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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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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A Diesel Car is a better value than an Electric Car

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 22nd, 2013

Week in Review

People aren’t buying electric cars.  Because they are too expensive.  And because of their limited range.  Governments (federal and states) are trying to encourage people to buy cars they don’t want by offering subsidies to both manufacturers and buyers.  Which is getting some people to buy these cars.  But not many.  For even with those subsidies they’re still expensive.  And still have limited range.  Unlike these alternative cars (see These Diesels From Audi, BMW and Mercedes Cost Less To Own Than Your Gas-Powered Luxury Car by Hannah Elliott posted 12/19/2013 on Forbes).

Automakers have long lamented the American public’s reticence to embrace diesel technology as wholeheartedly as have Europeans…

But those who have adopted diesel love it. Audi head Scott Keogh routinely tells me his company sells out of each TDI model they make; Detlev von Platen at Porsche  told me at the LA auto showst month that diesel technology will continue to play an “increasingly significant” role for its fleet, especially the best-selling Panamera.

The truth is that while there is a price premium (roughly $5,300 on average) associated with the initial purchase cost of diesel vehicles, they typically get 30% better gas mileage and flaunt superior torque numbers and reliability ratings. The automotive analysis firm Vincentric estimates that driving a diesel car will save $2,117 in fuel costs over one year assuming annual rate of 15,000 miles.

Note the one thing conspicuous by its absence.  The word ‘subsidies’.  For people will pay a premium for a diesel.  Because there is value in a diesel.  They have superior torque.  Giving them greater pulling force than comparable sized gasoline-powered cars.  Better reliability.  And best of all they get a 30% better fuel mileage.  Which gives them greater range than a gasoline-powered care with a comparable sized fuel tank.  Giving them a greater range between fuel-ups than with a gasoline car.  And a far, far, far, far, far greater range than an electric car.  Giving the diesel an excellent value for the money.  Something you don’t have to bribe people to buy with subsidies.

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The Price of Gold falls as Responsible Monetary Policy appears Imminent

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 14th, 2013

Week in Review

You can print paper dollars.  And create dollars electronically.  Which is why governments love fiat money.  Money that has no intrinsic value.  Just the government saying ‘let it have value’ gives it value.  Which is why they love it.  Because they can print it to spend when they have no further room to raise taxes.

But printing money creates inflation.  And devalues the dollar.  Which is why some like to buy gold.  Because you can’t print gold.  Or create it electronically.  So it holds its value.  Especially when the dollar doesn’t.  And the price of gold has been on the rise all during the Federal Reserve’s quantitative easing (i.e., ‘printing’ money).  The more the Fed ‘prints’ money the more they devalue the dollar.  And inflate the price of gold.  But once it looks like the Fed is going to taper back on their ‘printing of dollars’ gold investors stop buying gold (see Gold suffers biggest one-day loss since October by Myra P. Saefong and Sara Sjolin posted 12/12/2013 on Market Watch).

Gold futures took a hit on Thursday as concerns that the Federal Reserve could scale back its stimulus next week pulled prices down by more than $30 an ounce for their biggest one-day loss since October.

Investors stopped buying gold not because gold has lost value.  But because they think the dollar will stop losing its value.  For if the Fed stops their quantitative easing the devaluation of the dollar will halt.  As will the rise in the price of gold priced in dollars.  So it will no longer take more dollars to buy the same amount of gold that it once bought.  Like it did under the Fed’s quantitative easing.  And those who bet on a further irresponsible monetary policy that devalued the dollar want to unload some of their higher-priced gold before responsible monetary policy takes effect.

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Keynesian Economics

Posted by PITHOCRATES - October 14th, 2013

Economics 101

(Originally published February 20th, 2012)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Greatest Threat to an Oppressive Dictatorship is Free Market Capitalism

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 22nd, 2013

Week in Review

When people enter economic exchanges voluntarily everybody wins.  For example, let’s say one person has a hundred dollars of spare cash.  And another person owns a mountain bicycle that sells for $350 new.  The one with the money wants to buy a mountain bicycle.  The one with the mountain bicycle needs cash and wants to sell the bike. These two people meet.  And exchange the $100 for the bicycle.  And both walk away with something they valued more.  The person originally with the $100 valued the bicycle more than the $100.  And the person originally with the bicycle valued the $100 more than the bicycle.  Each person wins in this voluntary economic exchange.

Now contrast that to a managed economy.  Where a few decide for everyone else.  Such as in socialism.  Or communism.  Say, in the former Soviet Union.  Where the economic planners decide to make more tractor parts and less toilet paper and laundry detergent.  Resulting in shelves full of tractor parts no one wanted to buy.  And empty shelves where there was once toilet paper and laundry detergent.  As you can see, when you have forced economic exchanges no one wins.

Countries with economic systems based on free market capitalism where people enter economic exchanges voluntarily have historically had the highest standards of living.  Whereas countries with managed economic systems have had the lowest standards of living.  Liberty and prosperity are synonymous with the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Australia and Hong Kong.  Which were once all part of the British Empire.  Which ruled the world and kept the peace for a hundred years or so.  The Pax Britannica.  She was able to do this because of her wealth.  Generated from free market capitalism.  The rule of law.  Representative government.  Sound money.  And free trade.  Things that today give these nations immigration problems.  Because everyone wants to go to these nations for a better life.

In capitalist nations people live better because there is a profit incentive.  Whereas the countries these immigrants left typically put people before profits.  Where instead of letting market forces set prices and allocate limited resources that have alternative uses the government decides.  Like they did in the former Soviet Union.  And the more government interferes with these market forces the more these economic decisions become political.  Where friends of the ruling power get those limited resources first and at favorable prices.  Allowing them and the ruling powers to profit handsomely from this political favoritism.  At the expense of the people who have to do with less.

The profit incentive puts people first.  Because in free market capitalism market forces are the people.  Hundreds of millions of people coming together to make voluntary economic exchanges.  Where each individual person looks out for his or her best interests.  But when a ‘caring’ government manages the economy to put the people first that government interferes with those market forces.  And goes against the will of the people.  Making the people worse off.  Which is why immigration is always from a country where there is less free market capitalism to a country where there is more free market capitalism.  Because the quality of life increases with increasing amounts of capitalism.  So we should be careful what we ask for when we ask to put people first.  Even when the Pope joins the ‘put the people first’ choir (see Pope condemns idolatry of cash in capitalism by Lizzy Davies posted 9/22/2013 on theguardian).

Pope Francis has called for a global economic system that puts people and not “an idol called money” at its heart, drawing on the hardship of his immigrant family as he sympathised with unemployed workers in a part of Italy that has suffered greatly from the recession…

“Where there is no work, there is no dignity,” he said, in ad-libbed remarks after listening to three locals, including an unemployed worker who spoke of how joblessness “weakens the spirit”. But the problem went far beyond the Italian island, said Francis, who has called for wholesale reform of the financial system…

Sardinia, one of Italy’s autonomous regions with a population of 1.6 million, has suffered particularly badly during the economic crisis, with an unemployment rate of 20%, eight points higher than the national average, and youth unemployment of 51%.

Last summer the island’s hardship became national news when Stefano Meletti, a 49-year-old miner, slashed his wrists on television during a protest aimed at keeping the Carbosulcis coal mine open.

There was one other thing these nations born of the British Empire shared.  Judeo-Christian values.  They lived by the Ten Commandments.  And the Golden Rule.  The good Christians of the British Empire followed the teachings of Christ.  “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  These Judeo-Christian values went hand-in-hand with free market capitalism.  It’s what made us choose to live by the rule of law.  To honor the contracts we made with one another.  To voluntarily enter economic exchanges instead of just stealing and pillaging our neighbors.

Money doesn’t have value.  It’s a temporary storage of value.  It is our human capital that has value.  Our ability to create things that have value.  Things that other people will voluntarily enter into economic exchanges to trade for with things of value they created.  Whether it be a physical good.  Or money from a paycheck they earned creating value for an employer who uses it to produce a service or good.

Capitalists don’t worship money.  For money only makes those economic exchanges more efficient.  By eliminating the search costs of the barter system.  It’s human capital that capitalists are interested in.  This is what they worship.  People.  Unlocking the latent talent in all of us.  To bring incredible things into existence.  Sanitation.  Waste water treatment plants.  New farming advancements.  Coal-fired power plants.  Things that allowed greater groups of people to live together in growing cities.  Where we have food, clean water and shelter.  Things we take for granted in capitalists nations.  Things that are luxuries in North Korea.  An anti-capitalist country that puts people before profits.  Where people worship the ruling dictator (primarily to avoid imprisonment, torture and death).  And the only people that do well are those close to the ruling power.

We don’t need a new financial system.  We just need to return to what it was before governments intervened into the free market economy to put people first.  Before we completely forget the Ten Commandments.  And the Golden Rule.  For once we use the power of government to nullify contracts to help their crony friends we no longer have a nation of laws.  But one of political favors.  Where the friends of power do well.  While those with no power live at the mercy of those in power.

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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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McDonald’s 2012 Annual Report

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 6th, 2013

History 101

The Benefit of a McDonald’s Franchise is getting the Benefit of their Years of Building their Brand

Recently a late-night comedy show attacked McDonald’s for being greedy.  Because they don’t pay their minimum wage workers a living wage.  Because what were once entry level jobs are now the primary support for some families.  And why have entry level jobs come to support families?  Because the anti-business policies of the current administration have destroyed better-paying jobs.  But they don’t attack that on late-night television.  They attack a company actually providing jobs in a jobless economy.

Today McDonald’s is huge.  You can find them pretty much anywhere in the world.  Which can be a welcome site for a weary traveler.  For they know they can walk into a McDonald’s wherever they are and have the comfort of a meal exactly like that at home.  Which is pretty amazing if you think about it.  And why McDonald’s is so successful.  The sight of those Golden Arches can attract a foreigner in a strange land or a construction worker on a new project in a distant city.  They know exactly what they can get at that McDonald’s.  What it will taste like.  And what it will cost.  Even if they’ve never been in that McDonald’s before.

This is because McDonald’s has very successfully built their brand.  Which is one of those intangible things.  It has great value.  But you can’t physically touch it.  Those who own a McDonald’s franchise can enjoy a thriving business.  From day one.  Without doing any marketing to get people to walk into their restaurant.  They don’t have to.  Because McDonald’s has already done it.  And continues to do it.  This is the benefit of the franchise.  You get the benefit of all those years of hard work McDonald’s did to build their brand by simply paying a franchise fee (see Restaurants and Franchises posted 8/5/2013 on Pithocrates).  It’s not cheap.   But it’s such a fair deal for both franchiser and franchisee that McDonald’s had 27,882 franchised stores in 2012 (see McDonald’s 2012 Annual Report, page 11).

Owning a McDonald’s Franchise allows you to own a Restaurant that has been Successfully in Business for 72 Years

In addition to the intangible value of the brand the franchise fee also includes rent.  For McDonald’s “owns the land and building or secures long-term leases” for the franchisee’s store (see McDonald’s 2012 Annual Report, page 11).  While the franchise needs to foot the bill for the “equipment, signs, seating and décor.”  This makes sure all stores are modern and up to date and uniform.  Helping to maintain that comfortable familiarity for the customers.  While splitting the capital costs between the franchisee and franchiser.  So both parties have a major investment in the business.  And each shares in the profits of the business.  Perhaps the best of the deal for the franchisee is getting a mentor.  And a detailed operating manual telling them everything they need to know and do.

Owning a McDonald’s franchise is costly.  But you get to step into a restaurant that has been successfully in business for 72 years.  Give or take.  Considering that half of all restaurants fail within the first five years of business this is a HUGE benefit for the franchisee.  And something well worth the franchise fee.  As evidenced by 27,882 franchised stores in 2012.  So what is that franchise fee?  And how much money does the franchisee get to keep after paying the franchise fee?

Well, if you do a little number crunching with the financials included in the 2012 annual report you can get an approximate number.  McDonald’s also has stores they own and operate.  In 2012 they had 6,598 company-owned stores.  The average per store revenue was $1,358,594 (calculated by dividing the total revenue from the company-owned stores by the number of company-owned stores).  A similar calculation gives an approximate $667,205 franchise fee per franchised store.  Subtracting the typical franchisee fee from the typical store revenue (assuming all stores have the same average revenue as the company-owned stores) gives the franchisee an annual income of $691,389.  From this income the franchisee has to pay for food, labor and overhead.  And whatever is left over is profit.

High School Kids and College Students work at McDonald’s because they need no prior Restaurant Experience

The rule of thumb in restaurants is that costs are broken down into thirds.  One third is food cost.  One third is labor cost.  And one third is overhead and profit.  So if we divide that $691,389 by 3 we get an annual food cost per franchised store of $230,463.  Ditto for labor.  And overhead (gas, electric, water, insurances, taxes, licenses, fees, waste disposal, light bulbs, toilet paper, soap, garbage bags, etc.) and profit.  Let’s look at the labor cost more closely.  To see if McDonald’s is greedy when it comes to paying their employees.

The benefit of owning a franchise is that it comes with very explicit instructions.  A McDonald’s distributor delivers prepared food ready for the grill and fryer.  As delicious as it is, though, it doesn’t take a highly skilled chef to prepare it.  As the franchisee operating manual has it down to a science.  Which is why high school kids and college students work at McDonald’s.  They need no prior restaurant experience as it is an entry level job.  Typically their first job.  Where they learn what it’s like entering the workforce.  The importance of being on time.  Following instructions.  Being responsible.  Skills that they will use in later jobs.  Which most do.  As there is a high turnover of employees at McDonald’s as there is for all fast food.  Because these are entry level jobs for unskilled workers.  Who learn the skills they need on the job.  So let’s assume a restaurant that is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  Assuming an hourly rate of $8.50 and an overhead of 40% for direct labor costs (workers’ compensation insurance, unemployment taxes, health insurance, uniforms, training, etc.) the average hourly labor cost comes to $11.90.  Dividing the labor cost of $230,463 by this hourly cost gives us 15,758 annual labor hours.  Or about 53.06 hours per day.  Or 17.69 hours per 8-hour shift.  Giving us an average of 2.21 workers per 8-hour shift.

During the breakfast and lunch rush a typical McDonald’s may have between 5-8 people working.  With fewer working in the evening.  And a skeleton crew over night working the drive-thru.  So the labor fluctuates during the day to correspond to the amount of business.  Which is why there are a lot of part-time workers at McDonald’s.  Ideal for high school and college kids.  In addition the owner typically works during those busy periods to help with the rush.  And works on paperwork during the slower times.  Putting in about 12 hours a day.  If you assume an overhead rate of 18% and multiply that to the franchisee annual income of $691,389 we get an overhead expense of $124,450.  Subtracting that from the $230,463 (overhead & profit) leaves an annual owner income of $106,013.  Or, based on a work week of 84 hours (12 hours a day X 7 days a week), the owner earns about $24.27 an hour.  A rate a lot of people can earn working for someone else without the headaches of owning a business.

That late-night comedy show attacked McDonald’s for being greedy.  Saying they should increase their pay rate to a living rate.  Like picketers were asking for.  $15/hour.  A labor cost increase of 82.6%.  Or an additional $190,382 each year.  Which would bring the franchisee’s annual income from $106,013 to an annual loss of $84,369.  So are these McDonald’s franchisees greedy because they refuse to pay a living wage?  No.  They simply can’t afford to pay more than the minimum wage for these minimum wage jobs.  Unless they can get people to spend $6-$7 for a Big Mac.  They are delicious.  But are they $6-$7 delicious?  And can a low-income family afford to take the family to McDonald’s when they are charging $6-$7 per burger?  Probably not.  No.  McDonald’s is just fine.  What we need to do is to un-do the anti-business policies of this administration that is killing those higher-paying jobs.  And forcing the primary earner in some families to work a minimum wage job.  Because that’s all that is available in this jobless economy.

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Roman Denarius, New World Gold and Silver, American Continental and German Mark

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 25th, 2013

History 101

Money that is not Scarce is a Poor Temporary Storage of Wealth

They say money doesn’t grow on trees.  And it’s a good thing it doesn’t.  For money is a temporary storage of wealth.  It temporarily stores value.  And one if its attributes is that it has to be scarce.  For example, let’s say you are a highly skilled tomato grower.  And you work in your garden 12 hours each day weeding, fertilizing, watering, tying, pruning, etc., your many fields of tomato plants.  Producing beautiful tomatoes that everyone just loves.  You love your tomatoes so much that you actually gave up your day job to grow them full time.  And support your family with the proceeds from selling your tomatoes.  Which you will exchange with others for money.  Provided that money is scarce.  And will hold the value of your tomatoes.  Until you can exchange that money for something you want.

Now let’s assume money grows on trees.  Anyone can plant one in their backyard.  And it grows like a weed.  That is, you don’t have to fertilize it or water it or do anything else for it.  And anytime you want something you just walk to your money tree and pick the bills you need.  We would never have to work again if we all had money trees in our backyard.  Wouldn’t that be great?  Or would it?  What would happen if everyone quit working because they, too, had a money tree in their backyard?  If no one worked then there would be nothing to buy with the money from your money tree.

But there is another problem.  If everyone had a money tree there would be such much money in circulation that it would no longer be scarce.  And if it’s not scarce it isn’t money.  It isn’t a temporary storage of wealth.  It won’t temporarily store value.  Because someone that has something of value, say delicious tomatoes, won’t want to trade them for something that he or she can just pick off of his own money tree.  Instead, he or she would rather trade those tomatoes for something that does have value.  Like, say, mozzarella cheese.  So a skilled cheese-maker and the skilled tomato-grower can meet to trade things of value with each other.  Tomatoes and mozzarella cheese.  And then each can make a delicious Caprese salad.  Which also has value.  Unlike money that grows on trees that anybody can pick whenever they want to.  Filling the world with people with lots of money but nothing to buy.  Because no one works to grow or make anything.

When Spain brought back New World Gold and Silver it unleashed Inflation in the Old World

For anything to be money it must be scarce.  Just think of the laws of supply and demand.  If there are droughts all summer long farmers have smaller harvests.  Which raises the price of what they bring to market.  Because demand is greater than the supply.  If there was a great growing season they have bumper crops.  Which lowers the price of what they bring to market.  Because supply is greater than demand.  So the scarcer something is the more valuable it is.  And so it is with money.

The main Roman coin was the silver denarius.  As the Roman Empire reached its zenith her borders stopped moving out.  The Roman legions stopped conquering new lands.  And without new conquest there were no spoils to send back to Rome.  So the Romans had to raise taxes to pay for the cost of empire.  The administration of it.  The protection of it.  And a growing welfare state to keep the people content.  To help with these great expenditures they began to debase the denarius.  Mixing more and more lead into the coin.  Reducing the silver content.  So they could make more coins with the available silver.  Thus making these coins less scarce.  And less valuable.  Unleashing an inflation so bad that it devalued the denarius so much that no amount of them could buy anything.   Eventually even the Roman government would refuse to accept it in payment of taxes.  Demanding gold instead.  Or payment in kind.

When Spain arrived in the New World they found a lot of gold and silver.  Which Europeans used as money in the Old World.  The Spanish brought so much gold and silver back to the Old World that it greatly expanded the money supply.  Making gold and silver less scarce.  And less valuable.  Requiring more of it to buy the things it once bought.  So prices rose.  Because of the inflation of the money supply.

The War Reparations the Versailles Treaty imposed on Germany led to their Hyperinflation

During the American Revolution there was little specie (i.e., gold and silver coin) in the colonies.  As wars are expensive this made it difficult to finance the war.  The Continental Congress asked for contributions from the states.  And could only hope the states would give them some money.  For they had no taxing powers.  But they never were able to raise enough money.  So they borrowed what they could.  And then started printing paper money.  The continental.  But they printed so many of them that they were far from scarce.  The massive inflation devalued the continental so much that it created the expression “not worth a continental.”  Which meant something was absolutely worthless.  The people would refuse to accept them as legal tender from the Continental Army because they were worthless pieces of paper.  So the army took what they needed from the people.  And gave them IOUs that Congress would settle at some later date.

The Germans paid for World War I by borrowing money.  The increased debt of the nation during the war devalued the currency.  The German mark.  It took more and more of them to exchange for stronger currencies.  Like the U.S. dollar.  The Versailles Treaty that ended the war saddled Germany with the responsibility for the war.  And made them pay enormous amounts of war reparations.  In gold.  Or foreign currency.  So the Germans turned up the printing presses.  And printed marks like there was no tomorrow.  Making them less scarce.  And worth less.  It took more and more of them to exchange for foreign currency to make their reparation payments.  But they didn’t care what the exchange rate was.  For whatever amount of devalued marks they needed to exchange they just turned to their printing presses.  And printed whatever they needed.  This rapid inflation devalued the mark more.  Requiring them to print more.  Which just fed into the inflation.  Eventually bringing on a hyperinflation where it took enormous amounts of marks to buy anything.  For example, it was cheaper and easier to burn marks than it was to buy firewood to burn.

Anytime you make money less scarce you make it worth less.  The inflation of the money supply devalues the currency.  Which raises prices.  Because it takes more of the devalued currency to buy what it once did before the inflation.  So expanding the money supply leads to price inflation.  Good if you’re a rich investor.  But if you’re someone just trying to buy firewood to keep from freezing to death during the winter?  Not so good.  The Romans, the Europeans, the Americans and the Germans all suffered from bad inflation.  Some worse than others.  If the inflation is so bad, such as in the case of hyperinflation, people may lose all confidence in the currency.  And simply stop using it.  Going to a barter system instead.  Like when a tomato-grower trades his tomatoes for a cheese-maker’s mozzarella cheese.

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