Chick-fil-A outsells KFC and proves that there is no such thing as Monopolies in Free Markets

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 30th, 2014

Week in Review

A lot of people fear big corporations.  And fight hard against them.  Especially the big ones that provide a wide variety of goods and/or services at lower prices than the competition.  The kind that put Mom and Pop stores out of business.  Opponents of these big corporations say those low prices are only a dirty trick to put the competition out of business.  To make themselves a monopoly.  And once they get rid of all competition with their unfair low prices there will be nothing to stop them from raising their prices.  Higher than even the Mom and Pop stores they put out of business.  Of course, if that were true then you wouldn’t read stories like this (see Chick-fil-A Stole KFC’s Chicken Crown With a Fraction of the Stores by Venessa Wong posted 3/28/2014 on BloombergBusinessweek).

The days when fried chicken was synonymous with a certain white-haired southern gentleman are over, at least in the U.S. A new champion has claimed KFC’s long-held chicken crown: Chick-fil-A…

Anyone in the northern half of the U.S. is likely scratching her head and wondering why she hasn’t seen Chick-fil-A outlets opening in the neighborhood. Last year Chick-fil-A only had about 1,775 U.S. stores to KFC’s 4,491, and most are in the South. Yet in dollar terms the Colonel is coming up short even with that much larger footprint: Chick-fil-A’s 2013 sales passed $5 billion, while all of KFC’s U.S. restaurants rang up about $4.22 billion, according to Technomic. And that’s with zero dollars coming in to Chick-fil-A on Sundays, when every restaurant is closed.

Chick-fil-A has fewer outlets than KFC.  Yet they have a greater sales volume.  Why?  Because they sell at higher prices than KFC.  According to those who fear big corporations this is not supposed to happen.  KFC should be able to sell at lower prices than the smaller Chick-fil-A.  So low that Chick-fil-A should go bankrupt trying to match the unfair lower prices of KFC.  But that isn’t happening.  Because there is no way any corporation can monopolize any industry without the government first creating a monopoly for them.  As Chick-fil-A has proven.  They thought they could offer food people would prefer over KFC.  And did.  Despite KFC dominating the industry.  And the people liked the food so much that they were willing to pay more to eat Chick-fil-A over the less expensive KFC.

The only way you can shut someone out of an industry is by raising the barriers to enter that industry.  Such as with costly licensing, permitting, fees, restrictive regulatory policies, etc.  Things only the government can force on the competition wishing to enter a market.  Thus limiting competition in that market to protect their crony friends.  But if there is no government protection of established businesses that are monopolies or quasi monopolies anyone can enter the market and compete against them.  As Chick-fil-A proves.

People shouldn’t fear big corporations.  They should fear government.  The only entity that can create and enforce a monopoly.  For it is only with the government’s help that a monopoly can gouge customers with their high prices.  Because in a free market with low barriers to enter it will be impossible to gouge customers as the competition will keep all pricing competitive.  Because if some try to gouge their customers those customers will just go to the lower-priced competition.

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Venezuela’s Socialist Policies cause Runaway Inflation and High Prices

Posted by PITHOCRATES - November 24th, 2013

Week in Review

Socialists who attack capitalism say they are the champion of the poor.  And yet the poorest of the poor are in socialist countries.  Where some live without indoor plumbing or electric power.  While the poor in capitalist countries can suffer from obesity.  And most if not all have indoor plumbing and electric power.  As well as refrigerators, microwaves and televisions.

Venezuela is an anti-capitalist, socialist country.  So you would think it’s a poor person’s paradise there.  But because of runaway inflation only the rich do well in this socialist paradise.  While the poor can barely afford to live (see Venezuela jails 100 ‘bourgeois’ businessmen in crackdown by Andrew Cawthorne and Deisy Buitrago, Reuters, posted 11/14/2013 on Yahoo! News).

Venezuela’s socialist government has arrested more than 100 “bourgeois” businessmen in a crackdown on alleged price-gouging at hundreds of shops and companies since the weekend, President Nicolas Maduro said on Thursday.

“They are barbaric, these capitalist parasites!” Maduro thundered in the latest of his lengthy daily speeches. “We have more than 100 of the bourgeoisie behind bars at the moment.”

The successor to the late Hugo Chavez also said his government was preparing a law to limit Venezuelan businesses’ profits to between 15 percent and 30 percent.

Officials say unscrupulous companies have been hiking prices of electronics and other goods more than 1,000 percent. Critics say failed socialist economic policies and restricted access to foreign currency are behind Venezuela’s runaway inflation.

So what’s to blame for these high prices?  Capitalism?  Or socialism?  Well, if you blame a devalued currency and a scarcity of basic goods, you have to blame socialism.

Venezuela’s official inflation, 54 percent annually, is the highest in the Americas…

Given Venezuelans’ anxiety over inflation, and scarcities of basic goods from toilet paper to milk, Maduro was risking a backlash at the December 8 nationwide municipal elections…

Critics say the moves do not tackle the roots of Venezuela’s economic malaise, like an overvalued bolivar that forces many importers to buy black-market dollars and then pass those costs on to consumers.

The government has ordered local telecom companies to block various websites showing the bolivar at 10 times the official rate of 6.3 to the greenback on the illegal market.

The socialist economy of Venezuela can’t provide the basic necessities.  So they have to import a lot of goods.  But before you buy a country’s exports you have to exchange your currency first.  And when you’ve devalued your currency by printing money to pay for a welfare state you don’t get a lot of foreign currency in exchange.  Because your money is worthless.  And no one outside the country wants it.  For what are they going to spend it on?  It’s not like Venezuela has a booming export market to shop at.  So when you can’t exchange bolivars for US dollars you have to get US dollars some other way.  On the black market.  So you have a currency that has some purchasing power to pay for those US exports.

So inflation, scarcity and the cost of black market US dollars adds a lot of costs to businesses.  Which they have to recover somehow.  And the only way they can is through higher prices.  Which hurt the poor the most.  For they’re not getting big pay raises to keep pace with rising prices.  In fact, Venezuelans don’t even want to hold on to their own currency.  Because it’s losing purchasing power at such a great rate that the longer they hold on to it the less it will buy.  Which is why they want those imports.  Because you can’t inflate manufactured goods.  So they hold their value.  Unlike a savings account full of bolivars.

It’s not the bourgeois capitalist parasites making life miserable for the poor.  It’s Venezuela’s socialist policies.  Just as similar policies caused people to flee Cuba on rickety boats to get to America.  And East Germans risked their lives to climb over the Berlin Wall.  If you put two societies close together, one socialist and one capitalist, the flow of people between the two will be from the socialist state to the capitalist state.  Which is why socialist states are often police states.  So they can prevent their people from escaping their socialist paradise.

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Keynesian Economics

Posted by PITHOCRATES - October 14th, 2013

Economics 101

(Originally published February 20th, 2012)

John Maynard Keynes said if the People aren’t Buying then the Government Should Be

Keynesian economics is pretty complex.  So is the CliffsNotes version.  So this will be the in-a-nutshell version.  Keynesian economics basically says, in a nut shell, that markets are stupid.  Because markets are full of stupid people.  If we leave people to buy and sell as they please we will continue to suffer recession after recession.  Because market failures give us the business cycle.  Which are nice on the boom side.  But suck on the bust side.  The recession side.  So smart people got together and said, “Hey, we’re smart people.  We can save these stupid people from themselves.  Just put a few of us smart people into government and give us control over the economy.  Do that and recessions will be a thing of the past.”

Well, that’s the kind of thing governments love to hear.  “Control over the economy?” they said.  “We would love to take control of the economy.  And we would love to control the stupid people, too.  Just tell us how to do it and our smart people will work with your smart people and we will make the world a better place.”  And John Maynard Keynes told them exactly what to do.  And by exactly I mean exactly.  He transformed economics into mathematical equations.  And they all pretty much centered on doing one thing.  Moving the demand curve.  (A downward sloping graph showing the relationship between prices and demand for stuff; higher the price the lower the demand and vice versa).

In macroeconomics (i.e., the ‘big picture’ of the national economy), Keynes said all our troubles come from people not buying enough stuff.  That they aren’t consuming enough.  And when consumption falls we get recessions.  Because aggregate demand falls.  Aggregate demand being all the people put together in the economy out there demanding stuff to buy.  And this is where government steps in.  By picking up the slack in personal consumption.  Keynes said if the people aren’t buying then the government should be.  We call this spending ‘stimulus’.  Governments pass stimulus bills to shift the demand curve to the right.  A shift to the right means more demand and more economic activity.  Instead of less.  Do this and we avoid a recession.  Which the market would have entered if left to market forces.  But not anymore.  Not with smart people interfering with market forces.  And eliminating the recession side of the business cycle.

Keynesians prefer Deficit Spending and Playing with the Money Supply to Stimulate the Economy

Oh, it all sounds good.  Almost too good to be true.  And, as it turns out, it is too good to be true.  Because economics isn’t mathematical.  It’s not a set of equations.  It’s people entering into trades with each other.  And this is where Keynesian economics goes wrong.  People don’t enter into economic exchanges with each other to exchange money.  They only use money to make their economic exchanges easier.  Money is just a temporary storage of value.  Of their human capital.  Their personal talent that provides them business profits.  Investment profits.  Or a paycheck.  Money makes it easier to go shopping with the proceeds of your human capital.  So we don’t have to barter.  Exchange the things we make for the things we want.  Imagine a shoemaker trying to barter for a TV set.  By trading shoes for a TV.  Which won’t go well if the TV maker doesn’t want any shoes.  So you can see the limitation in the barter system.   But when the shoemaker uses money to buy a TV it doesn’t change the fundamental fact that he is still trading his shoemaking ability for that TV.  He’s just using money as a temporary storage of his shoemaking ability.

We are traders.  And we trade things.  Or services.  We trade value created by our human capital.  From skill we learned in school.  Or through experience.  Like working in a skilled trade under the guidance of a skilled journeyperson or master tradesperson.  This is economic activity.  Real economic activity.  People getting together to trade their human capital.  Or in Keynesian terms, on both sides of the equation for these economic exchanges is human capital.  Which is why demand-side economic stimulus doesn’t work.  Because it mistakes money for human capital.  One has value.  The other doesn’t.  And when you replace one side of the equation with something that doesn’t have value (i.e., money) you cannot exchange it for something that has value (human capital) without a loss somewhere else in the economy.  In other words to engage in economic exchanges you have to bring something to the table to trade.  Skill or ability.  Not just money.  If you bring someone else’s skill or ability (i.e., their earned money) to the table you’re not creating economic activity.  You’re just transferring economic activity to different people.  There is no net gain.  And no economic stimulus.

When government spends money to stimulate economic activity there are no new economic exchanges.  Because government spending is financed by tax revenue.  Wealth they pull out of the private sector so the public sector can spend it.  They take money from some who can’t spend it and give it to others who can now spend it.  The reduction in economic activity of the first group offsets the increase in economic activity in the second group.   So there is no net gain.  Keynesians understand this math.  Which is why they prefer deficit spending (new spending paid by borrowing rather than taxes).  And playing with the money supply.

The End Result of Government Stimulus is Higher Prices for the Same Level of Economic Activity

The reason we have recessions is because of sticky wages.  When the business cycle goes into recession all prices fall.  Except for one.  Wages.  Those sticky wages.  Because it is not easy giving people pay cuts.  Good employees may just leave and work for someone else for better pay.  So when a business can’t sell enough to maintain profitability they cut production.  And lay off workers.  Because they can’t reduce wages for everyone.  So a few people lose all of their wages.  Instead of all of the people losing all of their wages by a business doing nothing to maintain profitability.  And going out of business.

To prevent this unemployment Keynesian economics says to move the aggregate demand curve to the right.  In part by increasing government spending.  But paying for this spending with higher taxes on existing spenders is a problem.  It cancels out any new economic activity created by new spenders.  So this is where deficit spending and playing with the money supply come in.  The idea is if the government borrows money they can create economic activity.  Without causing an equal reduction in economic activity due to higher taxes.  And by playing with the money supply (i.e., interest rates) they can encourage people to borrow money to spend even if they had no prior intentions of doing so.  Hoping that low interest rates will encourage them to buy a house or a car.  (And incur dangerous levels of debt in the process).  But the fatal flaw in this is that it stimulates the money supply.  Not human capital.

This only pumps more money into the economy.  Inflates the money supply.  And depreciates the dollar.  Which increases prices.  Because a depreciated dollar can’t buy as much as it used to.  So whatever boost in economic activity we gain will soon be followed by an increase in prices.  Thus reducing economic activity.  Because of that demand curve.  That says higher prices decreases aggregate demand.  And decreases economic activity.  The end result is higher prices for the same level of economic activity.  Leaving us worse off in the long run.  If you ever heard a parent say when they were a kid you could buy a soda for a nickel this is the reason why.  Soda used to cost only a nickel.  Until all this Keynesian induced inflation shrunk the dollar and raised prices through the years.  Which is why that same soda now costs a dollar.

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Tariffs

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 9th, 2013

Economics 101

The Proponents of Tariffs say they will Protect Infant Industries and Domestic Jobs

Tariffs.  What are they?  And what are they for?  A tariff is a tax.  Or a duty.  The government applies tariffs to imported goods.  Making them more expensive.  So people have to spend more money for them.  Leaving them less money to spend on other things.  Which seems counterintuitive to trying to increase economic activity.  Increasing prices the consumers pay, leaving them less money to buy other stuff.  So why do they do it?

The argument for tariffs is typically to protect ‘infant’ industries.  To give them a chance to get off the ground and establish themselves.  So they can later compete with this more developed and less costly foreign competition.  Which they couldn’t do if those foreign competitors can sell goods just as good if not better at lower prices.

Another argument is that tariffs protect domestic jobs.  A lot of imported goods are less costly than the same domestically produced goods.  Because of less costly labor in these other countries.  Often developing economies.  Unlike the developed economies who pay their people more.  And give them more benefits.  All paid for with the higher prices the people pay for their goods.  Tariffs raise the prices of foreign goods so they are not less costly than the domestically produced goods.  To get people to buy domestic goods.  Thereby saving domestic jobs.

Americans have to Pay about $1.25 more for a Bag of Sugar than the Rest of the World

These arguments make tariffs sound noble and good.  For they’re helping the little guy.  And protecting middle class jobs from cheap labor in foreign countries.  But they also hurt the little guy.  And poor families.  Because tariffs raise the price of the things they have to buy.  For example, tariffs on sugar imports raise the price Americans pay for sugar higher than people can buy sugar outside of the United States.  So the sugar they buy, and anything that contains sugar as an ingredient that they buy, is higher than it would be if the sugar tariffs weren’t there.

The US population in 2012 was 313,914,040.  Let’s assume the adult population is approximately 250 million.  And that half of them buy sugar.  How many sugar producers are there in the United States?  Far, far fewer than 125 million.  The Washington Post noted in 2007 that there were only about 6,000 sugar farmers.  About 0.002% of the population.  While the sugar buyers are closer to 40% of the population.  Or more if you include the things we buy that have sugar in them.  The numbers are approximate but the point is clear.  The people helped by tariffs are an infinitesimally small number while the people hurt by tariffs are a much, much larger number.

Let’s crunch some numbers.  While people outside of the United States can buy a bag a sugar for $1 Americans have to pay $2.25.  Or $1.25 more.  To protect American jobs in the sugar industry.  The 6,000 sugar farmers.  Let’s triple this number for the corn farmers (for high fructose corn syrup) and the sugar companies.  Rounding it out to an even 20,000 jobs that sugar tariffs protect.  If half of all adults buy a bag of sugar that’s $156 million pulled out of the economy that goes to, for lack of a better term, Big Sugar.  Let’s say these adults buy two bags a year.  Bringing the transfer from the 125 million (sugar consumers) to the 20,000 (Big Sugar) to $312.5 million.  Let’s double that number to include everything we buy that includes sugar as an ingredient.  And then double that number to account for all the sugar and corn subsidies.  Bringing the total annual wealth transfer from consumers to Big Sugar to approximately $1.25 billion.

Tariffs transfer Wealth from the Many to the Few and Reduce Economic Activity

That’s an enormous amount of wealth transferred from less rich people to richer people.  From consumers to Big Sugar.  But is it accurate?  Well, according to an article published in the Washington Post, yes.  The article states:

The Government Accountability Office has estimated that the sugar program costs consumers and food processors between $1 billion and $2 billion annually in higher prices for sugar and a vast array of products that contain it. Meanwhile, the new sugar subsidy would cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars a year, according to economists and U.S. officials.

So our crude calculation may be on the light side.  This is a lot of money taken out of the pockets of hundreds of millions of consumers to protect 20,000 or so well-paying jobs.  Nearly half of the US population supporting less than 0.02% of the population.  And those tariffs paid that 0.02% very well.  Because Big Sugar is very profitable.  And can pay their people very well.  As they have tariffs to increase their selling prices and subsidies to lower their costs.  Which greatly fattens the bottom line.

In the United States the price of sugar is so high that businesses have turned to high fructose corn syrup for their sweetener.  Which our tax dollars also subsidize.  Making it a very profitable industry.  And as an added bonus for Big Sugar, some studies have indicated that high fructose corn syrup doesn’t satiate your appetite like regular sugar.  Causing us to overeat.  Which lets the soda pop industry sell more soda pop.  The (sweetened) food industry sell more food.  And, of course, Big Sugar sell more sweetener.  Making them richer.  And the people poorer.  As well as obese.  All of this to protect a very few jobs in some very old industries.  Transferring wealth from the many to the few.  And reducing economic activity.  Pretty much the exact opposite of what the proponents of tariffs say tariffs will do.  But what they in fact do.  Help the few.  At the expense of the many.

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Product Pricing

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 10th, 2012

Economics 101

The First Thing a Business has to do to Determine their Selling Price is Determining their Costs

Did you ever think about how businesses price their products?  Do they just pull numbers out of the air?  Do they just charge as much as they want?  No, they don’t.  Because they can’t.  For if one gas station charges $12 for a gallon of gasoline while the station across the street is only charging $3.50 guess where people are going to buy their gas from.  So free market competition prevents businesses from charging whatever they want.  So how do they determine what to charge?

Well, some look at what their competitors are charging and match it.  Or charge a little less.  To steal customers away from the competition.  Which can work.  But it can also bankrupt a business.  For if a business owner doesn’t know his or her costs selling at the market price could fail to recover all of their costs.  The market price limits what they can charge.  But if their costs are too great to stay in business selling at the prevailing market price they have to do something about reducing their costs.  Which they can’t do if they don’t know their costs.  So the first thing a business has to do to determine their selling price is determining their costs.  Like this.

This is an abbreviated fictional income statement showing last year’s results.  And forecasting next year’s results.  EBT stands for earnings before taxes.  Income taxes for this year are based on the 2011 federal tax tables.  Income taxes for next year are based on the proposed Obama tax rates (increasing the top marginal rate from 33% to 39.6%).  The business is a subchapter-S where the business earnings pass through to the owners’ personal income tax returns.  The owner does not draw a salary but draws $125,000 from retained earnings to support him or herself, his or her stay-at-home spouse and their 3 children. The percentages show each number as a percentage of revenue.

You need to Sell at the Right Price and at the Right Volume to Pay all of the Bills

The difference between this year and next year is the rise in costs.  Obamacare and other business regulations increase the cost of sales (direct labor, benefits, direct supplies, etc.) by 2%.  And they increase fixed overhead (rent, utilities, administrative labor, benefits, etc.) by 2%.  They will have to recover these higher costs in higher prices.  Which will likely reduce unit sales.  But because each unit will sell for more we assume sales revenue remains the same.

The higher costs cause EBT to fall.  A lower EBT means lower federal income taxes.  But it also means less retained earnings to invest back into the business.  The reduction in retained earnings is $36,604.28.  Which limits investments to grow the business.  And leaves a much smaller cash cushion after some of those retained earnings are reinvested into the business.  To pay for the unexpected.  Like a new piece of equipment that fails and halts production.  Things worked well in the current year.  The business owner would like to have things work as well in the following year.  Which means not exposing themselves to such a dangerous cash position.  And how do they do that?  By raising their prices to make next year’s retained earnings as large as this year’s.  By recovering those retained earnings in higher prices.  Like this.

Let’s assume these numbers are for a coffee shop that sells only one type and size of drink (say a large espresso-based drink) to simplify this discussion.  If we subtract this year’s cost of sales from revenue we arrive with the markup on our direct costs.  Dividing this number into cost of sales we get a markup percentage.  For this year it was 72%.  In the current year let’s assume they sold 302,406 cups of coffee.  Which comes to about one cup a minute.  Dividing the costs of sales by the number of cups of coffee sold gives a unit cost of $2.58 for a cup of coffee.  Adding the 72% markup to this cost brings the selling price to $4.45.  Coffee sold at this price and at this volume produced enough revenue to pay all the bills, provided an income for the owner and his or her family while leaving enough left over to invest back into the business.  And provide a cash cushion for the unexpected.  As well as paying state income taxes, city income taxes, etc.

A Business must bring their Cost Structure in Line to be able to Sell at the Prevailing Market Price

To arrive at the new selling price we added the loss of retained earnings to next year’s revenue.  And re-crunched all of these numbers.  Because we are raising the price we can expect a small fall in revenue as customers buy less.  The higher costs and lower unit sales volume raised the unit cost.  The markup percentage is 1 percentage point lower but because the unit cost is higher so is the markup amount in dollars.  Which raises the selling price by $0.32.  Increasing the price of a cup of coffee to $4.77.  But is it enough?  As it turns out, no.  Because the new price raises revenue enough to push the business into a higher tax bracket.  Taking the business owner back to the numbers.

Because of the higher tax bracket, and the higher top marginal tax rate, this higher price still results in a loss of retained earnings.  About another $30,000.  So going through the whole process again brings the selling price up to $4.87.  Adding a total of $0.43 to this year’s price.  As long as the prevailing market price is around $4.87 for a large espresso-based drink this business owner should be able to keep his or her cost structure in place and stay in business.  However, if this exceeds the prevailing market price the business owner will have to make some spending cuts to bring his or her cost structure in line to sell coffee at the prevailing market price.  Make some assumptions.  And some adjustments.  Then crunch these numbers again.  And again.  For getting this price right is very important.  Too high and people will go elsewhere to buy their coffee.  To low and they won’t be able to pay all of their bills.

This may not be how all businesses determine their selling price.  But however they do it they have to bring their cost structure in line to be able to sell at the prevailing market price.   Because if their price is too high no one will buy from them.  If it’s too low everyone will buy from them.  Making them happy.  Until they realize they can’t pay all of their bills because their prices are too low.  The above example was complicated.  And that was with only one product.  Imagine a store full of products to sell.  And trying to calculate new prices on numerous products to cover the costs of new taxes and new regulations.  It’s not easy.  Which is why business owners don’t like big change coming from Washington.  For this change requires important decisions to make.  And if they get these decisions wrong and don’t find out until 6 months or so later they may dig themselves into a hole they won’t be able to get out of.  Putting them out of business.

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2012 Endorsements: Alexander Hamilton

Posted by PITHOCRATES - October 18th, 2012

2012 Election

When Hamilton looked out Across the Vast North American Continent he saw Great Economic Opportunity

Alexander Hamilton was born in the British West Indies.  At the age of eleven he had to get a job.  As his father abandoned his family after losing all the family money.  Young Alexander worked at Cruger and Beckman’s.  a New York trading house.  A window onto the world.  And international trade.  Where young Alexander learned about the world.  And business.  He had a gift for numbers.  He was bright.  And driven.  Born in the British West Indies he was also something else.  A Founding Father without any state lineage.  With no provincial views.  During the prelude to American independence when other patriots talked about the states going their own way he was already thinking of an American union.  And only of an American union.

The British response to the Boston Tea Party was the Intolerable Acts.  Or the Coercive Acts in Britain.  Where the British put the hurt on Boston.  And Massachusetts.  To separate it and isolate it from the rest of the colonies.  Reverend Samuel Seabury took to the papers and argued against uniting the other colonies to support Massachusetts.  That the people should support their king.  And Parliament.  And not the spoiled, trouble-making people of Boston.  Hamilton took to the papers and argued in support of union.  And Boston.  Warning the people that this was just the beginning for Britain.  More taxes would certainly follow.  Hamilton warned the people to put away their sectional differences.  As this attack on one was an attack on all.  And that if they gave up on Boston it would only be a matter of time before other colonies met the same fate.

That was all well and fine during the warm months of summer.  But the American colonies were part of the British Empire.  Which was a mercantilist empire.  Whose colonies shipped raw materials to the mother country.  And the proceeds from those sales were used to buy manufactured goods made from those raw materials in the mother country.  Making the colonists dependent on Britain for their clothing.  The lack of which would make a very cold and miserable winter.  Which led a lot of people to agree with Reverend Samuel Seabury.  But not Hamilton.  For he looked out across the American colonies and saw something else.  Economic independence.  The South had cotton.  The North could raise sheep for wool.  And they could build factories in the cities to make cloth and clothing.  Staffed by skilled immigrants from European factories.  This is what Hamilton saw when he looked out across the vast North American continent.  Great economic opportunity.  Made possible by an American union.

Hamilton spent the Winter Seasons at Valley Forge and Morristown Reading and Studying Economics and Public Finance

When the Revolutionary War came Hamilton joined the Continental Army.  Fought bravely.  Then ended up as General Washington’s aide-de-camp.  Serving in Washington’s inner circle he knew what the commanding general knew.  And he knew the sorry state of the army.  Half-naked, hungry and unpaid.  While some civilians were living the life of Riley.  Making a fortune off of hording commodities and selling them at high prices.  Which they could do with impunity as the Continental Congress was powerless to stop them.  As it was at the mercy of the states.  The national congress was broke and had little legal authority.  Which let the speculators run roughshod over it.  Leaving the people sacrificing the most for independence half-naked, hungry and unpaid.  Diminishing the fighting ability of the army.  Which greatly increased the risk of defeat.

Hamilton learned an important lesson.  The stronger the national government was, and the richer it was, the easier it was to wage war.  And the easier it was NOT to be defeated in war.  The problem here was that the national government was too weak.  While the state governments were too strong.  Which was fine for the people living normal lives in their states.  But not the soldiers in the field fighting for the nation.  Making things worse was inflation.  The Continental Congress was printing money.  As were the states.  And the more they printed the more they depreciated it.  Which led to even higher prices.  More profits for the speculators.  And even more hardship for the army.  Which had to at times take things from the local people in exchange for IOUs.  Making these people hate the army.  And the army hate the people.  As they were the ones risking life and limb for what was to them an ungrateful people.

Hamilton spent the winter seasons at Valley Forge and Morristown reading and studying economics and public finance.  And set out to solve the inflation problem.  What he learned was that a lot of people were benefiting by the rampant inflation.  Debtors loved it.  For the greater the inflation was the easier it was to repay loans in those depreciated dollars.  Especially the farmers.  They sold their produce at ever higher prices.  Borrowed money to buy land (and repaid those loans in depreciated dollars).  While escaping much of the ravages of inflation themselves.  Because they were farmers.  And were self-sufficient.  Eating what they grew.  Even making their own clothes.  For some inflation was a way to get rich quick at the detriment of others.  To help dissuade such activity Hamilton suggested high taxes in kind (if a farm grew wheat that they turned into flour they would pay a portion of their flour to the government as a tax) on those benefitting from inflation who where destroying the confidence in the dollar.

If Hamilton were Alive Today he would likely Endorse the Republican Candidates Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan

Hamilton also suggested a plan for a national bank.  To help restore the credit of the United States.  And to provide a source of credit for the national government.  The bank would be owned half by the government and half by rich investors.  By letting the rich investors make money on the bank it would, of course, encourage them to invest in the bank.  And provide capital the government could borrow.  Hamilton believed in bringing the rich people closer to the government.  So the government had access to their money.  Both would win in such a partnership.  And both would have a vested interest in seeing the government succeed.  The Continental Congress used some of Hamilton’s ideas.  But not enough to bring his vision to life.  He would get another chance, though.  When he became America’s first Secretary of the Treasury.

At the end of the Revolutionary War the United State’s finances were in a mess.  State governments and the national government owed money.  As they used that money to prosecute the war Hamilton believed the national government should assume the states’ debts and roll in into the national debt.  And, more importantly, the new national debt would help strengthen the union.  By binding the states to the national government.  These actions also helped to restore the nation’s credit.  Allowing it to borrow money to repay old debts.  As well as finance new spending.  Hamilton also got his bank.  And he produced a report on manufacturers.  A plan to use government funds to help launch American industry.  So they could catch up to Great Britain.  And even surpass the former mother country.

Hamilton pushed for these things because he wanted to use the power of government to make America strong and fiercely independent in the world of nations.  With an economic plan that would make the nation wealthy.  And allowing it to afford a military that equaled or surpassed Great Britain.  He did not want to make America wealthy to implement a massive welfare state.  His idea of partnering government with business was to make an American Empire modeled on the British Empire.  Making it a rich military superpower.  Able to project force.  Maintaining peace through strength.  Much like the British did with their Pax Britannica that he didn’t live to see.  And to protect what it had from anyone trying to take it away from them.  So based on this who would he endorse in the 2012 election?  The party that had business-friendly policies to encourage economic growth.  The party that was more anti-inflation.  The party that would best exploit the nation’s resources.  And the party that favored a strong military.  Which is NOT the Democrat Party.  No, if Alexander Hamilton were alive today he would likely endorse the Republican candidates Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan.

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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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Free Market Competition

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 2nd, 2012

Economics 101

Competition makes Everything Better for Consumers

Let’s go back a hundred years or so.  When the railroads were making their way west.  Through barren and unforgiving country.  Where a depot is built in the middle of nowhere.  One day it will become a city but now is just a shack or two.  And a water tower along the tracks to replenish the steam locomotives.  This is the closest thing to civilization for hundreds of miles.  Railroad building supplies head west on the new track to continue the track further west.  And the trains stop to fill their locomotives with water.  You look at all that traffic passing that depot and decide to open up a diner/saloon to replenish all those people.  Who are earning wages.  But have nothing to spend them on for hundreds of miles around.

There’s no electricity yet.  Or ice.  So the meat shipped to the diner may not be the freshest.  But you can cook it with a lot of spices to hide any bad taste in case the meat is rancid.  Liquor comes out without any spoilage.  It’ll last so long that you can keep watering it down to make more money per bottle.  Your diner/saloon can be dirty and overrun with bugs.  You can just throw the bugs into the pot to make the meat go further.  It doesn’t matter.  Because for most of your customers this is the only place to come to eat and drink.  Even if they get ill from eating bad meat they’ll keep coming back.  Because where else are they going to go?

Your costs are low.  And your prices are high.  You’re doing very well.  It’s nice being the only diner/saloon at this depot.  But then a town starts growing around the depot.  And another diner/saloon opens.  It’s cleaner.  They serve fewer bugs in their food.  Their meat is less rancid.  Their liquor is less watered down.  And their prices are lower.  Everyone who eats and drinks at this depot-town eats and drinks there.  Not at your filthy shack.  You quickly go from making a lot of money to making nothing at all.  Because this new competition in town took away all of your business.  For competition makes everything better for consumers. 

When the Government Interferes with the Free Market there is no Incentive to Please their Customers

Competition is key to the free market economy.  And it’s the most important thing.  Even more important than government regulation.  Because with competition you don’t need regulations.  You don’t need inspectors.  You don’t have to file complaints.  You don’t have to wait for corrective action.  Because if you have competition you have something that works better.  And faster.  Pleasing customers.  If you don’t please them more than your competition then you will lose your customers to your competition.  This is a powerful incentive to lower your prices.  Improve the cleanliness of your establishment.  And to improve your quality.  Competition makes businesses try harder to please their customers.  On their own.  Without compulsion.

In the above example the first diner/saloon owner could have appealed to the government.  Asked the government to prohibit the second establishment from opening.  Saying that it was destructive competition.  That they were dumping lower-priced food and drink onto the market to put the first establishment out of business.  So they could raise their prices higher and lower their quality when they do.  That the market wasn’t large enough to support two businesses.  That their lower prices mean they will pay their employees less.  And a whole host of other bad things that will follow if this second business opens.  Of course the second business has none of these complaints.  Because they offer better quality at lower prices.  They don’t need the help of government.  Just a competitive free market.

If the first business should prevail in their request for government help the government will take action.  Force the second business to shut down.  Make them sell their food and drinks at higher prices.  Charge them a special excise tax on all their sales to raise money to transfer to and help the first business.  Or some other action to make the market ‘fair’ again.  Which means allowing the first establishment to continue to sell lower quality at higher prices.  Which they would.  For with the power of government helping them they have no incentive to please their customers.  So they don’t.  So people with no choice have to pay more for lower quality.  And this is what happens when the government interferes with the free market.

Free Market Competition delivers High Quality at Low Prices with the Most Efficient Allocation of Resources 

Competitive free markets also guarantee that businesses use resources in the most efficient manner.   As they try to sell the highest quality at the lowest price they will buy very carefully.  They will buy only the things they can sell.  And only enough of them to meet their demand.  For if they buy more than they can sell it will only raise their prices.  As those prices have to pay for the things they sell.  And the things they can’t sell.  So there is a very strong incentive to buy only what they absolutely need.  Leaving things for others to buy.  Which is much better than having some government bureaucrat allocate resources.

Suppose the government owned the railroad and all the depot-towns along the line.  And each depot has a diner/saloon.  Each depot-town is about the same size.  So the government bureaucrat ships the same supplies to each depot.  One barrel of flour.  One barrel of cornmeal.  One barrel of salted pork.  Two sacks of beans.  Four sacks of coffee.  Five cases of whisky.  And so on.  But the people don’t eat and drink the same in each of these depot-towns.  Some drink more liquor than others.  Some drink more coffee than others.  Some eat more meat than others.  Some eat more beans than others.  Depending on the season.  The cattle drives.  Whether the farmers are sowing or reaping.  The religious pilgrimages.  The weather.  Etc.  The local diner/saloon owners are in tune with the rise and fall of demand.  But the government bureaucrat 2,000 miles away isn’t.  So some receive more than they can use.  Others run out before the next shipment.  Making the allocation of resources inefficient.  Leading to waste.  And higher prices to pay for all of that waste.

Free market competition always works best.  And the more problems that we solve by creating more competition the better the solutions are for the people ultimately paying the prices.  The consumers.  As free market competition delivers high quality at low prices with the most efficient allocation of resources.  Giving us things like the high-definition television.  The smartphone.  The tablet computer.  And our morning coffee.  Where quality just keeps getting better while prices keep falling.  When we don’t use free market competition we get high prices, poor quality and inefficient resource allocation.  From cable television that increases rates while lowering quality (we’ll be at your house either sometime in the morning or sometime in the afternoon tomorrow or the day after.  Please have someone available at your home to meet our technician).  To waiting in line to renew your driver’s license.  Which is about as enjoyable as a root canal.

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Goldsmiths, Specie, Bank Notes, Bank Reserves, Spanish Dollar, Continentals, Bank of the United States and the Panic of 1819

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 26th, 2012

History 101

When Spain came to the New World they Brought Home a lot of Gold and Silver and Turned it into Coin

Our first banks were goldsmiths’ vaults.  They locked up people’s gold or other valuable metals (i.e., specie) in their vaults and issued these ‘depositors’ receipts for their specie.  When a depositor presented their receipt to the goldsmith he redeemed it for the amount of specie noted on the receipt.  These notes were as good as specie.  And a lot easier to carry around.  So these depositors used these notes as currency.  People accepted them in payment.  Because they could take them to the goldsmith and redeem them for the amount of specie noted on the receipt.

The amount of specie these first bankers kept in their vaults equaled the value of these outstanding notes.  Meaning their bank reserves were 100%.   If every depositor redeemed their notes at the same time there was no problem.  Because all specie that was ever deposited was still in the vault.  So there was no danger of any ‘bank runs’ or liquidity crises.

When Spain came to the New World they brought home a lot of gold and silver.  And turned it into coin.  Or specie.  The Spanish dollar entered the American colonies from trade with the West Indies.  As the British didn’t allow their colonies to coin any money of their own the Spanish dollar became the dominate money in circulation in commerce and trade in the cities.  (Which is why the American currency unit is the dollar).  While being largely commodity money in the rural parts of the country.  Tobacco in Virginia, rice in the south, etc.  Paper money didn’t enter into the picture until Massachusetts funded some military expeditions to Quebec.  Normally the soldiers in this expedition took a portion of the spoils they brought back for payment.  But when the French repulsed them and they came back empty handed the government printed paper money backed by no specie.  For there was nothing more dangerous than disgruntled and unpaid soldiers.  The idea was to redeem them with future taxation.  But they never did. 

Thomas Jefferson believed that the Combination of Money and Politics was the Source of all Evil in Government 

During the American Revolutionary War the Americans were starving for specie.  They were getting some from the French but it was never enough.  So they turned to printing paper money.  Backed by no specie.  They printed so much that it became worthless.  The more they printed the more they devalued it.  And the fewer people would take it in payment.  Anyone paying in these paper Continentals just saw higher and higher prices (while people paying in specie saw lower prices).  Until some just refused to accept them.  Giving rise to the expression “not worth a Continental.”  And when they did the army had to take what they needed from the people.  Basically giving them an IOU and telling the people good luck in redeeming them.

Skip ahead to the War of 1812 and the Americans had the same problem.  They needed money.  So they turned to the printing presses.  With the aid of the Second Bank of the United States (BUS).  America’s second central bank.  Just as politically contentious as the First Bank of the United States.  America’s first central bank.  The BUS was not quite like those early bankers.  The goldsmiths.  Whose deposits were backed by a 100% specie reserve.  The BUS specie reserve was closer to 10%.  Which proved to be a problem because their bank notes were redeemable for specie.  Which people did.  And because they did and the BUS was losing so much of its specie the government legislated the suspension of the redemption of bank notes for specie.  Which just ignited inflation.  With the BUS.  And the state banks.  Who were no longer bound by the requirement to redeem bank notes for specie either.  Enter America’s first economic boom created by monetary policy.  A huge credit expansion that created a frenzy of borrowing.  And speculation.

When more dollars are put into circulation without a corresponding amount of specie backing them this only depreciated the dollar.  Making them worth less, requiring more of them to buy the same stuff they did before the massive inflation.  This is why prices rise with inflation.  And they rose a lot from 1815 to 1818.  Real estate prices went up.  Fueling that speculation.  Allowing the rich to get richer by buying land that soared in value.  While ordinary people saw the value of their currency decline making their lives more difficult.  Thanks to those higher prices.  The government spent a lot of this new money on infrastructure.  And there was a lot of fraud.  The very reason that Thomas Jefferson opposed Alexander Hamilton’s first Bank of the United States.  The combination of money and politics was the source of all evil in government.  And fraud.  According to Jefferson, at least.  Everyone was borrowing.  Everyone was spending.  Which left the banks exposed to a lot of speculative loans.  While putting so much money into circulation that they could never redeem their notes for specie.  Not that they were doing that anyway.  Bank finances were growing so bad that the banks were in danger of failing.

Most Bad Recessions are caused by Easy Credit by a Central Bank trying to Stimulate Economic Activity 

By 1818 things were worrying the government.  And the BUS.  Inflation was out of control.  The credit expansion was creating asset bubbles.  And fraud.  It was a house of cards that was close to collapsing.  So the BUS took action.  And reversed their ruinous policies.  They contracted monetary policy.  Stopped the easy credit.  And pulled a lot of those paper dollars out of circulation.  It was the responsible thing to do to save the bank.  But because they did it after so much inflation that drove prices into the stratosphere the correction was painful.  As those prices had a long way to fall.

The Panic of 1819 was the first bust of America’s first boom-bust cycle.  The first depression brought on by the easy credit of a central bank.  When the money supply contracted interest rates rose.  A lot of those speculative loans became unserviceable.  With no easy credit available anymore the loan defaults began.  And the bank failures followed.  Money and credit of the BUS contracted by about 50%.  Businesses couldn’t borrow to meet their cash needs and went bankrupt.  A lot of them.  And those inflated real estate prices fell back to earth.  As prices fell everywhere from their artificial heights.

It was America’s first depression.  But it wouldn’t be the last.  Thanks to central banking.  And boom-bust cycles.  We stopped calling these central banking train wrecks depressions after the Great Depression.  After that we just called them recessions.  And real bad recessions.  Most of them caused by the same thing.  Easy credit by a central bank to stimulate economic activity.  Causing an asset bubble.  That eventually pops causing a painful correction.  The most recent being the Great Recession.  Caused by the popping of a great real estate bubble caused by the central bank’s artificially low interest rates.  That gave us the subprime mortgage crisis.  Which gave us the greatest recession since the Great Depression.  Just another in a long line of ‘real bad’ recessions since the advent of central banking.

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Roaring Twenties, Farmers, Mechanization, Smoot-Hawley Tariff, Stock Market Crash, Great Depression and Taxi Medallions

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 12th, 2012

History 101

The New Economic Reality of Farming was that we needed Fewer Farmers in the Age of Mechanization

The Roaring Twenties was a decade of solid, real economic growth.  The world modernized during the Twenties.  Electric power, telephone, radio, motion pictures, air travel, etc.  So much of what we take for granted today became a reality during the Roaring Twenties.  But there was a downside.  Farmers borrowed money to mechanize their farms.  As farms mechanized they produced great crop yields.  Bringing bumper crops to market.  There was so much food brought to market that prices plummeted.  Reducing farm incomes so much that they couldn’t service the debt they incurred to mechanize their farms.  They defaulted.  Causing banks to fail.

By the late Twenties all the European farmers who fought in World War I were back on the farm.  And were feeding Europe again.  So not only were the Americans producing bumper crops they were losing a large export market.  Forcing farm prices down further.  There were simply more farmers than the economy was demanding thanks to the new efficiencies in farming.  But because there were so many farmers they were an important political constituency.  They were still casting a lot of votes.  So the politicians stepped in.  With a complete disregard to economic principles.  And tried to help the farmers.  With rent-seeking policies.

The farmers were hurting.  So they wanted to transfer some wealth from the masses to the farmers.  As in rent-seeking.  As opposed to profit-seeking.  Instead of creating wealth (profit-seeking) they were transferring wealth (rent-seeking).  And they did this with price supports.  They raised the price of their crops above market value.  Forcing Americans to make sacrifices in their lives so they could afford to pay higher food prices to help the farmers.  So the farmers wouldn’t have to adjust to the new economic reality of farming.  We need fewer farmers in the age of mechanization.  But it just didn’t end with higher prices.  The government would buy excess food grown by these ‘too many farmers’ and destroy it.  Or pay farmers NOT to grow food.  Then they took it up a notch.  And slapped tariffs on imported food.  Further raising the price of food.

In an Effort to raise Farming Prices the Rent-Seekers caused the Great Deflation of the Great Depression

Food tariffs were just one part of the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act.  This act pretty much raised the tariff on everything the U.S. imported.  Greatly increasing the cost of all imports.  To protect the domestic producers from cheap foreign competition.  But there was a problem with increasing the cost of all imports.  It increased the price of whatever we built with those imports.  So much so that when they were discussing this act in Congress businesses across America knew the boom of the Twenties would end.  As did investors investing in these companies.  So even before the bill became law it caused a huge stock selloff.  Which led to the stock market crash of 1929. 

At first the higher prices helped American businesses.  Their revenue increased.  Everyone thought the tariff act was a success.  But as prices went up costs went up throughout the manufacturing pipeline.  Prices grew so high that people stopped buying.  Inventories accumulated so they cut production.  And then laid people off en masse.  Causing a great recession.  Then further rent-seeking solutions (more governmental intervention into the free market) turned that recession into the Great Depression.  What started out as a problem for overly efficient farmers turned into a national crisis.  In an effort to raise farming prices they caused the great deflation of the Great Depression.  As prices fell so did revenues.  Making it very difficult to service debt.  More people defaulted on their debt.  And more banks failed.

When the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act became law our trading partners answered in kind.  Leading to a great trade war.  So on top of everything else what limited export markets we had shut down as well.  As the trade barriers went up economic activity decreased.  David Ricardo’s Comparative Advantage worked in reverse.  Increasing opportunity costs.  When international markets closed less efficient domestic industries took their place.  Pulling resources from more efficient uses.  Raising the cost of those resources.  Adding these cost increases on top of the tariffs.  Which further increased prices.  And further lowered economic activity.  Adding further woe onto the Great Depression.

The Medallion System dates back to the Medieval Guilds and Restricts Entry into the Cabbie Market

As the Great Depression languished on few people filled the streets of New York City (NYC).  At least few people with money who had to go places.  There were more cabs than people needed.  Supply exceeded demand.  Putting a downward pressure on taxi fares.  And increasing the time a cabbie had to work to earn some decent money.  Usually the market steps in and corrects such a situation.  Forcing some cabbies out of the cabbie business.  But not in NYC.  There they used the power of government to address this surplus of supply.  And introduced the medallion system.

This was the kind of rent seeking that dated back to those medieval guilds.  The medallion restricted entry into the cabbie market.  By limiting the number of cabs in NYC.  Every cab (at least those who can pick up passengers who hail a cab at the curb) must have a medallion permanently affixed to their cab.  Which they must purchase from the city.  Or transfer from another cab.  Currently, if you want to drive a taxi cab in NYC you better have some deep pockets.  Or have the kind of credit that lets you get a very large mortgage.  For the medallion system exists to this day.  And that medallion may cost you close to a half million dollars.

If you ever wondered why it sometimes takes so long to hail a cab in NYC this is the reason.  Rent-seeking.  As in the medallion system.  Which works just like tariffs.  Reducing supply.  And increasing prices for consumers.  So the rent-seekers can use the power of government to transfer wealth.  Instead of using innovation to create wealth.  And bringing that wealth to the market place to trade.  Instead they choose to take more wealth from the market place than they bring to it.  With the help of government.  And their rent-seeking policies.  Thus reducing overall wealth in the economy.  Which reduces economic activity.  And does nothing to help lift an economy out of recession.  Or out of a Great Depression. 

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