The Keynesian Abenomics is Raising Prices in Japan

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 14th, 2014

Week in Review

Money is a temporary storage of value.  We created money to make trade easier.  We once bartered.  We looked for people to trade with.  But trying to find someone with something you wanted (say, a bottle of wine) that wanted what you had (say olive oil) could take a lot of time.  Time that could be better spent making wine or olive oil.  So the longer it took to search to find someone to trade with the more it cost in lost wine and olive oil production.  Which is why we call this looking for people to trade goods with ‘search costs’.

Money changed that.  Winemakers could sell their wine for money.  And take that money to the supermarket and buy olive oil.  And the olive oil maker could do likewise.  Greatly increasing the efficiency of the market.  There is a very important point here.  Money facilitated trade between people who created value.  Creating something of value is key.  Because if people were just given money without producing anything of value they couldn’t trade that money for anything.  For if people didn’t create things of value to buy what good was that money?

Today, thanks to Keynesian economics, governments everywhere believe they can create economic activity with money.  And use their monetary powers to try and manipulate things in the economy to favor them.  And one of their favorite things to do is to devalue their money.  Make it worth less.  So governments that borrow a lot of money can repay that money later with devalued money.  Money that is worth less.  So they are in effect paying back less than they borrowed.  And governments love doing that.  Of course, people who loan money are none too keen with this.  Because they are getting less back than they loaned out originally.  And there is another reason why governments love to devalue their money.  Especially if they have a large export economy.

Before anyone can buy from another country they have to exchange their money first.  And the more money they get in exchange the more they can buy from the exporting country.  This is the same reason why you can enjoy a five-star vacation in a tropical resort in some foreign country for about $25.  I’m exaggerating here but the point is that if you vacation in a country with a very devalued currency your money will buy a lot there.  But the problem with making your exports cheap by devaluing your currency is that it has a down side.  For a country to buy imports they, too, first have to exchange their currency.  And when they exchange it for a much stronger currency it takes a lot more of it to buy those imports.  Which is why when you devalue your currency you raise prices.  Because it takes more of a devalued currency to buy things that a stronger currency can buy.  Something the good people in Japan are currently experiencing under Abenomics (see Japan Risks Public Souring on Abenomics as Prices Surge by Toru Fujioka and Masahiro Hidaka posted 4/14/2014 on Bloomberg).

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s bid to vault Japan out of 15 years of deflation risks losing public support by spurring too much inflation too quickly as companies add extra price increases to this month’s sales-tax bump.

Businesses from Suntory Beverage and Food Ltd. to beef bowl chain Yoshinoya Holdings Co. have raised costs more than the 3 percentage point levy increase. This month’s inflation rate could be 3.5 percent, the fastest since 1982, according to Yoshiki Shinke, the most accurate forecaster of Japan’s economy for two years running in data compiled by Bloomberg…

“Households are already seeing their real incomes eroding and it will get worse with faster inflation,” said Taro Saito, director of economic research at NLI Research Institute, who says he’s seen prices of Chinese food and coffee rising more than the sales levy. “Consumer spending will weaken and a rebound in the economy will lack strength, putting Abe in a difficult position…”

Abe’s attack on deflation — spearheaded by unprecedented easing by the central bank — has helped weaken the yen by 23 percent against the dollar over the past year and a half, boosting the cost of imported goods and energy for Japanese companies.

Japan is an island nation with few raw materials.  They have to import a lot.  Including much of their energy.  Especially since shutting down their nuclear reactors.  Japan has a lot of manufacturing.  But that manufacturing needs raw materials.  And energy.  Which are more costly with a devalued yen.  Increasing their costs.  Which they, of course, have to pay for when they sell their products.  So their higher costs increase the prices their customers pay.  Leaving the people of Japan with less money to buy their other household goods that are also rising in price.  Which is why economies with high rates of inflation go into recession.  As the recession will correct those high prices.  With, of course, deflation.

Keynesians all think they can manipulate the market place to their favor by playing with monetary policy.  But they are losing sight of a fundamental concept in a free market economy.  Money doesn’t have value.  It only holds value temporarily.  It’s the things the factories produce that have value.  And whenever you make it more difficult (i.e., raise their costs by devaluing the currency) for them to create value they will create less value.  And the economy as a whole will suffer.

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FT152: “Liberals who expand the welfare state tell us not to feed wild animals because it makes them dependent on handouts.” —Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - January 11th, 2013

Fundamental Truth

Before there was Money People Traded Things they made with their Human Capital

Which came first?  Money?  Or stuff to buy?  Was there stuff in a store before someone walked in with money to buy it?  Or without anyone having any money to buy stuff would a store owner stock his or her shelves with stuff no one could buy?  It’s a regular chicken and egg question.  Liberal Democrats would say money came first.  Because they believe in Keynesian stimulus spending.  Put more money into people’s hands and they will buy more stuff.  Thus stimulating economic activity.

But if money was all that we needed to stimulate economic activity the government could just print money and hand it out to the people.  Who will take that money and go to the stores to buy stuff.  But here is where the illusion of money creating economic activity ends.  If the government just printed money and gave it to the people no one would have to work.  Which is everyone’s earnest desire.  This is why people buy lotto tickets.  To get money to spend without having to work anymore.  But if no one worked anymore because they could get money from the government printing presses instead of getting it in a paycheck in exchange for work what would these people buy?  If no one had to work anymore who would make the stuff we find on store shelves to buy?  Of course no one would.  So those store shelves would be empty.  And with nothing to buy all the money in the world would be worthless.

So this isn’t a chicken and egg question.  Stuff to buy came long before money appeared on the scene.  Before money people bartered.  They traded things for other things.  Meaning that if you wanted something that you didn’t have you had to create something yourself to trade.  This is barter.  People with human capital (talent and ability) create something they are good at.  They create more than they need.  And take their surplus to meet other people to trade with to get those other things they want.  Things other people made using their human capital.

Search Costs made the Barter System Costly and Inefficient

Money was a solution to a problem.  As the economy got more complex with more things to trade it got more difficult to find people to trade with.  If you made product A and wanted product B you had to find someone who made product B who wanted product A.  Imagine you make vacuum cleaners.  And you want a television.  You go to market looking for people to trade with.  Let’s say you find 3 people who make televisions.  But none of them want a vacuum cleaner.  So you would have to go to another market.  And find other people who made televisions.  Until you found one that wanted a vacuum cleaner.

This time spent trying to find someone to trade with is called search costs.  Which made the barter system costly and inefficient.  For all of that time spent looking for someone to trade with was time not spent making vacuum cleaners.  Giving you less to trade with.  Allowing you to trade for fewer things.  One way to reduce search costs was to bring a third trader into the picture.  Someone that wanted a vacuum cleaner but made smartphones.  Not televisions.  If a television maker wanted a smartphone you could trade a vacuum cleaner for a smartphone.  Then trade the smartphone for a television.  Making barter a little more efficient.  By reducing search costs.  But it could still be very difficult to find three people to trade with.

This is where money comes in.  It serves as that third trader.  You would simply trade your vacuum cleaner for money.  Then trade your money for that television.  Greatly simplifying trade.  By removing half of the trade equation.  All you had to do was to find what you wanted.  And then trade your money for it.  You didn’t have to worry about what the other person wanted.  Because once they got your money they could go and trade it for whatever they wanted.  Money makes trade easier.  As long as it was something that could hold value.  A handful of dirt was not good money because anyone could scoop it up from the ground.  Gold, on the other hand, was very good money.  Because it was very difficult to get gold out of the ground.  Thus it was scarce.  As well as being durable, divisible, fungible, etc.

People Today share their Every Thought on Social Media for Validation that they Matter

Based on this let me ask you another question.  Does Keynesian stimulus spending end recessions?  No.  Because giving people money to spend allows them to spend that money without creating something of value first.  And creating more money out of nothing makes money less scarce.  And less valuable.  Like picking up a scoop of dirt from the ground.  You create too much money and people will return to the barter system.  Because something they create with their human capital will have far more value than a continuously devalued dollar.  Best of all, in a barter system there can be no Keynesian stimulus spending.  Because there is no money.  And no inflation.  Making Keynesian stimulus spending impossible.  For there will only be people creating things with their human capital to trade with other people doing the same.

Those in government, though, don’t give up their Keynesian ways.  For they like spending money.  And being able to create it out of nothing allows them to spend a lot.  Which gives them a lot of power.  By getting people dependent on government benefits.  For once they are they keep voting for those who promise to give more.  And for those who promise not to reduce their current level of benefits.  Allowing a lot of people to withdraw from half of the economic equation.  Instead of using their human capital to bring value to market to trade for other value they let their human capital wither away.  Giving them little reason to get out of bed in the morning.  For when it comes down to it, people want to have a purpose.  They want to matter.  Which is why people today share their every thought on social media.  For validation that they matter.  For others to acknowledge that what they think and say is smart, funny, witty, insightful.

Wild animals are beautiful creatures.  We are attracted to them.  And would like to approach them in the wild.  To gain their trust.  We sometimes feed them because we want to help them.  Because life in the wild is no picnic.  It’s hard.  Brutal.  And these animals are just too cute to suffer.  But the Left frowns on this.  They don’t want us to feed the animals.  For if we make them dependent on us they will never be able to return to a normal life in the wild.  They won’t be able to live without those handouts.  The Left understands this.  Yet they have no problem with making people dependent on government benefits.  Giving them no reason to get out of bed.  Destroying the economy in the process.  Making it ever harder for these benefit recipients to return to the workforce.  Leaving them no purpose in life.  Save one.  To vote Democrat.

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Farming, Food Surplus, Artisans, Trade, Barter, Search Costs, Money, Precious Metals, Pound, Dollar and Gold Standard

Posted by PITHOCRATES - October 9th, 2012

History 101

Food Surpluses allowed Everything that followed in the Modern Age

Humans were hunters and gatherers first.  When the environment ruled supreme.  Then something happened.  Humans began to think more.  And started to push back against their environment.  First with tools.  Then with fire.  Bringing people closer together.  Eventually settling down in civilizations.  When the human race embarked on a new path.  A path that would eventually usher in the modern age we enjoy today.  We stopped hunting and gathering.  And began farming.

Throughout history life has been precarious.  Due to the uncertainty of the food supply.  Especially when the environment ruled our lives.  That changed with farming.  When we started taking control of our environment.  We domesticated animals.  And learned how to grow food.  Which lead to perhaps the most important human advancement.  The one thing that allowed everything that followed in the modern age.   Food surpluses.  Which made life less precarious.  And a whole lot more enjoyable.

Producing more food than we needed allowed us to store food to get us through long winters and seasons with poor harvests.  But more importantly it freed people.  Not everyone had to farm.  Some could do other things.  Think about other things.  And build other things.  Artisans arose.  They built things to make our lives easier.  More enjoyable.  And when these talented artisans and farmers met other talented artisans and farmers they traded the products of all their labors.  In markets.  That became cities.  Enriching each other’s lives.  By allowing them to trade for food.  For things that made life easier.  And for things that made life more enjoyable.

We settled on using Precious Metals (Gold and Silver) for Money for they were Everything Money Should Be

As civilizations advanced artisans made a wider variety of things.  Putting a lot of goods into the market place.  Unfortunately, it made trading more difficult.  Because while you saw what you wanted the person who had it may not want what you had to offer in trade.  So what do you do?  You look for someone else that has that same thing.  And will trade for what you have.  And when the second person doesn’t want to trade for what you have you look for a third person.  Then a fourth.  Then a fifth.  Until you find someone who wants to trade for what you have.

This is the barter system.  Trading goods for goods.  And as you can see it has high search costs to find someone to trade with.  Time that people could better spend making more things to trade.  What they needed was a temporary storage of value.  Something people could trade their things for.  And those people could then use that temporary storage they received in trade to later trade for something they wanted.   We call this ‘something’ money.

We have used many things for money.  Some things better than others.  In time we learned that the best things to use for money had to have a few characteristics.  It had to be scarce.  A rock didn’t make good money because why would anyone trade for it when you could just pick one up from the ground?  It had to be indestructible and hold its value.  A slab of bacon had value because bacon is delicious.  But if you held on to it too long it could grow rancid, losing all the value it once held.  Or you could eat it.  Which would also remove its value.  It had to be divisible.  A live pig removed the problem of bacon growing rancid.  However, it was hard making change with live pigs.  Which is why we settled on using precious metals (gold and silver) for money.  For they were everything money should be.

The Key to Economic Activity is People with Creative Talent to make Things to Trade

Money came first.  Then government monetary systems.  Traders were using gold and silver long before nations established their own money.  And when they did they based them on weights of these precious metals.  The British pound sterling represented one Saxon pound of silver.  The U.S. dollar came from the Spanish dollar.  Which traces back to 16th century Bohemia.  To the St. Joachim Valley.  Where they minted private silver coins.  The Joachimsthaler.  Where the ‘thaler’ (which translated to valley) in Joachimsthaler became dollar.  The German mark and the French franc came into being as weights of precious metals.  People either traded silver or gold coins.  Or paper notes that represented silver or gold.

We used silver first as the basis for national currencies.  Then with new gold discoveries in the United States, Australia and South Africa gold became the precious metal of choice.  Using precious metals simplified trade by providing sound money.  And it also made foreign exchange easy.  For when the British made their pound represent 1/4 of an ounce of gold and the Americans made their dollar represent 1/20 of an ounce of gold the exchange rate was easy to calculate.  The British pound had 5 times as much gold in it than the U.S. dollar.  So the exchange rate was simply 5 U.S. dollars for every British pound.  Which made international trade easy.  And fair.  Because everything was priced in weights of gold.

The pure gold standard, then, was part of the natural evolution of money.  The state did not create it.  It does not require an act of legislation.  Or political decree.  The pure gold standard existed before the state.  And states based their currencies on the monetary system that already existed.  Using weights of precious metals as money.  That is, a pure gold standard.  Central banks and fiat money are only recent inventions of the state.  And bad ones at that.  For the thousands of years that preceded the last hundred years or so there were only traders mutually agreeing to trade their goods for precious metals.  Using these precious metals as a temporary storage of wealth.  To temporarily hold the value of the things they made.  So the key to economic activity is people with creative talent to make things to trade.  And a sound money like gold and silver to facilitate that trade.  Not a central bank.  Or monetary policy.

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FT125: “Welfare states fail because economic systems based on slavery don’t create enough stuff.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 6th, 2012

Fundamental Truth

In the Barter System the Only Way to Get Something you Wanted was to create Something of Value Yourself

What’s more important?  Money?  Or stuff?  Stuff, of course.  Because people work to earn money to buy stuff.  They don’t work just for the money.  Because you can’t eat money.  You can’t drink money.  You can’t smoke money.  You can drive money.  You can’t watch or listen to money.  You can’t live in money.  You can’t surf the Internet with money.  No.  The only thing money is good for is buying stuff.  It’s the stuff we buy that makes our lives more enjoyable.  Having money helps.  But it is only a means to an end.  That end being stuff.  And someone has to make that stuff.  For if no one does then all the money in the world is worthless.

Early economies were barter economies.  People traded stuff.  Stuff they created, dug up, grew, manufactured, etc.  Instead of working to earn money to buy stuff they created stuff and traded it for other stuff.  So the only way to get something you wanted was to create something of value yourself.  Money didn’t change this.  Money just made trading with other people more efficient.  By being a temporary storage of wealth.  Because the barter system had a serious flaw.  High search costs. 

It took time to bring two people together to trade their stuff.  If a toolmaker wanted a pottery vase he had to find a potter who wanted a tool the toolmaker made.  This could take awhile.  Hence the high search costs.  Because while these people were seeking each other out they couldn’t make anything else of value.  With money, though, you could accept money in trade.  And then go and trade that money for what you wanted.  This greatly reduced search costs.  Because all you had to do was find the things you wanted.  And trade your temporary storage of wealth (i.e., money) for them.  Allowing them to spend more time creating value.  And less time searching.

The North won the American Civil War because the North practiced Free Market Capitalism while the South Didn’t

Advances in agriculture allowed larger and larger food surpluses.  Which, in turn, allowed more and more people to do something other than farm.  This unleashed human capital.  Allowed people to think about other things.  Create new things.  And improve existing things.  This created a middle class of artisans.  Craftspeople.  The people that created goods and services and brought them to the market place.  Creating the complex economy.  These people became entrepreneurs.  They efficiently used resources and sold things in the market place the people were demanding.  Not out of the goodness of their hearts.  But because they were pursuing profits.

This is free market capitalism.  The economic system that ushered in the modern world.  Free people thinking freely.  Creating.  Bringing their bold new ideas into reality.  Giving us the steam engine.  The railroad.  Machine tools.  Electric power.  The assembly line.  Free market capitalism brought us these things and improved our standard of living.  Because they were free to enter the market place.  And make profits.  Providing a powerful incentive to make the world a better place for everyone else.  Because when they took risks and worked hard to make the world a better place they could get rich in the process.

This is why the North won the American Civil War.  Because the North practiced free market capitalism.  While the South did not.  Their economy was a slave economy.  Instead of an expanding middle class working and contributing to the economy they had an expanding slave population.  That didn’t contribute to the economy.  They worked in the fields.  With all the proceeds from their labors going to a few plantation owners.  Slaves in general didn’t tinker or bring new things to market to enrich their masters.  For they had no incentive to do so.  They did have an incentive to do as they were told and work the fields.  To avoid punishment.  And they had no wages to spend in the market.  So there was less demand for manufactured goods in the South (in some states of the Deep South slaves made up to a third to half of the population).  So there was less manufacturing in the South.  Far less.  This is why the North exploded in manufacturing.  Entrepreneurs could bring things to market.  And the manufacturing workers earned wages they could use to buy those things.  As well as mass-produce the implements of war.  Unlike they could in the South.  Because of the economic superiority of the North it was just a matter of time before the South was overwhelmed.  And lost. 

When the Roman Empire turned into a Welfare State they had to Force People to Make Stuff Against their Will

Governments can print money.  They can tax people.  They can borrow money.  But the one thing they can’t do is create stuff.  If they could create stuff (i.e., economic activity) simply by printing money then the South would have matched the North in economic output.  But they did not.  Which is why they ultimately lost the war.  Because they could print Confederate dollars.  But that didn’t make muskets, bullets, canon, shoes, food, ships, steam locomotives or railroad track.  Creative people had to make these things first before the Confederate government could procure them.  Which is why the government didn’t procure them.  Because no one made them.

This is why governments just can’t print money and give it to the people.  They could.  But it would be pointless.  Let’s say they gave everyone $100,000 a year.  So no one would ever have to work again.  A lot of people would vote for the politician that promised that.  Of course if no one works who will create all the stuff to buy with that $100,000?  Having money is one thing.  But if there is nothing to buy with it then that money is worthless.

This is why the welfare state will ultimately fail.  As more people collect welfare benefits instead of creating stuff there will be less stuff to buy.  When supply shrinks while demand increases prices rise.  Higher prices that everyone has to pay.  People who create.  And people who don’t.  So they will raise taxes on those who work to pay for the benefits for those who don’t.  So those who don’t work can afford the higher prices, too.  Higher taxes are a great disincentive to create.  Or to become an entrepreneur.  Some may just choose the easier path.  Stop creating.  And start collecting that government money, too.  Further reducing supply and increasing demand.  Raising prices further.  Reducing overall economic activity.  And reducing the standard of living.

This happened in the Roman Empire as they kept raising taxes and debasing their coin to pay for their excessive government spending.  It got so bad that people quit their jobs because they couldn’t make any money.  Creating great shortages of goods.  And food.  So the Romans passed laws forbidding people from leaving their jobs.  Even tied people and their descendants to the land they farmed.  Which grew into European feudalism.  And Russian serfdom.  Economic systems little better than the slavery of the Deep South.  Which stunted innovation.  Lowered the standard of living.  And led to the fall of the Western Roman Empire.  But it was the only way the Romans could get the stuff they needed.  By forcing people to make it against their will.  Which is what they had to do when the Roman Empire turned into a welfare state.  And the creators quit creating.

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Government Spending

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 18th, 2012

Economics 101

Money is a Temporary Storage of Wealth used to Reduce the Search Costs in the Barter System

What came first?  Money?  Or the things we buy with money?  Here’s a hint.  Once upon a time there was no money.  Yet we still had things.  We bought things without money, you ask?  Yes.  We did.  And we bought things the only way we could before there was money.  We traded.  We bartered.  We traded things.  Things we built.  Things we grew.  Things we dug out of the ground.  Things.

These things had value.  Value we created with our labors.  Either by digging something valuable out of the ground.  Growing something of value.  Or making something useful that people valued.  And something people were willing to trade something they produced that had value.  These people created value.  They created wealth.  They were wealth creators.  And when they come together to trade the valuable products of their labors they were trading wealth.  After their bartered trade all parties in that trade walked away believing they came out ahead in that trade.  For each walked away with something they valued more.

But the barter system proved to be inefficient.  As the economy became more complex there were so many things to trade for.  And people valued some things more than they valued others.  Which sometimes made it difficult to find someone to trade with.  Search costs increased.  People spent more time looking for people to trade with than they did producing wealth.  Which is why people created money.  A temporary storage of wealth.  Using money greatly reduced search costs.  Instead of finding someone to trade with that also wanted what you had to trade all you had to do was find what you wanted.  Then trade your money for it.  Then the seller could take that money and trade it for something he wanted.  Regardless if the person was interested in anything he produced.

Ultimately People don’t want Money, they want the Things they can Trade Money For

No one likes paying taxes.  They’re one of those necessary evils to live in a civilization.  Because they are the only way to pay for public goods.  Early public goods may have consisted of a granary to store food.  And an army.  To protect your civilization from the hostile environment around it.  Government could tax the grain producers by taking a portion of their crops for the public granary.  And to feed the army.  They could tax the shoemakers and take some shoes for the army to wear.  And so on.  The government would tax the producers by taking a small percentage of what they produced to provide the public goods.   

Money changed this a little.  Instead of shipping a portion of grain from all the grain producers to the public granary the grain producers paid their taxes in money.  For it was easier to collect money from all the grain producers than it was collecting grain.  Then the government would use that tax money to purchase grain to fill the public granary.  Even having the local grain producers compete with each other to fill that large public purchase of grain at the lowest price.  Just like buyers and sellers used money to make their trades easier so did government use money to make public spending easier.  But one thing didn’t change.  Money was only a temporary storage of wealth.  The buyers and sellers created wealth.  And the government took a portion of the wealth they created.

This is a crucial point in understanding government spending.  Money isn’t what’s important.  It’s those things of value the wealth producers create that is important.  Because ultimately people don’t want money.  They want the things they can trade that money for.  Those wonderful things creative wealth producers bring to market.  Things government does NOT produce.  Even though they can print money they cannot produce these things of value.  Other people do.  Other people who incur costs.  Who pay for supplies.  And provide pay and benefits to their employees.  Which is why they don’t like paying taxes.  Because it leaves them less to spend on their business.  Or on themselves.  And they don’t like the government printing money.  Because money is a temporary storage of wealth.  And when you arbitrarily increase the amount of money in circulation for the same amount of wealth in the economy you cause inflation.  More dollars chasing the same amount of goods.  So the dollar is worth less than it was before the inflation.  And because the dollar is worth less it takes more of them to buy what they once did.  Meaning prices increase.  Which is why people don’t like inflation.

A Country never went Bankrupt by Spending too Little

So even though the government has the power to print money responsible governments don’t.  Because inflation causes a lot of economic damage.  So governments rely on taxes to fund their public goods.  But excessive taxation also causes economic damage.  By pulling wealth out of the private sector.  Leaving business owners with less.  And increasing the cost of business.  Making it difficult to hire more people.  Which lowers economic activity.  For the more people who work and earn a paycheck the more people are in the market place buying things.  So it’s important for governments not to tax too much.  Which means they shouldn’t spend too much.

Of course that’s easier said than done.  Because people tend to vote for politicians that give them free stuff.  Which is why politicians love to spend.  And to tax.  Tax and spend.  And during good economic times when government coffers are flush with cash they tend to spend more.  And tax more.  Because they can.  But they all run into the same problem.  Government raises revenue on economic activity.  By applying tax rates on income, sales, value added, property, etc.  The government collects a small percentage on these items based on the tax rate.  When income, sales, value, etc., are large that tax rate generates a lot of revenue.  When income, sales, value, etc., are low that tax rate generates a lower amount of revenue.  And when governments spend too much during the good times they raise their spending obligations.  Based on that robust economic activity.  But when the economic activity becomes less robust there is a problem.  Tax revenues fall.  Because those tax rates are taking a percentage of a smaller income, sales, value, etc.  So tax revenue falls while those spending obligations remain the same.  Leading to a budget shortfall.  Which leaves them with two choices.  Cut spending.  Or borrow money.

Well, people rarely vote for people that take stuff away from them.  So the politicians borrow money.  And they keep borrowing money.  Because their spending obligations were based on the rosiest of projections of economic activity.  Which rarely happens in real life.  So they borrow.  And they borrow more.  Soon they have to borrow to pay the interest on what they’ve borrowed previously.  Soon the debt grows so great that the credit rating agencies lower their credit rating.  Making future borrowing more expensive as they have to pay a higher interest rate.  Some may turn to higher tax rates.  But that also lowers economic activity.  Which reduces overall tax revenue.  Some may turn to printing money. Which also lowers economic activity.  And overall tax revenues.  By causing inflation.  And raising prices.  Which eventually leads a country down the road to bankruptcy.  And on their knees begging for a bailout.  Which is the ultimate destination for all nations with excessive government spending.  To throw themselves on the mercy of those countries who have lived within their means.  Which rarely ends well.  Because they expect the bankrupt country to start living within their means.  Meaning austerity.  Which the people accustomed to generous government spending are not too keen on in the least.  And often reply to austerity demands with a little rioting in the streets.

There is one simple way to avoid all of these troubles, though.  All a nation has to do is NOT spend so much.  If they do then they will never have a financial crisis.  For a country never went bankrupt by spending too little.

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Comparative Advantage and Free Trade

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 21st, 2012

Economics 101

Mercantilism benefited only Protected Industries which Profited Handsomely from Higher Consumer Prices  

The Age of Discovery ushered in the era of mercantilism.  An era of trade.  But protected trade.  Tariffs, quotas, protectionism, restrictions, subsidies, etc.  You name it they used it.  To favor their trade position and their domestic industries.  And to restrict that of everyone else.  For mercantilism was a zero-sum game.  You only did well if others did not.  A thought that still has traction today.  Especially in older, inefficient industries.  That cannot compete with international competition that provides better quality at lower prices.  Such as textiles.  Steel.  Automobiles.  The Americans protected these industries in the face of better foreign competition.  Which only hastened their decline.

A protected industry has no incentive to improve.  When protective tariffs raise prices of lower-priced and higher-quality imports consumers buy the inferior domestic goods.  Because the tariffs make the better goods more costly.  So when a business has a captive audience their only focus is in maintaining that protectionism giving them that advantage.  Not improving their quality.  Or improving their productivity to lower their prices.  Why?  Because they don’t have to.  So prices continue to rise to pay for inefficient labor and management.  And quality continues to decline due to the lack of real competition forcing them to continually provide a better product.  By improving designs.  Production methods.  And making capital investments in new machinery and equipment.

This is the cost of protectionism.  Poorer quality and higher prices.  Because of the misguided belief in the zero-sum game of mercantilism.  There was a reason why mercantilism was abandoned for free trade.  Because free trade was better.  For consumers.  Giving them lower prices and higher quality.  Whereas mercantilism benefited only those protected industries which profited handsomely from those higher consumer prices.  And the government officials who granted those favorable protectionist policies.

The Consumer gets Lower Prices AND Higher Quality thanks to the Division of Labor, Specialization and Comparative Advantage

As civilization advanced so did the division of labor.  People began to specialize.  Instead of growing our own food, making our own tools, spinning our own pottery, etc., we did only one thing.  And did it well.  Then we traded the things we made for the things we didn’t make.  This division of labor created a middle class.  And this middle class would take their goods to market to trade with other middle class artisans.  At first bartering with each other.  Trading good for good.  Then they introduced a temporary storage of value into the economy.  Money.  Making those trades easier by reducing search times.  Trading your goods for money.  And your money for goods.  Making life a lot simpler at the market.

Let’s take a closer look at the division of labor.  Let’s consider two artisans.  A toolmaker.   And a potter.  Both are skilled craftspeople.  And can make an assortment of goods.  But each excels at one particular skill.  The toolmaker can make 10 plows a day.  But if he makes 2 pottery bowls he can only make 4 plows in that same day.  The potter can make 12 pottery bowls in a day.  But if he makes 3 plows he can only make 5 pottery bowls in that same day.  Each can make more of their specialty.  But when they try to make other things in addition to their specialty they can’t make as much of their specialty as before.  So there is a cost to the toolmaker to make pottery.  To make 2 bowls cost the toolmaker 6 plows.  And there is a cost to the potter to make tools.  To make 3 plows cost the potter 7 bowls.  So the economy as a whole is better off when the toolmaker and the potter focus all of their energies in their own specialty.  When they do we get 10 plows and 12 bowls in one day.  When they don’t we only get 7 plows and 7 bowls.

We call this economic principle comparative advantage.  Where we look at economic output.  Which is what matters.  The more we bring to market the better it is for consumers.  Because greater quantities mean lower prices.  And when these skilled craftspeople focus on their specialty they improve the overall quality of the goods they bring to market.  So the consumer gets lower prices AND higher quality.  Thanks to the division of labor.  Specialization.  And comparative advantage.

We will always Have Jobs regardless the Size of our Imports for Having a Job is the Only Way to Buy those Imported Goods

If you multiply this over and over again to represent all the individual economic exchanges throughout the world you see why free trade is better than the protectionist policies of mercantilism.  Because it provides consumers with greater economic output at lower prices and higher quality.  This is why nations practicing free trade have the highest standards of living.  Because their people can walk into large department stores and fill their carts with inexpensive, high quality goods on a moderate paycheck.  Which could never happen if the mercantilists had their way.

The old inefficient industries want tariffs to increase the costs of those goods we fill our shopping carts with.  Including the food we eat.  And the cars we drive.  They use lofty arguments about protecting American jobs.  But those protectionist policies destroy jobs by increasing costs for businesses throughout the supply chain.  Raising consumer prices everywhere.  Reducing the amount of things we can buy.  Meaning businesses can’t grow and create new jobs.  Or they have to cut back production and eliminate existing jobs.

There’s also a lot of talk about the balance of payments.  Which actually meant something during the days of the gold standard.  For any trade deficits had to be paid for with gold.  But we don’t have the gold standard anymore.  Governments everywhere abandoned it in favor of irresponsible government spending.  So we don’t have to pay for trade deficits with gold.  Most money today is just electronic entries in a computer.  International capital flows have never been greater.  There are currency markets where people actively trade the world’s currencies.  So trade deficits don’t mean the same thing they once did in the mercantile world.  Then there’s the argument that if all our manufacturing jobs go overseas there will be no jobs for Americans.  If we import everything and export nothing there will be jobs everywhere but here.  Sounds like a problem.  But can that happen?  Not unless we get those imports for free.  So we will always have jobs regardless the size of our imports.  For having a job is the only way to buy the imported goods in those department stores.

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The Invisible Hand

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 16th, 2012

Economics 101

A Command Economy Reduces the Overall Economic Output because those Managing the Economy don’t Understand It

Command economy?  Or free market capitalism?  Which works better?  Well, let’s find out with a little experiment.  Let’s go back in time.  Say ancient Mesopotamia.  Just after they developed mass farming.  And produced some of the first food surpluses.  Allowing the rise of a middle class of artisans.  Now let’s look at what could have been the first two of these artisans.  A potter.  And a winemaker.  Who probably weren’t the first two artisans.  But will suffice for our little experiment.

The winemaker needs some pottery vessels to store and sell his wine in.  And the potter enjoys drinking wine.  They each have something the other wants.  And because we’re so far back in time there is no money yet.  We’re still only bartering at this time.  Trading the goods we make with each other.  But in our experiment the high priest of the civilization is also the economic planner.  This priest communicates to the civilization’s gods.  And guides the civilization in pleasing their gods.  Which he is very good at.  For he knows all of the old teachings and rituals.  But he doesn’t know a thing about pottery or winemaking.  But he looks at an empty pottery vessel and a pottery vessel full of wine and sees that the vessel volume equals the volume of wine.  And deems the price of one pottery vessel is the amount of wine one pottery vessel holds.

Well, the potter is quite happy with this price.  Because he is skilled.  And can dig up some clay.  Throw it on the potter’s wheel and knock out vessel after vessel.  Glaze them and fire them in the kiln.  Even working by himself he can achieve some economies of scale.  By repeating this process every day.  Something the winemaker isn’t quite able to.  For he makes wine by the batch.  Because each step in the process takes a lot of time.  Maintaining his grape vines.  Then picking the grapes.  Carrying them back to his winery.  Putting them into his winepress.  Squeezing the juice out of the grapes.  Putting the grape juice in large vats to ferment.  Monitoring the process.  When he determines the process is complete he fills the small pottery vessels with wine.  When it was finally ready for ‘sale’ and consumption.  Considering all the work it took him to make one vessel of wine the winemaker was not at all happy with the price the high priest set.  And instead builds his own potter’s wheel and kiln to make his own vessels.  Greatly increasing his workload.  And reducing his winemaking output.  While the potter loses a potentially large customer.  Thus reducing the amount pottery he makes.  Reducing overall economic output in the command economy.

The Invisible Hand makes sure we use our Limited Resources Efficiently to Make the Things People want Most

In this command economy the civilization suffered a deadweight loss.  Economic resources went unused.  They could have created more economic benefits with the available resources.  They could have made more pottery.  And made more wine.  Perhaps even creating some jobs to help with the economic output of efficiently using the available resources.  But they didn’t.  Because of the fixed prices economic resources went unused.  Thus creating a market equilibrium lower than where it could be.  Hence the deadweight loss.  Now let’s look at the same example with only one difference.  The high priest does NOT set prices.

In a barter economy people agree to trade the goods they make.  And now the potter and the winemaker are free to determine what they think is a fair trade.  That is, they set the price of pottery in wine.  And the price they agree on is one they find mutually acceptable.  Where the potter agrees to trade an amount of his pottery for an amount of wine.  And the winemaker agrees to trade an amount of his wine for an amount of pottery.  Everyone wins.  For the potter gets an amount of wine he values more than the pottery he traded for the wine.  The winemaker gets an amount of pottery he values more than the wine he traded for the pottery.  And the civilization wins because at this mutually agreed upon price both the potter and the winemaker increase their production.  Providing the civilization with more of their goods.  The potter and the winemaker may even hire people to help them produce more goods to meet this higher demand.  Thus increasing the level of happiness in the civilization.  By increasing the amount of economic activity.  Moving the market equilibrium to a higher level of economic output.  And thus reducing the deadweight loss.  By using the available resources in the most efficient manner.  As determined by these mutually agreed upon prices.

This is the Invisible Hand in action.  An economic concept put forth by Scottish economist Adam Smith (1723-1790) in his The Wealth of Nations (1776).  In a competitive market place where traders set the price for their economic trade (not a command economy) two things happen.  First, resources flow to where we demand them most.  That is, to the buyers willing to pay the highest price.  Second, because of the competitive market place only those companies that sell at the low prices the market demands stay in business.  Which means that they have to use those resources as efficiently as possible.  Especially when they’re paying the highest prices for them.  And all of this happens because of the Invisible Hand. 

History has Proven that no Government Bureaucrat can do a Better Job than the Invisible Hand

Those who favor a command economy (or more government intervention into market forces) say the economy is too complex for us to leave it to its own devices.  That without a smart government bureaucrat managing this complex thing we cannot reach a market equilibrium that maximizes economic output.  Whereas Adam Smith says it is because the economy is so complex that no one is smart enough to manage it.  Just as a high priest doesn’t understand pottery or winemaking a smart government bureaucrat cannot hope to understand all the intricacies of a complex economy.  Nor can they ever hope to understand what millions upon millions of consumers want to buy most.  But the beautiful thing is we don’t have to.

The multitudes make individual decisions just like our potter and winemaker.  Where everyone is looking to maximize their own value.  And when they agree on a mutual acceptable price all parties in the trade win.  While making sure our resources flow to where they are demanded most.  And that we use these valuable and limited resources most efficiently.  Thus maximizing overall happiness in our country.  Reducing deadweight losses to a minimum.  And obtaining a market equilibrium that maximizes economic activity.  All of which happens with no one in charge.  As if an Invisible Hand guides us in the market place to make all the right decisions to maximize this economic output.  And our happiness.

So which is better?  Command economy or free market capitalism.  Well, if you’re being honest you have to choose Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand and free market capitalism.  For history has proven that no government bureaucrat can do a better job than the Invisible Hand.  Not the Soviets.  Not the Chinese Communist (under Chairman Mao).  Not the Cubans.  Not the North Koreans.  Even the Americans failed when their government actively intervened in the private economy.  Something that President Jimmy ‘one-term’ Carter knows only too well.  So based on our hypothetical Mesopotamian example, and history in general, free market capitalism is, and always has been, and always will be, better than a command economy.

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Money

Posted by PITHOCRATES - November 7th, 2011

Economics 101

The High Search Costs of the Barter System Hindered Trade

Agriculture advances gave us food surpluses.  Food surpluses gave us a division of labor.  The division of labor gave us trade.  And trade gave us an advanced civilization.  By allowing more specialists to live together in crowded urban settings.  Creating a rich surplus of goods for trade.  That people traded.  With other people.  Near.  And far.

As trade grew civilizations got better.  The division of labor grew larger.  And more complex.  Producing more things.  Soon there was a rich variety of goods to trade with for other goods.  From civilizations in distant lands.  Which made life more interesting.  And enjoyable.  During that brief time when you weren’t working.  Or trading.  Which was taking more and more time.  To find someone to trade with.  That had something you wanted.  And who wanted something you had.

This is the barter system.  Trading goods for goods.  Producers took their goods to other producers.  And asked, “What will you take in trade for that?”  Often the response was, “Nothing that you have.”  To which the trader replied, “Very well.  I shall keep looking.”  And sometimes would spend days, weeks and even months looking.  And that was time spent not making anything new.  This was the high search cost of the barter system.  And it hindered trade.  We needed something better.

Money made Trade more Efficient and Unleashed the Human Capital of the Middle Class

For civilization to advance further we had to make trade more efficient.  We had to reduce these search costs.  What we needed was a temporary storage of value.  Something we could trade our valuable goods for.  And then trade the value of our goods, held temporarily in this temporary storage of value, for something else of value later.  And we call this temporary storage of value money.

Money greatly simplified things.  Allowed a more complex economy.  A greater division of labor.  And it allowed wages.  Allowing more people to work on more narrow specialties.  These producers could then take their wages to market.  And buy what they needed.  Instead of spending days, weeks or even months traveling to find people to barter with.

Money made trade more efficient.  It allowed cities to grow in size.  And become even more advanced.  It unleashed the human capital of the middle class.  For they could spend more time creating and building new and better things to trade.  And this economic activity allowed more people to live together peacefully.  As producers produced.  And traded with other producers.  All made easier by money.  A temporary storage of value.

Money doesn’t Create or Produce, it just Temporarily Stores the Value of what we Create and Produce

Please note what came first here.  First there was trade.  Then there was money to make that trade more efficient.

At the heart of all economic activity is our human capital.  What we use to create and produce.  Money doesn’t create or produce.  It just stores the value of what we create and produce.  Which is why Keynesian economic stimulus doesn’t work.  Making money to give to people to spend simply does not create new economic activity.

Our skills create economic activity.  That ability to create things other people value.  And wish to trade for.  Because we are traders.  Not spenders.  We trade things of value.  And to trade things of value someone has to create them first.  If you just take things of value without offering something of value in trade it is not trade.  It’s plunder.  And little different from the uncivilized barbarians on the frontier of the civilized world.

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FUNDAMENTAL TRUTH #4: “Wealth ain’t money; money ain’t wealth.” –Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 9th, 2010

CONSIDER THREE PEOPLE.  One is a drug addict that breaks into homes to support his habit.  He just scored last night.  Big.  Found about $2,000 in cash.  The second one is a liar.  He lies during job interviews to get jobs he isn’t qualified for.  The boss then fires him when he learns he lied himself into the job.  But he bought a lucky lotto ticket last night.  He won a million dollars.  The third person is a single mom slinging hash at a greasy diner during lunch.  When she works they need 3 waitresses to cover lunch.  When she’s off they need 4.

Right now they have the following money on them or in the bank:  the drug addict has $1,200; the lotto winner has $250,000.  The waitress has $800.  Based on these numbers, who has more money?  Not a trick question.  The lotto winner has the most money.  But who is wealthier?

A year from now the drug addict may be dead.  The lotto winner may be bankrupt.  But the waitress will probably still have $800.  Or more.  So, I ask again, who is wealthier?

WEALTH IS NOT money.  It’s ability.  It’s human capital.  It’s the talent people have that other people will pay them for.  It accrues with time.  And experience.  It doesn’t depend on luck.  You earn it.  You don’t steal it.

Our waitress is a good waitress.  If her diner closed for good tomorrow she could be working at another diner the next day.  In fact, some of her regular customers will probably follow her wherever she goes.  When it comes down to it, soup and a sandwich is just soup and a sandwich.  One diner’s may be just as good as another’s.  For those who want food fast without going to fast-food, service is everything.  Customers want good service.  And diners want good waitresses.  She delivers both.

BEFORE THERE WAS money we traded things.  We bartered.  Those with human capital, the ability to make or do things other people found valuable, made stuff or did things.  They then traded these for things they wanted.  Finding people to trade with AND who had the things you wanted took time, though.  Too much time. 

Time is…wealth.  Taking weeks to search the country for trading partners was time taken away from using that human capital.  The weeks spent searching cost wealth.  You couldn’t build things while you were searching.   People needed something better.  Something that made this exchange of goods and services easier.  Something that could temporarily store wealth.  Something portable.  Divisible.  Scarce.  Durable.

We call this temporary storage of wealth money.  We used lots of things.  Even pigs.  But you can see the limitation in using pigs (not very portable or divisible).  Dirt was more portable and divisible but it wasn’t scarce; it was everywhere.  We soon turned to silver and gold.  Then to silver and gold coins.  You could buy big things as well as small things (coins were divisible).  You could carry them in a pouch (portable).  We’re still finding Roman coins to this day (durable).  And it wasn’t easy to find gold and silver, process it and then mint it into coins (scarce). 

If you spent a week building something, you would take gold and silver in exchange for that thing you built.  Because you knew someone would exchange that gold and silver for the things you wanted.  This was a lot easier than trying to barter.  Can you imagine our waitress trying to barter her waitressing skills for a car?  I’m sure there may be a diner owner somewhere that has a car he is willing to trade for a period of good waitressing skills.  But good luck trying to find him.

WE NEED TO remember that wealth isn’t money.  Giving people money doesn’t make them wealthy.  People get wealthy from their human capital.  The greater their human capital the greater the amount of things they can trade for.  This is what stimulates consumer spending.  It’s recurring.  People can plan based on their recurring earnings.  The greater their earnings they can keep, the more they can spend.  And probably will spend.  Because they know they’re getting a ‘steady’ paycheck.  It’s not a one-time stimulus.  It will most likely be there tomorrow.  If not, they will most likely be able to find another employer who values their human capital.

To truly stimulate consumer spending you need to make it easier to build things.  Or to provide services.  Because that’s what we’re really doing.  Trading things.  Or services.  Money just makes it easier to do.  Without the underlying human capital, money would have no value.  For there would be no goods.  No services.  I mean, what good is having piles of gold and silver if you can’t trade it for something?

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