Winner-Take-All Technology

The real chasm dividing the US is economic, with one economy for industry and one for tech, and the friction between them is getting fierce.

This article highlights the greatest immediate political and economic challenge we face in the 21st century. (No, it’s not climate change.) Digital technology has created two bifurcating worlds: the analog and the digital. They are diverging because digital technology expands exponentially while analog expands linearly. The most obvious example is the economic divergence between brick-and-mortar businesses and digital technology companies like Google, Apple, Amazon, Facebook, etc. The world’s five largest firms valued by market cap today are Apple, Microsoft, Exxon, Berkshire Hathaway, and Google.

With exponential growth and returns, the digital world is creating serious winner-take-all markets, despite the intense competition in the industry. Tech centers like Silicon Valley are exploding, while manufacturing regions are imploding. Both trends create a serious challenge to the distribution of economic success that traditionally has applied through employment income. Manufacturing and service productivity often led to wage increases enjoyed by expanding labor forces, flattening the distribution of capitalist business success. In the winner-take-all digital world, exponential growth and productivity becomes ever more concentrated in smaller groups of employees and shareholder insiders. In tech centers, slack labor demand is soaked up by innovative start-ups – in Silicon Valley, nobody is unemployed – they are merely early stage entrepreneurs. In the manufacturing industries, labor demand is not only falling, the expanding supply from globalization is driving wage incomes down.

The great challenge for the future will be to find ways to share the successes of technology more broadly by finding ways to include more of the population in its production. Merely imposing new programs of tax and redistribution will not work. I’m not sure any national politicians on the stage really have a clear idea on how to adapt to this future, so, unlike Mr. Kotkin, I’m not convinced the growing split between the digital and analog worlds really favors either political party. As wealth concentrates, so do disenfranchised voters grow in power.

Are We Heading for An Economic Civil War?

by Joel Kotkin, The Daily Beast

Forget that red state-blue state stuff. The real chasm dividing the US is economic, with one economy for industry and one for tech, and the friction between them is getting fierce. When we speak about the ever-expanding chasm that defines modern American politics, we usually focus on cultural issues such as gay marriage, race, or religion. But as often has been the case throughout our history, the biggest source of division may be largely economic.Today we see a growing conflict between the economy that produces consumable, tangible goods and another economy, now ascendant, that deals largely in the intangible world of media, software, and entertainment. Like the old divide between the agrarian South and the industrial North before the Civil War, this threatens to become what President Lincoln’s Secretary of State, William Seward, defined as an “irrepressible conflict.”Other major economic divides—between capital and labor, Wall Street versus Main Street—defined politics for much of the 20th century. But today’s tangible-intangible divide is particularly tragic because it undermines America’s peculiar advantage in being a powerhouse in both the material and non-material worlds. No other large country can say that, certainly not China, Japan, or Germany, industrial powerhouses short on resources, while our closest cousins, such as Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, remain, for the most part, dependent on commodity trade.

The China syndrome and the shape of the next slowdown

Over the past decade, the United States has enjoyed two parallel booms that combined to propel the economy out of recession. One was centered in places like Houston, Dallas-Ft. Worth, Oklahoma City, and across much of the Great Plains. These areas were all located in the first states to emerge from the recession, and benefited massively from a gusher in energy jobs due largely to fracking.At the same time, another part of the economy, centered in Silicon Valley as well as Seattle, Austin, and Raleigh/Durham, has also been booming. Though far more restricted than their counterparts in the “tangible” economy in terms of both geography and jobs, the tech/digital economy did not lag when it came to minting fortunes. By 2014, the media-tech sector accounted for six of the nation’s wealthiest people. Perhaps more important, 12 of the nation’s 17 billionaires under 40 also hail from the tech sector.

Until China’s economy hit a wall this fall, these two sectors were humming along, maybe not enough to restore the economy to its ’90s trim robustly enough to improve conditions in many parts of the country. But as China begins to cut back on commodity purchases, many key raw material prices—copper and iron to oil and gas as well as food stuffs—have fallen precipitously, devastating many developing economies in South America, Africa, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia.

Plunging prices are also beginning to hurt many local economies in the U.S., particularly in the “oil patch” that spreads from west Texas to North Dakota. This is one reason why overall economic growth has fallen, and is unlikely to revive strongly in the months ahead. Overall, according to the most recent numbers, job growth remains slow and long-term unemployment stubbornly high while labor participation is stuck at historically low levels. Much of this loss is felt by the kind of middle and working class people who tend to work in tangible industries.

But it’s not just the much maligned energy economy that is in danger. The recovery of manufacturing was one of the most heartening “feel good” stories of the recession. Every Great Lakes state except Illinois now enjoys an unemployment rate below the national average, and several, led by the Dakotas, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Iowa, boast unemployment that is among the lowest in the nation. Now a combination of a too-strong dollar, declining demand for heavy equipment, and falling food prices threaten economies throughout the Great Lakes and the Great Plains.

Waging war on the tangible economy

President Obama’s emphasis on battling climate change—aimed largely at the energy and manufacturing sectors—in his last year in office will only exacerbate these conflicts. For one thing, the administration’s directive to all but ban coal could prove problematic for many Midwest states, including several—Iowa, Kansas, Ohio, Illinois, Minnesota, and Indiana—that rely the most on coal for electricity. Not surprisingly, much of the opposition to the Environmental Protection Agency’s decrees come from heartland states such as Oklahoma, Indiana, and Michigan. The President’s belated rejection of the Keystone Pipeline is also intensely unpopular, including among traditionally Democratic-leaning construction unions.

These policies have also succeeded to pushing the energy industry, in particular, to the right. In 1990 energy firms contributed almost as much to Democrats as to Republicans; last year they gave more than three times as much to the GOP.

This underlying economic conflict is redefining our politics less along lines of ideology and more in terms of interests.

In contrast, the tech oligarchs and their media allies largely embrace the campaign against fossil fuels. Environmental icon Bill McKibben, for example, has won strong backing in Silicon Valley for his drive to marginalize oil much like the tobacco industry was ostracized earlier. Meanwhile the onetime pragmatic interest in natural gas as a cleaner replacement for coal is fading, as the green lobby demands not just the reduction of fossil fuel but its rapid extermination.

Embracing the green agenda costs Silicon Valley little. High electricity prices may take away blue collar jobs, but they don’t bother the affluent, well-educated, Telsa-driving denizens of the Bay Area, who also pay less for power. But those rates are devastating to the less glamorous people who live in California interior. As one recent study found, the average summer electrical bill in rich, liberal and temperate Marin County was $250 a month, while in impoverished , hotter Madera, the average bill was twice as high.

Many Silicon Valley and Wall Street supporters also see business opportunities in the assault on fossil fuels. Cash-rich firms like Google and Apple, along with many high-tech financiers and venture capitalist, have invested in subsidized green energy firms. Some of these tech oligarchs, like Elon Musk, exist largely as creatures of subsidies. Neither SolarCity nor Tesla would be so attractive—might not even exist—without generous handouts.

In this way California already shows us something of what an economy dominated by the intangible sectors might look like. Driven by the “brains” of the tech culture, the ingenuity of the “creative class,” and, most of all, by piles of cash from Wall Street, hedge funds, and venture capitalists, the tech oligarchs have shaped a new kind of post-industrial political economy.It is really now a state of two realities, one the glamorous software and media-based economy concentrated in certain coastal areas, surrounded by a rotting, and increasingly impoverished, interior. Far from the glamour zones of San Francisco, the detritus of the fading tangible economy is shockingly evident. Overall nearly a quarter of Californians live in poverty, the highest percentage of any state. According to a recent United Way study, almost one in three Californians is barely able to pay his or her bills.

Silicon Valley’s political agenda

For the time being, with the rest of the economy limping along, the tech oligarchs seem, if anything, ever more arrogant and sure that they will define the future of the country’s politics. At a time when most small business owners hold Obama in low regard, the Democratic Party can consider the tech sector as an intrinsic part of its core political coalition. In 2000 the communications and electronics sector was basically even in its donations; by 2012 it was better than two to one democratic.Once largely apolitical or non-partisan in their approach, firms like Microsoft, Apple and Google now overwhelmingly lean to the Democrats. President Obama has even enlisted several tech giants—including venture capitalist John Doerr, Linked In billionaire Reid Hoffman, and Sun cofounder Vinod Khosla—to help plan his no doubt lavish and highly political retirement.The love-fest between Obama and Silicon Valley grows from a common belief in being extraordinary. The same media that has marveled at Obama’s celebrated brilliance also hails Silicon Valley’s ascendency as a triumph of brains over brawn.Yet in reality many traditional industries such as energy and manufacturing still depend on skilled engineers. Indeed, after Silicon Valley, the biggest concentration of engineers per capita (PDF) can be found in brawny metros like Houston and Detroit. New York and Los Angeles, which like to parade as tech hotbeds, rank far behind.

In contrast to engineers laboring in Houston or Detroit, those who work in Silicon Valley focus largely on the intangible economy based on media and software. The denizens of the various social media, and big data firms have little appreciation of the difficulties faced by those who build their products, create their energy, and grow their food. Unlike the factory or port economies of the past, those with jobs in the new “creative” economy also have little meaningful interaction with working class labor, even as they finance politicians who claim to speak for those blue collar voters.

This may explain the extraordinary gap between the economies—and the expectations—of coastal and interior California. The higher energy prices and often draconian regulations that prevented California from participating in the industrial renaissance are hardly issues to companies that keep their servers in cheap energy areas of the Southwest or Pacific Northwest and (think Apple) manufacture most if not all of their products in Asia.

In the process the Democrats, once closely allied with industry, are morphing into a post-industrial party. Manufacturing in strongholds like Los Angeles, long the industrial center of the country, continues to erode. In a slide that started with the end of the Cold War, Southern California’s once-diverse industrial base has eroded rapidly, from 900,000 jobs just a decade ago to 364,000 today. New York City, which in 1950 boasted 1 million manufacturing jobs, now has fewer than 100,000. Overall, manufacturing accounts for barely 5 percent of state domestic product in New York and 8 percent in California, compared to 30 percent in Indiana and 19 percent in Michigan.

This divide could become decisive in the election. In contrast to advances in energy, autos, and homebuilding, which produced good blue collar and middle-skilled jobs, the benefits of the current tech boom have been limited, both in terms of job creation (outside of the Bay Area) and increased productivity, for the vast majority of voters.

This underlying economic conflict is redefining our politics less along lines of ideology and more in terms of interests. Increasingly states that follow the Obama line on energy, such as New York and California, are not contestable for Republicans. But elsewhere—beyond the coasts—there may be greater resistance.

Among those who are likely to revolt are those workers and entrepreneurs in the oil patch, those who build heavy machinery, and those who grow large quantities of food. The recent Republican win in Kentucky was in part based on opposition to anti-coal regulations coming from the Obama administration. As the EPA ramps up its regulatory onslaught, one can expect energy-dependent industries and regions to recoil, particularly at a time when their industries are headed into a recession. Republicans claims that regulatory policies hurt the tangible economies will gain traction if car factories and steel mills start shutting down again, while farmers plant fewer soybeans and developers build fewer suburban homes.

The emergence of an economic civil war?

Hillary Clinton may praise the economic progress under President Obama, and win the nods of those in the tech, media, and financial community who have done very well on his watch. There’s enough momentum from these industries to guarantee that the entire West Coast and the Northeast will fold comfortably, and predictably, into the Clinton column, despite rising concern about crime, homelessness, and loss of middle class jobs. But the very same policies that attract the tech world voter to Clinton will just as certainly alienate many working class and middle class Democrats in places like Appalachia, the Gulf Coast, and particularly the politically pivotal Great Lakes.

The stakes could be huge. If the Republicans can convince most voters in the middle of the country that the coastal-driven policy agenda is a direct threat to their interests, the GOP will likely carry the day. But if the Democrats can convince the country that coastal California and New York City represent the best future for us all, then get ready for Hillary, because nothing else—certainly not the old social issues—will stop her.

2016: Bernie vs. The Donald? Missing the Message.

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Most Americans are reduced to the passive role of spectators, fans, groupies. Or they are persuaded not to bother with politics. An elaborate class of professional technicians has taken charge of electoral politics—campaign managers and advertisers, pollsters, fundraisers, crowd organizers. These professionals, one could say, manage the passions or passivity of voters. They shape the content of what citizens know—and shape their ignorance too.

The ongoing circus of the presidential partisan primaries has voters fretting that our choices may whittle down to a contest between the bombastic Donald Trump vs. the radical socialist Bernie Sanders. I wouldn’t worry so much about that. Instead I would worry more about the underlying message regarding American “politics as usual.”

Below is an essay written by the journalist and author William Greider published in The Nation that reviews a book by Lawrence Goodwyn, Democratic Promise: The Populist Moment in America. Greider correctly applies this history of American populism to the modern movement that is the deeper current under the froth created by Trump and Sanders.

This movement, which is actually a gradual disenfranchisement of the American voter marked by the decline of party affiliation (as Greider points out, “Voters who stay home on Election Day are now by far the ‘largest’ political party”), is a real threat to the “politics as usual” of both the Democrats and the Republicans. And this is how it should be.

The resilience of American democracy is found in the pressures of the system to adapt to change or die. This does not imply the rise of third parties, except to displace one of the two major parties, either of which could easily suffer that fate. But the genius of our electoral two-party system has turned out to reinforce this need to adapt or die.

Multi-party systems fracture into uncompromisable positions that lead to instability in national government and over-dependence on fragile coalitions that often empower narrow interests at the margin. A two-party winner-take-all system forces parties to the center of voters’ demands in order to capture a majority. This is a good thing in a large pluralistic polity like we have in the U.S.

But, as Greider clearly points out, that doesn’t mean that democratic system cannot breakdown under this electoral design. American politics has become unresponsive to voter demands and needs for a variety of reasons. This gives rise to the anti-establishment tenor of modern movements such as the Tea Party and Occupy groups. These anti-establishment groups have more in common than in opposition, but the establishment seeks only to divide and conquer its opposition in order to continue to enjoy the spoils.

Goodwyn also wisely points out that for democracy to work, voters do not need to be perfectly informed, they only cannot be misinformed with a systemic bias. Unfortunately, the media today can promote that systemic bias, which is why it is failing us. This applies to mainstream as well as alternative media. In other words, we’re not getting the unvarnished objective truth from ABC, CBS, NBC, or FOX; and not from the NY TImes, Washington Post or The Wall Street Journal. And certainly not The Huffington Post or TownHall. We’re getting what appeals to each media channel’s targeted political audience.

On an optimistic note, the party “establishment” candidate that first discovers how to appeal to the disaffected and brings them back into the party fold by adapting to their demands and compromising the establishment party’s platform will be successful in future elections. And this is how it should be. Greider suspects we’re not quite there yet, but the momentum has been building for about 20 years now (maybe 40+). But it’s highly unlikely we will be led into the future by the likes of an angry Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders.

Bernie, Donald, and the Promise of Populism

Both candidates have been mislabeled as populists. The movement of that name was a genuine people’s rebellion that reinvigorated democracy. We can do it again.

By William Greider

September 21, 2015

The New Yorker recently attempted to explain two “populists” running for president, the only candidates generating huge and enthusiastic audiences. Instead, the article’s snide tone reflected the nearsightedness of cosmopolitan elites. Both candidates were mislabeled as “populist.” Bernie Sanders is a democratic socialist; Donald Trump is a trash-talking billionaire. But the magazine also mangled the true historical meaning of populism.

The writer seemed to be channeling Richard Hofstadter, the Columbia historian who back in the 1960s famously put down populism and other rebellious movements as “the paranoid style in American politics.” People are irrational, Hofstadter explained, driven by delusional fears and conspiracy theories. Not to be trusted with governing power.

Class condescension is as old as American democracy and is back in vogue this season, thanks mainly to the plutocrat with big hair. Only, Donald Trump turned “populist” anger upside down. He’s a super-rich guy ridiculing the “stupid” people in government and bragging about how he and his fellow billionaires buy politicians to get free stuff from government. Sanders, meanwhile, is plowing a parallel furrow of dissent—a substantive and serious program for reform.

But neither fits the label “populist” because they are both working within the established order. By definition, populism requires plain people in rebellion, organizing themselves to go up against the reigning powers. Major pushback from fed-up people is not present—not yet anyway—but the great disturbances already roiling party politics suggest that the political status quo is vulnerable to more upheavals, particularly if timidity and stalemate continue to suppress meaningful change.

It depends, first, on whether the 2016 results promise real changes in economics and social equity and/or convince people they have to dump both parties and attempt power-seeking politics of their own. This is a tender moment for the two-party system.

Elites naturally fear popular uprisings, but rebellion can be good for democracy. Even if they fail, self-generated citizen insurgencies can ventilate the musty corridors of government and compel governing parties to change or die. A century ago, the original Populists provoked fright and ridicule in establishment circles on a far more threatening scale. We are not there yet. But don’t count it out if timidity wins the election next year and politics continues to run away from fundamental questions.

The People’s Party in the last decades of the 19th century was self-organized by scattered groups of distressed farmers. It grew rapidly across the South and West to oppose the powerful forces—banks, railroads, industrial corporations—destroying small, independent producers. The farmers realized the federal government was an active accomplice in their economic destruction. There was nothing delusional about their alarm and anger. It was driven by a ruinous deflation of farm prices for three decades—hard money that rewarded capital and crushed producers.

The agrarian revolt set out audaciously to win power by winning elections—electing Populist governors, representatives, and senators—hoping ultimately to elect the People’s President. They failed, of course, but their legacy was profound. These self-taught citizens developed original ideas for governing the economy, business, and banking. They envisioned a central bank to regulate money and credit that would advance equality, serving people and producers rather than the fortunes of New York bankers. The Populist vision was the road not taken.

The New York Times called them “slime.” (This magazine was pretty bad too, as The Nation’s 1896 attack on William Jennings Bryan shows.) It denounced their proposal as “one of the wildest and most fantastic projects ever seriously proposed.” Yet years later, John Maynard Keynes saluted the American Populists as “a brave army of heretics.” They failed to gain power, but Keynes recognized that their economic analysis anticipated his own. Many of the original Populist proposals were eventually enacted as New Deal reforms.

For the true history, read Lawrence Goodwyn’s Democratic Promise: The Populist Moment in America. The book profoundly altered my understanding of American history and democracy (the excellent shorter version, widely available in paperback, is titled The Populist Moment: A Short History of the Agrarian Revolt in America). Goodwyn’s account provides powerful rebuttal to pessimism and resignation. His unsentimental narrative keeps alive the possibility of deep structural reforms in politics and government.

Democratic Promise puts people back at the center of the story—ordinary people who tried, against all odds, to act like self-directed citizens, actively participating in self-government. Goodwyn suggested that authentic democracy remains possible—not easy or assured, only possible—if people rediscover their voice and potential power.

In modern political culture, the idea of this deeper democracy has been hollowed out, obliterated. The promise endures, insofar as we have regular elections to select officeholders, but that ritual normally does very little to alter actual power relationships. And people know this.

Most Americans are reduced to the passive role of spectators, fans, groupies. Or they are persuaded not to bother with politics. An elaborate class of professional technicians has taken charge of electoral politics—campaign managers and advertisers, pollsters, fundraisers, crowd organizers. These professionals, one could say, manage the passions or passivity of voters. They shape the content of what citizens know—and shape their ignorance too.

The process of manipulating the electorate is enormously expensive, and mostly paid for by private donations. Donors naturally expect to influence the content of the messages, so campaigns are nearly always biased in favor of moneyed interests and affluent citizens. The ultimate purpose of campaigns is thus not educating citizens; it is electing or defeating politicians. The result of this narrow-form democracy is the steadily shrinking electorate. Voters who stay home on Election Day are now by far the “largest” political party.

The critical claim in Goodwyn’s analysis is that ordinary people are both capable of participating more directly in self-government and that their engagement is necessary for a genuinely functioning democracy. Otherwise, politics produces a closely held management system with control concentrated at the top. It makes distant decisions too opaque for ordinary citizens to understand or influence, much less control. This deformity roughly resembles our current conditions. Governing elites typically fault the people for their ignorance, and many discouraged citizens internalize the blame.

But Goodwyn insisted that ordinary people, though discouraged from active citizenship, have essential knowledge—knowledge they haven’t learned from books or newspapers. Their knowledge is crucial for balanced self-government. Because ordinary Americans, regardless of status or education, know things the authorities did not teach them. They frequently know things that contradict the governing experts, and they learn them before elected representatives do.

Where do people get this distinctive knowledge? From life itself, as Goodwyn explained. Of course, people are fallible and prone to error, false enthusiasm, and fears. But so are elected politicians. So are the corporate CEOs and investment bankers, including the ones who led the country over a cliff in 2008 and crashed the middle class.

The popular anger exploding in the run-up to 2016 baffled press and political leaders. They would not have been surprised if they had listened more respectfully to the broad ranks of citizens during the past three decades. Working people knew the “American dream” was falling apart. They knew because it was happening to them. They told their stories in great detail to anyone who would listen (as a young reporter I heard those stories from auto workers, steel workers, machinists, debt-burdened families, and other victims, trying to hang on and losing the struggle).

With brave exceptions, politicians in both parties turned their backs on the cries of distress. Learned economists assured political leaders that what working people saw happening in their neighborhoods wasn’t the real story. Over time, they predicted, prosperity would reach everyone and people would agree that deindustrialization was a good thing, a necessary evolution in the economy. It didn’t happen, and neither party has come clean on its failure.

I think that’s where the anger comes from. There is widespread feeling across ideological and partisan divides not only that government failed to ensure economic prosperity and security but also that both political parties denied or ignored what average working stiffs knew and were trying to tell the politicians. Many believe they were betrayed, that the politicians lied.

Modern government lost its sense of balance and credibility for many reasons, but partly because authorities distanced themselves from the common-sense and popular knowledge of ordinary Americans. This disconnect permeates government and politics, and it’s not always due to corporate greed or corruption. Sometimes, it is due to plain ignorance.

It’s true that we have not arrived at a new “populist moment”—not yet. But the political situation looks combustible, and perhaps more promising than the usual cynicism and resignation will recognize. Could citizens come out of their passivity and restart the fight for authentic self-government? Sounds fanciful, I know, but consider this: If the original Populists could organize millions to overcome their handicaps, people should be able to do the same now. After all, the Populists didn’t even have telephones, much less e-mail.

We are already deep into a stormy new era of democratizing technologies—people are getting the power to control their own communications—and inventive new channels are flowing freely from citizens themselves.

This new condition potentially destabilizes the old politics. I think it is a major factor in generating the dizziness of this election season. Among other things, it drastically reduces the cost of making political connections, of organizing across long distances and social divisions. That itself could become an insurrectionary virtue. It might even dilute the political domination of the 1 Percent, the corporations and billionaires.

I see possibilities for meaningful unrest ahead.

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Where the Elites Get Their Meat

Below are a couple of WSJ articles that indicate the way things look from the top down in our crapitalist society these days. First up are the financial elites. Public securities markets are the principle means by which individuals can participate in the success of large capitalist enterprises as something more than a labor cost. You may not be able to create a company like Apple, but you can buy its shares and receive a share of its success. The effect of devising policy that discourages public filings in favor of private placements means the door closes on the little guy and only the insiders get the sweet deals, which they then spin off to fleece the public after the easy profits have been squeezed dry. This is how capitalism concentrates wealth and don’t think our politicians are not pigs at the trough when it comes to insider deals.

The second article is offered in the “fair and balanced” spirit to show how our labor leaders play their political game by devouring their own members. Yessiree, the labor elites feed off their workers’ hard-earned incomes, while the financial elites feed off those workers’ savings. The wolves are eventually going to run out of sheep…

How different this Animal Farm would be if the shepherds decided to represent the interests of all to participate in the bounty of free enterprise.

Who Needs Wall Street?

Public debt and equity issues fell to $1.07 trillion between 2009 and 2010, while private issues rose to $1.16 trillion.

By DANIEL GORFINE AND BEN MILLER

A tectonic shift is under way in how companies raise money—and it will have a profound impact on U.S. investors and markets. According to the Securities and Exchange Commission’s most recent estimates, businesses have been raising more funds through private transactions than through debt and equity offerings registered under the securities laws and offered to the general public.

Overall public debt and equity issuances fell by 11% between 2009 and 2010, to $1.07 trillion, while private issues rose by 31%, to $1.16 trillion. This shift, which has been driven by the rising costs of public-market participation and regulation, will likely accelerate when the SEC implements reforms in the Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act, which the president signed into law last April.

The crowd funding provisions in the JOBS Act are intended to democratize investment opportunities using the Internet and have attracted the most public attention. But another part of the law may have the most impact.

Here is the background. U.S. securities laws have a private-market exemption, called Regulation D, that allows companies to sell securities to accredited investors with high net worth (essentially more than $1 million excluding a home). The exception means the companies don’t have to go through the SEC’s costly and time-consuming registration and reporting requirements for public offerings. The securities can also be resold to financial institutions that hold a required minimum value of securities investments.

But the securities laws have also banned general solicitations for these private-market offerings—and Title II of the JOBS Act lifts this ban. This means that a company, investment fund or seller now can publicize its offerings via the Internet or traditional advertising media, as long as the ultimate investors are accredited or qualified institutional buyers.

One of the most significant advantages that public markets have held over private markets is the ability to generate substantial market liquidity by advertising to a wider public. Once the SEC implements the legislation, that advantage will gradually fade away.

Until the JOBS Act, Regulation D effectively allowed companies and funds to raise capital only from investors with whom they already have a pre-existing relationship. So money typically flowed into a deal through broker-dealers or arbitrary social networks. This process shuts out a wide swath of prospective investors and, thanks to the lack of a robust trading market, results in lower prices for the securities.

By rolling back the ban on general solicitation, fund offerings and resales of unregistered securities can now flow through vast Internet-based broker-dealers and other finance networks, potentially giving a steroid shot to private capital markets.

According to the Angel Capital Association, there are 8.6 million accredited investors nationwide, of which only 3.1% currently invest in business startups through private markets. The large pool of untapped investors and capital may result simply from a shortage of information regarding investment opportunities or concerns over private market liquidity.

Thanks to the JOBS Act, private capital markets will enjoy increased transparency and therefore greater efficiency. They will also likely experience substantial new capital inflows due to the widespread advertising of offerings. If high-quality companies and funds have access to broad and deep pools of capital in private markets, then the question becomes why many of them would bother with the regulatory compliance and shareholder-management costs of public markets.

We anticipate a paradigm shift in how companies raise money, as they increasingly shun the highly regulated, costly and volatile public markets in favor of now deeper and more efficient private markets. This could be a boon for capital formation.

But it could also mean fewer investment opportunities for the general public. The most promising companies may delay or never file IPOs and instead seek capital on private exchanges not accessible to those who don’t qualify as accredited investors—which is 97% of the U.S. population. Meanwhile, novice accredited investors may be bombarded with solicitations for private placement opportunities, without some of the regulatory oversight provided in public markets.

For lawmakers and regulators, however, perhaps the lessons from the success of private markets can help with a reform of public securities regulations, many of which were written nearly a century ago and, at least in part, are the reason for the continuing privatization movement.

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Michigan Union Tell-All

A memo shows how unions hope to keep coercing worker dues.

When Michigan became the 24th right-to-work state late last year, everyone knew unions would try to overturn or otherwise neuter the law. Less expected was that they would do so at the expense of their own members.

That’s the message from a December 27-28 memo to local union presidents and board members from Michigan Education Association President Steven Cook, which recommends tactics that unions can use to dilute the impact of the right-to-work law. One bright idea is to renegotiate contracts now to lock teachers into paying union dues after the right-to-work law goes into effect in March. Another is to sue their own members who try to leave.

“Members who indicate they wish to resign membership in March, or whenever, will be told they can only do so in August,” Mr. Cook writes in the three-page memo obtained by the West Michigan Policy Forum. “We will use any legal means at our disposal to collect the dues owed under signed membership forms from any members who withhold dues prior to terminating their membership in August for the following fiscal year.” Got that, comrade?

Also watch for contract negotiations in which union reps sign up members for smaller pay raises and benefits in exchange for a long-term contract. “We’ve looked carefully at this and believe the impact of RTW [right to work] can be blunted through bargaining strategies,” Mr. Cook writes.

The union filed its inevitable lawsuit against the law last week. But in his memo, Mr. Cook admits this is a long shot, as is a challenge based on technicalities like the law’s carve-out for police and fire fighters. “Because of wording contained in the Act,” Mr. Cook writes, “challenging the carve out might not strike down the Act but could merely put police and fire into the same RTW pit the rest of us are in.”

Unions may have learned from last year’s meltdown in Wisconsin over Governor Scott Walker’s reforms. While Big Labor waged an unrelenting campaign to overturn the law in court and to recall Mr. Walker and Wisconsin legislators, there has been little serious discussion of a similar effort against Governor Rick Snyder in Michigan. “If the goal is to undo RTW, this is the least appealing of the options,” Mr. Cook writes of potential recalls.

The pattern in new right-to-work states is that union membership plunges when it is voluntary. That’s what happened in Wisconsin and Indiana, and it will probably happen in Michigan too.

Yet the most revealing news in the Cook memo is how little the union discusses assisting workers so more will voluntarily join unions. Instead the focus is how to continue coercing workers to keep paying dues. No wonder that the percentage of government workers who belong to unions fell last year. The Cook memo is damning proof that the main goal of union leaders is to enhance the power of union leaders, not of workers.

Gambling on the Welfare State

State-sponsored gambling is the one acceptable way of raising taxes on lower-income folks to help fund the welfare state. …Dancing in [politicians’] heads are visions of new state-sponsored gambling empires built on online poker, online slot machines and online lottery-ticket sales, with politicians collecting most of the vig.  …With or without federal regulation, legalized online poker is likely coming your way in 2013.

LOL. These are some great quotes from the article cited below. I’ve been waiting for someone to expose this dark secret about one way our politicians seek to fulfill their promises to take care of the poor. A remarkable trend that is probably inevitable, like sin taxes.

In my 2002 article titled CasinoWorld (downloadable pdf), I identified four behavioral types in terms of gaming strategies that explain risk behavior under uncertainty. These four types are explained in the following excerpt from the study:

The two dimensions of risk-taking (odds and stakes) yield four separate categories of agents (see Table 4.1):

  1. High odds/variance + high stakes = gambler
  2. Low odds/variance + high stakes = investor
  3. High odds/variance + low stakes = lottery player
  4. Low odds/variance + low stakes = subsistence/saver

————————

If we run a game of chance with these four strategies employed, eventually we end up with only two types: investors who own all the wealth and lottery players who live a subsistence life. Is this the world our leaders have planned for us? The 1% and 99%? Think about it, carefully. Happy Holidays!

From the WSJ:

D.C. Plays Fizzbin With Online Poker

How to make the poor pay for the welfare state: online gambling.

By HOLMAN W. JENKINS, JR.

Sometimes only a Star Trek metaphor will do. Remember the episode about a primitive people who developed a planet-girdling civilization based on the principles of the Chicago gangs? Many modern economic anthropologists would tell you that the state begins as organized crime, dividing up rackets and controlling turf.

Case in point: anything having to do with Internet poker.

It starts with the enterprising activities of the Justice Department. Seizing on a 2006 law making it illegal to process U.S. payments for online gambling, federal prosecutors last year brought charges against three offshore poker websites. While admitting no wrongdoing, the sites quickly settled and agreed to hand over substantial sums of money to the department.

Some of these funds were supposed to reimburse the “victims,” U.S. poker players who had money in their accounts when the sites were shut down. But so cumbersome and legalistic is the process created by Justice that many lawyers say they don’t expect their clients to find it worth the trouble or legal fees. Justice may end up keeping much of the loot itself under asset-forfeiture rules.

Don’t expect a hue and cry from gambling interests, however. Bigger stakes are up for grabs, not unlike the turf war Captain Kirk found when he beamed down to the gangster planet Sigma Iotia II.

Having cleared the online poker marketplace of its incumbents, Justice decided that under the 1961 Wire Act most Internet gambling isn’t illegal after all. This new “interpretation,” which came at the behest of Illinois and New York, has inspired a new light in the eyes of state officials looking for ways to fund the welfare state. Dancing in their heads are visions of new state-sponsored gambling empires built on online poker, online slot machines and online lottery-ticket sales, with politicians collecting most of the vig.

Not everyone is pleased by the prospect. Sen. Jon Kyl, an Arizona Republican who is retiring this year, doesn’t like gambling; Sen. Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, doesn’t like gambling when it’s not controlled by Nevada casinos.

During the lame-duck session, these improbable bedfellows promoted a bill to halt the online gambling stampede, except for online poker. Why the exception? Poker is a great American tradition, say supporters, including former Sen. Al D’Amato, representing something called the Poker Players Alliance.

More to the point, stopping Americans from playing Internet poker is probably impossible. Under the Kyl-Reid proposal, at least players would be pitted against each other, not the house, which is deemed less iniquitous and corrupting.

The bill satisfies Mr. Reid, meanwhile, because Nevada is already pushing ahead with in-state online poker. Nevada’s casinos and Nevada’s gaming regulators see a federal law as a way to give themselves a headstart in marketing a government-endorsed version of the game to the masses nationally and internationally.

The Kyl-Reid bill, as Captain Kirk would quickly suss out (aided by the deductive powers of Mr. Spock), was destined instantly to become a bone of contention among the various gangs jostling for a piece of the online poker action.

The state lottery commissioners and governors opposed the bill because it would prevent them offering an array of tantalizing new online games to suckers, er, citizens of their states.

Convenience-store owners opposed the bill, fearing it would clear the way for online lottery ticket sales, which would cut into their lucrative piece of the over-the-counter lottery racket.

The Nevada casinos naturally favored any law that would give them a leg up in the emerging marketplace for legal online poker.

In hearings before Congress last year, a Native American spokesman argued that tribes must be allowed to offer online poker on grounds that his 101-year-old grandmother had been a reservation schoolteacher fighting to preserve native culture. Therefore, “if anybody deserves to be at the front line in this industry it’s Native American people.”

Captain Kirk, it will be remembered, invented the deliberately convoluted card game “Fizzbin” as a ruse to distract the gambling-mad, gangster inhabitants of Sigma Iotia II. The Reid-Kyl gambit may have run out of time, but the feds aren’t likely to desist from trying to control so profitable a new racket. State-sponsored gambling is the one acceptable way of raising taxes on lower-income folks to help fund the welfare state. With or without federal regulation, legalized online poker is likely coming your way in 2013. Don’t be surprised if one of the games is called Fizzbin.

A Look at the Global One Percent

We need to parse out this data and argument offered by Meltzer to understand what is really going on. Meltzer is right to criticize the idea that tax policies are causing inequality and that domestic tax and redistributionist policies can best mitigate it. But he is wrong to say that a rising tide will lift all boats equally, and that is the problem.

The dynamics of a globalized market economy show capital returns outpacing labor returns because capital is mobile and labor is relatively fixed. Human capital marked by skills, fame, and easy access to financial capital have aggravated the winner-take-all economy where incomes and accumulated wealth follow a power law, as evidenced by the superstar economy and growing inequality since 1980, and shown in the graph below.

Of these factors, financial capital is most amenable to democratization. Capital concentrates, and the rising inequality we see in global markets is caused by the concentration of success as measured by financial capital. The USA and UK show marked upturns in inequality due to the rapid growth of the finance industries in these two countries. We can also note this phenomenon by comparing the two cases of Sweden, including and excluding capital gains.

Financial markets behave differently than product markets, as dually noted and analyzed by Hyman Minsky. Our policies will have to address this uniqueness of capital in a global capitalist society in order for the system to be politically and economically stable and sustainable. In analyzing a capitalist economy, one must focus on the risk and returns of CAPITAL and how it gets distributed through free market exchange. Our tax policies should compensate for this simple fact, though our political leaders across the globe are mostly ignoring it.

From the WSJ:

The remarkable similarity in income distribution across countries over the past century means domestic policy has less effect than many believe on who gets what.

By ALLAN H. MELTZER

While the Occupy Wall Street movement may be waning, the perception of growing income inequality in America is not. For those on the left, the widening gap between the top 1% of earners and the remaining 99% is proof that American capitalism is unjust and should be traded in for an economic model more closely resembling the social democracies of Europe.

But an examination of changes in income distribution over nearly 100 years, not just in the United States but elsewhere in the developed world, does not bear this out. In a 2006 study titled “The Evolution of Top Incomes in an Egalitarian Society,” Swedish economists Jesper Roine and Daniel Waldenström compared the income share of the top 1% of earners in seven countries from the early 1900s to 2004. Those countries—the U.S., Sweden, France, Australia, Britain, Canada and the Netherlands—all practice some type of democratic capitalism but also a fair amount of redistribution.

meltzer

As the nearby chart from the Roine and Waldenström study shows, the share of income for the top 1% in these seven countries generally follows the same trend line. That means domestic policy can’t be the principal reason for the current spread between high earners and others. Since the 1980s, that spread has increased in nearly all seven countries. The U.S. and Sweden, countries with very different systems of redistribution, along with the U.K. and Canada show the largest increase in the share of income for the top 1%.

The main reasons for these increases are not hard to find. Adding a few hundred million Chinese and Indians to the world’s productive labor force after 1980 slowed the rise in income for workers all over the developed world. That’s the most important factor at work. The top 1% gain relatively because they are less affected by the hordes of newly productive workers.

But the top 1% have another advantage. Many of them have unique skills that are difficult to replicate. Our top earners include entrepreneurs, rock stars, professional athletes, surgeons and lawyers. Also included are the managers of large international corporations and, yes, bankers and financiers. (Interestingly, the Occupy movement seldom criticizes athletes or rock stars.)

The most dramatic change shown in the chart is the decline in the top 1% of Swedish earners’ share of total income to between 5%-10% in the 1960s from well over 25% in 1903. The Swedish authors explain that drop as mainly due to the decline in real interest rates that lowered incomes of rentiers who depended on interest and dividends. Capitalist development, not income redistribution, brought that change.

Income-redistribution programs that became widespread in the 1960s and 1970s had a much smaller influence than market forces. Between 1960 and 1980, the share going to the top 1% declined, but the decline is modest. The share of the top percentile had been reduced everywhere by 1960. Massive redistributive policies in Sweden did more than elsewhere to lower the top earners’ share of total income. Still, the difference in 1980 between Sweden and the U.S. is only about four percentage points. As the chart shows, the top earners in both countries began to increase their share of income in 1980.

The big error made by those on the left is to believe that redistribution permits the 99% or 90% to gain at the expense of top earners. In much current political discussion, this is taken as an unchallenged truth. It should not be. The lasting opportunity for the poor is better jobs produced by investments, many of which are financed by those who earn high incomes. It makes little sense to applaud the contribution to all of us made by the late Steve Jobs while favoring policies that reduce incentives for innovators and investors.

Our system is democratic capitalism. In every national election, the public expresses its preference for taxation and redistribution. It is a democratic choice, not a plot controlled by one’s most despised interest group. The much-maligned Congress is unable to pass a budget because it is elected by people who have conflicting ideas about taxes and redistribution. President Obama wants higher tax rates to pay for more redistribution now. The Republicans, recalling Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher and much of the history of democratic capitalist countries, want lower tax rates and less regulation to bring higher growth and to help pay for some of the future health care and pensions promised to an aging population.

Regardless of one’s economic philosophy, the public deserves an accurate presentation of the reasons for the change in income distribution. The change is occurring in all the developed countries. The chart shows that policies that redistribute wealth and income have at most a modest effect on income shares. As President John F. Kennedy often said, the better way is “a rising tide that lifts all boats.”

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