Archive for the ‘Economy and Business’ Category

Why did Germany abandon the good path?

July 29, 2015

A decade ago, looking at the state of the union the Bush administration, it seems to me that it was the European Union, and Germany in particular, had replaced the USA as the last, best hope of earth.  As recently as five years ago, I posted an article on Germany as an Economic Role Model.

Germany had seemingly created an economy based not on cutting costs, but on creating value, investing in people and worker participation in decision-making.  The Germans had learned how how to hold their own in international trade and still enjoy high wages, generous social benefits and excellent public services, without sacrificing civil liberties.

Or so I thought at the time.  But the Greek debt crisis shows Germany as much in the grip of a financial oligarchy as the USA was.

Germany.austerity16678The German leaders have embraced the idea, very familiar to us Americans, that the purpose of an economic system is not cooperation for mutual benefit, but to reward winners and punish losers.

The best way to help Greece’s creditors is to promote Greece’s economic recovery, so at least a portion of the debt can be repaid.  The austerity measures being imposed by the European Central Bank, European Commission and International Monetary Fund are driving Greece deeper into economic depression.  They are being imposed as a punishment and a deterrent.

The German leaders also have made the mistake of allowing central banks, rather than the public, to determine economic policy.   The problem with this is that bankers have different priorities than the public.

Broadly speaking, bankers want zero inflation and debts to be repaid in full.  All other things being equal, these are desirable goals, but not at the cost of rising unemployment, falling wages and non-functioning government services.

Unfortunately the European Central Bank is in charge of European monetary policy, and the public has nothing to say about its policies.   It is governed by a committee consisting of 19 national central banks and a six-member executive board appointed by the European Council.   I looked up “accountability” on the bank’s web site, and found that this consists of regularly issuing reports.

The best way to enforce accountability for the Greek debt crisis would be to investigate the Greek public officials and their banker advisers who created it, and determined whether they should be charged with malfeasance.  Instead the banks have been bailed out, and the public officials escape blame—much the same as in the 2008 financial crisis in the United States.

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How NAFTA drove poor Mexicans north

July 22, 2015

If not for NAFTA, the United States probably wouldn’t have the issue it does with unauthorized immigration from Mexico.

The North American Free Trade Agreement, enacted in 1993, was part of a strategy by the Bill Clinton administration, continuing the policy of previous administrations, to increase U.S. exports.

ImageGen.ashxThe government gave up trying to preserve the family-operated farm.  Instead it favored large-scale operations that could produce food for export.  Farmers were told: “Get big or get out.”

NAFTA, although it eliminated government subsidies for many products, preserved U.S. subsidies for corn and dairy products.  The corn subsidy was also in effect a subsidy for meat, since meat animals are fed subsidized corn.

Small Mexican farmers, especially corn farmers, could not compete against the cheap food imports that flooded into Mexico.  Many left the land, and joined the migrant stream into the United States.

U.S. government policy was successful in increasing exports of corn.  The unintended result was increased imports of unauthorized workers.   I think NAFTA should be amended or repealed, but, sadly, this will not change the results of NAFTA.

LINKS

Under Nafta, Mexico Suffered and the United States felt its pain by Laura Carlsen for the New York Times.

Corn Sales to Western Hemisphere Surge by the National Corn Growers Association.

NAFTA and US farmers—20 years later by Karen Hansen-Kuhn for the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy.

Mexican Farmers Affected by Agricultural Subsidies from NAFTA, Other International Agreements by Susana G. Baumann for the Huffington Post.

Corn Subsidies at Root of U.S.-Mexico Immigration Problems by Anthony B. Bradley of the Acton Institute.

How U.S. Policies Fueled Mexico’s Great Migration by David Bacon for The Nation.

Free trade: As U.S. corn flows south, Mexicans stop farming by Tim Johnson for McClatchy Newspapers.

Greece’s debt and the Wiemar Republic analogy

July 14, 2015

Historical analogies don’t necessarily hold, but Germany in the 1920s and early 1930s, like Greece today, had a dysfunctional democratic government and was saddled with war debts beyond the nation’s ability to pay.

All well-informed people understood the situation, but the demands of the creditor nations on the Wiemar Republic were uncompromising.  Then Hitler came to power, and the debt was forgiven.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the fascist Golden Dawn party came to power in Greece, and I wouldn’t be completely surprised if the creditor nations relaxed their demands for debt repayment.

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Banks get bailed out, Greece doesn’t

July 13, 2015

Joseph Cannon came across this information on a comment thread on the Moon of Alabama blog.  It compares the amounts of the U.S. government bailouts of banks to the bailout needed to save Greece.

Citigroup – Citigroup $2.513 Trillion

Morgan Stanley – $2.041 Trillion

Merrill Lynch – $1.949 Trillion

Bank of America – $1.344 Trillion

Barclays PLC – $868 Billion

Bear Sterns – $853 B

Goldman Sachs – $814 B

Royal Bank of Scotland – $541 B

JP Morgan Chase $391 B

GREECE $370 BILLION

Deutche Bank – $354 B

UBS – $287 B

Credit Suisse – $262 B

Lehman Bros – $183 B

Bank of Scotland – $181 B

BNP Paribas – $175 B

Wells Fargo – $159 B

Dexia – $159 B

Wachovia – $142 B

Dresdner Bank – $135 B

via Moon of Alabama.

What these figures show—I haven’t verified them, but I take them to be correct—is that a rescure of Greece is not beyond the realm of fiscal possibility.

Now you could argue that these comparisons are unfair because the banks paid back their TARP funds.  That’s true, but, as Cannon pointed out, they paid them back largely with other government money.

greece_2457626aThe real reason that the comparisons are unfair is that the bulk of the Greek debt has been transferred from private banks to quasi-public entities.  Greece is not comparable to Citigroup or Morgan Stanley.  Rather the people are Greece are comparable to the people who lost their homes to mortgage foreclosures.

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As Greece goes, so go other debtor nations

July 13, 2015

The Greek debt burden is more than the people of Greece can ever repay.

But evidently the creditor nations will not accept this until Greece is bled dry.

Their “austerity” plan is for higher taxes, lower wages and higher prices and the sale of Greek national assets at bargain prices.

Greece is being treated like a nation defeated in war, and, like a defeated nation, it will never prosper until it can free itself from the power of its conquerors.

A trust fund created by Greece’s creditors will sell off 50 billion Euros worth of Greek national assets, with half the money to be used to pay Greece’s debt and half to recapitalize Greek banks.   Greeks will not have a voice in what is sold or at what price.

greece-debt-crisisHeather Stewart of The Guardian recently listed 23 nations that, like Greece, are in an external debt crisis, and 14 at high risk of an external debt crisis.

The 23 nations also in external debt crisis are Armenia, Belize, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, The Gambia, Grenada, Ireland, Jamaica, Lebanon, Macedonia, Marshall Islands, Montenegro, Portugal, Spain, Sri Lanka, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Sudan, Tunisia, Ukraine and Zimbabwe.

The 14 high risk nations are Bhutan, Cape Verde, Dominica, Ethiopia, Ghana, Laos, Mauritania, Mongolia, Mozambique, Samoa, Sao Tome e Principe, Senegal, Tanzania and Uganda.

My guess is that Ukraine is the next country in line to lose its national sovereignty to creditors; this is likely as soon as the government no longer needs financing to crush the rebellion in Donetsk and Lugansk.

We Americans should remember that the United States is a debtor nation like Greece, not a creditor nation like Germany, Japan or China.  What happens to Greece today and to Ukraine tomorrow could happen to the USA someday, too, when our debts are in yuan or some other currency instead of dollars.

LINKS

Beyond Greece, the world is filled with debt crises by Heather Stewart for The Observer.

Global Debt Can’t Be Paid by Briton Ryle for WealthDaily.

The rich are richer, the rest of us are poorer

July 13, 2015

inequality1108k_0Source: The Economist.

Americans of all stripes, from the Tea Party to the Occupy movement, are angry.  They think government doesn’t represent them.

Rep. Alan Grayson, a Florida Democrat, thinks they’re right about that.  He said he knows congressional representatives whose mail was running 1oo to 1 against “fast track” approval of trade agreements who  nevertheless voted for it.

But, he explained, the reason for their anger is more deep-seated—

For most Americans, life simply is getting harder.  This was painfully obvious from a Sage Foundation study last year, following up on an article in the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science.  The study looked at changes in the wealth of American households over a decade, from 2003 to 2013.  The study found that median net worth had dropped by 36 percent, from $87,992 to $56,335.

Rep. Alan Grayson

Rep. Alan Grayson

Let me repeat that: The net worth of the average American household dropped by more than one-third in ten years.  The decline from the 2007 peak was almost 50 percent, in just six years.  (Most of that loss was in the value of one’s home — home is where the heartache is.)

That’s why everyone is so angry.

The net worth decline of someone at the 25th [75th] percentile (meaning that three-quarters of all household are richer than you) was even more extreme — from $10,129 to $3200.  And among the bottom five percent, whose net worth is negative, their debt tripled.

Only the top 10 percent of all Americans improved their standards of living during that decade.  As the study summarized, “wealth inequality increased significantly from 2003 through 2013; by some metrics inequality roughly doubled.”

via Rep. Alan Grayson.

My friends who are content to always vote for the “lesser evil” are correct in one respect.  Things could be worse—a lot worse—than they are now.

But I don’t believe the present situation is sustainable.   The anger of the American people will boil over at some point.  If change for the better seems impossible within the current political and economic system, democracy and constitutional government will be at risk.

∞∞∞

Why Is Everybody Angry?  I’ll Tell You Why by Rep. Alan Grayson for the Huffington Post.

The Typical Household, Now Worth a Third Less by Anna Bernasek for The New York Times.

Wealth Levels, Wealth Inequality and the Great Recession by Fabian T. Pfeffer, Sheldon Danziger and Robert F. Schoeni for the Russell Sage Foundation.

Why is the economic recovery so weak?

July 13, 2015

weakrecoverySource: Sentier Research

Why is the current economic recovery so much weaker than in the previous two recoveries?

www-usnews2I don’t claim a profound knowledge of economics, but here’s what I think.

During the time of peak prosperity, the American economy was based on a benign cycle—high wages supported a mass consumer market, which supported high employment.

Since the 1980s, American wages have been stagnant or falling, and Americans maintained their purchasing power by means of borrowing.  But since the 2008 recession, they have reached the limits of their power to borrow and spend.

Big financial institutions and holders of financial assets are investing more in debt instruments or in production overseas than in job-creating enterprises in the United States.  At the same time government at all levels has responded to hard times by cutting spending and employment.

Both the public and private sector are dis-investing in education and training, in scientific research and in the infrastructure necessary to a productive economy.

Barring a change of direction, I expect things to continue to worsen.

How can we the people turn things around?  Being honest about the situation would be the first step.  Government could stop doing harmful things, such as the no-strings bank bailout and pro-corporate trade agreements.  Corrente’s 12-Point Platform is the kind of thing we should be thinking about.

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Germany got a debt writedown: Why not Greece?

July 9, 2015

After World War One, the Allies were saddled with war debts to the United States that were beyond their ability to pay.

Herman Josef Abs, center, representing Federal Republic of Germany, signs a 1953 agreement cutting Germany's debts to foreign creditors in half.

Herman Josef Abs, center, representing Federal Republic of Germany, signs a 1953 agreement cutting Germany’s debts to foreign creditors in half.

They hoped to get the money out of Germany, which was obligated to make reparations payments beyond that nation’s ability to pay.

Eventually Germany defaulted on its obligations to the Allies, and the Allies defaulted on their obligations to the USA and its bankers—but not in time to prevent the onset of the Great Depression and the rise of Adolf Hitler.

After World War Two, the Allies learned their lesson.  They allowed the German government [1] to write off half its debts.

If this hadn’t been done, the postwar German economic miracle might not have taken place, and the recovery of Europe as a whole would have been delayed.

Today Greece has more debt than it can repay.  Eventually there is going to have to be a write-down of this debt.

The question is whether the Greek population will have to be reduced to poverty and Greek national assets sold off at bargain prices before this happens.

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Greece and the new cold war

July 6, 2015

The big banks in Germany and other countries lent money to the Greek government that they had good reason to believe would never be repaid, with the understanding that they would be bailed out either by squeezing the people of Greece or at the expense of European taxpayers in general.

greece_2457626a

Source: The Hindu newspaper in India

Their confidence was not misplaced.  As the chart shows, they have already been able to offload most of the Greek government debt.

The Greek leaders have spoken to the Russian government about a possible rescue.  The Russian government’s reply is that it won’t help as long as Greece is in the Euro currency zone—which, as Ian Welsh pointed out, is as good as saying it will help if Greece leaves.

Independent journalist John Helmer recalled that Victor Yanukovich, the president of Ukraine, accepted a similar bailout offer from Russia and was quickly removed from power.   Helmer reported that Victoria Nuland, the Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, who engineered the regime change in Ukraine, is now working for regime change in Greece.

All this raises the question of just whose interests the U.S. government—and Germany’s—serve.

∞∞∞

Nuland’s Nemesis: Will Greece Be Destroyed to Save Her From Russia, Like Ukraine? by John Helmer for Dances With Bears.

Consequences of the Greek Oxi (No) Vote by Ian Welsh.

Greece Rejects the Troika by Michael Hudson for Counterpunch.

Behind the Greek Crisis by William R. Polk for Consortium News.

There are more TPPs in the pipeline

July 1, 2015

The Trans-Pacific Partnership is just the beginning.

POLITICO reported that four more trade agreements are now being negotiated.

Following Congress’ hard-fought approval of “fast-track” trade authority last week, U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman vowed not only to complete the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership but an even bigger pact with the European Union and three other major trade deals — all in the 18 months remaining in President Barack Obama’s term.

It could add up to the biggest trade blitz in history, transforming the rules under which the world does business.

sw0625cd_590_356“We’ve got a lot of pots on the stove,” Froman told POLITICO while watching senators cast their final votes to send the legislation to the president. We want to get TPP done and through Congress. We want to get TTIP negotiated. We’re going to finish ITA. I’m hoping to finish EGA and TISA.”

Those would be, in order: the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership agreement with the European Union, an even bigger pact than the TPP in terms of economic size; the World Trade Organization’s Information Technology Agreement, which covers about 97 percent of world IT trade; the Environmental Goods Agreement, accounting for 86 percent international commerce in green goods; and the 24-party Trade in International Services Agreement, which involves three-quarters of the United States’ gross domestic product and two-thirds of the world’s services, such as banking and communications.

via POLITICO.

I’d heard of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and the Trade in Services Agreement (TISA), but not the Information Technology Agreement or the Environmental Goods Agreement until now.

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Technology primarily benefits those who own it

June 29, 2015

jobs.5x650I can remember 50 and 60 years ago when people worried about what Americans would do with all the affluence and leisure time that would result from automation.   Today that seems like a cruel joke.

Technology primarily benefits those who own it.  Applied science primarily benefits those who fund it, or at least reflects what the funders are interested in.  There can be spillover effects that benefit everyone, but these don’t necessarily happen of their own accord.

I came across a good article on this topic in Technology Review.  The lesson I draw from it is (1) technology is not a substitute for social and economic reform and (2) there is a need for scientific and technological research outside the domains of for-profit corporations and the military.

LINK

Who Will Own the Robots? in Technology Review.  (Hat tip to naked capitalism}

Wall Street as the co-government of the U.S.

June 23, 2015

I’ve written many posts about the revolving door between Wall Street and Washington, and how the U.S. government puts the interests of the financial oligarchy above the interests of the American public.

I’ve just finished reading a book that shows how far back in American history this goes.

 ALL THE PRESIDENT’S BANKERS: The Hidden Alliances That Drive American Power by Nomi Prins (2014) is a narrative history showing the interdependence of the Presidents and the Wall Street banking and financial community from the early 20th century to the present day.

Nomi Prins showed how American Presidents from 1910 to 1970 had to take the interests of Wall Street banks into account in implementing their policies, and then how, from 1980 on, the banks freed themselves from governmental restrictions to engage in ever-bigger speculations, from which they had to be bailed out.

Her story begins with the Panic of 1907 with President Theodore Roosevelt standing by helplessly while J. Pierpont Morgan summons bankers to his mansion and arranges a bailout to prevent financial collapse.

The Federal Reserve System was created in 1913 in order to prevent such a situation from recurring.

This was a major turning point in American history.  It gave the United States a financial stability and financial resources without which it could not have been a world power.  It made possible U.S. participation in the world wars, the projection of American global power and the great expansion of federal government activity—none of which could have been paid for on a pay-as-you-go basis or with foreign loans.

At the same time, it formalized the position of the great American banks as a kind of fourth branch of government.

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The real U.S. strategic rivalry with China

June 18, 2015

Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.
==Sachel Paige

   The big issue that we Americans have with China is not who controls the Spratley Islands in the South China Sea.

It is the shifting of U.S. manufacturing jobs to China and the U.S. trade deficit with China.

The United States probably does have legitimate economic grievances against China.  Some American economists, for example, think the Chinese government keeps the exchange rate for its currency artificially low in order to make its exports cheaper in world markets.

But the main problems we Americans have with China are due to things we have done to ourselves.

The Chinese never forced U.S.-based companies to give up domestic manufacturing capability. It never forced us Americans to neglect our physical infrastructure—our Internet service, our roads and bridges, our dams and levees. It never forced us to neglect our human resources—our higher education, our industrial research. It never forced our financial elite to invest in debt rather than invest in production.

Trying to substitute a military rivalry for an economic rivalry may or may not hurt China. It will not do us Americans any benefit because our problems do not originate in China.  They originate at home.

China has its own problems—labor unrest, ethnic conflict, corruption, air pollution, suppression of dissent.  Whether any of these problems are potentially fatal, I do not know.   What I do know is that it would be foolish for us Americans to count on China self-destructing.

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The stupidity theory of organizations

June 13, 2015

This was originally posted on April 30, 2013.

dilbert1

Stupidity in big organizations is not a bug. It’s a feature. So say two scholars, Mats Alvesson of Lund University in Sweden and Andre Spicer of City University in England, in their recent paper, The Stupidity Factor in Organizations.

They say organizations need “functional stupidity,” which is a willful lack of recognition of the incompleteness of knowledge and a willful refusal to question the organization’s goals and policies. This builds confidence and loyalty which helps the organization to function smoothly.

Alvesson and Spicer discuss how managers use vision statements, motivational meetings and corporate culture as “stupidity management” to develop loyalty and suppress critical thinking. They discuss how employees use “stupidity self-management” to suppress doubt and get with the program.

In Herman Wouk’s novel, The Caine Mutiny, a recruit decides that the U.S. Navy is an organization designed by geniuses to be operated by idiots. When in doubt, he asks himself, “What would I do if I were a idiot?” That is a gross exaggeration, but an exaggeration of truth.

Managers want employees who are intelligent enough to carry out orders competently, but not so intelligent that they question the orders. Critical thinking creates friction that prevents the organization from running smoothly. Over time the organization’s tendency is eliminate that friction, and become more disconnected from reality.

You can see this in how Washington officials and journalists understand. They treat the processes of government, such as the 60-vote rule in the Senate or the revolving door between corporate and government employment, as if they were objective and unchangeable facts, like the laws of thermodynamics. They treat actual problems, such as unemployment or global climate change, as if they were matters of personal preference.

The trouble with ignoring reality is that sooner or later it catches up with you. Then crisis generates what Alvesson and Spicer call the “How could I have been so stupid?” syndrome.

Click on A Stupidity Based Theory of Organizations for a PDF of Alvesson’s and Spicer’s paper. If you read it with close attention, I think you will see the dry humor beneath their social science jargon.

Click on Understanding Organizational Stupidity for Dmitry Orlov’s summary of their paper and his comments.

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Economists, free trade and the TPP

June 12, 2015

Free-Trade-pg1-copyA writer named Michael Goodwin and an illustrator named Dan E. Burr have come up with a clear and complete explanation of the problems with free trade in general and the Trans Pacific Partnership in particular.  Click on Economix Comix to read it.

More toxic trade agreements are in the pipeline

June 11, 2015
Negotiators of Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement

Scope of the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement

Negotiators of Trade in Services Agreement

Scope of the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership

Negotiators of Trade in Services Agreement

Scope of the proposed Trade in Services Agreement

If Congress approves the Trade Promotion Authority, aka Fast Track, it will grease the way not only for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, but for two other toxic trade agreements now in the pipeline—the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and the Trade in Services Agreement.

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership is basically the same as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, except that it covers a different set of countries.

The Trade in Services Agreement is mainly about deregulation of financial services, but it also has a section on “movement of natural persons.”  In other words, TISA would cover immigrationtemporary visas for specialized workers, according to a draft released by Wikileaks.

Notice which countries are not in any of the three proposed agreements.  The BRICS countries—Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa—would retain sovereignty over their economies after United States, the European Union and their satellites give them up.

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It’s not just Wall Street

May 21, 2015

CFerbIKW8AACo-e

It’s not just the USA that allows bankers and financiers to break the law and get away with it.   Or regards the largest financial institutions as “too big to fail”.

This goes back to Prime Minister Tony Blair, who thought he could make London the world’s financial hub by freeing banks from all regulation.

As in the USA, the government’s priority is to protect the financial institutions rather than to protect the public.

Banking regulation is even weaker in Europe than in the United States, and one of the goals of the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, the next international agreement in the pipeline after the Trans Pacific Partnership, is to set limits on financial regulation.

That would make banking and finance un-reformable, either in the USA, the UK or other TTIP signatories.

Update 5/22/2015.  The five banks that pleaded guilty to rigging interest rates and the exchange rate for foreign currencies are Britain’s Barclays and the Royal Bank of Scotland, the USA’s Citicorp and JP Morgan Chase and Switzerland’s UBS.

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The claim that off-shoring lowers costs

May 20, 2015

Yves Smith wrote on her naked capitalism blog:

… … The claim that outsourcing and off-shoring lower costs is greatly exaggerated.

Off-shoring and outsourcing … … do lower direct factor and lower-level worker costs.

But they do so at the increase of greater coordination costs of much more highly-paid managers.  And they also increase shipping and financing costs, and downside risk.

Having people work at a distance, whether managerially or by virtue of being in an outside organization where the relationship is governed by contract, increases rigidity (harder to respond to changes in market demand) and the odds of screw-ups due to communication lapses.

And outsourcing also reduces an organization’s skills.  Those lower-level people have a lot of product know-how that you lose when you transfer activities to an outside operation.

It’s nice to think that you can hollow out your organization and just do all the sexy design and marketing stuff and dump the grunt work on other players.  But over time you are breeding future competitors.

Thus off-shoring is best understood as a device for transferring income from the rank and file to middle level and senior executives.

via naked capitalism.

In short, off-shoring lowers the wages of production workers, and raises the salaries and importance of managers.   And who makes the decision about off-shoring?  The managers!

This reminds me of America by Design and Forces of Production, books I read by an economic historian named David Noble.   He wrote that there was no evidence of an overall economic benefit in replacing skilled workers with automatic machinery.  The benefit was in increasing the power of managers and industrial engineers, and decreasing the power of workers.

There’s something called public choice theory, which is about how public officials, when making decisions, consider their own good as well as the public good.  I’d say this theory applies just as much to decisions within corporations or any other organization.

What it means is that when corporate officials say “the market” determines this or that, we the people are entitled to ask—the market for what and for whom?

How Apple undermined the US economy

May 8, 2015

I’ve always bought Ford and General Motors cars, partly because I wanted to support jobs for my fellow Americans.

As Abraham Lincoln reportedly put it, “When I buy a shirt from England, I get a shirt and England gets a dollar.  But when I buy a shirt from America, I get a shirt and America gets a dollar.”

At the same time, I’ve always bought Apple computer products, and, in so doing, I may have done more to undermine the U.S. economy than I did when I bought a Ford Escort or a GM Saturn.

9554-1329-applecash-140611-lI read an article yesterday on a blog called Moneyball Economics about how Apple offshored the American smartphone industry to South Korea, Taiwan and mainland China.

This is a big thing.  The writer, Andrew Zatlin, pointed out that the United States imported nearly $100 billion worth of smartphones each year, half of them Apple iPphones.  Smartphones are the third largest U.S. import, behind oil and automobiles.

He said it is like a Marshall Plan for these three countries.  The iPhone industry creates a million jobs in eastern Asia and provides valuable technological knowledge that makes those countries more competitive in the world.   They aren’t all Apple smartphones, but Apple has half the market and sets the pace.

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Another stock market bubble ready to pop?

May 7, 2015

wall_street_stock_market_bubble

Why are stock prices rising while the real economy is doing so badly?

Answer: Stock buybacks.

Mike Whitney, writing for Counterpunch, explains how corporate CEOs keep their stock prices high even when their sales and profits are lagging by borrowing money and buying back stock.

CEO salaries and bonuses are typically tied to stock prices, so CEOs are rewarded for increasing their corporate debt rather than figuring out how to improve efficiency and make better products.  Whitney quoted Wall Street analysts as saying stock buybacks account for more than half the post-recession rise in the stock market.

Janet Yellen and Ben Bernanke at the Federal Reserve Board made this possible by holding down interest rates, an action that punishes risk-averse small savers who’d prefer to keep their money in insured bank accounts and pushes them into the financial markets.

That’s why the financial markets are doing so well and working Americans are doing so badly.  But this cannot go on forever, and I think the next crash will be worse than the previous one, just as the current recovery is worse than the previous one.

LINKS

The Rich Get Richer: Titanic Stock Bubble Fueled by Buyback Blitz by Mike Whitney for Counterpunch.

The Whisper of the Shutoff Valve by John Michael Greer on The Archdruid Report.

Debating the TPP: links to the pros and cons

May 2, 2015

I’m strongly against the proposed Trans Pacific Partnership agreement and the fast track proposal for approving it, based on what I know of both.

I write this even though I admit I don’t know what will be in the TPP when it is finally submitted to Congress.  I could be wrong in everything I say.   I don’t think I will be, in fact I’m pretty sure I won’t be, but in this post, I link to arguments in favor as well as those opposed so you can judge both sides of the question.

I link.  You decide.

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A graph showing what went wrong with the U.S.

April 30, 2015
imrs

Double click to enlarge.

This chart shows the average annual income, year by year, of the bottom 90 percent of income earners (top to bottom scale) and upper 1 percent of income earners (left to right scale).

Unless you have a good reason for believing that American working people became less productive after 1973 or so, and the economic elite suddenly became more valuable, there is something very wrong with the U.S. economy.

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Poor nations and the new world order

April 28, 2015

One of the things I’ve come to realize in recent years is that institutions exist that constitute a kind of world government.

I always thought that for a world government to exist, it would have to have its own army.  But the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the investor-state dispute settlement judges in international trade agreements don’t need armies to enforce their—unless you consider the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency to be their army.

PrashadPoorerNations97818I just finished reading  THE POORER NATIONS: A Possible History of the Global South (2012) by Vijay Prashad, which is about how international institutions came into being to fight nationalistic governments in Africa, Asia and Latin America—the Third World.

These international institutions are greatly from the world government envisioned by the idealists who created the United Nations.

I’m worried about how the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement and other proposed trade agreements would create rules to protect international corporations and investors against national laws to protect labor, public health and the environment.  But for Third World nations, as Prashad showed, this is nothing new.

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A note on the TPP and fast track

April 23, 2015

I’ve been writing about the proposed Trans Pacific Partnership agreement as if it were a done deal, and the only significance of the Trade Promotion Authority bill, aka “fast track,” in regard to the TPP is to push it through with a minimum of debate.  This is not so.

I do in fact think that is the significance of “fast track,” but I should emphasize that the TPP is not a done deal.  The Japanese government is balking at some of the proposals and, without Japan, the TPP would be meaningless.

So a “fast track” plan that allowed Congress to give meaningful input into the negotiations would be important.  Whether or not the Wyden-Hatch-Ryan bill does this is an important question.

‘Fast track’ involves more than just the TPP

April 21, 2015

The significance of “fast track” goes far beyond clearing the way for quick approval of the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement.

There are other TPP-like trade agreements now under negotiation, such as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and the Trade In Services Agreement.

The Trade Promotion Authority bill, otherwise known as “fast track,” would govern how such agreements are negotiated and voted on in the future.

In theory this could work well.  Negotiators would pursue objectives set by Congress, the leaders of Congress would be kept informed as negotiations progress and ratification of the agreement would be only a formality.   But there is no mechanism in the current fast track bill by which Congress can call the negotiators to account or demand information.

Fast track assumes good faith on the part of all concerned, and, based on the historic record, including the way the TPP has been negotiated, I think this would be a naive assumption.

LINK

Hatch Bill Would Revive Controversial 2002 Fast Track Mechanism That Faces Broad Congressional, Public Opposition by the staff of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch division.

What’s Wrong With Wyden-Hatch-Ryan’s Fast Track Bill – The Specifics by Gaius Publius for Down With Tyranny (via naked capitalism).  [Added 4/22/2015]


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