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Saturday, November 21, 2015

Pseudo Wealth -- or how the Wealthy fleece the rest of us

One of the means by which people are fleeced by our financial system is through misrepresentation of wealth. Some of this misrepresentation is deliberate. There are entire segments of the financial system that depend on "asymmetric information" and deliberate deception to make money. Much of this is perfectly legal. But some of this is the result of bad guesses, speculation. Both kinds of misrepresentation lead to cases where the apparent value of an economy is greater than it's actual value. This is literally what is known as a "bubble." I call them swindle bubbles, because often the effect is deliberate. As Stiglitz explains when explaining why economies are unable to borrow the money needed to reflate after a swindle bubble pops. The reason they can't borrow is that the bubble itself resulted from, contributed to and was eventually destroyed because of speculation. Indeed a kind of speculation that results in Pseudo wealth. Pseudo-wealth results from a kind of speculation where the aggregate perception of wealth is greater than true wealth. As Stiglitz explains:

"before the crisis" there are "differences in views, e.g. about the likelihood of the housing bubble breaking, gave rise to bets (speculation), which led to the creation of pseudo‐wealth — with both sides to the bet believing that they were going to win, both believed that they were wealthy, or more precisely, the aggregate perception of wealth was greater than true wealth. After the crisis, pseudo‐wealth got destroyed. Indeed, there was even negative pseudo‐wealth: borrowers may have believed that what they would pay, in expected value terms, to the lenders was greater than the leaders believed that they would receive." [Earlier Post]

Or more precisely, the system transferred wealth to those who "won" the bets, successfully swindled their marks, rigged the system, or had the greater economic power to enforce collection on the now bad debts, or the underlying assets that secured them. In good times people are induced to 'bet the farm'. In bad times, the farm gets taken by the house that made the loan.

Schrödinger's Cat Meets Creative Destruction

In essence pseudo-wealth is sort of the Economic equivalent of Schrödinger's "Schrödinger's cat" theory. People make bets, and nobody knows who is going to win the bet until the conditions the bet refers to materialize or fail. It's as if they bought a lottery ticket and acted like they'd won the lottery. Until the drawing everyone thinks they have something that it later turns out most of them don't have. Most people wind up realizing they've been wearing invisible cloth and owe a home or other security to pay for it. And since the folks who run the casino also manage most of the bets. The "Casino" or banks wind up with the real cloth and the homes given as security to buy the "fine cloth that only a fool can't see."

Pseudo-wealth and Rent Seeking

I refer to pseudo-wealth a lot so I wanted to highlight the idea. And it turns out that Schumpeter's "Creative Destruction" is simply the combination of the constant power of wealth to seize property from producers using pseudo wealth -- and bubbles -- and the operation of entropy (which makes all wealth perishable except the kind of pseudo-wealth that money represents) and inertia.

This is because there is another kind of pseudo-wealth. That wealth is the possession of notes with interest based on ownership of abstract entities like Banks, Securities, Corporations or any entity whose measurement is subjective, but where the notes are "on paper" or in "electronic form." Without the ability to con people, much of that wealth vanishes for the cons rather than the conned -- who usually are the ones who actually produced it. It's their dirty little secret, without constant refreshment of value, via transfers from production, for these entities they degrade and vanish on their own. Financial Capitalism only exists by swindling people. Without the ability to extract rents, the rent seeking fails.

Sources and Further Reading

Earlier Post "Joseph Stiglitz Slams Bad Economic Models
"Towards a General Theory of Deep Downturns Joseph E. Stiglitz"
Related Guzman Article:

1984 and The Koch's spying

Our Totalitarian GOP...And you thought SPECTRE was fiction?

Our current GOP candidates include some outright fascists. That is the only conclusion I can draw from their efforts to outdo each other in shameless fear-mongering over Syria and the remedies they offer of increased internal spying. After all fear-mongering over Ebola got many of them elected in the off-year election last year. They need the scapegoat of a "terror threat" to terrorize people into voting for them. These are spiritual vampires who live on fear. What can you expect? The fear-mongering is just "disaster" opportunism and newspeak.

But what worries me is that while the candidates call for official spying on "Arabs", articles like this one in Politico, The Koch intelligence agency By Kenneth P. Vogel details spying by them aimed at their real enemies; US. They can cynically say this is to "protect our freedom" but;

How does spying on us or increasing the restrictions on our movement and freedom of speech increase Freedom for all of us?

It doesn't. And it's not intended to. It's intended to protect the freedom of our oligarchs.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Piketty, Capital versus unearned Wealth

All Wealth is not Actual Capital And that Matters.

When I wrote "Disambiguating Capital from Simple Wealth" I looked at the confusing definitions of capital and realized I would have to use the term "actual capital" when talking about the sort of Capital that is valuable and to distinguish it from simple wealth. I realized that I was dealing with various newspeak definitions resting on sometimes deceptive moral arguments. When "productive capital" is extolled as the engine of "job creation", it is to defend an order of "capital" that is simply ownership of natural resources, raw materials, land properties and simple wealth. I realized soon on that this "deliberate confusion matters" because "capitalist" polemicists use the productive definition of capital to sell the notion of "capital" while in practice simply trying to justify a rentier economy where ownership of wealth guarantees rents from loaning money, property, business empires and monopolies.

Capital as Guaranteed Rent

Re-reading "Capital" I realized this confusion is deliberate. The nice thing about Piketty's book is that he dispenses with the gobbledy-gook and defines Capital as pretty much synonymous with non-labor compensation. He dispenses with the moral arguments and uses the definition of capital favored most by capitalists anyway. Piketty explains, explicitly, on page 49:

"To be clear, although my concept of capital excludes human capital (which cannot be exchanged in any market in nonslave societies), it is not limited to 'physical' capital (land, buildings, infrastructure, and other material goods). I include 'immaterial' capital such as patents and other intellectual assets ... capitalization"... "as priced in common stock and other corporate financial assets." [Page 48]

Yet as I noted in my "Disambiguating Capital from Simple Wealth" post, Actual Capital is only that part of wealth that is actually in use to fuel more production. Piketty is right to exclude "human capital" from that definition but, if he didn't, then there would be no national income belonging to labor as he:

By this definition, he has to admit that:

"To simplify... I use the words 'capital' and 'wealth' interchangeably, as if they were perfectly synonymous." [Page 47]

He admits that it would be better to "exclude land and natural resources." The problem he notes is that "it is not always easy to distinguish the value of buildings from the value of the land on which they are built." He also excludes the "actual capitalism" of wealth employed in the process of creating more wealth from his definition. It seems like he's abandoning all the moral definitions of Capital;

such as the Georgist argument as "[that] part of wealth—that [is] devoted to aid production" ... Capital is "wealth in the course of exchange." [Actual Capital]

So much for Georgism. But Piketty isn't talking about actual capital or any advertised meaning of capital anyway. He's talking about the power of wealth versus the power of labor. And this definition allows him to analyze what is actually happening with Capital. He admits he's talking about what the wealthy are talking about when they call themselves capitalists. He admits that it would be better to "exclude land and natural resources." The problem he notes is that "it is not always easy to distinguish the value of buildings from the value of the land on which they are built." And this is how modern "capitalists" describe their own wealth.

This allows him to lay out the math, intranational and international:

"National Income = Capital Income + Labor Income" [page 45 of Piketty's book "Capital"]

Which tells us that we can measure both capital income, Labor income, production and also measure inequality by measuring the disparity between wealth going to "capitalists" and other powerful rentiers who earn "capital" and the trickle reaching everyone else.

Capital as Wealth

For Piketty, the result is that he lumps together all kinds of wealth, only making a distinction between "national capital" versus "net foreign capital:"

"National Wealth = national capital = domestic capital + net foreign capital"

For Piketty's analysis capital is simply the "total wealth owned at a given time." This lets him reduce it to a formula, where the capital ratio is called "beta" [β] which is the ratio of Capital / Income:

"β = Capital / Income"

Income is a stream of production and products. A country with a high ratio such as "beta" [β] = 5, would be a country where the Capital Wealth of the country is 5 times the annual production. It can also be seen as a country with high savings of wealth.

Return on Capital

He then calls National Income "alpha" [α];, and gives it this formula, where r is the rate of return on capital:

"β = r x α"

Measuring Inequality

His analysis then ensues, and he masterfully shows the link between modern capitalism and feudalism as he talks about "return on capital" throughout History. From Ancient times to Modern Times and from the Third World to the United States. He captures inequality in chart after chart that graphically describes the disparities between growth of economies and the rate of return of capital. And how that "r" dominates both labor and arrogates growth (g).

For example he shows how the "r" in economies has always commanded more than labor. For example he notes how in the times of Balzac or Jane Austen the rate of return on land capital was about 5%. To get a rent of 50,000 Francs a person had to invest a million franks. [page 53] If the return on capital doesn't generate inequality, than even the capitalists also have to labor. Since inequality is as much a matter of social hierarchy, class and status -- inequality is necessary to the socially dominant in order to maintain their power. Later in the book he demonstrates that a person had to make 20-30 times the average wage income, which was 400-500 francs during that period -- in order to not live in misery [page 106]. To live in minimal comfort a person had to have an income of at least 15,000 francs. And to get that income they had to have "capital" (mostly in the form of rentable property or business property) in excess of about 450,000 francs. People assumed that most folks would live in misery. His charts show how rapidly we are returning to those times. They also show how national and international policy is driving "r" and that in turn is creating increasing inequality in most of the world, not just the United States.

Absurdities of Rent Seeking and Usury

Piketty goes on to describe in graph after graph the role of "return on capital" and policies favoring capital over labor in inequality around the world. Piketty talks about how wealth gets concentrated, and describes that concentration in chart after chart after chart.

Moral Versus Human Rights Arguments

Henry George and Marx were using "moral" analysis of labor and capital. By stripping off all the academic definitions Piketty used the definition of capital most comfortable to the capitalists. In the process, he shows that "r" or "return on capital" is mostly economic rent; interest, rents, even production - wage compensation; all are means to earn rents. Which means that "r" is really mostly unearned income derived from the power and privilege of wealth and it's monopolies and control of properties. So his material can feed back into Marxian, Georgist or any Post Keynesian moral argument. The problem with Marxist arguments is they tend to eschew the property rights of workers.

Accountable Capitalism
That Muddlehead Marx

Capital in the 21st Century

I'd suggest that folks read Piketty's Book Capital in the Twenty-First Century"" if they are interested in understanding capitalism in some depth. But for an idea of what to do about it, even more important is to acquire a copy of "Rewriting the Rules of the American Economy" by Joseph Stiglitz. That book refers to some of the charts in Piketty's book.

From "Rewriting the Rules"

"Skyrocketing incomes for the 1 percent and stagnating wages for everyone else are not independent phenomena, but rather two symptoms of an impaired economy that rewards *gaming the system* more than it does hard work and investment."

I've got a lot more to quote from and say from Piketty's "capital", but I think this summarizes what we have so far.

--Joseph E. Stiglitz, 2016. "Rewriting the Rules of the American Economy," p. 2.
Piketty's Book Capital
Rewriting the Rules of the American Economy: An Agenda for Growth and Shared Prosperity
Related Posts on Piketty
Progressive Taxation and Piketty
Two Kinds of One Percent
The Trouble with Capitalism
Genuine Tax Reform: Principles
Confusing Capital and Rental Opportunities
The Rise of the Predator/Parasite State
Capital Goods/Capital Yields
Actual Capital Vs Non Capital Wealth
Gresham's Law as a Tool of Regulation
Lincoln the Marxist!!!
Disambiguating Capital from Simple Wealth
Taxing the Right People for the Right Reasons
Progress and Poverty:

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Bowser, Tents and the Homeless

I was in the District the other day for something. And I saw bright comfortable looking tents in the street. It was amazing. I thought it was some artists display or something. And then it hit me. These were the District of Columbia's homeless, in actual shelters!

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Losing Control over the money Supply

Bretton Woods, NeoColonialism and the "Money Men."

In the final chapter of James Galbraith's book "The Predator State", titled "Paying For It", James Galbraith talks about Bretton Woods, how the United States opened itself up to becoming an open economy by turning over it's money supply to becoming the reserve currency of the "free world." The context of that was that the two previously dominant World Powers; France and Britain had failing economies during World War II. Their vast colonial empires had done as little for their masses as the previous vast colonial powers of the Spanish, Dutch, Portuguese and Belgians; while the USA had emerged triumphant from World Wars. We agreed to save those countries, their economies and the "free world" from complete collapse.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Second Bill of Rights versus Third Way

Third Way as Unsound Supporters of FDR

The New Democrats/Third Way People have a distinctive ideology that pay lip service to Franklin Delano Roosevelt but in actually contradict the ideology he expressed later in life. FDR lived a long life, even so even his earlier ideas represented a faith in markets that was tempered by a respect for the limits of Markets as a solution to problems. Right Wing Cons went after him as soon as it looked like their great fear of Communism had receded under the Banner of Ronald Reagan and his subversive recast of FDR's 4 Freedoms.

  1. Freedom of speech
  2. Freedom of worship
  3. Freedom from want
  4. Freedom from fear
See: Reagans Subversion of four freedoms post

FDRs Unsound Followers

When Market Solutions are Absurd

- Minimum wage and "labor Markets"

In February of this year I critiqued an article by Tim Worstall, 2/3/2015, of Forbes:

See: []

In my post I pointed out that his arguments were not supported by the Facts, but what I missed is that; even if Worstall's arguments were correct. There is a moral argument why a "labor market" is not a mere tinker toy to play with and try to fit into the Free Market mold.

For one thing as James Galbraith points out, referring to John Maynard Keynes (that savant who's been slandered and ignored for these past 35 years) noted; "There is no supply curve for labor",..."and that is essentially the entire story."

Friday, November 6, 2015

Third Way and the Fraud of Privateering

A Recap of Economic History

Back in 2007 James K. Galbraith wrote a book called "The Predator State." In chapter 11, titled "The inadequacy of Making Markets Work" he starts out with a pithy recap of where we are:

"Marxism used to be the hard-boiled left-wing dissident's creed, a doctrine founded on class conflict and the romance of working-class revolution. Unfortunately there were actual Marxist countries; "real existing socialism" took care of that romance. Meanwhile, Keynes and his allies in the progressive movement offered ways to reconcile the capitalists and the workers to avoid the calamity of revolution and the tyrannies that follow, through regulation and the management of total demand."