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The Fugger Factor

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Five hundred years ago, as the Reformation was brewing in Germany, the Fugger family soared to
heights of wealth never before attained by captains of industry. Though the Fuggers strove to monopolize all of their markets, other capitalists caught on to the possibilities and managed to join the conspicuous ranks of the aristocracy. On the brink of Europe's most sweeping cultural change in centuries, the wealth of the upper class brought about what Will Durant called "the greatest economic disparities as Europe had not known since the millionaires and slaves of Imperial Rome."

In commemoration of this quincentennial, I would like to offer a new metric for recognizing the potential for disparities in economic wealth to bring about radical societal disruption; introducing "the Fugger factor." I'll leave it to folks like Thomas Piketty to quantify this metric, but suffice it to say that today's Fugger factor in the U.S. is as high as it's been since the…

It Takes a Pillage

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The preliminary version of the Department of Education's budget proposal looks like they took the Green Party platform on education and came up with ways to do everything the opposite.


Green Party PositionBlowhard BudgetThe Green Party supports equal access to high-quality education, and sharp increases in financial aid for college students.The Blowhard administration supports unequal access to high-quality education by promoting private schools, and sharp decreases in financial aid for college students.The Green Party is strongly opposed to the dissolution of public schools and the privatization of education. We believe that the best educational experience is guaranteed by the democratic empowerment of organized students, their parents and communities along with organized teachers.While advocating local control, DeVos proposes to use federal dollars to entice districts to adopt school-choice policies, adding new investment in alternatives to public schools.We must stop disinvestme…

Sonny, Don't Blow Up the Kids!

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In my previous post, I referred to rising U.S. food prices and included a link to the latest monthly data as evidence. Critical readers may have questioned whether that supported the idea that we are seeing food price outpace inflation over any significant period of time, rather than just the latest month. You may research it yourself or take my word for it, but I took the PPI data from the BLS pages and compared the cumulative food price rise to core inflation over the 7+ years of data given and determined that food prices have, indeed, risen faster than inflation by 0.2 percent - not enough to even notice, but my statement stands. I could have researched CPI data and come up with slightly different results, but since my initial reference was based on producer prices, PPI should be adequate for this discussion.

The global picture is much more stark. Using data from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, it is easy to see from this graph that, since around 2000, food prices have ris…

Apocollapse Now

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I may have missed it, but in my twelve years as a cost analyst for the Department of Defense, including the highest level of certification from the Defense Acquisition University, I never once heard of Baumol's Cost Disease. Nonetheless, the late William Baumol was famous for his discovery of how the cost of services rises implacably while the cost of goods decline. Cost analysts could be spared much consternation through this principle, but it also clarifies the situation for the man on the street.

When you look at the declining productivity gains over the past few decades, much of the slowdown can be attributed to this "disease," wherein more and more employment has shifted away from manufacturing and into services. Manufacturing processes are more easily automated than most service jobs, so the shift to large-scale, centralized manufacturing has improved efficiencies and profits in that sector.

I have built my projection of our economic future on the concepts in The L…

Everything is Fine

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Wages are up and unemployment down in the latest monthly figures for the U.S. economy. Everything is fine...except that the rise in employment probably doesn't make up for the drop in productivity, which is caused, at least in part, by the sour mood of national politics. At least the economy keeps humming along... which is actually the problem.

We cannot continue to pursue growth in a fossil fueled economy. It's a dead end - at the edge of a cliff - dropping off into the raging sea which is pounding at the cliff and threatening its collapse. Old Blowhard is opening up the throttle of free enterprise and disconnecting the governor. At this speed, our runaway engine won't be able to avoid sending us off the cliff. We need to back down on the throttle and steer in a new direction. A renewable economy would steer us away from the cliff, though that is a course Old Blowhard has clearly abandoned with his appointment of Daniel Simmons to head the Office of Energy Efficiency and …

NAFTA Sucks

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The best thing that I got out of the Climate March in D.C. on Saturday was meeting someone with a similar background who is also a permaculturalist. Even if they fail to catch the attention of politicians, protest marches and rallies serve to build community and solidarity around ideas and solutions. More protests followed the next day and again the next with a focus on the rights of workers. Seems the honeymoon hasn't led to a very happy marriage.

The May Day protests included a large contingent of immigrant rights advocates who have their own particular difficulties under a hostile administration in addition to being able to earn a decent living. New entrants to the U.S. workforce, immigrant or not, have had to struggle with stagnant or declining wages since 2000. Yet, worker productivity has continued to climb year after year, although the rate of increase has halved to less than 1% per year over the past decade.

Old Blowhard thinks that people are hungry for jobs, but the econ…

Robbing Hood

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Here's the kind of tax philosophy we were hoping to get from a people's president who promised to drain the swamp in Washington, D.C.
... make corporations and the super-rich pay their fair share ... progressive taxation, shifting tax from individuals to corporations, taxing "bads" not "goods," taxing unearned income at the same rate as earned income, taxing speculation on Wall Street, and cutting corporate tax giveaways ... comprehensive tax reform to simplify the tax system ... eliminate loopholes and other exemptions that favor corporate and wealthy interests over tax justice ... Small business, in particular, should not be penalized by a tax system which benefits those who can "work" the legislative tax committees for breaks and subsidies. ... substantive and wide-ranging reform of the tax system that helps create jobs, economic efficiencies, and innovation within the small business community ... end "corporate welfare."  Campaign pr…