Entrepreneurs Fail not because they are Stupid but because of an Anti-Business Environment

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 16th, 2013

Week in Review

The ‘capitalism’ we have today isn’t our Founding Father’s capitalism.  Yet critics of today’s ‘capitalism’ act as if it is.  And point to the inherent flaws of this ‘capitalism’.  As an excuse to bring in more governmental regulations to fix the problems of ‘capitalism’.  Which is the reason why today’s ‘capitalism’ isn’t capitalism.  It’s not the same economic system that made the United States the number one economic power in the world.  No.  It’s moved more towards European social democracy.  The system that gave the European nations their sovereign debt crises.  But those learned intellectuals speaking from their ivory towers still talk about fixing the problems of ‘capitalism’.  Without really understanding what the real problem is.  And it ain’t capitalism.  It’s the interference of capitalism and free markets.  This is the source of all our problems today.  And unless you address these problems you’re just wasting your time (see How to Reduce ‘Infant Entrepreneur Mortality’ by Sramana Mitra posted 6/10/2013 on the Harvard Business Review Blog).

Ever since the 2008 financial crisis, intellectuals have had to ask themselves, ‘Does Capitalism Still Work..?’

Two particular problems stand out. First, Capitalism has been hijacked by speculators. Second, the system enables amassing wealth at the tip of the pyramid, leaving most of society high and dry. Both problems have resulted in a highly unstable, volatile world order that jitters and shocks markets periodically, leaving financial carnage and mass scale human suffering.

The first problem with ‘capitalism’ today is that intellectuals are trying to fix it.  There isn’t anything wrong with capitalism.  The problems we have today have nothing to do with capitalism.  Because what we have today is state capitalism.  Crony capitalism.  European social democracy.  We have too much government in capitalism.  Who are favoring their big corporate friends in exchange for big corporate campaign donations.  And the only reason we have these speculators is because of the government.  Who is pumping so much cheap money into the economy for the speculators to speculate with.  And when their crony capitalist friends fail the government bails them out with tax dollars.  Because there is no downside to speculation when you have friends in government speculators will speculate.

People like to blame the banks and Wall Street for the subprime mortgage crisis.  But they didn’t create that crisis.  They just played their part.  The government created it.  By pumping cheap money into the economy to keep interest rates artificially low.  To encourage people to buy houses.  Even those who weren’t even considering buying a house.  Or those who simply couldn’t afford to buy a house.  These people changed their behavior based on the government’s manipulation of the interest rates.  As the government intended to do.  And they made everything worse with policies to encourage more and more home ownership.  The big one being Bill Clinton’s Policy Statement on Discrimination in Lending.  Where the government threatened lenders to lend to the unqualified or else.  So they did.  Using the subprime mortgage to qualify the unqualified.  And then the government-sponsored enterprises, Fannie May and Freddie Mac, bought those toxic subprime mortgages from these lenders, chopped and diced them into investments called collateralized debt obligations.  And sold them to unsuspecting investors as high-yield, low-risk investments.  Because they were backed by the safest investment of all time.  The home mortgage.  Only they didn’t tell these investors that these mortgages were toxic subprime mortgages being paid by people who couldn’t qualify for a conventional mortgage.  The safest investment of all time.  The conventional home mortgage.  So these lenders were able to clear these toxic mortgages off of their balance sheets.  Allowing them to issue more toxic subprime mortgages.  They were making money by writing these risky subprime mortgages.  But incurred no risk.  So they kept qualifying the unqualified for more and more mortgages.  Which was profitable.  Safe.  And kept the government off of their backs as threatened in Bill Clinton’s Policy Statement on Discrimination in Lending.

This isn’t capitalism.  This is government and their crony capitalist friends using their power, privilege and influence to game the system.  To enrich themselves.  This is what caused the mess we have today.  Where speculators and those in government get richer.  While Main Street America sees its median income fall.  And entrepreneurs struggle to stay in business.

Everybody talks about the role small businesses play in growing economies and creating jobs. However, as it stands, in America alone, 600,000 businesses die in the vine every year. This colossal infant entrepreneur mortality is a product of colossal levels of ignorance about how to build and sustain businesses.

And a myriad of governmental regulations, taxes and a litigious society.  Entrepreneurs today have to spend a lot of money and time protecting their money and time.  They need accountants and tax lawyers to help them comply with an ever growing regulatory environment.  And a boatload of insurances to keep the sharks at bay who all want a piece of their wealth and will sue if given the least opportunity.  It’s so complex that if they try to navigate their own way through these enormous burdens places on business they often make mistakes.  Or simply overlook something that they shouldn’t have.  Often times they just don’t charge enough to cover all of these costs they never expected when starting their businesses.  So when, say, a tax bill comes due they simply don’t have the cash on hand to pay it.  And then the downward death spiral begins.  This is why restaurants and construction companies are the number one and number two business to fail.  Where we have brilliant chefs and trades people who can cook or build something better than anyone else.  But are so out of their element when dealing with the business side of their trade.  The regulatory costs, taxes, insurance, etc.  And find they spend more of their time not doing what they love—cooking or building—but pushing paper through a labyrinth of red tape.  And often don’t find out they are not charging enough to cover all of the regulatory costs, taxes, insurance, etc., until it’s too late.

There is actually a method to the madness of entrepreneurship. And while the ‘character traits’ that support entrepreneurship — courage, tolerance for risk, resilience, persistence — cannot be taught, the method of building businesses can and should be taught.

In fact, it should be taught not just at elite institutions, but at every level of society, en masse.

If we can democratize the education and incubation of entrepreneurs on a global scale, I believe that it would not only check the infant entrepreneur mortality, it would create a much more stable economic system.

No.  That’s not the answer.  The reason why a lot of people remain employees instead of going into business themselves is that these people don’t want to deal with all the regulatory headaches their bosses have to deal with.  A tradesperson would rather work their 8-hour shift and go home.  They don’t want to deal with payroll taxes, workers’ compensation insurance, liability insurance, vehicular insurances, health insurance, real property taxes, personal property taxes, quarterly tax filings, business income tax, use tax, OSHA requirements, environmental requirements, city and state inspections, permits and licenses, etc.  If a tradesperson could just throw his or her tools in a truck and go into business they would.  But they can’t.  So they won’t.  Because it’s just so much easier being an employee than an employer.  Who are always guaranteed a paycheck if they work.  While an employer only gets paid after everyone, and everything, else gets paid.

You want to reduce infant entrepreneur mortality rates?  Get the government out of the private sector.  And give these entrepreneurs a chance.  You’d be surprised at what they can do if the government just leaves them alone.  Just like Andrew Carnegie, John Rockefeller, Henry Ford, etc., did.  Who probably couldn’t do what they did today.  Not in today’s anti-business environment.

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President Obama and his Keynesian Policies are Working on a Lost Decade just like Japan’s

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 19th, 2013

Week in Review

In the Eighties Japan Inc. was going strong.  The Japanese economy roared.  And the Nikkei soared.  The Japanese had more money than they knew what to do with it.  So they started buying U.S. assets.  People feared that Japan would one day own America.  And urged that we had to follow their lead before it was too late.  The American government should partner with business like in Japan.  So smart bureaucrats could maximize economic output.  Instead of leaving it to inefficient market forces.

But Japan Inc. was state capitalism at its worse.  Instead of letting the market determine the allocations of scarce resources that have alternate uses the government stepped in with their crony capitalist friends.  Leading to corruption.  And a lot of malinvestments.  Money invested poorly.  Causing great asset bubbles.  That burst in the Nineties.  Where Japan Inc. was replaced by the Lost Decade.  A decade or more of deflation.  To wring out all the inflation the government fueled with their artificially low interest rates that caused all of that malinvestment.  And those asset bubbles.  If you’re too young to have lived during this you can still see it in action.  This time in the United States (see The U.S. looks like Japan: Investors rejoice by Paul R. La Monica posted 5/16/2013 on CNNMoney).

The U.S. economy is still not close to being fully recovered from the Great Recession, but investors could give a mouse’s posterior about this sad fact…

…Consumer prices fell for the second straight month. The absence of runaway inflation is of course a good thing, especially when you consider that the Federal Reserve has pumped an inordinate amount of money into the system with its asset purchase programs. But if prices continue to dip, that’s a big problem. Deflation is much worse than mild inflation. Just ask Japan.

Ah yes, Japan! It has taken steps to combat deflation with a vengeance this year. The Bank of Japan’s stimulus, dubbed Abenomics in honor of the country’s prime minister, is like the Fed’s quantitative easing…on steroids.

There’s the rub. The longer that the U.S. stays in tepid growth mode — what I’ve been calling the “low and slow barbecue recovery” since 2010 — the comparisons to Japan will only increase. After all, the U.S. also has an aging population and a large government debt load. The Great Recession ended in June 2009 and here we are in May 2013 still with a lackluster recovery. So we’re almost halfway to our own Lost Decade…

The problem here is Keynesian economics.  It was Keynesian economics that got Japan into the mess they’re in by playing with interest rates to stimulate artificial economic activity.  But Keynesians are like drunks.  They think a little hair of the dog can cure their hangover.  So they binge again on artificially low interest rates to create more artificial economic activity.  Which will end the same way.  As it ended in the Nineties.  A long painful deflation to wring out all of that inflation they pumped into the economy.  Just as the Americans will go through.  Because Keynesians dominate their monetary policy, too.

Even though there are many smart people, including members of the Fed, who are worried that QE ∞ will eventually cause a huge inflation headache and create more nasty asset bubbles down the road, the market doesn’t expect the Fed to pull back on its easing anytime soon…

That’s why stocks could keep climbing. It doesn’t matter that the economy is not healthy enough to make most average consumers feel better. Wall Street only cares about the Fed.

This can’t last forever, of course. Sooner or later, the economy is either going to slow so much that we have to start worrying about another recession (and no amount of stimulus will help prevent a market pullback if that happens) or the economy will start showing signs of a legitimate, sustainable and robust recovery. In that latter case, the Fed will have no choice but to end QE and start raising interest rates.

But for now, at least, investors can enjoy the fact that the United States is basically morphing into Japan Lite. Who cares about the health of the economy as long as central banks keep those printing presses running 24/7/365? Joy.

The selling point of Keynesian economics was eliminating the recessionary side of the business cycle.  So it is interesting that some of our worse recessions have been in the era of Keynesian economics.  I mean, that’s what the New Deal was.  Keynesian.  And what did it give us?  The Great Depression.  Why?  Why are the recessions so painful in the era when they were supposed to be less painful?  Because all Keynesian economics does is to delay economic corrections.  By delaying the onset of recessions.  And because it delays the correction it allows a bubble to grow greater.  So when the correction comes prices have farther to fall.  Which makes a recovery in the Keynesian era more drawn out.  And more painful.  Unless you like your recessions to last a decade.  Or more.

So while Main Street America continues to suffer under President Obama’s Keynesian policies Wall Street is doing just fine.  As rich people always do when partnering with government.  Only Main Street suffers the fallout of their Lost Decades.

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GE vs. TransCanada – Is the President too much of an Environmentalist or just too Anti-American?

Posted by PITHOCRATES - November 20th, 2011

Week in Review

General Electric is everything the Occupy Wall Street protestors hate.  But they don’t protest them.  Or President Obama.  Who has a close personal relationship with GE (see Occupy GE posted 11/18/2011 on Investors.com).

At a recent town hall meeting, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., chairman of the House Budget Committee, reminded constituents of a story that broke earlier in the year — that General Electric paid no taxes on profit of $14 billion, $9 billion of which was earned overseas.

Ryan related how he had asked a GE tax officer the length of GE’s tax filing. The tax guy said it was filed electronically but if it had been printed out he reckoned about 57,000 pages. This speaks both to the complexity and unfairness of the tax code.

…businesses large and small are encumbered by regulations and a byzantine tax code designed not to raise money for the needed functions of government but to reward or punish the behavior of corporations and individuals as the government sees fit.

57,000 pages?  For what?  To maximize tax revenue?  Apparently not.  As GE paid zero taxes on $14 billion.  So this complicated mess of a tax code clearly doesn’t maximize tax revenue.  It actually minimizes tax revenue.  By giving the well-connected corporations (i.e., government cronies) a way to escape paying their ‘fair share’.

In the mean time, though, the Obama administration is trying to raise taxes on the rich.  To make them pay their ‘fair’ share.  And by rich they mean the middle class.  For they definitely don’t mean crony capitalists like GE.

General Electric, a “good” and “green” company that makes wind turbines instead of drilling for oil, is rewarded for successfully jumping through government hoops and gaming the system.

TransCanada, which wants to build a pipeline to bring oil from Alberta’s tar sands to American refineries, is deemed a “bad” company that wants to rape the earth and give us bad air and water. It, and the 20,000 jobs it would create for the 99% by building the Keystone XL pipeline, is told to cool its heels.

GE is a crony capitalist.  And close friend of the Obama administration.  They can ship jobs out of the country.  And not pay income taxes.  TransCanada, on the other hand, will create jobs in America.  As Americans will build their pipeline to pump their oil to American refineries.  Thus benefiting all Americans by lowering the price of gasoline.  But this company is no friend of the Obama administration.  So Obama won’t allow them to build their pipeline.  Create American jobs.  Or lower the price of gasoline.

TransCanada is better for America.  Yet GE is getting all of the breaks.  What’s wrong with this picture?  Is the president too much of an environmentalist?  Or just too anti-American?

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