Monday, December 29, 2014

Happy New Year 2015

BBQ place near where I live has a nice tree surrounded with their normal patio lights.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Fed walking tightrope between inflation and recession doesn't seem to work anymore

I recently came across an interesting article entitled, The Fed Sets Another Trap. If I'm understanding this article, it seems like it's author Stephen Roach is calling for the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates back to more historically normal levels and reduce some of the money that's now in circulation. Interest rates are unusually low; an unhealthy situation in the long run.

Parting from this article, I have my own thoughts.

Raising interest rates poses the danger of slowing the economic recovery. On the other hand, low rates and extra money may be contributing to localized inflationary bubbles, not just in the future, but right now. Things like the price of urban real estate are spiraling up. Look at housing prices in San Francisco and other cities, for instance.

Walking a tightrope between inflation and recession is a job that the Federal Reserve has been ask to do since it's inception, but that job is becoming increasingly difficult. Should they do stimulus because unemployment and under employment is high, or should they put on the breaks because the cost of certain things are going up?

The cost of many goods and services are remaining stable, or in some cases going down. This is partially due to great efficiencies in the technology of production. These efficiencies are putting deflationary pressure on prices and the wages in the sectors of the economy that provide those goods and services. Other sectors of the economy see prices on the rise.

Just asking whether the Fed should tighten or loosen the money supply is not enough. We need to do something about the growing disparities in our economy.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Passing through Christmas, Michigan. Summer of 1991 bike trip

See photos of my 1991 trip.

My mom didn't allow toy guns in my childhood home

My mom used to ban toy guns in our house while I was growing up. For a little while during my childhood, I thought she was a bit prudish as other neighborhood kids seemed to have lots of fun playing shoot em up. I would have to go to the neighbors to play with gun toys. What seemed prudish, back then seems quite sensible now, looking back. Toy guns can look too real, from a distance. That's one of the many problems with toy gun play. What seemed a bit prudish, or out of step with the norm back then makes more sense now. My mom had good insight.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Walmart reliance on Medicaid, the wave of the future?

Companies like Walmart get a lot of flack because they rely on things like Medicaid to provide employee health benefits. If we had single payer healthcare, that would be the norm. The public, rather than private employers, would provide healthcare. It seems like that could be the wave of the future as employer provided healthcare deteriorates and the public sector picks up the tab.

The standard conservative and liberal camps, with their talking points, tend to confuse this issue. Liberals, who usually support single payer, still complain about all the private employers who's workers rely on Medicaid expansion and the Obama Care exchanges instead of employer provided health plans. Well, isn't that what single payer healthcare does?

Conservatives, who rail against government healthcare, don't do very much to provide private health insurance to employees. Companies, all the way from mom and pop businesses to mega wealthy corporations like Walmart, remain scanty on their employee benefits. If companies don't subsidize employee health insurance, government health plans, like the Medicaid expansion, fill the void. Problem is conservatives grumble about government providing healthcare. Remember, many of the more conservative states have refused to implement the Medicaid expansion.

Somebody needs to do it.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Why blaming the one percent may not be that effective

Since Occupy Wall Street fame, the figure of 1% top income percentile has become a popular meme. Why 1% instead of 2 or even 10%?

1 is a small number so 1% is not that many voters. It's politically expedient to say you are for the 99%. After all, 99% is a mandate that will always win elections, supposedly, tho it often doesn't seem to work that way.

The one percent meme is another manifestation of our search for a painless solution to the problems of society. Government is one tool to solve problems, but taxes which fund the government tend to be unpopular. Therefore, the easiest political solution is to try and impose unpopular things, like taxes, on as few people as possible. If only the 1% has to pay a new tax, then the 99% of voters don't have to pay, so the tax should be able to pass. Right?

For some reason, that doesn't seem to be the case. Do the 1% have so much power that they influence media and voters to literally buy elections?

That's part of the problem, for sure.

Another part of the problem is the percentage of people in the lower 99%, and especially the lower say 50% of income distribution who actually vote. I hear that 2014 election saw the lowest percent of eligible voters to vote since 1942.

Blaming everything on the 1% is a way to absolve oneself of personal responsibility. If social change is to happen, we all have to do our part be it voting or what we support with our dollars in the marketplace. The wealth and power of the 1% still relies on the mass market of shoppers and voters.

What about the top 2%, 10% or even 20% income percentile? America's income gap keeps getting wider between all income classes. Upper middle class has gotten way out ahead of lower middle class and the poor. Why can't so many working people afford medical care, for instance? Are doctor and professional incomes way above what most working people can afford? There's nothing wrong with paying doctors more than average workers due to the education and skills required to be a doctor, but one must ask what's economically sustainable. As planning for affordable healthcare is considered, we have to take into account what is sustainable. What can the premiums, for insurance and/or the taxes for government based healthcare sustain?

Unaffordable housing is another issue that the income gap brings up. How can folks making minimum wage afford to live in a city like San Francisco? Is it the 1% who has bought up all the residences making buying and renting unaffordable for the bottom 50% in that city? San Francisco, supposedly a bastion of liberal politics yet about the most unaffordable city in America.

I'd say it's more than just the top 1% that creates the housing problem. How about the top 10%, or maybe even the top 20%? There are many high paid tech workers, and so forth, who can afford expensive housing. They have crowded lower income classes out of the housing market. Here, the problem is upper middle class. If there isn't enough housing, the upper middle class gets first dibs. That is except for subsidized housing and folks grandfathered into rent control.

So it looks like it's a broader problem than just the 1%. It's society as a whole; to some extent. Everyone has some responsibility. That doesn't let the 1% off the hook, but the problems can't be solved unless more folks take responsibility. Landlords, consumers and voters. We all can make the difference.

I've heard it said that if we just raise taxes on the 1%, there wouldn't be enough money to make that much of a dent in the federal budget. The 1% have lots of money, but there are not very many of them. What about raising taxes on the top 20%? That's a bigger chunk of money. That's what our graduated income tax did before the so called Reagan Revolution.

Maybe some liberals, not to mention conservatives, wouldn't like the idea of taxing the 20% because there is a lot of rhetoric, these days, about the need to strengthen the middle class. Quite a few folks talk about the need to support a large consuming class. As economist Paul Krugman says, mass consumer spending creates more jobs and jump starts the economy more than the wealth of the 1%. Still, I think the upper middle class could do more to bring a fairer society. Seems like the upper middle class is becoming wealthy while the lower middle class is becoming poor. The real middle, in the middle class, is getting a lot thinner. Income distribution is a problem within the middle class leading to affordability problems in things like education, healthcare and housing.

Even lower income people bear responsibility. How we treat one another and our voting patterns do make differences.

Another thing to think about is the natural environment. Middle class consumer spending isn't always a wonderful thing. One has to think about the the carbon footprint, for instance. Mass consumption of gasoline, cars, houses and products has to take the environment into account. Going more green is best in all these things.

Another consideration is not just how much money someone has, but what are they doing with their money. Is someone in the 1% donating millions to good causes, or buying Congress? Is someone in the top percentile building a business and developing new technologies or just buying luxury homes and bidding up the price of everything from real estate to paintings?

There is more to the equation of a better society than just deferring all responsibility to the 1%. Sure, the 1% should pay higher taxes, but it takes the rest of us voters to at least show up at the polls if we want that to happen.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Collage art I did in 1980s about contradicting demands of the voters

Sent to a Mail Art show about politicians in the 1980s. Discusses contradictory demands of voters. Scroll down to see dialog beneath each picture made of cutouts from magazines. Mantra is, we voted them in when they promised these things, then we voted them out when they gave us what we wanted; as in "be careful what you ask for as you might get it."