Friday, February 23, 2024

The History of the World (Condensed), Ch. 7

How we got so rich
Image by JJ Jordan from Pixabay

This is a weekly column consisting of letters to my perspicacious progeny  the Stickies — to advise 'em now, haunt them after I'm deleted.

Trigger Warning: This column is rated SSC-65: Sexy Seasoned Citizens   



Featuring {Dana}Persistent auditory hallucination and charming literary device 

History is a set of lies agreed upon." -Napoleon Bonaparte

Dear Stickies (and gentlereaders),  

This is a looong chapter. 

For the record, I've been told by people whose opinion I trust that my columns should be shorter... or longer... or that I should start a podcast or make YouTube videos since nobody reads anymore and I'm wasting my time. Or that...

Well, I'm stickin' with writing columns that are roughly 750 to 1,000 words (not this time though) and have no plans to change since I've reached a point where I'm pretty sure I'll not make any money for my efforts no matter which direction I take so I write to please myself and my biggest fan, my big brother Ed, while I'm waiting to wake up dead. 

Theo was to Vincent as Ed has often been to me.

This is why I've abandoned all the various and sundry ways that exist to "monetize" my work, none of which have gone anywhere. I write for me, Ed, Arletta, and anyone else out there who might enjoy my work and the slight chance the Stickies will benefit from it. 

That said, Chapter 7 is the longest one yet. If you'd like to save some time and get on with your day permit me to summarize: A democratic republic and a more or less free market have made us a very rich and more or less free country.   

Macroeconomists, like all social scientists, are much better at explaining things (or at least trying to) afterward than at making predictions. Why? Variables. Just like your favorite weatherperson, they have to deal with myriad known unknowns, not to mention the unknown unknowns. 

That is to say, they try to make predictions about systems that are so complex in nature that an educated guess is as good as it gets.

This is why a minimally regulated market works better than a highly regulated market. This is why when you go to the supermarket most of the thousands of competitively priced products they carry are usually in stock — literally millions of specialists pursuing their own self-interest and freely trading with each other. 

This is why communism and strict versions of socialism don't work, it's physically impossible for politicians and bureaucrats to efficiently do what the market does effortlessly, and if we’re truly free, we’re free to trade. Common sense suggests that both sides in a given transaction are getting something they want out of it or it wouldn’t happen. 

Life on Earth is what it is in spite of what we would like it to be. There’s no guarantee the result of a given transaction is going to be completely fair and equitable for both sides. Let the buyer beware, but let the buyer buy —if they want to. Prosecute the weasels, enforce the contracts, read Consumer Reports and ask Dad, Mum, or your Dutch uncle what they think. 

Then secure your _____ and jump.

You’ll win some, you’ll lose some, and some will have mixed results. Take comfort in the fact that when you win one the other side may hate and resent you, or at least be thoroughly depressed, often without even having ever actually met you. The entrepreneur that went bankrupt because you didn’t think their world-changing product or concept was worth your money comes to mind. 

There are no unemployment checks for failed entrepreneurs. 

Of course, if you fail on a large enough scale The Fedrl Gummit may step in and save your bum. And that’s not fair — unless of course, your job or business is on the line. But that’s not how it’s supposed to work, and you can’t count on it.

Adam Smith said, “Consumption is the sole end and purpose of all production; and the interest of the producer ought to be attended to, only so far as it may be necessary for promoting that of the consumer.”

In other words, the cut-throat competition in the marketplace usually ensures that the customer wins. The hooge-honking downside is that any given producer — including owners, management, and labor — is subject to being destroyed by its competition.

“The art of economics consists in looking not merely at the immediate but at the longer effects of any act or policy; it consists in tracing the consequences of that policy not merely for one group but for all groups,” -Henry Hazlitt. Notice the use of the word art, not science.

{Oh yeah,? Well, that’s all well and good but NAFTA screwed everything up and now they want...}

Whoa there cowboyperson, obviously anyone who lost a job because of NAFTA may understandably be reconsidering not only the wisdom of free trade agreements but capitalism in general. This was probably on their minds while they were driving to job interviews in their "American" made car that’s chock full of parts manufactured all over the globe (as practically everything is).

Yes, people lose jobs when a trade agreement is implemented and/or a tariff is eliminated. Other jobs are created or expanded, but unfortunately, this is virtually impossible to document with anything resembling precision, which is why both sides can plausibly argue their position. 

Economists disagree on all sorts of things but most agree that free trade will, overall, generate at least as many jobs in a given country as it erases. Also, the consumer (that is, everyone) almost always wins. The producers (and by extension, their employees) may win or lose. We all want good, secure jobs. But we also all want lots of food, toys, and fun — for which we wish to pay as little as possible.

Finally, the Reality Checks, Caveats & Premises department has it on good authority that the global economy is a fact, not a possibility. Adapt or get run over like a cute little bunny that’s incapable of grasping the potential impact of an 18-wheeler passing through the neighborhood.

After WW2 ended America was the beneficiary of a boom that lasted for roughly 35 years during which you could drop out of school and still get a job that would provide a good living, and maybe even a pension. The rest of the world, having been more or less trashed by WW2, watched and learned.

This was a sort of temporary golden age that hadn't been the case before the war and hasn't been since.

More than a few of our fellow Earthlings thought they might also enjoy eating regularly and being able to seal the couch in plastic to keep it nice. Liberty might be nice too but that proved to be a lot harder and much more complicated. Life on Earth being what it is, instead of what we would like it to be (a phrase that bears repeating), there are always gonna be bullies that embrace their inner chimpanzee — and bullies need victims.

Nowadays, the US buys more stuff from the rest of the world than it sells to the rest of the world, but it exports more services than it imports. As of 2022, if you add total imports to total exports you discover that the total is almost $4,000,000,000,000. As of 2022, the GDP of the USA was $25,462,700,000,000. 

We're talkin' trillions, with a t, dude.

Our 35-year-old bubble of prosperity hasn't so much popped as gotten comparatively smaller, so far at least, because the rest of the world is blowing its own bubbles. We export more than we ever have in terms of dollar value even allowing for inflation and because of productivity gains we can do this with far fewer people than would have been needed in the past.

Our GDP would be even higher, but we're simultaneously dealing with labor shortages in certain industries and people dropping out of the workforce. As to exactly why the economists (of course) disagree. My guess is as good as yours, in fact, yours may be better.

Ever wonder if all those um... "undocumented" refugees fleeing political and economic corruption in certain politically and economically challenged countries south of the Rio Grande are responsible for certain other people's wages being lower than they might otherwise be?

Ever wonder if all those women who have flooded into the workplace since the women's liberation movement hit its stride are responsible for depressing wages for everyone who hasn't disproportionately benefited from a truly global economy?

I do, but I have no idea. Believe it or not, the experts don't agree on that either. Shocking, I know. Consult the worldwide web of all knowledge to find the answer you prefer.

And if that ain’t bad/confusing enough, now we have to deal with a communication/high-tech revolution. It’s like the industrial revolution on steroids (and there still isn’t much work for buggy whip makers) in that the rules of the game keep changing and nobody on the rules committee has a clue what the final draft is going to be.

And if that ain’t bad enough it turns out there is no rules committee, there are just H. sapiens hoping it all works out somehow, and that civilization-ending-sized asteroids keep missing the mother ship. 

It may be the best of times, but it might be the worst of times. As noted, not even the "experts" can be relied upon to accurately tell us what's next. Also, they’re acutely aware that throwing the wrong economic lever at the wrong time, considering how complex and interconnected the global economy is, can easily set off a cascade of unexpected and unwelcome consequences.

(To be continued...)   

Poppa loves you,
Have an OK day

Scroll down if you wish to share my work or access my golden oldies.   

I post links to my columns (and other stuff) on Facebook so that you can love me, hate me, or lobby to have me publicly flogged.  

{With a buggy whip?}

Friday, February 16, 2024

The History of the World (condensed), Ch. 6

Colonel Cranky's history of the world resumes.
Image by JJ Jordan from Pixabay

This is a weekly column consisting of letters to my perspicacious progeny  the Stickies — to advise 'em now, haunt them after I'm deleted.

Trigger Warning: This column is rated SSC-65: Sexy Seasoned Citizens   



Featuring {Dana}Persistent auditory hallucination and charming literary device 

"History is a vast early warning system." -Norman Cousins

Dear Stickies (and gentlereaders),

Okay, where was I... Oh yeah, Crankysplaining (vastly oversimplifying) Adam Smith's three economic fundamentals that will enable any nation, and its citizens, to prosper: the pursuit of self-interest, the division of labor, and freedom of trade. 

The pursuit of self-interest simply means that every Tom, Thomasina, and T. has the right to figure out how they're gonna pay the cable bill without a dicktater, or a master of any sort, assigning them a role to play in the economy or determining how and how much they'll be rewarded for their labors. 

A free man/woman/person should be compensated based on what service/product/talent they provide their fellow H. sapiens. A reasonably free market will easily determine the financial value of a good doctor, a good housekeeper, and everyone else.

Pursuing your self-interest in a free market wherein everyone else is doing the same thing tends to result in a self-regulated market that allocates resources in a way that central planning simply can't match when everyone is competing with everyone else.

When regulation is kept to a necessary minimum and the playing field is level, consumers will rule and consumers will win.

As to the division of labor, this can be summed up in two words, modern civilization. Do/make something you're good at and trade it for things you aren't as good at doing/making and simplify things dramatically via a reliable system of reward certificates (money). The result? The most prosperous era in the history of H. sapiens. Consumers rule, consumers win.

Freedom to trade. If you’ve lost a good job because your job is now being done by someone in a foreign country, like Elbonia for example (H.T. Scott Adams) — crappy weather, chock full of primitive religious sects prone to killing each other, a corrupt government and/or any number of other possible combinations of factors that would keep you from vacationing there even if you had any damn money — odds are you might be a little cranky. 

One of the reasons I’m a little cranky is that I lost a fairly decent job, a job that I thought would be my last, due to the effects of (insert ominous musical fanfare) The Great Recession. When this happened I was almost a thousand years old (in American years) and had all the wrong skills. 

I was forced to take a crappy job, actually, several part-time crappy jobs that required me to work eight days a week just to get by. Unfortunately, it wasn't because I was a greedy workaholic who couldn't ever be rich/secure/powerful enough, it was because they didn't pay very well.

I had to work a lot of hours to get by; I literally limped my way, with what turned out to be a busted hip, to a forced early retirement because I needed the diminished dough to get by before the rest of my deteriorating joints (osteoarthritis, the adventure continues) got any worse.

But the reason I lost my job had nothing to do with free trade. It might have happened because the company I worked for managing a crew of 15 souls that kept a hooge Kmart warehouse clean, wasn’t competitive enough — or Kmart wasn’t competitive enough (hold your calls, I think we have a winner) and Wally World ate their lunch... and breakfast... and dinner.

I and a lot of other people lost our jobs but there's no shortage of stores still around selling merchandise at all price points. Consumers rule, consumers win.

{Wait-wait-wait. What about inflation?}

I lost my job because a variable, or a combination of variables, known or unknown, led to life jumping out from behind a tree and kicking me in the crotch. This is how life and the economy, despite our best efforts to generate a desired outcome, often works.

{And what about the popping, no exploding of the real estate bubble in 2008?}

Central planning, aka The Fedrl Gummit, that never met a program to encourage people to buy homes it didn't like (or was unwilling to subsidize) watched as the bubble expanded. After the explosion, it had to step in and spend (print) trillions to prevent another Great Depression.

And nobody went to jail. Not the big boys persons that ran/run the major financial institutions or the hustlers on the front lines handing out liar loans.

"When the tide goes out you discover who's been swimming naked." -Warren Buffett

After shutting down the country and the schools when the pandemic hit (a reverse quarantine) they printed roughly $5,000,000,000,000, so much dough they still haven't spent it all despite an obsession with creating a green economy out of thin air and caused the "transitory" inflation we're still dealing with.

Spending money that creates a problem and then spending more money to fix it ain't how a free market is supposed to work.

(To be continued...)

Poppa loves you,
Have an OK day

Scroll down if you wish to share my work or access my golden oldies.   

I post links to my columns (and other stuff) on Facebook so that you can love me, hate me, or lobby to have me publically flogged.


Saturday, February 10, 2024

History Paused

A Random Randomnesses Column
Image by 995645 from Pixabay

This is a weekly column consisting of letters to my perspicacious progeny  the Stickies — to advise 'em now, haunt them after I'm deleted.

Trigger Warning: This column is rated SSC-65: Sexy Seasoned Citizens   



Featuring {Dana}Persistent auditory hallucination and charming literary device 

"If you can't make it good, at least make it look good." -Bill Gates

Dear Stickies (and gentlereaders),  

If you've been waiting with bated breath for Chapter Six of my condensed history of the world, I apologize.

{You know, I've always wondered...}

It's a transitive verb from Middle English that means to reduce the force or intensity of (Merriam-Webster) and has nothing to do with fishing. 

If you're new here, this will give you a chance to catch up. If you're a regular reader this will build anticipation... All right, I admit it, I just decided to take a break for no special reason.  

- If Bill Gates is so smart, why is my Hotmail account always choked with spam and my Gmail account virtually spam-free? Why can't Willy take Sundar to lunch at one of those fancy places rich people eat, like Olive Garden, and ask for help?

Word on the street is that the Goog is running behind Microsoft in the race to unleash artificial intelligence on those of us who think lunch at Chick-fil-A constitutes a memorable day. Perhaps they could trade info and fix Hotmail for the little people?

After all, Willy fancies himself a philanthropist. 

{I'll bite, what's a Sundar?}

Dana, you are, um... What's the opposite of cosmopolitan? 

{Parochial? Narrow-minded? Rustic?}

Exactly, and likely racist, and probably some sort of ____phobe as well. He's the chief Googler. 

{Huh. I'm surprised you don't call him Sunday, or Sundae. What are you whining about anyway? Hotmail is free, and so is the software you're using, even as we speak, to write what you call a column and what normal people call a blog.} 

Free? I think that if more people realized just how minutely and carefully everything they do online is being tracked, recorded, and sold they would realize that there is still no such thing as a free lunch. 

{Oh please, everybody knows there's no such thing as privacy anymore. What can you do?}

Click here, then scroll down and follow through. 

- Although I hate to admit it, I find that my attention span has slowly but steadily diminished since the worldwide web of all knowledge has become ubiquitous, and I'm not even a social media maniac.

I've entertained thoughts of self-harm while enduring the interminable wait for my toast to pop up.  

{Speaking of which, it's the World Wide Web, not the worldwide web and as far as I know, you're the only one that tosses in "of all knowledge."}

Well, as I've long suspected, worldwide web it turns out (I recently got around to finally looking this up) is grammatically correct, world wide web ain't, but that's not my point. 

It's just a dash of attention-seeking behavior on my part that also subtly implies that it's a web of contradictory, missing, manipulated, and frequently incorrect knowledge.

Not that knowing this keeps me from indulging in extended periods of web surfing from which I  suddenly regain consciousness and ask myself, where have I been? 

Look, a squirrel! 

- For the record, The Wall Street Journal officially and enthusiastically embraced the ongoing decline of journalistic standards on 01/06/24. Granted, this is a somewhat arbitrary date given that my personal paper of record (for now) has been declining in quality slowly (but steadily) for a while now.  

However, Emma Tucker, named editor-in-chief in December of '22 by King Rupert (who has since abdicated the throne to his son, at least officially) published a sleazy, speculation-filled front-page hit piece — A Tony Stark (Elon Musk) takedown. 

{Wait-wait-wait. Mr. Musk has no shortage of critics loose in the world.}

Absabalutely, and I'm sure it's a coinkydink that WSJ reporter Tim Higgins, who's been writing almost exclusively about Musk for quite some time, has recently written several articles that read more like editorials than hard news stories. 

When Rupert Murdoch folded the WSJ into his media empire he assured the world he wouldn't lower the paper's famously high standards. In fact, he expanded the Op-Ed section, which was/is separated from the news division by a Chinese wall.

{Wait-wait-wait. Isn't Chinese wall a racist term?}

Nah, it's just culturally insensitive, according to Wikipedia anyway. The Wikipedia entry mentions an unintentionally hil-LAR-ious suggested replacement, cone of silence, a technical term that also happens to be the name of a device used in a formerly famous TV show.

This column was sitting in a drawer, as you can tell by the date of the referenced hit piece (1/6), but the Journal has since published another hit piece about Mr. Musk. It's basically the same as the first one: mostly unidentified sources say Elon does, or at least did, a lot of drugs.

I find it interesting that both major articles' comment sections overwhelmingly supported Musk. I'd love to know what the strategery is, perhaps controversy for its own sake?

I refuse to post any links to this blatant purple journalism but in the Journal's defense, they recently published an in-depth piece about the fact Taylor Swift's dad played college football for a year.

The Other Football Player in Taylor Swift's Life 

Now that's world-class journalism. 

Poppa loves you,
Have an OK day

Scroll down if you wish to share my work or access my golden oldies.   

I post links to my columns (and other stuff) on Facebook so that you can love me, hate me, or lobby to have me publically flogged.