FT135: “If corporations aren’t people than neither is government.” —Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 14th, 2012

Fundamental Truth

Corporations get Wealthy by either Pleasing their Customers or Pleasing Government

Mitt Romney said during the Republican primary campaign that corporations are people.  And the Left castigated him.  While late-night comedy made jokes with that snarky, all-knowing condescension.  Because everyone on the Left knows that corporations aren’t people.  They’re evil, soulless entities.  Unfeeling and cruel.  Who care only about profits.  While poisoning our environment.  Everyone on the Left will agree with this.  And those CEOs?  They’re the worst.  A bunch of greedy, old, white men.  Except those women who shattered the glass ceiling.  Who the Left celebrates.  Even though they run evil, soulless entities.

So what is a corporation?  Other than something that comes from the bowels of hell?  Well, perhaps the simplest explanation is this.  A corporation is a business structure that lowers consumer prices.  Which reduces the cost of living for poor and middle class families everywhere.  Huh?!?  No.  That can’t be right, you say.  Because corporations are evil and soulless.  On top of that they’re not people.  So why would some evil, soulless non-humans do something that is very beneficial to humans?  In a word, greed.

There are two ways corporations can get wealthy.  Either by pleasing their customers.  With high quality, great selection and low prices.  Or by pleasing government.  Allowing them to give their customers lower quality, poorer selection and higher prices.  Because their friends in government limit competition.  So they don’t have to please their customers.  Wal-Mart is an example of a company getting rich by pleasing customers with high quality, great selection and low prices.  Wal-Mart shoppers enjoy going to Wal-Mart.  The American auto industry is an example of companies getting rich because of government.  Which restricted free market competition as much as possible in the auto industry.  Raising prices and lowering quality.  Because of this auto shoppers don’t enjoy buying American cars as much as foreign imports.  Which has made Toyota the number one car company.

The more Corporations Pursue Profits the more Choice, Quality, Variety and Lower Prices Consumers Have

Selling a large variety of high quality goods at low prices will attract customers.  And increase sales volume.  That leads to profits.  Which is what those greedy corporations want.  And one of the best ways to do this is through economies of scale.  Growing larger to have greater purchasing power.  And selling so many units that you can charge less per unit to recover overhead costs.  Thus allowing you to sell at lower prices.  And the bigger you get the more you can lower your prices.

But to get big you need to take a lot of risks.  And the biggest risk is borrowing enormous sums of money.  Because it takes money to make money.  The kind of money one person typically doesn’t have.  So how to get it?  By incorporating.  Becoming one of those evil, soulless entities.  So you can give your customers a large variety of high quality goods at low prices.  When a business incorporates a few things happen.  First of all the business becomes a legal entity.  Which protects the people running the business.  By diversifying risk to its numerous shareholders.  Who assume that risk in exchange for ownership.  Incorporating also opens the capital markets for them.  Where they can sell bonds to finance growth.  Or sell stock.  Allowing them to raise the large sums of money to open more stores/plants.  Hire more people.  And achieve economies of scale.

The more corporations that do this the more choice consumers have.  The better quality.  And the lower prices fall.  Just think of something you’ve bought recently.  And the choices you had.  The stores you visited.  The websites you visited.  How you found exactly what you were looking for and paid what you thought was a fair price.  And how you enjoyed the whole process.  Now compare that experience with, say, renewing your driver’s license.  Where you have no choice in quality or price.  Compare the friendly faces at your favorite store with the joy of waiting for them to call your number at the DMV.  When the number being served is 76.  And you have number 12.  Worse, when you make the “I have places to go look” to the civil servants behind the counter working at a snail’s pace you don’t get a friendly smile in return.  You get a look of contempt.

People in Corporations put on a more Human Face than Government Workers because they Want to Please You

When you get poor service at a store you will complain.  You will talk to management.  You will threaten to take your business elsewhere.  Or you will just take your business elsewhere without telling anyone at that business.  Giving them no chance to correct a problem that will discourage customers shopping with them.  Which is the worst thing that can happen to a business.  Because they can’t fix a problem they don’t know about.  But if they know about it they will fix it.  Because if they don’t you will take your business elsewhere.  The last thing they want you to do.  So they will strive to make your experience a good experience.

If you get poor service at the DMV, though, you don’t want to get the people who can make you wait forever angry.  Instead you smile and tell them what a great job they’re doing.  Because you can’t go anywhere else.  Which is par for the course whenever you have to deal with the government.  Where customer service is not in the employee handbook.  Which is why people usually feel fear and/or dread whenever they have to deal with a government bureaucrat.  Especially the IRS.  Which is why the dark world George Orwell wrote about in Nineteen Eighty-Four was about the oppressive world of socialism.  Not an oppressive world where corporations take over.  Because they could never do that in a free market economy.  They could only do that in a world where government chooses winners and losers in the private sector.  Which would be a world without competition.  Where there was no large variety of high quality goods at low prices.  But the grey world that Orwell wrote about in Nineteen Eighty-Four.

So what’s the difference between corporations and the government?  The people.  The people in corporations put on a more human face because they want to please you.  Because they have to please you to stay in business.  The people in government, though, don’t.  Because government doesn’t have to please you.  And don’t try to.  For where else are you going to go?

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Mercantilism, Royal Navy, Napoleon, Pax Britannica, Corn Laws, David Ricardo, Comparative Advantage, European Union and NAFTA

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 22nd, 2012

History 101

Mercantilism gave Britain the Royal Navy which Ushered in the Pax Britannica

Great Britain had a rough go of it at the end of the 18th century.  They lost their American colonies in the American Revolutionary War.  A war that started over the issue of taxation to pay for the previous Seven Years’ War.  So instead of securing new revenue to pay down old debt they incurred new debt.  The French Revolution closed out the century.  Causing concern for some in Britain that their monarchy may be the next to fall.  It didn’t.  For the constitutional monarchy and representative government in Britain was a long cry from the absolute monarchy that they had in France.  So revolution did not come to Britain.  But war did.  As the French expanded their revolution into a European war.  Pulling the British back into war with their old enemy.

With a large conscripted French Army and the concept of total war France made total war.  Napoleon Bonaparte won a lot of battles.  Conquered much of Europe.  Even marched back and conquered Paris.  Proclaimed himself emperor of France.  And continued waging war.  Including an ill-conceived invasion of Russia.  Which marked the beginning of the end for Napoleon.  And the French Empire.  Weakened from war France saw her old nemesis, Great Britain, rise as the first superpower since the Roman Empire.  And like the Romans’ Pax Romana Britain entered a century of peace.  Pax Britannica.

The reason the British could do this was because of their mercantile past.  They set up colonies and international trade networks.  And they used the proceeds from that lucrative trade to finance the greatest naval power then in the world.  The Royal Navy.  And the Royal Navy would help keep the peace in the Pax Britannica.  She became the world’s policeman.  Making the world safe for trade.  Especially on the high seas.  But then something interesting happened.  She broke from her mercantile past.  Because they saw the shortcomings of mercantilism.  One of which produced wealthy landowners at the expense of a hungry population.

When the British repealed the Corn Laws in 1846 Food Prices fell and the Standard of Living Rose 

The British Corn Laws were a series of laws protecting those who grew cereal crops.  The stuff we grow that has edible grains.  Corn, rice, wheat, barley, etc.  What we call staple crops as they form the basic sustenance of humans everywhere.  We grow these in greater abundance than all other foods.  And when you look at the grain size you come to one realization.  It takes a lot of land to grow these crops.  And who owns large tracts of land?  The landowning aristocracy.  A small group of people with a lot of wealth.  And a lot of political influence.  Hence the Corn Laws. 

The Corn Laws were legislation with one goal.  To prevent the British people from buying less expensive food.  By either forbidding any importation of cheaper grains until the domestic price had reached a certain price level.  Or adding tariffs to the less expensive imports so the landowners could still sell their grains at higher prices.  Thus preserving their wealth.  And they made specious arguments about how lower-priced food was actually bad for the people.  For it was just a way for manufacturers to maximize their profits.  For if food was cheaper they could pay their workers less.  Being the greedy bastards that they were.  So the only fair thing to do was to keep food prices high.  To keep the living wage high.  To force manufacturers to pay their workers more.  You see, the only way to help the poor and middle class was to let the wealthy landowners become even wealthier.  By keeping the price of the food they sold high.

Opposition grew to the Corn Laws.  People studied the works of their fellow countrymen.  Adam Smith and David Hume (both Scottish).  And the Englishman David Ricardo.  All great economists and thinkers.  Who were all proponents of free trade.  Ricardo’s Comparative Advantage basically proved the case of free trade over the protectionism of mercantilism.  Eventually the political power of the landowners could not overcome the economic arguments.  Or a famine in Ireland.  And, in 1846, they repealed the Corn Laws and adopted free trade.  Food prices fell.  Leaving people with more disposable income.  To purchase the goods the Industrial Revolution was making.  Increasing their standard of living.  While small famers had to leave their farms being unable to farm efficiently enough to pay their bills at the prevailing prices.

The Success of NAFTA proves David Ricardo’s Comparative Advantage

Mercantilists and other opponents to free trade like to point at the human costs.  Small farmers losing their farm.  Just so they can preserve some semblance of privilege to protect the high prices in their industry.  But it was becoming more and more difficult to make the argument that the masses were better off paying higher prices.  Because they’re not.  Lower consumer prices increase the standard of living for everyone.  Higher living standards create healthier living conditions.  And reduces child mortality.   For the greatest killer of children in the world is poverty.

The British were both a military and an economic superpower during the 19th century.  But someone was chasing her.  The Untied States.  Who was feeling her economic oats.  Her economy would catch up and surpass the British.  Making it the mightiest economic power of all time.  How did this happen?  Two words.  Free trade.  The United States was the largest free trade zone in the world.  The economic advantages of all those states trading with each other freely across their state borders made Europe stand up and take notice.  And in response created treaties that ultimately led to the European Union and the Eurozone.  To replicate the large free trade zone of the United States.

Back across the Atlantic the Americans, Canadians and the Mexicans took it up a notch.  And created the North American Free Trade Agreement.  NAFTA.  Extending the free trade that existed in each of their countries across their international borders.  The mercantilist fought against this.  Because protectionism, restrictions and tariffs helped the privileged few protect the high prices in their industry.  In America they talked about a great sucking sound as all American jobs went to low-wage Mexico.  Some manufacturers did move to Mexico.  Primarily because like the small farmers in Britain after the repeal of the Corn Laws they could no longer sell at prices to meet all of their costs.  But it was not as the mercantilists predicted.  Yes, imports increased.  In 2010 they were up 235% from pre-NAFTA 1993.  But exports were up, too.  Some 190% for the same period.  Proving Ricardo’s Comparative Advantage.  By focusing on what we do best and trading for everything else all countries do better.

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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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Keynesians, Gold Standard, Consumer Price Index, Money Stock, Nixon Shock, 1973 Oil Crisis, Gasoline Prices, Hidden Tax and Wealth Transfer

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 24th, 2012

History 101

With the Increase in the Money Supply came the Permanent Increase in Consumer Prices that Continues to this Date

Keynesians hate the gold standard.  Because it puts a limit on how much money a government can print.  Keynesians believe in the power of government to eliminate recessions.  And their cure for recession?  Inflation.  The government prints money to spend in the private economy.  To make up for the decline in consumer spending.  But it turned out this didn’t work.  As the Seventies showed.  They printed a lot of money.  But it didn’t end the recession.  It just raised consumer prices.  Because there is a direct correlation between the amount of money in circulation and consumer prices.  As you can see in the following graph. 

 Source: M2, CPI

 The consumer price index (CPI) data comes from the U.S. Department of Labor.  The data is at 5 year intervals.  The CPI is a ‘basket’ of prices for a selection of representative goods and services divided by another ‘basket’ of prices from a fixed date.  The resulting number is a price index.  If you plot these for a period of time you can see inflation (a rising graph) or deflation (a falling graph).  M2 is the money stock (seasonally unadjusted).  M2 includes currency, traveler’s checks, demand deposits, other checkable deposits, retail MMMFs, savings and small time deposits.

The Breton Woods system established fixed exchange rates for international trade.  It also pegged the U.S. dollar to gold.  The U.S. government promised to exchange U.S. dollars for gold at a rate of $35/ounce.  Making the U.S. dollar as good as gold.  This set the rules for international trade.  Made it fair.  And prevented anyone from cheating by devaluing their currency to make their exports cheaper to gain an economical advantage in international trade.  The system worked well.  Until the Sixties.  Because of the Vietnam War.  And LBJ’s Great Society.  These increased government spending so much that the U.S. government turned to printing money to pay for these.  Which depreciated the dollar.  Making it not as good as gold anymore.  So our trading partners began dumping their devalued dollars.  Exchanging them for gold at $35/ounce.  Which was a problem for the Nixon administration.  For that gold was far more valuable than the U.S. dollar.  They could print more dollars.  But once that gold was gone it was gone.  So Nixon acted to keep that gold in the U.S.

On August 15, 1971 Nixon decoupled the dollar from gold.  Known as the Nixon Shock.  Reneging on the solemn promise to exchange U.S. dollars for gold.  And ramped up the printing presses.  Which you can see in the graph.  After August 15 the money supply began growing.  And continues to this date.  With the increase in the money supply came the permanent increase in consumer prices that, also, continues to this date.  In lockstep with the growth of the money supply.

Prior to the Nixon Shock Gasoline Prices were Falling at a Greater Rate than the Rate Consumer Prices were Rising 

Since August of 1971 the U.S. has maintained a policy of permanent inflation.  Which caused a policy of permanently increasing consumer prices.  Those high prices we complain about, then, are not the fault of greedy businesses.  They’re the fault of government.  And their easy monetary policy.  In fact, if it was not for government’s irresponsible monetary policy the high price we hate most would not be as high as it is today.  In fact, because of the efficiency of the industry bringing us this one product its price has not followed the general upward trend in consumer prices.  And what is this product?  Gasoline.  Which, apart from two spikes in the last 60 years or so has either been falling or holding steady in comparison to consumer prices.

 Source: CPI, Gas $/Gal

 These prices are from DaveManual.com.  And reflect generally the price at the pump over this time period.  Using at first leaded gasoline.  Then unleaded gasoline.  Using inflation adjusted average prices.  Then chained 2005 dollars.  These prices are not exactly apples-to-apples.  But the trending information they provide illustrates two major points.  The two spikes in gas prices were due to demand greatly outpacing supply.  And that even with these two spikes gasoline prices would be far lower today if it wasn’t for the government’s policy of permanent inflation.

Note that prior to the Nixon Shock gasoline prices were falling at a greater rate than the rate consumer prices were rising.  These trends stopped in the Seventies for two reasons.  The Nixon Shock.  And the 1973 oil crisis.  When OPEC punished the U.S. for their support of Israel in the Yom Kippur war by cutting our oil supply.  These two events caused gasoline prices to spike.  But then something interesting happened with these high prices.  It brought a lot of oil producers into the market to cash in on those high prices.  This surge in production coupled with a falling demand due to the U.S. recession in the Seventies caused an oil glut in the Eighties.  Bringing prices back down.  Where they flat-lined for a decade or so while all other consumer prices continued their march upward.  Until two of the most populous countries in the world modernized their economies.  India and China.  Causing a spike in demand.  And a spike in prices.  For it was like adding another United States or two to the world gasoline market.

Inflation is a Hidden Tax that Transfers Wealth from the Private Sector to the Public Sector

Keynesians love to talk about how great the economy was during the Fifties when the high marginal tax rate was 91-92%.  “See?” they say.  “The economy was robust and growing during the Fifties even with these high marginal tax rates.  So high marginal tax rates are good for the economy.”  But they will never comment on how instrumental the gold standard was in keeping government spending within responsible limits.  How that responsible monetary policy kept inflation and consumer prices under control.  No.  They don’t see that part of the Fifties.  Only the high marginal tax rates.  Because they don’t want to return to the gold standard.  Or have any restrictions on their irresponsible ways.

Keynesians believe in the power of government to manage the economy.  And they really like to tax and spend.  A lot.  But taxing too much has consequences.  People don’t like paying taxes.  And don’t tend to vote for people who tax them a lot.  Which is why Keynesians love inflation.  Because it’s a hidden tax.  The higher the inflation rate the higher the tax.  Because government also borrows money.  They sell bonds.  That we buy as a retirement investment.  But if there’s been a good amount of inflation between the selling and redemption of those bonds it makes it a lot easier to redeem those bonds.  Because thanks to inflation those bonds are worth far less than they were when the government issued them.  Even Keynes noted that inflation was a way to transfer a lot of wealth from the private sector to the public sector.  Without many people understanding that it was even happening.

If you ever wondered why it takes two incomes to do what your father did with one income this is why.  Inflation.  This never ending transfer of wealth from the private sector to the public sector.  Leaving us less to retire on.  Making it harder to save for our children’s college education.  Not to mention the higher cost of living that shrinks our real wages.  While they tax our higher nominal wages at ever higher income tax rates (income tax bracket creep is another inflation phenomenon).  Everywhere we turn the government takes more and more of our wealth.  All thanks to LBJ increasing the government spending (for his Vietnam War and his Great Society).  And Richard Nixon decoupling the U.S. dollar from gold.  Instead of doing the responsible thing.  And cutting spending.  But much like high taxes you don’t win any friends at the voting booth by cutting spending.  So thanks to them we’ve had permanent and significant rising inflation and consumer prices ever since.  And as a result a flat to a falling standard of living.  Where soon our children may not have a better life than their parents.  Thank you LBJ and Richard Nixon.  And thank you Keynesian economics.

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FT106: “You can’t have high paying jobs with generous benefits and low consumer prices.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 24th, 2012

Fundamental Truth

To give Workers High Wages and Generous Benefits a Business has to sell their Goods at High Prices 

The problem with politics is that voters don’t understand economics.  And they demonstrate this by demanding mutually exclusive things all of the time.  Where having one thing makes it impossible to have the other thing.  Like that old saying that goes like this.  You can’t have your cake and eat it, too.   You can have cake.  Or you can eat cake.  But you can’t have cake after eating it.  Because once you eat your cake it is gone.  And there is nothing to have.  These things, then, are mutually exclusive.  You can have one or the other.  But you can’t have both.

Now let’s transfer this train of thought to economics.  And to its most fundamental element.  The demand curve.  Which represents people in the economy.  Consumers.  And the stuff that they buy.  And at what prices they will buy the stuff that they buy.  Let’s take large flat-screen televisions.  The big ones.  Over 60 inches in size.  If they cost the price of a luxury car few consumers will buy them.  But if they only cost the price of a pack of gum consumers will buy them until they have one for every room in their house.  And consumers will buy various amounts at the prices in between.  But in general this one truth holds true.  People will buy more televisions as their prices fall.  And they will buy fewer televisions as their prices rise.  When we show this graphically by plotting how many televisions they sell at various prices we get a demand curve.

Well, you think, why can’t we just sell televisions at the price of a pack of gum?  More people will have televisions.  That’s good.  Because people just love watching television.  And television makers will make more televisions.  Creating more jobs.  And jobs are good.  Everyone says so.  So why not just sell televisions for the price of a pack of gum.  Well, I suppose if we pay the people who make these televisions a wage and benefit package closer to the price of a pack of gum, we could.  But who wants to work for a paycheck that can only buy a pack of gum?  Which brings us back to wanting mutually exclusive things.  To give workers high wages and generous benefits we have to sell goods at high prices.  Which is mutually exclusive to the low prices consumers demand.

Big Oil’s Exxon Mobil was not as profitable as GE and Apple in 2010

Yes, you can’t have low consumer prices and high pay and generous benefits.  Because, per the demand curve, higher prices mean fewer things sold.   And fewer things sold mean lower sales revenue.  And sales revenue pays for everything in a business.  Including wages and benefits.  Which means lower sales revenue means less money available to pay wages and benefits.  And any company that tries to pay high wages and provide generous benefits has to do one of two things.  Have a product they can sell a lot of at high prices.  Or go bankrupt.  Two of the Big Three Detroit automakers tried to do the former and failed.  So they went bankrupt.  And the government bailed them out.

So to pay employees well these companies need to be profitable.  Unlike the Big Three.  And to be profitable you have to have sales revenue large enough AND prices high enough to generate profits.  Profits so large that they can provide high wages and generous benefits.  Unlike the Big Three.  Because they couldn’t sell enough cars at high enough prices to pay those high union wages and generous union benefits.  But some companies have been profitable.  Including one corporation liberal Democrats love to hate.  Exxon Mobil (a member of a group liberal Democrats derisively call Big Oil).  One company that the current liberal Democrat administration loves and partners with in green energy technology.  General Electric.  And one corporation liberal Democrats just love period.  Until Steve Jobs died, at least.  Apple. 

In the fourth quarter of 2010, the profits for Exxon Mobil, GE and Apple were, respectively, $9.25 billion, $4.46 billion and $4.31 billion.  The first thing that jumps out at you is that Big Oil is making twice as much money as the corporations liberal Democrats love.  Which is why they hate them.  And why they love to bitch about high prices at the gas pump.  While at the same time they are rejoicing about those high prices.  Because those high gasoline prices help push their green energy agenda.  But these profit numbers are misleading.  Because they don’t factor in the cost of producing those profits.  And the most common way we do that is by dividing these profits by the sales revenue that generated them.  Giving us net profit margin.  When we do this for Exxon Mobil, GE and Apple we find their net profit margins on those profits were, respectively, 8.79%, 10.8% and 21.2%.  Of the three Big Oil is the least profitable.  And Apple is the most profitable.  In fact, nearly 2.5 times more profitable than Exxon Mobil.  But no one is demanding that the government step in and lower the price of Apple’s products.  Unlike they do with Big Oil.

The Government’s Regulatory and Compliance Costs increase the Price of Gasoline at the Pump

So why is Big Oil less profitable than those other businesses?  Well, for one, you can’t drill for American oil in China.  Like GE and Apple can build products in China.  And by working in the United States Big Oil is subject to massive regulatory and compliance costs.  And government regulates few things more than the oil industry.  The permitting process alone just to drill an exploratory well can take years for approval.  And millions of dollars.  It wasn’t like this when gas was cheap in America.  Before all of this regulation.  In the days when John D. Rockefeller was refining petroleum no one was complaining about high prices.  In fact, his competition complained about his low prices.  Prices they couldn’t match.  Asking for the government to investigate them for antitrust violations.  Which they did.  And busted up Standard Oil.  So they could sell their products at higher prices.  But when you can manufacture goods in China you can escape all of these regulatory and compliance costs.  And governmental insanity of protecting consumers by raising consumer prices.

Some may counter that the net profit percentage isn’t the important number.  But the dollar amount of their profits.  The same people who say we shouldn’t look at the dollar amount rich people pay in taxes.  But what they pay as a percentage of their income.  Which is an example of a double standard.  Determining how much profit is too much by one standard for Big Oil (dollars).  But determining by another standard how much rich people should pay in taxes (percentage).  It doesn’t make good sense.  But it makes good politics.  Especially when you have nothing but class warfare to rely on to win an election.

The attack on Big Oil is also irrational.  For Big Oil can do one thing that even GE and Apple can’t do.  Provide high wages and generous benefits to American workers.  Because American oil deposits can only be extracted in America.  By American workers.  If only government will cease their attack on Big Oil.  And allow people to drive gas guzzlers if they want to.  Let them fill up those tanks.  Increase the demand for gasoline.  If they did and we got rid of the anti-gasoline policies Big Oil will go after that oil and bring it to market to meet that demand.  Making it inexpensive and plentiful just like John D. Rockefeller did.  Before government stepped in to ‘protect’ consumers.  And added so many regulatory and compliance costs that has since jacked up the price at the pump so much that it is eating away an ever larger share of a family’s budget.  And ultimately reducing their standard of living.  Without even getting any high paying jobs with generous benefits in the bargain.  And if you ask me that’s a pretty sad job of protecting consumers.

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Government Bonds, Deficits, Debt, Interest and Inflation

Posted by PITHOCRATES - January 16th, 2012

Economics 101

Unlike Corporate Borrowing, Government Borrowing does not Translate into Consumer Goods and Services

When corporations need large sums of money to finance their businesses they issue stocks and bonds.  Investors respond by buying their stocks and bonds.  By loaning the business their money they are investing into these businesses.  Giving them capital to create more things to sell.  Thus stimulating the economy.  Because this investment translates into more consumer goods and services.  That consumers will ultimately buy.

When they offer these goods and services at prices consumers will pay the business does well.  As do the consumers.  Who are able to use their money to buy stuff they want.  So consumers do well.  Corporations do well.  And the investors do well.  For a corporation doing well maintains the value of their investments.  Everyone wins.  Unlike when the government enters the bond market.  For when they do there are some winners and, unfortunately, some losers.

Governments issue bonds when they spend more money than they collect in taxes.  They borrow instead of raising taxes because they know raising taxes reduces economic activity.  Which they want to avoid.  Because less economic activity means less tax revenue.  Which would make the original problem worse.  So like a corporation they have a financing need.  Unlike a corporation, though, the money they borrow will not translate into more consumer goods and services.  They will spend it inefficiently.  Reward political friends.  But mostly they will just pay for past spending.  In mature countries deficits and debt have grown so large that some governments are even borrowing to pay the interest on their debt.

Investors like Government Bonds because Government has the Power to Tax

When the government sells bonds it raises the borrowing costs for businesses.  Because their corporate bonds have to compete with these government bonds.  Corporations, then, pay a higher interest rate on their bonds to attract investors away from the government bonds.  Interest is a cost of business.  Which they add to the sales price of their goods and services.  Meaning the consumer ultimately pays these higher interest costs.  Worse, if a corporation can’t get financing at a reasonable interest rate they may not borrow.  Which means they won’t grow their business.  Or create new jobs.

As government debt grows they sell more and more bonds.  Normally not a problem for investors.  Because investors like government bonds.  (What we call sovereign debt.  Because it is the debt of sovereign states.)  Because government has the power to tax.  So investors feel confident that they will get their interest payments.  And that they will get back their principal.  Because the government can always raise taxes to service this debt.  And raise further funds to redeem their bonds.

But there is a downside for investors.  Too much government debt makes them nervous.  Because there is something governments can do that businesses can’t.  Governments can print money.  And there is the fear that if a government’s debt is so great and they have to pay higher and higher interest rates on their sovereign debt to attract investors that they may just start printing money.  Inflate the money supply.  By printing money to pay investors.  Sounds good if you don’t understand the consequences of printing money.  But ‘inflating the money supply’ is another way of saying inflation.  Where you have more dollars chasing the same amount of goods and services.

When Corporations Fail and go Bankrupt they don’t Increase Consumer Prices or Cause Inflation

Think of it this way.  The existing value of all available goods and services equals the amount of money in circulation.  When you increase the money supply it doesn’t change the amount of goods and services in the economy.  But it still must equal the amount of money in circulation.  So the dollar must now be worth less.  Because more of them still add up to the same value of goods and services.  That is, by printing more money they depreciate the dollar.  Make it worth less.  And if the dollar is worth less it will take more of them to buy the same things.  Causing consumer prices to rise.

Worse, inflation reduces the value of bonds.  When they depreciate the dollar the money locked into these long-term investments shrink in value.  And when people get their money back they can’t buy as much with it as they could before they bought these long-term investments.  Meaning they lost purchasing power while the government had their money.  Which gives investors a negative return on their investment.  And if a person invested their retirement into these bonds they will have less purchasing power in their retirement.  Because a depreciated dollar shrinks their savings.  And increases consumer prices.  So retirees are especially hard hit by inflation.

So excessive government borrowing raises consumer prices.  By making corporations compete for investment capital.  And by causing inflation.  Whereas excessive corporate borrowing does not.  They either provide goods and services at prices consumers willingly pay.  Or they fail and go bankrupt.  Hurting no one but their private investors.  And their employees who lose their jobs.  Sad, but at least their failure does not increase consumer prices.  Or cause inflation.

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The Environmentalists are Demanding Obama Damage the Economy by Killing the Keystone XL Pipeline

Posted by PITHOCRATES - November 5th, 2011

Week in Review

If you’ve ever wondered if liberals (that 20% of the electorate hell-bent on running all of our lives) are bad for the country just follow this pipeline saga (see Green groups warn Obama he’ll pay price for approving pipeline by Ben Geman posted 11/4/2011 on The Hill).

Environmentalists warned bluntly Friday that President Obama’s reelection campaign will pay a heavy price if he approves a controversial oil sands pipeline…

[Tiernan Sittenfeld’s, a top official with the League of Conservation Voters (LCV),] comments come days after Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said that approval would hurt the group’s ability to mobilize members on Obama’s behalf.

The Sierra Club and LCV have the environmental movement’s largest political campaign operations.

Once again it’s not about jobs and the economy after all.  It’s about the money.  It’s always about the money.  And if Obama can get political contributions during record unemployment then he doesn’t need to create jobs.  He hasn’t yet.  So why start now?  (All that stimulus didn’t stimulate anything other than Obama’s political cronies’ appetite for more stimulus).  So the country can continue to wallow in recession.  As long as the money keeps rolling in.

Environmentalists also argue that rejection of the project would help Obama politically.

Help Obama politically.  While damaging the economy.

Building the thing will create real jobs.  And when they build it gasoline prices will go down.  Via the laws of supply and demand.  Which means consumer prices will go down.  Because the cost of everything has an energy cost component.  And people will pay less to gas up their cars.  Leaving them with more money for their households.

So the environmentalists are urging Obama to sacrifice all of that.  To improve politically.  I must have missed that part in the presidential oath of office.  Where it was all about the president.  And not the people.

The project puts Obama in a tough spot politically at a time when the economy and jobs are shaping up as the dominant issues in next year’s election…

Several unions are backing the project, including the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the International Union of Operating Engineers, and the Laborers’ International Union, and the Building and Construction Trades Department of the AFL-CIO.

But labor is not united on the project. The Amalgamated Transit Union and the Transport Workers Union both oppose Keystone XL.

Tough spot indeed.  That’s a lot of union support for the pipeline.  Because these union people will be building that pipeline.  And they desperately want jobs in this rotten Obama economy.  The only unions against it are the ones who will lose jobs because of a pipeline.  The trucking industry.  And the railroad industry.  Who would prefer to restrict the supply of oil.  To raise the price at the pump for the masses.  So the few who transport it can keep their jobs.

“Burning the oil fields of Saudi Arabia, more than anything else, is what has raised the temperature of the planet a degree already. We didn’t know about climate change when … people found oil in Saudi Arabia, so it was natural to go burn it,” McKibben said.

“Now that we do, if we find a second Saudi Arabia and just do the same thing, then we are idiots,” he said.

Well, he’s right about one thing.  They are idiots.  For we don’t know what raised the temperature of the planet.  If the temperature is raising you just can’t point at one thing and say it’s responsible.  What about the sun?  And the solar minimum?  The sun is more likely changing global temperatures than man.  Just like it did during the ice ages.  When the planet really warmed and cool.  Before anyone ever burned a fossil fuel.

Obama is tied into the lunatic left because that’s all he has.  His economic policies have been an abject failure.  Both for the economy.  And for his rewarding of campaign donors with federal tax dollars, a.k.a. stimulus.  Because his crony capitalism will be all for naught if he loses reelection.

So, no, liberalism is not good for the country.  And right now it’s not all that good for a liberal president.

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Government as Usual, Making a Bad Financial Situation Worse

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 8th, 2011

The Federal Debt is Bad; what we’re Adding is Worse than can be Imagined

If you thought the debt was bad, you ain’t seen nothing yet (see U.S. funding for future promises lags by trillions by Dennis Cauchon posted 6/7/2011 on USA Today).

The government added $5.3 trillion in new financial obligations in 2010, largely for retirement programs such as Medicare and Social Security. That brings to a record $61.6 trillion the total of financial promises not paid for.

This gap between spending commitments and revenue last year equals more than one-third of the nation’s gross domestic product.

The current outstanding U.S. debt is $14 trillion and change.  So, in addition to that debt, the U.S. has to borrow an additional $61.6 trillion sometime in the future.  Meanwhile they debate deficit reduction in Washington.  And the Obama administration is desperately trying to get the Republican-controlled House to raise the legal debt ceiling.  By a whopping $2.4 trillion.  You don’t have to be a whiz kid to see that something bad financially is coming this way.

Medicare alone took on $1.8 trillion in new liabilities, more than the record deficit prompting heated debate between Congress and the White House over lifting the debt ceiling.

Social Security added $1.4 trillion in obligations, partly reflecting longer life expectancies. Federal and military retirement programs added more to the financial hole, too.

It’s those social democracy things.  The same things that are bankrupting countries in the European Union.  Free health care.  And free pensions (with everyone living longer people are collecting far, far more than they ever paid into these programs).  Which just goes to show that free things are very expensive.

The $61.6 trillion in unfunded obligations amounts to $527,000 per household. That’s more than five times what Americans have borrowed for everything else — mortgages, car loans and other debt. It reflects the challenge as the number of retirees soars over the next 20 years and seniors try to collect on those spending promises.

Imagine yourself living as you are.  Working hard to pay your bills (mortgages, car loans and other debt).  And then adding another mortgage to the mix for a magnificent half-million dollar home.  Only without the home.  Just the mortgage payments.  If you’re not good at imagining that’s okay.  Because you’ll be living it within 20 years.  Can it get worse?

The government has promised pension and health benefits worth more than $700,000 per retired civil servant. The pension fund’s key asset: federal IOUs.

Why, yes.  It can.  While you struggle to pay these enormous bills you can think about this.  Your civil servants.  The people that work for you.  They will be making about $173,000 more in retirement than you.  Their boss.  That ought to put a smile on your face.  And a skip in your step.

Here Comes National Health Care

And it’s going to get worse.  Because national health care is coming (see Study Sees Cuts to Health Plans by Janet Adamy posted 6/8/2011 on The Wall Street Journal).

A report by McKinsey & Co. has found that 30% of employers are likely to stop offering workers health insurance after the bulk of the Obama administration’s health overhaul takes effect in 2014.

The findings come as a growing number of employers are seeking waivers from an early provision in the overhaul that requires them to enrich their benefits this year. At the end of April, the administration had granted 1,372 employers, unions and insurance companies one-year exemptions from the law’s requirement that they not cap annual benefit payouts below $750,000 per person a year.

But the law doesn’t allow for such waivers starting in 2014, leaving all those entities—and other employers whose plans don’t meet a slate of new requirements—to change their offerings or drop coverage.

Bill Clinton lost the 1994 midterm election because he campaigned as a moderate and governed as a liberal.  With Hillarycare being the poster child of his liberal agenda.  Barack Obama lost the 2010 midterm election because he campaigned as a moderate and governed as a liberal.  With Obamacare being the poster child of his liberal agenda.  The people spoke.  Then.  And now.  They don’t want national health care.  That’s why Hillarycare failed.  And why they watered Obamacare down to be something short of national health care.  But Obamacare will serve its purpose.  It will kill the private health insurance market.  Setting the stage once and for all for national health care in the United States.

In surveying 1,300 employers earlier this year, McKinsey found that 30% said they would “definitely or probably” stop offering employer coverage in the years after 2014. That figure increased to more than 50% among employers with a high awareness of the overhaul law.

The Obamacare legislation was something like a thousand pages long.  Guaranteed to confuse.  In fact, it was so confusing that Democrats voted for it without reading it.  Republicans read as much of it as they could.  And because they saw what was in it they voted against it.  Those who take the time to read it don’t like it.  Including the 50% of employers surveyed.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, in a March 2010 report, found that by 2019, about six million to seven million people who otherwise would have had access to coverage through their job won’t have it owing to the new law. That estimate represents about 4% of the roughly 160 million people projected to have employment-based coverage in 2019.

So let’s crunch some numbers.  Private insurers can’t cap benefits below $750,000 per person per year.  Some 6-7 million people will lose their insurance because of Obamacare.  So if the government has to pick up the costs for half of the lower amount (3 million) of these people consuming $750,000 each that comes to…$2.25 trillion.  That’s a lot.  Now let’s say the 160 million who have employment-based coverage lose it.  And that half of them need $750,000 in benefits.  That comes to…$60 trillion.  How about that?  That’s about the same as the amount of the government’s unfunded financial liabilities. 

So, in addition to the $14 trillion or so in debt, there may be another $120 trillion that we’ll have to borrow.  And that’s a little more than the $2.4 trillion the Obama administration is desperately trying to get the House to approve.  And warn about dire consequences if the Republicans refuse to do so.  This reminds me of that scene in Jaws where Chief Brody was throwing out that chum to attract the shark.  It worked.  The shark appeared.  Only it was a lot bigger than Brody thought it’d be.  He told Captain Quint, “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.”  Because fighting a $120 trillion debt with a $2.4 trillion dingy is going to lose the battle.  And by ‘lose the battle’ I mean the United States will end up like Greece.  Only without anyone big enough to bail her out.

OPEC not increasing Oil Production, no Help for Depressed Economies

That’s some pretty doleful news.  Maybe there’s a white knight rushing to the rescue.  Perhaps the economy will rebound and go gang busters.  Maybe the United States will grow itself out of this debt sinkhole (see OPEC Keeps Lid on Oil Production Targets by The Associated Press posted 6/8/2011 posted on The New York Times).

OPEC decided on Wednesday to maintain its crude oil output levels and meet again within three months to discuss a possible production increase.

The decision was unexpected and reflected unusual tensions in an organization that usually works by consensus.

Saudi Arabia and other influential oil-producing nations had pushed to increase production ceilings to calm markets and ease concerns that crude was overpriced for consumer nations struggling with their economies.

To quote a line from Planes, Trains and Automobiles, they have a better chance of playing pickup sticks with their butt cheeks.  The moratorium on oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico put pressure on supply.  Then the unrest in the Middle East and North Africa added more.  The recession had kept oil down for the last year or so.  But with supply being squeezed that wasn’t going to last.  It’s back up.  With an assist from Ben Bernanke.  Whose quantitative easing devalued the dollar and sparked some inflation.  For we buy and sell the world’s oil in U.S. dollars.  So consumer prices are up.  While high unemployment and flat wages continue to make life hard for the American consumer.

Those opposed were led by Iran, the second-strongest producer within the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries…

Iran and Venezuela came to the meeting opposing any move to increase output, which would have probably lowered prices for benchmark crude from the present levels of around $100 a barrel.

But OPEC powerhouse Saudi Arabia, which favors prices of around $80 a barrel, wanted higher production levels — and served notice that it was prepared to raise production unilaterally, to close to 10 million barrels a day from its present daily production of about 8.7 million barrels.

How about that?  Our enemies want to keep the price of oil up.  While our friends want to bring it back down to $80 per barrel.  Yet the Obama administration demanded that Mubarak step down from power in Egypt (a move the Saudis did not like as Egypt was anti-Iran and kept a lid on radical Islam like the Muslim Brotherhood) while doing nothing to help the democracy movement in Iran.  And Obama himself has a close and personal relationship with the Venezuelan dictator.  Hugo Chavez.

Policies like these will do little to bring the price of oil down.  Or make the economy rebound and go gang busters.  So there’s little hope of the U.S. growing its way out of their unfunded financial obligations. 

Monetary Policy doing more Harm than Good

And it doesn’t help to have Big Government Keynesians trying to fix things (see Sizing up the Fed’s few options by Cyrus Sanati posted 6/8/2011 on CNNMoney).

At the time the Fed began its second round of quantitative easing, inflation was low, so Bernanke felt comfortable instituting a program that would see $600 billion injected into the economy. After all, how much inflation can $600 billion cause when the country has a national debt load of $14 trillion and a personal debt load of $30 trillion?

Inflation has jumped in the last three months at a much faster pace than historical averages. The consumer price index rose by 6.1% annually during the April quarter, and core CPI, which excludes food and energy, rose by 2%. Such an accelerated move in inflation would be explainable if there was strong economic growth, but that’s not the case.

Higher prices without economic growth.  We saw this in the Seventies.  Under Jimmy Carter.  His treasury secretary, Paul Volcker, raised rates to reduce inflation.  Interest rates soared.  But he tamed inflation.  And he didn’t do it with quantitative easing.  He did it by doing the exact opposite.  Bernanke could learn a lesson from Volcker.

“If you’re Bernanke and you are seeing this rapid acceleration in core inflation and a high unemployment rate, you got to be thinking to yourself, ‘Gee, my models aren’t working right,'” says Drew Matus, senior U.S. economist at UBS Investment Research. “This should cause more caution in the part of the Fed and it is this caution that will keep them from doing QE3.”

Yes.  The models don’t work.  They’ve never worked.  And never will.  Because monetary policy is not the be all and end all of economic activity.  Think of it this way.  Say there is a restaurant not doing well.  The Keynesian would help that restaurant with monetary policy.  It would lower prices on the menu.  To make the menu items cheaper (like making money cheaper to borrow from a bank).  The only problem is that this restaurant has problems.  People aren’t going there.  The food is bad, the service is poor and it’s dirty.  Lowering the menu prices isn’t going to fix those problems.  So lowering prices is not going to bring the people back.  Just as making money cheap to borrow won’t bring the consumers back to the market.

People need Disposable Income and Responsible Government

Unemployment is high.  A lot of people have no jobs.  Or disposable income.  Meanwhile, prices are going up.  Leaving even less disposable income.  Businesses aren’t going to borrow cheap money to hire people to expand production.  Because current production levels are already in excess of current demand.

People need disposable income.  Inflation is taking that money away from the people.  And two things are driving inflation.  High oil prices (demand greater than supply).  And bad monetary policy (a devalued dollar increases the price of oil and everything else).  We need to fix these things.  We need to drill.  We need to increase American production of oil.  And we need to stop printing money.  We need to do these two things ASAP.

Then we need to address the insanity of spending money we don’t have.  And stop it.  Sooner or later, we have to address entitlements.  Actually, later may no longer be an option.  With $60 trillion in unfunded liabilities in the pipeline.  And with Obamacare potentially adding another $60 trillion.  That’s just too much.  Trying to pay this will kill economic activity.  It will require more taxes, more borrowing and more printing.  Everyone of which will increase the cost of doing business or investing.  Which will ultimately kill jobs.  Giving people even less disposable income.

Benjamin Franklin warned, “When the people find that they can vote themselves money, that will herald the end of the republic.”  That’s why they designed the republic to have disinterested, responsible people between the treasury and the people.  But that was then.  When disinterested, responsible people were in government.  Perhaps not everyone, but enough to keep the republic solvent.  Today most serve themselves.  The treasury is just a tool to buy votes.  And to hell with the consequences because most of them will be dead by the time the republic ends.

So don’t expect them to do the right thing anytime soon.  Because doing the right thing will not make their lives better.  Only ours.

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