A Poll of Entrepreneurs shows President Obama as one of the most Anti-Middle Class Presidents Ever

Posted by PITHOCRATES - October 19th, 2013

Week in Review

This is the worst economic recovery since that following the Great Depression.  And it’s not George W. Bush’s fault.  Despite what he did to increase the size of government.  No.  The anemic recovery is due to President Obama.  And his anti-business policies (see Not open for business posted 10/12/2013 on The Economist).

America is not producing as many start-ups as it did a decade ago and those that have been created are providing fewer jobs—less than five each, compared with an historical average of about seven. Start-ups created 2.7m new jobs in the 2012 financial year compared with 4.7m in 1999.

The financial crisis clearly bears a lot of the blame for reducing America’s stock of capital and animal spirits. But it is only a partial explanation. The decline in the number of firms going public began in 2001. And these problems are continuing to delay the recovery despite the federal government pump-priming the economy and keeping interest rates near zero.

So there you have it.  Federal government pump-priming and near zero interest rates do NOT stimulate economic activity.  As these are the bedrock of Keynesian economics then Keynesian Economics does NOT work.  This is a problem for America.  Because President Obama and the liberal left are dyed-in-the-wool Keynesians.  And why are they Keynesian extremists despite the historical record of Keynesian failure?  Because Keynesian economics empowers Big Government.  That is, Keynesian economics favors those in power.  Not the people.

Three years ago John Dearie and Courtney Geduldig, who both worked for the Financial Services Forum, which represents America’s biggest financial institutions, came up with an inspired idea. Why not ask entrepreneurs themselves what is going wrong? Both big multinationals and established small firms have lots of representatives in Washington, DC. Entrepreneurs are too busy inventing their companies to spend time lobbying. The pair organised meetings and conducted lots of polls. Across a vast and diverse country they heard the same message from everyone they asked: entrepreneurship is in a parlous state. And everyone pointed to the same problems. The result is a new book, “Where the Jobs Are”, which should be dropped onto the heads of America’s squabbling politicians.

The first worry is over human capital. Entrepreneurs repeatedly complain that they cannot hire the right people because universities are failing to keep pace with a fast-changing job market. Small firms lack the resources to provide training and are consequently making do with fewer people working longer hours.

The problem with our educational system is that it teaches our young to become Democrat voters.  Not prepare them for a high-tech economy.  Our public schools teach our children about the evils and unfairness of capitalism while lauding the goodness and fairness of government.  Turning them from their parents who are selfishly destroying the planet with their global warming to the government.  Who is expanding further and further into the private sector to save the polar bears.  And when our kids get to college our system of higher education takes it up a notch.  Attacking the history and the culture that made America the greatest country in the world.  So our college graduates can tell you every bad thing America has ever done but they lack the math and science skills that our high-tech economy so desperately needs.  Forcing businesses to turn to immigrants for those skills.

Immigrants are responsible for launching about half the country’s most successful start-ups and producing a striking number of its patents. But the authorities do their best to drive them out of the country once they have been educated or to break their spirits on the visa treadmill…

The second problem is the complexity and cost of government. Entrepreneurs the world over complain about regulations and taxes. But America’s have lots to gripe about: in 2009-11 the Obama administration issued 106 new regulations each expected to have an economic impact of at least $100m a year. Besides this business founders suffer from the constant political uncertainty generated by a combination of ambitious new legislation, such as Obamacare, and ideological trench warfare. The Vanguard Group, an asset-management firm, calculates that since 2011 Washington’s bickering politicians have imposed, in effect, a $261 billion uncertainty tax that has cost up to 1m new jobs.

Any administration that raises taxes and issues 106 new regulations is no friend of small business, jobs or the middle class.  Therefore President Obama is no friend of small business, jobs or the middle class.  No matter how much he says that he is.  If you want to know why this is the worst economic recovery since that following the Great Depression it’s because of the Keynesian in the White House.  And the Keynesians in Congress.  That are waging a war on small business, jobs and the middle class.

The financial crisis has worsened the third problem: raising money. Over 70% of new businesses are launched using savings or assets—particularly houses. The crisis reduced the average net wealth of American households by about 40%. Business founders repeatedly mention other problems too. Venture capitalists are increasingly risk-averse. The Sarbanes-Oxley act imposes additional costs of $1m a year on public companies. Investors no longer bother with “growth stocks” because there is more money to be made in making lots of big trades in established firms. The dramatic decline in the number of firms going public since 2001 is worrying because, over the past four decades, more than 90% of jobs created by start-ups came into being after they went public…

Fixing the small-business problem should be at the top of the political agenda. Some 22m workers are either unemployed or underemployed, or have given up looking for work. If it continues to generate new jobs at its current anaemic rate, America will not return to pre-recession employment levels until 2020. The country is lucky that entrepreneurship is part of its DNA. It seems perverse to put unnecessary obstacles in the path of people whose ambition is to found businesses and hire new workers.

Yes, we should put fixing the small-business problem at the top of the political agenda.  Which the Republicans recently tried by defunding Obamacare.  And reining in out of control spending.  But as this would be a check on the growth of government the Democrats shut down the government before letting that happen.  For they will have their taxes, regulations and spending.  And the middle class be damned.  For theirs is a government of the ruling elite, by the ruling elite and for the ruling elite.

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Singapore going ‘Solyndra’ to find the next Mark Zuckerberg?

Posted by PITHOCRATES - January 26th, 2013

Week in Review

While public education teaches kids the fear of global warming, the evils of capitalism and the goodness of government Singapore is having their schools teach business and entrepreneurial skills.  The U.S. is suffering through the worst economic recovery since the Great Depression.  While Singapore is doing quite well.  And should continue to do well because they don’t teach kids the evils of capitalism in school (see Singapore Hunts for New Zuckerberg With Stanford-Style Dorm by Sharon Chen posted 1/25/13 on Bloomberg).

Singapore became Southeast Asia’s only advanced economy by moving up the technology ladder, turning a trading port into the region’s biggest banking center and a manufacturer of electronics, petrochemicals and pharmaceuticals. Now, the nation is looking to gain a bigger share of a software industry that raised $28 billion in initial share sales last year.

N-House, which opened in August 2011, is one strand of a five-year plan by the government that includes offering new technology companies grants of as much as S$500,000, supporting venture capital funds, and encouraging high schools to teach business and entrepreneurial skills, in an effort to groom the next Mark Zuckerberg, co-founder of Facebook Inc…

The island of 5 million people, ranked the easiest place to do business for seven straight years by the World Bank, is the second-easiest place in Asia after Hong Kong for entrepreneurs to gain access to capital, according to a study by the Milken Institute published in 2010.

Singapore is a success story because it’s an easy place to do business in.  Businesses like that.  So businesses do business in Singapore.  This is a lesson the United States could learn.  Making it easy for businesses to do business.  Detroit, the Motor City, birthplace of the automated assembly line, is a horrible place to do business.  Being the home of the Big Three (General Motors, Ford and Chrysler) you’d think they’d have an edge on manufacturing automobiles.  Yet not one new auto manufacturer has chosen Detroit.  Honda, Toyota, Nissan, Mercedes, BMW, Volkswagen, Hyundai, and Kia all built assembly plants in the United States.  But not one of them picked Detroit.  Because Detroit, the Motor City, is not an easy city to make automobiles in.

So Singapore knows a thing or two about how to do business.  Which, for the most part, is just leaving business the hell alone.  For a business is a lot like a dog having puppies.  They can do it without any help.  In fact, trying to help can actually do more harm to a business than good.  For when the government steps in and provides money the private sector won’t supply you can pretty much guarantee that the government is backing a bad investment.  Think Solyndra in the U.S.  And all those jobs of the future we were supposed to get with all those investments into green energy.  President Obama begins his second term with the worst recovery since the Great Depression.  Despite all that spending to invest into the jobs of the future.  Here’s a lesson Singapore can learn from the U.S.  Creating a business-friendly environment is good.  But trying to influence things in that environment, well, that rarely ends well.  Again, think Solyndra.

“Singapore has done the best job of any government to spawn an entrepreneurial ecosystem,” said Ressi, who travels to the city about three times a year to meet with government officials. “However, I think they’ve gone a little bit too far in making it easy. If they can’t actually raise money from people privately, they probably aren’t worthy of being in existence.”

There are venture capitalists out there with money burning holes in their pocket.  They want to invest it.  They want to groom the next Mark Zuckerberg.  And if these greedy bastards are NOT willing to bet their money on someone there’s a reason for it.  These people are in the business of finding entrepreneurs to back and groom.  And if they don’t invest in an entrepreneur they must have determined that the entrepreneur just doesn’t have what it takes.  So they keep looking for one who does have what it takes.  And if that person is out there the free market will find that entrepreneur.  While governments pour millions into other Solyndras.

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New Zealand, Denmark, Hong Kong, Singapore and Canada are the top 5 Countries for Business

Posted by PITHOCRATES - November 17th, 2012

Week in Review

Once upon a time the United States was the place to be if you wanted to go into business.  It was once so business-friendly in the United States that they overtook one of the world’s greatest empires.  The British Empire.  And caused great concern and consternation in Europe with their growing economic prowess.  As American became the world’s greatest economic power.

But those days are gone now.  When George W. Bush was president the US was still the best place in the world to run a business.  But in President Obama’s first year in office we slipped to the number two spot.  In 2010 we fell to number 10.  And in 2012 we slid even further to number 12.  And with President Obama winning a second term things aren’t likely to improve.  For President Obama is clearly not as good as George W. Bush.  Who kept America the number one place to do business in the world (see New Zealand Tops Our List Of The Best Countries For Business by Kurt Badenhausen posted 11/14/2012 on Forbes).

The U.S. continues to lose ground against other nations in Forbes’ annual look at the Best Countries for Business. The U.S. placed second in 2009, but it has been in a steady decline since. This year it ranks 12th, down from No. 10 last year. The U.S. trails fellow G-8 countries Canada (No. 5), United Kingdom (No. 10) and Australia (No. 11).

Corporate taxes continue to put a damper on American businesses…

It is not just the rate that hinders the U.S., but also the complexity of the tax code. The typical small or medium-size business requires 175 hours a year to comply with U.S. tax laws, according to the World Bank. Overall the U.S. ranks 55th out of the 141 countries we examined in terms of its tax regime. The world’s biggest economy at $15.1 trillion, it also scores poorly when it comes to trade freedom and monetary freedom.

New Zealand ranks first on our list of the Best Countries for Business, up from No. 2 last year, thanks to a transparent and stable business climate that encourages entrepreneurship. New Zealand is the smallest economy in our top 10 at $162 billion, but it ranks first in four of the 11 metrics we examined, including personal freedom and investor protection, as well as a lack of red tape and corruption…

We determined the Best Countries for Business by grading 141 nations on 11 different factors: property rights, innovation, taxes, technology, corruption, freedom (personal, trade and monetary), red tape, investor protection and stock market performance…

Ranking second on our list is Denmark, on the strength of its technology, trade freedom and property rights…

Hong Kong ranks third. Its economy, highly dependent on international trade and finance, remains one of the most vibrant in the world. Credit one of the world’s lowest tax burdens and a high level of monetary freedom…

Singapore comes in at No. 4, ranking in the top 20 in all but one of the 11 metrics we measured…

Canada slid from the top of the rankings in 2011 to No. 5 this year, losing ground on innovation and technology… However Canada remains among the best countries in the world when it comes to trade freedom, investor protection and the ease of starting a new business.

Congratulations New Zealand, Denmark, Hong Kong, Singapore and Canada.  You are the 5 best in the world.  Perhaps one day the US can emulate the great things you are doing.  For we have lost our way.  Let’s hope that you don’t, too.

If there was any further proof that we need to reform our tax code this is it.  Tax compliance costs are sucking capital out of our businesses.  And hindering economic growth.  As evidenced by one of the worst economic recoveries of all time.  There’s a reason for this.  It’s the tax code.  And costly regulatory compliance costs.  Which does not encourage entrepreneurship.  But kills it.  For with today’s red tape you need an army of tax accountants and tax lawyers to start up a business.  Which doesn’t exactly encourage someone with a great idea to spend their life’s savings to go into business.

With another 4 years of pushing America down the list expect one of the worst economic recoveries of all time become even worse.  For this is not a climate to create jobs.  Expect continued high levels of unemployment.  And a worsening of the economy.  For we ain’t seen anything yet.  As President Obama told Russian president Medvedev, “This is my last election. After my election, I have more flexibility.”  Which means he’ll be able to do what he really wants to do in the next four yours.  Which means the first four years were as good as it’s going to get.  And it probably won’t get that good again.

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Great CEOs make Great Companies that make the World a Better Place

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 23rd, 2012

Week in Review

Steve Jobs is no longer with us.  God rest his soul.  But the company he built, Apple, that gave us great things carries on.  But has it lost a little of that magic spark?  The genius that was Steve Jobs?  Yes.  Based on the release of Apple Maps in iOS 6.  Which some have called a debacle.  And something that would not have happened under Jobs.  Which shows us how unique a CEO is.  And how this one person can make the difference between success and failure.  Between a great company.  And a good company.  Despite the attacks on CEOs and their compensation (see Tim Cook Continues to Slowly Kill Post-Steve Jobs Apple by Rocco Pendola posted 9/21/2012 on Forbes).

That said, so much of what matters in tech’s big picture has to do with what will happen tomorrow, not all that’s good about what’s happening today…

Former Intel (INTC) chief Andy Grove wrote a timeless book about leadership, Only the Paranoid Survive. He felt in good times, great leaders needed an attitude of “this too shall pass,” using the time to anticipate threats and prepare themselves to respond fast and effectively.

Grove discusses “Strategic Inflection Points,” where something happens — a shift in technology, new regulations, a competitive salvo — that changes a company’s business overnight. In a blurb on Grove’s book, Steve Jobs said, “You must learn about Strategic Inflection Points, because sooner or later you are going to live through one.”

Because it lacks credible competition, Apple faces few external threats that we know of. Of course, that’s the tricky part about external threats; you do not necessarily see them coming. Great CEOs have to act, in part, like Hollywood producers, dreaming up seemingly unthinkable alternative scenarios to the status quo.

It is a singular vision that defines a company.  From a small startup to a Fortune 500 corporation.  And at the helm is a CEO.  Providing that singular vision.  Someone who can see what others cannot.  Who can see what isn’t there.  Someone who makes change.  Who leads the way.  They don’t follow.  These are people that help us understand that the new thing they created is something that we can’t live without.  This was who Steve Jobs was.  And why the world has so few Steve Jobs.

It is the singular vision of a CEO that makes the world a better place.

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Cuba is Turning to Capitalism to Fix their Socialist Economy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 8th, 2012

Week in Review

Change is coming to Cuba.  A good kind of change.  They’re making a move from communism towards capitalism.  A move no doubt that will sadden a great number of beloved Hollywood actors (see Yes, they’re abierto: Cubans open their doors to small business by Ken Ellingwood posted 4/5/2012 on the Los Angeles Times).

Since President Raul Castro loosened the island’s commerce rules to energize the economy, Cubans all over are pondering how to get in on the wave…

The reform, announced in late 2010, is fast taking root around Havana’s weather-worn downtown and in other cities and towns, prompting Cubans all over to ponder how to get in on the wave…

The sudden wave of entrepreneurship has brought with it shades of cutthroat capitalism.

Garcia said a rival nail shop across the street was undercutting her price for a manicure, $1. But she planned to hold tight…

One vendor said he quit a decent-paying government job last year to strike out on his own, getting a license to sell hardware at the entrance to his home. His “store” is basically a chest heaped with light fixtures, electrical cables, fittings, valves and pieces of rubber hose.

The budding businessman, who declined to give his name, said his earnings of up to $20 a day top his old salary, despite the permit fee and the ups and downs of a merchant’s life…

The reform has boosted the number of small enterprises in Cuba to more than 350,000 since the government of President Raul Castro moved to coax more out of Cuba’s economy and ease the load on the treasury by shaving the bloated public payroll.

Very interesting.  More capitalism is revitalizing weather-worn downtown areas.  And it’s already lowering consumer prices.  And these stores?  Imagine that.  You can’t do that in America.  For you need permits and inspections.  You need the fire marshal to approve of your egress lighting and egress paths.  All of which costs.  Which is why his $20 daily earnings can exceed his government wages.  And perhaps the most interesting of all is the shrinking of the public sector.

My god, can it be?  Is Cuba on a more capitalistic path than America.  Yes, it can be.  First the Berlin Wall falls.  Then the Soviet Union.  Now Cuba.  What will be next?  But more importantly, how will this affect Ed Asner?  The actor who played the beloved character Lou Grant on the Mary Tyler Show?  Whose leftist socialist activism stopped few from still finding a soft spot in their heart for Lou Grant.  Our favorite curmudgeon.  Even though he loves Cuba.  And hates capitalism.  So how will the news of his socialist Cuba going capitalist affect him?  To have Cuba admit that the policies that Asner supported and believed in were wrong?  Will it change his mind?  Probably not.  He’ll probably just say that Raul is betraying his brother Fidel.  And then he’ll try to find a ‘Ted Baxter’ to yell at.

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LESSONS LEARNED #85: “The rich pay more than their fair share of income taxes to provide tax relief for the poor and middle class.” –Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 29th, 2011

Investors Pay a Lower Tax Rate on Investment Income because Investing is Riskier than Earning Income

There’s a lot of class warfare going on right now.  It’s open season on anyone deemed to be rich.  You have President Obama saying the rich don’t pay their fair share of taxes.  That it isn’t right for Warren Buffett’s secretary to pay her taxes at a lower tax rate than her boss.  Statements like this can be very misleading.  Because Warren Buffett’s secretary pays nothing in tax dollars compared to what Warren Buffett pays.  But it sure fans the flames of class warfare.  Which helps when you want to raise taxes on someone.  (Or get reelected).  Because no one wants their own tax rates to go up.  Just those on others who make more than they do.

Except, of course, Warren Buffett.  And some other millionaire investors.  Who are asking President Obama to raise their taxes.  And he has obliged.  At least, he’s trying.  He wants to implement a millionaire’s income tax.  A little extra from those who can most afford it.  Of course, Warren Buffett won’t pay this millionaire’s income tax.  Because he doesn’t pay income taxes.  He’s an investor.  He pays capital gains taxes.

Investors pay a lower tax rate on capital gains than on income.  Because investing has risk.  Working doesn’t.  You never risk losing your income by working.  But you risk your capital by investing.  Hence the lower rate to encourage this risky behavior.  Investing in others.  Like entrepreneurs.  Some of who strike it rich.  Many more, sad to say, fail.  And investors lose everything they invested.  It’s a risky business for investors.  That’s why when their investments pay off they pay off big.  To cover all of those investments where they lost everything.  Raising tax rates on investors, then, would dissuade investment.  Stop the job and wealth creation these successful  entrepreneurs provide.  And deprive the treasury of all the tax revenue they would have created.

The Rich are Paying a Premium in Taxes for being Successful

Let’s look at some data.  Let’s mine some IRS tax returns.  See who is paying income taxes.  And who isn’t paying their fair share.  Let’s break the numbers down into 4 groups.

The poor and middle class (those earning up to $50,000 per year).  The middle class/upper middle class (those earning from $50,000 to $100,000).  The elite white collar and small business owners (from $100,000 to $500,000).  And the rich (over $500,000).  These breakdowns and labeling is not an exact science.  But it’s close enough for analysis.  Below we’ve graphed both percent of total income.  And percent of total taxes paid.  For each of these groups.  All data is mined from SOI Tax Stats – Individual Income Tax Rates and Tax Shares.  And crunched in an Excel spreadsheet.

These are the rich people.  Note that they pay a larger percentage of total taxes than their percentage of total income.  The red line is always well above the blue line.  On average their share of taxes is 8.54% greater than their share of income for the years graphed.  So the rich are paying a premium in taxes for being successful.

Of particular interest is what happens to the rich during a recession.  At both the early and late 2000s recessions their share of income tanked.  As did their share of taxes.  Their share of total taxes fell some 5% in the early 2000 recession.  With a third or so of all taxes coming from these rich, when they lose money so does the U.S. treasury.  This quickly revised those Clinton projected surpluses into deficits.  And it wasn’t anything George W. Bush did.  This was the fallout from the bursting of the dot-com bubble (it was the irrational exuberance that made all of this wealth and tax revenue in the first place.  That and the Lost Decade in Japan.  Not the Clinton tax rate hikes).  Rich people lost money; rich people paid less taxes.

And speaking of Democrat Bill Clinton, note how the rich got richer when he was president.  Not what you would expect from a Democrat.  The champions of class warfare.  But it is true.  While Bill Clinton was president the rich’s slice of the income pie grew approximately 10.51%.  Gee, I wonder what happened to the poor and middle class during this same time.

White Collar Workers and Small Business Owners have a Tax Share Greater than their Income Share

Now let’s take a look at the elite white collar workers and small business owners.  Management, professionals, doctors, lawyers, entrepreneurs, etc.  Here we see that they, too, pay a larger percentage of total taxes than their percentage of total income.  But not as much.  Their tax premium for success is not as great as it is for the rich.  It averaged approximately 3.42% for the years graphed.

Note that the recession didn’t have as great as an effect on them as it did for the rich.  They don’t have as much to gamble with.  The less risk the less reward.  And the fewer losses.  Besides, with small business owners slow and steady wins the race.  They pour all of their investment capital (i.e., their earnings) into their businesses.  And then work 80+ hours a week to wring out every last dime from that investment.

Some industries weather recessions better than others.  Some just get by.  Conservative by nature, they expand during good times.  But not too much that they can’t sustain the larger size during bad times.  For they aren’t rich enough to absorb large losses during really bad times.  Unlike rich investors.  So their income growth is flatter.  But more steady.

The Middle Class/Upper Middle Class have a Tax Share Less than their Income Share

Now the middle class/upper middle class.  Those earning from $50,000 to $100,000.  Typically those living well while still working for someone else.  Note that their share of the tax burden has been in a decline.  Much like their income.  However bad that is, they do pay a smaller percentage of the total tax than their percentage of total income.  The blue line is above the red line.  In other words, they have a tax discount.  A discount that has averaged 5.33% over the years graphed.

Interestingly, these graphs are almost the mirror image of those earning $500,000 or more.  Particularly strange is that their share of the income increases during times of recession.  Which probably reflects their incomes being a larger percentage of the remaining pie after the rich lose so much during bad economic times.

Did the Poor and Middle Class get Poorer under Bill Clinton?

And now the poor and middle class.  Whose share of the tax burden has also been in decline.  As has been their income.  But they, too, pay a smaller percentage of the total tax than their percentage of total income.  Their tax discount has averaged 6.62% for the years graphed.  Which is even more generous than that given to those earning $50,000 to $100,000.

Remember how the rich got richer under Democrat Bill Clinton?  Well as they got richer the poor and middle class got poorer.  Again, not what you would expect from a Democrat in office.  While Bill Clinton was president the poor and middle class’ slice of the income pie decreased approximately 11.85%.  Can this be true?

When the Rich get Richer the Poor get Fewer in Numbers

Well, yes and no.  If you look at the number of returns filed you find out something interesting.  Not only did income decrease for those earning $50,000 or less, their numbers shrank, too.  To illustrate this we’ve compared the number of income tax returns for our income group breakdowns for the years 1996 and 2000 (the beginning and end of the Clinton years for the data graphed).

There was a net decline of 8.85% of people earning $50,000 or less.  Where did they go?  To a higher income group.  The poorest earners in our breakout decreased in numbers.  While the higher income groups all increased in numbers.  Meaning when the rich get richer the poor get fewer in numbers.  In other words, a rising tide raises all boats.

The Best Way to Raise Tax Revenue is to let Rich People get Rich

So what have we learned?  First of all, the rich pay more than their fair share in taxes.  In fact, they pay a portion of the taxes of those earning less than them.  That is, the rich provide tax relief for the poor and middle class.

So the rich getting richer is good.  The richer they get the larger percentage of the total tax burden they pay.  And the more people they move from lower income groups to higher income groups.  By providing investment capital to entrepreneurs.  Who create jobs.  That give the poor and middle class better opportunity.

And the more jobs the more taxpayers there are.  So you have the rich getting richer and paying more taxes.  And these new employees in higher paying jobs paying more in taxes.

Now that’s good tax policy.  If your goal of tax policy is to raise tax revenue.  And if it is then the best way to do that is to let people get rich.

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LESSONS LEARNED #72: “Moms are a lot like CEOs. Only with more responsibility, longer hours and less pay.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 30th, 2011

A Genius may have a Brilliant Idea, but it’s an Entrepreneur that brings it to Market

A CEO is a lot like an entrepreneur.  They’re both a cut above the rest.  And can do what few can do.  Bring two worlds together.  The theoretical world inhabited by great thinkers and inventors.  And the practical world inhabited by people who act.  Who take the things the great thinkers and inventors create and give them to us.   There is a difference between the people that inhabit these worlds.  And most can only live in one or the other.  But CEOs and entrepreneurs can live in both.  That’s what makes them special.  Thinkers and inventors possess a genius of theoretical creativity.  But they can do little with their idea.  The action people can build great things (cars, airplanes, buildings, power plants, cell phones, etc.) but only from a construction plan.  Someone else has to have an idea and think and create the construction plan before they can build.  These are the two worlds.  The genius.  And the builders.  And it is the CEO and entrepreneur that bring these two worlds together.

Nikola Tesla was a genius.  A brilliant theoretical thinker.  He created the world in which we live.  But do you know who he is?  What he created?  Probably not.  Unless you’re a Croat.  Because there are probably a lot of statues of him in Croatia. Because he was born there to Serbian parents.  He eventually moved to America.  Got a job with a guy name Thomas Edison.  Who didn’t appreciate his genius.  Or his one particular ‘crazy’ idea.  But George Westinghouse did. 

That ‘crazy’ idea is the AC power we use today.  Thomas Edison was building DC power plants and a DC electric grid.  Despite all the failings of DC distribution (DC power doesn’t travel far requiring lots of generating plants, different voltages have to have their own generating plant, large power loads require very thick and expensive copper wires, etc.).  There was already a DC electrical infrastructure.  And it was Edison’s.  Which he wanted to expand because it would pay him well.

But Tesla’s AC system was better.  Because it could use transformers.  One power generating plant could provide power at a variety of voltages.  You just needed a transformer to get the voltage you wanted.  Also, electrical power is the product of voltage and current.  High power, then, requires either a high voltage or a high current.  High currents require thick, expensive copper wires.  So high voltage was the way to go.  It allowed power to travel farther over thinner wires.  Therefore, it required fewer generating plants.  And a single electric grid (not one for each voltage).  AC power was much more economical than DC power.  And George Westinghouse saw that.  And took Tesla’s brilliant idea and built the AC power generation and distribution system we use today.

The Business of Beautiful, Estée Lauder

You see, Tesla was at home in the lab.  He was a scientist.  Not a salesman.  That’s why he wasn’t an entrepreneur.  Because, just like being a CEO, you need sales skills to be an entrepreneur.  Because you are the number one sales person in your business.  And Edison and Westinghouse were great salesmen.  That’s why they brought a lot of Tesla’s great inventions to market.  And why Tesla did not.  He was just not a sales person.

But Estée Lauder was.  She was always selling.  And creating.  She was the classical entrepreneur.  Her uncle was in the chemistry business making beauty products.  Which fascinated her from a young age.  He taught her the chemistry.  Taught her how to make the products.  How to use the products.  And she did.  Loved them.  And started selling them.  With a passion.

She started creating her own products.  Using her own kitchen as her laboratory.  When not tending to her two sons.  She demonstrated how to use her products.  Gave away free samples.  And sold.  She was always selling.  She started out small.  By herself.  From these humble beginnings she grew to dominate the industry.  She was relentless.  She worked herself to the premier counter space in department stores by redefining the way cosmetics were sold.  Starting with Saks Fifth Avenue in New York.  She visited each counter to ensure they were meeting her high standards.  She gave away free samples.  She demonstrated.  She touched.  Personally applying products on customers.  That’s why when you walk into a department store you’ll see the Estée Lauder counter first.  And you’ll see all the counters selling the same way.  Giving away free samples.  Demonstrating products.  Showing how to apply products.  The Estée Lauder way.

One Smart Cookie, that Mrs. Fields

Debbi Fields liked to bake cookies.  She married young at 19.  To a Stanford graduate.  And aspiring financial consultant.  And about a year later decided to go into the cookie business.  After an incident at a party with her husband and a lot of his snobby associates.  She apparently mispronounced a word.  Said ‘orientated’ instead of ‘oriented’.  A snob pointed out her faux pas.  Sending her home in tears.  Didn’t much like that experience.  And decided to be something more than a ‘just’ a housewife.  Not that there was anything wrong with that.  And she would love being a housewife.  She would raise 5 daughters.  And add another 5 stepchildren in a second marriage.  But the snobs in her husband’s circle did look down on that particular institution.  It was so old fashioned.  It wasn’t progressive.  It wasn’t what people in their circles did.  So they acted like real asses.

Yet they liked her cookies.  Loved them.  Her husband would take them to work.  Where they were a big hit.  Soft and chewy.  Gourmet.  They were different.  When she asked them if she should go into the cookie business, they said it was a bad idea.  The conventional wisdom said crispy cookies were the way to go.  People didn’t want to buy soft and chewy.  They said as they stuffed their mouths with soft and chewy cookies.  And there were others who told her not to do it.  Even her husband doubted her.  But he loved her.  And would support her. She had no business experience.  But she was a hard worker.  And believed in what she was doing.  She got a bank loan to open a cookie store.  Not so much because the banker believed in the business idea.  But because of the good character of her and her husband.  Whatever the outcome, the bank was willing to take a chance.  Because, success or fail, they knew they would repay the loan.

She opened her first store in a mall food court.  Did not sell a single cookie.  Until she used the Estée Lauder sales method.  She gave away free samples.  People tried.  And people liked.  Soft and chewy was a hit.  She grew the company.  Added more stores.  And made a lot of money.  She was very hands on to maintain the quality.  Again, like Estée Lauder.  She visited her stores.  To make sure they maintained her high standards.  Which is why she refused to franchise.  She was too worried about losing that quality.  Which is what made Mrs. Fields cookies better than the competition.  Her husband computerized her operation.  Adding a computer at each store.  All wired to the Internet and tied into her headquarters.  It was state of the art technology.  Allowing more growth.  While retaining full control.  The growth was fast.  Too fast.  The hands-on management didn’t work well with so many stores.  The debt started to pile up.  And then a recession hit.  Her expensive gourmet cookies became too expensive.  And people stopped buying them.  To save the company she had to sell 80% of it.  And the new owners changed the business model.  Franchised stores.  And bumped Debbie Fields from CEO.  But she remained chairman of the board.  And though only a minority shareholder, the business Debbie Fields created continues on.  Her only mistake was being so successful so fast.  And if you’re going to have a fault that’s not a bad one to have.  By the way, don’t forget that she did all of this while raising 5 daughters.  Which probably made the running of the multi-million dollar business the easy part of her life.

Entrepreneurs, CEOS and Moms

Entrepreneurs and CEOs.  They’re a different breed.  They can be both brilliant thinkers like Nikola Tesla.  And aggressive sales people like Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse.  Such as Estée Lauder.  And Debbie Fields.  These mothers dominated their industries.  And set the bar for everyone else.  Lauder built an empire that dominates still.  Fields use of technology to streamline operations is a model for business efficiency at Harvard Business School.  Two of America’s most successful entrepreneurs and CEOs.  And both were moms first.

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Continued Bad Economic Data sends Investors to Safe Harbors

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 10th, 2011

Times are Good when the Junk Market is Good

Junk bonds were big in the Eighties.  During the great economic boom courtesy of Ronal Reagan.  Lower tax rates.  Fewer regulations.  It was a time for entrepreneurs to take chances.  And they did.  Some took some really big chances.  They were thinking way outside the box.  In new technologies.  So there weren’t a lot of people lining up to finance their risky ideas.  Because they were too risky for most.  That’s where junk comes in.  A junk bond is a high yield bond.  It pays a high interest rate.  Because there is a very good chance the bond issuer may fail.  Making those bonds worthless.  So to attract capital to fund these risky ideas required a larger return on investment.  And the junk bond market was the place to go.

A lot of things happened that wouldn’t have had it not been for junk.  MCI Communications is a junk bond success story.  The Chrysler bailout in the Eighties was another.  Even Ted Turner owes the success of Turner Broadcasting to junk.  Yes, there were a lot of failures.  But that’s what makes junk so enticing.  You get a high return for that high risk.  A lot of entrepreneurs became millionaires.  And a lot of rich investors got richer.  So when the junk market is doing well, people are taking chances.  Taking risks.  Creating things.  New technologies.  And jobs.  Growing the economy.  But when the junk market isn’t doing well, few are taking risks.  Few are creating jobs.  And the economy isn’t growing.  Or won’t be growing.  For if the economic outlook is bleak, investors look for safe harbors for their cash.  Until a more favorable business/investing climate returns (see Junk bonds hit a speed bump by Ben Rooney posted 6/10/2011 on CNNMoney).

Investors had been flocking to corporate “junk” bonds since the early months of 2009 amid a broad flight to risky assets because of the high yields that come along with that risk. But demand for those bonds has tapered off in the last few weeks following a spate of lousy economic news.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty in market,” said Jody Lurie, corporate credit analyst at Janney Capital Markets. “We’ve had a lot of bad news in the last few weeks and that’s making people hesitant.”

Business owners as well as investors hate uncertainty.  And there’s a lot of that these days.  Suffice it to say the Obama administration is not the most business-friendly administration.  Unless you’re a crony of the administration.  But few small business owners and entrepreneurs can afford what it takes to be a crony capitalist.  Because special favors don’t come cheap.  And there’s that ugly recession that just won’t end.  Few want to invest and create jobs when so many are unemployed and are unable to buy things.

“This market is extremely expensive,” [William Larkin, a bond portfolio manager at Cabot Money Management] said. “I’m afraid that we could get some hot inflation data on top of the prices,” he added. And that could leave bondholders with a negative return.

Inflation is another reason why the junk bond market is losing its appeal.  The value of a bond lies in the difference between your bond interest rate and the prevailing interest rate on the street.  Inflation increases interest rates.  So as inflation increases, that premium you had over the interest rates of ‘safe’ investments decreases.  Making the return on your junk more similar to ‘safe’ investments.  Only you still carry that high risk of your bonds becoming worthless.  If inflation pushes interest rates over your bond interest rate, you lose money.  Because your high-risk bonds pay less than safer investments like government treasury bonds.  So a bad economic outlook and/or inflation worries will make people run away from junk bonds to something safer.

A Six Week Losing Streak

In fact, when bad economic news comes out that says we’ll have more recession before we have any economic recovery, junk bond holders aren’t the only ones looking for safer investments.  Investors also flee the stock market.  Especially when the stock market is setting near-record losing streaks (see At noon: Dow surrenders 12,000 by David Berman posted 6/10/2011 The Globe and Mail).

The Dow was recently spotted at 11,980.78, down about 144 points or 1.2 per cent, marking its lowest level since March amid ongoing concerns about the health of the U.S. economy…

With Friday’s decline, U.S. indexes are well on their way to posting their sixth consecutive losing week – a losing streak noted by Bloomberg as the worst string of down weeks since 2002…

Meanwhile, investors have been diving into the safety of bonds. The yield on the 10-year U.S. Treasury bond recently dipped below 3 per cent as bond prices (which move in the opposite direction to yields) have risen to their highest levels since early December.

And this despite the possibility of a U.S. default after reaching their legal debt limit.  Everyone in the administration is predicting doom and gloom about a U.S. default.  Apparently the investors are more frightened by the horrible economy, high unemployment numbers and a recession that never ends.

Time to call the Recession a Depression?

Of course, this recession will end.  There hasn’t been one that hasn’t yet.  They’re usually over anywhere from 6 months to a year or so.  That’s usually sufficient for the market to correct.  But it may take a little longer this time (see U.S. Will Trail Global Growth for Decade: Fink by Sree Vidya Bhaktavatsalam and Charles Stein posted 6/10/2011 on Bloomberg).

BlackRock Inc. (BLK)’s Laurence D. Fink, chief executive officer of the world’s biggest asset manager, said the U.S. will trail the global economy for much of the next decade.

The U.S. economy will grow 2 percent to 3 percent for the next five to 10 years, lagging behind global growth of 3 percent to 5 percent, Fink said today in a Bloomberg Television interview with Erik Schatzker from the Morningstar conference in Chicago. ..

A series of reports suggests the world’s largest economy is decelerating. Manufacturing grew at its slowest pace in more than a year in May, consumer spending rose less than forecast in April, and the unemployment rate unexpectedly climbed to 9.1 percent in May.

You know, after 10 years I don’t think you call it a recession anymore.  I think you start calling it a depression.

Where’s a Good World War when you Need One?

The last time we had a depression as bad as this there was a Big Government president in the White House.  He spent money like there was no tomorrow.  And none of it helped.  Every New Deal program was a failure.  They didn’t put people back to work in the private sector.  You know what did?  World War II.  It wasn’t FDR that ended the Great Depression.  It was Adolf Hitler.  Because someone had to build all that war material to defeat him.  And that someone was us. 

Things are different today, though.  There is no villain to come to Obama’s rescue.  It will be up to him alone to make his policies more business friendly.  Or his successor in 2012.

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LESSONS LEARNED # 50: “What do the great entrepreneurs have in common with politicians? Not a whole hell of a lot.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - January 27th, 2011

Cigarettes may be Bad for You, but they’re Good for Government

Government services cost money.  A lot of money.  And there are only a few ways government can get money.  They can tax their citizens.  Borrow money.  Or print money (if they’re the federal government).  When the government provides only the bare essentials for its populace, they can usually pay for those services with the taxes they collect.  This is the best way to pay for things.  It has the least adverse affect on our money.  And our credit rating.  But you have to be careful not to dampen economic activity.  Because taxes are a function of that activity.  And that activity can be a function of taxes.  There is a general inverse relationship between the two.  High taxes often gets you low economic activity.  Low taxes tend to give you high activity.  Other things being equal, of course.

But government spending tends to grow.  For various reasons.  And sometimes when it does, the spending is greater than the amount collected in taxes.  Especially during recessionary times.  So, to cover the deficit between revenue and spending they borrow money.  Or print it.  Lots of governments do this.  You can see record debt levels and record deficit spending throughout the world.  Greece was in the news recently.  Argentina suffered some bad times a few decades ago.  And now the United States is reeling a bit from their crushing deficits and debt.  And there are more.  Few nations are immune from this problem.

As this progresses, governments begin looking for additional tax revenue.  Such as sin taxes.  Cigarettes may be bad for your health.  But they’re still legal.  Why?  Taxes.  Few things do we tax so heavily.  And they’re one of the few things that we can heavily tax.  Because they’re addictive.  Cigarettes are a windfall for the government coffers.  But it doesn’t stop with taxes.  The government even sued Big  Tobacco.  To help pay for the medical costs the government incurs treating people (via Medicare and Medicaid) with smoking related diseases.

Which came First?  The Politician or the Entrepreneur?

Cigarettes may be bad for you.  But this country owes a lot to tobacco.  Back before it was bad for us (well, at least before we knew it was bad for us.  Then again, it wasn’t really all that bad for us back then.  For few were living long enough for it to become a health problem.  But I digress) it was a pretty big cash crop.  Even used for money because it was so valuable.  So an industry grew.  And that industry became a very lucrative one.  With deep pockets.  Producing an addictive product.  A veritable gold mine for a high-spending government.

Now, the government didn’t do a thing to make a single cigarette.  But it profited handsomely off of cigarettes.  It’s sort of like that chicken and egg riddle.  Which came first?  Well, speaking about business and government, it’s not much of a riddle.  Business came first.  For without business, there would be no government.  Because someone has to create wealth first before they could tax it away.  Or sue it away.

You see, that’s the difference between entrepreneurs and politicians.  Government needs entrepreneurs.  But entrepreneurs don’t need government.  Because entrepreneurs create things.  While government takes from people that create things.

Dirty, Sexy Energy is Destroying the Planet

Entrepreneurs have invented some pretty impressive things.  James Watt gave us a pretty efficient steam engine.  Henry Ford gave us a pretty affordable car.  Watt helped to launch the Industrial Revolution.  Ford just took it to new heights.  With his mass production.

The steam engine was the big first motor of the world.  It pulled us forward.  In steam locomotives.  And coal-fired power plants.  It was a giant leap forward for mankind.  Then came the internal combustion engine.  More compact.  And more powerful.  The first diesel-electric locomotive outclassed the state of the art steam locomotive in every way.  This little power plant was smaller.  More powerful.  And cleaner.  (Steam locomotives belched huge plumes of smoke and ash wherever they went.)

It may have been cleaner.  But it was still dirty.  For both the steam engine and the internal combustion engine produced carbon dioxide.  And the environmentalists were saying that this carbon dioxide was warming the world.  They called it global warming.  And it was bad.  Mostly theory.  But the theory pointed to nothing less than apocalypse.  Someone had to do something.  To save the planet.  And, guess what?  Someone was ready.  And willing.

Just give me something to Tax, Entrepreneur

A high-spending government just embraced these environmentalists with wet, slobbering kisses.  Because they knew what to do.  Not about cleaner energy sources.  But about taxing the dirty ones.  And they needed more taxes.  For their high spending.  So the environmentalists and government were rather simpatico.  To say the least.

Their idea?  Carbon taxes.  And carbon trading (i.e., Cap and Trade).  Let’s face it, modern civilization is addicted to energy.  We can’t do without it.  So we’ll never stop using it.  Sort of like cigarettes.  So they would tax carbon.  Or make polluters buy permits to pollute.  Either way they make big money.  All in the name of saving the planet.

Sure, it all sounds nice.  In a touchy feely way.  But taxing energy will kill economic activity.  With the cost of doing business going up, there will be less business.  The carbon taxes/polluting permits may not even offset the loss of tax revenue resulting from this decline in economic activity.  But when times are desperate, they often will try desperate measures.  And when you have deficits and debt at record levels, these are desperate times.  So they’ll try to push carbon taxes.  And pollution permits.  Not to save the planet.  But for the revenue.  And they will thank God for the entrepreneur who was able to make something that people wanted.  That they couldn’t do without.  Because without the entrepreneur, there would be nothing to tax.

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FUNDAMENTAL TRUTH # 50: “What do the great entrepreneurs have in common with politicians? Not a whole hell of a lot.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - January 25th, 2011

A Mathematician, an Engineer and a Beautiful Woman

Stop me if you heard this one.  A mathematician and an engineer are at one end of a long room.  At the other end is a bed.  On the bed is a beautiful, naked woman.  She also happens to be a brainiac.  And someone who enjoys a bit of fun.  If you know what I mean.

She offers to get intimate with the guy who can solve this riddle.   Cross the room in a series of moves.  Each move shall be one half of the distance between them and her.  Be the first to do that and reach her and she’ll make all of your dreams come true.

Well, the mathematician sits down with paper and pencil and starts scribbling.  He proves mathematically that is impossible to ever reach the beautiful woman.  Because by moving half of the distance each time, there will always be a remaining distance to cover.  Therefore, he concludes, it’s impossible.  He looks up to tell her this.  And when he does he sees the engineer lying up in bed with her.  Smoking a cigarette.

Entrepreneurs Like to Think outside the Box

So what happened?  Well, while being theoretically impossible to reach her, the engineer could get close enough for a bit of fun.  And did.  It’s an old joke.  With many variations.  And depending on who’s telling it the loser is sometimes a physicist.  Or even the engineer.  Of course, some may say it’s the beautiful woman that losers in all cases.  Because smoking hot women don’t hang out with math and engineering geeks.  Until they get rich enough to buy them things, that is.  But I digress.

Entrepreneurs and politicians are a lot like mathematicians and engineers.  At least in this joke (and I apologize to mathematicians everywhere who are offended.  But you shouldn’t feel bad.  I’m sure if you could have been engineers you would have).  Nothing is ever easy for a politician.  Like the mathematician, they feel that they must over analyze everything.  Get a lot of bureaucrats involved. Layers and layers of oversight and control.  Hoops to jump through.  Exhaust every possibility to get to the ‘best’ solution.  Even if it takes weeks.  Months.  Years.  Time is never of the essence.  They have forever.  And they take forever.  No matter the costs.

Entrepreneurs don’t work this way.  They have an idea.  And want to act.  They hate waiting.  Time is money.  They hate bureaucracy.  Because time is money.  And they have an easier way to determine what the best solution is.  Sales.  Those who have the greatest sales have the best solution.  Because thus speaks the market.  So they keep thinking.  Keep creating.  Keep coming up with good ideas.  They see what the market is demanding.  Or what it will demand.  Once they show that market the wonderful new thing they’ve created.  Sales proved the Sony Walkman a success.  And sales proved the Apple iPod a success.  Why?  Because Sony and Apple are a couple of companies that like to think outside the box.  And create things people aren’t even demanding yet.  And you gotta admit that that’s some pretty damn good thinking.

Politicians Fear what’s Outside the Box

Politicians, on the other hand, fear what’s outside the box.  They want to stay inside the box.  They like it there.  It’s snug.  Familiar.  Dark.  Orderly.  No surprises.  No new things to have to think about.  Or worry about.  Like all that uncertainty in an uncontrolled free market.  Yeech.  They don’t like that.  Or understand it. For when it comes to the economy, these progressives are ‘conservative’.  They want to build on the governmental bureaucracy of the past.  The bureaucracy they know.  And love.  It may not have worked.  But so what?  It’s just so cozy.  And makes a [deleted expletive]-load of federal jobs.

Of course, this expanding bureaucracy doesn’t give us anything new.  Anything innovative.  Anything that we’re yearning for.  Or anything we will yearn for once we learn about that next great thing.  Because they don’t create anything.  Other than obstacles to those who do.  Once someone comes up with an idea, though, they’ll then want to take that idea and over think it.  Manage it.  Regulate it.  Tax it.  Because an entrepreneur may come up with a great idea.  But a politician knows best how to use that idea.  Or so they believe.

Of course, when you think of the great inventions, you never think of a politician.  To prove this, tell me who you think of when I mention some famous inventions.  The telephone?  (Alexander Graham Bell).  AC power distribution?  (Nikola Tesla).  An affordable automobile?  (Henry Ford).  The light bulb?  (Thomas Edison).  An efficient steam engine?  (James Watt).  Notice anything about all of these inventors?  That’s right.  They don’t have a ‘Senator’ or ‘Congress Person’ in front of their name.  But Senators and Congress people have been regulating and taxing these great inventions ever since.

Can’t see the Nude Woman on the Bed

An entrepreneur, like an engineer, doesn’t get lost in the theoretical.  They see possibilities.  And they act.  Politicians, like mathematicians, like to crunch numbers.  Prove things can’t be done.  And then call for blue ribbon panels or commissions to further analyze things.  Entrepreneurs are positive, can-do people.  While politicians are negative, can’t-do people.  They can’t see the forest for the trees.  Or the nude woman on the bed.

Politicians can’t not interfere with people.  An entrepreneur can’t stand being interfered with.  He or she is too busy creating stuff.  They’re not sitting around waiting for something to happen.  They’re leading the way.  While the politicians are nipping at their heels.  Trying to catch up with them.  Just so they can slow them down.

Our future is like the nude woman on the bed.  The entrepreneurs know how to get to her.  And will.  If left alone to do what they do best.  To think.  And create great things.  Make the world a better place.  But the politicians haven’t a clue.  They covet the nude woman.  But they can’t get to her.  Because she’s somewhere outside the box.  Smart.  Complex.  Something new.  Waiting to be discovered.  And when her riddle is solved, it won’t be a politician smoking a cigarette in bed with her.  It’ll be an entrepreneur.

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