Perry Glasser

Archive for January, 2015|Monthly archive page

END THE WAR ON YOUTH!

In Business, Economy, EDUCATION, Political Economy, Politics on January 9, 2015 at 3:31 pm
Home of the Weasel in Chief

Home of the Weasel in Chief

The White House is catching up to Dollar$ thought-leadership. President Obama yesterday tested the waters to float the idea—community college education should be free. Dollar$ is way ahead of the West Wing on this one, but admits it is nice to know we are being read at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in the West Wing and Oval Office.

Last May, Dollar$ wrote,

So with apologies to followers of Senator Elizabeth Warren other well-intentioned Weasels and the legions of Wizards ever-eager to brew a new potion of loan and grant combination to foist on youth, Dollar$ maintains the solution is not to make higher education “affordable.”

The solution is to champion higher education as an entitlement.
Education must be free….

Access to two years of higher education is a right of every citizen.

The program is necessary for the preservation of our democracy, the maintenance of our standard of living, and to liberate forthcoming generations from a lifetime of debt.”

Now is the time.

The Right's Leadership at Work

The Right’s Leadership at Work

The Republican-controlled House and Senate should endorse this one, provided no one is stupid enough to present this as some populist giveaway. Nothing marshals the Blue Meanies faster than the word “entitlement,” but the fact is that expanding our notion of minimal education to include skills and knowledge through the 14th grade makes good economic sense.

  • For more than a decade, Business leaders have bemoaned the American workforce lacks necessary skills.
  • For more than a decade, Business leaders have outsourced training to American education.
  • For more than a century, the American Education sector has been a worldwide draw: sure, there are universities all over the world, but the best and brightest come here from Russia, Japan, China, and anywhere they can scrape together tuition.

If we go forward with this no-brainer, we will prosper. If we fail… well, it’s back on the road to Palookaville.

The Dollar$ Lowdown

What do we suppose will happen if the first two years of higher education can be had for free?  If the academic credits can be transferred to four-year institutions, only the arrogant rich will continue to send their off-spring to four-year institutions at $50-75,000 per year.  Harvard and Yale won’t starve, but say a prayer for Old State U.  How will the pale Ivies, the Tufts, William and Marys, Swarthmores, and Macalesters compete if they have cohorts of potential students showing up at the door with half their education already paid for?  Who’d pay for four years when you can get two for free at a community college, and then finish up a bachelors degree elsewhere?

Colleges and universities will need to become more productive and control costs, but currently have no incentive to do so.  The log-jam on student debt and college costs will finally break up. Buit if students are staying away in droves because there is a freebie at the local community college…..

Currently, 20-somethings can ill-afford houses, cars, and the other accouterments of middle class life because their credit sucks. Its not that they won’t pay it back, but if you start your working career owing the cost of a small condo, what hope is there they will become future consumers for big-ticket consumer items? Fun as they are, no one expects an economy to thrive on cellphones.  But if the first two years of higher education are free…..look at all that discretionary cash!

Finally, free education through the 14th grade not only will supply us with a solid professional class, it will revive the dying study of Humanities. At current prices, no one can afford a year or two exploring cosmic questions, but Literature, the Arts, and Philosophy may once again get a year of attention by those same students who now can no longer afford the luxury of thinking.

Unless we are intent on making war on youth, it is time to release that financial hammerlock on higher education, not only for relief  of youth, but for the good of our larger economy and way of life. Someone is sure to tell us we cannot afford this, but the real fact is we cannot afford NOT to do this

 

DEFLATION, OIL PANIC, AND THE SKIDS #2

In Business, Economics, Economy, EDUCATION, Finance on January 8, 2015 at 10:05 am
imagesHI5F8ZBL

Is the past our future?

 

 

Dollar$ gazes at the skid in oil prices and asks:  Does the precipitous drop in oil prices presage a worldwide deflationary spiral? Is the world economy contracting so as to calcify economic activity?

In a word: No.

No one will be selling apples on the street any time soon.

 

Oil.

Oil is a commodity, which is to say, like lumber, cattle, gold, and copper, it comes out of the ground to be used to create more sophisticated products like jet fuel, gasoline, nylon, and plastic. Like all commodities, oil’s price is strictly set by supply and demand, a fact less true for many goods and service where supply and demand can be artificially manipulated.

Hatless in the cold.

Hatless in the cold.

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The entire Marketing industry, Prevaricating for Profit,  is devoted to creating false demand. When in 1933 Clark Gable wore no undershirt, the men’s underwear business went into a tailspin. John Kennedy in 1960 insisted on wearing no hat when he spoke at his presidential inauguration; the men’s hat industry has never recovered.

To be sure, hats and undershirts are not commodities. Their worth changes as a matter of fashion, not supply and demand.

OPEC

OPEC is the international oil cartel that has controlled oil’s supply for a generation, but the game changer is a recent innovation. Fracking, it turns out, is cheap enough and ideal in north central United States and southern Canada.

The cartel is losing its grip. The US is going from oil importer to oil exporter. To compete for those petro-dollars, OPEC and especially Saudi Arabia can no longer manipulate supply, but pumped as much as it could. Supply soared. Oil has become a glut on the market.

But at $40 per barrel, fracking becomes uneconomic.  Make no mistake, OPEC would like to see a price for oil that once again leaves OPEC as the only game in town. If that means bankrupting oil exporters not part of the cartel, such as Russia, so be it.

Bye-Bye Putin!

Winners in a Price War

It’s an old-fashioned price war, nothing more. As with all price wars, consumers benefit. Estimates put as much as $1,500 per year in the pockets of ordinary American citizens.

Never forget that the US economy is consumer driven—we like to spend on stuff because we are blessed to be in a places where there is stuff to buy. Expect discretionary products to fly out of stores. That new refrigerator is coming home soon.

The demand for stuff made in the USA will increase in the USA; expect hiring. Elsewhere, not so much because that strong dollar will make US goods seem expensive.

When you read dry-mouthed dire predictions of European disaster because hard-working Germans are tired of supporting spend-thrift Greeks, remember that the GDP of Greece is about 25 percent of New Jersey’s GDP. The drama is interesting, but the world economy is not going down any drain in Athens.

Since the US is an oil exporter, the US dollar grows stronger every day. Would you rather own dollars or euros?  You can’t pay for US oil with euros–it’s really not a choice. For the American consumer, tourist destinations overseas that were prohibitively expensive last year are going to seem to be on sale. Book the flight! Greece needs you money!

Big US oil consumers can lower their prices and still make big profits. Airlines and cruise lines will soon compete on price, instead of competing on service.

Losers.

What’s that Binky? You ask who are the losers? You ask why the stock market plummets with  the price of oil?

Well, oil companies aren’t happy. Along with Big Oil  the losers are the very rich, the institutions and people that had been positioned to enjoy high oil prices. Sheiks and hedge funds are madly selling to gather cash, the better to buy US stocks  when they believe oil prices have bottomed, which will be about $43 per barrel which is where OPEC can comfortably reinstate its hegemony. Much higher than that, and North Dakota gets rich–again.

So the stock market plunge does not presage a deflation spiral, but it seem that for a while we can expect a new set of winners.

DEFLATION, OIL PANIC, AND THE SKIDS #1

In Business, Economics, Economy, EDUCATION, Finance on January 7, 2015 at 12:59 pm

Ever aware that Dollar$ primary mission is to educate and only occasionally pontificate, let’s talk about prosperity, gloom, and deflation.

Economic activity is based on expectations. You buy your new car because you expect you will need it before the old jalopy breaks down completely; you buy health insurance because you expect you will someday, somehow, need it; you buy baseball tickets in January because you expect to go to  the game in April.

Balance means stable prices.

Balance means stable prices.

Prosperity

Shared expectations influence supply and demand, and therefore influence prices. If International Widget (IW) expects to sell many widgets in the forthcoming year, it will hasten to make more widgets, perhaps borrowing money to increase productivity. Under the expectation of prosperity, IW may hire more workers, and if long-term expectations are high, IW may even build a brand new, more efficient widget plant.  If widget demand increases even beyond IW’s ability to create supply, the widget shortage will drive the price of widgets higher. IW will respond by increasing volume and price, reap profits, pay dividends, employ yet more people, give key employees wage increases, and the Buccaneers who direct IW may pay themselves  bonuses that look like telephone numbers, including area codes. They will buy Caribbean islands or condos in Manhattan.  The spiral upward is called an inflationary spiral; rising prices are not terrifying if wages and employment keep pace.

Gloom

saupload_The-Deflationary-SpiralBut suppose IW’s best leadership expects the market for widgets is spiraling downward. Perhaps there are insurmountable problems in the supply chain. Perhaps bankers are unwilling to part with loan money for fear of never getting paid back. Rather than pay people for playing pinochle while their widget machines stand idle, 10 percent of the IW workforce is fired. The Manhattan condo market freezes, and the IW private jet makes fewer flights to the Caribbean. The price of widgets will plunge because the people who use widgets know that to meet the slowdown, IW will cut prices and hope to make up in volume what they are losing in price. The spiral down is called deflation; falling prices are not terrifying if they are gradual and do not continue for any great length of time.

The gloom and prosperity scenarios are the ordinary stuff of economic life, but Dollar$ readers only need to bear in mind that in both cases today’s economic decisions are made based on expectations of tomorrow’s conditions.

The Past

The general tone of American economic life for more than 20 years has been cautious optimism because the range of change in economic life has been modest, sure, and steady. Sure, there have been bubbles and crashes, but there is a reason that in 20 years the Dow Jones Industrial Average has risen 400 percent, from roughly 4,000 to today’s levels well above 16,000. Call it the Goldilocks Economy—it’s neither too hot nor too cold, but is just right.

Home invader and thief, but she knows what she likes.

Home invader and thief, but she knows what she likes.

But America has suffered an extended deflationary spiral, a decade’s worth in the 1930s called The Great Depression. Despite interest rates at virtual zero for most of a decade, from 1992 to 2000, Japan has been in a deflationary spiral.

Playing the expectations game, in an inflationary spiral you spend or invest your money as fast as you can. After all, everything will probably be more expensive tomorrow. It’s best to buy your house, car, 100 shares of IW, or personal jet today.

But in a deflationary spiral, the expectations game makes cash King. What fool would spend a dollar today when the cost of the item tomorrow will be $.90?  But wait… suppose it will drop to $.75? Or $.60?

Where’s my Magic 8-Ball when I need it?eight_ball

What Now?

Does the slide in the price of oil herald of worldwide deflation?

Dollar$ will weigh in soon.

WIZARDRY EXPOSED

In Business, Economy, EDUCATION, Finance, Personal Finance, Wall Street Journal on January 6, 2015 at 1:42 pm
WIZARD OF FINANCE

WIZARD OF FINANCE

Financial Wizards feel compelled to offer explanations for any and all stock market perturbations. After all, what’s the point of being a Wizard if you possess no magic?

Besides, how can a Wizard separate a Citizen from hard-earned cash by offering sage advice despite being clueless?

Cohorts of Wizards are in the business of blowing red smoke, green smoke, and blue smoke to impress the rubes that the world of finance is too mysterious and hard to understand for mere mortals, a falsehood that precipitates money.
Nevertheless, smoke remains smoke.

Wizardry Exposed

Wizard advice comes in four flavors:

Subjunctive Mood Mavens: Solemn pronouncements in subjunctive mood are consultant-speak, the language of baseless prognostications, crystal ball gazing bank economists, and other members of  the OUIJA board school of investment advice. They can never be wrong. Dollar$ notes for those who need a grammar refresher that subjunctive mood expresses an idea that is untrue or a wish. Subjunctive mood is especially helpful when waffling. The stock market may go down this year is an utterance that suggests it may also go up. Subjunctive mood is a favorite of the Wizard Street Journal headline writers who have the odious task of filling column inches on days when there is no financial news — which is most days. Greece May be Forced from the Euro Common Market!  Yes, well, it might not be, too.

Hysterics: We pay for slasher movies because we like a good scare; we ride rollercoasters for the same reason. The Wizard who cries “Wolf!” on a near daily basis, unlike the boy in the story, will always find listeners. Like the owner of the clock that stopped who bragged his timepiece was correct twice each day, Doomsayers gather an audience despite being wrong most of the time. Readers who doubt this may want to note that even adjusted for inflation, the Dow Jones Industrial Average, the measure by which most people assess stock the US markets, has gone from below 4,000 in 1994 to hover near 18,000 now. Even adjusted for inflation, any schmuck should realize listening to Doomsayer Hysterics can cost a bundle. If Henny Penny urges you to make your appeal to Foxy Loxy because the sky is falling, don’t be surprised if you turn into Foxy Loxy’s main dinner course.Henny_penny

Snow-Blowers: Ruminating over arcane charts and using an esoteric vocabulary about cups, cliffs, breakout and support levels, peaks and valleys, Snow-Blowers sell unwary Citizens advice based on the premise that graphical patterns in the past will repeat in the future. Such soothsaying is about as accurate as your average racetrack tout who examines past performances. While racetrack touts and technical analysts will leave you equally broke, racetrack touts use a transparent vocabulary. You might also consult the entrails of birds.

Screamers:  When you have to fill a 30-minute TV time slot for five days each week, the only way to maintain an audience is to scream at them.  That’s 200 days each year, a total of 100 hours of annual financial advice. When every study shows that the best way for investments to thrive is a modest, infrequently varied buy-and-hold investing approach, it’s hard to imagine just what there is to scream about, other than trying to draw the audience that draws the advertisers.  I mean, what can Cramer do? Name seven stocks every January and shut up for a year? His bad calls are legendary, but he does not have to be right, he has to be loud.  It’s just show-biz, folks.kramer7