The Keynesian Abenomics is Raising Prices in Japan

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 14th, 2014

Week in Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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From Commodity Money to Representative Money to Fiat Money

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 8th, 2014

History 101

(Originally published November 8th, 2011)

The Drawbacks to Using Pigs as Money Include they’re not Portable, Divisible, Durable or Uniform

They say we use every part of the pig but the oink.  So pigs are pretty valuable animals.  And we have used them as money.  Because they’re valuable.  People were willing to accept a pig in trade for something of value of theirs.  Because they knew they could always trade that pig to someone else later.  Because we use every part of the pig but the oink.  Which makes them pretty valuable.

Of course, there are drawbacks to using pigs as money.  For one they’re not that portable.  They’re not that easy to take to the market.  And they’re big.  Hold a lot of value.  So what do you do when something is worth more than one pig but not quite worth two?  Well, pigs aren’t readily divisible.  Unless you slaughter them.  But then you’d have to hurry up and trade the parts before they spoil because they’re not going to stay fresh long.  For pig parts aren’t very durable.

Suppose you have two pigs.  And someone has something you want and they will trade two pigs for it.  But there’s only one problem.  One pig is big and healthy.  The other is old and sickly.  And half the weight of the healthy one.  This trader was willing to take two pigs in trade.  But clearly the two pigs you have are unequal in value.  They’re not uniform.  And not quite what this trader had in mind when he said he’d take two pigs in trade.

Our Paper Currency Evolved from the Certificates we Carried for our Gold and Silver we Kept Locked Up

Rats are more uniform.  They’re more portable.  And they’re smaller.  It would be easier to price things in units of rats rather than pigs.  They would solve all the problems of using pigs as money.  Except one.  Rats are germ-infested parasites that no one wants.  And they breed like rabbits.  You never have only one rat.  Man has spent most of history trying to get rid of these vile disease carriers.  So no one would trade anything of value for rats.  Because these little plague generators were overrunning cities everywhere.  So rats were many things.  But one thing they weren’t was scarce.

Eventually we settled on a commodity that addresses all the shortcomings of pigs and rats.  As well as other commodities.  Gold and silver.  These precious metals were portable.  Durable.  They didn’t spoil and held their value for a long time.  You could make coins in different denominations.  So they were easily divisible.  Unlike a pig.  They were uniform.  Unlike pigs.  Finally, you had to dig gold and silver out of the ground.  After digging a lot of holes trying to find gold and silver deposits.  Which made it costly to bring new gold and silver to market.  Keeping gold and silver scarce.  And valuable.  Unlike rats.

But gold and silver were heavy metals.  Carrying large amounts was exhausting.  And dangerous.  A chest of gold and silver was tempting to thieves.  As you couldn’t hide it easily.  Soon we left our gold and silver locked up somewhere.  And carried certificates instead that were exchangeable for that gold and silver.  And these became our paper currency.

Governments Everywhere left the Gold Standard in the 20th Century so they could Print Fiat Money

The use of certificates like this is typically what people mean by gold standard.  Money in circulation represents the value of the underlying gold or silver.  And can be exchanged for that gold or silver.  Which meant that governments couldn’t just print money.  Like they do today.  Because the value was in the gold and silver.  Not the paper that represented the gold and silver.  And the only way to create money was to dig it out of the ground, process it and bring it to market.  Which is a lot harder to do than printing paper money.  So governments everywhere left the gold standard in the 20th century in favor of fiat money.  So they could print money.  Create it out of nothing.  And spend it.  With no restraints of responsible governing whatsoever.

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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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Hard Money versus Paper Money

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 17th, 2014

Economics 101

(Originally published April 1st, 2013)

Money would have No Value if People with Talent didn’t Create things of Value

Money is a temporary storage of wealth.  We created it because of the high search costs of the barter system.  It took a lot of time for two people to find each other who each had what the other wanted.  And we started trading things to have things we couldn’t make efficiently for ourselves.  Someone may have been a superb potter but was a horrible farmer.  So, instead, the potter did what he did best.  And traded the pottery he made for the things he wanted that he was not good at making.  Or growing.  Before that we were self-sufficient.  Whatever you wanted you had to provide it yourself.

As we go back in time we learn why money is a temporary storage of wealth.  For it was the final piece in a growing and prosperous economy.  And at the beginning it was people with talent, each creating something of value.  Something of value that they could trade for something else of value.  It’s the creative talent of people that has value.  And we see that value in the goods and/or services they make or provide.  Money temporarily held that value.  So we could carry it with us easier to go to market to trade with other talented and creative people.  Who may not have wanted what we made or did.  But would gladly take our money.

So we took our goods to market.  People that wanted them traded for them.  They traded money for our goods.  Then we took that money and traded for what we wanted elsewhere in the market.  Trade grew.  With some people becoming professional traders.  By trading money for goods from distant lands.  Then trading these goods for money at the local market.  People who didn’t spend time creating anything.  But bought and sold the creative talent of others.  Who were able to do that because of money.  The creative talent came first.  Then the goods.  And then the money.  For money is a temporary storage of wealth.  Which has no value if no one is making anything of value.  Because if you can’t buy anything what good is having money?

There were no more Gold Certificates in Circulation than there was Gold in the Vault to Exchange them For

These early traders used a variety of things for money.  Pigs, tobacco, grain, oil, etc.  What we call commodity money.  Which was valuable by itself.  As people consumed these commodities.  Which is what gave them the ability to store value.  But because we could consume these they did not make the best money.  Also, they weren’t that portable.  And not easy to make change with.  Which is why we turned to specie.  Such as gold and silver.  Hard money.  It was durable.  Portable.  Divisible.  Fungible.  For example, all Spanish dollars were the same while all pigs weren’t.  One pig could weigh 30 pounds more than another.  So pigs weren’t fungible.  Or durable.  Portable.  And, though divisible, making change wasn’t easy.

So in time traders big and small turned to specie as the medium of exchange.  For all the reasons noted above.  If you worked hard to produce fine pottery you trusted in specie.  You would accept specie for your pottery goods.  Because you knew this hard money would hold its value.  And you could use it in the future to buy what you wanted.  No matter how long that may be.  Why?  Because the money supply remained relatively constant.  As it took a lot of work and great expense to mine and refine ore to make specie out of it.  So there was little inflation when using hard money.  Which meant if you saved for a rainy day that hard money would be there for you.

Gold and silver could be heavy to carry around.  Anyone struggling under the weight of their specie were targets for thieves.  Who wanted that money.  Without creating anything of value to bring to market.  So we found a way to improve a little on using gold and silver.  By locking our gold and silver in a vault.  And carrying around receipts for our gold and silver to use as money.  These gold certificates were promises to pay in gold.  People could continue to use them as money.  Or they could take these receipts back to the vault and exchange them for the gold inside.  These gold certificates were as good as gold.  And there were no more gold certificates in circulation than there was gold in the vault to exchange them for.

Governments Today use nothing but Paper Money because it gives them Privilege, Wealth and Power

Some saw advantages of expanding the money supply with paper currency.  Money that isn’t backed by gold or any other asset.  Money easy to print.  And easy to borrow.  Allowing rich people to borrow large sums of money to buy more assets.  And get richer.  Giving them more power.  And if you were the one printing and loaning that money it gave you great wealth and power.  So having a bank charter was a way to wealth and power.  You could make it easy for those who can help you to borrow money.  While making it difficult for those who oppose you to borrow money.  So there were those in business and in government that liked un-backed paper money.  Because a select few could borrow it cheaply and get rich and powerful.

While some liked these banks and that paper money there were others who bitterly opposed them.  Some who didn’t like to see so much power in so few hands.  And the hard money people.  Who wanted a money that held its value.  The common people.  People who couldn’t borrow large sums of cheap money.  But people who had to get by on less as the inflation from printing all those paper dollars raised prices.  Leaving them with less purchasing power.  Making it harder for them to get by.  Often having to turn to the hated banks to borrow money.  Again and again.  Such that the interest on their loans consumed even more of their limited funds.  Making life more tenuous.  And more bitter between the classes.  The rich who benefited from the cheap paper money.  And the common people who paid the price of all that inflation.

Rich people, on the other hand, loved that inflation.  It helped them make money.  When they bought something at a lower price and sold it at a higher price they made a lot of money.  The greater the inflation the greater the selling price.  And the more profit.  Also, the money they owed was easier to pay off with money that was worth less than when they borrowed it.  Allowing rich people to get even richer.  While the common people saw only higher prices.  And the value of their meager savings lose value.  So this cheap paper money fostered great class warfare.  The hard money people hated the paper money people.  Debtors hated creditors.  The middling classes hated the large landowners, merchants, manufacturers and, of course, the bankers.  And those who had talent to create things hated those who just made money with money.  The greater the inflation the greater the divide between the people.  And the greater wealth and power that select few acquired.  This is what paper money gave you.  Privilege.  Which is why most governments today use nothing but paper money.

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Division of Labor

Posted by PITHOCRATES - November 4th, 2013

Economics 101

(Originally published October 24th, 2011)

The Division of Labor gives us our Houses, Food, Cars, Televisions, Smartphones, Laptops and the Internet

We can’t do everything ourselves.  It’s not efficient.  And most times not even possible.  We don’t build our own houses.  Grow our own food.  Build our own cars.  Manufacture our own high-definition televisions.  Smartphones.  Laptops.  And we don’t build our own Internet.  No.  Instead, people everywhere across the economy specialize in one thing (i.e., work for a living).  And together these specialists fit into the big economic picture.  Which gives us our houses, food, cars, televisions, smartphones, laptops and the Internet.

It started with the most basic division of labor.  Prehistoric women raised their young.  While prehistoric man hunted.  Which was necessary for the propagation of the species.  And us.  For if they all hunted and no one nursed the young the young would have died.  And with them the species of man.  For there was no formula back then.

The next great leap forward on the civilization timeline was the indispensible plough.  The prime mover of civilization.  With the food problem managed, famines were more the exception than the rule.  And with fewer people needed to produce a food surplus, people could do other things.  And they did.

The Division of Labor let us Create Surpluses in Food, Ploughs, Shoes, Tools, Harnesses, Etc.

The division of labor gave rise to artisans.  The first skilled trades.  Made possible by a food surplus.  As other people grew the food the artisans made the tools and crafts the farmers used.  They specialized in plough making and designed and built better and better ploughs.  Lots of them.  Shoemakers made shoes.  Lots of them.  Metal workers made tools.  Lots of them.  Leatherworkers made harnesses.  Lots of them.  See the pattern?

The food surplus gave us surpluses in ploughs, shoes, tools, harnesses, etc.  The division of labor let us create these surpluses.  Specialists made continual improvements in their areas of specialization.  Producing better things.  And more of them.  Which led to another key to the advanced civilization.  Trade.

The shoemaker didn’t have to grow food.  He could trade shoes for food.  Ditto for the plough maker.  The metal worker.  The leatherworker.  And the farmers didn’t have to make any of these things because they could trade food for them.  So we became traders.  We created the market.  And traders took their goods and/or services to these markets to trade for other goods and/or services.  First by foot.  Then by animal.  Then by boat.  Then by train.  Then by truck.  Then by airplane.  Artisans (i.e., workers) traded their specialization for the product and/or services of another’s specialization.  Then.  And now.

The Division of Labor made the Complex Simple and our Lives Rather Comfortable and Fun

The division of labor gave rise to the artisan.  The skilled trade worker.  The middle class.  People who can specialize in one thing.  And trade that one thing for the other things he or she wants.  Whether it be a skilled blacksmith hammering out farming tools.  A tool and die maker working in a factory.  An accountant.  Or a software engineer.  We have a skill.  Our human capital.  And we trade that skill to get the other things we’re not skilled in.  The end result is a modern, bustling, free market economy.  An advanced civilization.  And a high standard of living.

All thanks to the division of labor.  Which made the complex simple.  And our lives rather comfortable.  And fun.  Unlike prehistoric man.  Who knew of no such things as iPhones.  Indoor flush toilets.  Movie theaters.  Or restaurants.  No, he didn’t do much other than survive.  Which was no easy thing.  But he did.  And for that we are grateful.

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Say’s Law

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 2nd, 2013

Economics 101

(originally published August 6, 2012)

Keynesians believe if you Build Demand Economic Activity will Follow

People hate catching a common cold.  And have long wanted a cure for the common cold.  For a long time.  For hundreds of years.  But no one had ever filled this incredible demand.  All this time doctors and scientists still haven’t been able to figure that one out.  Despite knowing with that incredible demand, and our patent rights, whoever does figure that one out will become richer than Bill Gates.  Which is quite the incentive for figuring out the ingredients to make one little pill.  So why hasn’t anyone found the cure for the common cold?

There are many reasons.  But let’s just ignore them.  Like a Keynesian economist ignores a lot of things in their economic formulas.  In fact, let’s try and enter the head of some Keynesian economists.  And have them answer the question why there isn’t a cure for the common cold.  Based on their economic analysis you might hear them say that we have a cure for the common cold.  Because a high demand makes anything happen.  Or you might hear them say we don’t have a cure because enough people haven’t caught a cold yet.  And that we need to get more people to catch colds so we increase the demand for a cure.

Keynesians believe if you build demand economic activity will follow.  Like in that movie where they build a baseball diamond in a cornfield and those dead baseball players come back to play on it.  So Keynesians believe in government spending.  And love stimulus spending.  As well as taxing people to give their money to other people to spend.  Because having money to spend stimulates demand.  Consumers will consume things.  And increase consumption.  So suppliers will bring more things to market.  And create more jobs to meet that consumption demand.  Unless people save that money.  Which is something Keynesians hate.  Because saving reduces consumption.   Which is about the worst thing you could do in the universe of Keynesian economics.  Save money.  For in that universe spending trumps saving.  In fact, spending trumps everything.  No matter how you create that spending.  Keynesians actually believe taxing people so they can pay other people to dig a ditch and then fill that ditch back in stimulates economic activity.  Because these ditch diggers/fillers will take their paycheck and spend it.

Today People wait Anxiously for the next Apple Release to Learn what the Next Thing is that they Must Have

Of course there is a problem with this economic theory.  When you take money away from others they haven’t created new economic activity.  They just transferred that spending to someone else.  The people who earned that money spend less while the people who didn’t earn it spend more.  It’s a wash.  Some spending goes down.  While some spending goes up.  Actually there is a net loss in economic activity.  Because that money has to pass through government hands.  Where some of it sticks.  Because bureaucrats have to eat, too.  So the people receiving this money don’t receive as much as what was taxed away.  So Keynesian stimulus doesn’t really stimulate.  It actually reduces economic activity from what it might have been.  Because of the government’s cut.

And it gets worse.  Because this consumption demand doesn’t really create jobs.  We get nothing new out of it.  What do people demand?  Things they see.  Things they know about.  For it is hard to demand something that doesn’t exist.  You see a commercial for another incredible Apple product and you want it.  Thanks to some great advertising that explained why you must have it.  In other words, when you give money to people all they will do is buy things they’ve always wanted.  Things that already exist.  Old stuff.  It’s sort of the chicken and the egg thing.  Which came first?  Wanting something?  Or the thing that people want?

Raising taxes on Apple to create a more egalitarian society by redistributing their wealth will let people buy more of the old stuff.  But it won’t help Apple create more new things to bring to market.  Things we don’t even know about yet.  If we tax them so much that it leaves little left for them to invest in research and development how are they going to develop new things?  Things we don’t even know about yet?  Things that we will learn that we must have?  Once upon a time no one was asking for portable cassette players.  Then Sony came out with the Walkman.  And everyone had to have one.  Once upon a time there were no MP3 players.  No smartphones.  No tablet computers.  Now people must have these things.  After their manufacturers told us why we must have them.  Today people wait anxiously for the next Apple release to learn what the next thing is that they must have.

Say’s Law states that Supply Creates Demand

Supply leads demand.  We can’t ask for the unknown.  We can only ask for what the market has shown us.  Which is why Keynesian economics doesn’t work.  Because focusing on demand doesn’t work.  Giving people money to spend doesn’t stimulate creativity in the market place.  Because that money was taxed out of the market place.   Reducing profits.  Leaving less for businesses to invest into research and development.  And reducing their incentive to take big risks to bring the next big thing to market.  Like a phone you can talk to and ask questions.  Again something no one was demanding.  But now it’s something everyone wants.

Jean-Baptiste Say (1767–1832) was a French economist.  Another brilliant French mind that contributed to the Enlightenment.  And helped advance Western Civilization.  He observed how supply led demand.  Understood production was key in the economy.  He knew to create economic activity you had to focus on the producers.  Not the consumers.  Because if we encourage brilliant minds to bring brilliant things to market the demand will follow.  As history has shown.  And continues to show.  Every time a high-tech company brings something new to market that they have to explain to us before we realize we must have it.  Or said in another way, supply creates demand.  A little law of economics that we call Say’s law.

If Keynesian economics worked no one would have to have a job.  The government could print money for everyone.  And the people could take their government dollars and consume whatever was in the market place.  Which, of course, would be pretty sparse if no one worked.  If there were no Steve Jobs out there thinking of brilliant things to bring to market.  Because supply creates demand.  Demand doesn’t create supply.  For fists full of money won’t stimulate any economic activity if there is nothing to buy.  So using Keynesian stimulus as a cure for a recession is about as effective as someone’s homemade cure for the common cold.  You take the homemade concoction and in a week or two it cures you.  Of course, the cold just ran its course.  Which is how recessions end.  After they run their course.  Which can be a short course if there isn’t too much Keynesian intervention.

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Communism, Karl Marx, Marxism, Surplus Labor and the Labor theory of Value

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 20th, 2013

History 101

(Originally published December 13, 2011)

Some would call Putting Profits before People Heaven if they had Lived in the Caring Hell of Communism

No ideology killed more people than communism.  In total numbers.  Such as Joseph Stalin in the Soviet Union.  Or Mao Tse-tung in the People’s Republic of China.  Or as a percentage of population.  Where Pol Pot’s Cambodian genocide holds this honor alone.  These communist leaders killed their people directly for political purposes.  Or starved them to death because of agrarian reforms that produced famines.  All in the name of freeing their people from the horrors of capitalism.

Heaven and hell.  That’s how a defector who escaped communism and made it to capitalism would describe what it’s like to live under each system.  Capitalism would be heaven.  And communism would be hell.  The problem with communism was that it didn’t work.  Economically.  People lived in want of the basic staples of life.  And often went hungry.  When they didn’t starve to death by yet another famine.  And if they complained or spoke out against the system they risked torture.  Or they simply just disappeared.  Banished to a work camp.  A reeducation camp.  Or killed.  So it’s no surprise that people trapped in these countries tried to escape.  Which is why communist states were oppressive police states.  To prevent people from escaping their horrible lives.

And yet to this day some people still hold up communism as the ideal socioeconomic system.  The one that cares about the people.  The one that puts people before profits.  Unlike capitalism.  Which puts profits before people.  Of course some would call putting profits before people heaven.  Especially if they had lived in the caring hell of communism.

Communism as an Economic System is an Utter and Abject Failure

Those who champion communism don’t blame the ideology.  They say it’s the people.  The few who use the ideology for personal gain.  And by few they mean basically everyone.  But if everyone is doing it it’s not the people.  It’s the ideology.  And it goes back to its utter and abject failure as an economic system.

Communism goes back to Karl Marx.  The guy that coauthored the Communist Manifesto in 1848.  And from which we get the terms Marxism.  And Marxist.  To describe varying forms of communism.  And communists.  He’s the guy who said that capitalism exploited the working man.  Those with money (capital) who owned factories, the industrial bourgeoisie, charged more for their goods than they paid their workers to make those goods.  Because Marx believed the value of any good was the labor that made it (the labor theory of value), this excess value (profit) was a labor surplus.  And belonged to the worker.  So he encouraged class conflict.  For the proletariat (the working class) to rise up and take over the means of production from those who owned it.  These middle class capitalists.  The industrial bourgeoisie.  And establish a dictatorship of the proletariat.  So the bourgeois capitalist pig-dogs couldn’t exploit the proletariat any more.  And everyone would then live happily ever after.

But no one ever did.  Like in capitalism.  Where happiness abounds.  Because, in capitalism, the market determines prices.  Not some bureaucrat counting up labor inputs through the manufacturing process.  From the mining of resources.  To the final assembly.  Which can make things very expensive.  And, worse, unwanted by the people.  Because when the market sets the price and assigns value, the market tells people what to make.  Normally when something is a hot seller it tells manufacturers to make more of it.  To cash in on those high prices.  So they do.  And people tend to buy this surge in products.  But when the market isn’t setting the price and assigning value, the market can’t tell people what to make.  So a bureaucrat must.  Which is what happens in communism.  Bureaucrats decide everything.  From what to make.  To the allocation of resources.  To the selling price.  And the things they decide to make are rarely what the people want.  Explaining why stores in communist countries were full of stuff no one wanted to buy.  And why people had to stand hours in line to get the things they did.  Or paid more on the black market.  Which is why communism as an economic system is an utter and abject failure.  And why people wanted to escape it.  Their only obstacle being that brutal and oppressive police state.  Which was necessary because if everyone left that wanted to the communist leaders wouldn’t have anyone to provide for them.

There are no Such Things as Market Failures under Capitalism

Communism was one of the worst man-made tragedies to ever befall man.  Karl Marx was wrong.  And his asinine theories killed tens of millions of people.  People enjoy life and prosper under capitalism.  Under communism they set records for genocide.  Why?  Because the communist economic model is an utter and abject failure.

The struggle between communism and capitalism was an economic one.  And pitted the market against bureaucrats who thought they were smarter than the market.  But it turned out they weren’t.  Not by a long shot.  And despite this history people are constantly talking about market failures and the evils of capitalism.  Much like Joseph Stalin, Mao Tse-tung and Pol Pot.  But for them it was never about the economics.  It was about the power.  Much like it is today.  Because there are no such things as market failures under capitalism.  It’s the bureaucrats who fail.  Not the markets.  At least, based on all recorded history.

Markets fail only when they aren’t free.  They fail when bureaucrats insert themselves into the economic process.  Via regulatory policy.  Or high taxes.  When they try to shape market forces to a political end.  And when they do it is capitalism no more.  It’s crony capitalism.  Or worse.

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Currencies, Exchange Rates and the Gold Standard

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 17th, 2013

Economics 101

Money is a Temporary Storage of Value that has no Intrinsic Value

Giant container ships ply the world’s oceans bringing us a lot of neat stuff.  Big televisions.  Smartphones.  Laptop computers.  Tablet computers.  The hardware for our cable and satellite TVs.  Toasters.  Toaster ovens.  Mixers and blenders.  And everything else we have in our homes and in our lives.  Things that make our lives better.  And make it more enjoyable.  These things have value.  We give them value.  Some have more value to one than another.  But these are things that have value to us.  And because they have value to us they have value to the people that made them.  Who used their human capital to create things that other people wanted.  And would trade for them.

When we first started trading we bartered with others.  Trading things for other things.  But as the economy grew more complex it took a lot of time to find someone who had what you wanted AND you had what they wanted.  So we developed money.  A temporary storage of value.  So we could trade the valuable things we created for money.  That money held the value of what we created temporarily while we looked for something that we wanted.  Then we exchanged the money we got earlier for something someone had.  It was just like trading our thing for someone else’s thing.  Only instead of spending weeks, months even years meeting hundreds of thousands of people trying to find that perfect match we only needed to meet two people.  One that exchanges money for the thing we have that they want.  And another who has what we want that they will exchange for our money.  Then that person would do the same with the money they got from us.  As did everyone else who brought things to market.  And those who came to market with money to buy what others brought.

Money is a temporary storage of value.  Money itself doesn’t have any intrinsic value.  Consider that container ship full of those wonderful items.  Now, which would you rather have as permanent fixtures in your house?  Those wonderful things?  Or boxes of money that just sit in your house?  You’d want the wonderful things.  And if you had a box of money you would exchange it (i.e., go out shopping) for those wonderful things.  Because boxes of money aren’t any fun.  It’s what you can exchange that money for that can be a lot of fun.

Devaluing your Currency boosts Exports by making those Goods less Expensive to the Outside World

So there is a lot of value on one of those container ships.  Let’s take all of that value out of the ship and place it on a balancing scale.  Figuratively, of course.  Now the owner of that stuff wants to trade it for other stuff.  But how much value does this stuff really have?  Well, let’s assume the owner is willing to exchange it all for one metric ton of gold.  Because gold is pretty valuable, too.  People will trade other things for gold.  So if we put 1 metric ton of gold on the other side of the balancing scale (figuratively, of course) the scale will balance.  Because to the owner all of that stuff and one metric ton has the same value.  Of course moving a metric ton of gold is not easy.  And it’s very risky.  So, instead of gold what else can we put on that scale?  Well, we can move dollars electronically via computer networks.  That would be a lot easier than moving gold.  So let’s put dollars on the other side of that scale.  Figuratively, of course.  How many will we need?  Well, today gold is worth approximately $1,380/troy ounce.  So after some dimensional analysis we can convert that metric ton into 32,150 troy ounces.  And at $1,380/troy ounce that metric ton of gold comes to approximately $44.4 million.  So that container ship full of wonderful stuff will balance on a scale with $44.4 million on the other side.  Or 1 metric ton of gold.  In the eyes of the owner they all have the same value.

Moving money electronically is the easiest and quickest manner of exchanging money for ships full of goods.  These ships go to many countries.  And not all of them use American dollars.  But we can calculate what amounts of foreign currency will balance the value of that ship.  Or one metric ton of gold.  By using foreign exchange rates.  Which tell us the value of one currency in another currency.  Something that comes in pretty handy.  For when, say, an American manufacturer sells their goods they want American dollars.  Not British pounds.  Danish kroner.  Or Russian rubles.  For American manufacturers are in the United States of America.  They buy their materials in American dollars.  They pay their employees in American dollars.  Who pay their bills in American dollars.  Go shopping with American dollars.  Etc.  For everyday American transactions the British pound, for example, would be un-useable.  What these American manufacturers want, then, are American dollars.  So before a foreigner can buy these American exports they must first exchange their foreign currencies for American dollars.  We can get an idea of this by considering that container ship full of valuable stuff.  By showing what it would cost other nations.  The following table shows a sampling of foreign exchange rates and the exchanged foreign currency for that $44.4 million.

foreign currencies and exchange rates

If we take the US dollars and the Exchanged Currency for each row and place them on either side of a balancing scale the scale will balance.  Figuratively, of course.  Meaning these currencies have the same value.  And we can exchange either side of that scale for that container ship full of valuable stuff.  Or for that metric ton of gold.  Why are there such large differences in some of these exchange rates?  Primarily because of a nation’s monetary policy.  Many nations manipulate their currency for various reasons.  Some nations give their people a lot of government benefits they pay for by printing money.  Which devalues their currency.  Some nations purposely devalue their currency to boost their export sector.  As the more currency you get in exchange for your currency the more of these exports you can buy.  Most of China’s great economic growth came from their export sector.  Which they helped along by devaluing their currency.  This boosted exports by making those goods less expensive to the outside world.  But the weakened yuan made domestic goods more expensive.  Because it took more of them to buy the same things they once did.  Raising the cost of living for the ordinary Chinese.

The Gold Standard made Free Trade Fair Trade

Some economists, Keynesians, approve of printing a lot of money to lower interest rates.  And for the government to spend.  They think this will increase economic activity.  Well, keeping interest rates artificially low will encourage more people to buy homes.  But because they are devaluing the currency to keep those interest rates artificially low housing prices rise.  Because when you devalue your currency you cause price inflation.  But it’s just not house prices that rise.  Prices throughout the economy rise.  The greater the inflation rate (i.e., the rate at which you increase the money supply) the higher prices rise.  And the less your money will buy.  While the currencies at the top of this table will have exchange rates that don’t vary much those at the bottom of the table may.  Especially countries that like to print money.  Like Argentina.  Where the inflation is so bad at times that Argentineans try to exchange their currency for foreign currencies that hold their value longer.  Or try to spend their Argentine pesos as quickly as possible.  Buying things that will hold their value longer than the Argentine peso.

Because printing fiat money is easy a lot of nations print it.  A lot of it.  People living in these countries are stuck with a rapidly depreciating currency.  But international traders aren’t.  If a country prints so much money that their exchange rate changes every few minutes international traders aren’t going to want their currency.  Because a country can’t do much with a foreign currency other than buy exports with it from that country.  A sum of highly depreciated foreign currency won’t buy as much this hour as it did last hour.  Which forces an international trader to quickly spend this money before it loses too much of its value.  (Some nations will basically barter.  They will exchange their exports for another country’s exports based on the current exchange rate.  So that they don’t hold onto the devalued foreign currency at all.)  But if the currency is just too volatile they may demand another currency instead.  Like the British pound, the euro or the American dollar.  Because these stronger currencies will hold their value longer.  So they’ll buy this hour what they bought last hour.  Or yesterday.  Or last week.  There is less risk holding on to these stronger currencies because Britain, the European Central Bank and the United States aren’t printing as much of their money as these nations with highly devalued currencies are printing of theirs.

This is the advantage of gold.  Countries can’t print gold.  It takes an enormous expense to bring new gold to the world’s gold supply.  It’s not easy.  So the value of the gold is very stable.  While some nations may devalue their currencies they can’t devalue gold.  A nation printing too much money may suffer from hyperinflation.  Reducing their exchange rate close to zero.  And when you divide by a number approaching zero the resulting amount of currency required for the exchange approaches infinity.  Weimar Germany suffered hyperinflation.  It was so bad that it took so much money to buy firewood that it was easier and less expensive to burn the currency instead.  This is the danger of a government having the ability to print money at will.  But if that same country can come up with a metric ton of gold that person with the container ship full of wonderful stuff would gladly trade it for that gold.  Even though that person will not trade it for that country’s currency.  This was the basis of the gold standard in international trade.  When nations backed their currencies with gold.  And kept them exchangeable for gold.  Forcing nations to maintain stable currencies.  By maintaining an official exchange rate between their currency and gold.  If that nation devalued its currency the market exchange rate will start to move away from the official exchange rate.  For example, say the official rate was $40/troy ounce.  But because they printed so much of their currency they devalued it to where it took $80 to buy a troy ounce on the open market.  So a nation could take $80 dollars of that devalued currency and exchange it for 2 troy ounces of gold from that nation.  The official exchange rate forcing the nation to give away 2 troy ounces of gold for $80 when the real market exchange rate would only have given them 1 troy ounce.  So devaluing your currency would cause gold to flow out of your country.  And the only way to stop it would be to decrease the size of your money supply.  Undoing the previous inflation.  To bring the market exchange rate back to the official exchange rate.  Which is why the gold standard worked so well for international trade.  Nations could not manipulate their currency to get a trade advantage over another nation.  Making free trade fair trade.  Something few say today.  Thanks to currency manipulators like China.

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Labor Theory of Value and Prices

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 13th, 2013

Economics 101

“Do you know how many men you and that machine are putting out of a job?”

Ditch digging is back-breaking work.  Often under a blistering sun.  Where laborers swing picks into the hard soil.  Breaking the compacted soil and rock into loose chunks.  Then another laborer thrusts his shovel into the loosened soil.  Scoops up a load and transfers it to a large bucket.  When full other laborers topside heave the bucket up from the trench.  And empties it onto a cart.  Then returns the bucket to the bottom of the trench.  Then laborers swing their picks.  And scoop up more soil.

A ditch digger may hate his job.  The immense physical requirements wearing him down.  Working in unbearable heat.  And the monotony.  Just dig, dig, dig.  Pausing to wipe the sweat rolling off his face with his shirt sleeve.  To grab a deep breath.  Or a swig of water.  Then back to the pick.  Or shovel.  Calloused hands gripping a splintered handle.  As his burning muscles drive it back into the earth.  All the while thinking that there must be a better way.

Then the day comes when a truck pulls onto site.  Pulling a trailer.  And on that trailer is the future.  A mechanical excavator.  With a 44″-wide bucket on it that can move more soil with one swipe than a laborer can dig in a day.  A machine that would revolutionize ditch digging.  As one machine and a crew of a few men could do the work of 100 ditch diggers in far less time.  As the machine operator prepares to drive the mechanical excavator off the trailer a grizzled ditch digger walks up to him and says, “Do you know how many men you and that machine are putting out of a job?”

Something is Worth what Someone is Willing to Pay for it Regardless of the Quantity of Labor

The labor theory of value would say this ditch is very valuable.  Before the future arrived on that trailer.  For this theory states that value is proportional to the quantity of labor it takes to make or do something.  The more labor hours required the more valuable it is.  It’s not the market that determines value via the laws of supply and demand.  As happens under capitalism.  No.  It’s labor that determines value.  A theory championed by labor movements.  And Karl Marx.  The father of communism.  The greatest anti-capitalist of them all.  Which reveals the true motive behind the labor theory of value.  To give more political power to labor.  While having nothing to do with economics.

To illustrate this let’s look at ditch digging.  The way it was.  And the way it is.  For this exercise let’s consider a ditch for a 60″ storm drain.  Which requires a deep, long trench.  Let’s say it takes a crew of 100 laborers to hand-dig the trench in 6 weeks.  While a crew of 10 laborers and a machine can do the job in 1 week.  Each laborer has $25 worth of tools.  And the mechanical excavator costs $25,000 to rent for one week.  Now let’s assume two construction companies put a bid together for this work.  One bases their estimate on the way it was.  Men digging by hand.  The other bases their estimate on the way it is.  Using a machine.  The value of this trench is the cost of their estimates.  That is, the value of the trench is the cost to dig it.  Which is the price someone must pay to have this ditch.  We summarize these two estimates in the following table.

Ditch Digging

The bottom line in the table is the value of the dug trench.  Which you will notice has two different values.  Even though both methods result in an identical thing.  A trench the same length, width and depth.  Yet if dug by hand the price is $1.8 million.  But if we dig it with a machine the price is $55,250.  How can this be?  How can two identical things have two different prices?  Well, they can’t.  What we have is two prices.  But only one price someone will pay.  The low price.  Because that’s all the trench is worth.  The price someone is willing to pay.  Regardless of the quantity of labor used to dig it.

The Labor Theory of Value is a Flawed Economic Theory used more to Attack Capitalism

So Karl Marx was wrong.  As are those in the labor movement.  While the capitalists were/are right.  Labor does NOT determine value.  The market does.  Something is only worth what someone is willing to pay for it.  Based on the laws of supply and demand.

For example, a lot of labor hours go into building a caboose.  The last car on a train before FRED (flashing rear-end device).  The steel wheels, the brakes, the enclosure, the wood burning stove for the brakeman to warm up by, etc.  Which gives it great value based on the labor theory of value.  And a high selling price.  But trains today don’t use cabooses.  For they have no brakemen running along the top of moving trains to turn the brake wheels to stop the train.  Thanks to George Westinghouse and his air brake.  So there is very little if any demand for cabooses by today’s railroads.  Making it all but worthless.  Despite the high price tag based on the quantity of labor used to build it.

Again, supply and demand determine prices.  Not the quantity of labor.  And you can see this anywhere you look.  Another good example is housing.  You can build identical houses in two different locations and they can sell for two different prices.  Despite being built with the exact same amount of labor.  That house on the beach in Malibu will have a far higher price than the same house in Detroit.  For when it comes to real estate three things determine the price of a house.  Location, location and location.  Regardless of the quantity of labor used to build it.  Whether 100 workers build it using nothing but hand tools.  Or a crew of 10 using the latest in power tools and equipment.  It will cost more to pay 100 men to build it using nothing but hand tools.  But it won’t sell for any more than the one built by the crew of 10 using the latest in power tools and equipment.  Because the labor theory of value is a flawed economic theory.  Used more to attack capitalism.  To transfer power from the capitalists to the labor movement.  And the unions that represent them.  As well as the government officials that protect the unions in exchange for campaign contributions.

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Hard Money versus Paper Money

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 1st, 2013

Economics 101

Money would have No Value if People with Talent didn’t Create things of Value

Money is a temporary storage of wealth.  We created it because of the high search costs of the barter system.  It took a lot of time for two people to find each other who each had what the other wanted.  And we started trading things to have things we couldn’t make efficiently for ourselves.  Someone may have been a superb potter but was a horrible farmer.  So, instead, the potter did what he did best.  And traded the pottery he made for the things he wanted that he was not good at making.  Or growing.  Before that we were self-sufficient.  Whatever you wanted you had to provide it yourself.

As we go back in time we learn why money is a temporary storage of wealth.  For it was the final piece in a growing and prosperous economy.  And at the beginning it was people with talent, each creating something of value.  Something of value that they could trade for something else of value.  It’s the creative talent of people that has value.  And we see that value in the goods and/or services they make or provide.  Money temporarily held that value.  So we could carry it with us easier to go to market to trade with other talented and creative people.  Who may not have wanted what we made or did.  But would gladly take our money.

So we took our goods to market.  People that wanted them traded for them.  They traded money for our goods.  Then we took that money and traded for what we wanted elsewhere in the market.  Trade grew.  With some people becoming professional traders.  By trading money for goods from distant lands.  Then trading these goods for money at the local market.  People who didn’t spend time creating anything.  But bought and sold the creative talent of others.  Who were able to do that because of money.  The creative talent came first.  Then the goods.  And then the money.  For money is a temporary storage of wealth.  Which has no value if no one is making anything of value.  Because if you can’t buy anything what good is having money?

There were no more Gold Certificates in Circulation than there was Gold in the Vault to Exchange them For

These early traders used a variety of things for money.  Pigs, tobacco, grain, oil, etc.  What we call commodity money.  Which was valuable by itself.  As people consumed these commodities.  Which is what gave them the ability to store value.  But because we could consume these they did not make the best money.  Also, they weren’t that portable.  And not easy to make change with.  Which is why we turned to specie.  Such as gold and silver.  Hard money.  It was durable.  Portable.  Divisible.  Fungible.  For example, all Spanish dollars were the same while all pigs weren’t.  One pig could weigh 30 pounds more than another.  So pigs weren’t fungible.  Or durable.  Portable.  And, though divisible, making change wasn’t easy.

So in time traders big and small turned to specie as the medium of exchange.  For all the reasons noted above.  If you worked hard to produce fine pottery you trusted in specie.  You would accept specie for your pottery goods.  Because you knew this hard money would hold its value.  And you could use it in the future to buy what you wanted.  No matter how long that may be.  Why?  Because the money supply remained relatively constant.  As it took a lot of work and great expense to mine and refine ore to make specie out of it.  So there was little inflation when using hard money.  Which meant if you saved for a rainy day that hard money would be there for you.

Gold and silver could be heavy to carry around.  Anyone struggling under the weight of their specie were targets for thieves.  Who wanted that money.  Without creating anything of value to bring to market.  So we found a way to improve a little on using gold and silver.  By locking our gold and silver in a vault.  And carrying around receipts for our gold and silver to use as money.  These gold certificates were promises to pay in gold.  People could continue to use them as money.  Or they could take these receipts back to the vault and exchange them for the gold inside.  These gold certificates were as good as gold.  And there were no more gold certificates in circulation than there was gold in the vault to exchange them for.

Governments Today use nothing but Paper Money because it gives them Privilege, Wealth and Power

Some saw advantages of expanding the money supply with paper currency.  Money that isn’t backed by gold or any other asset.  Money easy to print.  And easy to borrow.  Allowing rich people to borrow large sums of money to buy more assets.  And get richer.  Giving them more power.  And if you were the one printing and loaning that money it gave you great wealth and power.  So having a bank charter was a way to wealth and power.  You could make it easy for those who can help you to borrow money.  While making it difficult for those who oppose you to borrow money.  So there were those in business and in government that liked un-backed paper money.  Because a select few could borrow it cheaply and get rich and powerful.

While some liked these banks and that paper money there were others who bitterly opposed them.  Some who didn’t like to see so much power in so few hands.  And the hard money people.  Who wanted a money that held its value.  The common people.  People who couldn’t borrow large sums of cheap money.  But people who had to get by on less as the inflation from printing all those paper dollars raised prices.  Leaving them with less purchasing power.  Making it harder for them to get by.  Often having to turn to the hated banks to borrow money.  Again and again.  Such that the interest on their loans consumed even more of their limited funds.  Making life more tenuous.  And more bitter between the classes.  The rich who benefited from the cheap paper money.  And the common people who paid the price of all that inflation.

Rich people, on the other hand, loved that inflation.  It helped them make money.  When they bought something at a lower price and sold it at a higher price they made a lot of money.  The greater the inflation the greater the selling price.  And the more profit.  Also, the money they owed was easier to pay off with money that was worth less than when they borrowed it.  Allowing rich people to get even richer.  While the common people saw only higher prices.  And the value of their meager savings lose value.  So this cheap paper money fostered great class warfare.  The hard money people hated the paper money people.  Debtors hated creditors.  The middling classes hated the large landowners, merchants, manufacturers and, of course, the bankers.  And those who had talent to create things hated those who just made money with money.  The greater the inflation the greater the divide between the people.  And the greater wealth and power that select few acquired.  This is what paper money gave you.  Privilege.  Which is why most governments today use nothing but paper money.

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