Category Archives: Economy & Markets

Listen to the IMF’s new warning, economist says, and cut your exposure to US stocks

My Comments: The International Monetary Fund (IMF) is an international organization headquartered in Washington, D.C., consisting of “189 countries working to foster global monetary cooperation, secure financial stability, facilitate international trade, promote high employment and sustainable economic growth, and reduce poverty around the world.”

They recognize that market crashes happen from time to time, and that influences the amount of money they have in reserve to deploy around the world.

I see a parallel between their need to preserve their ability to deploy money under their mandate, with your ability to pay your bills in retirement. I encourage you to pay attention and position your money with this in mind.

by Holly Ellyatt @ CNBC

U.S. markets are “going it alone” and investors are underestimating the amount of risk in the economy, the chief investment officer at Danish investment bank Saxo Bank, told CNBC on Wednesday.

“What we’re saying (to investors) at a bare minimum, is do acknowledge the fact that the U.S. is expensive by reducing (exposure to) the U.S.,” Steen Jakobsen told CNBC Europe’s ‘Squawk Box.’

“And if you don’t want to reduce overall equity exposure go to the MSCI World (a global equity index that represents just over 1,600 large and mid-cap companies across 23 developed markets countries) or take a little bit of risk in emerging markets.”

“For now, we’re pretty much saying to customers, be aware that the market is underestimating risk,” he added.

Jakobsen’s comments were made of the same day the International Monetary Fund (IMF) warned that “a further escalation of trade tensions, as well as rising geopolitical risks and policy uncertainty in major economies, could lead to a sudden deterioration in risk sentiment.”

If that happened, the fund said in its latest ‘Global Financial Stability Report,’ it could trigger “a broad-based correction in global capital markets and a sharp tightening of global financial conditions.”

U.S. markets are fretting but concerns are centered on rising U.S. interest rates, particularly this week after a strong set of economic data last week that could prompt the U.S. Federal Reserve to hike rates further and faster.

Volatility is ‘artificially low’

Jakobsen, who’s known for his bearish view on the U.S. economy, said it was “very prudent and right of the IMF to do this warning.” “It’s very rare that I (hold) sway with any policy institute globally but I absolutely think they’re (the IMF) right,” he said.

“We have three drivers of tighter monetary conditions, one being the price of energy, of course with this bi-product of inflation risk, but we also see the price of money…and the quantity of money, globally, is collapsing. So, in other words, the credit keg is lower so it’s absolutely prudent of the IMF to do this.”

Jakobsen believed that U.S. markets were buoyant because of tax changes introduced by President Donald Trump which lowered corporate taxes and incentivized companies to repatriate overseas profits, with a one-time repatriation tax. The changes were also criticized for increasing the U.S. budget deficit, however.

Saxo Bank’s economist said the tax reforms had enabled U.S. companies to initiate share buyback programs, in which a company purchases its own stock from the marketplace, reducing the number of available shares and thus increasing its share price. Goldman Sachs said in August that U.S. companies are expected to buy back $1 trillion worth of shares in 2018.

Jakobsen said this scenario meant the U.S. market was diverging from the rest of the world, “going it alone.”

“I think they’re (the IMF) pointing to, especially in the Stability Report that just came out, the fact that the U.S. market is on its own, and the reasons it’s on its own is because the tax plan in the U.S. has meant a massive amount of repatriation into the U.S. economy,” Jakobsen said.

“The buyback program in the U.S. this year is $1 trillion and that is basically $1 trillion used to reduce the amount of floating stocks in the world. Why is that relevant? Because it makes the volatility artificially low in the U.S. stock market. It’s (the U.S. market) is almost going it alone,” he said, adding;
“So what the IMF is really doing is just pointing out that, if you exclude the U.S., the world is already moving to the brink. Whether we go beyond the brink I think is more an issue of how fast the Fed, and how insistent the Fed is, on having this projectory of higher rates,” he said.

He believed the Fed was ignoring the inflows as a result of tax reforms and could be hiking rates too quickly. “For my part, I think the Fed is doing a mistake by ignoring this massive inflow on the back of the tax plan in the U.S. and doing so, they do a policy mistake.”

Source: https://www.cnbc.com/2018/10/10/listen-to-the-imfs-new-warning-economist-says-and-cut-your-exposure-to-us-stocks.html

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Trade Wars: Stop Hyperventilating, It’s All About the Dollar

My Comments: Since this article first appeared several months ago, the current administration has doubled down on the idea of import tariffs. For some reason, it thinks that trade wars are what is needed to ‘Make America Great Again’.

A reverse analogy that comes to mind are the gas price conflicts that used to appear in town when some gas station owner decided to lower the price by a few cents, only to have the station across the street do the same thing. Before long, gas was being sold below cost.

As consumers we got to enjoy a price break, but the gas station owners got to lose a lot of money until someone said ‘enough’ and it was over. Tariffs wars between nations simply raises the price on what we buy and we as consumers ultimately lose. At what point do we declare ‘we’ve won’ and life goes back to normal?

By Krishna Memani | March 07, 2018

So, I’ve been reading a lot of articles, such as the one by Noah Smith on Bloomberg titled: “What Trump’s Trade Guru Doesn’t Get About Economics.”

In this article, Smith, a really good blogger who tends to boil things down to simple stuff, goes on to explain to us in detail why trade wars are bad economics.

Of course, I fully agree with him on this. As someone who grew up in the 1970s and 80s—especially in an industrially insular India—I experienced firsthand the bad economic policy of protectionism.
I know, I know. Tariffs won’t meaningfully reduce the trade deficit. For that matter, I also know that, for a country with a low savings rate, eliminating or reducing the trade deficit may not be the best thing for near-term growth. Furthermore, one would have to sleep through an “econ 101” class to not see how tariffs could reduce productivity growth and act as an indirect tax. Also, it is quite obvious that other countries are likely to respond to Trump’s trade provocation, a scenario that of course will cause the steps laid out in this paragraph to happen all over again.

While I don’t know this for sure, I am quite certain that Peter Navarro, the loudest proponent of this protectionist policy, who I believe happens to be an economist by training, gets all of this, too. The point I’m trying to make is that this policy, in my view, has nothing to do with economics. Instead, it’s all about politics, which, as we all ought to know very well, happens to be messy.

Arguing on the economics of this topic as a market participant is a useless exercise because it does not bring us to any conclusion. Trump got elected on a protectionist agenda—and to placate his base he is moving forward on that agenda. And no amount of pleas by the commentariat on the economic principles is likely to help.

So, I have accepted the fact that while it may be bad economic policy, some form of tariffs on some imported goods are likely to be passed. But it’s not the end of the world or a risk to the outlook for the financial markets from my perspective.

To carry forward the political argument a bit, I believe it is also true that if the Trump Administration further intensifies the trade conflict, the real damage to the economy will be quite substantial. The same base that is cheering him on right now may not be so enthusiastic later—and no one understands that more than Trump, in my judgment.

Further, while limited tariff policies make us uncomfortable and create all sorts of bad outcomes and dislocations (remember the “voluntary” auto restraint agreement of 1981 and numerous other such initiatives?), the impact on the longer-term growth potential of the economy would be modest at best. Further, protectionist policies prove themselves over time to be bad and eventually get unwound. I suspect they will be no different this time.

They will certainly create near-term issues with the markets. However, given the momentum in the global economy and the deficit-financed “oomph” to the U.S. economy, my expectation would be that markets will stabilize and move forward after a short hiatus, at worst.

With that being said, the risks to the market cycle and the markets have increased. And that increase has nothing to do with the tariffs themselves. Instead, these increased risks are coming from the almost certain prospect of a weakening dollar. It is this potential weakening of the U.S. currency that has the potential to change things dramatically. If the dollar weakens a lot, thereby indicating that financing flows to the United States are slowing, inflationary pressures will rise and bring the current market cycle closer to an end. I hope somebody emphasizes that consequence to Trump rather than talking to him about the benefits of trade.

So, let us all stop talking about the economic logic of trade because it has no bearing on the debate. Instead, we can focus on the politics and hope that the dollar doesn’t weaken too much while we are waiting for this to pass.

Welcome, Immigrants. The U.S. Really Needs You

My Comments: For the past 18 months, there has been a war on immigration, fostered by Donald Trump and most Republicans. It portends an economic disaster for the US economy.

Yes, open borders will inevitably allow some bad people into the country. But it will also allow some really good people in as well, and we need them if we are going to leave a healthy economy for those that follow in our footsteps.

Keep in mind that virtually every population segment has bad apples. Whether you’re a physician, a CPA or an insurance salesmen, there are always going to be those whose ethical standards are compromised. Some would argue it also happens among politicians.

These words from Scott Minerd explain clearly why we need immigrants. Without them, we can kiss out ass goodby in terms of maintaining a healthy and growing economy going forward.

by Scott Minerd, Global CEO of Guggenheim Partners, July 30, 2018

Recessions usually occur because the economy hits constraints, causing prices to rise and leading the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates. Today the dominant constraint in the U.S. economy is the size of the labor pool. To sustain continued growth, increasing corporate profits, and rising living standards, while maintaining relative price stability, policymakers must approach labor differently. First among the priorities for achieving long-term prosperity is a rational immigration policy.

Labor shortages are already appearing in key parts of the economy, with about half of small businesses reporting few or no qualified applicants for job openings. For the first time since the government began tracking job openings in 2000, available jobs exceed available workers. This isn’t just among highly skilled workers. For instance, homebuilders report a shortage of workers, especially in areas like framing and drywall, which is crimping the supply of new housing and helping to drive up home prices, reducing affordability.

The growth rate of the American labor force is decelerating sharply. U.S. population growth has slowed, reflecting declining fertility rates and reduced net immigration inflows. The population also is aging. In 1960, 38.6 percent of the population was below 20, while 23.3 percent was 50 or older. Today 25.1 percent is under 20, and 35.3 percent is over 50. By 2040, just 23 percent of the population will be younger than 20, and 38.9 percent will be over 50. The domestic labor pool is projected to increase by an anemic 0.5 percent per year over the next 20 years, compared to growth rates of more than 2.5 percent in the 1970s.

How can the U.S. invest in building a strong labor force? Job training and education play an important role in enhancing worker productivity and output, and programs need to be designed to incentivize our aging baby boomers to remain in or return to the workforce. But one of the most important components is immigration.

Immigrants and their children have contributed more than half of the growth of the working-age population over the past two decades. These new arrivals aren’t just an untapped source of labor but add to America’s economic dynamism through high rates of entrepreneurialism and technological innovation. If the United States is to succeed in the 21st century and retain its global hegemony, then rational immigration and deportation policies are critical elements to its success. A dynamic policy that increases the pool of working immigrants could raise annual U.S. growth by one percentage point or more for decades to come.

This isn’t to suggest throwing open the borders. Border security could always be tighter. Instead, the situation requires a pragmatic, economically driven immigration approach that makes it easier for immigrants to come in legally, resolves the status of undocumented workers and Dreamers, and establishes appropriate policies and controls around future immigration.

Immigration policy must recognize that the demand for workers will fluctuate based on economic conditions, so it must be organized to be responsive to the needs of those industries or regions that demonstrate persistent labor shortages. In these instances, there should be employment-driven strategies and sponsorship programs that can match new immigrants with the economic activities and regions that need them.

We need workers across the skills spectrum, but the ability to select from the best and brightest, particularly from those already studying at U.S. universities, could enhance U.S. productivity growth, as well. Foreign students who attend American universities for undergraduate or graduate studies and have employers ready to sponsor them should automatically be granted multi-year employment-based visas after routine background checks. Highly skilled workers already qualify for H-1B visas, but there aren’t enough of them. In April, the demand for these visas was so strong that the Congressionally mandated application cap of 65,000 for the year was reached in just five days. This cap should be either significantly increased or eliminated.

Not only do we need to find ways to attract new immigrants. We must also work to avoid deportation for those undocumented resident immigrants who are law-abiding, contributing members of our economy. Rather than outright deportation, pathways can be established for undocumented workers to earn legal status, which would draw them out of the shadows and make them productive, tax-paying participants in our prosperity.

Let me be clear: Coming into this country illegally is a crime, and conditions for avoiding deportation and earning legal status should include a penalty. For example, workers who come to this country illegally, in exchange for receiving permanent legal status, should have to pay taxes and contribute to Social Security and Medicare, just like working citizens. However, they could be restricted from receiving many social benefits provided to taxpaying U.S. citizens, and shouldn’t be eligible for Social Security and Medicare benefits for a much longer period, perhaps until age 75.

When economically focused, rational immigration policy is combined with productivity gains from recent tax reform, efficiency gains from improved infrastructure, and native population growth, real growth in America could reach a sustained rate of 5 percent or more. This will ensure that the U.S. expansion continues, while averting the needless boom-bust cycles of expansion and recession. With smart and creative ideas to grow the U.S. workforce, the full effects of current economic policies could flourish uninterrupted for generations to come.

Source: https://www.guggenheiminvestments.com/perspectives/global-cio-outlook/us-economy-needs-more-immigrants

Trump’s Looming Bust-up with China is Bad News for 2018

My Comments: Having more money to spend in retirement requires a delicate balance between living cautiously and making sure your funds are growing properly. If you stay alive, the money to pay your bills has to come from somewhere.

All that is to say that global economics is going to play a role in your future financial affairs, whether you understand it, like it, or don’t give a hoot about it. My efforts to help my friends and clients is to try and provide insights to help you get it right and have more money rather than less money.

Trump has already conceded economic hegemony to China on the global stage by refusing to participate in the Trans-Pacific Partnership. That alone is going to limit your financial future over the next several decades. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

by Edward Luce / January 3, 2018

Flattery gets you everywhere with Donald Trump. But only while it lasts. Like any addiction, it needs regular boosts in higher doses. Amid fierce bidding, China’s Xi Jinping won first prize as 2017’s most effective Trump flatterer. All it took was a lavish banquet in the Great Hall of the People. In return, Mr Trump forgot to raise America’s trade complaints or human rights. Mr Xi easily outflanked the US at the Asian summits following Mr Trump’s China visit. If the key to seducing him is a dish of Kung Pao chicken, what’s not to like?

The problem is that Mr Xi must continually feed Mr Trump. At a certain point, the ratio of Trump flattery to loss of self-respect will be too high. Would another flurry of trademark approvals for Ivanka Trump break China’s bank? Probably not. What about giving the go-ahead for a Trump Tower in Shanghai? Possibly. Another red carpet reception is unlikely to cut it. The law of diminishing returns applies to favors already bestowed. In 2018, it is likely to turn negative. China has always been in Mr Trump’s sights. Massaging his ego buys only brief respite.

The other ego is Mr Xi himself. China has acted with caution for more than a generation. For Washington’s “never Trumpers”, Beijing’s restraint gave it honorary membership of the axis of adults that would curb Mr Trump’s instincts. If Mr Trump was a loose cannon, China could be counted on to behave responsibly. In the opening months of Mr Trump’s presidency, Mr Xi did just that. China, not the US, is now the darling of the Davos economic elites. Mr Xi can lecture on Ricardian trade theory with the best of them.

But China’s age of forbearance is over. In October, Mr Xi opened a bolder chapter in China’s foreign ambitions. Deng Xiaoping, China’s great moderniser, spent his last years with no official role other than chairman of China’s bridge association. Hu Jintao, Mr Xi’s predecessor, was happy with just being president. Mr Xi, by contrast, has grabbed every title going and immortalized his own thought in the party’s constitution. Mr Trump has competition, in other words. For the first time since Mao Zedong, China has a living personality cult. US-China relations are now in the hands of two gargantuan egos.

That is bad news for 2018. Added to this are two bigger clouds. For the first time since the cold war, the US has an explicit competitor. Mr Xi’s China has set itself the target of becoming the world’s top dog within a generation. Unlike the Soviet Union, China can sustain technological rivalry with the US. America’s dominance in the Asia Pacific is no longer a given. Mr Xi’s aim is to achieve military parity. Second, America’s president thinks in hourly increments. China’s leader plans in decades. The battle between these two egos is one-sided. Mr Xi holds a telescope. Mr Trump stares at the mirror.

The scope for misunderstanding is growing. Too much attention has been paid to the spectre of a nuclear conflict between the US and North Korea — too little to the looming fallout in US-China relations. That is in spite of Mr Trump’s latest tweet boasting that he had a bigger nuclear button than Mr Kim.

The US president still believes China can disarm Kim Jong Un on America’s behalf. No one else thinks that is likely. Last week, Mr Trump said his patience with China was running out. Mr Trump’s advisers have so far curbed his protectionist impulses. But Mr Trump is rarely muzzled for long. His one consistent belief is that the US is being ripped off. China, whom he has repeatedly accused of raping America, tops the list. “If they don’t help us with North Korea, then I do what I’ve always said I want to do,” he told The New York Times. We should expect 2018 to produce US trade actions against China and Beijing to fight them at the World Trade Organization. There will also be more nuclear tweets.

But the US-China fog extends far beyond the Korean peninsula. As does the potential theatre of confusion. Last year China opened its first overseas base, in Djibouti. A Chinese aircraft carrier made its first visit to the Mediterranean. Mr Xi also stepped up China’s installations in the South China Sea — a subject on which Mr Trump has yet to comment.

Mr Trump has not uttered the word “Taiwan” since he spoke to its leader after his election. His first tweet of 2018 was to accuse Pakistan of “lies and deceit”. China rushed to Pakistan’s defense. “China and Pakistan are all-weather partners,” said Beijing after praising Islamabad’s “outstanding contribution” to fighting terrorism. Mr Trump was far closer to the truth. But there are few gulfs of perception wider than that.

In a stand off between Mr Trump and Mr Xi, who would blink first? There is no way of knowing. However, China is giving hints of over-confidence. From the Iraq war to Mr Trump’s election, China has been reaping one windfall after another. His disdain for democratically elected leaders plays straight into Beijing’s hands. But its luck cannot last for ever. Mr Xi should remember that Mr Trump launched missile attacks on Syria when the two were having dinner in Mar-a-Lago. Many in China believe Mr Trump is a paper tiger. They may be right. But it would be rash to test that theory.

Forecasting the Next Recession

My Comments: I may have retired from providing investment advice but I’ve not yet left the building. What happens in the world of money still interests me both professionally and personally.

Attached to this post, by way of a link to a 12 page, downloadable report, is a projection from Guggenheim that says we’ll experience a recession roughly 24 months from now.

Whether they are right or wrong, the next one is somewhere on the horizon. Knowing in advance when it might happen will help manage the financial resources you have that pay for your retirement.

Just don’t confuse the timing of a recession with the timing of market corrections of 10% or more. While there is some correlation, it is far from 100%. Also keep in mind the stock markets price things based on what people THINK will happen, not what actually does happen.

Here’s the link to download a copy of the report: Forecasting the Next Recession.

The End Of Capitalism Is Already Starting–If You Know Where To Look

My Comments: I argued last week (Is Capitalism Killing America?) that pure communism and pure capitalism are flawed economic models for society. They simply define the ends of a continuum along which we as a society are struggling to place ourselves.

I think this topic needs a better understanding. Mindful that economics is as easy to understand as Gaelic to any newcomer, an effort to get ones arms around it will go a long way toward solving the political riddle that is consuming us these days, not just in America but across the planet.

In terms of how the underlying economic model defines our lives, at one end, the individual has complete freedom to say and do whatever comes to mind. At the other end, the individual has virtually no freedom to say and do. Control instead lies with the state, which in today’s world means a geographically defined area administered by the state.

In times past, this might have been a kingdom, or perhaps a tribal group with loosely defined geographic borders. Today we are defined by areas with largely agreed upon boundaries which 99% of the world’s population accepts as reality.

The challenge for all of us it to determine just where on that continuum is the soft spot that defines a comfort zone for those living within those agreed upon boundaries. These comments by Eillie Anzilotti help us better understand the search for equilibrium.

By Eillie Anzilotti / Sep 18, 2017

These days, Richard Wolff is feeling pretty glad he stuck around teaching this long. Now in his 70s and lecturing at the New School University and having become, over the course of his nearly 50-year-long professorial career, one of America’s most prominent Marxist economists, Wolff is used to being fringe. That’s no longer a word that can apply to him, or to his ideas. Over the summer, inequality experts Jason Hickel and Martin Kirk launched a conversation on this site when they posed the theory that capitalism is at the core of the many crises gripping our world today. To Wolff, that’s not news. But it is new to him to see the same ideas he has taught for decades being met not with scorn or skepticism, but with genuine interest.

In 2011, the same year that Occupy Wall Street injected dissatisfaction with the financial system into the American mainstream, Wolff founded Democracy at Work, a nonprofit that advocates for worker cooperatives–a business structure in which the employees own the company, and share decision-making power over salaries, schedules, and where profits are directed. “If I had to pinpoint right now where the transition away from capitalism is happening in the United States, it’s in worker co-ops,” Wolff says. Though he’s been championing the cause of cooperatives–a radically democratic departure from the top-down capitalist business structure–for years, certain recent events, like the 2008 recession and the presidency of Donald Trump, poster boy for corrupt capitalism, have galvanized a distinctly anti-capitalist movement in the U.S.

“Americans are getting closer and closer to understanding that they live in an economic system that is not working for them, and will not work for their kids,” Wolff says. Growing awareness that wages have been unable to keep up with inflated costs of living have left younger generations particularly disillusioned with capitalism’s ability to support their livelihoods, Wolff says, and with CEOs out-earning employees by sometimes as much as 800 to 1, it makes sense that public interest should be swinging toward a workplace model that encapsulates shared ownership, consensus-based decision making, and democratized wages.

Admittedly, Wolff acknowledges, a small boom in the number of worker-owned cooperatives in the U.S.–consecutive years of double-digit growth in co-ops since 2010 have brought the total up to around 350, employing around 5,000 people–does not exactly scream revolution. But perhaps that’s because historical precedents for alternatives to capitalism have conditioned us to expect its end to dramatic and cataclysmic.

But that might be mean we’re looking in the wrong places. “I don’t want people to think in terms of Russia and China,” Wolff says. In their pursuit of an alternative, Wolff says, those countries neglected to do the work of transition at the micro scale, instead initiating wide-sweeping reforms at the state level and leaving their populations in the lurch.

Instead, Wolff says, it’s instructive to look to the transition to capitalism, and understand that it’s the smaller waves and shifts in the way things are done that signal true change.

Before capitalism emerged in Europe, there was feudalism, a radically different system in which nothing–neither land nor labor–was for sale, and serfs orbited their feudal lord like ribbons tethered to a maypole. Feudalism’s inhumanity was different from capitalism’s: Instead of being unable to work and earn money to pay for rent and necessities, serfs were dependent on the lords for their livelihoods and their schedules and for a piece on land upon which to labor. Their stability was contingent on the lord’s generosity or lack thereof.

Sometimes, serfs would get squeezed, Wolff says–maybe a serf who was permitted to work his own land three days a week was cut down to two, and had to work on the lord’s the rest of the time, struggling to feed his family. Those serfs would run away. They’d jet off into the forests around the manors, where they’d encounter other runaway serfs (this is the origin of Robin Hood). That group of runaways, who’d cut ties with the feudal system, would establish their own villages, called communes. Without the lord controlling how the former serfs used their land and their resources, those free workers set up a system of production and trade in the communes that would eventually evolve into modern capitalism.

“The image of the transition from feudalism to capitalism was the French Revolution, and that was part of it,” Wolff says, “but it wasn’t the whole story. The actual transition was much slower, and not cataclysmic, and found in these serfs that ran away and set up something new.”

In the U.S., businesses converting to cooperative workplace models are the functional equivalent of those runaway serfs. Around 10 cities across the U.S. have, in recent years, launched initiatives specifically to support the development of worker co-ops, which have been especially beneficial in creating job and wage stability in low-income neighborhoods. Because workers are beholden to themselves and each other, rather than a CEO and a board of directors, the model parts ways with the capitalist structure and advances something that more closely resembles a true democratic system.

“This is the beginning of the end of capitalism,” Wolff says. “Whether these experiments–which is what we have to call them at this point–will congeal into a massive social transformation, I don’t know. But I do know that massive social transformations have never happened without this stage. This stage may not do it, but change won’t happen without it,” he adds. These subtle shifts away from capitalism are not just apparent in the development of more co-ops, Wolff says. Over the past year, he’s been called in to meet with CEOs at large financial firms, who seemed to Wolff to be steeling themselves for a dethroning. As CEOs continue to disproportionately outearn their employees, the call for a dismantling of the system has become loud enough that they seem to have no choice but to pay attention. While it’s a flimsy gesture, some have distributed their bonuses to their employees.

“The move toward co-ops and the change in consciousness I’ve witnessed in workplaces and among my students are the two mechanisms of transformation that are now underway globally, and I’d like to say–it’s more a wish than anything else–that it’s too late to stop them,” Wolff says. “And the sheer beauty of this is that nothing fuels this movement more than capitalism’s own troubles, and the displeasure, disaffection, and anxiety it produces.”

Of course, the thought currents and little blooms of democratic workplaces are not enough to engineer a new economic system. These developments are all happening outside of the political system; in the White House and in Congress, the presence of big capitalist businesses continues as strong asever. But the fact that local governments like New York City and Austin have launched incubator programs for worker-owned cooperatives indicates that they’re not incompatible with the current political system.

Could it look something like inviting Medicare and Medicaid recipients into the legislating body that decides the future of healthcare in this country? Could it look something like involving women in the legal processes that determines what resources they can access to care for their own bodies? Something like a cooperativized Housing and Urban Development department that brings those people it aims to serve into the process of determining how best to do so?

Or what about developing a justice system that relies not on removing people from the formal economy via mass incarceration, but that emphasizes cooperative employment and job training at both points of re-entry and pre-incarceration? Kimberly Westcott, associate counsel in the New York-based Community Service Society, a 172-year-old anti-poverty organization, has begun a program through Democracy at Work to teach cooperative work within prisons. If the cooperatives that could form inside prisons could function just like those on the other side, are the walls necessary?

Is Capitalism Killing America?

My Comments: In the minds of many, capitalism is the antithesis of communism. And they are essentially right. In the minds of many, communism and socialism and fascism are one and the same. And they are essentially wrong.

Communism is an economic model where the state owns everything involved in providing goods and services to the members of society. All members of that society are bound by a framework that starts at the state and ends at the state. History has shown this to be a fatally flawed model.

At the other end of the continuum is capitalism, where the state has no say in the production of goods and services to benefit the members of society. Everything is determined by the individual first and then slowly upstream as determined by the collective will of many individuals. Rules and regulations are anathema and are to be opposed and vilified at every opportunity.

Into this mix appears religion and other social pressures that have evolved over the millennia to create a mechanism which allows us to survive and thrive. I argue that capitalism in it’s unfettered state is an equally flawed economic model.

Bring all this into the 21st Century and you have arguments pro and con.  How does society find that spot along the continuum between the two models to best meet the needs of ALL OF US. It matters not that it doesn’t have a convenient name. What matters is that we focus our time and energy on the creation of a balance between the rights of individuals and the rights of society. The goal is to preserve society such that both individuals and society can survive and thrive.

We are in the midst of such a discussion today. The emergence of Trump and the push back from the non-Trumps will structure the framework that our children and grandchildren will experience as they travel through life. Without an agreed upon balance resulting in an economically viable middle class, we are doomed to failure. Your voice needs to be heard.

September 18, 2017 | by Theodore Kinni

On August 2, 2017, the Dow Jones Industrial Average hit a record-breaking 22,000—its fourth 1,000-point advance in less than a year. That same day, I read the first sentence in Peter Georgescu’s new book, Capitalists Arise! End Economic Inequality, Grow the Middle Class, Heal the Nation: “For the past four decades, capitalism has been slowly committing suicide.”

How does Georgescu, the chairman emeritus of Young & Rubicam (Y&R) and a 1963 graduate of Stanford Graduate School of Business, reconcile the Dow’s ascent with his gloomy assertion?

“The stock market has nothing to do with the economy per se,” he says. “It has everything to do with only one thing: how much profit companies can squeeze out of the current crop of flowers in the garden. Pardon the metaphor. But that’s what corporations do—they squeeze out profits.”

In the latter half of the 1990s, Georgescu shepherded Y&R through a global expansion and an IPO. He has served on the boards of eight public companies, including Levi Strauss, Toys “R” Us, and International Flavors & Fragrances. He also is the author of two previous books, The Constant Choice: An Everyday Journey from Evil Toward Good and The Source of Success. An Advertising Hall of Fame inductee, the 78-year-old adman is still pitching corporate leaders. Now, however, he is trying to convince them to fundamentally rethink how—and for whom—they run their companies.

The fault lines in capitalism

Capitalism is an endangered economic system, Georgescu says. He sees a dearth of demand across the global economy, even as American corporations record their highest profits ever. “How does this magic happen?” he asks rhetorically. “You engineer it. You buy back your stock at 4% and change. Your earnings per share go up and the market says, ‘We like that.’”

What does he mean? He cites the seminal research by economist William Lazonick, who studied S&P 500 companies from 2003 to 2012 and discovered that they routinely spend 54% of their earnings buying back their own stock (reducing the number of outstanding shares and driving up share prices) and 37% of their earnings on dividends—both of which benefit shareholders. That leaves just 9% of earnings for investment in their business and their people.

This financial legerdemain obscures two fundamental fault lines in capitalism, and particularly in the US economy, according to Georgescu. The first is a lack of investment by companies in their own futures. “Our companies are not competitive because they don’t invest in themselves,” he says. “Total R&D investment is down. Total basic research, which is the precursor of innovation, is down dramatically. Investment in infrastructure has fallen to critical levels.”

The second fault line is the lack of investment by companies in their employees. “Innovation is the only real driver of success in the 21st century, and who does the innovation? Our employees. How are we motivating them? We treat them like dirt. If I need you, I need you. If I don’t, you’re out of here. And I keep your wages flat for 40 years,” says Georgescu, who points out that growth in real wages has been stagnant since the mid-1970s.

The engines of capitalism are sputtering

The lack of investment by US corporations in their businesses and people is not only causing the engine that powers innovation gain to sputter, but also slowing the engine of demand that produces topline growth. Why? Median household income in the U.S. is less than 1% higher today than in 1989, according to the Census Bureau. “There’s no middle class, and the upper middle class has very little money left to spend, so they can’t drive the economy. The only people driving the GDP are the top 20% of us,” Georgescu says.

Today’s mantra is ‘maximize short-term shareholder value.’ Period. The rules of the game have become cancerous. They’re killing us.

Peter Georgescu

In Capitalists Arise!, Georgescu shows how these issues are impacting the American public. Nearly 60% of American households are technically insolvent and adding to their debt loads each year. In addition, income inequality in the U.S. is reaching new peaks: The top layer of earners now claim a larger portion of the nation’s income than ever before — more even than the peak in 1927, just two years before the onset of the Great Depression.

Georgescu lays the blame for all of these conditions on the ascendency of the doctrine of shareholder primacy. “Today’s mantra is ‘maximize short-term shareholder value.’ Period,” he says. “The rules of the game have become cancerous. They’re killing us. They’re killing the corporation. They’re helping to kill the country.”

Back to responsible capitalism

Georgescu is convinced he knows how to beat this cancer, and he’s pitching it to corporate leaders across the country. “The cure can be found in the post–World War II economic expansion. From 1945 until the 1970s, the US economy was booming and America’s middle class was the largest market in the world,” he says.

“In those days, American capitalism said, ‘We’ll take care of five stakeholders,’” he continues. “Then and now, the most important stakeholder is the customer. The second most important is the employee. If you don’t have happy employees, you’re not going to have happy customers. The third critical stakeholder is the company itself — it needs to be fed. Fourth come the communities in which you do business. Corporations were envisioned as good citizens—that’s why they got an enormous number of legal protections and tax breaks in the first place.”

In Georgescu’s schema, shareholders are the last of the five stakeholders, not the first. “If you serve all the other stakeholders well, the shareholders do fine,” he says. “If you take good care of your customers, pay your people well, invest in your own business, and you’re a good citizen, the shareholder does better. We need to get back to that today. Every company has got to do that.”

We welcome your comments at ideas@qz.com. This post originally appeared on Insights, by Stanford Business. http://stanford.io/2wBV8Wd