Dale Franks’ QandO posts
Michael Wade sent me and email a few days ago asking me what purpose I thought banks served any more. That email led to a phone conversation, and that conversation led to this post. Because that simple question opened up a whole area of investigation about not just banking, but a whole universe of institutions that may be near the end of their purpose.
The modern era has been an age of institutions. Banks, unions, governments, corporations—a whole panoply of organizations whose sole purpose was to provide a central clearinghouse for goods and services, and the regulatory rules and legal framework under which they operated. But we are now seeing glimpses of a future in which institutions simply have no purpose, or, at the very least, will serve a different purpose than they do now. The era of institutions is passing, and is being replaced by the era of…something else. I think—I hope—it will be the era of the individual.
Let’s take the example of banks, first. Currently, banks take deposits from their customers, then loan those deposits out—less a reserve requirement—for mortgages, revolving credit, business loans, etc. They also offer their customers the convenience of access to their money on a moment’s notice, almost anywhere in the civilized world.
Now, imagine a world where your money is stored on a personal biometric device. So, you no longer need an institution to store your money. You can carry it with you—perhaps implanted in you—everywhere you go. Your entire stock of cash and savings are now truly yours, and in your personal possession at all times. So what happens to banks? Without depositors, there are no longer any deposits to loan out in credit cards or home purchases. What happens to banks, then? More importantly, what happens to credit then? Perhaps banks will have to change from depository institutions to investor-funded lenders. Or be replaced by them, as there are already web sites where potential creditors and debtors can engage in micro-lending.
We are on the cusp of really transformative technological change, and if you want to see what the implications are for institutions, you need look no further than the music industry, where the RIAA is in a fierce rear-guard battle to maintain their viability. The entire music industry is being destroyed, as an institution, by the new digital technologies that were created just a decade ago. It may be a shock for some of you younger readers, but there was, at one time in the recent past, a world in which there were record stores in every shopping center and mall.
It used to be that the recording industry controlled every aspect of commercial music. They would underwrite the recording costs, would create the playable media and packaging, then pay for the distribution to music stores. If you wanted a piece of that pie, and hit it big in the music world, you had to scrape up enough money to make a demo tape, send it into Sony, BMG, RSO, etc., and hope that some executive was impressed enough to sign you to a contract to make your first album.
The world doesn’t work that way any more. For less than $1000, you can turn your dingy studio apartment into a multi-track recording studio. You can get a web site, upload your MP3 files onto it, and sell them online. You don’t need a record company, a distribution channel, or marketing money. This is killing the record industry. The RIAA is actually trying to extort royalty money from bar owners who have live bands play, on the theory that they should get a piece of the bar’s profits from the music performance. Good luck with that.
Digital publishing is starting to do the same thing to the publishing industry, as Amazon is making it possible for anyone to publish their book. Yes, a lot of less than stellar talents are publishing for the Kindle now, but some mainstream writers are now moving over to the Kindle platform. Publishing, as an institution, is in trouble.
Technology is now empowering individuals in ways that were undreamed of 20 years ago, and the pace of that change, and the vistas it’s opening up for individual empowerment is increasing every day.
Obviously, institutions, including governments, are going to become increasingly leery of this trend. After all, it is not in the best interests of institutions to allow individuals to be empowered. So there will be some sort of backlash at some point. Hopefully, that backlash will be as ineffective as the RIAA’s backlash against digital music has been. But some institutions have their own police and armies, and they have the potential to resist more strongly.
Of course, since we are now in the middle of what appears to be a huge test of government’s ability to manage the economy and currency—and government is not doing a very good job of demonstrating competence—maybe even that potential problem can be minimized.
We can only hope.
The podcast is on hiatus this week, as I am in Tucson to see my new grandson.
And, apparently, to fix my vehicle’s air conditioning, which stopped working just about as the sun came up to drench this blazing hellhole with nuclear fire. So, I got that going for me.
The Unemployment situation is the big report today, but it’s not the only one.
The Monster Employment Index rose slightly from 144 to 147 as the number of job want ads increased a bit.
Big deal. The headline number today is, of course, the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ report on the national employment situation, and it’s not good. The headline unemployment rate remains unchanged at 9.1%, and no net new payroll jobs were created last month. Last month’s increase in jobs was revised downward to 85,000.
To the extent there is any positive news to this report, it is in the underlying data. The labor force participation rate rose very slightly, from 63.9% to 64%. The U-4 unemployment rate (Total unemployed plus discouraged workers, as a percent of the civilian labor force) fell from 10% to 9.6%. The U-6 rate (Total unemployed, plus all persons marginally attached to the labor force, plus total employed part time for economic reasons, as a percent of the civilian labor force) also fell from 16.3% to 16.1%. The number of employed persons also rose from 139,296,000 to 139,627,000.
The bad headline number, though, pushed the Dow down more than 200 points as of 6:40 this morning.
Today’s economic stats releases show weakness in the economy remains, as the numbers are lackluster, overall.
Retail sales are reported by chain stores today, and they’re looking a bit weak. Some stores blamed Hurricane Irene for lower sales results than in July, though others point to a generally tough economic environment for shoppers.
Initial claims for unemployment fell to 409,000, but the the four-week average is worse at 410,250 which is up for the second week in a row and compares to 408,250 at the end of July. The Verizon strike caused a bit of a bump over the last two weeks, which is now smoothing out, so we’ll get a better idea of the trend in the next few weeks. Overall, though, the trend looks fairly flat, which is disappointing.
The revision to Productivity and Labor Costs indicate that productivity fell by -0.7% while unit labor costs rose 3.3% in the second quarter. The revisions show that the economy is still weak, and hiring is probably not an attractive option for firms.
The Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index for the August 27 week slipped to -49.1 from the last report of -47.
The ISM Manufacturing Index declined very slightly to 50.6 from last month’s 50.9. A reading above 50 generally indicates an economic expansion, but a reading of less than 51 isn’t much of an expansion.
Construction Spending in July fell -1.3%, and is down -4.7% from last August. Last month’s spending, however, was revised sharply upwards from an increase of 0.2% to 1.6%. The overall trend is upwards, too, compared to monthly losses of –17% in 2009.
James Hansen is paid $180,000 per year by the taxpayers as the Director of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies. Happily, we apparently weren’t paying him today, when he was arrested—again—for taking part in a protest at the White House over the proposed K7 pipeline.
Prior to the protest, Hansen told environmental blog SolveClimate News of his plans to join the protest and risk arrest, because the threat the pipeline poses to the climate is too great to ignore.
"If [Obama] chooses the dirty needle, it’s game over because it will confirm that Obama was just greenwashing, like the other well-oiled, coal-fired politicians with no real intention of solving the addiction."
Canada is going to sell its dope, if it can find a buyer," Hansen said.
This is the "dope" that prevents us from freezing to death in the dark, by the way.
By the way, guess what Dr. Hansen does. He’s NASA’s top climate scientist, and he’s firmly in the AGW camp. He’s called for the equivalent of war crimes trials for oil executives for "high crimes against humanity and nature". He is one of the leading figures in the world in pushing AGW.
But I’m sure that he’s completely objective in reviewing any science that conflicts with his activism. After all, that’s what we’re paying him 180 grand per year to do.
I generally tweet the day’s economic statistics, and compile them on Google+. It occurs to me that I can just do that here. Don’t know why I haven’t thought of this before…
Anyway, here’s the day’s economic statistics.
MBA Purchase Applications fell -12.2% in the latest week, led by drops in refinancing applications. The plus to this report is that purchase applications rose
Challenger reports that layoff announcements fell to 51,114 from 66,414 last month. These numbers are not seasonally adjusted, so the monthly comparison is a bit difficult. The trend is down from a year ago, however. Most layoffs were centered in government, especially the military.
ADP is calling for a 91,000 rise in private payrolls for August, down from last month’s 109,000. This implies a weaker Employment Situation than last month’s when we get that report from BLS on Friday.
The Chicago PMI was 56.5, indicating that business slowed slightly in the Chicago area this month. This is generally seen as a predictor of the national index, which will be released tomorrow.
July was a very strong month for the manufacturing sector with factory orders up 2.4%.
In this podcast, Bruce Michael, and Dale discuss Hurricane Irene and the results of CERN’s CLOUD experiment.
The direct link to the podcast can be found here.
As a reminder, if you are an iTunes user, don’t forget to subscribe to the QandO podcast, Observations, through iTunes. For those of you who don’t have iTunes, you can subscribe at Podcast Alley. And, of course, for you newsreader subscriber types, our podcast RSS Feed is here. For podcasts from 2005 to 2010, they can be accessed through the RSS Archive Feed.
Those of us on the libertarian-ish end if things support, at the very least, a return of government size and scope to its constitutionally defined bounds. As part of that, the last thing we generally want is more Federal laws about most things. We’re supposed to support a more federal system, and decry most Federal pre-emption of state laws. But I’ve been thinking lately there there are a few Federal laws I’d like to see that do pre-empt local and state laws.
In several states, photographers and videographers have been arrested and charged under various wiretapping statutes for filming police officers and other public officials in public. Just yesterday, I wrote about a young woman who was prosecuted for surreptitiously making an audio recording of police officers who were urging her to drop an official complaint against another officer. Whether you are an elected official or a DMV clerk, your duties should be completely open to public audit—except for some rather obvious and narrow military or national security exemptions—and you should have no expectation of privacy in the performance of your duties. Anybody should be able to film or record you at any time you are performing those duties.
There should be some system whereby any private citizen who has performed federal military or law enforcement service can obtain a federal concealed weapons permit that is valid in every place in the United States, irrespective of any state or local laws to the contrary. Those eligible should have completed at least one term of service with an honorable discharge or its equivalent, have no criminal record, and no history of mental illness.
There have been a troubling number of incidents where police officials have served warrants in the wrong locations, often late at night, resulting in armed confrontations with homeowners. Sometimes, the homeowner is shot and killed. Sometimes, as in the Corey Maye case, a police officer is shot and killed, and the homeowner faces a terrible legal ordeal. That’s just wrong. If the police serve a warrant at the wrong location, for any reason, they forfeit the right to charge the homeowner for any unfortunate gunplay that results. As the police are solely responsible for creating the situation, they should be solely responsible for the outcome, as well as any damages that might accrue from their mistake. This should include prosecution for animal cruelty for a police officer who commits puppycide during these raids. I hate it when they do that, and they seem to do it a lot.
You might notice that all my laws place burdens on the government, not the citizens. Maybe you could suggest some other liberty-friendly laws.
This is the story of 20 year-old Tiawanda Moore. It seems she was dissatisfied with a contact she’d had with a Chicago police officer.
Moore, of Hammond, Ind., was being interviewed at police headquarters about her complaint that a patrol officer had grabbed her breast and given her his phone number when he came to her boyfriend’s South Side apartment on a domestic disturbance call.
No doubt the officer, having Moore’s best interests in mind, thought he would be a much better boyfriend. Sadly, Moore took this concern for her well-being amiss, and decided to file a complaint against the officer. At police headquarters, the investigating officers—who similarly appeared to have only Moore’s best interests at heart—suggested an alternate method of dispute resolution, that is to say, to drop her complaint entirely, as they preferred not to conduct a formal investigation, which would, really, just be an inconvenience to everyone involved. At that time, Moore decided to record the remainder of the conversation.
On the muffled recording, which was played for the jury Tuesday, Internal Affairs Officer Luis Alejo can be heard explaining to Moore that if she dropped the complaint, they could “almost guarantee” that the harassment would not happen again. He also suggested that going that route might save her the time and aggravation of a full investigation.
Ah. You see, if she decided not to demand a formal investigation, the IA investigators could "almost guarantee" that the breast-grabbing officer would get the word to cool his jets. And, isn’t an "almost guarantee" good enough? Not for Moore, apparently, who decided to use her Blackberry to record the conversation, because she felt, for some incomprehensible reason, that the Chicago Police Department might be downplaying her complaint.
And that’s why this case is being heard by a jury, as the quote above indicates.
The officers, of course, are not being tried for corruption or dereliction of duty, of course. Tiawanda Moore is the defendant, on two counts of—I kid you not—eavesdropping on a public official. In response to questioning by Assistant State’s Attorney Mary Jo Murtaugh, Moore said:
“I was sure about what I wanted to do –I wanted him (the officer) to be at least fired from his job,” Moore testified. “I wanted justice, I wanted to be protected.”
But this is not the Chicago Way. The Chicago Way is to slap down hard any civilian peasant who presumes to record their politically-protected betters in a possible wrongdoing.
On the one hand, of course, we all know what the eventual result of an internal affairs investigation would be. The police would carefully investigate the police, and after due course would conclude that the police had done nothing wrong. And recording public officials without their knowledge when they are engaged in corrupt behavior might actually endanger their ability to engage in corruption.
On the other hand, all this could have been avoided by dropping her complaint in return for almost a guarantee that she won’t be bothered in the future.
But in Chicago, public officials, engaged in public duties on the public’s dime, have an expectation of privacy, and cannot be recorded without their consent. You, as a member of the public, can be recorded by the police at any time, with or without your consent, but you can never record them unless they graciously allow it.
The only possible reason for such a law, as far as I’m concerned, is to protect corrupt officials, and to prevent the public from exposing it.
We don’t drag public officials naked and screaming out of their offices to tar and feather them any more. Indeed, we can barely muster up the will to toss out incumbents who vote for such laws. But in a just world, , the Illinos Legislature, Internal Affairs Officer Luis Alejo and Assistant State’s Attorney Mary Jo Murtaugh would, even now, be sporting the sleek plumage of an Albatross from the Exxon Valdez.
UPDATE: A commenter informs me the jury appears to have done the right thing and acquitted Moore. Still, none of the other players are sporting a heavy layer of fine down, so the glass is only half full.
Since the passage of the public employee union reforms in Wisconsin the past year, things have changed for the public unions. They have to recertify by member vote every year, and they can no longer collect dues directly from members’ paychecks. The response of one union has now been to decertify itself, as reported by Inside Higher Ed.
The Teaching Assistants’ Association at the University of Wisconsin at Madison dates to 1966. In 1970, following a four-week strike, the graduate students at Madison became the first T.A. union to win a contract. Over the years, the union — affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers — has been a leader in the drive to promote collective bargaining for graduate student workers.
Last week, after hours of debate, the union’s members voted not to seek state certification to continue to act as a collective bargaining agent…
Union leaders said that they couldn’t function well if they had to effectively be in a perpetual organizing drive for the annual union votes, and also if they had to pay annual fees to be certified…
Seeking certification year after year, [Adrienne Pagac, co-president of the union,] said, "would have meant diverting resources and neglecting all of the other things we do for members – representing them at the work site, being advocates for them, engaging our community." Pagac added that "being a union member is not just about sitting across the table from management and hammering out a contract. It’s about democracy in the workplace.”
…The union faces challenges as it adjusts to the limits imposed by the state law. Under the old contract, union dues were automatically deducted from the paychecks of the 2,700-2,800 graduate teaching assistants at Madison. Now the Teaching Assistants’ Association must seek dues from members by itself.
Quite apart from the idea that the workplace is a fairly inopportune place for "democracy"—at least if the cold wind echoing hollowly through the empty streets of Detroit is any indication—it clearly isn’t about democracy. If it was about democracy, then an annual recertification vote would be viewed as a plus, not an obstacle. I mean, regular elections are something we associate with democracy, as I understand it. The practice in the past was to have the certification vote taken once, after which the union is perpetually certified. That’s nothing more than a version of "one man, one vote, one time" that we associate with various "democratic" revolutions in the Third World. But for this union, at least, having democracy in the workplace by holding a certification vote every year is too much of a burden.
No, this has almost nothing to do about democracy in the workplace and everything about the gravy train pulling into the station at the end of the line. It was a great gig while it lasted. As soon as you could get a majority of employees to certify your organization, you were certified forever. The state collected your dues money without fail every paycheck, and if any of the employees ever got dissatisfied, you had the resources to slap them down.
Now, all of the sudden, you have to convince the rank and file to send you their dues payments voluntarily. And every year, you have to convince them to voluntarily recertify you. The rank and file now have both purse power and democratic power to punish you, rather than the reverse. It seems that a voluntary association is inconvenient. You have to make members happy. Listen to them. Perhaps, even, respond to their concerns in a timely and effective manner. Voluntary association imposes a web of mutual obligation, unlike a top-down command system.
Now, the union just isn’t as fun. And it isn’t certified any more, either.