Category: Political

Yellen’s No Show at the House Small Business Hearing Signals Keynes Is Back

Both sides of the political aisles were caught off guard when the House Small Business Committee hearing convened on the 25th of May 2021 to review the progress of the small business Covid relief programs under the $900 billion Covid-19 relief bill was attended only by the Small Business Administrator Isabel Guzman. The Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen was a prominent absentee, although she was required by law to do so.

This could be a minor oversight, a bureaucratic quirk, a miss, something you may be tempted to ignore. Who doesn’t take a chance to skip a meeting when there are other more pressing affairs to attend? But this is exactly the problem here: why is it a program of $900b aimed at assisting small business not important? Maybe Yellen was not enthused about a program originated by the previous administration. But it may also be Yellen is not interested in small business that much.

It is perhaps too early to conclude with confidence that Yellen did not attend the hearing because the small business has lower priority to her, but the size of the program is too large not to bear some significance. The Biden administration proposed a $2.3 trillion infrastructure program, later downsized to $1.7 trillion, aimed at funding roads, bridges and infrastructure projects, broadband internet, and manufacturing, workforce development and R&D.

Yes, it is a bit of a stretch to use this absence as a proof that Jane Yellen is not interested in small business, but if you look at her academic background, her stated position and priorities during her leadership role at the top three most powerful economic bodies in United States and recent policy announcements as the US Secretary of Treasury, the small business is a glaring miss, a dwarf sitting between two giants: labour and large corporations.

Labour is one of the persistent areas of research and application during Yellen’s career as an academic and executive economist. The key tenet of her work is that wage is an important element in individual’s (with social implications at large) motivation leading to higher employment and ultimately to prosperity (The Fair Wage-Effort Hypothesis and Unemployment). This belief is reflected in her view that stimulus should be maintained during difficult times and a while after to help society transition from periods of crisis to stability. 

Yellen’s academic background is described often as “very” Keynesian, as someone who sees the role of government as a principal actor in the nation’s economy, especially in difficult time. All these instruments of intervention and control are aligned with her goal of supporting the working class. 

Meanwhile, calls for raising the minimum wage makes the life of the small business even more difficult. The increase global minimum tax will result in an increase in prices by global corporations which will put extra pressure on small businesses.

The Biden’s administration tax reform is designed accordingly: tax large corporations and wealthy individuals to support wage increases and create jobs through large government funded infrastructure projects. There is little or nothing at all in for the small business as that doesn’t fit the mould of the big Keynesian framework. The recently announced historic G7 agreement on global corporate taxation is in fact a disguised partnership between big business and governments, a way of streamlining income for governments while giving certainty to corporations. Yellen was a key champion behind this deal “driving a hard bargain” to achieve the final result for the benefit of the “working class people in the US and around the globe”. It sounds like punishment at times to “bring justice”, but it isn’t. The large corporations even welcome it because they can now avoid patchy harassment in separate European countries. They very well aware of the pricing power they possess.

We need to wait and see how economic policies evolve in the near term in the US and Europe before coming to a definite conclusion. Small business is the main employer and it is a key source of innovation. Non-friendly policies will be felt in time in a not so friendly way.

Bubbling Tech Power Wants California Split

Could there be a state of Silicon Valley, a dream political unit in which innovation can be represented unhindered by the problems typical of the old industrial era? This is what Tim Draper is proposing in his plan to split California into six states.  The proposal cites the reasons of oversized California compared with other states in terms of population, geography and economic power, the lack of proper political representation and poor administrative services.  The movement behind this proposal already has a website for marketing and support gathering.

I assume a lot of effort went into the design of the territorial make up of the new states.  The logic behind this blueprint must consider the history of California, the demographical distribution and its group interests. It is clear though that beneath this general dry presentation that the high-tech are the key influencers. What they really want is to have one state for themselves, the state of Silicon Valley.

This is fascinating. What an idea! On one hand one could think that this is madness, an exaggeration, one of those crazy ideas that are doomed to failure from the beginning.  It could be interpreted as a sign of out-of-touch grandeur of companies that have achieved colossal success at a global scale: the Twitters, the Facebooks, the Apples and the Googles.  It almost sounds like a prank. On the other hand maybe the people behind this proposal are onto something. Tech companies are moving much faster than Washington, they have caused a revolution that is changing the economic landscape not only in terms of novel technological products, but in terms of structure of workforce, education, social relationships.

Regulations are slow to adapt. Maybe this is a good thing and a bad thing in the same time. You don’t want to make mistakes that affect future generations because you made a quick bad decision or because you procrastinated for too long.  This plan goes for speed.  The California six-way split is wanting to accelerate the pace of regulatory change and create a power base for the tech class that can rival those held by the finance, energy, manufacturing and agricultural groups. The Twitters, the Facebooks, the Apples and the Googles are the new dynasties as the Morgans used to be (they still are to some degree).  Or perhaps the likes of Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Byers (Tom Draper is representing one of them) are the real dynasties pushing for this change.  If somehow through a miracle this happens, other states will follow. The consequences are incalculable.

Update 3 Jan 2014:  I found this map created by professor Andrew Shears who created a fantasy version of US based on past partition proposals.

USNeverWas

 

 

Connect GOP: Transform the Political Process with Social Media

In an interview given to Robert Scoble, John Gotts, the founder of Connect GOP, talks about how social media can politicians communicate with their constituencies they represent. This could be an unappealing story, one of those that you glance over while rushing to the next exciting news, if it wasn’t for the some very interesting remarks John made about how the technology can transform the political process.

First of all the magnitude of this project commands attention, because if it succeeds, it will transform the political process. Connect GOP is building a database of as many voters as possible and help their representatives use that data to get a pulse of what is going on and communicate their political messages. Here is the interesting bit: Connect GOP wants to store the experience of all campaigns and sift through the data to learn from past mistakes and successes informing the new campaigns to do better. But this is not your typical analytical tool. The system will be designed to provide the representatives with a real-time process that takes the simple political message and morphs it based on the past experience in a message communicated through multiple social media platforms and traditional forms of communication such as email.  This has some massive repercussions. The big TV ad campaigns will become much less relevant. The true campaign will be almost invisible to the public eye, and become a stealth operation reaching with much better precision the same audience if not larger with targeted and personalised messages.

Secondly, John’s remark about how many intermediate jobs that exist in the current process will disappear thanks to automation and data analysis. Like office operators in the 70s and 80s, the media staff will be threatened by systems such as Connect GOP. Forget about the days where the communiques where custom crafted on each occasion in each district based on the experience of individuals and the local history. Now the big data will inform a few professionals about what are the best models to be used in various circumstances. John calls this “contextual politics”.

Another interesting thing about this is the issue of trust when it comes to supporting competitors. If you support the team A, you cannot pretend you will help team B in an absolutely neutral fashion.  John talks about Votizen and National Builder and how they had an issue of trust because the suspicion that data from one party could be made available to the other side.  Through extension, this raises the issue of trust large social network enterprises in the context where their leaders take political positions. As soon as this happens, their members have legitimate reasons to ask of whether their trust should be reconsidered. See my previous post When Social Networks are not Social which touches on the issue of trust in the context of  Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In campaign.

Finally, the nature of the politics seems to be in for a big change.  In the past political machine has been revolving around a broad ideological framework and big personalities. The memory of a party has been passed from generation to generation in form of stories, books, speeches and long history. Now, a political party is extending this memory with large networks and cloud data in which past events, voters information, economic data, and campaigns are stored for processing with complex algorithms.  This machinery will play and increased role in the future in the way political platforms are defined and in the way the representatives communicate with their constituencies. Maybe the accountability will be improved through transparency. Rogue politicians will find it more difficult to hide, but in the same time, political heroes will find it harder to make bold moves by themselves. They need data and the help of professional experts.

Europe at a Historical Crossroad

I wrote this post a day or so ago before the Greek prime minister was appointed. Today, Greece has a new PM and Italy is passing an austerity plan through the Senate. This will not change the reality of the European problem. Watching the new on APEC meeting in US strengthened my belief that the Pacific region holds the key for the next stage of global growth and Europe will be out of it for a while.

The recent public speeches made by Sarkozy, Jose Manuel Barroso, Angela Merkel, David Cameron and others show how deep runs the disagreement between various parts of Europe and its political leaders.

The problem of Greece and Italy are merely tactical when you look from a long term perspective. I am sure they will be resolved. Italy will adopt an austerity plan and Greece will nominate a prime minister. But the European problem, the problem of unity will not be solved. It will keep bubbling for a while until the big crisis will explode forcing major changes. No one knows exactly how that will look like, but one has a sense that Nordic countries and Great Britain will not want to be involved in this too much, Eastern Europe will stay rejected and sceptical on the sidelines and the South will be in turmoil. Who knows?

But the way moving forward is to fix the financial problem caused by high level of debt of Italy and Greece. Once that is achieved the rest of the world will adjust to the new reality and continue grow their commerce between North America, Asia, South America, Russia and Africa. Perhaps Eastern Europe will find ways to use its well educated workforce to explore other opportunities. Meanwhile, Europe risks fading away marred by internal fighting.

One thing is sure: Europe show will go on and surprise many.

Super Black Swan: The Worst Case Scenario

I wrote a few weeks ago about the not so good Japan’s outlook and about the well documented view of how the government debt will soon accrue to the point where drastic, painful and unpopular measures will need to be taken. The tragic events caused by the massive earthquake and the devastating tsunami will accelerate the arrival of that moment.

Initially, immediately after the earthquake, the financial press was mostly focused on the precarious situation of the nuclear plants in Japan, and the  potential impact on the exchange rates. There are many who warn that this could be getting very serious and have consequences for the bond market in US. Other voices, on the other hand argue for a limited impact.

However, right now the media is much quieter and Japan related news are almost forgotten and pushed into the background. It is almost as if everything will go back to normal following a painful but optimistic process of recovery. Now the main talk is about the V shape recovery of Japan.

Is this all that simple? If this was an one-off occurrence in the global markets it wouldn’t be a huge shock, but the problem is this is not the only hot issue. Following the US housing meltdown, the European sovereign debt crisis has engulfed the whole EU. Almost all developed countries are touched by one crisis or another in the same time. On top of this, the Middle East continues to complicate an already unstable situation making anyone nervous at the mere mention of the word “oil”.

Many analysts predict that the funding requirement, which some estimate to be around $200bln,  will force some of the Japanese bondholders to sell US bonds. Karen Maley from Business Spectator describes this scenario very well in an article published in the Australian online financial magazine The Business Spectator (“Will Japan’ Finance Fracture?”, 14 March 2011). Over the years Japan has accumulated large amounts of US bonds in excess of $850bln, the second largest US bond holder in the world. Guess who is the largest one? Yes, naturally, China with its over $1trillion US bonds amassed in a relatively short period of time.

Is it too far fetched to see a situation where both Japan and China will start selling heavily US bonds because Japan needs to pay for its reconstruction and reduce its debt and because China is worried the value of its reserves will diminishing rapidly. This will have a negative impact on the capacity of US government to raise capital and consequently its ability to fund its own public programs.

On 28 September 2005, in an address to Economic Society of Australia Dinner in Melbourne, Ian Macfarlane the then governor of Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) expressed his optimistic view on the global imbalances which he considered to be of a benign nature protected by an ongoing global prosperity. The imbalances he was referring to were around the flow of money to China and accumulation of debt in US (and Western world in general).  The world had since then experienced turmoil at one end of that imbalance, the USA and Europe. Now all signs are that we will see turmoil at the other end of the imbalance, China. In trying to protect its exports by pegging its currency on the US dollar, after QE1 and QE2, China is struggling to cope with an increasing inflation which threatens to destroy its accumulated wealth. Despite imposing on banks more stringent capital requirements, the consumer prices are still simmering causing an upward pressure.

Europe has a similar problem with US but with a different treatment. The German formula requires constraint. The austerity will reduce demand, impacting on Chinese exports. Will Europe manage to go through all this unscathed?

How quick have we forgotten how close we were to a major collapse two years ago. Now we are all back to the optimistic talk about recovery: the recovery of US housing market, the fixing of the European financial troubles and the defusing of the Japanese debt time bomb. But if you take a closer look and you put all the serious issues together, the prospect of a huge, super black swan flying above our heads is a credible scenario, the worst case scenario.  The changes required by this scenario will be very painful and it will cause a dramatic shift of power and a change in the world financial system. We may witness a Bretton-Woods kind of reform sooner than we think. And maybe that is not such a bad thing in the long run.