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We’re heading for economic dictatorship

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by Janet Daley via the Ludwig von Mises Institute of Canada (originally posted on The Telegraph)
November 27, 2012

Forget about that dead parrot of a question – should we join the eurozone? The eurozone has officially joined us in a newly emerging international organisation: we are all now members of the Permanent No-growth Club. And the United States has just re-elected a president who seems determined to sign up too. No government in what used to be called “the free world” seems prepared to take the steps that can stop this inexorable decline. They are all busily telling their electorates that austerity is for other people (France), or that the piddling attempts they have made at it will solve the problem (Britain), or that taxing “the rich” will make it unnecessary for government to cut back its own spending (America).

So here we all are. Like us, the member nations of the European single currency have embarked on their very own double (or is it triple?) dip recession. This is the future: the long, meandering “zig-zag” recovery to which the politicians and heads of central banks allude is just a euphemism for the end of economic life as we have known it.

Now there are some people for whom this will not sound like bad news. Many on the Left will finally have got the economy of their dreams – or, rather, the one they have always believed in. At last, we will be living with that fixed, unchanging pie which must be divided up “fairly” if social justice is to be achieved. Instead of a dynamic, growing pot of wealth and ever-increasing resources, which can enable larger and larger proportions of the population to become prosperous without taking anything away from any other group, there will indeed be an absolute limit on the amount of capital circulating within the society.

The only decisions to be made will involve how that given, unalterable sum is to be shared out – and those judgments will, of course, have to be made by the state since there will be no dynamic economic force outside of government to enter the equation. Wealth distribution will be the principal – virtually the only – significant function of political life. Is this Left-wing heaven?

Well, not quite. The total absence of economic growth would mean that the limitations on that distribution would be so severe as to require draconian legal enforcement: rationing, limits on the amount of currency that can be taken abroad, import restrictions and the kinds of penalties for economic crimes (undercutting, or “black market” selling practices) which have been unknown in the West since the end of the Second World War.

In this dystopian future there would have to be permanent austerity programmes. This would not only mean cutting government spending, which is what “austerity” means now, but the real kind: genuine falls in the standard of living of most working people, caused not just by frozen wages and the collapse in the value of savings (due to repeated bouts of money-printing), but also by the shortages of goods that will result from lack of investment and business expansion, not to mention the absence of cheaper goods from abroad due to import controls.

And it is not just day-to-day life that would be affected by the absence of growth in the economy. In the longer term, we can say good-bye to the technological innovations which have been spurred by competitive entrepreneurial activity, the medical advances funded by investment which an expanding economy can afford, and most poignantly perhaps, the social mobility that is made possible by increasing the reach of prosperity so that it includes ever-growing numbers of people. In short, almost everything we have come to understand as progress. Farewell to all that. But this is not the end of it. When the economy of a country is dead, and its political life is consumed by artificial mechanisms of forced distribution, its wealth does not remain static: it actually contracts and diminishes in value. If capital cannot grow – if there is no possibility of it growing – it becomes worthless in international exchange. This is what happened to the currencies of the Eastern bloc: they became phoney constructs with no value outside their own closed, recycled system.

When Germany was reunified, the Western half, in an act of almost superhuman political goodwill, arbitrarily declared the currency of the Eastern half to be equal in value to that of its own hugely successful one. The exercise nearly bankrupted the country, so great was the disparity between the vital, expanding Deutschemark and the risibly meaningless Ostmark which, like the Soviet ruble, had no economic legitimacy in the outside world.

At least then, there was a thriving West that could rescue the peoples of the East from the endless poverty of economies that were forbidden to grow by ideological edict. It remains to be seen what the consequences will be of the whole of the West, America included, falling into the economic black hole of permanent no-growth. Presumably, it will eventually have to move towards precisely the social and political structures that the East employed. As the fixed pot of national wealth loses ever more value, and resources shrink, the measures to enforce “fair” distribution must become more totalitarian: there will have to be confiscatory taxation on assets and property, collectivisation of the production of goods, and directed labour.

Democratic socialism with its “soft redistribution” and exponential growth of government spending will have paved the way for the hard redistribution of diminished resources under economic dictatorship. You think this sounds fanciful? It is just the logical conclusion of what will seem like enlightened social policy in a zero-growth society where hardship will need to be minimised by rigorously enforced equality. Then what? The rioting we see now in Italy and Greece – countries that had to have their democratic governments surgically removed in order to impose the uniform levels of poverty that are made necessary by dead economies – will spread throughout the West, and have to be contained by hard-fisted governments with or without democratic mandates. Political parties of all complexions talk of “balanced solutions”, which they think will sound more politically palatable than drastic cuts in public spending: tax rises on “the better-off” (the only people in a position to create real wealth) are put on the moral scale alongside “welfare cuts” on the unproductive.

This is not even a recipe for standing still: tax rises prevent growth and job creation, as well as reducing tax revenue. It is a formula for permanent decline in the private sector and endless austerity in the public one. But reduced government spending accompanied by tax cuts (particularly on employment – what the Americans call “payroll taxes”) could stimulate the growth of new wealth and begin a recovery. Most politicians on the Right understand this. They have about five minutes left to make the argument for it.

Self-Interest and the Pathology of Power: The Corruption of America, Part 2

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by Charles Hugh Smith
Posted February 9, 2012
 
The self-interest of the alcoholic is to keep drinking. Is this truly in his best interests? The answer illuminates the pathology of power in America.
 
IF WE IGNORE THE LIP SERVICE SHOWERED ON “REFORM”, WE FIND THAT THERE IS REALLY ONLY ONE STRATEGY in America: extend and pretend. Individuals, households, communities, cities, states, enterprises and the vast sprawling Empire of the Federal government and its many proxies – all are engaged in extend and pretend.
 
The closest analog is a seriously ill alcoholic who tells himself he just has a hang-over when it’s abundantly clear he is suffering from potentially terminal cancer. With a hang-over, extend and pretend is the only strategy that works: you can try various “magic potions” to relieve the symptoms, but the only real cure is to give the body enough time to cleanse itself of the toxins you’ve created and pretend to be functioning in the meantime.
 
In the case of aggressive cancer, then extend and pretend is the worst possible strategy: ignoring the rapid progression of the disease only makes eventual treatment more difficult and uncertain. The only way to treat cancer is to face it straight-on, learn as much as you can about the disease and the spectrum of treatments, consider the side-effects and consequences of various treatment strategies, and then get to work radically transforming your entire life, mind, body and spirit to effect the cure.
 
Why do we perpetrate the delusion of a hang-over when it’s painfully clear we have cancer? We’re afraid, of course; we fear the unknown and find comfort in the belief that nothing has to really change. We call this denial, but it arises from fear and risk aversion. In the moment, amidst all the swirling chaos of fear and uncertainty, we choose extend and pretend because it seems to be in our self-interest.
 
This is the ontology of extend and pretend: a delusional view of our self-interest. The drunk is terrified of not being able to drink himself into a stupor; in that dysfunctional state of being, then he perceives his self-interest as denying he has cancer because he knows that treatment will require him to stop drinking. In effect, what he perceives as acting in his self-interest is actually an act of self-destruction.
 
Political and social revolutions occur when the productive classes realize the Status Quo no longer serves their self-interests. In other words, the revolution is first and foremost an internal process of recognition and enlightenment: all the propaganda issued by the Status Quo, i.e. that it serves the best interests of the productive classes, is finally recognized as false. As this awakening begins, a divergence between the definitions of self-interest by the Power Elites (financial and political) and the productive classes begins to open. This is extremely dangerous to the Power Elites, who are fundamentally parasitical and predatory: their wealth and power all flow from the labor, taxes, debt service and passivity/complicity of the productive classes.
 
The Power Elites’ time-honored strategy to protect their own wealth and grip on power has three components: one is to pursue a strategy of pervasive, ceaseless propaganda to persuade the productive classes that the system is sound, fair and working for them; the second is to fund diversionary “bread and circuses” for the potentially troublesome lower classes, and the third is to harden the fiefdoms of power and wealth into an aristocracy that is impervious to the protests of debt-serfs and laborers below.
In addition to “the system is working for you” social control myth, the wealth/power aristocracy also invokes various fear-based social control myths: external enemies are threatening us all, so ignore your debt-serfdom and powerlessness, etc. In the ideal Power Elite scenario, a theocracy combines faith and State: not only is it illegal to resist the Aristocracy, you will suffer eternal damnation for even thinking about it.
Ask yourself this: how much influence do you as a citizen, voter and taxpayer have over the Federal Reserve? If we’re honest, we must confess that the Federal Reserve is as remote to us as any branch of the North Korean government: we have zero influence over it, and the same can be said of our elected representatives. This is the definition of an aristocracy, oligarchy (a power structure in which power is held by a small number of people), kleptocracy, etc.
 
The Power Elite has a key advantage over the citizenry: its own self-interest is clear. The citizenry must entertain this question: is the Status Quo really working for me or not? The Power Elite aristocracy has no such confusion: the Status Quo is working beautifully for them, and the only threat to their wealth and power is the possibility that the productive classes might opt out and stop paying the taxes and debt service which funds the parasitical Power Elite. Thus the Power Elite has a single goal: to persuade and coerce the citizenry into accepting their powerlessness and debt-serfdom as a pathological form of self-interest.
 
There is another dynamic to the Power Elite aristocracy’s grip on concentrated wealth and power: the self-selecting, self-perpetuating pathology of the aristocracy and the Upper Caste that so slavishly serves them. Author Chris Sullins identified this dynamic as one of self-propagating fractals (The MacRib is Back! September 23, 2008):
 
There are readers who might feel I’m being very hard on the public with the comparison so far. But look how people have allowed their names to be changed. They have gone from being called citizens to consumers. A citizen is a very human word which denotes awareness, involvement, and participation. It’s a word that sounds active and conscious in its very nature. A consumer by contrast sounds far more passive. A lot of other animals and even inanimate processes consume things. A consumer sounds like sheep grazing.
 
Once a populace accepts a self-definition that strips out their participation as anything but passive consumers, then the maintenance of power boils down to test-marketing new social control myths and fear-mongering. This sophisticated level of marketing and predation requires a highly trained class of servants: an Upper Caste of technocrats, middle managers, marketers, lobbyists, “creatives,” engineers, etc. who do the heavy lifting that keeps the Power Elite’s wealth and status not just intact but expanding. The reward for this service is a hefty salary that enables the purchase of the signifiers of upper-middle class existence and an intoxicating proximity to power and status visibility, i.e. some measure of recognition as “being somebody important.”
 
Until very recently I reckoned this Upper Caste of loyal servants comprised about 20% of the American populace, but upon closer examination of various levels of wealth and analysis of advert targeting (adverts only target those with enough money/credit to buy the goods being offered), I now identify the Upper Caste as only the top 10% (the aristocracy is at most the top 1/10th of 1%). Wealth and income both fall rather precipitously below the top 10% line, and as globalization and other systemic forces relentlessly press productivity into fewer hands, then the rewards aggregate into a smaller circle of laborers.
 
As noted yesterday in Social Fractals and the Corruption of America (Of Two Minds, February 8, 2012), you cannot aggregate healthy, thrifty, honest, caring and responsible people into a group that is dysfunctional, spendthrift, venal and dishonest unless those individuals have themselves become dysfunctional, spendthrift, venal and dishonest.
 
This is the ontology of the pathology of power: If you want to join the elite levels of the Upper Caste, where “doing God’s work” is a daily practice of fraud, embezzlement, misrepresentation, collusion, purposeful obfuscation, all in service of a pathologically self-destructive notion of self-interest, then you must become dysfunctional, venal and dishonest (with becoming spendthrift in service of acquiring signifiers of status a close fourth).
 
Since non-pathological people will quit or be fired, then these fractals of corruption are self-selecting and self-perpetuating. This is true not just of financial America but of elected officialdom. Anyone who is still naive or delusional enough to think that getting elected to Congress or the state legislature will empower “doing good” will soon learn the ropes: the next election is less than two years away, and if you want to retain your grip on power you’re going to need a couple million dollars.
 
And if you want to “get something done,” you will need to take orders from your party leadership and service your donors. I once had a friend who by extraordinary effort got himself elected to the state legislature. Being a young idealist, he actually refused to vote as his party leadership directed: thus identified as a rebel, he was predictably out two years later.
 
So much for “working within the system.” By the time all the donors, lobbyists, leeches and parasites have been properly serviced, the “reform” bill is 2,000 pages long. As a result of the feudal structure of wealth and power in America and the self-reinforcing, self-propagating fractals of pathological servitude, the citizenry are increasingly remote from power. The aristocracy, like feudal lords in distant, fortified castles, demands obedient service of the powerless citizenry: work hard, pay your taxes and service your debt – and fears any awakening of true self-interest.
 
Just because a devoted member of the Upper Caste is allowed to enter the castle to do his work doesn’t mean he is part of the aristocracy. That glow of proximity to power is his reward for dutifully slaving away as a higher-order serf.
 
The American Revolution was triggered not by a sudden upwelling of noble ideals, but by the realization of the landed nobility and productive classes that the commercial and political domination of Great Britain was placing their wealth and liberty at risk.
 
Put another way: they awoke to the fact that the Status Quo no longer served their essential self-interests. When the Upper Caste and productive classes reach this same conclusion, then perhaps they will elect a transformational third party to sweep away the corrupt political class. This new party must embody a moral imperative that acts as a social fractal: retaining power is not the goal. If the people want to restore the pathological aristocracy to power in two years, then by all means let them have it. They will do so without our complicity, interest payments, labor and servitude, for we have opted out of pathology.

David Galland: The System is coming unglued

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by David Galland
from Casey Research
Posted September 9, 2011

Our video host Stefan Molyneux speaks with Casey Research Managing Director David Galland about the debt situation in the US and whether the federal government can do anything about it… assuming they’d even want to.

TRANSCRIPT

Stefan: Hi everybody, it’s Stefan Molyneux, host of Conversations with Casey. I have on the line David Galland. Thank you so much, David, for taking the time to chat today.

David: Nice to be here.

Stefan: So, we are seven-tenths of the way towards fascism in the United States. I wonder if you could expand upon that. I sort of get a sense that that’s probably true, but you have a little bit more than my gut instinct – you actually have some pretty professional opinions to work with on that.

David: Well, all the elements for fascism are in place. We have a monetary system that is accountable to no one and that’s a very good start. If you think about it, the way that the monetary system is structured, the government at this point can literally spend money on anything. They talk about capping the federal deficits and all that, but they’ll get past that in no time at all. Probably by the time the viewers are watching this they will have announced a big deal, you know, that they have raised the debt cap. And you know, once you have – if you pin your money to nothing, if you have a monetary system that is based on nothing, then you can afford anything. You can afford all the wars you want, you can afford all the bureaucracy you want; and so they have. That’s a first step.

I mean, we’ve – just as an example, here in the little town in New England where Casey Research is located, they have a – they’ve just finished building a massive new Homeland Security center. This is a town of roughly 4,000 permanent residents; it’s a tourist town. It’s the kind of place where the worst crime you’ll ever see is somebody stealing skis from a ski slope, and yet we have something like 36 policemen. We’ve got this huge, brand-new Homeland Security center. Why? Well, because after 9/11 and the overreaction of 9/11 the government made this money available because it could make the money available, because there is nothing stopping it from doing that. And there’s all these local police departments, which should have an “Andy of Mayberry” type police force, took the money and they spent it, and now we’ve got a semi-militarized local operation. So this has gone on and this is multiplied right across the country… and the world.

Stefan: And of course, the decisions that people make in expanding the public sector have immediate implications in payroll, but I think what America is really facing are the long term implications of unfunded pensions that just run into the hundreds of billions of dollars. It’s a lot of the stuff that is not really counted in the public calculation of the debt, which is more immediate obligations, but the unfunded liabilities run $75 to $100 trillion according to many estimates. That’s not something that you see, which makes the whole conversation about should we have two trillion here or there ridiculous to anybody in the know.

David: Oh, absolutely. Again, on the point about whether we’re sort of on the way to a fascist state – and I – this isn’t just the US – it’s important that, you know, people understand this is all over the world. At this point, none of these governments is operating on anything that remotely resembles sound principles. They’re operating on a number of different priorities and a number of different interests – self-interests, because politicians after all are just people. So whatever it takes to kick the can down the road, they’re going to do. You mentioned $75 trillion in unfunded liabilities, absolutely. Because at this point, this is essentially sort of a rising tide of bureaucracy over the last hundred years that is cresting at this point. And they have done this because there are no real operating principles other than buying the votes that they need to get re-elected and to stay in office for as long as they can, and then they pass the baton to the next bureaucrat and the system continues. But it’s reaching the point where, I think, within a relatively short period of time it’s got to come to an end.

Stefan: Now you’ve written an article recently which I found very interesting – I just shared it through my Facebook as well – it’s called The Greater Depression. So you have the Great Depression and now we’re looking at the Greater Depression. I wonder if you could talk about the mechanics and the future as you see it as we go into this abyss.

David: Ultimately, what we’re faced with right now and this is, I think, just some fundamental principles – because there are so many aspects of what’s going on in the economy today that it makes it for most people – for virtually all people – it makes it very hard to really understand what’s going on. So sometimes you just have to sort of step back and ask a few questions to try to get some sort of a compass, if you will. And first and foremost the crisis we’re in right now is caused by debt, too much debt. As you mentioned before $75 trillion in government obligations – everybody knows that money is never going to get paid. So we’ve been brought to this point of extreme government borrowing. Who would have thought we’d see $1.5-trillion deficits? I mean, nobody – five, six years ago if you would have asked anybody on this planet if the US government could run a $1.5-trillion deficit they would have said no way. Well, here we are. So all of the conditions of what this – you can call it a debt-induced depression, all of the conditions that sort of brought us to this place have not improved since the beginning of this crisis; they’ve only gotten worse.

So what’s the ultimate outcome of this? Well, what’s the one thing that a heavily indebted person or an entity like the government can’t handle? And it’s rising interest rates. You can’t afford for the bank to bump your payments up to, you know, 20% because you’ve missed a payment. Well, the same thing’s true of the government and we are now – we are still – the US interest rates are still bouncing around, you know, all-time lows. It’s completely – it’s a complete aberration. And it can’t last. So why things are going to get worse is because interest rates have to go up. Even if they return to sort of a more normal five to six percent range, from a historical standpoint it would be devastating to the US economy. So the government is doing everything it can to try to get out of this trouble but there really is no way. They have very limited impact on long-term interest rates and if it wasn’t for the fact that Europe was such a basket case and that Japan was such a basket case right now, interest rates in the US would already be taking off but I don’t think we’re going to have to wait long for that and then things are going to get interesting.

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Inner freedom comes first

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from Brandon Smith
Alt-Market
Posted September 2, 2011

IS FREEDOM A PLACE, OR AN IDEA? A STATE OF SOCIETY, OR A STATE OF MIND? Does it begin around us, or within us? In today’s world of the all-you-can-eat sensory buffet, where every facet of life is a bit and a byte and a radio wave and a laser beam, most of humanity looks for all of its answers to such questions in the grand ether of the tumbling data stream.

We see changes in the tapestry of cultural interaction as the final measure of national progression, or regression. We confuse forward sounding language with forward moving political transformation. We are mesmerized by the illusion of environmental appearance, and forget that the indelible root of all things outward is nurtured by that which lay within.

In America, in the midst of economic crisis and government driven moral hazard, millions of people are scrambling for “solutions”. The term is used rather haphazardly and often without proper context. There are, indeed, very evil men out there in the dark precipices of global infrastructure, and, these men often instigate very bad events. However, “doing away with them” is NOT a solution. It is NOT a plan. It is merely a goal. A solution requires more than an end result; it also involves the steps necessary to achieve said result.

The Liberty Movement, as it is commonly called, tends to run into so much frustration and angst, I believe, because it consistently attempts to skip to the end of the story without traveling the rest of the very necessary journey.

End the Fed! Sue the Fed! March on Washington! Vote the bums out! Take up arms! These are not actions, but reactions triggered by the confusion of the moment. Not only are they single minded responses that lack the strategy and logistics inherent in a successful counter-offensive, but such cries ignore the other devious culprit responsible for our national heartache; ourselves.

Yes, the world must change, and soon, if our principles are to survive. But, for this to happen, we must change first. Instead of looking up, down, and all around us for some magical all encompassing answer, we have to question our very assumptions and world views. No weapon of steel or of law will ever undo the tragedy we live in day to day while we lack the conviction to confront our own biases and failings. We have always been the greatest obstacle to a truly freedom based society, not the elites, who are nothing but parasites feeding off our willfully perpetuated inadequacies.

Working methodologies for combating globalization and centralization do exist. State nullification, for instance, is a significant tool for defusing obtrusive federal authority, but without the organizational willpower and perseverance to take back the now thoroughly corrupt election process county by county, state by state, while producing viable liberty minded candidates and grassroots activist groups, nullification is impossible.

Survival preparation is essential for anyone who wishes to decouple from the collapsing mainstream system, but without the determination to make prepping a reality, we are left with nothing but a bunch of hungry, desperate nobodies huddled on the sidelines of the war for truth. Barter networking and alternative markets require extensive patience and unerring dedication, along with constant self education on the processes of sound money and private trade. Safe Haven and Free State Projects push us even harder, requiring us to uproot from everything we have been conditioned to accept as normal and comfortable, and travel, perhaps long distances, to begin anew in a place likely unfamiliar. All of these things involve an internal finality of purpose, a clear and unwavering path unhindered by regret. Those who undertake the above initiatives do so not because they were “told to”, but because they know, above all else, that what they are doing is right. They no longer stand in their own way, and thus, the possibilities become infinite.

For others, the endless circular battle between action and apathy continues. Below, are some of the most frequent excuses uttered by those aware of the burgeoning dangers of a disintegrating culture but who are incapable of taking the first steps of inward freedom needed to do anything about their predicament…

1) I know things are getting bad in this country, but I only have time to focus on my own problems right now…

Your immediate problems are certainly yours to solve, but they are also very likely an aftereffect of the wider problems of the world around you. Ironically, only by taking personal responsibility for the problems of the world can we alleviate the incredible pressures of our microcosmic existence.

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Central Planning – It’s not just for communists anymore

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by Matthew K
Posted 23 August 2011
on Le Café Américain

IT’S BEEN A ROUGH FEW WEEKS FOR THE CAPITALIST SYSTEM, WHICH BESTRIDES THE GLOBE like a teetering colossus. Not only has there been stock market turmoil worldwide, and the temporary threat of a US default on its debts, but an esteemed, mainstream economist suggested that Karl Marx was right. In the Wall Street Journal, no less! Karl Marx Was Right

That would be Nouriel Roubini, whose claim to fame came from timely warnings about the US housing bubble and subsequent US stock market collapse. It is important to note that he only said that Marx was right in that capitalism could collapse on itself,  not that it actually would.

Most people are familiar with the spectacular failures of central planning in the Communist regimes. According to the resurgently fashionable Austrian school of economics, an economy is too complex to be managed by one expert, or even one committee of experts, regardless whether the clubhouse door reads “Politburo” or “Shark Tank.”

According to the Austrians, society’s fastest path to prosperity consists of allowing every person to decide freely what is in their best interest, with the emphasis on individual transactions.

A biological analogy comes from flocks of birds, schools of fish, and ant colonies, among others. These swarms function extremely well, despite being composed of simple creatures following simple rules, and despite the anarchic lack of a leader directing things. Our own “simple critter rules” in modern society are probably along the lines of “try to get a higher paying job, and pay lower prices for stuff, within the laws of the land, and without making too many enemies.”

A business analogy comes from Toyota. Their quality went from hopeless to fearsome by training every employee to be competent enough to figure out how to do their own job better, and then allowing them to do so. If their management tried to dictate how each task was to be done, they might have peaked at early-80’s American car maker quality levels.

In a similar way, they decided not to try to predict the right production levels for each model, colour, and trim. Instead they pre-built enough cars to fill dealership inventory, and each time a customer purchased a vehicle, they would build one more of that same model, colour, and features. In economic nerd speak, they responded to that “market signal”. So if 5% of Corolla drivers wanted a green car with deluxe extras, in the long run 5% of Corolla production would consist of deluxe green vehicles.

Since the flaws of central planning and benefits of distributed decision-making occur in the public sector, the private sector, and even in biology, we can generalize that the USSR’s economic problem was ultimately that a small group of people would decide how to (mis)allocate most of the country’s resources.

In the past thirty years, there’s been an immense concentration of wealth — particularly in Anglo-American countries (the US, UK, us, the Aussies). The US is at the leading edge of this trend, with the top 1% owning 42% of the wealth, or about six times as much as the bottom four fifths of the population, and a significant portion of the means of production and public information (media) and influence over the course of society.

In recent decades Western capitalism has moved towards the central planning model of a relatively small number of people in charge of directing the allocation of resources. This narrowing of perspective has in turn led to policies progressively more disastrous for the moved and the shaken… which was the Soviet denouement.

I have to credit the influence of the thoughtful blog of a well-to-do American entrepreneur and military strategist, and especially this particular posting: Central Planning and the Fall of US Empire

Capitalism’s path back from the self-perpetuating central planning will require a more equitable, or at least a less inequitable, distribution of wealth and power, by which to rebuild the middle class and promote decision making based on individual choice and a more widely based entrepreneurial meritocracy. Which is what Roubini was complaining about, in saying that too much wealth was being redistributed from labour to capital.

It would be a terrible irony if Marx was proven correct, and unchecked capitalism destroyed itself by evolving the self-crippling features of a centrally planned communist economy. One can only hope that we can reform our current market systems before things get worse.

Of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1%

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by Joseph E. Stiglitz
Illustration by Stephen Doyle
Posted May 2011, Vanity Fair

Americans have been watching protests against oppressive regimes that concentrate massive wealth in the hands of an elite few. Yet in our own democracy, 1 percent of the people take nearly a quarter of the nation’s income—an inequality even the wealthy will come to regret.

IT’S NO USE PRETENDING THAT WHAT HAS OBVIOUSLY HAPPENED HAS NOT IN FACT HAPPENED. The upper 1 percent of Americans are now taking in nearly a quarter of the nation’s income every year. In terms of wealth rather than income, the top 1 percent control 40 percent. Their lot in life has improved considerably. Twenty-five years ago, the corresponding figures were 12 percent and 33 percent. One response might be to celebrate the ingenuity and drive that brought good fortune to these people, and to contend that a rising tide lifts all boats.

That response would be misguided. While the top 1 percent have seen their incomes rise 18 percent over the past decade, those in the middle have actually seen their incomes fall.

For men with only high-school degrees, the decline has been precipitous—12 percent in the last quarter-century alone. All the growth in recent decades—and more—has gone to those at the top. In terms of income equality, America lags behind any country in the old, ossified Europe that President George W. Bush used to deride.

Among our closest counterparts are Russia with its oligarchs and Iran. While many of the old centers of inequality in Latin America, such as Brazil, have been striving in recent years, rather successfully, to improve the plight of the poor and reduce gaps in income, America has allowed inequality to grow.

Economists long ago tried to justify the vast inequalities that seemed so troubling in the mid-19th century—inequalities that are but a pale shadow of what we are seeing in America today. The justification they came up with was called “marginal-productivity theory.” In a nutshell, this theory associated higher incomes with higher productivity and a greater contribution to society. It is a theory that has always been cherished by the rich. Evidence for its validity, however, remains thin. The corporate executives who helped bring on the recession of the past three years—whose contribution to our society, and to their own companies, has been massively negative—went on to receive large bonuses. In some cases, companies were so embarrassed about calling such rewards “performance bonuses” that they felt compelled to change the name to “retention bonuses” (even if the only thing being retained was bad performance).

Those who have contributed great positive innovations to our society, from the pioneers of genetic understanding to the pioneers of the Information Age, have received a pittance compared with those responsible for the financial innovations that brought our global economy to the brink of ruin.

Some people look at income inequality and shrug their shoulders. So what if this person gains and that person loses? What matters, they argue, is not how the pie is divided but the size of the pie. That argument is fundamentally wrong. An economy in which most citizens are doing worse year after year—an economy like America’s—is not likely to do well over the long haul. There are several reasons for this.

First, growing inequality is the flip side of something else: shrinking opportunity. Whenever we diminish equality of opportunity, it means that we are not using some of our most valuable assets—our people—in the most productive way possible. Second, many of the distortions that lead to inequality—such as those associated with monopoly power and preferential tax treatment for special interests—undermine the efficiency of the economy. This new inequality goes on to create new distortions, undermining efficiency even further. To give just one example, far too many of our most talented young people, seeing the astronomical rewards, have gone into finance rather than into fields that would lead to a more productive and healthy economy.

Third, and perhaps most important, a modern economy requires “collective action”—it needs government to invest in infrastructure, education, and technology. The United States and the world have benefited greatly from government-sponsored research that led to the Internet, to advances in public health, and so on. But America has long suffered from an under-investment in infrastructure (look at the condition of our highways and bridges, our railroads and airports), in basic research, and in education at all levels. Further cutbacks in these areas lie ahead.

None of this should come as a surprise—it is simply what happens when a society’s wealth distribution becomes lopsided. The more divided a society becomes in terms of wealth, the more reluctant the wealthy become to spend money on common needs. The rich don’t need to rely on government for parks or education or medical care or personal security—they can buy all these things for themselves. In the process, they become more distant from ordinary people, losing whatever empathy they may once have had. They also worry about strong government—one that could use its powers to adjust the balance, take some of their wealth, and invest it for the common good. The top 1 percent may complain about the kind of government we have in America, but in truth they like it just fine: too gridlocked to re-distribute, too divided to do anything but lower taxes.

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Debt downgrade, not default, is the problem

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by Greg Hunter’s USAWatchdog.com 
Posted July 27, 2011

Today is August 1st. Further developments have come forth since this article was written, but it is still relevant to this unfolding drama – or is it a non-drama, as some have opined? – Aurick

WATCHING THE DEBT NEGOTIATIONS IS LIKE WATCHING TWO STUBBORN PEOPLE headed over a waterfall. Both are too blockheaded to steer the boat towards land on the left or the right. So, both go over the edge and will see how long the other can hold his breath. Both, of course, drown in this story, right along with the rest of the country. Yesterday, Speaker Boehner said he wanted to call the President’s bluff and not give him a “blank check.”  The President, on the other hand, has said (many times) he’s going to veto any plan that doesn’t raise the debt ceiling past the 2012  presidential election.

I know many think there is going to be a last minute deal before the August 2nd deadline, but I just don’t see it.  If the Republican bill from the House makes it past the Democrat-controlled Senate and there is only an increase in the debt ceiling to make it for 6 months or so—veto here we come.  Or maybe, there is no bill that can get through Congress, and nothing even makes it to the President’s desk by the August 2nd deadline.

I eventually see a debt deal getting done, but not until after the August 2nd.  That’s when the Treasury says it will exhaust its borrowing limit.  In this scenario, both parties hope the other side will take it on the chin and be hurt worse in the eyes of voters. I don’t know who will come out on top if this happens, but big time damage to the U.S. economy will be done.  Forget about default on the U.S. Treasury debt. That is simply not going to happen, at least not anytime soon.  America has the money to pay the interest on its Treasuries.  It is the credit rating of the United States that will take a beating.

In the latest report from Shadowstats.com, economist John Williams said, “If I were to script a scenario as to how the United States quickly could debase the U.S. dollar with maximum impact, impairing the dollar’s reserve status and dwindling global credibility, and accelerating the movement towards a U.S. hyperinflation, it would be extremely difficult to come up with a more destructive course of action than what already is taking place in Washington, D.C.  The chances of a U.S. debt default remain nil, but risk of a U.S. sovereign credit rating downgrade—though small—is increasing. . .”   

If the debt of the United States is downgraded, other debt will also be downgraded. As credit ratings go down, interest rates do the opposite. U.S. consumers would start paying more for things like credit cards, mortgages and car loans. Hundreds of municipalities would also pay higher borrowing costs for their debt. These are just a few of the interest rate wild cards.  This would put a huge drag on an economy that is already on the skids.  The dollar would also take a pounding because nervous investors would start to dump dollars and Treasuries.

The Shadowstats.com report goes on to say, “The administration claims the U.S. will default if the debt ceiling is not raised by August 2nd.  There are those who suggest there is more time beyond that, if only the government selectively pays its bills, giving priority to interest and debt payments.  With other government obligations not paid as due, though, that circumstance likely would trigger the rating downgrades and intensify dollar dumping and abandonment.”   

Paul Craig Roberts, former Assistant Treasury Secretary in the Reagan Administration, agrees with the Shadowstat.com analysis.  In a recent essay, Roberts said, “The US dollar could plummet in exchange value and lose its role as world reserve currency. The US would no longer be able to pay its oil bill in its own currency, and as its balance of payments is heavily in the red, the US has no foreign currencies with which to pay its oil import bill. Or its manufactured goods import bill, or any other bill. We are talking about a crisis beyond anything the world has ever seen. Does anyone think that President Obama is going to just sit there while the power of the US collapses? He doesn’t have to do so. There are presidential directives and executive orders in place, put there by George W. Bush himself, that President Obama can invoke to declare a national emergency, suspend the debt ceiling limit, and continue to issue Treasury debt. This is exactly what would happen.  The consequences would be that the power of the purse would transfer from Congress to the President.” (Click here for the complete Paul Craig Roberts post.)

I think, by now, both parties are calculating how bad the fallout will be and which party gets the blame if a debt ceiling deal is not done by the August 2nd deadline.  Could the Republicans really not want the economy to get much better until after the 2012 election?  On the other hand, maybe the Democrats know the economy stinks and figure it won’t get much better anyway come election time.   Might the President veto a bill he hates and blame a plunging economy and government shutdown on the Republicans?  Bill Clinton did a similar thing in the mid-90’s, remember?  Although, the stakes this time around are exponentially higher.

It wouldn’t be hard to sell a “national emergency” to the public if the stock market sold off a couple of thousand points and gasoline prices went to 8 bucks a gallon—would it?   Whether or not you like Barack Obama, never underestimate the power of the President.  Wouldn’t it be strange if a debt deal finally got done on August 15, 201l?  That’ll be exactly 40 years to the day President Richard Nixon took America off the gold standard.