19 April 2014

Thread Bare Existence

Another day of news, another thread not to be ignored. And, as usual, it isn't a golden thread. Well, for those that have lots of gold, perhaps it is.

Who knows when it came into the lexicon, although thanks to movies most of us assume it was WWII Germans, but "Ve ver onhly fallowing ohdas!!" has become the catchphrase for acquiescence to evil. Nevermind that doing so oftens yields substantial income to those who do the bleating.

Insurance? Most folks don't really know what it is: pooled risk. And ever since, insurance companies have been looking for ways to exploit the many to benefit the few. It's called market segmentation. According to Adam Smith's (the real one) thesis, this can't happen. The reality is that if only to stop bad people with oligarchs is for good people to have oligarchs. This is countervailing power. In the insurance business, here in the USofA, this countervailing power is vested in the states; insurance commissioners, and such titles. Divide and conquer at its best. Unless the insurance lobby wants something really badly, in which case they complain about fractured regulation, and demand that Washington pass (more lenient than the most comatose state) overriding law.
Such actions, he said, can be discriminatory, because studies show that lower-income consumers do less comparison shopping than wealthier consumers. Also, he said, auto insurance rates should be based on risk factors, not shopping patterns.

"It's unfair," Mr. Hunter said. "Auto insurance isn't a luxury. It's mandatory."

Quants working over their Excel sheets looking for ever more obscure ways to exploit the many to benefit the few.

Kind of makes you wonder why Geico would use a *pig* as a spokesbeast?

Not content to take from the many clients, the Fortune X00 are happy to ride on the backs of the few who provide open source software. "Hey, it's free!!" Well, it's not. stealing Open Source may be a tad too strong. But may be not. While java and linux have gotten substantial support from IBM, and some others, most corporations just suck up open source like pigs at a never empty trough. So, of course, OpenSSL finally gave them their comeuppance.
Although any programmer may work on OpenSSL code, only a few regularly do, said Ben Laurie, a Google engineer based in Britain who donates time to OpenSSL on nights and weekends. This is a problem, he said, adding that the companies and government agencies that use OpenSSL code have benefited from it but give back little in return.

"OpenSSL is completely unfunded," Mr. Laurie said. "It's used by companies who make a lot of money, but almost none of the companies who use it contribute anything at all."

The Wife likes to describe this as The Hippy Way: "What's mine is mine. What's yours is mine." Lots of practice has she. So do corporations. While linux has a strong infrastructure, not least Linus, few other open source projects do. Frankly, I was surprised to discover that OpenSSL, given its keystone nature in the innterTubes, is so poorly treated. Once again, self-absorption trumps self-awareness.
[T]he OpenSSL project has operated on a shoestring annual budget of $2,000 in donations -- most from individuals -- which is just enough for volunteers to cover their electric bills.

I imagine that the CTO/CIOs at all those Fortune X00 companies earned some part of their bonuses through the expedient of slurping up OpenSSL, uninspected, rather than building/buying a vetted proprietary package.

Which brings us back, once again, to Thomas Piketty (who really is French, but with a name I would never conjure as such). I expect that Republican cloak rooms around the country will be loading up on Freedom Fries whenever he comes to town.
At the book's center is Mr. Piketty's contention -- contrary to the influential theory developed by Simon Kuznets in the 1950s and '60s -- that mature capitalist economies do not inevitably evolve toward greater economic equality. Instead, Mr. Piketty contends, the data reveals a deeper historical tendency for the rate of return on capital to outstrip the overall rate of economic growth, leading to greater and greater concentrations of wealth at the very top.

You can look up Kuznets on the Wiki. Basically, he was a Pollyanna apologist for monopolists. The flaws in his thesis were, mostly, two: that resource endowments, per capita, would continue; and that the social contract in the immediate post WWII period was permanent. Both assumptions were wildly false, as Ronald Reagan proved. Adam Smith (the real one) recognized, and condemned, the power of capital. Really. The Wiki quote (it's cited, so don't argue):
Again and again, Smith warned of the collusive nature of business interests, which may form cabals or monopolies, fixing the highest price "which can be squeezed out of the buyers". Smith also warned that a business-dominated political system would allow a conspiracy of businesses and industry against consumers, with the former scheming to influence politics and legislation. Smith states that the interest of manufacturers and merchants "...in any particular branch of trade or manufactures, is always in some respects different from, and even opposite to, that of the public...The proposal of any new law or regulation of commerce which comes from this order, ought always to be listened to with great precaution, and ought never be adopted till after having been long and carefully examined, not only with the most scrupulous, but with the most suspicious attention."

And there's where I believe Piketty's been looking at the past a tad too much, although the historical data are sufficient to cement the 1%'s place in the future. The issue is "return on capital". While it's been true that Olde Style capital got us to where we are, New Style capital has a problem. We see that problem in the hoarding, rather than investing, of earnings. Were there bounteous avenues to money making to be had, they would be. The modern investor, to use a term from one of them I recently saw, looks for "asset light" companies. Think about that for a second.

The modern uses of physical capital face a grim present and future: the outlays are just too great for all but a few monopolists, while the consumer product lifecycles grow shorter. The days of making an open hearth furnance, and reaping the returns for decades, are well past. In such a circumstance, deflation is the hoarder's friend. While we got here through a version of oligarchy, the future will be one of resource poverty and stasis.

Have a nice day.

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