A Shameful Society

What kind of world do we live in when a slime ball like Bill O’Reilly not only doesn’t get fired for sexual harassment but also gets a huge payoff when the company he works for (FOX) realizes that people are upset that he got away with sexually harassing multiple women – who were also paid … Continue reading “A Shameful Society”

What kind of world do we live in when a slime ball like Bill O’Reilly not only doesn’t get fired for sexual harassment but also gets a huge payoff when the company he works for (FOX) realizes that people are upset that he got away with sexually harassing multiple women – who were also paid off by Fox to keep them from pursuing charges? Certainly I’m no fan of the politics of Fox news, but this takes the cake – essentially, O’Reilly just got a huge payoff for being a dirtbag – it’s almost as bad as electing a man accused of sexually assaulting an underage girl to the office of the President – which, come to think of it, actually happened and so this shouldn’t be a surprise at all. Decency does not matter any more in the United States – only money.As long as existing home sales rise (they have), marketshare, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average rises – all is forgiven.

I have spent a fair amount of time trying to figure out what is propping up our economy and I’ve failed to discover anything – which is not a surprise – no one seems to have the answers as to why the economy in general should be rising but the fundamentals of the economy remain gloomy. I’ve got a few guesses 1) there is a lot more US Currency being printed than we are being told – the economy is still being fluffed 2) student debt is somehow being packaged and resold despite an average default of once every minute 3) capital doesn’t have a safehaven or a strong negative bet and is bouncing around while it waits for a shoe to drop.

As a retailer, I know one thing for sure, people are not spending recklessly on material goods. I don’t know where their money is going – but they are being tight with it when it comes to spending in brick and mortar shops. My suspicion is they are spending credit on online retail, spending cash on food and experiences like travel, and investing equity in their properties which they use for AirBnB rentals – which drives the cost of rent up and the cost of buying a property up as well.

And all of that leaves the great majority of us – scratching our heads and wondering where all the prosperity we were promised as kids has disappeared to. And the answer is, it doesn’t matter. Go buy a lottery ticket or do some serious sexual harassment because that is the surest path to riches in the USA of today.

Where Does Capitalism Lead?

I’ve established (many times) that I am not psychic. So I won’t spend a few paragraphs guessing where the world economy (or the American economy) is heading. I don’t know. I don’t think anyone knows. We are in uncharted waters.

There are a lot of misconceptions about what capitalism is and what it isn’t. One thing I’ve heard frequently is that the Chinese economy has moved towards capitalism – that is not true. First of all, let’s get a definition of capitalism out of the way. Websters offers the following:

an economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market

There are three key concepts here – private or corporate ownership and control rather than state (although I think corporate ownership is something altogether different), the use of investments for control, and competition in a free marketplace.

Ownership and Control of the Means of Production
In reality there are four types of economies. Primitive, Command, Market, and Mixed. In a primitive economy the means of production belong to the producer. A command economy gives control of the means of production to the state. A market economy gives control to the market itself and a mixed economy combines aspects of command and market economies – for example – the government controls education and the post office in the USA.

So, capitalism itself in a pure form would be a pure market economy with no government intervention or control. Essentially, capitalism leads to big fish swallowing small fish and small fish trying to get big enough to swallow smaller fish and eventually to swallow big fish. Capitalism may start with a level playing field (in an idealized world) but eventually it leads to Disney owning Marvel, Pixar, ABC, and every other entertainment company while Google swallows every new technology company, Facebook eats all the social fish, and JP Morgan eats all the other banks. In the meantime, the capital itself is consolidated into not just top corporate hands, but also into top tier individual hands – the 1% of the 1%. Capitalism is not about making a profit from your work – all economies are built around that. Capitalism is about mergers and acquisitions of the means of production, distribution, and disposal. It’s fish eat fish until there is only one fish that has nothing to eat and then we have a ‘Too Big to Fail’ situation where government steps in and saves the big fish – at which point, we are no longer talking about capitalism and free markets – we are talking about a command economy with the illusion of capitalism.

This is where capitalism leads. As I said at the outset, I’m not psychic. I can say for certain that capitalism leads here because it is where we are. As the World Bank and IMF sail into the bizarre waters of Quantitative Easing on the winds of salable debt and free spinning currency production – we have left the market economy behind though we still cling to the idea that a free market is running. In truth, the US economy has been a mixed economy for a long long time. We are closer to a command economy now than we have ever been. And part of the reason this has been allowed to happen is because people have this crazy idea that capitalism means making a profit. China is not capitalist. And yet, they make huge profits and have more entrepreneurs than any country in the world. China is a command economy. The US is a command economy with bizarre monetary leftovers of a market economy.

And that leaves everyone who is not in the top 1% vulnerable. The means of production and the power to overcome regulations to production, distribution and disposal exists only at the top of the pyramid. Capitalism leads to vast inequality first and then to an increasingly command economy ruled by corporate or private interests that are dependent on expansion and growth of market share. At a certain point, that expansion and growth can only be achieved by opening new markets through politics and war. And the gross inequality leads to either an altruistic super-state or to genocide of those unable or unwilling to produce for the corporate controlled government.

So where should we be heading? I’m not sure it matters. My personal preference would be a sort of socialist syndicalism market economy. That is, the government controlling certain essential industries (agriculture, medicine, housing, education, security) and worker/user owned syndicates or co-ops competing in a free market for everything else. But the question is moot. We can go nowhere until we see where our current monstrosity takes us.

4 years in the USA

It was yesterday that we passed the 4 years in the USA milestone. Yes, of course, I was born here – but the milestone is in regards to my family – and our time together. We’ve been here 4 years now. For me personally, I lived abroad from January 2009 until April 2013 – just a little over four years. My wife spent her entire life without having ever been to the USA and so did my daughter at least until the age of one. So, yesterday, April 17th, 2017 marked four years for us in the USA. Here is what we have done:

We arrived in 2013 with three large suitcases and about $7000. We had no home and no jobs. My relatives turned us away and told us they had their own problems to deal with – despite their assurances while we were abroad that they ‘had our backs’ until we were on our feet. I should have known better than to trust relatives.

I bought a $1500 car and moved my wife, 1-year-old daughter and myself into a foreclosure squat with a friend from high school in Sacramento while I looked for work in Silicon Valley. I quickly learned that over forty meant too old to get a job in the Bay Area.

I moved my family to the town on the West Coast that had the lowest incidence of child molesters combined with the lowest rent. I paid our expenses buying at thrift shops, yard sales, and estate sales and then selling on Ebay. Then I opened an antique mall space. Then I started selling in flea markets. Then I opened an antique store in our new town. Then I started publishing a small town news-sheet. Then I ran for public office but lost after only getting 33% of the vote. Then I realized that small town elected positions are volunteer only and decided to focus on my family and business.

Then I ran my business for a couple of years. Now, here I am, but not very satisfied with my existence…now, I am ready to change…meanwhile my wife became a citizen, my daughter started kindergarten and dance classes, and we have become a part of this small town…

Now, what to do?

What I’m Reading: The Ascent of Money by Niall Ferguson

My quest to understand the world we live in continues to focus on capital and finance with The Ascent of Money by Niall Ferguson, like another book I recently read and reviewed, Money – this was written on the eve of a major financial catastrophe – though Ferguson, to his credit, is much more aware of the systemic instability he is writing in than Robertson was. And, unlike the Great Depression, the onset of the Great Recession had already begun at the time of Ferguson’s writing and by the time he wrote the revised conclusion of the paperback version – the major effects had already been felt and dealt with and the recovery efforts were well underway.

This was a good book and offered a wealth of information about the transition of money from hard currency to fancifully re-packaged imaginary money based on money that was loaned but which never actually existed and then even to the most chimeric form of capital yet – the hedge fund. Ferguson’s telling of the birth of banks, stock companies, paper currency, debt markets, and derivatives was both entertaining and informative. I’d recommend this book to anyone who wants to understand capitalism and money.

That being said, Ferguson is a cheerleader of capitalism and an enthusiastic supporter of the positive benefits of money. For Ferguson, there seems to be no possibility of imagining a world in which unfettered capitalism, collecting interest, and central governmental oversight of monetary instruments could possibly exist. There is a palpable admiration present in his tales of swindlers, con-men, and thieves enriching themselves at the expense of honest workers and virtually no empathy present as he ignores the human toll that the financial escapades of men and governments wreak upon five centuries of humanity. He is a gifted storyteller and a talented teacher of economic principles and history – but ultimately, it is clear that he is a capitalist and not a humanitarian.

Still, the book is a must-read as these several notable passages illustrate:

..there were few mourners when the last meaningful vestige of it {the gold standard} were removed on August 15, 1971, the day that President Nixon closed the so called ‘gold window’ through which, under certain restricted circumstances, dollars could still be exchanged for gold. From that day onward, the centuries old link between money and precious metal was broken.

In his chapter about financial bubbles, Ferguson tells the colorful tale of John Law, a murderer fleeing justice in his native Scotland, who managed to take complete control of the French Royal Bank and essentially destroyed the treasury of France (and her citizens) through selling shares in the Mississippi company which was responsible for leaving France bankrupt and in need of the capital that selling the Louisiana Purchase to the fledgling United States brought. According to Ferguson, Law was single-handedly responsible for the founding of New Orleans and the ascent of Britain over France. I would love to see a movie about Law, but I’m glad to have not been one of his direct victims.

And finally, this quote struck me as incredibly powerful. It’s worth holding onto and thinking about deeply.

Longer life is good news for individuals, but it is bad news for the welfare state and the politicians who have to persuade voters to reform it.

And that, is perhaps the most powerful, though unintended message of this book – what is good for the individual is not necessarily good for the capitalist or the capitalist state. Buyer beware indeed.

The Preaster Cat and Preaster Bunny – Celebrating Preaster


I won’t be able to spend Easter morning with my 5-year-old daughter and I hate to miss the excitement and joy of the holidays as she experiences them – so this year- I let her in on a little known secret which I’m about to share with you. The Friday before Easter is a very little known day called PREASTER – yes, Virginia, there is a Preaster Bunny and if you are good he brings you a book, if you are bad he leaves a list of chores – but the real star of Preaster is the PREASTER CAT! If you are good, the Preaster Cat leaves you a hat (and other presents inside it) and if you are bad he leaves you a rat! Preaster is a non-religious holiday – we chose to leave a note for the Preaster Cat and the Preaster Bunny along with a dish of milk for the Preaster Cat and a carrot for the Preaster Bunny.This morning when she woke up – my daughter was overjoyed to find her hat, book, and assorted presents. “I must have been so good!” she exclaimed “I love being good!” And she is – and so a holiday is born. This year, the holiday shifted away from weird religious rituals and candy filled eggs laid by a magic bunny (which will still be there but not be emphasized by us) to the power of being good and being rewarded with a book and a hat. In any event – this morning has been much more fun than most Friday’s before Easter.

The Shadow President

If I were the shadow president or the country that had blackmail material and had handed the presidency to the president, I would want the narrative that the media is playing right now. The shadow president is being portrayed as an outsider with no power or influence and the Russians are being portrayed as enemies…for the white house – this seems incredibly convenient. For the shadow government and the shadow president, it seems prudent.