Monthly Archives: March 2009

Recessions for Dummies

Just in case you were wondering…

  1. People ain’t buying stuff because they are afraid they will lose their jobs.
  2. Companies are cutting back because people ain’t buying stuff.
  3. People are losing their jobs because companies are cutting back.
  4. Lather, rinse and repeat.

I blame the Media for talking about “recession” before it happened (if it actually has). This is the financial equivalent of shouting “FIRE!” in a crowded movie house. The fact that it happened on the cusp of an election makes it doubly suspicious.

Now Reading “The Completed Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin” by Mark Skousen

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Too Big To Fail?

…or “Where are we going, and what are we doing in this Handbasket?

Once upon a time, giants ruled the Earth. They swam, they flew, they walked, they ran. They Dominated.

Then change came. To this day, nobody knows precisely what that change was. Perhaps a giant meteorite fell to Earth, or perhaps somebody “moved their cheese”. Whatever it was, they were unable to adapt and survive, and so they passed, leaving behind their bones to tell the tale. And small, almost insignificant creatures arose to take their place.

And now, millions of years later, the whole sorry mess is being repeated as representatives of big Corporations lobby our elected representatives with the message that they need to be kept alive to preserve jobs. That they are “too big to fail” and therefore require “bailing out” to the tune of trillions of dollars…

…of our money.

Don’t misunderestimate me here. I am not anti-business. I am not even Anti-Corporation. I would even go so far as to say that I am a Capitalist. But it seems that the MegaCorps have been running this country for far too long, to their benefit to the detriment of we, the People.

We have allowed the banks to write the banking laws; over the past twenty years or so they have systematically dismantled and hauled away the guardrails that were put into place after the crash of ’29. Result: “Anything Goes”… until it doesn’t.

We have allowed them to export jobs overseas for a quick buck: Result 1: Unemployment here, but plenty of Call Centers in Bangalore. Result 2: The nation that bought the world “Customer Service” has now bought us “Customer Disservice”; the gentle art of telling the customer “No”.

We have allowed Detroit too much latitude in writing the rules and regulations that affect them, and the ability to play fast-and-loose with them. They are too busy selling Vehicles that most of us do not want to buy. Result: Toyota have the Prius, Honda have the Insight, but Detroit have… nothing. GM’s latest bright idea is to axe the Saturn brand (the “different kind of Company” that bought us the all-electric EV-1), while keeping… Buick (whose corporate slogan is evidently “Flabby American cars for Flabby American people“).

Yes, we need to protect our Auto industries from foreign competition – the British didn’t… and now they don’t have an Auto Industry – but those Industries need to learn to actually compete; a lesson that they did not learn thirty years ago and now have to re-learn, this time at our expense. For this reason alone I’m in favor of nationalizing them if necessary – but let’s not just subsidize their incompetence by bailing them out, or pad the expense accounts of the bozos that got them painted into this corner through their inability to “manage” their way out of a wet paper bag…

We have allowed Healthcare Insurance to become the exclusive perk of large businesses (larger groups get the best health insurance deals). Result: The Entrepreneurial spirit, once the bedrock of the American Way, is virtually killed as people give up their independence in exchange for Health Benefits.

We have worshiped at the Altar of Wall Street for too long. Result: Short-term thinking, quick profits and highly-leveraged businesses that collapse en masse when the market takes one of its occasional turns for the worse.

We have stood by and watched twenty years of merger-mania and done nothing. Result: Market dominance by a small number of huge players. For example: Pizza Hut, Taco Bell and KFC are all owned the same company. This is competition how??

As I said earlier, I am a Capitalist. I believe in Capitalism. There are some who might say Capitalism has failed us, but they are wrong; the problem is not capitalism at all; it is Capitalism without Conscience – one of Ghandi’s “Seven Deadly Sins”.

It is the kind of mentality that gives the CEO a million-dollar pay raise for a job well done, while simultaneously cutting the salaries – or worse, the jobs – of the rank-and-file because “times are hard”. As Mark Russel so picturesquely put it:

The country’s in recession but I’m cheerful and I’m chipper,
As I slash employee wages like a fiscal Jack the Ripper.
And I take away their pension plan and never mind their hollers,
And I pay myself a bonus of a coupla million dollars

It is the bankers’ mentality of lending people as much as you can before the next guy does, without bothering to satisfy themselves as to whether they can afford to repay… then taking their homes when they can’t meet the payments.

Yes, I believe in “caveat emptor“, but I also believe in the concept of “Due Diligence”  – something that was missing from legislation passed by both Republicans and Democrats. If you are going to lend me money, you would obviously want to satisfy yourself of my ability to repay… but that does not apply if you happen to be a bank; you just check my “I-Love-Debt” FICO credit score (you build a good FICO score by going into debt and staying there).

It is our elected officials telling us that to tighten our belts because times are hard… while granting themselves a pay rise with a perfectly straight face.

We have bought into the lie that Corporations are America; that what is good for them is good for the rest of us. As plausible as that sounds, it has turned out not to be the case.

We have allowed the Corporations to have their own way, write their own rules and put their interests before that of the country. And yet this is precisely not the case. A corporation exists at the whim of the Government; their charter can, in theory, be withdrawn at will.

We, the people, on the other hand, are guaranteed liberty as a constitutional right.

In theory.

Liberty is a highly elastic concept; my liberty does not extend to how much of my earnings I get to keep (Income Tax), what I can put into my body (drugs) and what I can do with it (prostitution and organ sales) or bits of it (that tooth that the Dentist just extracted is no longer yours, thanks to OSHA regulations).

And can someone tell me why the corporations get to deduct all of their health-related and work-related expense while I cannot? Am I the only one who thinks this is just a little one-sided?

I end with a quote that sums it up better than I ever could…

“The first and most important profit you should take care of is your customers’ profit. For if your customers don’t make a profit, they will not be able to afford to purchase your products. The second-most important profit you should take care of is your employees’ profit. For if they can’t afford to work for you, they will not be able to produce the products that you need. And lastly, the least important profit for you to worry about is the stockholders’ profit. For if you take care of the first two profits, the stockholders’ profit will take care of itself.”

That was from Thomas J Watson Jr, who ran a little shop called IBM.

Conspiracy? Naah….

On my way to work, my typical route passes seven gas stations. This morning, they all posted the same price – $1.99. For all seven gas stations to post the same price is amazingly rare – I have collected gas prices for a consumer site since mid-2002, and I believe that this is the first time that this has happened.

I’m not complaining; I filled up two days ago for $1.76. As a rule I try to avoid filling up on Fridays or at weekends, since Thursday price spikes are not exactly unknown.

While on the subject of Gas Prices, Last July it was $4.29. Five months later it was $1.30. Can anybody make any sense of this? I can’t. None of the excuses that I have heard hold much water. There was talk of “glut and oversupply” caused by “falling demand”, but nobody I know is using significantly less gasoline, so that sounds like a load of old Tosh to me. So what  are the real reasons? Here are some of my suggestions.

  • Texas Oilman no longer in the White House.
  • Democratic Congress more likely to crucify oil companies than the Republicans.
  • Incoming President talking seriously about “alternative energy” (rather than the lip-service that we have been getting for the last eight years from the aforementioned Texas Oilman) has OPEC and Oil Companies soiling their collective underwear.
  • People are getting more and more cynical about Gas stations raising their prices in anticipation of disasters that may or may not happen.

One thing I have learned: When the Oil Companies – or the Media who read their press releases and call it “news” – tell us that “higher gas prices are coming” they are lying.

There is no “Oil Shortage”. It’s true that we have a shortage of refining capacity in the US, but that is because everyone, including me, wants refineries, but wants them to be somewhere else.