Thursday, September 30, 2010

What does a Strong Dollar Policy Mean?

What does a Strong Dollar Policy Mean?
by Alex Merced

 We always hear that the US has a "Strong Dollar Policy" yet all we see from the federal reserve is constant pump priming and quantitative easing. The purpose of the devaluation of currencies by different nations is to increase exports by leveraging the relative purchasing power of foreign consumers from the devaluation. The fundamental problem with this is that the increase in exports will cause the currency to appreciate again meaning more devaluation must occur. What's going on here is not one country selling another country goods it wants or needs but instead selling what they have by discounting those goods via currency devaluation. It might as well be a liquidation sale but to discount these goods they are also marking up all goods for people domestically which erases any gains from those exports and if probably even makes things worse.

 The way to a strong dollar is not to have policy based on a strong dollar but to focus on what anyone should focus on, producing value for others through enterprise and innovation. A country's people and currency prospers from the demand for it's production through exports and consumption from imports (the latter is only sustainable if the former exists). Because of mal-investment in education and housing as I've discussed before we're seeing drop in the skills necessary to bring back the innovation needed to restore demand for our production. Due to the industrialization of other countries who's moved further in the process of capital accumulation, their citizenry are now consuming global goods more and more reducing the demand for our consumption especially since we produce little they want. Little by little we are bringing ourselves to irrelevance in the global economy and until we understand that the creative forces needed to correct this can only be achieved through Liberty and a Free Market which Market prices we are doomed become an afterthought.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Bill Clinton Visits the Daily Show

Bill Clinton Visits the Daily Show
by Alex Merced

(This is in Reference To This interview on the Daily Show)

 In former President Bill Clintons appearance on the popular satirical news show "The Daily Show" I had to say I was very surprised at Clintons candidness. Clinton, shockingly enough somewhat understood the problems that are preventing the economy from moving foward much better than any Keynes following demand sider I've heard so far. I'm not saying that all of the suddent Bill Clintons an ally or fellow traveler, on the contrary he's very far from what I would remotley call a friend of Free Markets. In that I'd like to respond to many of his points and clarify some of his mistakes.

Worker Mobility

This is actually something I discussed on my series on labor economics, you can read what I wrote about worker mobility here. While Cliton ackowledged that the problem isn't the lack of jobs but the lack of qualified and geographically available labor (the local people don't have the rights skills, and the ones that do are stuck in houses they can't sell). Although what he doesn't venture into is why we have this gap in mobility and skills, cause it then dims the picture on his major policy recommendation... government guaranteed loans.

It's cause of the implicit government guarantees on Freddie/Fannie loans, and the explicit guarantee on Ginnie debt that was the major catalyst for many of these people stuck in these homes which they now can't sell and are less valueable than the loans they took due to price bubbles caused by government guaranteed loans. Easy

It cause of the government guarantee of Sallie May debt that so many people can more easily and painlessly pay lavish tuitions at schools and walk away with degrees in which they learned very few if any practical skills in recession  (My Bachelors is in Popular Culture Studies) and not skills that offer versatility in a changing job market (copywriting, data analysis, marketing, visual arts, programming/web design).

I'm not saying there is no value in a degree in something like ethnic studies and popular culture, but the risk in entering and succeeding in those fields is similar to that of joining the NBA. Essentially, like anything else easy money makes it easy for people to take more risk than they would usually take, if people had to pay higher rates on their loans or didn't get other types of financial aid they'd be more prudent in developing their skills (they'd still minor in their interest, but more than likely major in something like marketing or visual arts which is used in ALL industries). I can attest to this since I would of probably stuck with my original major, Computer Programming, if I was not on a scholarship. Actually I probably would've went to a local community college and transferred later on which would be the more prudent decision.

Bottom Line, since students were willing to take more risk in which skills to invest their education dollars you had a mal-investment or bubble in degrees which could not yield a return on the investment which results in a over supply of labor for some things and shortage of supply for other things. This is essentially mini occurances of the Austrian Business Cycle (easy credit leads to mal-investment which leads to market corrections).

So what would one expect if Bill Clinton had his way and Government Guaranteed loans were made for Small Businesses (it already happens under SBA, Clinton only wants to expand SBA). You'd have more small businesses starting which for sure would create jobs, but only some of those jobs would be sustainable since many of these new businesses might have risky business models that were made possible by this government guarantee (the bank wouldn't loan to a risky model naturally, so the entrepeneur would have adjust his model). The sustainable jobs that are created would've existed anyways since these companies have sound business models that would be able to be capitalized normally. Of the businesses that normally would have not gotten loans only a small chunk might survive which doesn't justify the mis-allocation of investment in the ones that don't survive which then taxpayers foot the bill for.

Construction Jobs

Clinton goes on to talk about green infrastructure and construction jobs because construction is where the most unemployment is (cause the bubble was in housing construction, so many people forgoes developing other skills to participate in the glut of construction demand at the time). Although using the same mechanism of guaranteed loans to create construction jobs is the reason so many people were concentrated in those jobs and are now unemployed in the first place. The 25% unemployment in construction workers isn't a signal that this is an industry that needs stimulus, it's a result of the mal-investment from the housing bubble and sustaining it will make that number bigger in the long run when the bubble re-occurs and even more of the workforce if over-concentrated in construction.

Bottom Line

Tax Cuts for Small Businesses and deductions for particular expenditures is the equivalent of easy credit as far as human behavior, so the solution from the republicans isn't appetizing as well. Although, instead of trying to understand why the situation is what it is, Cliton uses the current state as justification that there is need of more the current government subsidies to different industries.

In Order for the economy return to a sustainable functioning economy, participants need the incentives to make sustainable decisions and that incentive is called "Risk". Loans, Deposits, Insurance, or anything else should not be guaranteed by taxpayer money, and if those moral hazards are removed then people at all levels will be more prudent which means lowering taxes and giving them their money back would make a whole lot of sense since the population will have the right environment to make the right decisions.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Creating Infrastructure for Private Regulation

Creating Infrastructure for Private Regulation
by Alex Merced

 Everyone on both sides of the aisle have empathy for consumers who are defrauded, swindled, and are tricked into entering trade under false premises. The debate isn't should there be mechanisms to protect and put oversight on the consumer market that'll help prevent these kind of problems, but what should the mechanism be?

 Those typically on the Right believe in the markets ability to take care of itself, and that firms that participate in fraud will eventually fail since they'll cannibalize their consumer base, and only legitimate reputable firms will exist when all is said and done that regulation of any form shouldn't exist cause it inhibits the level of competition that'll keep prices reasonable for consumers and allow pressure to keep firms honest.

 Those typically on the Left believe that even if this is true, the market will leave massive collateral damage in the wake of weeding out these fraudulent firms. They advocate regulating industries into "best practices" via government run regulatory monopolies also known as regulatory agencies. While this may have some effect on prices and the amount of competition, they feel the amount of confidence that consumers will have will outweigh the costs since consumers will feel safer to spend more.

The Problem with both of these positions

- The amount of collateral damage from having no mechanism for oversight can and will deter market confidence for sometimes long periods of time, which can create a society that is skeptical beyond necessity. This can actually inhibit the amount of investment and consumption in the economy.

- Centralized oversight from government monopolies are heavily subject political conflicts of interest and regulatory capture, and since there is no alternative it becomes the equivalent of no oversight but with the added danger of a public that thinks they are being protected and behaving as they are. (Imagine jumping out of plane thinking you are wearing  a parachute, but really they gave you a backpack of bricks, you feel perfectly safe till you hit the ground)

- Overconfidence is just as bad as no confidence, not only is fraudulent firms a problem but also is overconfidence by consumers to trade without doing their due diligence.

- Government enforced monopolies which use police/legal force to force best practices only make it more expensive and difficult for new start ups to compete against larger more established firms who might become more fraudulent feeling safe from competition and also grow too big because of this protection allowing them to capture regulators.

So Then what does Ideal Oversight look like?

Ideal oversight would come from a market of regulation, where competing firms compete to earn fees from consumers for regulatory services such as product reviews/rankings, product disclosures, and consumer education. This offers several benefits:

- Avoid regulatory capture since consumers can switch regulators when one regulator becomes too corrupt

- Since participation by the consumer and the firm is voluntary, consumers don't feel unduly protected unless paying for regulatory service and by trading with firms approved by that regulator.

- This allows for oversight with minimal collateral damage, doesn't move the barrier to entry since compliance with any of these regulatory companies is voluntary (if you don't, you don't have access to their members as customers)

As with anything the answer is not to have something or to have central provision of it, but to have market provision of the service or good. Although there is one way the government can help in fostering such a market in private regulation, by helping establish a model for consumers and regulators to find each other and disclosure of information. While I am against all government intervention, this is more a method to transition from the current monopoly to a regulatory market. To understand my proposal we must understand the logic of the securities act of the 1933.

The Securities Act of 1933

 In the 20's most of the communication technology we take for granted today didn't exist or was in it's earliest stages. A investor looking for an investment had no internet in which to pull a particular companies financials or information to base a decisions off of, only what a broker chose to provide them who had a conflicting interest in getting them to like any particular investment cause of commissions.

 So the logic of the act of 33 wasn't to prevent companies of varying quality to make their securities available to the public, but instead to require that the sale of the securities be made through a disclosure of information we now know as a prospectus. Also, these prospectuses must be registered with the Securities Exchange Commission to make sure all proper disclosures are made.

 The basic idea of disclosure is one of the most interesting parts of this act, it wasn't about making the decision for a customer in what's good for them in the way the FDA does with drugs or more modern financial regulation may do but instead empowering the consumer to be able to carry out their responsibility of making a decision.

 As technology involved, access to information has evolved with the internet and now the SEC has their EDGAR database in which anyone can look up all this disclosure information for any company. Although again, this was not perfect for many reasons...

- The SEC is a public monopoly that use legal/police force which tends to make consumers feel unduly safe so while there is more disclosure retail investors have less incentive to read it feeling the SEC has broad enough jurisdiction

- Consumers will deal with any firm since they assume that all firms are registered with the SEC, instead of looking for an approval sticker or id of some kind (although Broker Check was made to address this, they'd be more willing to use such a service if they were educated to use it)

If the SEC was established not as a monopoly but as a model for what other firms can do as a regulatory business, other firms would approve on many of the shortcomings of the SEC in order to take their market share. A Market would develop and the competition would eventually allow a phasing out of the SEC and the expense for the government... of course government doesn't like competition with their agencies or phasing out power which is just the problem with governments themselves (thus why I'm an anarcho-creatarian).

How do we apply this to today?

The Government could establish a model, an online platform where regulatory businesses can put up all their information and allow consumers to subscribe to their services. The government could of course put stipulations similar to registering a prospectus to putting your company on this platform and take assessments on subscription fees to help fund the platform so it doesn't use taxpayer money.

This platform can categorize all these private regulators by industry, geography, and by services offered. Education materials can be made available on this platform on how to use the services from these regulators, and profits from assessments can be used on ad campaigns (similar to Got Milk commercials).

This should be done in a non-coercive way, regulatory companies are not obliged to post on this service although they stand to benefit from air of legitimacy they'll get and marketing from ad campaigns. Also other companies should be free to create their own competing platforms so this way eventually the government can either close the platform as it loses market share to more innovative platforms or sell it to buyer of their choosing.

This would handle many issues of oversight, regulatory capture, consumer confidence, anti-competitive, and other issues prevalent with the mainstream right and left views of regulation.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Real Estate, Canada, and the Economy oh my!

Real Estate, Canada, and the Economy oh my!
By Alex Merced

In this article what I’d like to discuss is the problems with the logic put forth as the justification for all the government intervention in the economy primarily in real estate. So first let’s discuss the reason why the government thinks it’s prudent to prop up housing prices.

Small Business is the driver of job growth, most small businesses expand based on loans backed by assets such as houses, so by propping up house prices it helps businesses borrow and expand to create jobs.

As usual, mainstream economists and politicians babble out half truths based on bizarre assumptions. Yes, it’s true small business drive economic growth (analogy: who’s going to grow more, an adult or child, similar logic), and yes it’s true small business usually need personal guarantees and collateral to get loans as they establish credit for their company.

So now that we see on what we agree, let’s talk about the weird assumptions. First off, housing aren’t the only assets that can be used as collateral, this emphasis on housing has caused some business owners to not have a diverse portfolio of assets with which to secure a loan for their business. If their wasn’t so much incentives to invest in housing some of their investment capital would go into other assets such as securities, commodities and other things that can be borrowed against and hedges the business owner in case of a dip any particular asset class.

Also, it’s weird to assume banks won’t realize that if prices are propped up and that they'll just be completely ignorant to the fact the prices are unsustainable and the collateral obviously insufficient for the kind of loans people took out before prices collapsed. If anything, having this knowledge and not being able to determine it’s true market value due to intervention would make banks even more hesitant and worried to make the loan fearing the eventual depreciation of the assets.

If prices were allowed to fall, eventually other prices in the economy would drop and the lower amount of money you can borrow against real estate at current prices would still have a similar purchasing power over time.

INTERESTING FACT: Canada allows for short term mortgages with recourse, and doesn’t have many of the incentives to invest in housing as the US yet has higher home ownership rates than the US.

While it’d be hard to say definitely why, I would theorize that due to all the investment incentives artificially placed on the US market drove speculators to have an unhealthy advantage in buying lots of property. So while many investors accumulated large swaths of the American real estate supply, this had pushed up the price so much deterring the ability for other non-speculators to participate. Once again, Canada shows how it surpasses the US with less intervention. Another similar scenario is in the early 1900 when both countries had no central bank and the US had frequent bank panics yet Canada did not, the major different being the US imposed severe branching restrictions on its banks while Canada did not. So while many focus on Canada’s universal healthcare to claim it as a “socialist” country, it’s much more free market than the US in terms of banking and real estate and has had more sustainable and stable economy for it.


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