Carnegie, Rockefeller, Ford, Westinghouse, Boeing, Gates and Tariffs

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 10th, 2013

History 101

Ford brought the Price of Cars down and Paid his Workers more without Tariff Protection

Andrew Carnegie grew a steel empire in the late 19th century.  With technological innovation.  He made the steel industry better.  Making steel better.  Less costly.  And more plentiful.  Carnegie’s steel built America’s skylines.  Allowing our buildings to reach the sky.  And Carnegie brought the price of steel down without tariff protection.

John D. Rockefeller saved the whales.  By making kerosene cheap and plentiful.  Replacing whale oil pretty much forever.  Then found a use for another refined petroleum product.  Something they once threw away.  Gasoline.  Which turned out to be a great automotive fuel.  It’s so great that we use it still today.  Rockefeller made gasoline so cheap and plentiful that he put the competition out of business.  He was making gasoline so cheap that his competition went to the government to break up Standard Oil.  So his competition didn’t have to sell at his low prices.  And Rockefeller made gasoline so inexpensive and so plentiful without tariff protection.

Henry Ford built cars on the first moving assembly line.  Greatly bringing the cost of the car down.  Auto factories have fixed costs that they recover in the price of the car.  The more cars a factory can make in a day allows them to distribute those fixed costs over more cars.  Bringing the cost of the car down.  Allowing Henry Ford to do the unprecedented and pay his workers $5 a day.  Allowing his workers to buy the cars they assembled.  And Ford brought the price of cars down and paid his workers more without tariff protection.

George Westinghouse decreased the Cost of Electric Power without Tariff Protection

George Westinghouse gave us AC power.  Thanks to his brilliant engineer.  Nikola Tesla.  Who battled his former employer, Thomas Edison, in the Current Wars.  Edison wanted to wire the country with his DC power.  Putting his DC generators throughout American cities.  While Westinghouse and Tesla wanted to build fewer plants and send their AC power over greater distances.  Greatly decreasing the cost of electric power.  Westinghouse won the Current Wars.  And Westinghouse did that without tariff protection.

After losing out on a military contract for a large military transport jet Boeing regrouped and took their failed design and converted it into a jet airliner.  The Boeing 747.  Which dominated long-haul routes.  Having the range to go almost anywhere without refueling.  And being able to pack so many people into a single airplane that the cost per person to fly was affordable to almost anyone that wanted to fly.  And Boeing did this without tariff protection.

Bill Gates became a billionaire thanks to his software.  Beginning with DOS.  Then Windows.  He dominated the PC operating system market.  And saw the potential of the Internet.  Bundling his browser program, Internet Explorer, with his operating system.  Giving it away for free.  Consumers loved it.  But his competition didn’t.  As they saw a fall in sales for their Internet browser programs.  With some of their past customers preferring to use the free Internet Explorer instead of buying another program.  Making IE the most popular Internet browser on the market.  And Gates did this without tariff protection.

Tariff Protection cost American Industries Years of Innovation and Cost Cutting Efficiencies

Carnegie Steel became U.S. Steel.  Which grew to be the nation’s largest steel company.  Carnegie had opposed unions to keep the cost of his steel down.  U.S. Steel had a contentious relationship with labor.  During the Great Depression U.S. Steel unionized.  But there was little love between labor and management.  There were a lot of strikes.  And a lot of costly union contracts.  Which raised the price of U.S. manufactured steel.  Opening the door for less costly foreign imports.  Which poured into the country.  Taking a lot of business away from domestic steel makers.  Making it more difficult to honor those costly union contracts.  Which led the U.S. steel producers to ask the government for tariff protection.  To raise the price of the imported steel so steel consumers would not have a less costly alternative.

During World War II FDR was printing so much money to pay for both the New Deal and the war the FDR administration was worried about inflation.  So they put ceilings on what employers could pay their employees.  With jobs paying the same it was difficult to attract the best employees.  Because you couldn’t offer more pay.  So General Motors started offering benefits.  Health care.  And pensions.  Agreeing to very generous union contracts.  Raising the price of cars.  Which wasn’t a problem until the imports hit our shores.  Then those union contracts became difficult to honor.  Which led the U.S. auto makers to ask the government for tariff protection.  To raise the price of those imported cars so Americans would not have a less costly alternative.

These two industries received their tariffs.  And other government protections.  Allowing them to continue with business as usual.  Even though business as usual no longer worked.  So while the foreign steel producers and auto makers advanced their industries to further increase quality and lower their costs the protected U.S. companies did not.  Because they didn’t have to.  For thanks to the government they didn’t have to please their customers.  As the government simply forced people to be their customers.  For awhile, at least.  The foreign products became better and better such that the tariff protection couldn’t make the higher quality imports costly enough to keep them less attractive than the inferior American goods.  With a lot of people even paying more for the better quality imports.  Losing years of innovation and cost cutting efficiencies due to their tariff protection these American industries that once dominated the world became shells of their former selves.  With General Motors and Chrysler having to ask the government for a bailout because of the health care and pension costs bankrupting them.  Something Carnegie, Rockefeller, Ford, Westinghouse, Boeing or Gates never had to ask.

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Medical Tourism may offer a Final Option if we can’t Repeal Obamacare

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 5th, 2013

Week in Review

It’s amazing that as unpopular Obamacare is that we have been thwarted at every attempt to prevent its implementation.  We lost in the Supreme Court.  Some states are now buckling and are building their exchanges.  Basically exhausting all our options to repeal Obamacare.  But there may be another way (see Steve Forbes speaking in Edina: ‘Obamacare will collapse under its own weight’ by Ed Stych posted 5/1/2013 on Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal).

“We will undo it (Obamacare) piece by piece,” Forbes told about 250 people in a speech to the Freedom Club at Interlachen Country Club in Edina. “All of it can be reversed, and we can have lower health care costs through innovation.”

If Obamacare is not repealed, Forbes said he could see American Indian tribes using their limited sovereignty from the federal government to develop medical tourist destinations on their reservations…

Forbes, the CEO of Forbes Inc., spent much of the evening talking about the benefits of free markets and how they can solve the nation’s health care problems. He said those problems stem from the government and insurance companies playing middlemen, leading to a disconnect between health care providers and consumers.

He said health care is one of the few industries where few people know the cost of services…

“Why is demand for health care considered a problem when demand for anything else is considered an opportunity?” Forbes asked. “The problem is that we don’t have free markets in health care.”

This is a good point.  The American Indian tribes opened casinos on their reservations because there was a demand for gambling venues when there were few places to go.  Now every city and state is falling over themselves to legalize gambling.  Which has greatly diluted the earnings of all casinos as supply is outstripping demand.  But Obamacare will create a huge demand for quality health care as Obamacare reduces quality, increases wait-times and rations services in what was once the best health care system in the world.  And the American Indian tribes can be there to meet that demand.

And these hospitals can use free markets and innovation to attract the best doctors and nurses by eliminating the middle man.  The reservation hospitals can even bring in the old health insurers.  But revamp that system so insurance is insurance and not simply welfare.  People will pay out of pocket for most health care needs.  And buy a true insurance policy for unexpected catastrophic health issues.  In this way market forces will keep costs down.  Because the consumers will be making the spending decisions.  Doctors will be able to charge less because they’ll push less paper.  And spend more time with patients.  And people will actually pay before leaving the doctor’s office.  Like they used to.  And it could get even better.

The American Indian tribes could implement a fair and reasonable medical malpractice legal system.  To reduce the amount of frivolous lawsuits with, say, a loser pays requirement.  Thus reducing the cost of a doctor’s medical malpractice insurance.  Allowing them to earn more money while charging less.  Because they will spend less time doing paperwork.  And have lower overhead costs.

The American Indian tribes could reinvent health care, health insurance and tort law.  They could.  Or perhaps we should.  Let’s look at what the American Indian tribes could do because they are free from the long arm of the federal government.  Build the ideal system.  And then reform our systems to become that ideal.  But if we can’t then let’s help the American Indian tribes build it.  For if they do Americans in pursuit of quality health care will come.

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Will Obamacare reverse the Decline in the Growth Rate of Health Care Spending?

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 17th, 2013

Week in Review

Believe it or not the rate of health care spending has been falling since 2002.  Thanks to the innovation of free markets (see Health Care Cost Inflation Is Slowing, But Obamacare Could Change That by James Pethokoukis, American Enterprise Institute, posted 2/16/2013 on Business Insider).

The rate of health care spending has been falling since 2002. AEI’s J.D. Kleinke points to some factors which are likely responsible: a) lots of breakthrough drugs from the 1980s and 1990s became widely available in generic form in the 2000s; b) health insurance plans became more diverse, giving consumers more choice, such as health savings accounts; c) the IT and networking revolution has improved disease management.

To sum up: Innovation — both in technology and products and processes — has slowed the rise in health care costs. Is the ACA and its expanded government intrusion into the sector likely to sustain and accelerate innovation or retard it?

Hmmm, does more government intrusion accelerate or retard innovation.  The U.S. Postal Service is going broke.  But UPS, FedEx, DHL, etc., aren’t.  People hate going to the Department of Motor Vehicles to renew their driver’s license as it can take an hour or more.  But you can go into a crowded Starbucks and leave 10 minutes later with a custom-made espresso-based drink.  While having enjoyed pleasant conversation with the baristas while you waited those 10 minutes.  Health savings accounts are bringing down health care costs in the private sector.  While Medicare is headed for bankruptcy.  People are saving for their retirement using things like 401(k)s.  While Social Security is headed for bankruptcy.  Hmmm.

Clearly the innovation is in the private sector.  As it appears the less government intrudes the better and more enjoyable things are.  So Obamacare will NOT sustain or accelerate innovation.  But retard it instead.

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Britain and the US should follow New Zealand’s example of Public Sector Reform

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 12th, 2012

Week in Review

Ruth Richardson was Finance Minister of New Zealand from 1990 until 1993.  During that time New Zealand reformed their public sector.  Something she believes Britain needs to do to help pull it out of its financial troubles.  And it probably wouldn’t be a bad thing for the U.S. to do either (see Want to reform government? Start with the Civil Service by Ruth Richardson posted 8/9/2012 on The Telegraph).

New Zealand underwent a radical reform of the public sector nearly three decades ago, [as] Minister of Finance I knew it was crucial to secure a results-driven and accountable public sector. The NZ public sector performance management system broke sharply with the bureaucratic norm…

The UK Government faces the same urgent imperatives that New Zealand did. A crippling fiscal position; an inefficient and unaccountable public sector; and a bureaucracy incapable of innovation…

I learned that success in government relies on ensuring that the forces of productivity and innovation, so crucial to lift private sector performance, must equally be allowed to make themselves felt in the ranks of the Civil Service.

New Zealand, like the UK, used to be burdened by a typical bureaucracy . The system served its own ends, behaved in a wasteful and unaccountable fashion and there was a complete disconnect between resources and results…

And so the public sector performance management system for which NZ has become renowned was instituted.

We introduced contracts between Ministers and the heads of government departments to focus them on our priorities. And to sharpen accountability we put these heads of departments onto fixed term contracts, rather than providing them with jobs for life. We then let these managers get on and manage their organisations.

We also radically changed the way the way we managed our budgets. We made departments account properly for their assets, so that they would value them better. We made them report their performance in a way that every citizen could understand. These changes were important in allowing us to monitor the performance of services, were central to holding heads of department to account and were crucial in the quest to do more with less in fiscally straightened circumstances…

It is hardly a surprise that the old guard – the unelected government with real staying power – are lining up to oppose reform. But their arguments are discredited by our experience in New Zealand…

The real crux of the matter is – why should civil servants have jobs for life? The real life “slumdog millionaire” from Mumbai, who wants to use his winnings to take India’s tough civil service exam so he can win a secure and prestigious lifetime job”, is so typical of the species and the problem. And why shouldn’t they be accountable for their performance?

Do more with less?  Accountability?  That’s crazy talk.  No wonder the career civil servants are fighting similar reform in Britain.  And in the U.S.  Why would they want that when they can have prestigious lifetime jobs?

In the U.S. they don’t call them civil servants anymore.  Not when they work for the federal government.  No.  Civil servant was too demeaning for their prestigious stations in life.  Now we call them federal workers.  The very sound of it elevates them above us.  The civil society they serve.

It is hard to initiate this type of reform, though.  Because the people who can initiate this reform are served well by these civil servants.  For the more people that work for government the more votes they will get.  As civil servants tend to vote for the people who want to expand government.  Not shrink it.  Because few people will vote themselves out of a job.

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Rent-Seeking

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 11th, 2012

Economics 101

Wealth Creators Freely met and Made Trades they felt were Mutually Beneficial

The human race started as subsistence hunters and gatherers.  Our ancestors spent all of their time hunting.  And gathering.  If they were successful they propagated our species.  Making it possible for us to be here.  If they weren’t their family tree was a barren one. 

So that was life.  A rather short and brutish life.  Except that part about propagating the species.  And we lived that way for some 2 million years.  Eating.  Fleeing.  Fighting.  And, of course, propagating.  As we grew more intelligent we did a lot of things that ushered in the modern world.  But perhaps the single greatest advancement that brought on the modern age was our evolution from hunters and gatherers to farmers.  Everything followed from this.  We learned to live together in cities.  And we increased crop yields so much we created food surpluses.  Which gave us time to do other things.  It allowed the rise of artisans.  A middle class.  That built things and traded them for their food.  These new goods helped produce more food.  And the greater food production allowed more people to do other things.  Creating a complex economy.  Where people traveled to market with the things they created.  And traded them for the things other people brought to market.  We traded things of value for other things of value.  Because these traders, these wealth creators, each created something of value.

These wealth creators freely met and made trades they felt were mutually beneficial.  Each felt they came out a winner after their trade.  For they each received something they valued more than what they traded away to get it.  Which means going to the market was where to go to get valuable things.  Which provided an incentive to make more things so you could take them to market.  And trade for things you valued more.  As everyone did this the overall wealth in the economy increased.  People specialized.  Focused on what they were good at.  To produce as much as possible so they could trade for more.  And because they specialized they improved quality.  And used the available resources as efficiently as possible.

Rent-Seeking People took more Wealth from the Market than they Brought to It

There are many competing schools of economics.  But if you go back to where it all began what you find is laissez faire free market capitalism.  Where the profit incentive drove people to create wealth.  Which they then traded for the things they didn’t make.  Then things started to change.  Some people didn’t want to work hard and innovate.  And bring new things to market.  What they wanted was influence.  Privilege.  And a rigged market.  So they could get more in trade than the value of the things they produced for trade.  One of the first vehicles used for this was the artisan guild.

In medieval Europe if you wanted to be a blacksmith you had to join a guild.  If the guild accepted you a long apprenticeship awaited you.  But the guilds denied more people entry than they allowed.  Why?  To limit competition.  So blacksmiths could keep their prices high.  At any given time a city, town or village had a very limited number of blacksmiths.  The guild worked to keep it that way.  For the last thing these blacksmiths wanted was other blacksmiths opening up shop.  Putting more goods onto the market.  And lowering prices.  No, the guild wanted to fix prices above their market value by keeping would-be blacksmiths out of the trade.

The economic term for this is rent-seeking.  Which is sort of the opposite of profit seeking.  In profit-seeking people create wealth to trade (or to pay) for other wealth.  They work hard to earn more so they can buy more.  Both buyer and seller add wealth to the economy.  Not so in rent-seeking.  In rent-seeking you try to garner more wealth not by working harder but by using the power of government.  By getting tariffs placed on foreign competition.  By getting prices fixed above market prices.  By getting onerous regulations enacted to hurt your competition.  By restricting entrance into the industry thus limiting domestic competition.  Such as the guilds did for those medieval blacksmiths.  This interference into laissez faire free market capitalism reduced economic activity.  Because rent-seeking people took more wealth from the market than they brought to it.

The Government caused the Great Depression by Favoring Rent-Seeking over Free Market Capitalism

Some say a better name for rent-seeking is privilege seeking.  For that is what they are seeking.  Special privilege so they don’t have to compete in the free market.  For the cost of a little lobbying can remove the need for innovation.  Maintaining the level of quality.  Or satisfying customers.  For if you have a government-imposed monopoly you don’t have to do any of those things because the people don’t have anywhere else to go.

Rent-seeking is rife in crony capitalism and state capitalism.  Neither of which is true capitalism.  These companies are granted monopolies (or near monopolies) by the government in exchange for political support.  Which they can afford when they can sell their goods above market prices.  They get rich.  Their cronies in government get rich.  But the consumers suffer.  As they have to pay higher prices. Suffer poorer quality.  And less innovation.  Rent-seeking is common in the older industries.  Particularly ones with strong unions.  Who have negotiated costly wage and benefit packages.  Which they can afford to pay until new innovation and new competition enters the market.  Putting out a higher quality product at a lower price.  Prices so low that an old firm saddled with a costly union wage and benefit package simply can’t sell at and pay their bills.  So they go to government.  And lobby for privilege.

What typically happens is that they delay the inevitable.  All the protected industries in the U.S. have failed.  Textile.  Steel.  Even the automobile (well, two of the Big Three have failed.  Ford hasn’t).  For when you take more wealth from the market than you bring to it you’re just transferring wealth.  You’re not creating it.  Which is a problem.  Because you have to create wealth to increase economic activity.  So when you protect an industry you’re just pulling wealth out of the private economy and transferring it to the rent-seekers.  Who give so little in return.   Which results in a decline of economic activity.  And if it spreads enough it can and has caused recessions.  Even a Great Depression.  Such as when domestic industries lobbied government to enact the Smoot-Hawley Tariff.  Which launched an all-out trade war.  All because the government favored rent-seeking over free market capitalism.

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Venture Capital and Private Equity

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 28th, 2012

Economics 101

An Idea is only an Idea unless there’s Capital to Develop it and a Business Plan

People put money in the bank to save it.  And to earn interest.  To make their savings grow.  So they can afford a down payment on a house one day.  Or start up a business.  To start a college fund.  Or a variety of other things.  They put their money into a bank because they have confidence that the bank will repay that money whenever they want to withdraw it.   And confident that the bank will earn a profit.  By prudently loaning out their deposits in business loans, mortgages, equity loans, etc.  So the bank can pay interest on their savings.  And make it grow.  While not risking the solvency of the bank by making risky loans that people won’t be able to repay.  With responsible saving and responsible lending both parties achieve what they want.  And the economy grows.

A high savings rate means banks can make more loans.  And businesses can borrow more to expand their businesses.  This is a very critical element in capitalism.  Getting capital to the people who need it.  Who can do incredible things with it.  Create new jobs.  Develop a new technology.  Find a better way to use our limited resources.  Bringing consumer prices down and increasing our standard of living.  Because when prices go down we can buy more things.  So we don’t have to sacrifice and go without.  We have a higher standards of living thanks to capitalism.  And the efficient use of capital.

As technology advanced individuals had more and more brilliant ideas.  But an idea is only an idea unless there’s capital to develop it.  And a business plan.  Something a lot of brilliant entrepreneurs are not good at.  They may think of a great new use of technology that will change the world.  Their mind can be that creative.  But they don’t know how to put a business plan together.  Or convince a banker that this idea is gold.  That this innovation is so new that no one had ever thought of it before.  That it’s cutting edge.  Paradigm shifting.  And it may be that and more.  But a banker won’t care.  Because bankers are conservative with other people’s money.  They don’t want to loan their deposits on something risky and risk losing it.  They want to bet on sure things.  Loan money to people that are 99% certain to repay it.  Not take chances with new technology that they haven’t a clue about.

Venture Capitalists make sure their Seed Capital is Used Wisely so it can Bloom into its Full Potential

Enter the venture capitalists.  Who are the polar opposite of bankers.  They are willing to take big risks.  Especially in technology.  Because new technologies have changed the world.  And made a lot of people very wealthy.  Especially those willing to gamble and invest in an unknown.  Those who provide the seed money for these ventures in the beginning.  That’s their incentive.  And why they are willing to risk such large sums of money on an unknown.  Something a banker never would do.  Who say ‘no’ to these struggling entrepreneurs.  And tell them to come back when they are more established and less risky. 

This is responsible banking.  And this is why people put their money into the bank.  Because bankers are conservative.  But there is a price for this.  Lost innovation.  If no one was willing to risk large sums of money on unknowns with brilliant ideas the world wouldn’t be the same place it is today.  This is what the venture capitalists give us.  Innovation.  And a world full of new technology.  And creature comforts we couldn’t have imagined a decade earlier.  Because they will risk a lot of money on an unknown with a good idea.

Most venture capitalists have been there before.  They were once that entrepreneur with an idea that turned it into great success.  That’s part of the reason they do this.  To recapture the thrill.  While mentoring an entrepreneur into the ways of business.  Like someone once did for them.  But it’s also the money.  They expect to make a serious return on their risky investment.  So much so that they often take over some control of the business.  They do what has to be done.  Make some hard decisions.  And make sure they use their investment capital wisely.  Sometimes pushing aside the entrepreneur if necessary.  To make sure that seed capital can bloom into its full potential.  Perhaps all the way to an initial public offering of stock.  And when it does everyone gets rich.  The entrepreneur with the good idea.  And the venture capitalist.  Who now has more seed capital available for other start-ups with promise.

The Goal of the Private Equity Firm is to Get In, Fix the Problems and Get Out

Venture capital belongs to the larger world of private equity.  Where private equity investment firms operate sort of like a bank.  But with a few minor differences.  Instead of depositors they have investors.  Instead of safe investments they have risky investments.  Instead of low returns on investment they have high returns on investment.  And instead of a passive review of a firm’s financial statements by a bank’s loan officer they actively intervene with business management.  Because private equity does more than just loan money.  They fix problems.  Especially in underperforming businesses.

A mature business that has seen better days is the ideal candidate for private equity.  The business is struggling.  They’re losing money.  And they’ve run out of ideas.  Management is either blind to their problems or unable (or unwilling) to take the necessary corrective action.  They can’t sell because business is too bad.  They don’t want to go out of business because they’ve invested their life savings to try and keep the business afloat.  Only to see continued losses.  Their only hope to recover their losses is to fix the business.  To make it profitable again.  And selling their business to a private equity firm solves a couple of their problems fast.  First of all, they get their prior investments back.  But more importantly they get hope. 

The private equity firm uses some of their investment capital to secure a large loan.  The infamous leveraged buyout which has a lot of negative connotations.  But to a business owner about to go under and lose everything the leveraged buyout is a blessing.  And it’s so simple.  A private equity firm buys a business by taking on massive amounts of debt.  They put that debt on the business’ books.  Debt that future profits of the business will service.  Once the equity firm does its magic to restore the business to profitability.  Starting with a new management team.  Which is necessary.  As the current one was leading the firm to bankruptcy.  They may interview people.  Identify problems.  Find untapped potential to promote.  They may close factories and lay off people.  They may expand production to increase revenue.  Whatever restructuring is necessary to return the firm to profitability they will do.  Their goal is to get in, fix the problems and get out.  Selling the now profitable business for a greater sum than the sum of debt and equity they used to buy it.

But with great risk comes the chance for great failure.  When it works it works well.  Producing a huge return on investment.  But sometimes they can’t save the business.  And the firm can’t avoid bankruptcy.  The business then will be liquidated to repay the banks who loaned the money.  While the equity the firm invested is lost.  Which is why they need to make big profits.  Because they suffer some big losses.  But they typically save more businesses than they fail to save.  And the businesses they do save would have gone out of business otherwise.  So in the grand scheme of things the world is a better place with private equity.

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The Great Depression

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 20th, 2011

History 101

The  Roaring Twenties were a Time of Unprecedented Innovation and Manufacturing

The Roaring Twenties were good times.  Kicked off by the Warren Harding administration.  Thanks to one of the few honest guys in his administration besides Harding.  Andrew Mellon.  Secretary of the treasury extraordinaire.  Some say the best secretary of the treasury since our first.  Alexander Hamilton.  High praise indeed.

So what did Mellon do?  He did some research that showed rich people paid less in taxes the higher the tax rates were.  The higher the rate the less they invested in plant and equipment in America.  Instead they invested their money out of the country.  In other countries’ plant and equipment.  So Mellon was a tax-cutter.  And that was his advice to Harding.  And that’s what Harding did.  And Calvin Coolidge continued.  Kept taxes low.  And kept government out of the business of business.

And how business responded.  The 1920s were a time of unprecedented innovation and manufacturing.  Low taxes, little government spending and limited government produced record employment.  Record upward mobility.  And record per capita income.  Gains in the decade touched 37%.  How?  I’ll tell you how.

The auto industry was booming thanks to Henry Ford’s moving assembly line.  Everyone was driving who wanted to drive.  The car companies sold one car for every 5 people.  This production created a boom in other industries to feed this industry.  And cars did something else.  They gave people mobility.  And opportunity.  People left the farms in droves and drove to better jobs.  Which didn’t hurt the farmers in the least as mechanization on the farm put more land under cultivation with fewer people.  Housing and cities grew.  Radio debuted.  And radio advertising.  Motion pictures went from silent to talkies.  Telephones became more common.  New electric utilities brought electricity to homes.  And new electric appliances filled those homes.  Including radios.  New electric motors filled our factories, increasing productivity and slashing consumer prices.  More people than ever before flew.  An increase of nearly 1000%.  It’s nowhere near today’s number of flyers but it was a reflection of the new industrial dominance of the United States.  There was nothing we couldn’t do.  And Europe was taking notice.  And not liking what they saw.  And talked about a European union to compete against the Americans.

Businesses scaled back Production in Anticipation of the Smoot Hawley Tariff Act

So the spectacular economic growth of the Roaring Twenties was solid growth.  It wasn’t a bubble.  It was the real deal.  Thanks to capitalism.  And a government willing to leave the free market alone.  It was so dominating that the Europeans wanted to stop it anyway they could.  One way was protective tariffs on farm imports.

American farm exports boomed during World War I.  Because most of Europe’s farmers were busy fighting.  With the end of the war the Europeans went back to their farms.  Which reduced the need for American farm imports.  And the tariffs compounded that problem.  To make things worse, prices were already falling thanks to the mechanization of the American farm.  Producing bumper crops.  Which, of course, dropped farm prices.  Good for consumers.  But bad for farmers.  Especially with the Europeans shutting off their markets to the Americans.  Because they paid for a lot of that land and mechanization with borrowed money.  And this debt was getting harder and harder to service.  Throw in some weather and insect problems in some regions and it was just too much.   Some farms failed.  Then a lot.  And then the banks that loaned money to these farms began to fail.

We created the Federal Reserve to increase the money supply to keep pace with the growing economy.  By making money cheap to borrow for those businesses trying to expand to meet demand.  They weren’t exactly doing a stellar job, though, in keeping pace with this economic expansion.  And when the bank failures hit the money supply contracted.  Thanks to fractional reserve banking.  All that money the banks created simply disappeared as the banks failed.  Starving manufactures of money to maintain growth to meet demand.  Things were getting bad around 1928.  The Fed did not intervene to save these banks.  Worried that investors were the only ones borrowing money for speculation in the stock market, they shrunk the money supply further.  About a third by 1932.  Manufacturers had no choice but to cut production.

While businesses were dealing with a shrinking money supply they had something else to worry about.  Congress was moving the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act through congressional committees in 1929 on its way to becoming law in 1930.  This act would add a 30% tax on most imports.  Meaning that the cost factories paid for raw materials would increase by up to 30%.  Of course, sales prices have to include all costs of production.  So sales prices would have to increase.  Higher prices mean fewer sales.  Because people just can’t afford to buy as much at higher prices.  Businesses knew that once the tariff was passed into law it would reduce sales.  So they took preemptive steps.  And scaled back production for the expected fall in sales.

It was Government Meddling that Turned a Recession in the Great Depression

This brings us to the stock market crash.  The Roaring Twenties produced huge stock market gains as industry exploded in America.  Things grew at an aggressive pace.  Stock prices soared.  Because the value of these manufacturers soared.  And investors saw nothing to indicate this growth was going to stop.  Until the contraction of the money supply.  And then the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act.  Not only would these slow the growth, they would reverse it.  Leading to the great selloff.  The Great Crash.  And the Great Depression.

As feared the Europeans responded to the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act.  They imposed tariffs on American imports.  Making things worse for American exports.  Then President Hoover increased farm prices by law to help farmers.  Which only reduced farm sales further.  Then the banking crisis followed.  And the Fed did nothing to help the banks.  Again.  When they did start helping banks in trouble they made public which banks were receiving this help.  Which, of course, caused further bank runs as people hurried to get their money out of these troubled banks.  Tax revenue plummeted.  So Hoover passed a new sales tax to raise more revenue.  Which only made things worse.

Hoover was a Republican.  But he was a Big Government progressive.  Just like his successor.  FDR.  And all of their Big Government Keynesian solutions only prolonged the Great Depression.  It was government meddling that turned a recession into the Great Depression.  And further government meddling that prolonged the Great Depression.  Much of FDR’s New Deal programs were just extensions of the Hoover programs.  And they failed just as much as they did under Hoover.  The Great Depression only ended thanks to Adolf Hitler who plunged Europe back into war.  Providing an urgency to stop their government meddling.  And to let business do what they do best.  Business.  And they did.  Building the arsenal that defeated Hitler.

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Incentive and Competition

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 19th, 2011

Economics 101

Prices set by the Free Market make Competitors Think and Innovate

Agriculture advances gave us food surpluses.  Food surpluses gave us a division of labor.  The division of labor gave us trade.  Money made that trade more efficient.  Religion and the Rule of Law allowed great gatherings of people to live and work together in urban settings.  Free trade let us maximize this economic output and elevated our standard of living.  Free labor sustained economic growth by increasing the number of people making economic exchanges.  Prices automated the process of assigning value and allocating scarce resources (that have alternative uses).  But that’s not all.  Prices also provide incentive and competition.

High prices signal high profits.  Or the potential for high profits.  Which encourages other people to enter the market to get their piece of these high profits.  People who think they can do a better job.  Make something better.  And sell it for less.  That’s right, to get rich they will sell it for less.  That’s key.  That’s how you gain market share.  The ultimate goal of all businesses.  Because with market share comes profit.  And often times this happens even with a price below that of the competition.

Prices set by the market allow this amazing phenomenon to happen.  It stimulates the creative juices.  It makes competitors think.  And innovate.  Providing incentive.  To improve on an existing idea.  Or replace an existing idea with a better idea.  All the while being guided by market prices.  Which tell them the current value a buyer places on a product or service.  And the final cost they have to remain below to bring their innovation to market.  If they do both they will gain market share.  By giving customers better value at a lower price.  And they will make themselves rich in the process.  The proverbial win-win of the free market.  The hallmark of capitalism.  Incentive and competition.

With Crony Capitalism Government Increases the Cost of Competition, Squelching any Incentive to Innovate

Free market prices are essential for free market capitalism.  If the market is not free to determine prices this amazing phenomenon will not occur.  Consumers will not get more value for less.  And business people and entrepreneurs will not take chances and create more value for less.  Because if there are outside forces influencing prices these forces also create uncertainty.  They throw unknowns into business calculations.  Things businesses have no power over.  Which makes them cautious.  And less prone to risk-taking.

We can see examples of this every time there is unrest in the Middle East.  Which tends to threaten the oil supply.  Everything in a modern economy uses energy.  Nothing comes to market without energy.  So anything that affects energy prices affects all prices.  Another example is government’s regulatory cost.  Such as Obamacare.  Which has caused great uncertainty.  And a lot of unknowns.  For entrepreneurs.  And business owners.  Who don’t know the ultimate regulatory compliance cost.  Freezing hiring.  And business expansion.  Extending the Great Recession.  Causing the economy to spit and sputter along.  Like an engine that just won’t restart.

Typically when government over regulates it’s to reward their friends and cronies.  Hence the term crony capitalism.  Which isn’t even capitalism.  Crony capitalism is about getting rich by who you know in government.  Not by creating more value for less.  The government fixes the game by keeping prices high for their cronies.  By enacting regulations that increase the cost of competition.  Squelching any incentive to innovate.  Leaving consumers stuck paying more for less value.

When Government Interfered with Market Prices they gave us the Great Depression and the Great Recession

Free market prices assign value.  Allocate scarce resources that have alternative uses.  Provide incentive to innovate.  Encourage competition.  Incentive and competition.  The hallmark of capitalism.  Which ultimately provides consumers with more value at lower prices.  And it does all of this automatically.  As long as government doesn’t interfere with this automatic pricing mechanism.

But government often does.  They interfere with this automatic pricing mechanism to reward friends and cronies far too often.  When they do the economy suffers.  And often goes into recession.  And when they really interfere, they cause Great Depressions.  And Great Recessions.

Government regulatory policy turned an ordinary recession into the Great Depression.  One of their greatest anti-business regulations being the Smoot–Hawley Tariff Act.  Which launched an all out trade war.  Killing the economy.  And government regulatory policy in the mortgage industry caused the Great Recession.    First by creating a housing bubble by forcing lenders to qualify the unqualified.  And then enabling this bad policy on a grand scale by having Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac buy the resulting bad subprime mortgages.  Which removed all risk from the lenders so they kept on approving bad subprime mortgages.

Say what you will about the Great Depression and the Great Recession.  But what you can’t say is that they were market failures.  Because they weren’t.  Both were government-made.  Because it was government that interfered with market prices.  Not the free market.  And the consumers paid the price for their crony capitalism.

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Trade

Posted by PITHOCRATES - October 31st, 2011

Economics 101

People Traded the Things they Made to have Things they couldn’t Make

Agricultural advances gave us food surpluses.  Food surpluses gave us the division of labor.  And spare time.  For the first time everyone didn’t have to hunt or gather food.  They could do other things.  Think.  Experiment.  Innovate.  Create.  And they did.  Becoming specialists.  A middle class.  Artisans.  People who became very good at doing one thing.  So they kept doing that one thing.  Finding ways to improve that one thing.  And created surpluses of their own.  Potters made excess pottery.  Shoemakers made excess shoes.  Tanners made excess leather goods.  Metalworkers made excess metal goods.

Cities grew in the center of the sprawling farmland.  And it was in the cities where these artisans lived.  Where they honed their specialties.  And met.  With other specialists.  And with farmers.  To trade.  The potter would trade pottery for shoes.  The farmer would trade food for shoes and metal goods.  The tanner would trade leather goods for pottery, shoes and food.  And so on.  People traded the things they made.  To have things they couldn’t make.  Everyone was able to have more things.  Thanks to this trade.

This unleashed the vast human capital of the people.  Their cities.  And their civilization.  Cities on the coast fished.  Cities closer to the forest harvested wood.  Cities closer to the hills mined silver, gold and copper.  And coal.  And the cities traded their surpluses with other cities.  Metal workers and potters traded their goods for fuel for their forges and kilns.  Miners traded their ore and coal for grain and fish.  Either directly.  Or indirectly.  When other people traded their large surpluses with other people in other cities.  With the miners getting a portion of these large-scale trades for all their efforts to make those trades possible.

As Civilizations became more Complex they became more Dependent on Trade

All of this trading made cities grow.  And as a result the civilization they belonged to grew.  And became more advanced.  People ventured further.  Looking for other resources.  And met people from other civilizations.  Who had raw materials that were different and interesting.  As well as finished goods that were different and interesting.  And these civilizations traded with each other.

Civilizations established trade routes with each other.  Which connected civilizations with others in the unknown world.  Beyond the civilizations they knew.  Markets appeared on these trade routes.  Bringing the exotic from the furthest corners of the world to everyone.  As well as new ideas.  And innovation.  The civilized world grew more advanced.  More interdependent.  More peaceful.  And better.  There was more food.  More technology.  More goods and services.  And more leisure.  Giving rise to the arts.  And entertainment.

But it was not all good.  As cities grew they grew attractive to the uncivilized barbarians beyond the frontier.  Roving bands of hunters and gatherers.  Who were more partial to plunder than trade.  So a portion of their surpluses had to be set aside for city defenses.  The building of city walls.  Implements of wars.  And standing armies.  To defend their cities.  Their civilizations.  And their trade routes.  For as civilizations became more complex they became more dependent on trade.

Trade Improved the Quality of Life which is the Hallmark of an Advanced Civilization

Trade unleashed our human capital.  Because it drove innovation.  There was a big world out there.  Creating a lot of fascinating stuff.  And the only way to get it was to trade your fascinating stuff for it.  And when we did everyone won.  Life got better.  We learned new and interesting things.  That we used as building blocks for further innovation.  And further advancement.  Which led to a better quality of life.  The hallmark of an advanced civilization.

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The Free Market Sweeps Away the Boring and Old and Replaces it with the Exciting and New

Posted by PITHOCRATES - October 30th, 2011

Week in Review

Oh my, the market is failing (see Time to Regulate These Tech Titans by Adam Thierer posted 10/22/2011 on the Technology Liberation Front).

Ladies and gentlemen, it is time for decisive action. Cyberlaw scholars have been warning us for years that tech titans dominate the digital landscape.  Our leaders must act immediately to ensure that these 4 Internet gatekeepers don’t lock us in their walled gardens and turn us into their cyber-slaves. The future of Internet freedom is at stake. It’s market failure! There is no possibility of escaping their evil clutches. And there’s certainly no possibility markets will evolve to give us better choices. Only decisive regulatory action can give us a more competitive, innovative future.

So who are these titans?  Google?  Yahoo?  Bing?  Baidu?  Yandex?  No.  There’s a graphic following the paragraph quoted above showing the 4 titans.  Prodigy.  CompuServe.  MS Network.  And American Online.  (If you don’t know who these companies are ask your parents).  Which dominated in the mid 1990s.  But they don’t dominate anymore.  And it’s not because of regulatory action.  Which is the point of this humorous piece in Technology Liberation Front.

Innovation in the free market swept these titans aside and replaced them with something better.  The way it always has.  And always will.  The market constantly changes.  It sweeps away the boring and old.  And replaces it with the exciting and new.  Always.

As long as we don’t sweep away the free market, that is.

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