Don’t Be Impressed By Black Friday Sales Numbers

The media has been making a huge deal out of the large consumer spending numbers on Black Friday this year, touted as the most ever spent on Black Friday and a considerable increase over last year.

However, all of this is being viewed through a laser-focused lens. Absolute tunnel vision is in effect, giving a distorted image of the truth. There is a lot more which has to be taken into consideration than the numbers of a single day or weekend.

Timing is everything. The first thing to take into consideration is when Black Friday occurs during a given year. This year it occurred on 11/29/19. What does that mean? It means that 12/1 occurred on a weekend. The result is that Social Security, government and many other paychecks typically paid on the 1st of the month were deposited instead on.. Black Friday. If you have ever been shopping, especially grocery shopping, you know that the first weekend of the month is generally much busier than other weekends because of those consumers forced to live paycheck to paycheck. The last time that Black Friday and December 1st occurred on the same weekend was in 2013. (7 year cycle.) Guess what the media was reporting at the time? They reported how consumer sales had increased over the previous year for Black Friday. Not to the same degree, of course. We were allegedly coming out of the Great Recession and one has to take inflation into account, which affects absolute numbers AND percentages reported.

Changing shopping habits. Another thing to take into consideration is that remote orders for store pickup increased considerably this year. While part of this is technology-driven, it also indicates consumers are planning their purchases in advance. They know what they are going to buy and that is what they order. This has the effect of reducing impulse purchases made while shoppers wander through stores and buy more than they originally planned. If shoppers only buy what they have planned for, this indicates that spending will most likely taper off very quickly before mid-December, which will negate the gains reported right now.

A wider view. When we take all the above into account, the obvious becomes clear. We cannot look at a single day or weekend to judge consumer spending or confidence. Instead, we have to take a wider view and look at consumer spending both before and after Black Friday weekend. Not meaning an isolated view of one week before and after but at least 1 month before and after. This gives us a much more accurate view. Obviously we cannot really predict what the coming month will bring but we can look back at previous months. In October, retail sales increased by 0.3%. Statistically this is negligible to begin with. However, go back one more month and we find that sales in September had declined by 0.3%, which brings even the October increase to a flat even number.

Consumer sales do not equal consumer spending. Something else to look at is how these sales are funded. Consumer credit spending has increased and that is likely how much of the current spending was funded. Many consumers are still paying credit card debt from 2018. This is debt spending, which is not truly consumer spending. Rather than indicating consumer confidence or any improvement in the economy, it tends to indicate the reverse, that consumers are not in the position to spend actual income at this time. Even if they have the liquid assets to spend, they are not willing to part with those assets, which demonstrates a lack of confidence in the ability to recuperate those assets in the near future.

The Trump irony. It is extremely ironic that the neoliberal media is reporting how well sales are doing, which amounts to a claim that the economy is doing extremely well. In effect, they are stating that Trump is having a positive effect on the economy. This, even as they make concurrent claims that he is destroying the economy and the country. The numbers they are reporting literally increase support for Trump, even as the neoliberal media is pushing for his impeachment. Meanwhile the same corporate media on both sides report falsified employment numbers and simply do not report comprehensive numbers of layoffs and retail or manufacturing closures which have taken place this year. What they are doing is trying to play both sides in an attempt to force the illusion that capitalism is successful while trying to bring down the most capitalistic president to ever hold US office.

The rebound effect. Consumer debt is already at a level higher than any time in history, while labor income is the lowest it has been in decades in terms of real wages. Now consumers appear to be taking on new debt. If jobs which offer living wages are not created in mass numbers in the very near future, meaning the next few months, as debts come due we will see consumer spending plummet drastically as consumers are forced to reduce immediate spending to pay the debts. This will cause more layoffs in an increasing spiral downward for the economy. This is likely to concur with the end of the Federal Reserve bailout of unstable banks, resulting in the perfect storm for an economic crash the likes of which few people have imagined.

Tulsi Can Unite The Country

With all the rhetoric of the last few years about unity, the same rhetoric has been concurrently divisive, incessant “us against them” mentality which does absolutely nothing to unite anyone outside specific echo chambers. US against Russia, China, Mexico, Turkey, Israel, Venezuela, Iran, Europe… Worse still, that rhetoric has divided American against American along party lines with no policies or issues being debated.

If you try and bring issues into the discussion, you will be ostracized by party or name loyalists. Yes, that absolutely includes Bernie supporters. It was once Bernie who claimed he was an Independent who could work with both major parties. He no longer even attempts to voice that claim and his followers, most of whom are new to the game, have not noticed the change. They just follow along, claiming he has a consistency which does not exist when viewed objectively.

Now we have a candidate who holds the potential to genuinely unite voters and possibly parties, at least on specific issues and policies. That candidate is Tulsi Gabbard.

Nobody paying attention can claim that the DNC is the party in favor of peace any more. They have raged in favor of every single war for decades. In 2016, it was the RNC convention which spoke of ending conflicts. It was Hillary’s DNC convention which was intensely militaristic, with uniform after uniform taking the stage and continuous talk of “a strong defense”. It has been the DNC pushing Russiagate, who increased the “defense” budget beyond what Trump had requested, who have objected to efforts of peace talks with Russia and North Korea. Who insisted that US military presence in Syria should continue.. illegally.

There is no question that there are fundamental differences between Democratic and Republican voters. However, that divide is not as deep as many convince themselves to believe. Republicans tend to prefer a more authoritarian president, while Democrats prefer a nice-speaking pretty face. Yet voters on both sides will completely close their eyes, ears and minds against the atrocities committed by their preferred cult leader, fully prepared to fight to the death it appears, to defend the same atrocities.

Can you imagine what the reaction would have been if millions of Americans lost their life savings and evicted from their homes under Trump, rather than Obama? If the big banks had grown bigger under him? The outcry would cause earthquakes and we would have more calls for impeachment which would go nowhere because it benefited corporations. How about if Trump refused to prosecute the banking elite and those guilty of torture? What would happen if Trump said in a folksy tone, “We tortured some folks”? How about if he expanded our bombing to add another 5 countries to the list of our victims?

Yet Republican voters and the majority of Independent voters oppose warfare. They want our troops out of other countries, want to end regime change wars, want our wars to be called wars. The majority of voters support universal healthcare and breaking up big banks. Most Americans support legalization of marijuana, at least for medical use. Most Americans support price reduction and controls on medications.

Every one of these things are policies expressly supported by Tulsi Gabbard.

In addition, many millions of Americans oppose the election fraud committed by the DNC in 2016. Tulsi is the one, single, only mainstream candidate who stood up against that fraud. She did not campaign for Hillary in 2016 and recently stood up against Hillary as nobody has done publicly in the Democratic Party.

On the left, Tulsi supports universal adult education and forgiving student loan debt.

On the right, being a veteran, supporting veteran support and being a strong leader definitely gains support by those who are disappointed in Trump’s performance.

If we truly want to solve our problems in this country, which affect all other countries in some ways, we absolutely need a president that garners popular support from voters of ALL parties.

Tulsi is young, strong, healthy, lucid, literate, ethical and professional. She has shown she will stand by her values in the face of an oppressive system, even when it is her own party in which she holds a high position and meets with vindictive actions in response. She will meet with leaders we do NOT agree with, not just slaves to the US Empire. She is able to openly state she has been convinced she held a view in error. She is disliked by the “liberal” media. Each and every one of these points SHOULD be held in her favor by any true American.

Or would you prefer to just keep going the way we have been going? Do you prefer solutions or mindless, endless, destructive hatred? Personally, I want solutions.

The Big Bright Shiny

The media and political parties have no intention of informing you or engaging with you. They are doing nothing but distracting us, indoctrinating and dividing us.

It’s all about emotional response.

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I am an independent writer/content producer with no corporate sponsors or backing. The only income I make from my writing comes from views. At least I have reached the point where it makes more than it costs me! lol! (Not by much.)My writing is done in between full time (and overtime) nursing, shared custody of my brilliant daughter and mundane existence.

I have opened my new website which is intended to be a central listing of protests and political rallies across the US. It’s still a work in progress but is functional. You can find it at http://RallyAndProtest.com

Please consider becoming a patron on Patreon. I try and average at least 20 articles a month, so a $1 a month donation would come down to 5¢ per article to support independent, non-corporate writing. My Patreon page is here.

If you care to share articles with those who do not have Medium or Patreon accounts, I also post most of my articles on my own website, which has no advertising and I pay for with income from writing. My website is at https://issuesunite.com/ and all articles can be shared freely. You can always quote me, no attribution required. My goal is spreading information and awareness. The whole point is building a better, more peaceful, more equitable world for us and future generations.

The Dangers of Shadow Banking

You have probably heard the term by now, “shadow banking”. However, many people don’t understand the risks it poses because they do not understand exactly what it is.

Shadow banking by all estimates is greater in size than the global banking system. By some estimates, it is greater in size than the global economy.

Comparison. You see lots of stories about how the Chinese shadow banking system poses a threat to the global economy. However, according to Bloomberg, the US shadow banking system is nearly twice the size of the Chinese shadow banking system, with China accounting for 16% of estimated shadow banking programs, while the US accounts for and estimated 31% (almost 1/3 of all shadow banking globally). In 2016, China began enacting policies to rein in their shadow banking problem. This is aside from the fact that most Chinese banks are nationalized. Nationalized banks cannot be shadow banks or pose the level of risk that privatized shadow banking systems do. In the US, any attempt at regulating shadow banking has met with legal, economic and political resistance.

What is it? Shadow banking is comprised of financial institutions and systems which are not held accountable to regulatory agencies the way officially recognized banks are. In the US, financial products and institutions are typically regulated by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) and Securities and Exchange Commission, with other regulatory agencies which oversee various smaller segments of the financial market. These agencies ideally place limits on how much financial institutions can loan out in relation to their deposits, practices that reduce fraud or economic/financial risk to the public.

Who is it? Shadow banking (I’m tired of typing that out. Let’s abbreviate it SB, okay?) is comprised of financial institutions which have a wide range of influence. You either right now or have in the past done business with SB entities without knowing it. They include such entities as hedge funds, short term lending agencies like payday lenders and vehicle title loan companies, home equity lenders, insurance companies and many investment firms. It also includes entities such as GoFundMe. However, the largest and most dangerous of all involve financial derivatives and credit default swaps.

Why are they popular? SB entities generally offer the chance of higher returns on investment compared to regulated institutions. However, a major reason they can offer higher returns is that the financial products they offer tend to be high risk. Their loans and products have a much higher default rate than standard financial products. Think of high interest loans to high risk borrowers.

The dangers. The dangers involved with SB is the fact that they do fall outside the regulations that regular banks are subject to. Regulations which require banks to maintain a certain level of collateral deposits as a percentage of how much they can loan out. If the economy or a specific entity show signs of a higher default percentage, leading to decreased returns or even loss on investment, investors in these entities can withdraw their entire investment without notice. If large investors or large numbers of investors withdraw their investments, it causes a run on that institution or even an entire SB industry category. That can have drastic effects alone but it can also have a domino effect, especially if a large SB company offers multiple products.

Not limited to non-banking entities. One huge problem with the SB system is that regulated entities often invest large sums in the SB entities or loan money to them. The SB system had a major role in the 2008 crash thanks to high risk loans and mortgages by SB companies which were packaged as lower risk loans in “bundles” which were purchased by standard banking institutions. However, banks are well known to establish their own SB companies as well. The obvious risk with this is that if these entities fail, they bring down large banks.

Regulation does not stop it. Some may believe that legislation like Dodd-Frank placed limits or regulations on the SB system. Not at all. Dodd-Frank only addressed standard banks and did not address the SB system at all. Many candidates receive campaign donations from SB companies. Some economists claim that if the SB system were eliminated that the economy would suffer greatly. However, all agree that it is an extreme danger which should be regulated.

Shadow Banking steals from the legitimate financial system. Were SB brought under control and regulation, it probably would result in less investment by some. However, it would result in greater stability in the financial system. SB investments divert funds from legitimate, regulated, more transparent financial systems. The fact is that returns on legitimate investment systems suffer as a direct result of funding diverted to the SB system, causing lower returns. SB is popular simply because of lesser regulation and oversight.

SB and regulated markets are tied together. As noted above, regulated systems and SB systems are tied together. However, even when not directly tied together, they are intrinsically tied because of shared investors. Some may believe that if the stock market and regulated systems retract that SB systems will expand. As seen in 2008, the opposite is true. When financial markets retract, they have a domino effect causing all markets to retract concurrently. Many businesses have a combination of funding from regulated and unregulated sources. Thus, when large businesses or a large number of businesses fail, it has an effect on all the above. When investors see a risk of losing because of a retraction, they pull funding from all investments in similar streams. In addition, Quicken Loans is a SB entity, now the largest mortgage lender in the country. Other mortgage lenders are also SB entities, though smaller.

Cyclic effect. As employers see reduced profits, they reduce staffing. When this happens in large numbers as we have only begun to see, it means the consumer market retracts. More consumers default on loans of all kinds. In the case of SB lenders, they are much faster to pursue vehicle repossessions, foreclosures, etc. This is an attempt to claim the property, charge the initial borrower and resell the property to a second borrower at a secondary profit. Yes, this is illegal for regulated lenders but not for unregulated lenders. In the interim and when this fails, SB profits decline. When profits decline, investments decline. When investments decline, the interest rates on any loan offers increase. This causes more rejections and more defaults. All of this reduces finances available for consumers to spend, causing a further decline in consumer spending, bringing us back to reduced profits for employers and the cycle continues. This cycle happens very quickly.

So, while shadow banking is typically described in terms which seem abstract or which affect only large investors, as you can see it absolutely affects you personally in very real terms. The fall of the stock market can mean the fall of shadow banking. The decline in each one and both can affect your credit, your employment, your housing, your retirement savings and on and on.

Wonder what Libertarians will think about this?

True Low Unemployment Would Mean Things We Are NOT Seeing

Corporate media is fond of saying that unemployment is low, which would mean employment is up. I have previously covered the Labor Participation Rate, the Bloomberg report calculating that 600,000 jobs have been lost just since December, unreported and that report came out several months ago. However, even that isn’t necessary because the evidence that employment is as high as claimed does not add up with what we see all around us.

For one thing, if employment were truly up, we would not be having the discussion about immigration at all. We have seen incidents in the past when employment was high. At that time, the US was welcoming immigrants with open arms. Compare to what we see occurring right this minute.

Deporting large numbers of immigrants may have some impact on employment but barely enough to budge percentages or numbers. Consider that the estimate was that there were 11 million illegal immigrants in the US. Not all of those were in any condition or age to be employed. Many are children, as we can clearly see from the children being caged at the border this very minute. Others have been here for years and are too elderly to work. Still more are disabled in some way.

Thus, we can consider that possibly 3 million may have possibly been employed and most of those have worked in low-wage agricultural or similar jobs. In cases where they have occupied jobs with higher pay and skills, deporting them does more damage than good to the economy, as many corporations have moved jobs to South American countries. Those are the DREAMERS, who have gained education and skills which many natives lack. In other words, not only are the immigrants being deported but the jobs they occupied are being deported as well.

Even without the above, if employment was as high as claimed, immigrants would be welcomed to occupy lower levels of employment, allowing more skilled Americans to fill higher positions.

Next, consider that if employment were up, we would not be seeing other signs of a declining economy which we are seeing. Student loan defaults are at record levels. Vehicle loan defaults have been increasing for several years while new vehicle sales are down, causing mass layoffs in the auto industry. New and used home sales are declining. Consumer credit debt is rising rapidly as consumers are forced to use credit to meet basic needs. While we already have the highest level of consumer and corporate debt in world history.

In times of high employment, pay and benefits increase because employers compete for the best, most qualified workers first and then move down the skill/experience ladder from there. Wages do not remain stagnant at any level.

It is well known we are living in a “gig economy”, with a large percentage of jobs being contract or temporary work. I had written that this was coming in 2001, beginning primarily with medical professionals and then spreading to other fields. That is precisely what happened. However, what has changed over time has been a decline in pay and benefits for such positions as they became more common across industries. In fact, that is why it has become more common. Temporary and contract workers were once used to fill positions which were short-staffed and as a result, pay and benefits were above average. They typically led to offers of permanent employment for good workers. Today, these positions are used to avoid the need to hire full time staff. Workers are offered part time and contract positions or nothing at all, while they rarely lead to offers of permanent employment. This does not happen in times of high employment because employers are anxious about being stranded with inadequate staffing. In fact, they would be offering nearly unlimited hours to the best temp/contract workers who have already shown their value.

In times of truly high employment, one can see an initial anomalous dip in the stock market as employment rises due to wages being seen as a cost. Then stocks increase as profit margins rise due to consumer spending due to the employment and wage levels.

Right now we see prices rising in comparison to wages. In times of high employment, prices rise but only secondary to higher wages and employment. Yes, tariffs are playing into inflation but there has not been a time that prices have decreased at any time since the 2008 crash. In fact, rent in general has continued rising unabated since that time.

In times of high employment, employers will eagerly subsidize or even pay for higher education for valuable employees wishing to advance. Today, companies are mandating continued education at employee expense, with or without advancement. Note that some may use the example that employers once paid for travel and attendance to conferences and this has become less common. I find this not anything abnormal with technology advancements which have resulted in video conferencing becoming far more common gradually over time, reducing the need for travel.

When employment is high, increased wages and benefits result in a decrease in out of pocket costs for workers. That leads to increased consumer spending. Increased consumer spending results in a further cycle, maintaining and creating more jobs. Right now we are seeing reduced consumer spending outside of absolute essentials. Tariffs would have some effect to slow the volume of goods being sold but would not by itself result in a depressed consumer market resulting in mass layoffs and loan defaults.

Obviously, capitalists will be capitalists and rent prices will continue rising, as we have seen in this battered economy. That leaves even less disposable income for consumers to spend.

These conditions are only going to get worse due to Trump’s trade war with China. No matter how much he gives farmers in subsidies at our expense, that does nothing for downstream jobs in trucking, packaging and shipping. Tariffs are a tax on the American people which slow consumer spending by volume purchased. When consumers have a limited budget, that budget does not increase because prices do, meaning they spend the same but obtain less. The tariffs do not mean more profit for retailers, so they see reduced sales volume. Less sales volume means less requirement for labor. That means more layoffs but will be less immediately evident because it will not be mass layoffs and instead be widespread and gradual reduction in staff. Then more downstream reductions in trucking, shipping, manufacturing and so on.

When corporate media is telling you anything about how well the economy and job markets are doing (among other things), it is highly advisable to question it very critically.

Automation- Your Job Is Not Safe From Indirect Effects, Pt 2- Solutions

Part 1 of this series addressed the challenges involving automation which affect our economy and job market. Part 2 addresses solutions which we cannot avoid having to implement at some point. If we do not implement these solutions at some level, our economy and our society as we know it will continue to deteriorate and ultimately collapse. We’re already well on the road to that conclusion.

There is no stopping it. You will not stop the advance of technology and automation. It’s here to stay and is accelerating. Technology has been advancing since prehistoric times. Technology multiplies technology. Humans have always used tools to build bigger tools, better tools, buildings and factories to create tools. Computer programs speed the development of better, faster programs. We now have programs that write programs. Computer hardware is used to develop the next generation of hardware, faster, more capable, more resilient. The more the tools advance, the fewer the number of workers needed to accomplish the greatest amount of work. The only time this is bad is when it happens in a capitalist system. Remove money for survival from the equation and it is a positive. Keep money in that equation and it becomes deadly.

WE need to adapt our attitudes. Many Americans are still stuck in the concept that Socialism is bad. Never mind that without Socialist-leaning programs our economy would collapse right this minute. Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, public schools, public roads, health departments, fire departments, police, jails, prisons, etc. Millions of jobs rely on a Socialist ideal right now. The problem with the advance of technology is that our economy has not kept pace. Our attitudes as a society have not kept pace.Most of this is because of capitalist ownership of media and domination of education, all pushing a capitalist agenda. “Capitalism good, Socialism bad.”WE need to evolve beyond this mindset. Stop giving in to fear of change. See what is happening. Stop trying to prop up a collapsing building.

Advances and opposition. Technology will continue to advance no matter the economic system. It is part of our evolution. It is the human drive to solve problems and defeat challenges. The first humans that used rocks as hammers made no monetary profit. The first humans to develop bronze, iron and steel made no money. The problem is that the same mindset to evolve and defeat challenges in our economy is opposed by a barbaric need to dominate, by greed, by ego. It is an absolute indication that our society has not evolved socially. It is this barbaric mindset which holds us back, which is apathetic or even sadistically jubilant at the suffering of human beings who lack the resources to dominate, even if that person is born with artificial socially imposed disadvantages which have nothing to do with their capabilities or true potential. It is this barbaric mindset which refuses to grant anything for free and pushes to make even the most basic needs like clean water a commodity available only for an ever-increasing price. It is that barbaric mindset which keeps those born or forced to the bottom of the economic ladder constantly fighting for mere survival until they have no time, energy or resources remaining to even make the attempt to climb higher. Mental slaves to that barbarism attempt to blame the victims of this system for their alleged failings. Surrendering our minds to that barbaric mentality means surrendering our lives, our society, our health, our children and our futures to someday be on the victim side of that equation. Many are experiencing this today as the middle class loses ground and becomes ever more insecure.

Limited options. There are only a limited number of solutions to the conditions which we are facing. Every one of those solutions involve some form of Socialism. Trickle-down economics is a demonstrated failure. Capitalists still try to claim that only capitalist solutions can save capitalism. Yet none of that is true. We have watched the flow of wealth to the top over nearly 40 years and we are now in crisis mode globally. You can cheer for your favorite gazillionaire all you like, that doesn’t mean that your paycheck grows any larger, that your personal future becomes any more secure. The rich have had sycophants groveling at their feet through all of history but when you no longer present a profit to the rich, your purpose has been served and you get thrown out like so much garbage along with everyone else. Stop licking boots.

Drop the resentment of the poor. Resentment of the poor does no good. Let’s say that some people take unfair advantage of welfare and avoid that argument. The fact is, if 25%, 1 out of four of Americans, took advantage of welfare to the tune of $1000 a month every month, that would equate to an annual cost of $990 billion. Now consider that most of those welfare recipients are likely to be supporting families. Consider that this spending would be spent in the economy, supporting jobs and incomes. The government surrendered more money than that giving tax breaks to the rich in 2018. The rich responded by using that money to buy back over $2 trillion in stock. In other words, enough to give HALF of Americans an extra $1000 a month. Yet that tax break created exactly zero jobs. Bloomberg recently reported that the job market declined by 600,000 since December 2018.

Solutions. It is obvious that the only way that the general population and capitalism itself will survive is by implementing some form of Universal Basic Income (UBI). As more jobs cease to exist, competition for remaining jobs becomes more fierce and as a result wages plummet, we are driving headlong into conditions ripe for unbridled civil war. You can deny it but that doesn’t change the truth. Look through history and the same conditions have always resulted in civil war by some name. Call it revolution, uprising or anything else, they all mean the same thing. The only thing missing at this point is some spark to light the final fuse. That fuse is lit. Flooding in the midwest, decreased imports and increasing prices due to tariffs mean that we are now facing a shortage of resources which will only be available to those higher on the income scale. As resources become more exhausted, it will mean more jobs are lost and prices escalate further. Cutting social support programs to support warfare and corporate welfare is exactly the wrong thing to do at exactly the wrong time. Yet that’s what is happening.

New ideas. It is obvious that new ideas and approaches are needed. We cannot keep applying the same old ideas which have NEVER worked and expect them to suddenly solve our problems. We have to be brave enough to accept the fact that the old system has failed and will continue to fail. Remaining in the same system for fear of change is no different than remaining in an abusive relationship because the abuser tells you that you cannot survive without them. It is the rich, the capitalists who will not survive without us. We literally don’t need them at all. Workers build and produce everything. Our national resources, including intellectual property, belong to us, not them. The profits from our efforts, our lands and waters do not belong to them by any authorization but our allowance, which has cost too much destruction, too much suffering, too many lives. The time for UBI is now. Not later. Later will be too late. Corporations are not your friends. The rich are not your friends. Corporate media are not your friends. Politicians who push the capitalist agenda are not your friends. The sooner YOU realize that, the sooner we can move forward together and build something better than we have. The other choice is that we all fail together.

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I am an independent writer with no corporate sponsors or backing. The only income I make from my writing comes from views. At least I have reached the point where it makes more than it costs me! lol! (Not by much.)My writing is done in between full time (and overtime) nursing, shared custody of my brilliant daughter and mundane existence.

I have opened my new website which is intended to be a central listing of protests and political rallies across the US. It’s still a work in progress but is functional. You can find it at http://RallyAndProtest.com

Please consider becoming a patron on Patreon. I try and average at least 20 articles a month, so a $1 a month donation would come down to 5¢ per article to support independent, non-corporate writing. My Patreon page is here.

If you care to share articles with those who do not have Medium or Patreon accounts, I also post most of my articles on my own website, which has no advertising and I pay for with income from writing. My website is at https://issuesunite.com/ and all articles can be shared freely. You can always quote me, no attribution required. My goal is spreading information and awareness. The whole point is building a better, more peaceful, more equitable world for us and future generations.

Automation- Your Job Is Not Safe From Indirect Effects, Pt 1- The Challenges

I’ve been writing about the effects of automation reducing jobs for several years now. More jobs are being eliminated through automation than the number sent to other countries.

Jobs which become automated will never come back. Period. The jobs do not even have to be automated in this country. They can be automated in another country. The result is the same, that the job no longer exists.

I still encounter people continuously that insist that technology creates more jobs than it eliminates. When challenged to explain how that works, they consistently fall silent. All they have is propaganda which they regurgitate, either programmed into them or which they directly promote with full knowledge that their words are false. Many of those who have challenged my statements work in the tech and robotics field, trying to justify their positions. I will admit that some of them seem to be trying to ease their own conscience. Sorry, I cannot be that nice to them.

I am not a Luddite or against technology. As a nurse, I prefer computer charting and despise paper charts. They’re a pain in many respects. They may be more secure for privacy but there have been many cases of paper charts being damaged, burned or destroyed. Once they’re gone there is no backup, they’re just gone. Forever. Plus the whole thing of chasing down the single copy of a chart when multiple offices or doctors want to access it while medical records sits on their thumbs is not fun, to say the least. As a writer, this effort relies almost exclusively on technology. Accessing information today takes a fraction of the time it once did. Sharing valid information is done in milliseconds. Mass social movements can be built in short order in this way. Independent media relies on technology, allowing us to bypass the multibillion dollar corporate propaganda machine.

Their rationale fails every time. The point where the tech propagandists fall is when I ask them to explain why companies would invest in expensive systems to reduce labor, when it would only result in more labor cost. I’ve stated before how jobs for auto workers, telephone operators, print setters, proof readers, toll booth attendants, accountants, bank tellers, cashiers, file clerks, manufacturing jobs and many more have been eliminated due to technological advances. Once systems are built, it takes only a few workers to maintain them. Updating software is done remotely, so one worker in another state or country can maintain systems. One or two technicians for a large company or from a contractor can maintain hardware for a city or several cities. Repairs are a matter of replacing disposable components.

No, trades are not safe. Of late, I have heard from people who say that trades are secure. No, they’re not. One person replied to a comment by saying he is a painter who does mold remediation. I concede that his job is secure. For the moment. Yet over time it will not be. This is true for many occupations.

The threat does not need to be a direct one.

The race is on. On his own statement, I directed him to do a search on YouTube. Right now there are many companies and universities in multiple countries developing home painting systems. Each one first does scanning and mapping of the space to be painted, stores a 3D model and then starts painting. So they are not limited to a set environment. It is a race for the first system to be patented and implemented. These systems do not do remediation but focus on viable structures and new construction.

Now, think about the implications.

Overcrowding. I’ll stick with the home painting issue as an example. Painters do not all do remediation. However, once robotic systems become widely used which eliminate an ever-growing number of jobs for new and stable construction, painters who relied on new or stable construction for income will acquire new skills which add on the their existing skills. Like mold remediation. This results in increased competition, driving down prices for remediation. Reduced pricing then results in reduced income per contract. The number of contracts will remain constant, while more workers will be competing for them. Less income per job, fewer jobs available.

Expand the concept. I have challenged the growing cry of people claiming that trade skills are secure. See that article here. However, let’s say that they are correct and I am wrong. If other occupations continue being eliminated while trade/vocational occupations remain secure, what happens? You’ve seen this before. What happens is that the number of people entering those careers skyrockets. The field becomes overcrowded, competition for those jobs becomes fierce, driving down wages and available opportunities are spread among a greater number of workers.

Ask a Programmer. One of the claims that will not go away is that there is an increasing need for programmers. That information is sorely outdated. Years ago, there was a demand for programmers who developed entire programs and systems. Those who had the skills could demand high wages. Today, thanks to competition, a programmer who could once demand $100 an hour can barely demand $30 and have to compete for that. Today, rather than building programs and systems, we have developers who develop applications or “apps” which run on top of operating systems. In many cases, apps can be developed with drag-and-drop programs developed by someone else. Even that has seen competition which demands short development time, perhaps only a few hours, at lower cost, meaning less income. In fact, tech development has resulted in systems which can create simple apps with no human programming needed. Tell the system what you want the app to do and it compiles an app for you with pre-written scripts pasted together. Developers have developed themselves out of jobs.

We already see the effects. The dwindling number of remaining occupations, the increasing number of applicants into these occupations is already apparent. Careers which once demanded high skill levels have been “dummy-proofed” through technology. That means fewer literal skills are required for most occupations. That means companies can pay less to workers and offer fewer benefits. Corporations can move entire operations to different states or countries and hire people with no skills at all. Just follow simple instructions for actions they repeat all day, every day for years. Auto workers demand far less pay than they once did. Programmers rarely program. Cashiers don’t have to be accurate. Trust me, I used to run a manual cash register. Riveters don’t rivet, they push a button and the robot rivets.

Many jobs are centralized. Talk to a telephone operator in your own state lately? Customer service technician in your own country? When you get invasive sales calls, chances are they are in New Mexico, Texas or some other country routed through a US number. I lived in San Antonio and New Mexico and those jobs have a high level of competition. My brother made a decent income decades ago as a telephone sales person for the San Antonio Light Newspaper. The Light no longer exists, driven out of business by Rupert Murdoch long before Fox News ever existed.

Worker productivity. We hear reports on financial news that worker productivity keeps rising. This is good news to investors, not to workers. Increased productivity means fewer workers are need to produce the same amount of goods. That means fewer jobs available. It’s that simple.

This is the end of part 1 of this series. Part 2 will delve into solutions.

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Return Power To The States?

Some people, mostly Republicans and Libertarians, keep suggesting returning power to the states on some laws and government systems. The truth is that they are trying to use that rhetoric to attempt to end various programs and laws.

When examined more closely, returning control of many things to states would be disastrous and more expensive than they are now. Not to mention decrease oversight and accountability, leading to higher risk of corruption and fraud. We’ve seen this movie and know the ending.

It would also have ripple effects on the economy of the nation as a whole. Take food stamps as an example. The states that have the highest number of people on public assistance (by percentage) are the poorest states. Those states have the least resources, including education. I won’t bother examining here what the concern for education is in those states. As a result, the more affluent states contribute more to the social support programs in those states. Proponents of ending this system claim the system is unfair but do not realize the benefits which are returned to the more affluent states.

Some of this is a repeat of things I have written before but still relevant to this discussion. When a person spends food stamps, they spend like money does. Each $1 in food stamps does not simply buy food. It pays for jobs across state and national lines. When you spend money or food stamps they pay for cashiers, managers, stock people, maintenance people, delivery drivers, food processors, farmers, ranchers, feed and fertilizer providers, warehouse workers, dock workers and more. Each one of those jobs represents a consumer who pays for goods and services. Groceries, retail sales, vehicles, cell phones.. They are also taxpayers whose taxes pay for road repair and maintenance, libraries, schools and more. Each of those jobs also represent consumers and taxpayers in a system that ideally runs in a cycle.

That cycle extends to gas stations, power generation, sewage and all the employees, vehicles, pipe makers, electrical cable makers, delivery drivers, trains, planes and automobiles involved in producing and delivering supplies for those jobs. Each one a consumer and taxpayer.

Breaking that cycle is narrow minded and does not consider the long range and long term effects. You can apply the same view to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and any other social support system you can name.

The military relies heavily on these very same low income states for recruitment precisely because of the lack of opportunity in those states. Of course, I have detailed before that this is not likely to be such an issue because I expect a draft to be reinstated in the near future. I’ve written about that before, here.

One also has to consider the additional costs involved with expanding or establishing and administrating duplicate systems for the same purposes in each individual state, each with different rules for eligibility. We have enough of a problem with that even with federal rules overseeing social support programs to some degree. Some states would completely eliminate environmental protection regulations, which would have cross-border implications with neighboring states and maybe countries. Then try and apply liability laws to what are currently major violators of those controls.

However, the major thing to consider is that if power is returned to the states while different states do not agree with many federal policies and decisions, there tends to be almost no reason for states to remain member states of the United States. There is increasing risk that states may begin breaking away from the union to form smaller, independent countries, possibly to form a confederation of countries, each with their own government. This risk becomes compounded when considering the move to eliminate the electoral college and increases further if the draft is enacted. Then consider the national debt. If a state breaks away to form their own country, they would no longer be liable for the national debt. They would establish their own currency, to separate their currency from the dollar.

I don’t fully expect any of this to happen until the dollar starts to decline. If they wait and the dollar crashes in value suddenly, countries we owe debt to may not accept the dissolution and could well take steps against the US, legally or militarily. If multiple countries formed a coalition against us in such a situation, it would be grim. Other countries have no obligation to recognize a new currency from a previous state and could appeal to the World Bank, the UN, etc to boycott all American currencies and trade.

To make things worse, the states which would be most likely to secede first would be the most affluent states. Like California, which if ranked as a country would have the sixth largest economy in the world. New York, Florida and Texas would also be candidates for states that could easily survive as independent countries. Ironically, those are also the states that would determine every national election if the electoral college were eliminated.

There is no actual positive to the concept of returning power to the states. This is not the 19th century and even then states were more interconnected than most people understood. Today the states are far more interconnected, though could become disconnected much easier than most assume.

The only thing holding this country together as a nation of states is rhetoric and marketing. If we do separate, it will be into some countries that are strong economies and other countries which have struggling third world status.

Growth And Productivity Are Toxic

Via capitalism, we are constantly barraged with the idea that continual growth is mandatory. Who came up with this concept? I’ll give you three guesses and your answers will probably be the same all three times and will probably be correct. Capitalists, of course.

The capitalist propaganda is that constant growth is necessary for capitalism to even survive. No, it is not. That is not even necessary for the stock market to survive.

Continuous growth is toxic. The striving for continual growth is what destabilizes markets, leading to highs and lows, including market corrections, retractions, crashes, recessions and depressions. Market stability is far more desirable and economically healthy. However, that is not desired by major investors because then the market flattens out with little movement. No huge profits for speculators who buy low and sell high on a daily basis.

The fact of the matter is, competition on the scale we see today is not healthy. There is no problem with one company being an industry leader in one geographic area and another company being a leader in another geographic area. The so-called competition we see today destroys companies and reduces choices in the consumer market. Hostile takeovers and mega-mergers serve no positive purpose for consumers or the labor market.

Productivity is another myth. Increasing productivity effectively decreases wages. If you work for a company and you produce one widget per hour for $10 an hour, the company makes a profit for what you produce. If the company introduces a new machine or process to increase your production, you may produce two widgets an hour. However, your pay remains $10 an hour. One assumes that the company is making twice the profit for your production but the truth is that they make more than double the original profit. If demand has not increased to the point that the company is now selling twice as many widgets, what happened is that one job is eliminated. This is what most commonly happens. So now the company is paying half the wage but also paying less in benefits. Less spent for vacation, sick time, insurance, liability, possibly health insurance and payroll services. Chances are good that if they reduce personnel enough, now they need fewer lower and middle management.

This is also one way that entire factories can cease to exist. If a company has two factories and double the output at one of those, they may close one factory. Like I have explained before, this has downstream effects. If a city or town has a significant part of the local economy dependent on a factory which closes, the results can be devastating. Now workers have no income, there are fewer jobs available in general, the unemployment rate increases, consumers spend less which impacts other local businesses. The other businesses may lose so much business that they are then forced to lay off workers or close their doors completely. There is less tax revenue collected which goes to fund schools, libraries, road repair and other municipal services. If it is a small town, the entire town may cease to exist.

Capitalism is a machine which never stops consuming, devouring all it encounters. Marx predicted 150 years ago that capitalism would reach the point where it would ultimately consume itself. That is the point we are at today. Increased productivity, automation, centralization and consolidation reduce the available jobs and career paths on a daily basis. Mergers and acquisitions have become larger than those of us over 50 could never have conceived 30 years ago.

Since the Industrial Revolution, as technology has advanced, we have gone through cycles of technology creating jobs, then mechanizing and automating jobs nearly as quickly. When was the last time you met a telephone operator? Print setter? Proof reader? Copy shops were once a common sight, far more rare today. 3D printing and self driving vehicles stand to eliminate millions of jobs in the next few years. I’ve pointed out many times that one self check register eliminates 4–6 jobs, with an average of 10 per large store, multiplied by tens of thousands of stores nationally. McDonald’s alone set a goal in 2016 of eliminating 55,000 jobs through order kiosks. They met that goal and are only one chain of many using them. Sit down restaurants are using touch screen ordering systems to reduce wait staff.

At each stage, productivity is increased while jobs are eliminated. The contradiction and danger is that each job eliminated reduces consumer earning and thus spending.

Consumer credit debt is at the highest level in history. Credit is easily available, though credit at affordable interest is only for the privileged. A huge percentage of those with credit debt have interest rates on that credit which is formidable and leads to consumer failure. That system is collapsing at this moment as we see repossessions and student loan defaults rising. Millions are trapped in a cycle of using one credit account to pay on other credit accounts while millions more are trapped in the payday loan cycle. This is no longer a distant early warning sign. This is a klaxon signalling impending collapse in the very near future.

The trade war with China is not a surprise. It is not a mere political stunt. It was inevitable under our current system and has been coming for many years. It is not reported as such by corporate media but the real point of the tensions with Russia, Iran and Venezuela are also trade conflicts. I do not expect it to be long before tensions increase with India, as they are a rising manufacturing and consumer powerhouse. We can also expect more tensions with Mexico as wages and employment in Mexico increase, which will result in an improving consumer market. That will cause increasing pricing on goods coming from Mexico as the domestic Mexican consumer economy competes with the export market to the US.

Yet one of the biggest problems of all is that sustained expanding growth is simply not possible. There are limits to consumer need. No matter how many crops are grown, people only eat so much. No matter how many vehicles are produced, people can only drive so many cars at once. All of this is limited by the ability of consumers to purchase goods while gainful employment (sic) continues to contract. See my last article, here.

All of this is completely aside from increasing environmental damage accelerating as climate change worsens and our deadline draws near to change course.

I’m really not sure what the rich and greedy expect to happen from here. Can it truly be nothing more than to be more comfortable than most as the world is incinerated? Even if they have bunkers to hide out in which the population cannot breach, what kind of life is that? How long do they think they will survive?

Without radical changes to the capitalist system, we are absolutely doomed to failure. Not only as a country but as a species. All for the greed of a limited percentage of the population. Unfortunately, that change will only occur if the most radical of us become far, far more radical than we are. The general population will continue believing what they are told by corporate media and corporate politicians until they have absolutely no choice. By then it will be too late.

So we have to act. Entire nations need to work together. The rich need to take what they have and decide they finally have enough. Because growth and productivity have reached their end point.

Real Unemployment Information

So, how about all those new jobs you hear about on the media? Those low unemployment rates?

If you want a realistic look at unemployment, you cannot simply look at the official unemployment numbers. You have to look at that plus the Labor Participation Rate (LPR). This is a number which states a percentage of US residents over the age of 16 are employed or seeking employment.

The Labor Participation Rate is one of the few numbers which the government keeps fairly current. You can find the official rates here, updated monthly. It is current through January 2019 because February is not yet over.

If you open the page, it gives you a graph and table. What this information shows is that labor participation has declined fairly steadily since 2009, with fairly minor variations. In 2009, it reached a peak of 65.8%. The lowest rate in 10 years was 62.7% in 2016. The lowest in 2018 was also 62.7%. The current rate is 63.1%.

So, what do these numbers mean?

I could not find information about ages 16–18 which was reliable. However, percentage of the population under 18 is 22.6%. Actual US population is estimated at 327,167, 434 as of July 2018. That gives a population over 18 of 253,196,634 people. Those are the numbers I will work with, which should be fairly accurate for this purpose. For simplicity, I am using the 2018 population as a constant and am rounding numbers.

So with these numbers, we had an LPR in 2009 in total numbers of 166,603,385. In 2018, we had a low of 158,754,290. In current numbers, we have an LPR of 159,767,076.

So, between 2009, the height of the recession, we have seen a decrease in the LPR of 6,836,309 (January 2019). That many people have dropped out of the job market for one reason or another.

What is striking is that the number of people entering or re-entering the job market has increased since September 2018. The birth rate has been dropping for at least two decades, so this is an indication that retired people are re-entering the job market.

The official number of unemployed per the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) is currently 6.5 million. But that does not include the number of people who have dropped out of the labor market completely. When we add the 6.5 million to the decreased number stated above, that equals over 12.8 million Americans not employed. So, more than double the 8% unemployment rate being stated.

The BLS also stated that unemployment increased slightly in January.

I have explained before that the median income is complete BS. The way that works is an average, which looks like this: If a CEO makes $990,000 a year and their employee makes $10,000 a year, the total is $1 million. Averaged out, median income becomes $500,000. And that refers only to wages, not income.

Let’s go further with that. If one investor makes $100 million and 99 people are in the LPR with NO income, the median income becomes $1 million, making it appear as though all those people made $1 million each that year.

The US Census Bureau estimates that 12–13% of Americans are currently below the poverty line.

48% of Americans earn less than $30,000 a year. 69% of Americans earn less than $50,000 a year.

I have pointed out previously that the bar for being considered employed is extremely low. If you work 1 hour a week, you are considered employed. So obviously unemployment does not mean you earn a living wage or anywhere near it.

Of course, I have already written about the fact that corporations are laying people of by tens of thousands, nearly all permanently. Ford, GM, GE all announced mass layoffs in Nov and Dec. Harley-Davidson closed one plant and moved the operations to Thailand. Carrier announced layoffs in the US, with a new location in Mexico. Sears/KMart went bankrupt and is unlikely to recover this time. Toys R Us and numerous other retail chains have ceased to exist. There are more to follow as equity retail space loans come due in balloon payments.

Vehicle repossessions are rising. So are defaults on federal student loans, which carry penalties which can impact a consumer’s credit for life, even after IRS seizure of refunds, income and assets. Consumer credit debt is at the highest level in history while income remains stagnant. Home sales are on a downward slide, not just domestically but throughout the western world. The number of Americans without health insurance has increased by 7 million in 2 years.

All of this flies directly in the face of any claims that jobs are being created or that income levels are rising. When the claims are made that income levels are rising, that refers to the median income described above. When they talk about employment, it’s nothing short of a fabrication for political expediency.

The media is not going to report the truth because it would reflect badly on their corporate advertisers. Can’t have an informed audience taking to the streets to protest against their income sources, can we?

The real impetus here is on us, to be accurately informed. To confirm the information we receive rather than believe it blindly without question. To share that accurate information with others. To call out false information as it is presented.