Friday, July 29, 2011

Emerging Market Places

Not necessarily a new concept but the rise in these kinds of services are certainly showing us that people are getting tired of the fees being charged by systems such as PayPal and Ebay.  Sites which bring sellers and buyers together in direct trade.  Examples of this include Craigslist and Zaarly, and essentially they work by a buyer or seller posting what they want or want to sell and allowing sellers or buyers contact them directly.  They encourage local transactions so shipping is not usually necessary as well.

The rise in such services I believe point to major happenings in the economy, the reduced buying power of the Dollar, these sites are thriving on the fact that a person can acquire new or used goods at a significant reduction in cost as well as the ability to use all of your buying power on the good or service desired instead of having to spend on unwanted services, such as the use of pay pal and shipping expenses.  In order for a consumer to stretch the power of their money they are cutting out the middle men and trying to connect directly to the suppliers of what they desire.  The only real downside is the scam customers and sellers.  As an example my wife and I put out a posting to rent a room or two, we don't need to do this but we have a large house for us and it would be a way to improve our ROI (Return on Investment) in our home.  We chose to do this because we are in a unique marketplace where rent rates have jumped up dramatically to the point where buying a house has an unarguably reduced cost of ownership.  We had 5 replies, and only 1 of them was legitimate.  Fortunately the scams tend to be easy to spot.  The key is to deal locally, directly, and in cash.  Most of the scams involve wiring funds or with entities claiming to be from foreign countries and needing transactions through third parties.

Another re-emerging market place for the same reasons is the local farmer's markets and butchers, these markets often see higher quality and healthier goods at comparable if not better prices than most local grocers.  The great advantages come from reduced transit costs, reduced/non-existent middle man mark-up costs and near to no expense in advertising costs.  However, one loss in certain goods can be in government subsidies, which your taxes and national debts are paying for, and as we know the national debt is another indirect tax in that it reduces the spending power of the money you have.  [I personally think it is better to loose the subsidies and go locally where possible because I can still get comparable prices, support local small and mid-size agriculture and I feel the subsidies are hurting the global population to begin with as they distort proper supply and demand... so I say opt out of the system when you can]  Additionally, to offset expenses and stretch the money consumers have I see more and more people turning to growing small back yard gardens as well.  My neighbor has a small orchard even, instead of growing greenery trees they decided to have pear trees and the like, my grandfather for years has grown a garden in his yard and even sells some of his crops in their local farmer's market.  In these cases the goal was not to become 100% self-sufficient, but to augment their food usage with higher quality and lower costing food.  A close knit community could even put specialization to use, a neighbor grows tomatoes and another potatoes and they trade a portion of each among themselves.

The final reason and quite possible the most significant that is encouraging people to do this is an unconscious decision to cut ties with the global market place, the cost of shipping alone is making that market place more and more unattractive every day.  While it is possible to get cheaper labor in developing nations around the world to meet the demand for the goods that you might find in the emerging market places above it is heavily burdened by the shipping services and fuel costs which they pay to move the goods here.  In the end what you need to do is go and compare a little on what there is to offer, some keys to look for are what goods are grown and manufactured locally and naturally (if you don't live in a tropical state and a local farmer is selling pineapple... you'll probably be paying a premium since it would need heavy use of green houses and extra watering for example) and try to develop a personal relationship with them... a local merchant is MUCH more likely to barter or negotiate prices with you than the mega store especially if you are on a first name basis with them and often they could provide insight on how to do some things yourself if you choose to do that....  my parents even got a great recipe for spaghetti that uses spaghetti squash instead of noodles from one of their local farmer's market merchants... it was really good!

What kind of experiences have you had with local market transactions?

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Alternative Currency

Currency I would argue has been one of the most fought over entity in all history.  Civil Wars are fought (English civil war was in large part taxes and fees being charged), empires have crumbled (notably the Roman empire), and Revolutions are started (American, in part over taxation and the French for debasing their currency supporting the American Revolution... now that is a little irony...).  Or more pertinent these were fought over improper mismanagement of currency by the governments in place.  Since currency almost by natural law is required for a high level civilization to operate and it is the easiest piece of the economy for a government to control it therefore has become almost universally abused in every country and caused the most frustration of their citizens.

Technology has increased, in use and capability, to the point where alternative currencies can be put into place which by their nature a government or any single entity can control meddle in them directly.  I believe this to be a good thing and it map help usher in a greater world peace possibly greater than even that attributed to the nuclear bomb.  The biggest hurdle being looked at is what economics rules need to be put in place for such currencies to do this, with the two most outspoken schools of thought and argument coming from Austrian vs. Keynesian economics.  Another common denominator to the rise in these projects is a seemingly global increase plight of citizens to reclaim civil liberties that in many countries gradually being stripped from the people.  Two notable examples would be Ripple and BitCoin.  Ripple directly being an exchange of debts between individuals and BitCoin being an exchange of digital currency that in and of itself is intended to have value and properties similar to gold and silver.  I point those out because it would seem that they are increasing in visibility and use more than most.  What is even more unique in these systems is that they are revolutionizing a major principle of one of the major parts of money which is intrinsic value, no digital currency can be directly turned into a good or service, the same is true of fiat currency however fiat currency was an evolution from money which did have intrinsic value.  I would argue however this is really just an evolution of fiat currency, and this can easily be seen by how people currently view those currencies.  Ripple is a measure of debt based on an external system of value (typically fiat currency) and BitCoin is not measured by it's value against goods and services but it's value against fiat currency.  The early merchant adopters of these systems have typically been in the form of service offerings which is a sign that even at their current level of risk people are willing to trade time more than actual physical goods for these currencies in both systems however the trade of goods does occur but the adoption seems to be slower and even then it is more based on the value in fiat currency they can get from these and not the value of the currency itself so a premium is often charged due to the need for use of a currency exchange.  In any decentralized alternative currency this will be the case.

The biggest shortcomings limiting adoption of these currencies is government policy, for instance taxes, by law in the U.S. you must pay your taxes in U.S. Dollars so to use any alternative currency you must exchange it and perform accounting in U.S. Dollars and not an alternative currency.  China has very strict currency control laws and any use of an alternative competing currency is outright illegal.  What this leads to is an interesting phenomena, the earliest adopters for use as an exchange for actual goods of value will be Black Market trading.  With the crack down on online gambling in the U.S. there were online casinos which started accepting alternative currencies and merchants who openly trade contraband goods for it as well.  This is due to the anonymity of the currency transaction itself which is a necessary feature of any decentralized currency.  With a little research of my own I discovered you could also trade foreign currency at much more favorable rates than the current mainstream forex markets... for instance the Chinese renminbi trades a little more favorably against the U.S. Dollar than it does on the forex markets and there are much lower fees in the processing than would be charged by centralized financial organizations.  I believe it is these things which will spurn a backlash by governments and ironically solidify their legitimacy as a fair and valid form of currency since they would need to be treated as such in order to create legislation against them.  Ultimately however once any alternative currency gets to the point where there is widespread adoption and merchants begin to shift to trading alternative currency directly and not their worth vs. fiat currency will be the golden moment when they have a very strong chance to outright replace traditional fiat currency.  Of course it would be nice if government helped speed the process along and allow people to buy government services and pay taxes in an alternative currency but that is unlikely as it is giving up one of their primary means of control on their citizens and economy, it will take mass adoption for this to happen.

What alternatives are out there?  It is very interesting for sure.  Here is another project in the works, the Terra, to help you in your research.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Debt Ceiling

Well it's all over the news and radio, every where you look and seemingly just about every half an hour here in the U.S.  I don't have much to say on this really, the whole idea of what our country has done to get into this situation is appalling and really it would seem to me all the most likely to happen scenarios are just ways to "kick the can down the road for the next guy".  There is one idea that I have heard Ron Paul mention that I really like which is to just wipe clean our debt to the federal reserve, I mean if you think about it a little that is like taking a loan out against our own savings and then paying the bank interest to do that...  Currently the majority of our debt is in this form and it could be a great first step in a general corrective course.

Now remember how I have mentioned that our currency is in fact a representation of debt, this would cause a very interesting scenario that would likely be of great benefit to everyone.  The act of wiping the slate clean of our own debt to ourselves as a nation would instantaneously deflate dollar values, as the volume in circulation would shrink, to what level is really up to the market but I suspect it would not be noticeable just not huge.  The net effect would appear that corporations would be making more profits, workers more money because the dollar has greater spending power and prices would be cheaper.... sadly it couldn't work quite like that because either workers would need to have a pay reduction (very tough thing to accomplish psychologically) or corporations profit levels would have to drop and the initial effect would likely be the latter followed by a gradual normalization of salary.

This scenario while sounding very radical has been done before as a way to help recover from the effects of defaulting on external debt....  yes that is right there is a recent example of exactly the same thing the U.S. is going through now from the start and well into recovery, ( see the story of the second Mexican peso for more info ) Mexico defaulted on it's "external" debt which caused a lot of capital to flee the country encouraging significant amounts of inflation and poverty, as a part of their recovery plan Mexico created the New Peso, essentially a new REPLACEMENT currency to be valued at 1/1000 of the original peso.  This greatly helped to bring back stability in the Mexican currency and their economy has been performing very well as a leader among the Latin American economies.

So given we have a blue print of what could happen if the U.S. govt. defaults on its external debts and how we might be able to recover.... does it not sound like the "radical" stop-gap that Ron Paul proposed could be a way to help put more money in our pockets, avert the near term problem without making matters worse and give us more time to completely make this problem obsolete?  Seems like a win-win to me...  What do you think?

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Inflation and Deflation

Simple concepts, most young people understand at a high level even very early in life.  What is it really and what are the effects?  This is where things get a little more complex.  For instance you hear the doom and gloom about deflation and how it will destroy an economy, and you suffer the results of inflation while buying milk and eggs in the grocery store... but at the heart of this we get back to my previous posting regarding money as a store of value and/or a medium of exchange.

As a store of value, inflation and deflation are an easy concept to understand.  It essentially represents the demand of that commodity vs. the supply.  Let's go to tried and true biblical reference of fish.  A very common industry that several disciples participated in before being called fishers of men.  At any given time there are a certain number of fish on the planet, and only so many are being traded in a market place at a time.  Fish are created, born or by the miracle of Jesus, and they are destroyed, through death and consumption.  What if there was a plague and the fish death rate increases?  Well the intrinsic value of fish would rise, this is Deflation.  Consumption increases due to a shift in taste or population growth would also increase the intrinsic value of fish causing deflation in the commodity of Fish.  Now what if there was a sudden surge in viable fish births, or Jesus performs a miracle and creates fish for the masses?  These would decrease the intrinsic value of fish causing inflation.  Is this type of inflation or deflation bad?  Not at moderate values, it is only when there is a sudden and rapid swing where this is dangerous.  So let's pretend we are a fish trader, due to a plague in fish the number of fish being caught have dropped dramatically but the demand has remained constant.  We are a pretty smart trader and we know the prices will rise so we hoard our catch hoping to reap the reward of selling fish at a higher cost this also decreases supply temporarily and prices begin to rise very rapidly to the point where the general population can no longer afford fish so to feed their family they shift to eating bread and corn.  Now we as the fish trader go to sell our high priced fish and since the demand has subsequently fallen dramatically we can no longer sell them at the going rate of prices.  Our stock may then begin to spoil and we have suffered the consequences of deflation in our commodity.  In this small example we will have a localized effect, just for fish and just for a reasonable geographic region for a specific time.  The effects of commodity deflation will not necessarily equate to a failing economy in general and the effects on perishable goods versus non-perishable goods will vary... if fish never spoiled we could hold on to them indefinitely if we had the means to. Inflation plays a very different role in this example what you saw was what is commonly referred to as hyper-inflation which follows rapid deflation.  For standard inflation we would get a very different result, let's change our example a little and see what would happen.  Now there is a boom in fish populations resulting from an increased fish birth rate, fishermen's catches are larger and more frequent so our fish stock becomes more abundant.  In a market place where demand is constant this decreases the prices because we as the fish trader know that we must sell our stock in competition against other fish traders.  This leads to lower fish prices but if demand does not catch up to equalize prices then we as the fish trader know that we have to reduce the supply so we stop buying fish from the fishermen who sell at the highest prices or sell us the lowest quality of fish... essentially they get fired and are less able to contribute to the economy as a whole and this will have a small but rippling effect on the general economy.  This problem is limited to a specific period of time and to a geographic region.

As a medium of exchange the concept is the same but the effects are much more complicated.  Let's go back to the great depression where government fiat currency saw the most pronounced swings.  Fiat currency causes the effects of inflation and deflation to be LESS localized by region and is not confined to a single commodity, it is however limited to a specific time.  Let us assume that we use paper IOU's (oh wait that is Fiat Currency) as our medium of exchange, this has no value what-so-ever other than it's liquidity and the markets definition of it's representation to a commodities value.  What happens if we make more paper IOU's?  Well the liquidity increases and commodity traders demand more of it subsequently for trade, this is inflation.  What happens if we decide to burn it?  The liquidity of the currency then decreases and the commodity traders demand less of it, this is deflation.  Rapid inflation of a medium of exchange can cause significant problems because it devalues an individuals productivity in a society and rapid deflation can cause equally bad problems because it can cause people to start treating the medium of exchange as a store of value which in turn reduces our paper I.O.U's liquidity in the market place.  This is why usury was condemned in the bible and most other religions for that matter.  By the way, usury is not just limited to interest rates like a bank might charge even if that is what the modern definition has become.  Usury at it's basic principle is making money just for the fact that you have money, interest rates are just the easiest offenders to point a finger at.

Why is treating a medium of exchange as a store of value a bad thing?  Simply put, it has the potential to hurt people on a wide scale, if a family cannot come by the currency it needs to buy the necessities of life well the result is obvious, poverty will follow if this happens on a wide scale it has the much more devastating effects, this is what happened during the great depression, and this is what is happening currently in the great recession as I have heard some refer to it.  What happened to the money supplies during both of these times?  The money supply shrank.  After the onset of the federal reserve in the U.S. the money supply changed to be based more on debt than on actual physical currency, if you have a dollar in the bank the odds are much stronger that it is NOT original currency and it is more likely to be someone or something's debt to another entity.  Ever wonder why the fed lowers interest rates to combat a declining economy?  They tell you it is to encourage people to spend and stimulate job growth but in reality this is only part of the equation, the larger part is that the action of buying on credit increases the money supply which increases the liquidity.  What were to happen if the liquidity of a currency were to fall is that the trade of goods and services would slow to a halt, this is a significant contributor to the great depression... even though you might be able to buy more with your money if there is not enough to conduct the actual trades then the system crumbles and crumbles rapidly.

In summary deflation of a medium of exchange, is a bad thing as it can encourage consumers to treat it as if it were a store of value.  Small and reasonable amounts of inflation are healthy for a medium of exchange.  Whereas in a store of value, small and reasonable deflation is healthy as this gives consumers increased value of their goods and services where as rapid inflation is the result of inefficiencies in the production/consumption rate of those goods and services.

For follow up discussion, there are some notable outlying commodities that don't seem to fit the general rule of thumb, in net searching you will often see computing technology as the great example of why a deflation in general is not a bad thing?  Any ideas on what may be happening with this and similar commodities?

What is Money?

Money at it's most basic form is a 2 part commodity.  1, it is a storage of value and 2, it is a mechanism to facilitate exchange of goods and services.  An example of a storage of value would be gold and bitcoins ( see to learn more ) and an example of a medium of exchange of goods and services would be fiat currency and ripple ( see to learn more ).

People often get these items confused, notably because of the grey areas between these two things, for instance gold has been at times used as a medium of exchange and fiat currency has been used as a store of value.  What really differentiates the two, well fiat currency in and of itself has NO intrinsic value, it is a human defined and generally accepted/decreed system to enable bartering without having to bring a goat or pig into your local dell store to get a laptop.  This kind of commodity can come from nothing and can continually be created and destroyed and as long as it maintains a standard level of liquidity it works.  Gold on the other hand has intrinsic value, meaning you can keep gold and later you can turn that gold into jewelry or component parts in say a high tech airbag deployment mechanism which is a marketable commodity.  This kind of commodity has rarity and requires resource expenditure and effort in order to have more ( ie. Mining ).  We can get into the anomaly of bitcoin in a later posting, which in it's current state is a store of value and NO intrinsic value.

What does this mean to you and me?  Simple really, our entire economy lives and breathes because of both of these functions working as they should concurrently.  Every where you look, you see the price of gold, silver, oil etc. priced against the dollar, yen, euro etc.  This is because, economists and consumers need a gauge to know how stores of value can be universally traded for a medium of exchange.  So when you go to the gas station to fill up the Wagon Queen Family Truckster and you end up paying five dollars per gallon, this is the two principles at work simultaneously, the economy has deemed that your gasoline which is a store of value has an exchange rate equivalent to other stores of value equaling 5 fiat dollars per gallon.  What else could we have done to get this gas?  Say you're a farmer and wanted the gas and you have 5 fiat dollars in bushels of corn, could the farmer not have just given his bushels of corn for the gas directly?  The answer is that yes he can but if the gas station owner doesn't want any corn because he/she has a corn allergy and doesn't want to turn around and trade the corn to someone else then we need to have an easier medium of exchange and this is why we have fiat currency.

For discussion, think about this and tell us your thoughts.  In current forms fiat currency has become both a store of value ( in the form of debt - see this video series for more info ) and a medium of exchange.  Gold and Silver have also been used as a store of value and a medium of exchange ( gold and silver minted coins for example ).  Does a successful economy need to have a currency that is representative of a store of value and a medium of exchange simultaneously or can it be functional with the 2 traits of money separated into different forms?

An Introduction

Here at garagEconomy, I plan on exploring all those topics relating to the economy whether it be direct or indirect.  In the coming weeks and months I hope to explore topics such as what our money is, alternative forms of money and exchange, political issues such as presidential campaigns and current event hot topics (thinking debt ceiling is the biggest right now...), and maybe even some book reviews here and there.

I still have a day job so posting wont be at a great frequency at first but I hope to build up an audience over time but for now I will just write and leave most of the work up to the net community to discover my site.  I hope we can engage in a similar friendly discussion on these issues similar to a close knit neighbor gathering in someone's garage drinking a beverage of choice in layman's terms.  And with that, I will disclose that I will be me on here, I will not pander to any particular audience, the opinions I express will be my own and I hope that in time as the audience grows hopefully there will be people equally passionate about different sides of the issues commenting and discussing their view points as I am open minded and if I can learn a thing or two from all sides of an issue that would be great whether or not my final opinion is changed or not.

I hope you enjoy the site and may god bless every one who takes the time to visit and partake in this community!