Saturday, October 18, 2014

No man is an island

No man is an island

No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
well as a manor of thy friends or of thine
own were; any man's death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

John Donne

An emotionally satisfying poem, but what the heck does it mean to business? It means that your business, in too many ways to list, depends on the businesses around it and on your suppliers and customers.

A climate of success helps you to succeed while a climate of collapse makes it much more likely that you will fail. We have uncountable examples of towns that relied on a single economy. The farm and market towns of the midwest that were supported by the small family farms died with the advent of industrial farming.

Those large farms were operated by so few workers that all those support business that made the town exist weren’t needed.

We know of cases where small stores closed thru loss of business diverted to big box stores. Part of the problem is that the profits from a local store tend to stay in the community while the profits from big box stores tend to be aggregated in the financial centers of big cities.

This phenomenon constitutes a cash drain that eventually strips that small town of its cash and unless there is a constant influx of fresh cash then the community goes broke and the residents leave for richer ground.

If the cash is in the financial centers then that is where the cash gets spent and that’s where the jobs are. As the people collect where the money is those small towns slowly die out. Just like the gold rush ghost towns when the gold ran out.

We are witnessing the same thing on a national scale. As more and more products are made in far flung places the cash is being transferred from the developed nations to the developing.

The key here is that people who don’t have jobs can’t buy your product no matter how cheaply you can make it.

I can buy a life jacket for around 12 bucks but what is its value? If I don’t go out on the water I wouldn’t buy it at any price. When the boat sinks I might pay $100 for that same life jacket. If I don’t have even a single dollar, then I CAN’T buy that life jacket even if the boat is sinking under me.

The point to all this is that if you minimize your workers profits to maximize your  own, then they have less to spend with you. While it’s true your workers can’t buy enough of your product to keep you in business that money does circulate.

If your workers can’t buy from the local burger stand, the people who work in the burger joint can’t buy your washing machine or dish soap.

Every job you and your industry transfer to some far-away factory is one less local customer for your product. And when that transfer is to chase that last fraction of a percent of profit but is making your potential customer base smaller, are you really coming out ahead?

Once again, you are absolutely correct when you say that your business can’t make that big a difference and by yourself you are right. Add your choices to all the others making the same kind of decision and we have the current lingering recession.

Living proof that recessions are self-generated self-fulfilling  phenomenon. If business cut employees and/or salary/benefit packages than employees spend less and there are fewer sales.

Reminds me of an old Kingston Trio song, Desert Pete:

“You’ve got to prime the pump, 
you’ve got to have faith and believe
You’ve got to give of yourself 
before you’re ready to receive.
Drink all the water you can hold, 
wash your face, cool your feet,
Leave the bottle full for others, 
Thank you kindly, Desert Pete”

Tuesday, October 7, 2014


Bitcoin is a full on fiat currency supported only by the user’s faith that someone else will accept it at what they paid for it. Looked at one way it is a fraud since there it has no intrinsic value supporting it.

In another sense it has exactly the same value as an ounce of gold. The trust that someone else will accept the value and exchange it for something we both agree is an equal value.

I remember once when I was about 13 (1958) and traveling with my parents, we stopped for gas in a small town in western Pennsylvania where my father tried to use an American Express Traveler’s Check. That was a matter of trust - this small town gas station had never seen one and didn’t know if he could trust it or not. He did know and expect that he could trust a 5 or 10 or 20 dollar bill!

Back to that ounce of gold you trust so much. In the depths of antiquity certain types of sea shells drilled and strung like beads were a medium of exchange. They were rare and hard to get, at least far from the coast, and people accepted them in return for goods and services. As travel became easier and the shells lost their rarity they were supplanted by other mediums. Iron, copper, silver and gold coins for a long time were the standard and later were replaced by paper that could be exchanged for set amounts of the actual metal.

Gold, silver or any other metal has only the value we give it. Each of these has a use in manufacturing. You can build things from iron and steel or even copper. Gold and silver have industrial uses beyond their use in jewelry. But if you are in the wilderness, and need a meal, that ounce of gold will not feed you unless someone else has food AND is willing to exchange that food for the gold.

So why might they give up an immediately useful thing like a meal for an immediately useless thing like an ounce of gold? Because they trust that someone else, somewhere else will want to trade what they have for that ounce of gold. So in a very real sense, that gold relies on exactly the same “value” that a Bitcoin does - trust!

For good or ill, Bitcoin is now a permanent part of the financial landscape and will be a permanent part in some form or another from now on. So before you start wailing and moaning about Bitcoin being worthless and the ultimate fiat currency; remember that it rests on the same foundation as gold, US dollars or a can of soup. We expect that someone else will accept gold or soup as unit of storage of value. And that they will be willing trade whatever they have for that gold, US dollar or can of soup.

If you think this is a new concept think about this, approximately 800 years ago St. Thomas Aquinas said “Men could not live with one another if there were not mutual confidence that they were being truthful to one another”.