Money and Mind

 

Here’s a note from Protocol, a tech newsletter:

“Three hundred and thirty-one billion dollars. That’s how much revenue the five biggest companies in tech — Amazon, Apple, Alphabet, Microsoft and Facebook — brought in over the last three months. Here’s some Very Sophisticated Analysis: That’s a lot of money.”

The total GDP for the United States in 2020 was $19,278,194.2 million or simplified 19 trillion and change. Doing the math, the big tech companies made 6.8 percent of all the money made in the US economy in a year. We’re familiar with the impact of a pandemic. This is a techdemic.

In a capitalist system, profit must make more profit even if it has to consume other profit sources to sustain growth; the street term is ‘grow or die’. The tech companies have had enough influence to avoid their greatest enemy – antitrust. Each tech company, and we can include huge entertainment corporations like Disney, must continue to buy up control of larger and larger and more diverse businesses not only to avoid competition but to sustain larger profits.

Mariner doesn’t know anyone who can fix this. Just thought you should know.

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On the mind front, Netflix has a series called ‘The Mind Explained’. It is an informal approach to how memory, dreams and other mind phenomena work. If one follows the episode about memory, one comes away realizing that the mind is designed to help make our best decisions under the circumstances and does not retain unbiased or even truthful histories of our lives. The mind simply decides ‘this is who I am and given this existential situation, this is what I’ll do.’ Our mind certainly is no computer but certainly more complex.

Ancient Mariner

 

Progress for Civilization

Here’s an interesting side note: Bill Gates is the largest farm owner in the United States. Ol’ farmer Bill.

Gates and his wife have acquired more than 269,000 acres of farm in the United States in the past 10 years. Those purchases, made with the help of the Washington-based firm Cascade Investment and a number of shell companies, include farmland in nearly 20 states that cultivate vegetables such as carrots, soybeans, and potatoes (some of which end up in McDonald’s French fries). These details come after the agriculture outlet The Land Report reported in January that the tech billionaire and his wife were the country’s top private farmland owners in the country. An NBC News analysis also identified Gates as the largest farmland owner in the US.

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The launch of Jeff Bezos is a new scale in bad taste – not to mention that Richard Branson looked any better. It is a sign that massive, really massive resources that are needed in the real world are not applied correctly. Mariner’s opinion is that capitalism must, must pursue greater profits or fail – but those profits are stolen from the lifeblood of a society whose resources have run out.

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It appears there will be no more reprieves for the nation’s roughly 8 million households behind on their rent and mortgage payments. According to U.S. Census Bureau estimates, more than 4 million of those households face the likelihood of eviction in the next two months. Add this fact to the fact that housing for anyone is hard to find; add the impact on the twenty-somethings looking for anything they can afford and add the fact that plain and simple, there aren’t enough physical, actual homes to go around.

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Oh well, there’s a scant chance that some bridges and highways may be repaired. Mariner thinks he will run over to Misty’s and get a milkshake.

Ancient Mariner

How to have a balanced economy

֎ AXIOS distributed a concise and clear statement about why world population rates are dropping. It is a quality statement about a topic that doesn’t get much news coverage but can be a significant interpretation of social response to unsympathetic governments. It is typical that economic health is measured by GDP, inflation, and stock markets but the Axios article suggests that it is the condition of the population that determines the efficiency of a given economic philosophy. Some excerpts:

Why world population is slowing – Population growth is continuing to slow in the U.S. and China . . . Why it matters: Population growth spurs economic growth because it can increase innovation, workers and goods produced and consumed . . . What’s happening: U.S. immigration, life expectancy and fertility are all trending down.

We focus way too much on percent growth like quarterly GDP. We should think about what people want. What level of immigration people want. What age would people like to die.

Americans still want multiple children, but they’re worried about child care costs, their own student debt and a pause in their careers . . .

China has relaxed restrictions on the number of children families can now have. But the new policy seeks more to bolster the workforce than to promote population: The Chinese Communist Party is also raising the country’s retirement age, curtailing a key source of child care . . .

The bottom line: If countries want population growth to pick up, leaders must first fix underlying causes of the slowdown, including cost of child care and fear of immigration.

֎ From his lofty spot in the esoteric atmosphere, Guru suggests that the problems confronting nations in the 21st century will not subside until it is understood that political theories work best only in tailored economic situations. Guru said:

COMMUNISM works best in primitive conditions where authority is based on contributing to the wellbeing of other citizens and the economy is sustained solely by local labor and predictability. If one watches any of the homesteading shows on television they are watching classic communist behavior. Dictatorships that call themselves communist nations are misleading. Even the term ‘nation’ is stretching the concept. The reader may remember the commune movement in the US during the 60’s and 70’s but it failed because the surrounding economy was too sophisticated.

CAPITALISM works best when authority is based on assuring the freedom of all citizens to compete for available resources – but this works well only in economic conditions where there are plenty of resources to go around. The US was created at a time when an entire continent of unused resources was available and the expansion of worldwide economic resources was exploding as new places were discovered around the world. Capitalism was the perfect economy to scarf up resources at a geometric rate making the US the richest nation in the world. Alas, these resources have been depleted; in the 21st century there no longer are enough resources to go around for everyone. The population is too large to have everyone freely compete for resources.

SOCIALISM works best when authority assures equality among the citizens and the economy is stable and predictable. The Native Americans sustained a socialist economy for thousands of years because the resources, especially on the plains and seacoasts, were stable and predictable – until the capitalist authority killed all the buffalo, beavers, doves and destroyed important estuaries.

AUTHORITARIANISM works best when authority enforces social order in an economy that is inadequate or out of balance with the existing authoritative role. Once authoritarianism is in place it is difficult to remove; authoritarianism has no scruples other than power – just like Lord Acton said in 1887.

There are many other variations on the four basic economic philosophies. Corporatism is a style of capitalism; plutocracy is a form of capitalism; militarism is a variation of authoritarianism; Sheikdoms, China’s communist party and monarchies all are variations of authoritarianism. Tribalism, populism, classism, insurrection and other social movements can become significant and derail unbalanced economies – often allowing authoritarianism to emerge.

To use an allegory, consider the tight wire walker. The walker is authority, the wire is population and the long balance pole is economy. If the wire and the pole aren’t in sync, the situation becomes unstable.

Ancient Mariner

Another Road Metaphor

The authoritarian revolt of the belligerent right still deserves our attention and requires some serious effort to contain the movement. Whether the electorate understands that movement’s threat to the constitutional government known as the United States of America will be shown in the results of the 2022 election. Aggressive authoritarian behavior is a failed consequence of many different economic and cultural changes.

While we keep one eye on the fires started in the last century we must keep the other eye on the road to the future. Another form of authoritarianism is corporatism. If we don’t manage the road properly, the division between the few wealthy and the many poor will become wider and more adverse, perhaps even superseding the role of government – which many claim is already happening. Many of the business regulations and institutions that were created in the last century are virtually irrelevant in this new world of computers and instant communication. The entire perspective about antitrust must be reconstructed. Further, one nation can no longer control an international corporation. It will require a new set of international laws.

Riding the road into the future already is heavy laden with issues. One issue that should be left on the curb is racism. Many millennials and most Zs don’t have this issue. Older folk should just be done with racism and move on – there’s not enough energy for all the issues let alone worrying about skin color.

This is made more complex by domestic police departments which have been trained in abusive racism for generations. Decommissioning a militarized police force will be difficult. It must be done or a significant portion of our society will be stunted as we ride the road into the future.

Just as old or older than everything else is the concept of taxation. Mariner’s old saw about the plains indians whose hunters shared their hunting success with the tribe doesn’t exist in American capitalism. As a consequence the billionaires who hunt money sit on untold trillions of dollars that, from a societal point of view, simply gather dust. Taxation – especially in times when labor jobs are disappearing – should redistribute a significant amount of the hoarded wealth to help pave the road into the future.

So, let’s hop on our hover boards and get moving down the road. Uncross your eyes; it was a bad metaphor.

Ancient Mariner

A New Sport for These Times

Does the reader remember the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)? Twelve nations, primarily along the Pacific Ocean, negotiated a trade agreement. The nations were:

United States • Singapore • Brunei • New Zealand • Chile • Australia • Peru • Vietnam • Malaysia • Mexico • Canada • Japan

The TPP was based on a unique concept that each member nation was assured a commensurate share of income based on the Gross Domestic Product of the partnership. Earlier trade, tax and tariff arrangements were modified to accommodate this unique idea of international partnership instead of international balance of trade.

There were progressive economic concepts in the agreement but there were many loopholes that benefited corporate interests above national interests.[1] While the language touted liberal issues like environment, labor rights and humanist politics, there were just as many backdoor caveats that would permit corporate participants to ignore the ‘nice’ language. A good description of the new trade relationship was that nations were investors in the partnership, not traders.

For the United States, this was all for naught when Congress dragged its feet and Donald officially withdrew in 2017. Nevertheless, the new partnership was signed by the remaining eleven nations in 2018 and became the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership.

A characteristic of these agreements is that while there are direct economic benefits for being part of a team instead of constantly manipulating trade and tariff, it is more difficult to shift national politics or apply sanctions to other members of the partnership. Unlike today’s supply and demand free-for-all, being part of a supply partnership introduces permanence to international economics – meaning that whichever partnership has the most important partners, the more likely that partnership will dominate the global economy.

Another aspect is that a partnership needs one partner that is large enough to sustain the overall economy for all the nations in the agreement. There are only three nations that can fill this role: China, the United States and possibly India. The economic ballast needed for a successful partnership requires one partner that has global dominance in GDP, population and land mass. Corporations already know this and have constructed supply chains that depend on one massive corporation to sustain the chain. Amazon, Walmart and Google are examples.

Now that the reader has suffered through the rules for the sport for these times, the sport is which of the three anchor nations (China, US and India) can build partnerships with the most nations, the best nations and the nations with the best natural resources in the shortest amount of time? The winner will dominate the global economy for a long time.

The game already is in play:

China understands the concept; in 2013 China started its Belt and Road project using infrastructure as an international connection between 70 nations and intends to dominate politically and militarily as well as economically. The US along with the G7 nations belatedly introduced its own Belt and Road plan; Joe Biden hopes the plan, known as the Build Back Better World (B3W) initiative, will provide a transparent infrastructure partnership to help narrow the $40 trillion needed by developing nations by 2035.

Ancient Mariner

 

[1] To keep this post from becoming a book, if the reader has further interest just type TPP in your search engine – much has been written pro and con.

Trends

Folks tend to look for clues about climate change in weather patterns. It is true that climates are shifting but on a seasonal basis it is hard to measure how much is change and how much is typical variability. The global indicators, melting glaciers, ocean temperatures and melting permafrost are a more direct way to measure change. All indications are that global warming is accelerating, to wit:

The Washington Post reports that Antarctica’s Pine Island Glacier, a river of ice large enough to raise sea levels by 1.6 feet, was already among the fastest-melting glaciers in the world. Now scientists have found that the ice mass is flowing even more rapidly.

Further, Siberia is experiencing active permafrost melt on a grand scale. Some prognosticators suggest that by the end of the century Russia will make more from wheat exports than it does from oil today.

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Mariner has mentioned often that the United States is in the long, painful death throes of Reaganism. Causes are a changing world, changing environment, changing technology and new economic structures. What is trending at the moment is Republican autocracy. Will manipulation of the elections be enough to sustain the twentieth century into the twenty-first?

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Speaking of economics, a growingly obvious trend is the shrinking of Europe’s role in world economics. Europe has tended toward smaller business models; for example, Apple has a larger net value than the top 30 firms in Europe. Perhaps its history of smaller nations and many economies has led Europe to this preference but as a result, there will be only two global business leaders: China and the United States – perhaps, with luck, India. The global trend definitely is toward international, multimarket corporations who will anchor worldwide supply chains similar to Amazon.

The government role is to develop supply chain style arrangements between nations. One new example of this is an agreement by the G7 to levy a worldwide 15 percent tax on corporations to prevent corporations from avoiding taxes by moving operations to the nation with the least tax.

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Several news items have been about seafood. It seems the warming oceans have had an effect on everything from seals and whales to lobsters and commercial fishing species. From Science Magazine:

“… basically what we found all over the ocean, wherever we had data, is that the abundance of large fish, in terms of numbers and weight, were ten times higher originally than they are now. That is, that what we’re left is one-tenth of the original number and weight of large, large fish.”

Here in the United States it already has been noted several years ago that the ‘Maine’ lobster has moved on to other locations.

Ancient Mariner

Everything is the same but different.

Last Friday on an early, Way To Early, news show there was a piece about how manufacturers were resizing products to compensate for rising production costs rather than raising prices and lose customers. It has a term: ‘shrink-flation’. Demonstrated were toilet paper, potato chips and ice cream, which had fewer sheets, less weight and smaller capacity respectively. Shoppers have been taught to read labels for health reasons; now they must school themselves on size by learning how many grams in a quart or a pound and beware of count in artificial sugar packets; the price doesn’t change.

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Turning to a more sociological vein, everyone agrees the United States is having an identity crisis. It is difficult to know how to handle the situation. For the common citizen, it seems only to be a mish-mash of conflict and pointing fingers. The citizen truly is in the depths of the trenches and even trenches within trenches. How does a citizen gain perspective so that reasonable evaluation can be made?

Learn some facts. Mariner knows this is a tall order for the electorate but if a rational path to recovery is to be available, one must check history for similar situations. Sorry, electorate.

In place of buying textbooks, use Wikipedia to collect information – and make a donation while you’re at it. Search for information on the cause of the French Revolution, the Magna Carta, the Luddite rebellion and the rise of Nazi government (including persecution of Jews) in Germany. Clues for why there were national identity issues may involve financial security of the masses, oppression, racism, power wars and concentration of wealth.

For starters find something in these events comparable to wage freezes for forty years; find something that represents too much cash for the well-to-do; find something that erased major chunks of job availability; find something where power blocks competed too much for the good of the nation. Once historical information has been gained, how were these issues resolved?

Vote accordingly.

Ancient Mariner

The Money Rodeo

Covid, shelter-in, election turmoil, Afghanistan, Brexit, China, impeachments, perhaps these things still are unresolved but at least we’ve had a chance to beat them with sticks and throw stones, pushing them into some kind of partial remission. There is time now to take a quick shower, put on some clean clothes and prepare for the next item in the national job jar: managing money.

News outlets are covering the party debate about Joe Biden’s infrastructure bill; the sport of legislation will be headlines for a while. Slowly emerging into electorate awareness, however, are the issues of government spending, taxes, user fees and inflation. These are the bucking bulls behind the battle over bridges and health care. Some bucking broncos are bank and investment regulations, bitcoin, and climate change just to mention a few money issues. The rodeo clowns still are putting on a show, that is, everything Trump, McConnell, McCarthy and Gaetz but the main events will take over quickly.

The main attraction is inflation. It is devastating to the value of the dollar bill in our wallets. Economists, both political and institutional, see inflation taking off and running because the US government has – or will – dump $6 trillion dollars into the general economy (6 includes Trump’s contribution). An extremely brief description of how inflation works is “If there is so much money around, then you can afford to pay $10 for this hamburger instead of $4.”

The problem is that common citizens don’t receive salary increases commensurate with the rate of inflation. Everything is subject to inflation from toilet paper to homes and automobiles. Mariner experienced the 1970 inflation by having a pleasant salary that over ten years became a meager one that required him to shift careers. During the 70s the Consumer Price Index (how much things cost) went from 37.8 to 76.7, cutting in half what that dollar in the wallet could buy.

The second attraction is taxes and fees. These actions slow the possibility of inflation to a degree. Biden has said no one with an income below $400 thousand will receive a tax increase; he intends for the wealthy to pay for infrastructure and health services instead of spending government debt money. It can’t be denied that very wealthy citizens are sitting on a pile of money that isn’t doing anything for the economy but republicans don’t want to raise taxes at all. Instead, they prefer that government spending be offset by user fees (an attempt to hide the fact that ‘fees’ actually are taxes applied to specific purchases like gasoline, tolls and utility services) – meaning that the general population foots the bill.

The next two issues of extreme financial importance are regulations to restrict banks to what banks are for and to push them back from ventures into Amazon-like partnerships and credit card manipulations; the other issue is automation of finances generally, that is, replacing the dollar in your wallet with the state of an electron in a computer somewhere.

Finally, climate change will impact everything – everything! Whole industries may disappear as well as whole cities. Climate change is like a very, very, very slow hurricane. There is no doubt all the other money issues will be affected.

Put your chaps and spurs on – the legislators will need guidance.

Ancient Mariner

Democracy at risk

This morning Guru seemed a bit apprehensive. He is concerned about global readiness for democracies around the world, especially for the United States. It is obvious that authoritarian governments like China, Saudi-Arabia, the ‘Stans in south Asia and mob governments like Russia and Turkey – all can move more quickly than democracy while disregarding human rights and truly collaborative economics.

On the other hand, many democracies, especially in South America and nations around the Pacific Rim are at the edge of economic failure, some even facing national bankruptcy. Many democracies are in worse social condition than the US appears to be as riots and government distrust encourage populism.

These democratic nations are waiting for the United States to create an economic solution that will restore democracy as the way to a sound existence.

Taiwan has been in the news recently as a democratic nation under increasing threat of a Chinese military invasion. Taiwan is a firm ally of the US and is a gem to be owned because they are the largest producer of microchips in the world. If the reader has kept up with real news (hard to find) they know there is a global shortage of microchips which likely will grow larger as the world adapts to artificial intelligence.

Recently there was a meeting of many democracies in Copenhagen. Bravely in defiance of Chinese storm clouds, Taiwan has addressed the issue of democratic unity head-on. From the Politico Newsletter:

TAIWAN — WE MUST COLLABORATE TO UPHOLD RULES-BASED ORDER: President Tsai told the Copenhagen Democracy Summit this morning that she is looking forward to Biden’s summit for democracy (a clear sign she expects to be invited), and urged the EU to “restart negotiation on a bilateral investment agreement” with her country, in light of the collapse of a draft EU-China investment agreement.

“Taiwan’s response to Covid-19 shows how pandemics can be contained without curtailing democratic freedoms … we are determined never to surrender these freedoms,” Tsai said, adding “it is imperative that we collaborate to secure our supply chains and safeguard the global economic order.”

The United States is not prepared to step up to its role as the democratic leader of world democracies. Unfortunately, the moment is fleeting; autocracies do not wait and are destructive in the process.

The news that is marketed in the US [Yes, marketed, a thorn in mariner’s side – news is a public service and should not be a profit center] is all about 1980 Reagan economics; pundits are using words similar to supply and demand, runaway inflation, keep corporate and private equity taxes low, and stop paying a dole to pandemic victims because they won’t come back to work – but don’t raise the minimum wage. All these arguments are virtually irrelevant in today’s economic circumstances and reek of political attitudes that long ago became inadequate.

In a recent post mariner expressed joy about a move by the Biden administration to visit Guatemala to see if the US could help that nation restructure its failing government and somehow generate a GDP for its citizens – an alternative solution to separating children from parents. This gesture is a form of supply chain dependency where democratic nations bond together and share an economic partnership rather than depending on twentieth century trade negotiations. Jeff Bezos understands this concept. Amazon is a business that depends on many businesses sharing a common outlet, that is to say, a supply chain.

Internationally, the US needs to be more like Amazon.

Ancient Mariner

Environment

We humans have become increasingly aware that we live in an environment not as a dominating owner but simply as just another renter who tends to trash the apartment. Perhaps it’s the global warming issue that helps with human awareness; perhaps it’s the growing scarcity of food resources for the planet; perhaps it’s the cost to farmers when they plow the soil which strips the fields of all nutrients and plants, especially in regions where there are strong winds that carry away the soil farmers just tilled and fertilized and put weed killer down – producing poor yield in the fall.

Evidence of growing awareness is all about. TV broadcasts about gardening, farming, waste management, and collaborative sharing with the environment are frequent. Extension agencies, libraries and garden clubs sponsor programs about collaborative gardening. Mariner has a relative whose hobby is planting colorful plants around the base of trees along New York streets; mariner has a friend who has decided to let violets stay in the lawn. And mariner himself is tinkering with a number of collaborative projects in his own garden.
֎ One example is the cursed Creeping Charlie, a very rapidly spreading weed that defies elimination. It still is a killing pest in the lawns but in some garden beds mariner has decided to experiment with Creeping Charlie as the ground cover to keep other weeds out and at the same time add to the décor of the garden. It turns out that Charlie has taken hold of his new job with relish. Not even the dreaded crabgrass can sprout beneath a robust covering of Creeping Charlie. In fact, mariner is saving money because he doesn’t have to buy mulch for those areas.

֎ Another experiment is mariner’s tolerance of a rambunctious mole. He must protect against the mole’s burrowing in vegetable beds where seedlings are emerging but otherwise he has let the mole venture about. Tolerance by the mariner is an experiment to see how many Japanese beetle grubs can be eaten; mariner has many fruit and ornamental trees on a property surrounded on all sides by large concrete pads and accompanying large garages. All beetles come to mariner’s garden.

An unexpected reward is the mole gradually aerates the lawn. Typically, a lawn keeper occasionally will need to rent an aerating device to pull plugs from the lawn so it can grow and accept water. Mariner keeps his lawn a bit high (another anti-weed collaboration rather than performing the typical buzz cut) so the lumps from the mole burrowing aren’t noticeable.

Mariner has mentioned in past posts that his town has lawn Nazis. It is of a different spirit, certainly not one of collaboration with nature but comparatively speaking takes more time, labor and cash to maintain. This difference between collaboration with and dominance of nature has existed throughout history from the first scraping of the ground to cast wheat seeds to the large open mining pits and deliberate elimination of forests today.

In just a few years many farmers have proven that any way to collaborate with the environment is more productive, less expensive, saves waste and is good for surrounding atmosphere, water and wildlife. One common practice by farmers that has been implemented for many decades is a natural easement by creeks and rivers rather than plowing closer to the water’s edge.[1] It is entertaining to work with nature as a partner – both existentially and philosophically. What projects does the reader have?

Ancient Mariner

 

[1] An excellent documentary on collaborative farming, ‘Kiss the Ground’, is available on Netflix but the reader must search ‘The Littlest Farm’ – the title is in error. The Littlest Farm also is an excellent film about how a family uses nature to transform virtual wasteland into a productive farm but mariner could find it only as a rental or purchase. 3 minute trailers are available online for both films.