Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Tyrannosaurus Rich

Academic economists tend to see economies as a galaxy of utilities balancing perfectly (or almost) at the margin (according to their utility).

I see economies as made of the same wheels within wheels feedback architecture — but resulting in something more like the process of evolution, the survival of the fittest — where whoever grows the biggest fangs first gets to eat everybody else for dinner; or in the economic case, everyone else’s dinner. Think Tyrannosaurus Rich. :-)
Academic economists tend to see economies as a galaxy of utilities balancing perfectly (or almost) at the margin (according to their utility).
I see economies as made of the same wheels within wheels feedback architecture — but resulting in something more the process of evolution, more like the survival of the fittest — where whoever grows the biggest fangs first gets to eat everybody else for dinner; or in the economic case, everyone else’s dinner. Think Tyrannosaurus Rich.
- See more at: http://angrybearblog.com/2014/04/open-thread-april-8-2014.html#comment-381680

Friday, April 4, 2014

Universal matching funds: First Amendment proof answer to McCutcheon v. FEC

First Amendment proof defense against Kochs and friends buying all the next elections: matching funds for every candidate or incumbent for every dollar contributed by anybody.  Only mechanical answer possible.

Just like legally mandated, centralized bargaining (where everyone doing the same kind of work in the same locale negotiates a single contract with every employer) is the only answer possible to the race-to-the-economic and political-bottom.

Instituting the latter may be necessary before we can institute the former.

Matching funds would facilitate incumbents working for us 100% of the time -- instead of raising money 50% of the time and "earning" it the other 50%.

Nothing could be easier than selling centralized bargaining (in place over a century in labor markets around the world -- including the worlds most respected economy; think VW).  As I have been spamming for years, supermarket workers and airline employees (think the regionals) would kill for centralized bargaining (lots of others too -- try asking).

Nothing could be more exciting.  Why do the Repubs have half the Congress?  Because the Dems never venture out with something everybody would die for (or kill for).

Friday, March 28, 2014

I think a tiered minimum wave system would be a huge mistake

Personally, I think the tier system is a mistake.  Let's take an 18-24 year tier as a for instance; it's easy for me to figure out). 

18-24s have double the unemployment in most modern economies.  Say US overall unemployment is 6.5%.  18-24 unemployment would then be about 13%.  A tiered wage might drop that to 8% at best (guessing) -- 5% more youth employed -- while 87% are being paid much less ($10 an hour instead of $15). 

100% of over 24 year olds will spend the rest of their lives looking over their shoulders, worrying that the underage are going to keep them out of a job (which may set up the "sneaky", when nobody's looking, race-to-the-bottom).

Ask the unders; and ask the overs: I suspect they wont think anyone would be doing them any favors. 

Nature's "light machine" -- hide the exciting inside the dull

Nature's formula for the spectacular but tasteful: hide an exciting property inside a dull property -- examples:

African butterfly (on display, New York Museum of Natural history -- last I looked, 1992): a bright red splotch in the middle of a highly refined black design.  Of course if you think the color black is spectacular color, the effect of the latter will be "gaudy" -- same principle.

Between the Museum of Natural History and the Metropolitan Museum of Art: multiple form sculptures expanded in most symmetrical ways to absorb maximum light and air -- constructed of gnarly, asymmetrical components.

Back in the East Village in the '60s I observed acid heads sitting around a "light machine" -- a contraption of blinking lights and revolving mirrors behind a translucent screen; projecting essentially an endless series of crayon streaks -- totally engrossed by the display for hours.  I wondered how you could program a changing display that would entertain somebody "straight."  The African butterfly display answered my question.

PS. Nature is not copyrightable.  :-)

Sunday, March 23, 2014

"Obama-doesn't-care" -- versus -- the re-unionization path to economic and political recovery

Obama's “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative targets $350 million at poverty = 1/3 of one billion dollars in our 16 trillion dollar economy = 1/48,000 of GDP ...

... or $50 million less than NY Mayor (stop-and-frisk) Bloomberg spent on a new Bronx courthouse in 2004 (“old” 1939 building may be seen above; new one opened down the block in 1976 to catch the crime wave of that era, which had receded 75% by 2004) and almost $300 million less than he spent on a new (I presume) equally unneeded courthouse in Brooklyn ...

...it could be called "Obama-doesn't-care."

E.I.T.C. (Earned Income Tax Credit) = $55 billion out of a 16,000 billion dollar economy.

$15 an hour minimum wage = $560 billion out of a 16,000 billion dollar economy = 3.5% overall price increase.

$15 is about the 45 percentile wage.  Not to worry; 45% of our workforce is not going to be laid off over a 3.5% increase in prices. PS. This is not a zero-sum game; a large minimum wage should actually raise employment (in our demand starved economy). See these two (my stuff, of course :-]):

 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 

MY COMMENT TO: "Who will Save Us from Inequality" by Carola Binder at:

There is only one mechanically plausible way to rebalance the US labor market (and, because it means massive re-unionization, also reform the US political forum): a post-WWII, industrialist invented (that's right; not Marxist) setup called centralized bargaining -- legally mandated.

Under centralized bargaining (A.K.A., sector wide labor agreements) all employees working at similar occupations (e.g., retail clerk) in the same geographic locale (where applicable -- airlines would presumably take in the whole country) negotiate one common contract with all employers.

Wal-Mart recently closed 88 big-boxes in Germany where it could not undercut based on lower pay and benefits.

Where to start: supermarket and airline employees would kill for centralized bargaining. A few years ago Northwest Airlines squeezed a billion dollars of givebacks out of flight crews -- to be followed a year later by a billion dollars of bonuses for 1,000 executives.

Where it stops: not with you -- your are a female human. You are able to judge the saleability of a new direction strictly on merits of argument -- and not be totally mesmerized by the big world outside that always looks too big, much too big, to seriously change. You are an individual gatherer, instinctively.

Human males -- with their (our) pack hunter outlook -- always and immediately check with the world outside and almost always assume nothing can be done (maybe this is so only if we have no immediate personal stake -- which academics don't have in reforming the labor market). Have see this issue after issue over and over for decades.
* * * * * *
Realistic way out: just guessing: the $15 an hour minimum wage is sweeping the west coast -- and I am spamming the inarguable basics to every journalist and legislature whose address I can track down ...
... spammed 14,000 of simpler arguments about same all over country last year (took three months) so when it comes their way they will at least have the basics.

I figure that when the $15 minimum wage comes in to everybody's benefit in the west, it shouldn't take long to go in the east -- meantime it will be time to start pushing centralized bargaining -- once the possibility of real change reaches into the male pea brain (midbrain, limbic system).

I reading Piketty's magnum opus -- when I am finished (month or two) I will be ready to do a real zinger on the labor market overall.

Different versions of centralized bargaining can be found in continental Europe, French Canada, Argentina, Indonesia.

Final thoughts (one example) on the human male problem:
Show a human female that a $15 minimum wage will only raise overall prices 3.5% ($560 billion added to $16 trillion) and common sense takes care of the rest. Males need one more number (before they no longer obsess on the big pack outside): that the 45% of the workforce getting a raise wont be laid off -- wont be told: "we don't need your output anymore" -- over a small price increase.

[ADDENTUM: The Teamsters Union has a version of its own: the "National Master Agreement" -- or else Teamster truck drivers and warehouse workers would be as poor as regional (half the) airline pilots. I was a member of local 804 -- Ron Carey, local president (later national president) -- just a warehouse worker pushing and shoving furniture (didn't get my driver's license till years later; New Yorker). Last I heard, some years back, 804 raised its defined retirement benefit (all securities kept under ownership of the union) from $3300 to $3600 a month.]

Saturday, February 22, 2014

On the bottom end of the wage scale we may find a "DISCOUNT wage effect"

On the bottom end of the wage scale we may find a "DISCOUNT wage effect": wherein weak bargaining power leaves wages below -- in the American labor market probably far below -- what consumers would have been willing to pay: meaning that today’s consumers are getting a – probably hugely serious -- bargain.

On the other end of the wage scale we may find examples of a "PREMIUM wage effect": where consumers are pressured by market conditions to pay much more than the seller would have been willing to accept had there been sufficient competition or whatever: meaning consumers are getting a -- possibly hugely serious -- skinning.

If a deeply discounted minimum wage is raised to a still deeply discounted level -- in Obama's case ...

... nearly a dollar below LBJ's 1968 minimum wage ...
... almost double the per capita income later (!) ...
... (dragged out over three years; agh!!!) ...

... I think consumers are much more likely to drop some spending on premium wage products (where they are still being skinned) to continue purchasing DISCOUNTED wage products – which are still very much comparative bargains.

All these fancy words mean that we do not buy more ice cream cones and jeans just because the minimum wage is too low – neither are we likely to buy less of same should the wage go up within reason: we are likely to spend less at Nordstrom’s so we can maintain our level at Target.

Even if today's $7.25 federal minimum were doubled to $15, consumers still end up paying only as much as they would probably have been willing to pay all along – leaving minimum wage products still a COMPARATIVE bargain against PREMIUM wage made products.

Never forget – seems de rigueur for all to forget – that labor costs represent only a small fraction of ultimate price tag – as low as 7% with Wal-Mart – even if sales drop a bit, poverty incomes can soar – everybody seems to serially forget this.
 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
When I was a gypsy cab driver in the Bronx, back in the late 1970s, the city’s yellow cabs raised their meters and we raised ours in step. Most drivers agreed this did not hurt business. I also heard from veteran drivers that the previous meter raise did cost business (I was new – having finally gotten my driver’s license at age 32).

In any market, selling anything, you never know for sure what the customer will pay until you test. Does this chart below look like the federal minimum wage has been much tested OVER MULTIPLE GENERATIONS!!!?

“Dbl-index” is for inflation and per capita income.

yr..per capita…real…nominal…dbl-index…%-of

 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
I almost forgot:  ... :-) ...
There is a growing consensus is that the economy may be permanently slowing down (economists dub this "secular stagnation" as opposed to “cyclical”).  Progressives see DEMAND -- and therefore EMPLOYMENT -- stalled because of too much income squeezed out of the pockets of Americans who spend a lot more than save ...

... meaning that raising the minimum wage – doubling it if we want any noticeable effect on the economy or poverty; not, not quite catching up with 1968 -- should be a sure fire way to bring down unemployment.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Chicago's handicapped drivers are not capable of using 30 minute meters

Chicago now allows handicap meter parking only if a person is too disabled to use the meters themselves. I just thought of a category of meter almost no handicapped person is capable of using: the 30 min. meter.

When my diabetic nerve damaged feet had me painfully limping around the supermarket – much better now; will not be renewing placard – there was no way I could walk back and forth, back and forth to feed a short-term meter.

Feeding a meter downtown costs $6.50 an hour. Taking public transportation cost $2.50 with a transfer. Public transportation is 75% subsidized – therefore subsidized $7.50 each way. Because of the parking meter scandal (what else should we call it?) handicapped commuters are the only ones Chicago won't subsidize.

The non-handicapped do not think about how much walking they do on public transportation trips.

Chicago apparently does not want to face the embarrassment of paying a $10 million a year give-back for handicap meter parking when the city only got $15 million a year ($1 billion averaged over 75 years – in constant dollars) for the meter system – on top of the $15 million a year it is already giving back for street closings.

Illinois suburbs do not face the same foolishness embarrassment – or embarrassment for foolishness. I am sure their business establishments would welcome Chicago's handicapped.  I am going to message suburban city councils to consider free handicapped  meter parking.

Has anybody ever done the eighth-grade math on Chicago’s give-backs?  Last year the parking system collected $100 million in parking fees. Were 10% of meters previously tied up with handicap placards? Are 15% of metered streets closed today? Can somebody please publish the formulas?

A US constitutional provision prohibits legislatures from nullifying contracts. What this country desperately needs in this era of sea-to-sea financial predation is an amendment allowing legislatures to nullify sales of public property. Otherwise one day citizens somewhere are going to wake up and find their City Hall has been auctioned off to convert to a mall.

Bolstering the argument that a city cannot legally auction off its police power: an equally important function of meters is to keep vehicles moving in and moving out so others can come and do business. When I arrived here in 1980, Evanston's meters actually took pennies. I have not seen a ticket writer on a West Rogers Park street since the sell out. 

Remember, most handicapped people are elderly and the elderly tend to subsist on low incomes (listening suburbs?).

Wednesday, January 22, 2014


My DECADES OLD, DECADES LONG EXPERIENCE with the "disaster" -- not the saccharine "inequality" -- of the American labor market as a Chicago cab driver:

Between 1981 and early 1997 the city allowed one 30 cent increase in the mileage rate on the taxi meter -- at which 1990 midpoint the city started building subways to both airports, allowing unlimited limos, putting of free trolleys between all the hot spots downtown (the Aquarium used to be our busiest pick-up after O'Hare -- OH, AND -- 40% more taxicabs.

In New York City (where I came from) the mileage charge was (in 2004 dollars) $2.25 a mile after the last successful taxi strike in 1974. By early 2004 the meter was $1.50 a mile. Since the union was broken by the lease system (private contractors) the entire 75 cent deficit came out of the drivers' side. Guys were going back to India for a better life. This in the only place on earth where wealth is a plateau not a pinnacle.

If we get a $15 an hour minimum wage the meter will have to go up a dollar and hour in Chicago, at least -- if you want any cabdriver. Our job has been outsourced at home just like fast food -- from an income that could buy a house and send kids to college (maybe for an 84 hour week -- I've done it -- to four guys sharing an apartment. If no one showed up for $8 an hour -- no American born workers (too busy selling crack to survive) at McDonald's you'd learn to pay 25% more fast.

I remember the summer before the New York meter was finally raised to $2 a mile -- someone from the city was quoted as too many empty cabs built up in the garages: "Maybe we'll add A LITTLE SOMETHING TO THE METER." [Emphasis mine.]

Maybe our progressives ought to start to get real with their sense of proportion and think past -- way past -- adding "a little something" to les miserable's wage (40 years after New York's last successful taxi strike).

Yesterday Harold Meyerson pointed out in the American Prospect that raising the minimum wage is just the beginning of the way back out of the American labor morass -- the last thing we need is a minimum (defined as anywhere in the vicinity of LBJ's 1968 minimum wage), minimum wage.

And don't forget about the ultimate answer to our labor woes: legally mandated centralized bargaining. The specter of that might really focus you better on the scale of the "real world" that you talk about in your pieces. I wrote something about it a while back, here:

Friday, January 17, 2014

Double the minmum wage -- and raise demand -- smoke and mirrors or eighth-grade math?

Progressive economists should readily admit -- shout, scream -- that a “moderate” federal wage increase, typically 10% cited in conservative studies, should indeed have little or no effect on poverty rates.  Why would an extra 1/4 of one percent of GDP added to low wage pay checks be expected to clear a broad swath through poverty?  That is what a $1 an hour increase in the federal minimum wage equates to -- about $40 billion out of a $16 trillion economy.  (E.I.T.C. shifts $55 billion.)

A $15 an hour minimum wage OTH would send about 3.5% of GDP the way of 45% of American workers -- about $560 billion (much of it to bottom 20 percentile incomes who today take only 2% of overall income).
 * * * * * *
Could raising the wages of 45% of the workforce actually raise demand for the goods and services they produce?  Sounds sensible at some level; raising wages so much ought to add demand somewhere – but, is it all smoke and mirrors?  Before the 45% -- who would get a wage hike to $15 an hour -- can raise demand anywhere, they would need to get the extra cash from somewhere else – meaning the 55%.  (Bottom 45 percentile incomes – not wages – currently take 10% of overall income – so, at no time are we talking giant chunks of the economy here.)

The 45% can get higher pay even as "numerical" (to coin a phrase?) demand for their output declines due to higher prices -- as long as labor gets an bigger enough slice of the new price tags.  This can be compared to a leveraged buyout or buying stocks on margin.  

Products produced by low-wage labor tend to be staples whose demand tends to be inelastic. Demand for food is inelastic – maybe even fast food. If the price of your Saturday family jaunt to McDonald's rises from $24 to $30, are you really going to eat at home (the kiddies haven't forgotten the fundamental theorem of economics: money grows on trees :-])? And fast food should be the most worrisome example: lowest wages to start with; even so, highest labor costs, 25%.

Wal-Mart is the lowest price raising example (surprise) with 7% labor costs. Jump Wal-Mart pay 50% and its prices go up all of 3.5%.

If low wage labor costs average 15% across the board and go up 50%, overall prices increase only 7.5% -- and that is for low wage made products only; nobody's car note, mortgage payment or health premium is affected. If demand drops just enough for price increases to maintain the same gross receipts (conservative, even without inelasticity), low wage income should improve appreciably. 

Allow me to cite: from a 1/ll/14, NYT article "The Vicious Circle of Income Inequality"  by Professor Robert H. Frank of Cornell:
“… higher incomes of top earners have been shifting consumer demand in favor of goods whose value stems from the talents of other top earners. … as the rich get richer, the talented people they patronize get richer, too. Their spending, in turn, increases the incomes of other elite practitioners, and so on.” 

The same species of wheels-within-wheels multiplier ought to work the at both ends of the income spectrum -- and likely in the middle.  A minimum wage raise to $15 an hour is not going to send most low-wage earners in pursuit of upper end autos, extra bedrooms or gold seal medical plans. Wal-Mart and Mickey D's should do just fine, OTH – which in turn should keep Wal-Mart and Mickey D's doing even better.
 * * * * * * 
Did I forget to mention … ?  The poverty line that a "moderate" minimum wage could not help anybody cross -- $20,000 for a family of three – is only about half as high a hurdle as a realistically worked out minimum needs line should be.  .

practical line would be more like $40,000 a year.  Today’s official federal formula is an early 1960s creation: multiplying the price of an emergency diet by three (dried beans only, please; no expensive canned)  – no current basket of goods.  For a reasonable basket of goods consult page, 44, of the, 2001 (2008), MS Foundation book  “Raise the Floor.”  

 So, a so-called "moderate" increase in the minimum wage will not even clear a half-height hurdle.

Final thought: Why does everyone obsess so over the "hazards" of raising one price in our economy -- low wage labor's.  Nobody shudders when the Teamsters Union raises its price.  It is not like the price of low wage labor has been habitually testeagainst market willingness to pay and been barely holding its ownIt is more -- it is exactly -- like the price of low wage labor has sunk further and further below market willingness -- precisely for lack of testing -- as the ability to pay has grown and grown -- for almost half a century now.  Click for my everything-adjusted-for-everything minimum wage history chart.  

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Perhaps the rise of a startling new “inequality” will wake up upper middle class ...

Perhaps the rise of a startling new “inequality” will wake up upper middle class progressives to see income inequality as their core concern — NOW THAT IT IS HAPPENING TO THEM!

For decades the top 90 to 97-98-99 percentile incomes about kept up with overall income growth. 50 percentile incomes remained stagnant — 50-90 grew proportionately to their place along the slope.

Since 2007 something like 95% of overall income growth has been going to the top 1%.

Now that (it really is) ALL 99% frozen out of income growth — the growth everyone rushes to track the progress of every quarter -- now, at last, our deckchair rearranging politicians may be able to hear the political opportunity knocking for reforming the American labor market (and concomitantly the political forum) from the ground up — now that most of their upper middle class friends are caught in the same pay and benefits tailspin.

Obama’s 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty show was anemic “Promise Zones”, promising affordable housing (anybody really ready to massively build?), education (ghetto schools don’t work because students -- and teachers! -- see nothing to strive for when nothing attractive awaits them in the labor market when they leave school*) and of course tax incentives for small businesses. Get me “Model Cities” from the sixties.
* http://www.amazon.com/Cracks-Pavement-Social-Resilience-Neighborhoods/dp/0520256751/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1360453299&sr=1-1&keywords=cracks+in+the+pavement+social+change+and+resilience+in+poor+neighborhoods

Krugman most recently cited the core inequality roots as the evaporation of labor bargaining power (add concomitant lost political muscle) — mostly due to virtual de-unionization of the US labor market. The only solution for that in the purely mechanical sense (whatever we think of its political possibilities) is legally mandated, centralize collective bargaining — wherein everyone doing the same sort of work in any geo locale (where applicable — airline workers would cover the whole country) negotiate one contract with all firms.

Jimmy Hoffa pioneered this kind of bargaining in the US with his national freight agreement for all truckers. Centralized bargaining was instituted post WWII on continental Europe* by INDUSTRIALISTS (not the radical left) to keep labor from going on a race to the top, conserving money for rebuilding. Magic bullet: it stops race to the bottom just as surely: the world’s only example that I know that truly fairly balances labor markets.

Spread worldwide over decades from French Canada to Argentina to Indonesia — to the US? No other labor market setup possesses the potential to restore what we used to think of normalcy to American economic (and political) life.  Supermarket workers and airline employees would kill for centralized bargaining – good place to start.
* http://www.amazon.com/Were-You-Born-Wrong-Continent/dp/1595587063/ref=sr_1_fkmr0_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1360528052&sr=8-1-fkmr0&keywords=were+you+raised+on+the+wrong+side

Maybe now that the “Great Wage Depression” (I prefer to the saccharine “inequality) has lowered the boom on progressive leaders upper middle class circles too, maybe now same will reach for the only plausible permanent solution: centralized bargaining.

Obama may even wake up some day and realize he has a unique historical opportunity to become a culture changer (like MLK was) without needing to obsess over becoming a political loser (like JFK did).

Sunday, January 5, 2014

The first (dumb) thought that occurs to me ...

The first (dumb) thought that occurs to me when I see a chart like the one below is that the top 1% of income may jump much faster and higher than the bottom 20% -- but (stupidly) that since they represent a much smaller fraction of the overall workforce that that shouldn't take much from the bottom. (Sounds so sensible if you don't think.)

Then, I wake up and remember that the top 1% of incomes represents 23% (and growing) of overall income while the bottom 20% are the ones who get the tiny fraction of income: less than 2% (and going down).