A popular metric is to compare CEO pay to the pay of the lowest-skilled–and hence lowest-paid–worker in the company. If the CEO makes $15,000,000 and a burger-flipper makes $15,000 then the CEO is making 1,000 times more.
This provides fuel for policy debate. As I often say, socialism is not about economics. There is no economics of socialism. It is nothing more than institutionalized envy. And the pay ratio of 1,000 appeals only to envy. It is offered without context, as none is deemed necessary. The very fact that he is paid so much more is taken as proof of … well it’s outrageous.
Something must be done!
Or so the Left argues. Get him because he’s rich. Impose a pay restriction on all companies, or at least all public companies. Tax the #$&%! out of him. Give all workers a so called guaranteed basic income (so called because socialism never delivers on its promises).
Libertarians are correct to note that if a wage is set in a free market, there is no fairer mechanism. And besides, it’s the company’s money to spend as it chooses. No good can come out of Washington meddling. They also point out that the CEO produces more value than the burger flipper, and his job is harder and more stressful.
This is true, but the very notion of a ratio of one person’s pay to another’s is meaningless. It tells us exactly nothing, while tantalizing us that it tells us something important.
I propose a different metric. A ratio of a worker’s pay to the value he produces. For example, suppose the gross profits (ex. cost of meat and ingredients) generated by the burger flipper’s work is $15 per hour. His pay is $7.50. Therefore this is a 2:1 ratio. He is paid half the value he creates.
Now consider his manager. The manager supervises 10 workers. Assuming all have equal productivity, the total gross value of these workers is $150. If the manager is paid $15, then this same ratio moves up quite a lot. It is 10:1.
Finally, let’s go all the way up to the CEO. If the firm’s gross profit is $15,000,000,000, then this ratio is 1000:1.
As we move up in the value chain, it is harder to measure the gross value contributed by each worker. For example, with the CEO, is the gross value simply gross profit? Or are we trying to look at just the difference he makes compared to his predecessor?
However, it should be clear that as you go up in value and salary, the ratio of value created to salary also goes up. That is, higher-value workers are paid less as a percentage of the value they create. Isn’t that a different view from the common envy view?
I am not sure what to call it. It may even exist, though I have not come across it. I am mulling “gross value capture ratio of wages”.
I don’t normally write about myself. Please bear with me as I get something off my chest.
My field is monetary science. I focus on two areas. One is the pathology of the dollar, which is in terminal decline. The other is a free market in money, a.k.a. the gold standard. Science is a quest to discover new principles. I work on understanding the processes and mechanisms of both the failing dollar and the unadulterated gold standard.
One of the greatest satisfactions in my life is to identify something, work out what it is, obsess until I truly understand it, and then communicate it. For example, why we need an objective unit of measure of economic value and how we can recognize it when we see it.
This is what I have done all my life. As an early teen, learning to program on the Apple ][+, I developed a way to write floppy disks that could not be read by any copy program (copy protection was important in those days). I studied how the disk drive mechanism worked, and traced the inner loop of the commercial copy programs (alas I did not have the discipline to finish and commercialize it, or I should have made a lot of money).
At my last company, DiamondWare, I envisioned what 3D audio would sound like, what it would do for voice communications. I remember the day when we finally put together all the code to implement it, and I heard it for the first time. It worked! Later, I architected a scalable realtime audio server to provide this 3D voice experience to a massive number of people.
After selling the business (and spending several years at Nortel, and then at Avaya), I applied myself to monetary economics. The gold world has a benchmark called the Gold Forward Rate (GOFO). It is as important to gold-using businesses as LIBOR in conventional finance. It was published daily by the London Bullion Market Association until a few years ago. Everyone said it could not be calculated using only public market data. I developed a way to do it. We now update a daily chart of GOFO.
I have worked out what a modern, 21st century gold standard will look like—and the path to get from here to there.
Without boasting, this is what I do.
So I must say the most frustrating experience for me is when someone denies my observation. What they are saying (without understanding what I am saying) is, “you didn’t see that.”
Obama infamously said “you didn’t build that.” It’s pure envy. He did not build anything, and says this to feel better about his own lack of achievement. When various and sundry alleged free marketers say “you didn’t see that,” they are trying to feel better about their own lack of vision. They hold to the conventional Quantity Theory of Money. Aside from being wrong, this theory does not encourage (or enable) seeing new phenomenon. It’s a dead-end.
Some of these folks are threatened by my seeing that, the way Obama is threatened by entrepreneurs who build that.
They have even tried to suggest that I am attacking Mises along with all economists. Sorry, guys, that’s not how science works. You do not get to deny an observation by such emotional appeal. You cannot just conjure up a picture of carnage, of economists slain by the dragon of a new idea.
Either I am right, or I am not. If not, show me where I made a mistake (which would first demand that you understand what I said). Failing to meet that standard, you’re just attacking what you don’t comprehend.
You cannot make me unsee something. Nor can you cow me into remaining silent. If there may have been a time when you could have marginalized me by browbeating my early audience with fear that if they follow my work they will be ostracized, that time is long past.
If what I say makes you feel uncomfortable, then it is not my sin. It’s all yours. It is you who ought to check your premises, oh you who would presume to utter “you didn’t see that” out of fear of seeing it for yourself. It is you who need to know why my ideas cause you such anxiety. If it were true that I saw nothing, and my work just rubbish, then you know that it would not vex you so.
And if you don’t want to know, if you don’t want to check your premises, and you don’t want to understand my ideas well enough to refute then, then you marginalize yourself. Monetary science is moving forward, whether you will or not.
I’ve got science to do, a business to build, and a world to help move towards the gold standard. What are the “you didn’t see that” crowd doing?
The Senate just passed a 500-page tax reform bill. Assuming it lives up to its promise, it will cut taxes on corporations and individuals. Predictably, the Left hates it and the Right loves it. I am writing to argue why the Right should hate it (no, not for the reason the Left does, a desire to get the rich).
The root of our problem is spending. The federal government spends much of our income, and an increasing amount of our wealth to the tune of over $4 trillion a year. That is over $11,000 for every man, woman, and child. But children don’t work and many adults don’t either (or they work for the government or a contractor). Assuming 100 million work in the productive sector, the government spends $40,000 in cash for each one, not counting the promises it racks up. This is the federal government only, and of course the people also bear the burden of spending at state, county, city, and municipal water district levels.
The government spends more than it takes in tax revenues. A lot more. The federal debt today is over $700 billion more than it was a year ago. The reason is simple. The people may love spending, but they hate taxes. So the government makes it up by borrowing.
I have written a lot about this concept, borrowing. They call it borrowing, but without the means or intent to repay it, it’s really a fraud. This is my definition of inflation—counterfeit credit. It is the compromise between the party of spend more, and the party of tax less: the policy of borrow more.
And that brings us to the present topic. Is it good to cut taxes? Economist Frederic Bastiat could have written this essay for me, in only 168 words. The first paragraph of the introduction to his 1850 book That Which is Seen, and That Which is Not Seen reads:
“In the department of economy, an act, a habit, an institution, a law, gives birth not only to an effect, but to a series of effects. Of these effects, the first only is immediate; it manifests itself simultaneously with its cause — it is seen. The others unfold in succession — they are not seen: it is well for us, if they are foreseen. Between a good and a bad economist this constitutes the whole difference — the one takes account of the visible effect; the other takes account both of the effects which are seen, and also of those which it is necessary to foresee. Now this difference is enormous, for it almost always happens that when the immediate consequence is favourable, the ultimate consequences are fatal, and the converse. Hence it follows that the bad economist pursues a small present good, which will be followed by a great evil to come, while the true economist pursues a great good to come, — at the risk of a small present evil.”
If they cut taxes, the seen is the lower tax you must pay. That is good and everyone is happy. But what is the unseen? What is that thing to which Bastiat refers as the “ultimate fatal consequence”?
It is an increase in borrowing. The “great evil to come” is the collapse of the debt, which is the backing for what we call money nowadays. When the debt is defaulted, our money will be worthless.
A reduction in tax revenues necessarily means an increase in net borrowing. Borrowing, of course, does not generate revenues. It is merely an addition to the debt.
To manage the rising debt—it’s rising exponentially—they suppress the rate of interest. This keeps the monthly payment down, but it has many other unseen but foreseeable consequences. Just ask a retiree trying to live on fixed income.
The bottom line is that when the government spends our income and our wealth, we are impoverished. That is a fact, and there cannot be any real debate over it. The debate is whether it is less bad to tax us or to borrow.
When the government taxes us, we know we are poorer. It is seen. We adjust downward our consumption and our quality of life. This is why everyone hates taxes.
When the government borrows, by contrast, we do not feel the pinch of the impoverishment. Instead, the government sells us bonds. The bond is a financial asset which not only pays interest, but has been in a bull market since Ronald Reagan took office in 1981. We not only don’t feel poorer, but we actually feel richer. The purchasing power of our investment portfolios is going up.
Borrowing is not a magic perpetual motion machine. It is not a way to spend above your revenues. It is not a way to consume without first producing. It is a just a way to deceive—to consume without the taxpayer realizing it.
It is Bastiat’s unseen.
Don Watkins of the Ayn Rand Institute wrote an article, The Myth of Banking Deregulation, to debunk a lie. The lie is that bank regulation is good. That it helped stabilize the economy in the 1930’s. And that deregulation at the end of the century destabilized the economy and caused the crisis of 2008. If deregulation is the problem, then reregulation is the solution. So, in the wake of the crisis, Congress enacted a 2,300-page monstrosity of regulation known as Dodd-Frank.
Watkins does a good job describing government regulation of finance, in particular addressing the savings and loan industry. He gives an example where people commonly assume that Congress reduced regulation, the Graham-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999. The headline is that this law reduced regulation, and allowed banks to be in the securities business. However, the truth is that it mixed in a dollop of increased regulation.
I commend him for tackling regulation and the moral hazard of deposit insurance, and calling for real deregulation.
However, I must criticize is article. He says:
“By far the most important factor in postwar stability was not New Deal financial regulations, however, but the strength of the overall economy from the late 1940s into the 1960s, a period when interest rates were relatively stable, recessions were mild, and growth and employment were high.”
Here is a graph of the interest rate on the benchmark 10-year Treasury bond from 1946 through 1969.
Even during the initial smooth period through 1953, the rate of interest climbed 27 percent. By this point, the instability had only just begun. If “into the 1960’s” refers to the last plateau in 1965 before the rate destabilizes further, then the rate was about 4.2%. This is about double what it had been just 15 years earlier. And at the end of the 1960’s, the interest rate had hit 7.7%, or about 3.5 times where it started.
Watkins gives us a hint that he means that the interest rate destabilized after President Nixon severed the last link to gold in 1971. He says, “…[the] U.S. government cut its remaining ties to gold in 1971. The volatile inflation and interest rates that followed…”
So let’s look at the interest rate for the full period of rising rates, up to the peak hit in 1981.
We can see that it does indeed get worse after Nixon’s ill-conceived act. However, it is just a continuation of the same trend that had been underway since 1946. It’s a combination of rising interest rates with rising interest rate volatility. Both phenomena inflict damage on the economy.
Watkins claims, “Part of the credit for this [interest rate] stability goes to monetary policy.” He thus contributes—I assume unintentionally—to the myth of monetary central planning.
Myth: central planners were successful for decades, delivering a strong and stable economy. They can do it again. So if our present planners are not getting it right, then we just have to hire the right people.
If our civilization is to have a future, then this myth must come down!
In recent decades, most people believed that Fed Chairmen Greenspan and Bernanke administered a strong and stable economy. They called it “the great moderation”. Of course, this view ended with a crash in 2008, along with the markets.
Watkins reinforces the myth in his subsequent discussion of regulation and the savings and loan crisis. He says that New Deal regulation, “collapsed under the pressure of bad monetary policy from the Federal Reserve…” The very phrase “bad monetary policy” implies that there is such a thing as good monetary policy.
There is no such thing as good monetary policy.
There is no such thing as effective monetary policy, or monetary policy that does no harm. There are only the times when most people see no overt symptoms, when they don’t realize the damage being done. And there are times of pain, when reality takes hold again. Since monetary policy can have lags of decades, most people do not know how to ascribe the blame properly.
One economic indicator that may make the postwar economy appear strong is Gross Domestic Product. GDP quadrupled from 1946 to 1969. Unfortunately, GDP is not a measure of the quality of economic activity. A fever is not a measure of the quality your health, but merely the quantity of calories your sick body is burning. Similarly, GDP is not a measure of the quality of the economy, only the quantity of dollars turned over.
GDP should be understood to be a measure combining destruction plus production. Government waste is added to private activity. And of course, not all private activity is productive. GDP does not distinguish between the squandering of precious capital during false booms and the genuine productive enterprise. It also includes many other wasteful activities, such as regulatory compliance.
A rapidly-rising GDP does not necessarily mean the economy is healthy or stable. In fact, it was not in the postwar period.
One subtle but deadly problem was described by economist Robert Triffin in 1959. Rational domestic fiscal policy was in conflict with international demand for the US dollar, used as their monetary reserve asset. The US was obliged—and happy to oblige—to run greater and greater budget deficits. Triffin knew that a crisis was inevitable. It came under the Nixon administration.
I want to pick on a phrase that feeds—again I assume inadvertently—into the anti free market, anti gold standard myth. Watkins uses the passive voice to say that the classical gold standard “had fallen apart during World War I…”
Most people today, if you press them, will tell you that that a free market contains the seeds of its own destruction. “Falling apart” is precisely what they fear will happen when a free market is unregulated, uncontrolled, and not centrally planned. That’s why they want regulators and central planners.
It needs to be said again and again. No. The classical gold standard did not fall apart!
It was killed by government. In 1913, the Federal Reserve was created. That altered the gold standard the way drinking a bottle of wine alters consciousness. If a drunken worker drives a bulldozer through a house, no one says that “the building had fallen apart.” In addition to the Fed in the U.S., the governments of Britain and Germany and other belligerent powers suspended the gold convertibility of their currencies in 1914.
Many people blithely say that the gold standard fell apart. I say, again, it did not.
After the war, the victorious countries claimed they were returning to the gold standard, but instead they created a pseudo gold standard. As everyone knows now, it didn’t work. At least one economist, Heinrich Rittershausen, knew in advance. He warned that this dysfunctional monetary system would cause a great unemployment.
We, the advocates of liberty, will only succeed if we are rigorous. We must know the facts we present in our writings, and our theories must take these facts in account. Otherwise, we may get a hosanna from the choir, but we will not persuade the mainstream. False facts will not win people who have studied the field.
Objectivism is the philosophy which reveres facts and integrates facts into theories which explain reality.
The fact is that since at least 1913, we have not had capitalism (and there was not a free market in banking in 1912, or even in 1812). Instead, since 1913, we have had a central bank. The Fed has been taking for itself more and more power over the decades.
Our central bank administers the interest rate. Interest, being the price of money, affects every other price and every economic decision in the economy. Distorting interest can have terrible consequences, which can come decades later.
More importantly than deregulating—and that is very important—we need to end central planning. The collapse of the Soviet Union proved that even corn production cannot be centrally planned. Corn is a simple product. You put seeds in fertile ground, wait for sun and rain to do their thing, and then harvest it. Yet the Soviets starved.
We are smart enough to know that we can’t centrally plan corn. However, we think we can centrally plan the most complex of man’s products: credit.
We must talk about this in plain language. The gold standard of a freer era did not just collapse, without cause. Power-lusting, war-mongering governments killed it to do away with the discipline it imposed. Then, free from this constraint, they marched men off to worldwide wars twice in 30 years (no, I am not saying that the US had the same moral stature as the European belligerents).
Towards the of the second world war, the US forced the allied powers to agree to a new monetary order at Bretton Woods. The architect of this vicious scheme was Harry Dexter White, a communist and tool of the Soviet Union. Ever since then, the worldwide monetary system has been dominated by the Fed. And the US has been abusing what Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, the French Minister of Finance in the 1960’s, called the “exorbitant privilege”.
The Fed’s central planning could not possibly have delivered stability, as any rational theory tells us. The Fed’s central planning did not in fact deliver stability, as any rational reading of history shows us.
The Trump administration is now talking about a 20% tariff on imported goods from Mexico. As expected with any issue in economics, reactions are all over the map. Predictably, his supporters forget everything they learned about economics. They think the tax will be yuge.
Many others oppose the tax, but make a basic economic error. They think a 20% tax on, say Corona beer, will result in a 20% increase in the price of Corona.It’s much worse than that. Stop and think about it for a moment.
A 6-pack of Corona is about $10. Will people pay $12 for it? I bet most won’t. Corona itself has the strongest motivation to find out what consumers are willing to pay. If they thought they could charge more, they would already have raised their price.
Therefore, this tax will eat up Corona’s capital, as the company squeezes its profit margin. Maybe they raise the price a bit, and suffer reduced volumes. This will pinch margins even more, as there are fixed costs which don’t go down as volume drops.
Their American importers will also suffer, of course.
Ultimately, Corona will likely be forced out of the market. That’s when beer prices will go up, with fewer producers and less supply.
And of course the newly unemployed Mexicans who worked at Corona will cease buying any products from America. And Corona itself will have to reduce what it buys, as it is making less money.
Domestic beer brewers +1
Domestic importers -1
Domestic consumers -1
Domestic manufacturers -1
Domestic exporters -1
And all of this is assuming Mexico does not respond with tariffs and regulations of its own, which will add more entries to the minus column. If only we had a historical precedent so we could know how that is likely to play out…
Most people think in terms of purchasing power. How much can one’s cash buy? I reject this view on two grounds. One, it encourages a liquidation mindset. If your life savings consists of 100,000 dollars in the bank, plus a house and some shares of AAPL and INTC, how many years’ worth of groceries can you buy?
If the grocery-value goes up, people cheer.
Life savings is not supposed to be about liquidation. People used to be able to earn a yield on their money. We should think of an estate as a business, with assets that generate income (as people once did). In this view, you don’t think of selling the business every minute of every day, cheering when its price goes up.
You think of its profits. You think of how many groceries you can buy–by operating a business to generate profit.
You don’t think of the purchasing power of the business, but its Yield Purchasing Power.
The conventional purchasing power paradigm paints a rosy picture. That may help explain why apologists for the regime of the irredeemable dollar promote it.
The yield purchasing power view shows something altogether different.
I have written eight short articles on Yield Purchasing Power. I gave a talk about it, in fall 2016 at the American Institute for Economic Research, which was recorded on video. Below are the links, gathered here in one landing page (which will be updated as I add more material).
Yield Purchasing Power: Think Different About Purchasing Power
Falling Yields, Rising Asset Prices -Rising Yields,Falling Prices
Interest – Inflation = #REF
THERE’S Your Hyperinflation!
Yield Purchasing Power: $100M Today Matches $100K in 1979
The Economy is in Liquidation Mode
Who the Heck Consumes Capital?!
Move Over Entrepreneurs, Make Way for Speculation!
Who Is Worth More: Some Hedge Funds or All our Kindergartens?
2016 was a phenomenal year! Most of my focus over this year was on my company, Monetary Metals. That is appropriate for the founder and CEO of any early-stage company. Doubly so in this case, as Monetary Metals is a company with a vision to change the world for the better. People need a path towards the use of gold as money. Monetary Metals provides that path, a way to earn gold on your gold.
I raised a small amount of capital in February, sufficient to bring on board Bron Suchecki, formerly of the Perth Mint. And to begin working with Arie Levy-Cohen, formerly of Morgan Stanley, on defining the value proposition and branding.
In the Spring, I visited Hong Kong and Singapore for the first time. I was there to give keynotes at two gold-related conferences. I expected to really love the food in HK, as I seek out Chinese restaurants wherever I go. I did find two good places, but much of what I ate there was bland and starchy. I also may have eaten something bad there, because when I flew on to Singapore I felt unwell. I spoke and went to many meetings, only by the grace of being medicated. I stayed in the Marina Bay Sands, and did not even go up to its world-famous roof deck and negative-edge swimming pool. I got better when I returned home. Need to return…
This summer, I spoke at FredomFest. While at the conference, Monetary Metals announced its first gold fixed-income deal with another company who was there, Valaurum. We provide the gold they need to manufacture the Aurum®, a gold currency unit containing one tenth of one gram of gold in a clear plastic film about the size of a dollar bill. It is gold you can fold.
Interest on gold will change the world.
I am a member of the Arizona House Ad Hoc Committee on Gold Bonds. Arizona is considering my idea of issuing a gold bond, which gives the state a fiscal benefit, and attracts capital from all over the world. Here is the video of my proposal.
What do you do if you are invited to give keynote addresses in Great Barrington, Massachusetts and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia? Less than one week apart?
If you’re crazy, you agree to both. If you’re insane (in a good way), you book an around-the-world ticket on the One World Alliance, and fly to Auckland, Sydney, Singapore, KL, London, New York, and home. You spend over three weeks on the road, meeting with partners and prospective clients. You also see some friends, hang out in Auckland, have some great beer, attempt to stay for the Australian Rules Football but get overcome by jet lag and bail out early. Then you spend 45 minutes walking up hill, uphill, and uphill some more, to get to the Langham Hotel at the top. And crash.
You have lunch with an investor at Aqua Dining, overlooking the water and a great swimming pool in Sydney. In Singapore, you have some good food and good meetings. This time I felt well and could enjoy. Then I flew on to KL. At the conference, they brought new meaning to the concept of serving tea. They had a noodle dish that was out of this world, plus little pastries. And, of course, tea and coffee. I am not a coffee drinker, but I am developing a love of tea.
In KL, I spoke about the Fed’s falling interest rate, and how nothing in the world is immune from its pernicious effects. Including even an Islamic finance program for homebuyers. It does not charge interest, and yet its rate of return has been falling since inception in the 1980’s.
From KL, took a redeye to London Heathrow. Checked in to the Sofitel in T5 to crash for a few hours. Had my first investor meeting Sunday evening in Chelsea by the Thames. Later that week, I had a small private tour of Westminster Palace and dinner in a private dining room.
I also had a chance to take a train two hours north of London, catch up with a friend and have lunch in what I suspect was a Medieval pub. The ceiling in places was too low for me to stand up! Across the street was an old castle, much smaller than I expected. I missed an event at the Institute for Economic Affairs on Lord North Street. I was looking forward to it, but jet lag struck again.
Then I flew on to JFK. Luckily, a hired car took me up to Massachusetts, where the American Institute for Economics Research has its headquarters in an old mansion. I was in no condition to drive. I realized something. By continually traveling west, I forced my body to stay away later and later. However, it’s hard to get up later and later. So I ended up with jet lag of increasing severity. I crashed a few hours when I arrived, and gave the keynote at their annual meeting (video here). Most excitingly, the audience was very excited by my ideas. I think my talk was different than others they’d heard.
The grounds are gorgeous, and I was there at the perfect time of year.
Right after I got home, I closed another investment round. I set out to raise $400K. Ended up with over $500K, from investors not just in America, but Europe, China, and down under.
In November, I had a flat tire on my Porsche 911. So I called the Porsche Roadside Assistance 800 number (the car does not have a spare tire). Why do they make you go through the process of finding your Vehicle Identification Number, only to put you on with an agent who does not know your name, car, or anything else. His first question was did I try to install the spare tire (the car does not have a spare tire). Next, he asked me if I have the tow hooks (the car does not have tow hooks). OK, we will try to get a tow truck to you in 60 minutes or less.
Hours and several phone calls in which they lied to me later, the tow truck shows up. Do I have tow hooks? (no, it’s a 911, it doesn’t have tow hooks). OK, we’ll have to winch it up onto the flat bed. *CRUNCH*, the rear banged into the ground when the angle of the car changed as it began rolling up the bed.
Then followed a series of unrelated, unforced errors by various Porsche people. For example, inviting me to come to the dealership for a loaner car. I got there, no loaners. But we can give you a ride to Enterprise to get one. After the ride, waited on two lines. We’re out of cars, but we have a pickup truck.
At the end, I get a letter from my service adviser. “Soon, you will receive an emailed survey from Porsche… Unfortunately, anything short of Complete Satisfied [bold, underlined, and yellow highlighter in original] counts as a Zero score. The survey is very important to my career….”
In what universe does management allow an employee to give a letter like that to a customer?!
Despite that, I gave lots of feedback, not venting my emotions but specific criticisms of systems and processes which did not recognize the value of the customer or his time. I said bad systems beat good people. My salesman called me, to try to make me feel better and get me excited about a 2017 911 turbo. Unfortunately, the general manager called me the next day to undo whatever goodwill was created by the salesman. “Your car is in good mechanical order.” Yes, they got the car working, but that was never my complaint.
Now, I am thinking about the Audi R8 and Chevrolet Corvette Z06. Or maybe the hot Mercedes AMG coupe. No rush, my 911 has only 15,000 miles and right now I am focused on building a great company! 🙂
I address this essay to two groups. One group is those among the liberty movement, who believe that there’s nothing wrong with inequality. These are often Objectivists, who unknowingly defend a regime that artificially suppresses working people. The other group is those among the Left who still call themselves liberals. They say they don’t like inequality, but nevertheless continue to support this regime, and they often demand more of its interventions.
I am talking, of course, about our regime of the Federal Reserve and its zero-interest policy.
I have written before about how falling interest rates have pushed up the prices of stocks, bonds, and real estate (also artwork, antique cars, etc.) This is seemingly good for those who own capital assets (it’s not, but go try to tell someone it’s not good that his house doubled). At the same time, falling interest causes falling wages if not mass layoffs.
In other words, the Fed drives down interest. This drives up asset prices and drives down wages. The minority who own assets seemingly get richer (an illusion) and everyone else suffers.
That is not the only way that falling interest rates cause inequality. Nor is it the only way that it targets certain groups for greater harm than it brings to others. Consider that zero interest makes it impossible to save. I don’t mean hard to save. I don’t mean excuse-making for lazy people who don’t plan for their futures. I mean impossible in the full context. Let me explain.
When I started my career in 1990, the standard advice was to set aside 10% of your salary and put it in the bank. By the time you reached 65, you would have a big nest egg. The key to this strategy was earning interest. Every bank had brochures showing that by age 65 most of your nest egg would be the accumulation of compounded interest.
Let’s put it in human terms. Suppose you’re a young worker, just starting out. You make the median income of $52,000 a year. You set aside 10% of your gross paycheck before tax. Over 45 years, your salary set-aside adds up to $234K.
Back in 1990, a 1-year Certificate of Deposit paid 8.1 percent. At this rate, you would have about $2.4M by the time you retired at age 65. Over 90% of that total is the compounded interest.
However, today, the same 1-year CD yields less than ¼ percent. At this scant rate, you can expect to have only $246K. Over your entire career. Of that sum, just $12,000 is interest. Let that sink in.
Needless to say, $246K is not enough to live in retirement. If you can’t keep working, you’re going to have to go on the dole. And this leads us to an underappreciated point.
Business consultants, writers, deal makers, and many other white-collar professionals can easily continue to work for 10 or 20 years past the conventional retirement age. So long as you’re healthy, why not keep working? Aside from the money, it gives you something to do, keeps your mind engaged, and you’re contributing to society.
However, there are many jobs where you cannot keep working. Think about brick layers, plumbers, and roofers. These jobs both take a toll on the body and demand more than most 75-year olds can give. Whereas a business consultant may continue to grow his network and expertise even as he gets older, a worker in a physical job is slowing down as well as wearing out.
There is never a good reason for government to intervene and attempt to prevent people from experiencing the consequences of their actions (whether good or bad). Many of those crying about income inequality, just use it as a rationalization to move America down the socialist road.
That said, there is an inequality problem. It is not due to lack of government intervention, as the socialists would have you believe. It cannot be cured by yet more taxes and interventions. Its cause is intervention. I refer to the most pernicious and least-appreciated kind of intervention.
“There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own — nobody.” – Elizabeth Warren, campaign speech 2011
“If you’ve got a business – you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.” – Barack Obama, campaign speech 2012
The Left is clear about their view. You do not get credit, and you do not own your business by right. When the government taxes you, taxes you some more, regulates you, and licenses you, it has the right. Because you didn’t build that.
As with so many issues, the Right seemingly opposes the Left. Certainly, there was outrage at the outright, open expressions of communist ideology from Warren and Obama. But let’s drill a bit deeper. Let’s look at a litmus test to see if conservatives really believe that you own your business. Or perhaps they accept that you are a mere steward of the people’s resources, for the good of the people.
Can you hire or not hire anyone? After all, if you did build that, then it’s yours by right. And as a matter of right, you can decide who to hire. Right?
Not so fast. Here is what President George Bush, considered to be a conservative, said at the signing of the Americans With Disabilities Act in 1990.
“It will guarantee fair and just access to the fruits of American life which we all must be able to enjoy.”
This is a law forcing businesses to do what they did not agree to do. Who built that business again, Mr. Bush? But this conservative does not think that way. He thinks of it as “access” to the “fruits of American life.”. Access to what? Fruits grown by whom, Mr. Bush??
“And then, specifically, first the ADA ensures that employers covered by the act cannot discriminate against qualified individuals with disabilities.”
Clearly a mere steward has no right to hire based on his own preferences.
Then he made it even more clear:
“Second, the ADA ensures access to public accommodations such as restaurants, hotels, shopping centers, and offices.”
Who built that? No matter! Mr. Bush declared your business to be “public accommodations.” And in his view, it’s the role of the government to grant people “access”—to force you to give it to them. How far is the view of Mr. Bush from that of Ms. Warren and Mr. Obama?
OK who else, aside from the Conservatives and the Left, thinks you didn’t build that? Consider the following recent dialog:
“If we discriminate on the basis of religion, to me, that’s doing harm to a big class of people.” – politician
“The Jewish baker should have to bake the cake for the Nazi wedding?” – Moderator
“That would be my contention.” – politician
The politician is, of course, Libertarian Gary Johnson. He does not necessarily think that you built that business any more than Bush thinks it or Obama thinks it. Johnson sees the question in terms of whether “we” should discriminate.
Who is this “we”? One is left to conclude that he means those people who really built your business. The public, presumably.
The Left may be more brazen, more willing to go there, more shameless in taking your business away from you. First in theory, morally, by declaring that you are not a creator or hard worker or whatever it takes to build a business. The in practice, by setting no limits to taxation, regulation, permits, and compliance.
However, the Right and even the Libertarians are on board the same boat. They may stick to humanitarian imagery. They typically prefer to couch their desire to control your business in more palatable terms. But government control of your business stinks all the same.
At root, it necessarily comes back to the same principle. The only way to justify coercing you to “grant access”, the only justification to force a Jewish baker to serve a Nazi cake, is on grounds that it’s not really yours.
You didn’t build that, so shut up and let the government manage it for the benefit of others!
This essay is a followup to my previous post, Antidiscrimination Law.