Search This Blog

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Viewing Our Open Economy Throgh A Closed Economy Lookingglass

And have an idea. Plot the ratio of the total number of dollars in the stock market vs. the total number of dollars in the US economy sans the market (all over the same 100 year history).

My guess is that there have been spikes in this stock vs. M. ratio that correspond with new money entering the market, either shifted from other domestic segments (real-estate, retirement accounts, etc.) or from international influx of investments (rapidly rising wealth of Asia and rest of world, sudden collapse of a large industry, commodity, or governmental or regional stability). Very few of standard economic metrics measure true macro or global interaction between geo-scale segments.

Comparing the Dow Jones against itself over time, or rarely, against other metrics like the GDP is different than reifying this and other comparisons as named metrics in and of themselves. But completely missing is geo-scale metrics that track the shifting values across regions and segments, in effect treating economic entities as markets competing for the maximum percentage of the total global value or geo-M.

What I am getting to is some way to accurately read the total global M and total labor L and total energy use E and to track the motion in real time of the density of these values geographically, or geopolitically, or by production or consumption segment. Once a true global economic sandbox tracker/simulator has been built, we will have the ability to read the economy as it is, in real time, and find the factors that sit at the base of the actual influence hierarchy that drives and causes economic flux.

My suspicion is that actual economic growth is equivalent to, always and only the result of increases in the means and use of tools and infrastructure that can build more for less labor... productivity, and that, in the absence of true growth in productivity, a market responds through acts of trickery which are ultimately not supportable and always culminate in crashes or "adjustments" which tend to pull market values into closer alignment with actual M and productivity values.

When new money comes into a market, standard supply and demand metrics are no longer accurate predictors or models. When new money comes into a market, standard supply and demand metrics will tend to say that the value of a product has risen. In a closed system this evaluation would most often be accurate In an open system, where money can stream into a market not to chase a product for consumption or industry, but just because that market seems a more attractive place in which to speculate than others, it throws the whole system into instability. Producers under such conditions are want to make more shoes, even though people are not growing more feet or walking more holes into their souls. End-consumers begin at inflationary times like these, to speculate with their purchases, buying products and commodities not because they need them, but because it seems foolish not to. Products and commodities take on a currency-like property, and through over-valuation supersaturate the market... leading to an inevitable value crash. If a large enough percentage of an economy's value has been suckered into such a bubble, the crash will bleed over into the economy as a whole... hitting the financial and banking markets first and hardest.

Over the past two decades, three fundamental factors have made large markets in the west especially sensitive and vulnerable to these new-money boom/crash cycles.

First, the undeveloped economies of the world have experienced exponential growth as they adopt tools and infrastructures borrowed from the first world. Importantly, because the third and second world represented the vast majority of the world's population and geography, this explosion in wealth (though still on average only bringing the third world slightly out of poverty) began to represent (by shear size) a larger and larger segment of the global economy. Remember that this "rest of world" economy represents roughly six times the population of the first world. Even smallish changes to a segment of this relative multiple have huge effect on the total global economy. And the actual changes have not been small. Second and third world economies have absolutely exploded! Much of this new money has of course been reinvested into the local economies from which it sprung. But, increasingly, larger and larger chunks of this new money have gone searching for boutique markets like the New York Stock Exchange and its equivalent in Japan, Germany, England, France, and the EU.

The second factor has to do with the paucity of true growth in productivity experienced in western and first world economies during this same twenty or thirty year period. In post-industrial economies, regions that have secure and constant access to reliable transportation of goods and services (shipping, highway, rail, and air transport), ready and secure capital (through investment banking and business and consumer credit), private property ownership (as a means to secure capitalization), education (to steadily feed highly skilled workers into labor markets), and governments that protect and promote the well being and promote the success of their citizens en-mass, and who have built a dependable infrastructure to create, extract, and distribute energy, and the means to grow and process foods cheaply on industrial scales... these rare segments of global marketplace... have had these capabilities for some forty years. Excepting of course for incremental gains made in efficiency of the above systems as a result of new knowledge and tools that result from better understanding of nature through advances in the sciences productivity has largely leveled off and remained level for the better part of a quarter century. What of the computer? you say. Surely the computer and the World Wide Web have had a huge positive impact on first world economies. But interestingly, the net net economic effect of computation and the digital networks it creates, has been surpassingly neutral. We do pump a larger and larger percentage of first world moneys into computation and its infrastructure that consume and use computers.

Real productivity metrics have yet to precipitate outward from the large success of computing as a market and into the larger first world economy. Ironically, the computer industry's success in the west may have impacted second and third world economies the most. It may be that money made in the computing industry flowed more deeply and directly into the rest of world economies where much of the computer industry does its manufacturing, assembly, and customer support. That computing has not resulted in measurable increases in first world productivity has computer industry insiders scratching their heads. During the Dot Com boom, pro-industry annalists creatively sidestepped this uncomfortable truth by inventing the idea of a "new economy" or "cyber economy", famously proclaiming, "The old rules and metrics don't apply". They were wrong, in the short term, but maybe, just maybe, in the long term they will be correct.

I suspect that the true economic benefits or potential benefits caused by the computer and computing upon global productivity have yet to be realized. The computer industry has spent the last 30 years largely learning how to get computers to do what we did (though slower and more awkwardly) before we had computers (writing, printing, telephony, accounting, payroll, data processing, advertising, point of purchase, audio and video broadcast, mathematics, graphing, market tracking and trading, banking, news and reporting, information sharing, post and mail, libraries, process control, etc.). This conversion has been expensive, and time consuming. Much of the time, we have proceeded as an industry (and a society) without a clear goal. Let me restate; neither the computing industry or the consuming public has had a clear idea where computing has been or ought to be going. Much of the time, both industry and market have been happy just to see what new (old) thing the computer can be taught to do... blindly building and consuming our way into the future just because it is "cool" or "fun" or "neat" or adds some strange and intoxicating "immediacy" to our daily lives (even when that immediacy does not equate effectiveness or lead us to deeper and more efficient infrastructure's necessary to cause the kinds of profound increases in productivity we expect from new technology paradigms).

I am a big believer in the future of computing, or the future that computing could build towards, but this belief is contingent upon society getting to a deep clarity of understanding about what computing is and why it matters. We have got to work hard at determining the difference between that which is cool and that which is profound. That which we want and that which will change the world. Until then, we are simply designing and producing towards consumption which will make segments of the industry rich and will bring money from the consuming west into emerging economies, but it will not ultimately support real growth, the kind of growth that is supported by knowledge, tools, and infrastructure that have the capacity to catapult productivity to the next level (the way the tractor pulled plow, germ theory, general education, the steam engine, and electricity have done in the past).

[to be continued...]

Recent Posts