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

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 16th, 2013

Week in Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Two Consecutive Negative Quarterly Growth Rates in Business Earnings say we’re in a Recession

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 9th, 2013

Week in Review

Business earnings drive everything in the economy.  Every dollar a person spends in the economy came from a business.  From someone spending their paycheck.  To someone spending their government assistance.  Because business provides every tax dollar the government collects.  Whether from the business directly.  Or from their employees.  So business earnings are everything.  If they’re not earning profits they’re not creating jobs.  And the fewer people that are working the less tax revenue there is.

Lakshman Achuthan with the Economic Cycle Research Institute (ECRI) looks at business earnings and has found a direct correlation between the growth rate of business earnings and recessionary periods.  Finding that whenever there were 2 or more consecutive quarters of a falling growth rate in business earnings we were in a recession.  Business Insider has reproduced his chart showing this correlation as well as quoting from his report (see CHART OF THE DAY: A Stock Market Trend Has Developed That Coincided With The Last 3 Recessions by Sam Ro posted 3/6/2013 on Business Insider).

This is a bar chart of S&P 500 operating earnings growth going back a quarter of a century on a consistent basis, as we understand from S&P. Others can choose their own definitions of operating earnings, but this is the data from S&P. In this chart, the height of the red bar indicates the number of consecutive quarters of negative earnings growth.

It is interesting that, historically, there have never been two or more quarters of negative earnings growth outside of a recessionary context. On this chart, showing the complete history of the data, the only times we see two or more quarters of negative growth are in 1990-91, 2000-01, 2007-09 and, incidentally, in 2012. This data is not susceptible to the kind of revisions one sees with government data. The point is that this type of earnings recession is not surprising when nominal GDP growth falls below 3.7%. So, even though the level of corporate profits is high, this evidence is also consistent with recession.

Follow the above link to see this chart.

The stock market is doing well now thanks to the Federal Reserve flooding the market with cheap dollars.  Investors are borrowing money to invest because of artificially low interest rates.  So the rich are getting richer in the Obama recovery.  But only the rich.  For an administration that is so concerned about ‘leveling the playing field’ their economic policies continually tip it in favor of the rich.  Who can make money even if the economy is not creating new jobs.  Which it isn’t.

All of these recessions can be traced back to John Maynard Keynes.  And Keynesian economics.  Playing with interest rates to stimulate economic activity.  The 1990-91 recession was made so bad because of the savings and loan (S&L) crisis.  Which itself is the result of government interventions into the private economy.  First they set a maximum limit on interest rates S&Ls (and banks) could offer.  Then the Keynesians (in particular President Nixon) decoupled the dollar from gold.  Unleashing inflation.  Causing S&Ls to lose business as people were withdrawing their money to save it in a higher-interest money market account.  Then they deregulated the S&Ls to try and save them from being devastated by rising inflation rates.  Which the S&Ls used to good advantage by borrowing money and loaning it at a higher rate.  Then Paul Volcker and President Reagan brought that destructive high inflation rate down. Leaving these S&Ls with a lot of high-cost debt on their books that they couldn’t service.  And while this was happening the real estate bubble burst.  Reducing what limited business they had.  Making that high-cost debt even more difficult to service.  Ultimately ending in the S&L crisis.  And the 1990-91 recession.

Fast forward to the subprime mortgage crisis and it was pretty much the same thing.  Bad government policy (artificially low interest rates and federal pressure to qualify the unqualified) created another massive real estate bubble.  This one built on toxic subprime mortgages.  Which banks sold to get them off of their books as fast as possible because they knew the mortgage holders couldn’t pay their mortgage payment if interest rates rose.  Increasing the rate, and the monthly payment, on their adjustable rate mortgage (ARM).  Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac bought and/or guaranteed these toxic mortgages and sold them to their friends on Wall Street.  Who chopped and diced them into collateralized debt obligations (CDOs).  Sold them as high-yield low-risk investments to unsuspecting investors.  And when interest rates rose and those ARMs reset at higher interest rates, and higher monthly payments, the subprime borrowers couldn’t pay their mortgages anymore.  Causing a slew of foreclosures.  Giving us the subprime mortgage crisis.  And the Great Recession.

In between these two government-caused disasters was another.  The dot-com bubble.  Where artificially low interest rates and irrational exuberance gave us the great dot-com bubble.  As venture capitalists poured money into the dot-coms who had nothing to sell, had no revenue and no profits.  But they could just as well be the next Microsoft.  And investors wanted to be in on the next Microsoft from the ground floor.  So they poured start-up capital into these start-ups.  Helped by those low interest rates.  And these start-ups created a high-tech boom.  Colleges couldn’t graduate people with computer science degrees fast enough to build the stuff that was going to make bazillions off of that new fangled thing.  The Internet.  Even cities got into the action.  Offering incentives for these dot-coms to open up shop in their cities.  Building expansive and expensive high-tech corridors for them.  Everyone was making money working for these companies.  Staffed with an army of new computer programmers.  Who were living well.  The brightest in their field earning some serious money.  So they and their bosses were getting rich.  Only one problem.  The companies weren’t.  For they had nothing to sell.  And when the start-up capital finally ran out the dot-com boom turned into the dot-com bust.  As the dot-com bubble burst.  And when it did the NASDAQ crashed in 2000.  When it became clear that all of President Clinton’s prosperity in the Nineties was nothing more than an illusion.  There would be 4 consecutive quarters of negative growth in business earnings before the dust finally settled.  One quarter worse than both the S&L crisis and the subprime mortgage crisis recessions.

And now here we are.  With 2 consecutive quarters of negative earnings growth under our belt.  Based on this chart this has happened only three times in the past 3 decades.  The 1990-91 recession.  The 2000-01 recession.  And the 2007-09 recession.  Which if his theory holds we are in store for another very nasty and very long recession.  No matter what the government economic data tells us.

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Great Depression, Monetary Expansion, Keynesian, Smoot Hawley Tariff, Gold Window, Subprime Mortgage Crisis and Great Recession

Posted by PITHOCRATES - October 2nd, 2012

History 101

There was Real Economic Activity in the Twenties so the Great Depression should only have been a Recession

The Great Depression began with the Stock Market Crash of 1929.  Which led to a period of record unemployment.  On average the unemployment rate was 13.46% during the Thirties.  Or, if you don’t count all of the make-work government jobs, 18.23%.  So what caused this unemployment?  Was it the expansionary monetary policy of the Twenties?  The Keynesians thought so.  Even the economists from the Austrian school of economics thought so.  The only ones to have predicted the Great Depression.  So were they right?  A little bit.

Yes, there was monetary expansion during the Twenties.  So a recessionary correction was inevitable.  But a depression?  When you look at the economic activity of the Twenties, no.  The Roaring Twenties were a transformative time.  It was when we began to say goodbye to the steam engine.  And said hello to electricity.  We said goodbye to the horse and buggy.  And said hello to the automobile.  We said goodbye to the horse and plow.  And said hello to the tractor.  As well as said hello to radio, motion pictures, air travel, electric lighting and electric appliances in the home, etc.  So there was real economic activity in the Twenties.  It wasn’t all a bubble.  So the Great Depression should have only been a regular recession.  But it wasn’t.  So what happened?

Government.  The government interfered with market forces.  Based on Keynesian advice.  They said the government needed to increase aggregate demand.  As that demand would encourage businesses to expand and hire new workers.  Thus lowering the unemployment rate.  And part of increasing demand was keeping wages from falling.  So people had more money to spend.  Of course, if employers were to continue to pay higher wages that meant that prices could not fall.  Like they normally do during a recession.  So the Keynesian advice was to prevent the market from correcting prices to match supply to demand.  Prolonging the inevitable recession.  But there was more bad government policy.

The Keynesian Cure for Unemployment is Inflation

The stock market was soaring in the late Twenties.  Because of that real economic growth.  So what happened to that economic growth?  Well, in part, the Smoot Hawley Tariff of 1930.  Which was in committee in 1929 before the great crash.  But investors saw it coming.  And they knew tariffs rising as much as 50% were going to cool those hot earnings they’ve been enjoying.  As well as Herbert Hoover’s progressive plans.  Who would go on to double income tax rates.  When Herbert Hoover won the 1928 election the writing was on the wall.  And investors bailed.  Especially when the Smoot Hawley Tariff was moving through committee.  Because raising the cost of doing business does not help business.  So the great earnings ride of the Twenties was ending and the investors sold their stocks to lock in their profits.  Precipitating the Stock Market Crash of 1929.  And the record unemployment that would follow.  And the Great Depression.

So the Keynesians got it wrong during the Thirties.  Their next grand experiment would be in the Seventies.  As government spending took off thanks to the Vietnam War, the Great Society and the Apollo moon program.  There was so much spending that they had to print money to pay for it all.  As they did, though, they devalued the dollar.  Which became a problem.  As the U.S. at the time agreed to exchange gold for dollars at $35/ounce.  So when the Americans made their dollar worth less our trading partners decided to take our gold instead.  Gold flew out of the gold window.  So to stop this gold flow out of the country Nixon did what any Keynesian would do.  No, he didn’t cut back spending.  He decoupled the dollar from gold.  Slamming the gold window shut.  Without any advanced warning to the world.  So we now call this action he took on August 15, 1971 the Nixon Shock.  The Keynesians were thrilled.  Because they now had no restraint in printing new money.

The reason Keynesians were happy to be able to print more money was because that was their cure for unemployment.  Inflation.  When the economy goes into recession it was just a simple matter of expanding the money supply.  Which lowers interest rates.  Which makes businesses who had no intention to expand their businesses borrow money to expand their businesses.  So to pull the economy out of recession they inflated the money supply.  And did it work?  No.  Of course it didn’t.  It just raised prices.  Increasing the cost of business.  As well as leaving consumers with less real income.  So, no, the economy didn’t improve.  It just stagnated.  The average unemployment rate during the Seventies was 6.21%.  While the average inflation rate was 7.08%.  Also, the top marginal tax rate of 70%.  Which didn’t help the anti-business environment.

The Subprime Mortgage Crisis and the Great Recession were Direct Consequences of Bad Monetary Policy

So the Keynesians failed.  Again.  Their inflationary monetary policy only made things worse during the Seventies.  All of that inflation just kept pushing prices ever higher.  Ensuring that the inevitable recession to correct those prices would be long and painful.  Which it was.  In the early Eighties.  Then Paul Volcker rang out all of that inflation.  And Ronald Reagan began bringing the top marginal tax rate down until it was at 28% by the end of the decade.  Making a more favorable business environment.  So business grew.  And began to hire new workers.  Teaching an economic lesson some in government refused to learn.  Keynesian inflationary monetary policies did not work.

During the Nineties the Keynesians were back.  Inflating the money supply slowly but surely to continue an economic expansion.  Making money available to borrow.  And borrow it people did.  Creating a long and sustained housing boom that would last for about 2 decades.  That expansionary monetary policy gave us cheap mortgages.  Making it very easy to buy a house.  Housing prices rose.  And continued to rise during those two decades.  Then President Clinton had his Justice Department tell banks to lower their standards for approving mortgages for the unqualified.  So everyone could buy a house.  Even if they couldn’t afford to pay for it.  Ushering in the subprime mortgage industry.  Further increasing the demand for houses.  And further driving up housing prices.  Making the inevitable correction a long and painful one.

Meanwhile, there was something new in the market place in the Nineties.  The Internet.  And new Internet start-ups (dot-coms) flooded the market.  Investors poured money into them.  Even though they didn’t have a product to sell.  And had no earnings.  But investors were exuberant.  And irrational.  Kids flooded into universities to get degrees in computer science.  To staff all of those Internet start-ups.  Companies went public.  Creating a stock market bubble as investors scrambled to buy their stock.  They raised a boatload of money from those IPOs.  And spent it all.  Many without producing anything to sell.  And when that money ran out they went bankrupt.  Bursting that stock market bubble.  And throwing a lot of computer scientists out of a job.  Causing a painful recession in the early 2000s that George Bush helped mitigate with tax cuts.

And low interest rates.  People were back buying houses.  But this time they were buying McMansions.  Because that easy monetary policy gave us cheap mortgage rates.  And subprime, no-documentation, zero down loans, etc., made it easier than ever to buy a house.  Housing prices soared.  And builders flooded the market with more McMansions.  Pushing prices ever higher.  Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were buying those toxic subprime mortgages from banks to encourage them to approve more toxic subprime mortgages.  Pushing the inevitable correction further and further out.  Running up prices so high that their fall would be a long and painful one.  Which it was when the subprime mortgage crisis hit.  As well as the Great Recession.  Direct consequences of bad monetary policy.  And the government’s interference into market forces.

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