The Observatory 2019

Capitalocracy – It seems we don’t have a democracy in America any longer with one person one vote; it’s become more of a “capitalocracy” with one dollar one vote. Having more lobbyists for just Big Pharma in Washington than we have  representatives in Congress says all we need to know.

Does democracy scale –  How can a country like China or India with over 1 billion citizens ever really become or even work as a democracy? It seems the USA with 330 million is struggling with preserving democracy as much of the electorate is attracted to an authoritarian-style leader like Trump.

Chi-America – Our American businesses claim a foul in competing with China. They say they are threatened by unfair practices of the Chinese because in China the state often owns, invests, directs, or manages and profits from big business. Here in the U.S. it is the other way around. Big business owns, invests, directs, manages and profits from big government. Whom owns who will matter very little going forward as the differences between the Chi-America economy become less and less. In the end I imagine there will be little difference as it is all the same beast whether business owns the government or government owns the business, the results are likely to be the same.

Private trade without public policy – Trump has the American public all worked up that countries like China are taking advantage of us. No, it is amoral capitalism without balancing public policies that is taking advantage of American citizens. American businesses moved their supply chain to China chasing cheap wages and a labor force that was ruled by a heavy hand. After three decades we not them in our form of unbridled capitalism has hallowed out our economy and made us dependent on China for production of goods as well as buying our debt. This was all very predictable, wasn’t it? So where was the public policy debate about it all from either the Democrats or Republicans?

Americans are not evil people – But has our country become evil? We ignore damage to the planet, deny science, make growth, consumption, debt and money our religion, walk away from treaties, withdraw from the international criminal court, promote nationalism and self-interest causes, demean diplomacy and ridicule the United Nations, break alliances which have served us well for decades, stay silent about the human right atrocities of others,  are involved in endless undeclared wars around the world, deny or hide civilian deaths, commit war crimes that go unpunished, jail immigrants and separate them from their families. And are led by a President who blames, lies, bullies, demeans, attacks, threatens, and belittles others in nearly every tweet or public statement as he aligns our interests with other despots, dictators, and autocrats around the world.

Who is asking for self-driving cars or autonomous vehicles?  – Our infrastructure does not even support the existing modality of transportation. Have the experts thought this through? The digital world does not work or play well with the analog human world. Tech companies will not spend billions on AVs and be told these vehicles are not safe around the rest of us who do not have them. I can only imagine they will lobby for the construction of all-new lanes, roads, parking lots, and facilities that favor AV and put the rest of us in a digital ghetto, just another caste division of America. And of course enforce arbitration instead of litigation upon their customers when things go wrong like so much of the digital commerce does.

Our dark shadow – It seems by the constant fear mongering of conservatives that they end up creating the exact world destiny which they fear. By their actions, threats, and behavior they create a dark dangerous world where we are always being threatened by something and must rally behind strong authoritarian men. Have they never heard of the psychological shadow?

Drug pushers in suits – Modern health care practitioners rarely have time to understand the origins or causes of an illness, condition, or disease. They have been educated by Big Pharma to just start throwing drugs at the symptoms until something works, often in a way they cannot explain. Have too many of them just become the modern day pusher?

Artificial economy – We have such an artificial economy where so many jobs and so much money is spent on things that have so little to do with providing the basics that we need to live. New jobs seem like they have just been fabricated out of nothing because of an overabundance of capital to chase other pots of money created by the Feds easy money policy. No wonder so many people struggle with finding real value and meaning in the work they do. Our economy is a bit of a charade if not con game of endless borrowing and debt for no other reason than to chase after other companies and people who have money from their borrowing..

Reformation or revolution – So many things in our country and economy are screaming for attention and reformation. Criminal courts, electoral college, health care, two-party deadlock, environmental protection, unbridled capitalism, drug epidemics, cost of education, climate change, infrastructure, dependency on cheap money and debt for growth, income inequality, and the list goes on and on. Reforming an economic system based on endless growth which externalizes the risk and cost of growth to the most vulnerable while despoiling the planet is the most urgent. But we know from history that if we have lost the ability to make incremental progress and course corrections by choice, then there will come a time when the lack of small reforms becomes the fuel of a big revolution.

The oversized IPOs of ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft remind me that much of our economy is a house of mirrors built upon businesses that have used technology to externalize what should be their cost of doing business onto the backs of consumers and contractors who end up doing most of the work in the new digital gig economy.

Racism or classism or both – It seems to me that racism of whites against blacks or Hispanics is misunderstood. Deep down is it not is a form of economic classism that is as vile as racism? The reason that some whites, many of them who are poor or struggling, disparage black Americans is because they just don’t want to be seen on the bottom of the capitalistic pyramid. They want someone to be beneath them economically and less well off than they are. They could care less whether these folks were black, pink, red, tall, short, or whatever. In our form of capitalism there is always a low rung on the ladder. And if there is no upward mobility for you and your family, then you just want to know that there are people below you whom you are better off than. The wealthy and powerful who have benefitted the most from our form of capitalism don’t want the blame to be placed on capitalism, so they are happy to make it all about race as well. This does not diminish the fact that there is still real racism that is independent of class status. The example being President Obama whose personal behavior in office and with his family was the best I have witnessed in my lifetime. Yet, that impeccable record just riles up some racists because he did not act in a manner they were expecting or projecting on to him.

Who gets changed – Senator Roy Blunt from Missouri said Trump is who he is and is unlikely to change so we should just get over trying to change him. The problem with that is Trump is changing who America is, and we should not get over that without protest.

Addicted to cheap money – We are experiencing one of the longest economic expansions ever. Many make the reason why to be more political than it is. What would you expect would happen when you have been pouring money into the system for a decade with nearly free money flowing out of the federal reserve. The growth in the money supply is approaching twice the rate of growth in the GDP. While excessive consumer price inflation has not occurred, it appears the real hidden inflation has been the inflation of wealth inequality.  The federal deficit for this year alone is nearing $1T. The pig is being fattened up for the slaughter.

Interest rates – In the New York Times May 1, 2019 article “Fed Leaves Interest Rates Unchanged as Low Inflation Persists” I counted ten references to inflation being low. In the April 30 edition of this newspaper there were two more articles that also cited low inflation. Many in the middle class of my heartland roll their eyes when they read this, thinking it is just more gaming of economic data coming from Washington to placate us.

Inflation – The cost of preserving a Midwest middle-class lifestyle keeps rising due to increases in items far more important than cheap imported products found on a shelf which the CPI must favor. This includes education, utilities, healthcare, home prices, rents, insurance, entertainment, healthy foods, child care, services, and repairs along with endless new fees, sales taxes, and subscriptions. The leisured wealthy may not even notice these rising costs, while the working poor wish they had more opportunity to do so. The middle once again is squeezed and neglected.

Wealth inequality – The Fed has had an easy money policy for over a decade. Has this not created an inflation of wealth inequality, fueled by wealthy investors with access to cheap borrowing due to low interest rates justified by the myth of low inflation? Whenever we read there is no inflation, we should challenge this by asking about the other inflation the Fed chooses to ignore that is a hidden cancer on capitalism eating away at our democracy.

Electoral college reform – The recent “A disaster for democracy” editorial in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reminded me of why many voters on both sides feel politically disenfranchised. Conservatives in solidly-blue states and liberals in forever-red states believe their votes don’t matter in the winner-take-all Electoral College accounting used by nearly all states. Independents and third-parties are completely locked out. So how can we reform the electoral college in our legislatures now to head off unrest in the streets later?

Boycott the census – As many recall from civics classes, the number of electoral votes and congressional districts from each state is determined by the national census every decade. Population counts are also used to allocate federal funding. If our votes do not count in gerrymandered districts and polarized states, then why should we allow our bodies to be counted in the census or our tax dollars be allocated to governments that disregard us? As an act of patriotic protest we can refuse to be counted in the 2020 census until the electoral process is reformed, starting with proportionate voting by electors. The consequences of noncompliance will be a small price for citizens to pay to save our democracy at home when compared to sacrifices of those who die protecting us abroad.

America’s true religion – In America you can have any faith and be of any religion you want, or be agnostic or atheist, as long as you are a capitalist that worships the god of money and mammon. That is why the US society has worked as long as it has, because people organized their daily lives around the creeds of capitalism where there is little variance permitted. We were united by that practice despite whatever differences in faith, sexuality and even politics. You are welcomed here as long as your are a true believer – in capitalism.

Pyramid scheme – Of course the problem with that is that our structural form of capitalism is slow to incrementally reform itself. Take the threat of climate change or providing health care or narrowing income inequality.  Or that the planet may not be able to support perpetual growth that goes on and on. How in the world does our current form of capitalism work without non-stop growth that is needed to support endless borrowing and repayment of debt?

The next bubbles – Since the great recession of 07-08 the central banks around the world including the federal reserve has been pumping money into the global economies. Interest rates have been so low that the cost of money for those who already had assets and access to the spigot, the wealthy, made it possible for them to grow their incomes and wealth at a much faster rate than the poor or even the middle class. The evidence speaks for itself that despite quantitative easing the things the poor or working classes would buy have only had modest inflation. Yet the assets that the rich pursue have exploded in cost and value. It is clear where the money is going and where the next asset bubbles will be found.

A big lie – Yet the BLS and other economic watchers act like there is no inflation at all, so they can continue to pour money out into the pockets of those who don’t really need it. The myth of no inflation is the biggest lie being told to the American people. They hide the true cost of a middle class life by gaming the items that they measure. If the price of meat goes up, they say that does not mean there is inflation, it means that we will eat less meat, perhaps chicken, so that actually the cost of living has gone down. I am not making this up!