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    • Reading this morning a hashtag, #IStandWithTheMoms, about a practice occurring in Oakland, California and Los Angeles. Speculators are buying up houses and letting them sit vacant in order to create a housing shortage and drive up rents. One claim was that rent in the area has gone up 60%. Several homeless women are in the news for illegally living in one of those vacant homes.

      The women took over the home after they said they were unable to find permanent housing in the Bay Area, where high-paying tech jobs have exacerbated income inequality and a housing shortage. They also say they’re protesting real estate developers who snap up distressed homes, then leave them empty.

    • Speculative activity per se is not bad, but you cannot allow people to behave speculatively with anything that approaches a basic need (e.g. water or housing).

      I remain surprised that there is not a widespread tax on people holding properties or land without developing or using them within a specified period.

    • I have posted around this subject on a few previous occasions.

      The essence of the problem society is facing is the declining share of labour in economic activity.

      Whilst some try to reassure by drawing a parallel with the industrial revolution ("we survived that change, and maintained employment, so we will survive this change too"), this is flawed logic.

      Directly after the industrial revolution labour had a smaller contribution to economic activity than previously, but it still made a significant contribution. As @StephenL notes, labour unions were able to successfully command a commensurate reward to labour in the form of jobs and wages.

      The problem we have today is that the labour share of productive activity is becoming vanishingly thin. The proportional share of economic rewards is getting squeezed in turn.

      The major share of activity is now in the form of capital which in this context, means machinery, computer systems and software. The owners of this capital are, therefore, reaping the majority rewards. See Apple, Google, etc.

      This is not an aberration, and it is not a symptom of a broken system - it is an inevitability of the changing composition of the Factors of Production. Left purely to market forces, the owners of the "capital" will continue to pull away from the rest of society, creating a two tier economy where a significant portion have little or no means to alter or change their circumstances. This has been referred to in places as "indentured capitalism".

      This seismic shift in the balance of factors of production is, in itself, a market distortion, and direct government action to re-balance in favour of labour (either by way of Universal Basic Income, or higher taxation on capital owners) should not be seen as a socialist move. It is, rather, a humanist approach, that would simply be ironing out the capital distortion.

    • Indeed it is. The position I describe is exacerbated by the low tax rates enjoyed by the holders of capital. In some respects you could argue that low taxes and (at times) loose bank lending practices enabled the holders of capital to obtain an advantage..

    • I have first-hand experience taking a company public and having friends who've done the same. Essentially, what you learn is all power is concentrated in the hands of the shareholders because if you don't make each quarter and grow, they are going away and perhaps suing you and other hostile shareholder actions.

      They are for the most part nameless and faceless to the public, and unless they are Warren Buffet, they are not in it for the long term or there to help. If you want to keep your job, you will keep doing whatever is necessary to grow.

      The problem is, you can only expand into so many product lines before no one can manage it anymore. And then your long run ends, the shareholders who made you do it leave, and you have to sell off divisions. Some companies have very long runs, though, like Microsoft and Apple.

    • I don't see social media as the equalizer per se but more information technology in general. I actually see social media as more of the problem as it tends to place our potential within silos. But I do see where are coming from and thank you for tagging me.

    • I think one of the constraints not brought up in this discussion so far is the disparities in information between management and labour.

      I remember one company I did work for where they built a brand new state of the art production facility within 20 miles of the old plant. I spoke to workers at the old plant and they showed me how beat up the production equipment line was: part of one of the machines was literally held together with rubber bands.

      All of the old plant workers were let go within a year of the new plant’s opening.

      What that episode taught me is that if your department, project, facility or division isn’t receiving new capital investments relative to other groups, you probably need to look for a job elsewhere.

      I’ve seen that rule play out in different organizations, and most staff and line workers are completely caught off guard when it happens. Unfortunately, the reductions in capital spending aren’t always as obvious as equipment held together with rubber bands.

      Harvard Business Review had an article on how a supplier was paid a premium to provide only 10% of the customer’s inventory for a key ingredient. I think it was for Diet Coke and the ingredient was a sugar substitute. Coca Cola paid the supplier a premium because it allowed Coca Cola to negotiate better prices with Nutrasweet: “If you don’t lower your prices, we’ll give more of our business to your competitor.” The second supplier knew this, which is why they were able to negotiate a premium.

      This is apparently not an uncommon strategy in the pharmaceuticals industry for both customers and second suppliers.

      Go back to the workers at the old plant. If they had known or figured out that they were being replaced, they could’ve negotiated for premium wages and better exit compensation. Why? Because the company would’ve been in trouble if the workers striked before the new plant was running at full production.

    • Good point. I believe it is common in German industry for corporate boards to have a certain number of seats allocated to shop floor workers on a rolling basis. Indeed, I did some work with a Norwegian ship yard where this was also the case.

      This has often been cited as a reason for the relative lack of industrial disputes in these countries, compared to the UK (which, in the 70's were notoriously crippling to the British economy).

      Whether this addresses the information disparity, I am less clear. But it should.

    • Nearly half of Americans don’t own stocks at all.

      When people are holding down multiple jobs, it’s not so that they have discretionary funds available to invest in the stock market. Instead, it’s to earn enough money to keep a roof over their head as they live paycheck to paycheck. For that reason, I don’t view the roaring stock market as a useful indicator of the economic health of a country.

      Perhaps the total amount of Go Fund Me campaigns for medical expenses would be a more useful leading indicator for the United States.