What positive steps can we take? The energy that is now expended by well intentioned, freedom-seeking individuals on the destructive course of politics can be turned into powerful steps that will have a positive effect on the future. All are moral, right and just. None require aggressing. Consider the following...
The Affordable Care Act creates a new health insurance marketplace (the exchange). But because of the great uncertainty about what buyers will enter the market and who will buy what product, the law creates three vehicles to reduce insurance company risk.
Politicians and bureaucrats are notorious for manufacturing euphemisms -- clever but deceptive substitutes for what they really mean but don’t want to admit. That’s how the phrase “revenue enhancement” entered the vocabulary. Some of our courageous friends in government couldn’t bring themselves to say “tax hike.”
It’s easy to be negative about the U.S. economy these days. Find a glint of silver, and folks come running to point out all of the dark clouds looming about. This, of course, is what we got last week when the monthly jobs report was released from the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). Folks pooh-poohed the number of jobs and whining that they’re not enough or that it’s less than a bunch of economists thought that it might be. But you know what? Stuff ’em.
Facts are easy. You can check facts. What supporters of the Affordable Care Act are doing, on the other hand, transcends factual bungling. It’s far more advanced: a warping of reality so debauched it looks like something out of a tale by H.P. Lovecraft.
The east coast and parts of the southern U.S. were to varying degrees paralyzed by blizzards a few weeks ago. The snow as expected rendered the roads treacherous, and in anticipation of slick streets, shoppers flocked to the grocery stores in advance.The rush into grocery stores, and its aftermath, offers worthwhile lessons in economics.First up, […]
The highest form of charity, argued the 12th-century Jewish philosopher Maimonides, is when the help given enables the receiver to become self-sufficient.But our systems of state charity — aka welfare — have too frequently had the opposite effect: They have actually created dependency. It is time to rethink the way we help people.I’m going to […]
Last year was quite the year for Bitcoin. We’ve seen exponential growth in Bitcoin’s exchange rate and extensive coverage in the media. Another phenomenon we have witnessed is the proliferation of alternative cryptocurrencies, five of which we’ve provided below.What all of these cryptocurrencies have in common is that they rely on a decentralized network to […]
President Obama crowed in his State of the Union speech about the economy, even mentioning “a rebounding housing market.” Maybe he was referring to friends in high places, like the seller of Penthouse One in New York, which just closed for $50.9 million, all cash. Millions of mere-mortal homeowners likely wanted to throw something at […]
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office is acting in a bipartisan way to cover up the biggest single threat to the bipartisan political alliance that is stripping America of its wealth: the United States Congress.There is no question that the following policy is bipartisan. Democrats and Republicans in Congress are completely agreed that the following information […]
Recent difficulties with implementing the Affordable Care Act have increased opposition to the program. A majority of Americans now oppose it. Problems with the HealthCare.gov website are in all likelihood temporary. However, there are serious long-term problems, particularly considering long-term finance and labor supply issues. Given the mounting difficulties with and growing concerns about the […]
The faces of the Detroit bankruptcy are the thousands of pensioners whose promised benefits are suddenly part of the restructure negotiation. When Motown filed for Chapter 9 last July, the city had $11.5 billion in unsecured liabilities. The vast majority of this was pension and health care benefits owed to retired city employees.The images of […]
“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”As the inequality gap grows, there is an ideological battle unfolding in the West.On the one hand, there are those who think government can fix things. It must do more, tax more, […]
On Feb. 7 the United States will once again reach its statutory debt limit, meaning it cannot legally borrow any more money. Since the obvious option of cutting spending to match the amount of revenue that the government collects is off the table for some inexplicable reason, Congress will have to pass a new, higher […]
The New York Times published an interminable article on health care recently. Plenty of facts — how scrupulous are these journalists! — but the article displayed absolutely no comprehension of the basics of cause and effect. I was left wondering about the whole point.The article details how the health care system rewards specialists to an […]
The Largest Company in History:“The United States Corporation of Government (USCOG)”I follow global social and commercial networks, looking for entrepreneurial opportunities.Innovation surges when industry and government models change. Buggy whips. Landline phones. Railroads. The Soviet Union. Apartheid South Africa. All marked social and commercial innovation, both bad and good.We are witnessing a new form of […]
We’d like to give the banks in Australia some credit. They’ve finally gone and done it. They have caught up with 1960s technology. They’ve figured out how to use PIN numbers.How to only use PIN numbers, that is. They’re considering scrapping signatures on credit cards to cut down on fraud. Apparently, having to verify your […]
We put in a good-citizen call to the SEC the other day.“There’s a massive scheme to manipulate stock prices,” we told the friendly agent.“I have to tell you that your call is being monitored so that we can better serve the public,” he replied.“Oh, don’t worry about that. The NSA is tapping our call anyway.”“Are […]
Dr. William C. Padgett is a retired optometrist who has been trying to bring an elderly care facility to Beaufort County, North Carolina, for over a decade.“Our senior citizens,” he laments, “are finding that it is difficult and in many cases impossible to find an appropriate long-term care facility locally.” Though he has received several […]
If you don’t have the angst out of your system concerning Wall Street banksters, Government Sachs, and the Affordable Care Act, settle in with Matt Taibbi’s Griftopia to make your blood boil one more time.Investors should be reminded of 2008 as they shrug their shoulders and put their money back in the stock market. The […]
What do 8 of the 10 wealthiest people in the U.S. have in common?Aside from being able to fly in private jets, the common thread is that each of them has made their fortune thanks to a start-up.Let me explain…From tech titans like Bill Gates and Larry Ellison (founders of Microsoft and Oracle, respectively), to […]
“Inequality is the defining challenge of our time,” according to President Obama. It’s certainly the topic of the day for Paul Krugman, Joe Stiglitz and a whole raft of liberal pundits.But have you noticed that hardly anyone else is talking about it? When is the last time you heard a shoeshine person or a taxi […]
In December of last year, I left my career to travel the world for one year.My plan was to visit as many countries as possible on my Star Alliance Around-the-World ticket in the first nine months, then, for the remaining three months, return back to the country that most caught my eye and my curiosity.Nine […]
Economic history is primed to repeat in the nastiest of ways unless the government stops distorting the price of something we use every day.Every product, good, or service has a price, which is essential to rational decision-making. We use prices every day as vital data that guide us. Without true prices, prices not distorted by […]
A new survey from Harvard University found a large majority of young Americans do not believe the law will save them money, do not believe it will improve their health, and do not intend to sign up for insurance through the new exchanges.
Uh-oh!The new pope, Francis from the Pampas, has just warned us to beware the “tyranny” of capitalism.Each man worships his own gods. Some worship at the altar of Jesus of Nazareth. Some at the altar of the Almighty Dollar. The capitalists don’t bad-mouth Francis’ god. You’d think he would cut them the same slack.Bad-mouthing Catholicism […]
The market has selected different things as money throughout history. Some of these items have served as money in isolated places for specific periods of time — for instance, cigarettes in prisoner-of-war camps. Cigarettes continue to be a currency in prisons if allowed, but if not, according to Wikipedia, “postage stamps have become a more […]
There’s a Mexican restaurant I like (I’m not saying where it is) that seems to thrive in good times and bad. It never has a shortage of servers, cooks and people to bus the tables, even when there are only a few customer cars out front. Actually, it is hard to tell the workers from the customers, and extended family seems to appear from nowhere, people of all ages, sometimes eating, sometimes just visiting and sometimes going back and forth to the kitchen.
How does this place handle the high costs of this labor? It’s the sort of question that is impolite to ask. A passing familiarity with the existing labor regulations, mandates, taxes and edicts on resident documentation permits anyone to figure this out. The place survives and thrives because all these niceties are ignored. The whole arrangement works through quid pro quos, barter, cash, underage labor and undocumented workers.
They know it. We know it. No one is hurt.
Consider another case lately in the news. A report from ABC did some sleuthing on educational institutions all over Australia, where government demands that everyone sign up for public school or officially register as home schooling. The report estimates that 50,000 families completely ignore these rules. Some families don’t believe they should have to register. Others have discerned that there is more risk by going legal than schooling underground.
We all know of such cases. We know a person who bakes cheesecakes in her kitchen and sells them to friends — all while ignoring licenses, health regulations, mandates on oven size, zoning laws and all the rest. Her kids help her in exchange for a weekly allowance — an arrangement that looks a lot like child labor. We know of people who have one normal job but also a job on the side making jewelry, designing websites or tutoring. They prefer cash.
All these small anecdotes — and we know many of them — come from every place in the world, especially with the recession’s intense economic pressures. Faced with the choice of complying with government or making a decent life for themselves, people tend to choose the latter. So it is with hundreds of street vendors in San Francisco. It’s this way for thousands of workers in Shanghai who make licit products in the day and “pirated” products at night.
This will be increasingly true in the digital economy now that the US government has shown its teeth and arrested and destroyed property in the name of enforcing copyright. The Web will not suddenly become the great land of compliance. Instead, those providing gray-area services will become more anonymous, less traceable, more private and obscure.
This is already happening, as ever more people are being forced to use IP-scrambling proxies to surf and put their content behind impenetrable walls. There is a tragic loss here, but it might prompt the final showdown in the great struggle between power and market.
Digital or not, the state can’t make trading, sharing and associating go away. It only inspires the traders and entrepreneurs to avoid risks in different ways.
During Prohibition, the speakeasies sensing a threat would change the passwords to get in the door. With the massive increase in government all over the world, vast swaths of the world economy have begun to operate just like these speakeasies of old. They were zones of freedom, but their operations were distorted because they didn’t have access to law and courts and because the people who ran them were from a class of citizens that was willing to take crazy risks.
We know all of this anecdotally, but what does it all amount to in the macroeconomic sense? I’m right now reading Stealth of Nations by Robert Neuwirth. It is a mind-blowing book because it is the first in our time to attempt a broad look at the meaning of all this unregulated, untaxed, unofficial economic activity. Neuwirth estimates that fully half the world’s workers are involved at some level in what he calls System D.
This is the sector that is variously called the “underground” and the “informal sector.” He prefers System D (the street term derived from the African French word for highly motivated people) because it is nonjudgmental. It refers simply to the sector of economic life that exists “outside the framework of trade agreements, labor laws, copyright protections, product safety regulations, anti-pollution legislation and a host of other political, social and environmental policies.”
He documents the amazing workings of System D and demonstrates that it is the world’s second-largest economy, amounting to economic productivity of $10 trillion, which is probably a low estimate. At the pace at which government is growing, System D is set to employ as many as two of three workers by 2020. My own sense is that Neuwirth actually underestimates the size since he overlooks sectors like health, education and finance — which are surely three of the fastest-growing components of System D.
Neuwirth himself is not a libertarian or a free market thinker in any sense. He is a reporter with a lefty bias — a genuine leftist who believes in exalting the contribution of the poor and the working classes to the social and economic order. His reporting led him to discover that a main driving force for the classes is the need for economic relationships, and then also to notice that the state itself is the main barrier to their advancement.
He remains ideologically conflicted throughout the book. For example, he rails against child labor on one page, but then notes that were it not for child labor, many kids around the world would not be able to buy clothes, food and education and would likely turn to prostitution or some form of subjugation. But ideology is not the main contribution here. It is framing up the reality in a way that we can become conscious of the whole.
Reflecting on the sheer vastness of this sector of life, one realizes the fiction, for example, embodied in official government statistics that record only the on-the-books sector of economic life. These agencies are pumping out half-truths and whole myths every day. One further realizes the immense damage that would be done to humanity in general should there come a time when government actually managed to enforce all its edicts. It would be catastrophic. We owe much of our prosperity to people’s willingness to enter the rebel class.