foreign populations are generally less acquisitive than the US population and will, as such, tolerate a low standard of living that US people will not. Further, foreign workers who might pressure foreign stewards routinely migrate to the US leaving a vanishingly motivated people behind. Thus, foreign stewards might easily fail to see the benefit of higher domestic standards of living.)

While outsourcing and insourcing effectively grew the US workforce out of all proportion to the number of available US jobs and the same globalization replaced US workers with cheaper foreign workers, US-middle-class income continued to decline. Moreover, the goods that the US middle class consumed and the services with which it was furnished originated overseas with greater frequency. This further diminished US capacity for demand.

When the US middle class could no longer afford the effort to spread US-middle-class democracy in a hostile world, US stewards doubled down. In order to pay for the plan in the face of diverging pay scales, rising US unemployment and relatively weak foreign demand, the bankrupt US middle class was furnished credit that US consumers were eager to use. But, now the plan must work because there was never any hope that US-middle-class people could repay the staggering debt they would accrue if foreign wages did not rise to US-middle-class levels, and, outsourced jobs never “returned” home. Further, the US steward class was ill-prepared to cover its losses and never intended to do so.

We now know it was a bad bet. The US middle-class could not prop up poor foreigners whose steward classes would not adapt to the demands of progressive-liberal US ambitions. The US middle class was gambled into servitude.

But, the US people didn’t “come to America” to be poor, indentured servants. Just the opposite. “No taxation without representation!” they cry. “Live free or die!” The US has always attracted relatively acquisitive and extremely motivated people who are looking for a “better” life, revolutionaries. Moreover, many tens or hundreds of millions of US Americans have already lived some version of the “American dream”. Taken together, these facts strongly suggest that the US middle class, without anyplace to go, will revolt.

It must be time to retrench.

7. Solution to the example, unemployment (AKA, “It’s past time to get tough”)

The US steward class must cover its losses and, then, institute the changes that must be made in order to regain standing in the world and maintain a vibrant civil society:

(1) (a) Raise minimum wage for all those emancipated and/or adult US individuals to some “relatively-high”, middle-class level (based not on a USD amount but some fraction of the upper wage); and (b) guarantee unemployment benefits (at some significantly lower, “poverty” rate) to every citizen whose household income is below the minimum-wage figure per capita.

(2) Guarantee health coverage to every US American.

(3) (a) Stop trade with countries that refuse to adopt similar policies; (b) severely limit immigration from same; and (c) prevent domestic entities and other entities based in trading-partner countries from outsourcing services to and developing products in non-trading-partner countries.

8. How it works

The unemployed cannot pay their own unemployment benefits, let alone medical bills. And, under this plan, there is significant benefit to work. Still, the plan is ineffectual if US business entities can get visas for cheap labor and employ cheap labor abroad. So, the law must be reformed to stanch the flood of cheap foreign labor.

Thus, under this plan, US employers are effectively compelled to employ every emancipated or adult US citizen and end the deadly trend to mass poverty that results when the steward class does not rightly estimate its relationship to a civil, acquisitive and motivated middle class. At the same time, the unemployed have strong incentive to work to stay out of poverty.

Which is better for the employer: an employee who does nothing and gets paid, or an employee who adds to net income?

Domestic employers will bend over backward attempting to make money off of those whom they have to pay (i.e., US Americans) and the number of US jobs will expand out of proportion to the number of US workers. Otherwise, US companies might (1) move to the third world, where they need not pay or (2) regress (i.e., forfeit high quality of life). In the event that more than a very few choose (1) they’ll have either to change the third world, or, as in (2) they won’t live well because demand for their goods will be much lower and, as a result, their incomes will drop substantially while they will face a hostile population in relatively wild lands. That is, there isn’t enough room at the top tier of the third world to absorb a mass exodus of top-tier first-worlders, and, it seems unlikely that the steward class would choose to recreate the third world at home.

For the same reason that companies will not relocate en masse, the US people will find it better to enjoy the comforts that a little work brings. It appeals to virtually everybody to work for “something better” because it’s human nature (as will be explored in some later part).

In any case, the US will retain advantages that it has always had: diverse, creative, motivated US people working within the framework of the US constitution and (now centuries-old) institutions. While restored domestic-demand capacity will grow the socioeconomy, the kind of work that US people have done historically will breed continued innovation and further progress.

That this plan is good for every US American and the citizens of all US trading partners is self-apparent. But, further, it is good for citizens of our non-trading partners because it provides the strongest incentive to make progress on issues that plague these countries (e.g., income inequality and human rights). They will have no choice but to commit to change or squander US investment. Now that these countries have experienced growth and higher living standards associated with US-middle-class investment, it should be hard to go back to the old ways.

A sliver of a slice of US American and foreign stewards will understand that it means an end to tyranny and, because they cannot see how that benefits them (either because they actually cannot understand or because it flies in the face of the supreme belief that their interests are more important than their nations’) the plan will not suffice to persuade them that the next phase in the evolution of civil society will afford a higher quality of life for all.

They will fight it tooth and nail – not because it’s a bad plan (bad for the US and US-trading partners) but because it is a good plan that is good for the US, US-trading partners and the world; and, to their way of thinking (which equates personal benefit with personal wealth) that’s bad for them.

REPOST: Part I. "It’s Just Business"

While I continue to conceive this ongoing untitled series (among other things) I think this — a week during which banks (e.g., Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase) reported extraordinary profits while ordinary citizens, who footed the bill, are jobless and homeless — this is a perfect time to repost Part I. “It’s Just Business”.


How does a businessperson* (often a salesperson in this capacity) “make” money? In the simplest sense, s/he buys or finances or otherwise brings goods and services (that somebody/-ies designed/engineered/whathaveyou and produced or otherwise will either provide or facilitate – sometimes his or her own goods or services) to market where s/he peddles them to the consumer. To the extent that s/he profits off this ingenuity and productivity or other work s/he makes more or less money.

Of course, design/engineering/whathaveyou/production &c. cost money, and, materials have inherent cost. For the sake of argument, assume that the total cost of the product is its worth irrespective remuneration owed a businessperson (or businesspeople) in his or her (or their) managing/marketing/sales capacity. In a freemarket, to the extent that a businessperson can keep total production or service costs down, convince a consumer to pay a higher price above a product’s worth and to buy more of same s/he makes more money. That is, businesspeople (often paid bonuses/commissions/whathaveyou) are incentivized to devise techniques to sell products and services at increasingly high profit margins above their worth and to do so en masse whenever possible.

By nature, this system cannot make anybody rich if everybody does it so the rules are such that it is very difficult (generally impossible for most people) to pull off. (If, for example, few can understand codified techniques and fewer still can afford the training and fewer still will be able to do both and fewer still will be able to apply the training skillfully, we’ve already narrowed down the population of potential businesspeople a great deal; and, in this way, everybody cannot do it). Nor can it work if people are given to know that the worth of the products that some businessperson is peddling is less than the price that they are being asked to pay.

‘Transparency’ is, thus, the enemy of the businessperson, who is incentivized to misrepresent actual product worth and obfuscate his or her own share in the profits (and that of his or her employer where applicable). If s/he can swindle one percent (or two or even five percent) on a million cheap units at one (or two or even a dozen) times a year then swindling becomes so extremely advantageous that s/he lives like a god.

Language becomes a weapon! Jargon, jargon as far as the eye can see. “First-in, last-out” (sometimes, FILO) accounting, for example, what’s that? Imagine that you have a hundred identical widgets. The first one that you bought only cost you five dollars and the last one that you bought cost you one hundred dollars. Further, for the sake of simplicity, suppose that the cost of each successive widget is always (over some finite period) more than the last. You sell a widget. FILO allows you to claim that though you’ve got a hundred identical widgets in your stock that range in cost from five dollars to one hundred dollars, you kept the cheap widget and sold the most expensive one for a relatively small profit or even a loss. What a concept!

What’s a company’s profit margin? How many widgets at what profit margin does a company sell in a given period? How much does it make? What does it own? What does it owe? What’s it worth? What are you really getting when you buy a share of stock in some company? Financial widgets, shares of stock, for example, take the cake as far as widgets go.

A quick look at the “Financials” section of a stock listing from a free website like Google reveals a list of “Total Revenue”, “Gross Profit”, “Operating Income”, and “Net Income”; the “Balance Sheet” section lists “Total Current Assets”, “Total Assets”, “Total Current Liabilities”, “Total Liabilities”, and “Total Equity”; the “Cash Flow” section lists “Net Income/Starting Line”, “Cash from Operating Activities”, “Cash from Investing Activities”, “Cash from Financing Activities”, and “Net Change in Cash”. Have you got any idea what that means? Probably. But do you really know – to a certainty? Do you, for example, know how they account? Know how they report? Even the P/E varies from site to site.

Delving into a business report reveals a seemingly limitless array of terms each denoting a specific concept and probably connoting another (that even educated businesspeople and financial experts cannot be expected to fully understand) strung together in a sort of word soup. Delving into the fine print on a so-called “financial product” is somewhat less revealing. Are the terms useful? When people who know what they mean talk to each other and interact, sure; to everybody else, they’re worse than useless – not merely incomprehensible but misleading when incorrect meanings are inferred from context clues – misunderstandings that few people have energy, time, intellectual capacity and resources to clear up.

Jargon makes it impossible for most people to understand what a widget is actually worth. And, it is generally impossible to uncover what a businessperson is actually “making”. This is by design – even when the intent of the information provider may be to provide good intel. A small few will have a pretty good idea. But why wouldn’t they play it close to the vest? They’re out to make money – especially if they’ve put the time and energy into understanding it all. And, everybody can’t make money because, all else being equal, if everybody made money then there’d be smaller shares for the few, and, they could not live like gods.

Businesspeople know that they thrive at the expense of the many – that somebody actually starves so that they might live in greater luxury. And, that’s why they give meaningless, obtuse and arcane answers to even simple questions: they wield deceit to their advantage at others’ expense. Even otherwise respectable men and women who drive innovation and get it to the marketplace, get rich organizing a salesforce (or otherwise act as such) in order to swindle more money out of consumers’ pockets than “their” goods and services are worth and to persuade “willing” investors to capitalize them.

But, when a businessperson can control the laborforce, too, profit climbs even higher. So, the same logic undergirds many hiring processes and pay packages. The savvy businessman or -woman attempts to hire people at some price below their worth, and so forth, in order to maximize his or her own profits. They despise the unions for this reason.

Academic institutions (businesses themselves, just ask the head coach of a good college football team) furnish a particularly elegant and relatively uniform example with which the author is intimately familiar. Colleges and universities generally offer new hires just a little less than somebody who has already worked at same for some short time, like a year. H.R. people either tell the candidate that they will make some salary toward the bottom of a range because they’re new (inexperienced in some way or an unproven commodity) or they leave it to the candidate to infer. Then, when the time arrives for a raise, it turns out that the institutions give only cost-of-living increases. In other words, new hires don’t make less because they’re ‘junior’ but because they haven’t yet received cost-of-living increases. That is, by their logic and practice, a new hire should get what the oldest hire at the same tier is being paid because the old hire is not getting a cent for performance or experience – just cost-of-living.

Savvy businesspeople get it at both ends: charging exorbitant fees (see the escalating cost of tuition for example) and ‘keeping costs down’. This is the freemarket. “It’s just business.”

Is it too much to expect that businesspeople should understand why a civilized society must curtail their prowess? We don’t let physically superior people run rough shod over their weaker cousins. We don’t let large men, for example, beat smaller women or take from them what they want. We make them conform to the requirements of a civil society. (But we let shrewd crafty people give weaker people the business.) We must curtail even the aptitude of all people who would run rough shod over our civil society and we know this.

For some time businesspeople have either shrugged or otherwise kept our laws off their bodies by convincing people that capitalism is equal to democracy, that patriotism is equal to rabid individualism. But, we know that capitalism and democracy are not part in parcel. And, patriotism is antithetical to rabid individualism. Patriotism is knowing and doing (and, to some extent, feeling) what’s best for your country, your state, your community, your home – because “charity begins at home;” n’est-ce pas?

So, what is the businessperson worth? What’s s/he earned? Now may be one of those rare opportunities when you get to ask and be heard to answer. Let me suggest that we start by asking what we’re worth – what are you worth? – because what you pay him or her will bear directly on the value of what you earn.

Would you pay a businessperson a million dollar salary/”pay package”/whathaveyou – how’s about ten million dollars – or a hundred million dollars – when you make twenty-five or fifty or a hundred thousand? If s/he had to come to you for it, would you authorize it? The answer is probably, “No.”

Even when we assume “freewill” – when we say, “Biology, Chemistry and Physics are crap” – when we say stupid things like “anybody can achieve the American dream” (while we know full-well that many just don’t have the intellectual wherewithal to succeed) – even when we allow all “men” are “created” equal to mean that everybody is just as capable as everybody else, how much remuneration does a salesperson, a marketer, a swindler deserve? What should we incentivize? Do we want the ‘best and the brightest’ people to go into business?

It’s not just business. It never was.


______________________________________________________


*Definitions

Business (n.): (1) “widgets for money;” an exchange of widgets (final products) and other services accompanied by terms and conditions that adequately (if incomprehensibly) describe same (such as they are) for money (an abstract representation of work – buffer between work and remuneration) (as in, We do business on four continents); (2) organization of the production or provision of same widgets and services (as in, She manages a small business, and, He generates a lot of business for the company); (3) organization of the production or provision of same widgets or services for the purpose of (1, above) (as in, That’s no way to run a business); (4) the hierarchy within which widgets and services are made or otherwise provided and sold (as in, That’s the business); (5) a beating (as in, I gave him the business.)


Businessperson (n.): (1) somebody who does, generates or conducts (runs) exchanges of widgets and other services accompanied by terms and conditions that adequately describe same for money; (2) a facilitator of same (e.g., a regulator or policy maker); (3) a gangster (as in, I’m a businessman).

Part III.B. Fleshing out the Case for Determined Will; (also, "You" are not the "you" you think you are.)

Posted in Philosophy, Political Philosophy, Public Policy, Untitled Work Number I by equanimist on June 17, 2009

B. Fleshing out the Case for Determined Will (also, “You” are not the “you” you think you are.)


The universe came into being. Very probably (it seems) there was a “big bang” at which time individuality first became possible. Expansion. Expansion. Expansion. Accretion. Collisions. &c. Many of us have seen “The Universe”. Some of us have even had a little science. Billions of years of evolution.

Either that or God created the world in seven days. It doesn’t matter how it happened per se – as long as we accept the following: For every action an equal and opposite reaction occurred in the past, and, it’s the same now. Thus, history looks to us a seamless web of causes and effects thereof.

As such, it cannot but be clear that a person (the phenotype, or the product of gene X environment interactions – i.e., not the literal translation of genetic material into a human creature but the imperfect translation of environmentally-modified genetic material into a real organism), a person is (like everything under the sun) the product of interactions.

That is, even when we assume a very proximal beginning, it is perfectly clear that genetic information, which codes the individual, must be beyond the control of same; that “random” protein production as a result of the environment of the womb is entirely beyond the control of a fetus; — that the plans upon which a human (or any other organism) is based, the oven in which it is baked and the product itself are beyond its purview.

But, then, neither can a mind choose what it will be taught (i.e., conditioned to understand – and the reactions attendant. Do not confuse what it will be taught with what it will know. I know many things I do not believe. You likewise. It is correct, here, to understand “what I have been taught” as “what I have been led to believe and do believe and act upon” – to interpret belief as rule – the very complicated rubric that guides decision-making.) The mind can only reason what it knows by what it believes. Yet an organism can neither choose its characteristics nor its upbringing.

Still, would you assert that it is in control of itself? When do Biology, Chemistry and Physics – a history of causes and effects thereof (entirely beyond the control of the individual that is shaped) – when does it all turn to rot? When does magic take over? How? And, wherewithal?

Some say, there is a soul and that the soul is neither earthly nor bound by earthly laws. Yet, even if there is a soul existing discreetly, it does not seem to effect that which is contrary to physical laws and would seem (like the capability of the body) subject to physical limitations. Even those of us who believe in miracles do not suppose that they happen at every waking moment! Do we?

It is as ignorant to say the mind can effect that which is not possible as it is to say that the body can – that when I flap my arms, I will fly! Though it seems the most natural thing in the world to assume that I am master of my own mind and body, I cannot be. (Ironically, however, “I” – body and mind – not sentience – am more or less efficacious master of everything I survey. That is, while I cannot be my own cause, I can be somebody else’s!)

A passenger – experiencing the perceptions to be afforded by a machine built and refined to a purpose – interacting with the universe, and, though the machine may effect changes in both itself and its surroundings by choice (i.e., deliberation, decision and action) the manner of action is necessarily beyond the capacity of the inhabitant (you or I – sentience) to control.

Reduced to a sentience that inhabits a biological machine (entirely the subject of, never master over, Physics and subject to exigencies at all times, how can I be either blame- or praise-worthy? Let us hold that thought.

Part III.A. Mutual Exclusivity

A. Mutual Exclusivity


Like “everything”, belief in freewill – the singular ability (generally attributed to “higher” animals and their familiars) to think, decide and act irrespective some inexorable extra-personal causative agent or agents (i.e., responsibly) – belief in freewill is over-determined.

It just seems right; does it not? I think, decide, act and can “observe” myself as I do so. Intuited, as it were, observations of freewill originate within me. Why question it?

Further, the concept of “personal responsibility” (i.e., the concept that I am master of my body and, therefore, uniquely accountable for its actions) is deeply ingrained and, generally, “works”. Application of the concept of freewill to life’s problems can and frequently does produce desired results.

Yet, the concept is integral to western justice systems, which are (almost universally and in toto) justified by freewill, or, “personal responsibility”. The “justice system” is supposed to “hold” individuals “responsible” and “punish” them for their bad actions. (Not so “capitalism”, a justice system, itself, which does not seek to “hold” individuals “responsible” and “reward” them for their good actions but as aforementioned in Part I.) Henceforward, it would seem, to extirpate the concept could turn justice on its head.

Moreover, it is often argued that, personal responsibility is the one best rational justification for productivity. And, this may be closest to home for many “successful” people [who (as it happens) either are or are not endowed by their creator with certain gifts] both social stratification and capitalism are virtually predicated upon freewill, without which (it seems) the socioeconomy could be imperiled.

Besides, when we assume determined will, many of us reach distasteful conclusions. Do we disavow determined will on that basis?

Some will understand “determinism” to mean that it doesn’t matter what a body does. This is patently absurd. Still, when we assume determined will the individual is reduced to a sentience, which can be neither more nor less blame- (or praise-) worthy than another – making the human experience just that.

Paradoxically, it is only when we assume determined will that we have control over the universe: I must be causative to be cause.

Personal and extra-personal control are mutually exclusive possibilities (as with black and white, up and down, left and right, ability and disability.) If we accept the former we disavow the latter and the converse.

Part II. Worth

“You say it is the good cause that hallows even war. I say unto you: It is the good war that hallows any cause.” – Nietzsche

Here, I would like (desperately) to write something else; that a man or woman is worth some moral equivalent in dollars; or, at least, that human dignity is valuable and productivity still more so. Peace costs. Loyalty costs. High living standards cost.

But this is not the place to argue that everybody is created equal – for better or worse – equally incapable of self-control; that freewill is an unsupportable postulate accepted by ignorants and promoted by spin doctors; that “you” are not the “you” you think yourself to be.

I will write these things – elsewhere – in some other ‘Part’.

The trouble is that these arguments against unmitigated avarice and megalomania break down when opponents deny reason (when no rational moral argument can stand up, and, we are debased). (Religious doctrine accomplished what reason seems inadequate to do. The fear of God served a purpose after all!)

When push comes to shove, a person is worth what s/he can and will take and defend. And, nothing can be taken that is not sacrificed (except in death).

Capitalism has so debased us. It is a “survival of the fittest” – a constant contest, which does not generally mean a triumph of the “best” but, specifically, some fruitful advantage (whether it be defined as child-bearing or wealth-consolidation – or betterment, but let us save that discussion for some other place).

In a freemarket, I am worth what I can and will take [from you] by force (intellectual or, now more rarely, physical) and am then willing and able to protect. [It’s extraordinarily counterproductive! How much work, for example, is just contest? And how much productivity is sapped by same? And how do our lives suffer as a result?]

We (people) are not (intrinsically) adversaries at a zero-sum game, but Capitalism makes us so. Ergo, it behooves me to be confident; to deny you; and to take some prize. I should think myself better and belittle you; I should value my assets and disparage yours; demand everything and leave nothing; have everything because having is triumph, and, triumph is controlling influence, and, controlling influence rules – not the best – but triumph.

To wit, capital is squandered.

When credit (not synonymous with but equivalent to effective triumph) is controlling influence – credit is everything! So, we contest for credit. “Good” and “bad” notwithstanding, when opposing forces meet, a slim “edge” wins, and, the “loser” is overcome – effectively negated in a binary capitalist system. But, how else can it be when triumph is everything (and everything else, perforce, is nothing)?

Worse, however, opposing forces are susceptible to “other” forces. Some of these other forces will favor one or another of two dueling bodies; some will come at odd angles. – An arch is “strong” not because it fights itself but because it supports itself and so distributes forces so as to maintain the integrity of its shape.

Society that fights at itself is inherently vulnerable. Locked in mortal combat, one with another, US citizens make themselves prey – needlessly, because US resources are suited to the task of cooperation.

This, however, is the reality. We have come down to agree that you are only worth what you can wrest from somebody else. Why? Because we are not a country – not a community – but three hundred million individuals loosely associated into real physical and ideological fractions. The enemy is your own spouse – or maybe not your spouse but the opposite “sex”; your neighbor – or maybe not your neighbor but somebody down the street – in the next state – half way across the continent – on the other side of the world. We’re “male” and “female” and “transgendered” – “straight”, “homosexual” and “bisexual” – “pants-wearers” and “pansies” and “housewives” (oh, my!) – “socialists”, “liberals”, “moderates”, “conservatives”, “fascists”, whathaveyou – “Christians”, “Muslims”, “Jewish”, and etcetera – “African Americans”, “Mexican Americans”, “Italian Americans”, “Europeans” and so forth – “Pennsylvanians” and “New Jerseyans”, for example – “Philadelphians”, “Princetonians”, “Trentonians” – “Smiths”, “Jonses”, and “Rodriguezes” – “fathers” and “mothers” – “sons” and “daughters” – “black sheep” and “good children”.

What are you worth but what you can wrest from another? Nothing.

The “American Dream” has gone up in a puff of Capitalism – not socialism, or republicanism or democracy, but capitalism.

Dropping Money from Helicopters and Other Hard Choices (Update 1)

Posted in Economics, Economy, Political Economy, Political Philosophy, Public Policy, Socioeconomy by equanimist on December 18, 2008

 

i.

Hardly conservative, over-consolidation of wealth at the expense of the US middle class is a reckless game. High productivity and rapidly cycling currency fuel high living standards and rapid growth. Therefore, no long-term solution to the financial crisis is likely to exist apart from (1) upward wage pressure on the bottom 95% of US Americans (2) re-regulation to include incentivization of productivity and innovation and (3) re-inculcation of some sense of civic duty. Near term recapitalization of the US middle class should be the single most effective measure to stave off the ugly prospect of a deflationary spiral.

Much of what is being written, like this short ‘glossary’ entry at the Guardian, explains that “quantitative easing” is akin to dropping money out of helicopters. But, that does not rightly describe recent actions by the Fed. What the Fed has done is to make borrowing very cheap.

Potential borrowers aren’t any more credit worthy now than they were last week (or last year). Moreover, in the event that there are well capitalized bankers who can be persuaded to make risky loans, additional credit now will only kick the can down the road. We all know the one about the guy who borrowed money from Peter to pay Paul.

The current crisis is in some ways not unlike a balloon that, having developed a tiny pin prick, gets a big hole in it. It deflates and cannot be re-inflated until it’s patched. The balloon need not deflate entirely if something can interrupt the process. Might we not either (a) stop up the hole until it can be permanently patched or (b) balance loss with gain?

Unlike an ordinary balloon, a hot air balloon is at once inflated and constantly hemorrhaging air. In fact, there is a current of air flowing through the balloon. This is kind of what the current economy is like. Right now there is a shortage of air flow (liquidity) and a big hole (a lack of confidence). So to avoid a nasty tumble, supply air (real money) until the hole can be patched.

ii.

For some time now nothing has been worth more than some smaller fraction of the price at which it sold because of shrinking real relative middle-class profit shares. Only over-confidence made possible too-easy credit, which, in turn, made the relatively high US lifestyle possible in the face of excessive wealth consolidation.

As is well documented, real profit shares distributed to the bottom 95% of the US population peaked decades ago and income inequality has since risen sharply. A graph of top decile income shares makes this pretty clear (from Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez, “Income Inequality in the United States, 1913-1998,” The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Vol. CXVIII, Feb 2003, issue 1).


At the outset of the Great Depression of the 20th C. income inequality was very high. In years that led up to US involvement in the Second World War, income inequality plummeted, and, it remained relatively low and constant for decades. Disparity in income ramped up throughout the 1970s and exploded in the 1980s (and again in the 2000s; see the International Labor Organization press release cited below) not because productivity and profits began a long decline but because the uppermost decile (later the uppermost 5% and, still later, some smaller fraction thereof) accorded itself increasingly large pieces of the pie (for specific data to augment the above see, for example, Productivity change in the nonfarm business sector, 1947-2006 at the US Dept. of Labor, and Historical Income Tables, Table H-2 and No. HS-26. Share of Aggregate Income Received by Each Fifth and Top 5 Percent of Families: 1947 to 2001 at the US Census Bureau). This graph, unfortunately, stops at 1998. The International Labor Organization estimated that “in the United States in 2007, the chief executive officers (CEOs) of the 15 largest companies earned 520 times more than the average worker.

Now fully 80% of US Americans make a real relative pittance unprecedented in the post-war era. That they don’t think they’re poor doesn’t mean they’re not – only that authority figures from the lowliest parent to the Commander-in-Chief have successfully convinced US Americans to compare down and trade down the socioeconomic ladder (to a more or less indentured servitude as debt ballooned).  See, for detailed analysis, the Trade Union Advisory Committee to the OECD summary of “Growing Unequal?” (to which I have linked here).

I reiterate what I have previously written: to attribute the current crisis to a lack of liquidity is to miss the point entirely. The balance of US stewards now promulgate economic visions and institute policies without even a foothold in reality. On the one hand, average US Americans are sold an outsized bill of goods while, on the other, the elite who profit on sales hoard and lobby for deregulation to further consolidate means. When convenient, the US consumer is ‘resilient’ and can be depended upon. S/he won’t ‘let the terrorists win’. S/he’ll ‘go out and spend’. And, ‘The free market will sort itself out.’ When convenient, consumerism is decried and the same beleaguered people are told that it is some fault of the US consumer that s/he cannot manage money and, moreover, that s/he does not need (or deserve) and should not get a bailout!

Credit cannot and will not now change the fact that many among the bottom 95% can no longer afford to pay debts they’ve been encouraged to amass, and, will (if furnished) only run the average US household further into debt (compound the problem per se).

But, the point is moot. Bankers should not be so foolish as to make loans that they know borrowers cannot repay. Potential borrowers, then, should not contract loans. Therefore, home prices should continue to plummet until they are priced so cheaply that these poor citizens can afford them. Likewise, goods and services should be sold ever more cheaply or sit on store shelves because the unreal equity (over-confidence) that fueled US consumerism is vanishing. Businesses, then, should be unable to meet their obligations and, unable to recoup even costs, they should fail putting more people out of work.

Mounting job losses, then, should force more homeowners into foreclosure or disadvantageous home sales… More importantly, US productivity and means of production along with the service sector should contract sharply as the supply of goods and services races to catch up with rapidly contracting markets. But, in the event that this is the new economy of extraordinary income inequality, the world furnishes way too many material goods and services – that is, precisely, in a new low-income world too many people are currently employed.

iii.

Congress must act now

The housing market cannot be expected to resolve itself any time soon. As clearly illustrated in the following graph (excerpted from, “‘Pay option’ mortgages could swell foreclosures,” MSNBC.com) foreclosures should be expected to accelerate through the first half of 2009 and only briefly stabilize in the second half before the bottom likely falls out on the housing market in 2010.


In the meantime, socioeconomic stability and quality of life, in addition to productivity and innovation, should continue to deteriorate. Poor, hungry, homeless, shiftless people are not conducive to democracy and should be expected to undermine national security and public safety. [Even wayward adolescents know what Libertarians and Republicans reject – that poor, hungry, homeless, shiftless people are easily “turned”. (Why do we feel allegiance? To whom and to what institutions do we feel it?)]

Still, these are only risks (however probable).

The fastest, surest way to avert these risks is to revalue goods and services by proxy relative to the bottom 95%. The more dollars there are chasing some constant goods-and-services the more expensive they will be. If hoarders cannot be persuaded to recapitalize the US middle class (i.e., furnish dollars to prop up their own way of life) then it falls to legislative bodies and appointees to make the hard choice. Give real money to those who will spend it and more to those who are more likely to spend it than to those who won’t. (Heaven forbid, right? Redistribution is only “right” when money moves up the socioeconomic ladder.)

Still, no long-term solution should be complete that does not effect upward wage pressure. That is, if the US middle class does not have continued support when government programs wind down, all else being equal, things will just revert. So, for example, though enough money might stabilize property values over the short- to medium-term, property values will again fall right away as government money is withdrawn. Bring income inequality back down to more optimal levels (approximately what it was throughout the 1950s, for example).

Short of legislation of pay scales, radical upward wage pressure will only be effected by either increasing the number of jobs out of all proportion to the worker pool or decreasing the number of workers to fill those positions that exist. To that end, I reiterate, it seems most reasonable to impose controls over outsourcing and insourcing as same controls are in the interest of national security.

Giving banks money does nothing to any of the aforementioned ends. Stop doing it. As ought be clear, this cannot and will not jumpstart the US economy and, it would be achieved just as well if the US middle class were recapitalized – dropping money from helicopters.

A Note on Innovation

Posted in Economy, Philosophy, Political Philosophy by equanimist on November 8, 2008

It is oft observed that it’d be great to assemble a sort of “Manhattan Project” to tackle energy requirements within a context of changing climate. This, however, is unrealistic in the present environment.

As incentive, capitalism offers pay. Pay is, presently, a function of the value of profit shares – not performance based except insofar as performance increases profitability.

When pay is proportional to some finite profit, it pays to keep the profit-sharing coterie small because as the number of individuals with whom finite profits must be shared goes up, individual profits go down. That is, pay is inversely proportional to the number of individuals with whom profit is shared.

Collaboration, which must entail profit sharing, is at odds with maximally valuable profit shares.

The same can be observed of coteries acting in collaboration. Developing and maintaining proprietary technology locks up a stranglehold on a particular segment of the market place and further increases profitability, which, in turn, increases the value of profit shares (pay).

However, profit shares are most valuable (and pay in turn is maximal) when the profit-sharing coterie is small, some maximal market share is garnered, and the cost of providing a product or service is minimal relative to the price at which same can be sold. That is, it pays to keep costs down.

Research and development are expensive. Ergo, it may be advantageous to the individual (whose pay is proportional to the value of his/her profit shares) to dispense with research and development altogether! Certainly, pay increases as research and development decrease.

In this way, capitalism rewards dealers in cheap antiquated goods and services who can manage to sell same at some price above their worth. Collaboration, research and development are dis-incentivized. And, innovation suffers as a direct result.

Posted in Economics, Economy, Political Philosophy, Public Policy, Socioeconomy by equanimist on December 21, 2007