Friday, November 15, 2019

Is Venezuela Stabilizing?

Maybe.
ry It looks the inflation ratei in Venezuela maxed  out in January at an annuualized rate of 192,000 % , whiich fell by September to 4,600% rate, still in hyperinflationary teritoryy, but  clearly coming down substantially.  I am not  a fan of this regime and never was, unlike some prominent economists saying nice t8ings about tueir economic performance, especially back in 2007, just berofe  the  world crash, when indeed their  numbers  looked prtty good.  But, not more recently unfortunately.  But maybe they are slowly returning to a more functional economy now, with still a long way to go.

There are also reports that oil production in Venezuela has recently risen.  Reportedly some of the recent possible stabilization in Venezuela may reflect influence of Russian advisers.

Barkley  Rosser

Thursday, November 14, 2019

"Are Robots Stealing Your Job?" is the Wrong Question

Andrew Yang says, "Yes, Robots Are Stealing Your Job" in an op-ed at the New York Times. Paul Krugman thinks they're not and advises, "Democrats, Avoid the Robot Rabbit Hole." This is, of course, a classic case of asking the wrong question.

The real question is: will robots burn down your house and kill your grandchildren? Let's imagine that all those self-driving trucks and the computers needed to guide them will run on electricity generated by wind turbines and solar panels. Will the robots in the truck factories and the robots in the computer factories also run on wind and sunshine? How about the robots in the wind turbine factories and the solar panel factories and so one ad infinitum? I know an old lady who swallowed a fly...

Let's assume that it is feasible to phase out all current fossil fuel consumption by 2050 and replace it with renewable, zero-carbon energy. Does that mean it is equally feasible to provide the additional energy needed to run all those job-stealing robots? Or to put the question in proper context, would it be feasible to do it without an uncorruptable, omniscient global central planning authority?

The hitch in all this robot speculation is a little paradox known as Jevons paradox conjoined at the hip, so to speak, with it's counterpart, "Say's Law." The former paradox says that greater fuel efficiency leads to more fuel consumption, the latter paradox tells us that labor-saving machines create more jobs than they destroy. Here are two inseparable positive feedback loops that together generate an incongruous outcome. "Yes the planet got destroyed. But for a beautiful moment in time we created a lot of value for shareholders." Or lots of jobs, jobs, jobs. Or a monthly $1,000 payment to every adult "so that we can build a trickle-up economy," Choose your poison.

There is, they say, "a certain quantity of work to be done." Who says that? Good question. In the beginning, it was the political economists -- even proto political economists -- who said it. But around 1870 economists realized that the maxim conflicted with other things they had in mind so instead of professing it they began to condemn it and to attribute the idea to others -- to Luddites, Malthusians or Lump-of-Laborers. The idea that a people could always do more work was just too great a temptation. In principle, the amount of work that could be done is infinite! The robots will not replace us! The robots will not replace us!

What this job-stealing robot debate is really all about is an economics version of theodicy. "Why does evil exist if God, the creator, is omnipotent, omniscient and good?" This theological question is echoed in the puzzle about poverty in the midst of plenty and in Mandeville's "Fable of the Bees," where private vices promote public virtues. If it seems like robots are stealing your job, have faith, all is for some ultimate purpose in this best of all possible worlds, as Candide's tutor Dr. Pangloss would assure him.

Taking the Panglossian philosophy into account, it becomes clear that both Andrew Yang and Paul Krugman are on the same page. They are just reading different paragraphs. Although they disagree on what the solution is, they agree that there is a solution and it doesn't really require a fundamental change in the way we think about limits to the "certain quantity of work to be done."




Ukraine Corruption and Transfer Pricing

As I listened to the testimony of Bill Taylor and George Kent, I was also reading up on some South African transfer pricing case involving iron ore:
Kumba Iron Ore will pay less than half of the tax bill it received from the SA Revenue Service (Sars) last year following audits of its export marketing practices during the commodities boom. The settlement of R2.5bn significantly overshot the R1.5bn Kumba had set aside as a contingent liability. It is, however, a fraction of the taxes, penalties and interest payments Sars was pursuing the country’s dominant iron ore producer for. The existence of a potential tax liability was first reported to shareholders in June 2014, but Kumba could only put a number on it early last year when it received a tax assessment of R5 billion for the years 2006 to 2010.
If this account sounds like a lot of accounting gibberish, one might check with other accounts including whatever BDO wrote but these other accounts were even less informative. To paraphrase one commercial “people who know” avoid BDO. I think what happened is that the South African tax authority objected to what it saw as a lowball transfer pricing paid to the South African mining affiliate by a tax haven marketing affiliate and decided to completely disallow any commission income for the tax haven affiliate. This account at least notes that Kumba Iron Ore eventually told its shareholders that there might be some transfer pricing risk and that the issue was eventually resolved with a more modest commission rate booked by the marketing affiliate. So what does this have to do with Ukraine?
There is high public interest in the topic of “offshores” in both Ukraine and the EU. It is of particular importance for Ukraine which is categorized as an “open economy”, meaning a country with a high share of exports and imports relative to GDP. In particular, iron and steel production and exports from Ukraine are very significant even by the scale the global iron and steel markets. These sectors have also become the single largest source of wealth for the richest Ukrainians ... It is intriguing that even the Ukrainian authorities publicly declare that there is significant profit shifting occurring to avoid corporate taxation. For instance, according to the State Fiscal Service of Ukraine the usage of transfer pricing within all types of operations results in 100 billion hryvnia tax avoidance annually (around 3.3 billion euros), which leads to almost 20-25 billion hryvnia loss of the national state budget (Riabych, Vakulchyk 2015). This budgetary loss is equivalent to 660–750 million euros, which is comparable to the scale of the annual macro-financial assistance received by Ukraine from the European Union in the last several years to fill the budgetary gap.
The authors spend considerable effort attempting to document the extent of transfer pricing manipulation involving Ukraine’s exports of iron ore and steel. While I’m not convinced they have the right metrics, let’s admit that such tasks are difficult without the multinationals providing information on their business and transfer pricing policies. Of course, multinationals involved with the type of tax avoidance suggested in this document are reluctant to provide such clarity unless they were compelled to do so. It was funny yesterday when the Trump sycophants whined about second hand information with the obvious reply being to demand the testimony of those with first hand information. Now if we could get Rudy Giuliani under oath, not only should he be asked about UkraineGate but he should also be compelled to tell us what he knows about Ukrainian iron ore transfer pricing.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

What quid did the president quo and when did he quo it?

Aside from the headline news about a July 26 phone call, I learned four big things from the impeachment inquiry hearing this morning. First, the specific corruption surrounding Burisma Holidings had to do with self dealing by company founder Mykola Vladislavovich Zlochevsky -- issuing oil and gas licences to his own company when he was Minister of Ecology and Natural Resources. In other words, Zlochevsky did exactly what Donald J. Trump attempted to do with his Doral Golf Club and the G7 summit.

The second thing I learned is that President Trump was nursing a grudge against Ukraine because some Ukrainian politicians said some nasty things about him after he made a comment about letting Russia have Crimea. That's why he felt Ukraine "owed" him. The third thing is that the Ukraine shit made fanfall just about exactly the time that Trump was extemporizing about Hurricane Dorian hitting Alabama. Who knew Trump could multi-task?

The fourth thing I learned is the big one. There was not one quid pro quo but two. One involved Zelensky, the other Putin. That's the significance of the timing of the Trump-Zelensky phone call -- the day after Robert Mueller's congressional testimony was a dud. Humiliating Zelensky by forcing him to make a public announcement of a politically-motivated investigation of Biden-Burisma-2016 would hand to Putin his reward -- a weakened negotiating partner -- for the favor of having helped put Trump in the White House. The art of the deal, indeed.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

OK, Who Approved Of The Ads Here Now?

And not only that, presumably they are paying money to put them on, so who is getting that money?  I am not, although it may not amount to much.  Hey, I see there  are not nearly as many as on Angry Bear, where I find them to be obnoxiously in one's face, and they are pretty low key.  But, personally, I would rarther not have them and I sure as hell was never asked by anybody if I did want them.

This is also a message to those who may think I should be getting rid of weird stuff showing up in posts that I am not the person in charge of that.  So I guess I also have no say on whether we get ads, much less what they will be for.  Heck, I saw some survey about Trump.  I do not even want to see his m--f--g face here at all.

Barkley Rosser

Friday, November 8, 2019

"ok boomer " or "gas all boomers"

Within the last week or so there seems to have been an explosion of yattering over "ok boomer." Over the last few years in various parts of the internet there was a self-righteous meme pushing "gas all boomers."  Yeah. This never made it to the MSM, I suspect  because it was just too extreme for the MSM to publicize.  But now we have the MSM allover this milder "ok boomer" meme, now a big deal.  I think I have an original view of this,that the "gas all boomers"  is an idealistic millennial view, reflecting their boomer parents. This new milder meme reflects the view of the Gen-Z group, \

My view is that the former nastier "gas all boomers" meme was from the idealistic millennials, strongly rebutting their boomer parents,  We failed them, and them wanted us gassed for our  failures to deliver for them, especially in the Great Recession, which in their view at least of several years ago, was our boomer fault, although that is a pretty weak argument.

But now w come to this milder meme of "ok boomer," how polite.  Word is  that this is coming from Gen-Z sources, a groups younger than the angst-ridden millennials., who seem to have come up with the "gas all boomers" meme that went nowhere.

Obviously younger generations in the US have reasons  for being unhappy. The US economy, along with the  world economy, is slowing down.  Both the milllennials and the Gen-Z group face higher college costs and housing costs than their predecessors.  That the boomer gen is responsible for this outcome is a highly unreasonable view.

The middle portion of the millennials have  indeed been big victims of the Great Recession, and will for the rest of their lives will have lower incomes the MSM, was just too shocking, while arguably idealistic hard core in its formulation

But the new less shocking "ok boomer" meme is  coming from the new rising Gen-Z gen. Most commentary has lumped them in with the millennials, but this is crap.  They are following the "ironic" meme of their  parents, the supposedly loser Gen-X, with their irony.

So indeed that is this new "ok boomer" meme  that  is ironic, coming from the Gen-Z gen, following their  Gen-X "ironic' parents.  This contrasts with the hard line millennial "gas all boomers" view, ironically following the idealistic view of their boomer parents.

Barkley Rosser
 

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Mankiw’s Ideal Democrat (Bloomberg Alert)

Greg Mankiw has always been a Never Trumper:
I just came back from city hall, where I switched my voter registration from Republican to unenrolled (aka independent). Two reasons: First, the Republican Party has largely become the Party of Trump. Too many Republicans in Congress are willing, in the interest of protecting their jobs, to overlook Trump's misdeeds (just as too many Democrats were for Clinton during his impeachment). I have no interest in associating myself with that behavior. Maybe someday, the party will return to having honorable leaders like Bush, McCain, and Romney. Until then, count me out. Second, in Massachusetts, unenrolled voters can vote in either primary. The Democratic Party is at a crossroads, where it has to choose either a center-left candidate (Biden, Buttigieg, Klobuchar, Yang) or a far-left populist (Warren, Sanders) as their nominee for president. I intend to help them choose the former. The latter propose to move the country too far in the direction of heavy-handed state control. And in doing so, they tempt those in the center and center-right to hold their noses and vote for Trump's reelection.
In a way I get this and a lot of other centrist Republicans are saying similar things. Enter Michael Bloomberg:
Michael Bloomberg is taking steps to enter the 2020 Democratic presidential campaign, a person familiar with his plans tells CBS News. Bloomberg, 77, has dispatched aides to Alabama to file paperwork in the state to run as a Democrat. The Cotton State doesn't hold an early Democratic presidential primary, but has the earliest filing deadline for the presidential campaign. Taking steps to file paperwork is the most serious signal yet that the former New York mayor and billionaire is seriously planning for a White House run. Howard Wolfson, a longtime Bloomberg adviser, said in a statement that Bloomberg "is increasingly concerned that the current field of candidates is not well positioned" to defeat President Trump.
I guess Bloomberg thinks Biden, Buttigieg, Klobuchar, and Yang are way too liberal for his America. Hey Never Trumpers – more tax cuts for rich people! Now of course, we need to pay for all of this and something tells me that proposals to slash Social Security and Federal health care payments are not exactly going to win the Bloomberg ticket a lot of votes. Oh wait – tax the little guy. Of course, Bloomberg has long proposed a soda tax. Let’s hope Mankiw convinces to go for a carbon tax instead. But addressing income inequality in a Bloomberg Administration? Not going to happen if the Mayor of Manhattan (mainly the Upper West Side and Upper East Side) becomes President!

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

The ARAMCO IPO Stumbles Out The Door

Finally after numerous delays, the potentially largest Initial Public Offering (IPO) of stock has finally become for fully state-owned ARAMCO in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA).  MOst of the delays had involved an unwillingness by the Saudi royal family to publicize financial and other factual details about the company, although issuing an IPO for 5 percent of the company was a part of the Vision 2030 plan of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS). 

As it is, for the time being the IPO is only available to Saudi nationals through the Riyadh stock exchange.  It is unclear how long or even if it will open up to foreigners.  Reportedly the Saudis are hoping for it to value  the company at $2 trillion, which would put it well ahead of Apple and Microsoft, both of which are around $1 trillion.  But some observers think this is overly optimistic on the part of the Saudis for a variety of reasons.

Along with that, the US has this past month for the first time since 1978 recorded a trade surplus in petroleum products.  This will continue to put  downward pressure on global oil prices, and also depress the prospects for how much money this IPO will raise in the end.

Barkley Rosser 

Monday, November 4, 2019

Has Tyler Cowen or John Cochrane Ever Heard of Monopsony Power?

I’m going to replicate one portion of a long winded rant about alleged cognitive dissonance:
The argument for a minimum wage is that labor demand is inelastic -- employers will hire the same number of workers. They will just absorb the higher wages or pass along the costs to customers. Workers get all the benefit. If labor demand is elastic, employers cut back on the number of employees.
Of course, labor economists would recognize that John Cochrane’s entire post assumes a perfectly competitive labor market. One has to wonder about economists who have never even considered monopsony power.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Republican Senators Suggest Trump’s Treason is Legal

Yes – we know President Clinton cheated on his wife while in office. And yes some Republicans such as Trump sycophant Lindsey Graham passed Articles of Impeachment over adultery. Graham was rewarded by being able to move from the House to the Senate where he repeatedly suggested that the Whistle Blower complaint was nothing more than “hear say”. My have things changed:
An increasing number of GOP senators are preparing to acknowledge that there was a quid pro quo in President Trump’s leveraging of military aid with Ukraine as a means to urge the country to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, The Washington Post reported Friday. While some Senate Republicans have defended Trump’s insistence that there was no quid pro quo, a growing number of GOP officials in the chamber are adopting the stance that what Trump did was a quid pro quo but that his actions weren’t illegal and don’t constitute impeachment, the Post reported.
Since when did treason become AOK? Yea I know these same Republicans will say “treason” is a harsh word for this holding up of military aid authorized by Congress to Ukraine which needs it to fend against Putin’s invasion in exchange for political dirt on Joe Biden. Of course, Trump’s sycophants say a lot of really stupid things. I listened to two proponents of impeachment debate on what to stress: (a) that Trump was selling out the national interest to our enemy Putin; or (b) Trump was gaining a corrupt benefit. Both statements are clearly true. But we can summarize (a) and (b) into a single and very understandable word – TREASON! Just in case these Republican Senators are confused as to what our Founding Fathers wrote when they gave us the Constitution, let’s remind them about Article II, Section 4 which states:
The President, Vice President and all civil officers of the United States, shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.
Donald Trump did commit treason. Treason is an impeachable event. The only question is whether these Senators will fulfill their Constitutional roles or will simply remain Trump sycophants. Update: Mike Schupp has a rather weak argument to dismiss my use of the word treason. Yes he cites Article III section 3 but I would argue withholding military aid from Ukraine gave aid and comfort to the Russians who have invaded Ukraine. Mike also wrote this:
But we can't convict someone simply for being a rogue, we try them at law for specific criminal acts.
Sorry Mike but a lot of learned people would disagree. I would also remind people that Senator Trent Lott argued people had committed treason for a lot less than what Trump has done. Speaking of Senator Lott:
Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) said Tuesday that Congress need not prove that President Clinton committed a crime to impeach him. “I think bad conduct is enough, frankly, for impeachment,” said Lott, who has provided guidance to Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) as the House grapples with perjury and other allegations against Clinton. But that is a far different standard from what Lott advocated during the Watergate hearings in 1974, when he was one of President Nixon’s staunchest congressional defenders. Lott and nine other Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee argued then that even proof of criminal conduct by a president was not necessarily enough to proceed with impeachment--precisely the position now taken by the White House and Clinton’s Democratic defenders. “It is our judgment . . . that the framers of the United States Constitution intended that the president should be removable by the legislative branch only for serious misconduct dangerous to the system of government established by the Constitution,” Lott and the other Republicans wrote in a minority report.
Adultery is neither a crime nor “serious misconduct dangerous to the system of government established by the Constitution. What Trump has done does represent the Lott 1974 standard for impeachment.