New Civilization News - Category: Economics, Financing, Banking    
22 May 2005 @ 19:28, by vaxen. Economics, Financing, Banking

On May 23, 1933, Congressman Louis T. McFadden brought formal charges against the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve Bank system, The Comptroller of the Currency and the Secretary of United States Treasury for numerous criminal acts, including but not limited to, CONSPIRACY, FRAUD, UNLAWFUL CONVERSION, AND TREASON.

The petition for Articles of Impeachment was thereafter referred to the Judiciary Committee and has YET TO BE ACTED ON.  More >

 Beware of Fraudulent Cashiers Checks6 comments
12 May 2005 @ 19:06, by raypows. Economics, Financing, Banking
Be careful when selling things to private parties. even cashiers checks that look completely real can be fraudulent. Get the money first and wait until it clears, or better yet, sell local get cash or use PayPal.

I recently sold my Alienware Are 51-M laptop via an ad I put in the Los Angeles Recycler magazine. I sent the package COD FedEx Ground to the (not so) gentleman in Reno, Nevada. He told me his name was Ollie Westbrook at 345 Westbrook Lane, Reno, NV. FedEx picked up the cashiers check, no signature was required, I deposited the cachiers check, bought a new laptop and a week later when I went to my bank they told me there was a stop payment on the cashiers check. The check was from Great Basin Federal Credit Union. It had an incorrect routing number on it. Turns out the bank has a detective investigating this already due to several other fraudulent cashiers check being issued.

I had spoken to the guy 2-3 times on the phone and as many emails. When I called and emailed him after the stop payment, guess what, both were no out of order.

There weren't really any telltale signs this was going to be a rip off except for his hurry to get it and not wanting to pay through paypal, which was okay with me since I didn't want to losee the % paypal takes. But I lost alot more.

The main signalss I got not to ship it was I had to go to three different places to get it shipped. The 1st the man who knew COD wasn't there, the 2nd didn't do COD's anymore, the 3rd their computers were down, so I went back to the 1st later in the day and I shipped it off. Life does give us information to go by if we stop to listen. Tricky balance between will and guidance. I was willful and pushed on through this time.

And though I am back pedaling a bit now financially, the upside is I am really enjoying my new Mac Powerbook which I bought with non-existeant funds.

May we live long, love and prosper.  More >

 Our Tomorrow8 comments
picture17 Mar 2005 @ 14:42, by jerryvest. Economics, Financing, Banking
Christiane, my daughter, wrote this poem many years ago. I don't have the date, perhaps a fifth grader, but she was obviously aware of what was happening in our world then. As a professional social worker, Christy works with teens, at risk, in Colorado's "I have a Dream" program. Obviously, I am very proud of her work and devotion in helping our next generations preserve their dreams and help them bring their aspirations to realization. I have a dream foundation

Our Tomorrow by Christy Vest

As I look out this window
I can imagine our World tomorrow.
A chill runs up my spine
And my heart fills with sorrow.

Whatever happened to love?
Where is all of the cheer?
I think about this,
As I wipe away a tear.

Tomorrow is upon us
Fear is in my heart.
As the war we have, love and hate,
Quickly begins to start.

Bring love to our World
Even if for just one day.
Fight for our World of Tomorrow
Fight for love today.

Thank you Christy for keeping your dreams alive and for working with others to help them improve the quality of their lives, health and relationships. I love you. Dad
 More >

 The Economics of Sharing6 comments
picture 6 Feb 2005 @ 03:41, by ming. Economics, Financing, Banking
The Economist has a little article on The economics of sharing. It has some good stuff. It is also somewhat amusing to hear about economists pulling their hair out trying to understand why people share, when they're supposed to just be self-serving consumers and capitalists.
Economists have not always found it easy to explain why self-interested people would freely share scarce, privately owned resources. Their understanding, though, is much clearer than it was 20 or 30 years ago: co-operation, especially when repeated, can breed reciprocity and trust, to the benefit of all. In the context of open source, much has been written about why people would share technical talent, giving away something that they also sell by holding a job in the information-technology industry. The reason often seems to be that writing open-source software increases the authors' prestige among their peers or gains them experience that might help them in the job market, not to mention that they also find it fun.

Seems like one can't get around the subject any longer, when talking about economics. And the interesting part remains how and how quickly and widely sharing will spread to more tangible goods.
The question is, can sharing be used to supply more than just information? One of the most articulate proponents of the open-source approach, Yochai Benkler of Yale Law School, argues in a recent paper that sharing is emerging for certain physical, rivalrous goods and will probably increase due to advances in technology. Where open source was about sharing information by way of the internet, what is happening now, Mr Benkler notes, is the sharing of the tangible tools of technology themselves, like computing power and bandwidth. This is because they are widely distributed among individuals, and sold in such a way that there is inherent (and abundant) unused capacity.

He's talking about social sharing as a "third mode of organising economic production, alongside markets and the state". Well, maybe we can call it that. But the networks for sharing are also a market. Just a market that measures value somewhat differently.

It is an interesting, even if obvious, key point that sharing is most likely to emerge when something is available that has inherent and abundant unused capacity. Probably isn't important that it is sold. It is important that there's an abundance of something, and some kind of informational system exists that allows some of that abundance to be directed to where else it might be needed and appreciated.

For that matter, that little phenomenon could be the basis of a whole new kind of civilization. The networking of excess capacity. That's what a traditional market does too, but from a very different angle. A guy who owns a factory figures out how to finance the cheap production of millions of widgets, and he gets them into the hands of people who want them, and gets paid for it. Wheras the sharing phenomenon tends to start off with stuff that's somehow already paid for, or that is perceived to be. I've already gathered my MP3 collection, and I'm paying for my DSL line anyway, so if somebody can use some of it, even if I get nothing directly out of it, that's fine.

Better information and better networking will make more things sharable. If somebody came up with something that would scan the titles of my old books and found takers for them automatically, I might not throw them away. If somebody comes up with a sufficiently efficient way of sharing cars, and always being able to find one close by, I wouldn't need to own one. Several companies are already doing that pretty well in certain limited areas.

Seems like it is not just that there are economic markets and there is open source sharing. Most likely more hybrids will pop up.

There are some very different basic aims involved, which wouldn't really have to be that different. There's the traditional capitalist motivation where you mass produce something as cheaply as possible and you "share" it in a direct one-to-one exchange with people who want it. Your aim was profitable exchange, but not really the sharing as such. And then there's the more open source kind of thinking, where you try to come up with something that is as easily sharable as possible. And then you secondarily might derive income from the increased advantages that come from that.

The focus is switching towards drawing economic advantage from the flow of stuff from where it is abundant to where it isn't, as opposed to from taking payment for the stuff itself. Like, information is becoming very free and freely available, but there's a business in making a search engine that finds it for you, even if it is just by serving you some ads along with it.

Really it isn't as new as it seems. When Exxon sells you some oil, it is really only because they found it lying around somewhere, and they took it and brought it to you, and it would have been difficult for you to do that yourself. But they didn't make it, they just took it and pretended they owned it. Most economic engines start off with something like that, even if it is made to look a lot more complicated. Generally somebody grabbed something that was lying around and processed it somehow and transported it to you, and they pretend they made it and they own it, and therefore you have to pay. Where really it is more the processing and transportation they did. The farmer didn't invent pigs. He just fed them for a while, loaded them in a truck, took them to the butcher, etc. The newspaper is printed on paper made from trees pulled out of the ground and transported. Not by anybody who truly owned those trees in the universal scheme of things, just by somebody who pretended they did.

So we could say that the sharing mentality rather starts with the idea that things are inherently free. Or we can see it the other way. Nothing is really ours, it is all stuff that comes from somewhere else, that we temporarily have use of. My music files, my ideas, my computer bandwidth. It is all coming from somewhere else that I don't quite control.

Good will, gratitude, reputation, prestige, cooperation - those are qualities that emerge when we take ownership and control out of the equation. Are they more natural? I don't know, I'd like to think so. But even if that wasn't a given, and even if they aren't inherently stronger forces than greed and control, things can very well be arranged so that they will dominate the playing field.

One can produce things so that they inherently aren't owned. Some free software licenses will specify that the software has to remain free, and you have to pass on the same license if you improve on them. Thus there's no power in direct ownership any longer, and you're instead forced to traffic in the economy of good will and recognition of good work.

More tangible products could be made in a similar fashion. Again, we're seeing it first with information products. You can make a song and give it a license that specifies that it has to remain free, but that you always want to be credited for it. So the only way people have of generating value is not by owning it, but by sharing it, talking about it, improving it, categorizing it, etc. They might be paid for that, but they can't ever be paid for owning it.

Sharing and things being free aren't the same thing of course. I'd like everything to be free, but that's a more long-term project than sharing is. Sharing doesn't mean things don't cost anything. Just that the value of something can be leveraged by sharing it.

Can bicycles be free? It is possible. But it is more likely that somebody makes a scheme that lets me pay a little bit every month and that bicycles then become abundant, so I don't have to worry much about holding on to one.

The new thing is the potential to base economics on the sharing of abundance, rather than the metered access to scarcity. With some luck the economists will make some more calculations and realize that there's much more profit to be made by creating and sharing abundance than there is in reluctantly selling scarce items. Because, well, there's a scarcity of scarcities, but there's unlimited potential in abundance and new ways of sharing.  More >

 Central banks lose faith in the dollar9 comments
picture 27 Jan 2005 @ 23:06, by ming. Economics, Financing, Banking
The world's central banks have begun, slowly and carefully, to switch away from the dollar, to more stable currencies. See Financial Times. That is no small matter. It is a long story, but, in brief, most countries keep large amounts of dollars in reserve. Dollars that nothing gets bought for, but that are kept, well, as reserves, and because some important commodies, like oil, are sold almost exclusively in dollars. And, ok, it is not that those dollars aren't used, but there's continuously a very large amount of them that are not. Which is what allows the U.S economy to run with a huge deficit, in a way that no other economy can. Normally a country has to have an approximate balance in what it exports and imports. But the fact that lots of countries keep US dollars that they've paid for, but which they aren't getting goods for, allows the US to import way way more than it exports, and to a large degree to get it simply by the act of printing money, or, rather, moving some numbers around in computers. If the dollar wasn't used in such a manner, the US economy would be unsustainable, and might have to crash. Anyway, the global system is so tied together that none of those other central banks would really want that. But they also want their reserves to be stable, so they slowly change things. And mostly they speak very diplomatically about it. Maybe a little less so the Chinese guy in Davos this week:
"The U.S. dollar is no longer -- in our opinion is no longer -- (seen) as a stable currency, and is devaluating all the time, and that's putting troubles all the time... So the real issue is how to change the regime from a U.S. dollar pegging ... to a more manageable ... reference ... say Euros, yen, dollars -- those kind of more diversified systems ... If you do this, in the beginning you have some kind of initial shock. You have to deal with some devaluation pressures."

Now, even though I'd find a certain enjoyment in looking forward to being able to blame a crashing US economy on the suicidal fiscal policies of Bush's regime, I also get paid most of the time in dollars. Which are worth crap right now. So it is not entirely a good thing that it will get worse. Actually it is worse for anybody who uses dollars outside the U.S. than inside, where, I'm sure, things seem pretty normal.  More >

 Multi Level Money16 comments
picture 12 Nov 2004 @ 23:45, by ming. Economics, Financing, Banking
I've never exactly liked multi-level marketing (MLM). Well, half of the time I hate it. It too often looks like being conned into shelling out a few hundred dollars for some supply of diet pills or something, and then you need to convince all your friends to sign up under you and get really excited about it.

But then again, I like the idea of having thousands of people in my network who'll provide me with a continuous residual income. So, if I could do that without having to force my friends to buy some overpriced vitamins they don't want, I might change my mind.

At times it had seemed very attractive. I've known or met people who've done extremely well with MLM, and obviously, to see those folks who've done best can inspire a lot of other people. Like, I remember this event at the house of one of the top Herbalife people. Larry something. He had made 65 million dollars at the time. So it was a recruitment event in the basement disco of his Beverly Hills mansion. There were at least 500 people. It has ostrich feathers on the wall. His couple of Ferraris and Lamborghinis were strategically parked out front. Well, he seemed like a nice guy too. And they put on quite a show. Seemed like those vitamins cured cancer and just about anything else. And lots of previously normal little folks had great success stories to tell about how well they'd done on marketing it.

However inspiring it was, I didn't sign up more than maybe one or two people, who didn't do anything with it. My family ate the vitamins for a year or so, which was perfectly fine, albeit a little expensive.

And, statistically speaking, that's how it goes for most people who sign up in an MLM. They think it sounds great at first. They imagine themselves making 10s of thousands in residual income every month. They find the money for the starter package somewhere. And that's usually how far they get. Because they don't know how to be as inspiring as the people who hooked them on to it. And because their friends aren't really interested, and they don't know how to reach anybody else who is.

Even at those times when I temporarily thought it was a great idea, I've had moral qualms about the pyramid nature of it. I mean, obviously the scheme is in the shape of a pyramid. People sign up under somebody else, becoming part of their down-line. And the money they spend to join or to buy products is what goes to fund the people higher up. But you can pretty easily see it as a pyramid where a few people at the top are doing really well, some of them becoming millionaires, being able to tell great success stories. And the further we go down in the pyramid, the more dull it looks. At the bottom are people who paid money for nothing, or there are people who work at actually selling the product it all was about. Seems like there will have to be a great many loosers to fund a few winners.

But then it just struck me. This is really very similar to how a capitalist economy works. Most people haven't thought of it that way, but it is really structured as a pyramid scheme too. Except for that it is so complicated and cleverly done that it pretty much can keep going indefinitely, without anybody really noticing.

A capitalist economy works in part on the expectation that one can make investments that produce returns. I.e. you give something out and you get more back. Like, an investor invests in a company, or a bank gives a loan, and they want it back with interest. So the company does a bunch of things that does the same thing. They put the money into things that give more money back. I.e. they pass the buck to somebody else, in order to get a return for themselves and the people behind them. And so forth, through numerous steps. It is really inherently the same idea as a pyramid scheme. And at the bottom of the pyramid you find the people who do the actual work, or who buy the products. And they generally get less back than they put out. I.e. they work hard and get paid less than what it is worth, in order to finance that the people higher up in the scheme get their returns. Which produces our typical societal arrangement where a small percentage of people are doing really well, and the majority of people are just getting by, stuck in a daily routine.

You see it even more clearly in the way money is actually created in the first place. No, it doesn't inherenly come from hard work. It might fund some hard work later, but at its origin it has nothing whatsoever to do with it. A bank creates the money out of thin air, in order to lend it out. The bank has certain limits on how much money it can create, which is in ratio to how much money they currently have as actual deposits. Like, they can create 10 times as much money as what is deposited there. That money doesn't go anywhere. The money that is "lent" out is created as entries in a computer. The bank then puts that money at the disposal of somebody that they expect will be able to pay it back with interest. I.e. to somebody who will turn a profit from some activity, or who'll earn the extra money somewhere else, in order to pay it back.

Now, mind you, money can ONLY be created by a bank. Most governments retain the right to create money as well, but currently none of them do. Even most of the money the government borrows is created out of nothing by a bank, and the government needs to pay it back with interest.

Now, it shouldn't be very hard to notice that the math is in principle impossible. Certain amounts of money are being created, and more than that needs to come back. Lots more, as interest compounds quickly. In the big picture, that isn't possible. There is no other source of it, so you can't pay more back than what exists. And the truth of the matter is that if all loans in the world were called back this moment, not only would all existing money be used up for that purpose, but there wouldn't be enough.

See, in case you missed it, a magical thing that happens when you pay back a loan to a bank is that the money then disappears. It is not that they had been missing it, and now we paid it "back". It didn't exist before they lent it out, and it stops existing after you pay it back. But the interest, which is the bank's profit, will keep existing.

The whole thing is based on that the profit, the returns, the extra interest, will come from the next guy in line. You pass the buck, or rather the debt. You start off by owing something, and you make somebody else pay not only that, but enough so that you can keep something, in addition to paying back your source.

And if you freeze the whole picture right now, it isn't possible for everybody to be paid. Because there would invevitably be a relatively small number of people that have a lot, or that a lot is owed to, and a whole lot of people that owe it, and can't pay it. The losers at the bottom of the pyramid.

But the amazing thing is that it still mostly works. The wheels keep churning. People are busy running businesses and making a living and buying and selling things. And most don't give that whole thing a single though. Those who do best are keenly aware of the magic of compound interest, and spend their efforts on putting their resources where they give the biggest return. But hardly anybody worries about the inherent impossibility in it all. And, actually, it isn't as impossible as I make it out to be, because it is a complex dynamic system, always in motion, which gives it a certain stability that isn't obvious when we take a snapshot.

And maybe I'm being a little too harsh about it. I would tend to use that kind of logic to attack the system, to complain about how insane it is, and how it is only designed to make the people at the top very rich, and keep the people at the bottom enslaved in an impossible situation.

But we can also look at it different ways, because essentially, seemingly against logic, the system works, and might well keep working for quite a while.

It might keep working in part because it is very complex and opaque, so nobody sees through it, and one can maintain one's confidence in the money system. It keeps working also because there are many ways to pass the buck to others. I.e. anybody has the opportunity for investing their capital wisely and getting a return back. And there's actually nothing that stops most everybody from being a business which gains a profit. There's no law that says you have to be the suffering lower rungs of the pyramid. People are there in part because they don't succeed in playing the capitalist game very well, so they just get taken advantage of. But they could play if they learned how.

The economy is actually arranged so the money can keep moving indefinitely. The same dollar can be used any number of times. So even though you're providing a profit for somebody higher up in some pyramid, you're free to set up the same type of scheme for yourself, and do something that produces more return than what you put into it. There's no scarcity of pyramid schemes. Or, more kindly, systems that can leverage your investment into much more.

And, in-between, money can be passed around any number of times. If the money velocity increases, more people can be paid off of the same money. It isn't all about borrowing and paying back loans, of course. I could earn and spend loads of money without being involved with any loans at all, and without thinking about where the money originally came from. I could just have a well-paying job with a pension plan and feel happy and secure, without directly having to worry about business or where money comes from.

But it all still is built on a mechanism of getting returns. Getting more back than you put out. Getting as many people as possible to give you more back than you give them. At least that's the game for those who're playing the game.

So, now, a multi-level marketing scheme is not all that different. It is simply more transparent. It is easier to see the pyramid forming within a particular scheme, so easier to have qualms about it, and start thinking it is impossible. It is also easier for it to obviously not work as well, if everybody's in the same pyramid, and there's only a very limited number of products and things to do in it. But there's nothing really that stops such an arrangement from being complex enough that everybody can make profits and keep going indefinitely. Because there can be many different types of businesses, and because money can circulate endlessly, at any kind of speed.

My objections about the morality of MLM aren't very different from my qualms about a general capitalist economy. Is it fair that some people get extra money back without directly doing any work for it? Well, if it would only be theoretically possible for a few people to do it, I might not think it is fair. But if it is possible for everybody, then it might be a good thing. It indeed might be possible to keep the balls in the air, and have everybody profit from it, as long as they think as businesses, rather than as consumers and workers.

Thinking as an investor or as a business is obviously very different from thinking as a consumer or a worker. The inherent laws of how it works are different. You won't be a good investor if you only think about what work you can do and what stuff you can buy. Somebody who's good at business or at investing is looking for ways they can get their capital and resources to do the most possible work, to give the biggest return. Very different.

So, now, I still have a lot of qualms about our money economy and the society it tends to create. But several thoughts:

There's apparently no fundamental reason that most participants couldn't do very well even in an economy based on pyramids, or on returns on investment. But they have to all be willing to become business people, rather than workers and consumers

There's no big reason why one can't build networks as a sub-set of the bigger economy where the participants do that same thing with each other, and maybe create returns faster than the general economy, and where most people could do well. But, again, they would know how to act as business people.

There might well be some possible scheme that works better than pyramid and interest systems, and that inherently would make it more possible for everybody to play. I.e. there's gotta be some kind of constellation of people that can both out-compete the greed-based capitalist system AND provide the leverage to do more with less AND make it actually work for most people.

A profit/interest/pyramid based money system can easily out-compete a local money system with a flat structure that only uses currency for exchange for goods and services. But it has a lot of negative characteristics. Lots of effort is wasted. People are forced or tricked into paying for lots of things that aren't useful, and the system leaves most people lost in struggle. That could potentially be different, if everybody just played the system well, and made sure they had good information. But there might be other systems that are more easily playable, ensuring that more people actually will play in them, and thus be more likely to be successful at them.

So, I'm looking for a different geometry, I guess. More complex, in a synergetic way.

And, in the meantime, I'll try to refrain from feeling bad about concentrating on investing my time and effort for the maximum return.  More >

 Middleclass Poverty4 comments
picture 16 Feb 2004 @ 17:59, by ming. Economics, Financing, Banking
Now that it looks like my own economy is looking up a little bit for the moment, I can more comfortably write about the ups and downs of poverty. No, not the kind of poverty where you're living in a cardboard shack in the third world and there are no crops, no food, and no clean water, as I haven't personally experienced that. But the kind of poverty one can experience in a rich western country when one is trying to make ends meet, and they don't quite meet, no matter how fast one runs, and one never quite manages to do things the logical and sensible way.

A lot of things in a capitalistic society are arranged to provide economic incentives to do things the "right" way. You know, you get fines of various kinds if you do it the "wrong" way. And maybe a lot of that makes sense if you're sitting with a spreadsheet and calculating how to distribute your funds over the next couple of years. But it often becomes a very cruel arrangement when one lives from paycheck to paycheck and somehow has dug oneself into a hole one can't just step out of.

A typical example is that you have a car, but you can't afford the insurance. Can you really be considered to be poor if you have a car and live in a house with a yard? Well, in some places you'd be considered rich. But if you live in Los Angeles you've probably gotten the idea that those are the basic necessities of life. So maybe it is an old car, but you have one or two, unless you're homeless. So, for the example, there was a period of time where I couldn't afford the $4-500 per month for car insurance, so I didn't have any. And I got stopped by the police, and in court the judge gave me a fine of $800 and graciously he gave me a few months to pay for it. Now, if I was the spreadsheet person with money in the bank, I can quickly make the calculation that it would be cheaper just to have the insurance and anything else I'm supposed to have. But if I'm just somebody who didn't have the money? OK, then I owe another $800. Does that motivate me to pay that plus the insurance I couldn't afford? Well, yes, but it certainly doesn't make it easier. So, I didn't pay that either. So at some point when I had parked somewhere, the car got impounded by the police. Which costs $10 per day in storage fees, plus a few hundreds of other fees, plus you have to pay everything you owe to get your car back. Which took me a couple of weeks to come up with, and it was way over $2000 at that time. And I still needed to go and get insurance.

To a lot of good citizens that just means I'm an idiot and I could just keep my stuff in order in the first place. So, I'm trying to explain that there's a different kind of world, where it isn't just a matter of "keeping it in order", but a matter of how expensive it is to be a little behind rather than a little ahead, and how difficult it is to keep up with the Joneses, even if badly.

Another example. After I went bankrupt 12 or so years ago I was quite happy with not having any credit lines. Declaring bankrupty was a relief, after realizing my fixed expenses were more than $7000 per month, and that there were no way of meeting them, let alone eat, if I earned less than that. Even if I earned what under other circumstances would be considered a very handsome living. So since then the policy was to not buy anything I didn't have the money for in cash. But, well, sooner or later we got credit cards again, for the convenience of buying things remotely. And I paid them every month in full, until some point this year where things were wearing a bit thin, and they ended up more or less maxed out. Not a lot of money, but $4000 or so. Which I didn't pay very much attention to at first. But now recently, where I only had barely what we needed for survival, I noticed what it actually was costing, even though I hadn't used these cards for a long time. I also notice that things were carefully arranged to make it really expensive to be close to the maximum. Each month I paid the amount suggested by the credit card company, on time. But each month each of the cards still went "over limit", which added a $30-40 extra charge for each card. Notice, I'm not using those cards, just paying the monthly amount. Still it was more than $200 per month. And now recently my U.S. checking account was out of commission because of my problem with Budget Rent-a-car, so I couldn't pay the cards at all for two and a half months. That ended up costing about $800 in charges for those same credit cards. And this all, of course, motivates me to "keep my things in order". Yeah sure.

One thing takes another. A bit of a vicious cycle. So if you just are busy with work and life, and trying to pay your rent and your car insurance and avoid that the electricity gets turned off, and so forth, then at the end of the year I might notice that I don't really have the $20K that the IRS would like to be paid. So they add a lot of charges and fines to it, and make an agreement with me that is carefully calculated so that I never ever will finish paying off, as I'm only paying the interest.

And, well, with all of that you don't really get around to doing sensible things like putting money away for your retirement, or even having one month worth of expenses in reserve. Because there's always some kind of emergency you need to deal with. Or when one month there isn't, you decide to then get health insurance, which leaves you stuck with another $600 a month. Or you decide to buy a new computer or go to a conference or something.

Mind you, I haven't really made less than $60K a year for the last 18 years, and often twice as much. I've never worked less than 80 hours a week in that time. And it is not like we've had an extravagant lifestyle. Old cars, second-hand furniture, hardly any clothes shopping, kids in public schools, lower middleclass neighborhood. And at the times I've been having job jobs together with other more normal people, I've noticed how lots of them who earned less than me seemed to spend all the time talking about their mortgages, their retirement accounts, their stock market investments, their $40K cars, the college funds for their kids, and their vacation in Bora Bora, and mysteriously they seemed to have their affairs perfectly in order.

So, am I just a little stupid and bad at math? Oh, that might be, and lots of people will probably conclude that. But that isn't my main point here. OK, for some folks it comes completely natural to do the right thing, and they seem to be in synch with the economic rules of society. But there are lots of other well-intended and hard-working folks, most in dual-income households, often in a much lower pay range than what I'm usually blessed with, but who also are stuck in similar or worse vicious cycles. Having bad credit and therefore getting worse rates on everything. Owing back taxes, having credit card bills, car payments, and spending way too much money on stupid late fees, and never quite getting their heads above water.

There are various possible avenues of answers, of course. One could make a lot more money so that one could comfortably pay for the same lifestyle one's neighbors have. One could succeed in adopting a regimen where one keeps a sensible budget and sets aside reserves. One could get a stable job with a company that draws your taxes every month and sets aside retirement money and profit sharing for you. One could simplify one's life greatly and grow one's own food and forget about cars and cable TV. One could dream up a different kind of society that doesn't keep most of its citizens stuck in a rat's maze.

Anyway, poverty sucks.  More >

 Santa Romana3255 comments
3 Jan 2004 @ 12:10, by ming. Economics, Financing, Banking
I just ran into this article about "Project Hammer - Covert Finance and the Parallel Economy". And, well, I'm always interested in good conspiracy stories and possible scenarios for what is going on behind the scenes. But here it sticks a little deeper, as I happen to know some of the players in the story. Project Hammer is apparently a high-yield investment program of gargantuan proportions that was run by intelligence operatives and shadey bankers. Dealing with amounts that, as it says, would challenge whatever reality you had about international banking, just by their fantastic and unbelievable amounts. Multi-trillion dollar funds.
"Research shows that gold recovered by the forerunner to the CIA--the Office of Strategic Services (OSS)--was deposited in Citibank (and many other banks, too), not in the name of the OSS or CIA but in the name of one of their operatives, Severino Garcia Santa Romana.

On his death in 1974, some--but not all--of Romana's "assets" appear to have been illegally acquired by former Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos, who was at one time Santa Romana's attorney. According to Santa Romana's widow, her husband gave Marcos a limited Power of Attorney for use solely in the Philippines, since he travelled abroad regularly. It seems that Marcos somehow made use of this to gain control over Santa Romana's gold and other assets.

It also appears likely, based on documents in this writer's possession, that considerable quantities of gold once held by Santa Romana were later placed under the control of former CIA covert operator Major-General Edward Lansdale. However, these assets were lodged with the Union Bank of Switzerland. Again, it is worthy of note that they were placed in Ed Lansdale's name, not in the name of a US Government agency. These assets are very clearly off the books.

Large quantities of gold held by Citibank remained in the account names of Severino Garcia Sta. Romana and José Antonio Diaz de la Paz (the latter being a well-known alias for Santa Romana) under reference codes "Fanerst King Fisher" and "Burgst Harbor King" respectively.3 These have been the subject of a legal wrangle between Santa Romana's heirs and Citibank's John Reed.

The fact that the gold held by Citibank and others may not have been in the name of the Central Intelligence Agency or the Federal Reserve--but, rather, was in Santa Romana's name--may have been all Citibank needed to wriggle out of a poorly crafted question."

Severino Santa Romana's widow's name is Luz Santa Romana. I've met her several times. Mindblowing of course that this frail little old philippino lady would be potentially the richest person in the world. She was the primary heir as well as the executor of the estate of Severino Santa Romano. We're talking about 1.3 trillion dollars in gold and cash in well-documented accounts. Yeah, ok, most "normal" people will instantly get overwhelmed with disbelief and will stop listening, after hearing such outrageous amounts and fantastic stories. But, well, confirmations keep appearing from many corners. And, personally, after spending time with some of the key people, my initial disbelief gradually turned into the realization that things probably were pretty much like they presented them.

Luz re-married to Jim Brown, an American businessman who had already spent years researching such matters. And together they went to work on trying to access her inheritance. And they were having loads of problems with it. One time after another it was really close, but the bank pulled out at the last moment, suddenly deciding they needed another piece of paper that wasn't available. Or an assortment of other strange things happened.

It isn't very strange of course. If we're talking about a behind the scenes operator, moving around large sums of ill-begotten wealth, which is used for dealing arms, covert operations, bailing out banks behind the scenes, etc, and some of the funds incidentally were still in his name when he died, it is not just going to be handed over to his little old widow in a plastic bag. Because the people who were using it didn't consider it his personally, whatever it said on the accounts. And the amounts are so large that they can only be moved around very carefully without crashing national economies. You can't just go and withdraw hundreds of billions of dollars and put them in a briefcase. Anyway, Jim and Luz didn't even succeed getting a few million withdrawn. Because, of course, if they succeeded at that, they could much better demand the rest. Besides, the point is that the funds mostly weren't there any more. They had been snatched up by some of the people who were used to playing with them, plus by some people who found ways of gettting their clammy hands on some of them, like Marcos.

My reasons for being interested was in part that these were otherwise normal and pleasant people, and they were having problems they needed help with. Some rather weird, interesting and unusual problems, but still. Secondarily, in case they did happen to get access to even a portion of the lost billions, I could certainly think of ways of helping them flow them in good directions. I'm not thinking of myself, but rather, you could make a hell of an influential non-profit organization with just a very small chunk of the amounts we're talking about. So, in part what I did was to invite a group of people to think together about how one might do that, and how we could present it. And a team of dedicated folks worked for several months and came up with a draft plan for the New Civilization Foundation. The general idea was to support viable distributed alternatives to the oppressive and centralized way things otherwise are done.

I handed the plan to Luz and watched her as she read it over carefully. She didn't blink over the suggested 10 billion dollar yearly budget. As a matter of fact she nodded and said she'd really like to support it, but she had to apologize that it unfortunately wasn't possible at that exact moment.

It didn't particularly get much closer. Luz passed away now a couple of years ago. Jim is her heir, so in principle it is all in his hands. But increasingly unlikely. And he's tired of trying. So, he's concentrating on his book about the whole affair. Here's the simple site I set up for him earlier. The book was initially the "insurance policy". He would publish it, with all the juicy details and names and documents, if the banks didn't cooperate. Well, they didn't and probably won't. And bringing the story to light is more where Jim is at now. The book has grown from the initial one volume to four volumes. He hopes to make the actual publishing happen shortly, and I'm working on a new version of the site for him.  More >

 Philosophy - Honest Money
27 Mar 2003 @ 20:57, by rysa. Economics, Financing, Banking
1. PHILOSOPHY: Universal Commonwealth and Abundance
a. Civilizations are based upon a shared philosophy. The mark of a healthy society is its adherence to the standards guided by its ideology.
b. The Asset Based Financial System is based upon a CommonWealth. Thus it relates to a pervasive distribution and redistribution of energy, resources and currency. The CommonWealth operates as a single organism with the purpose of feeding, protecting and empowering its citizens to growth and achievement.
c. The establishment of the philosophy of universal CommonWealth is the crucial mark in the creation the Asset Based Economy. It demands the full force of an Ideology of force to create a revolutionary change in world economic conditions and provide for a global golden age of prosperity and wealth. Thus the Ideology is the establishment of Utopia through the activation of good will and abundance for all.  More >

 Abolish Corporations4 comments
picture 25 Dec 2002 @ 03:26, by ming. Economics, Financing, Banking
The biggest obstacle blocking the emergence of a free and peaceful world is in my opinion the legal concept of a corporation. It is, in principle, very easily removed, as it is only a legal fiction in the first place, and not any naturally occuring 'god-given' phenomenon or right. Corporations only exist because there are laws saying that they can. In practice it will be very hard to change, exactly because the current corporations can put vast resources to use in protecting and expanding their own power.

People should certainly be able to organize themselves and operate as a group or organization. But a corporation is something else. A corporation is allowed the rights of a natural person. However, it has responsibilities and liabilities less than a natural person. And it can live eternally.

These things can be useful and sensible when it is a small group of people who are trying to operate a business activity together. The initial people don't have to be too worried about being personally liable for the potential failure of the business, and the business can open a bank account for itself, and it can be continued even if the original participants drop out for some reason.

But when it grows bigger, there are certain key design features that start to become prevalent. A corporation is controlled by very few people, but the fuel is provided by a great many people, in the form of investments and manpower.

A large corporation might have the will of one person, carrying out one person's plans, and it has the legal right to act in most arenas as one legal person, but it might have the manpower of 100,000 people, and available resources bigger than those of a small country. All in the hands of a handful of people who don't have any personal liability for what the corporation does.

It is very difficult to successfully convey what a horribly bad idea that is. Most of us are so used to the idea of corporations, and most of us have bought the propaganda that they're inextricably linked to free markets. Nothing could be further from the truth. Large multi-national corporations are the anti-thesis of free markets. They are the communist revolution you never even noticed happening.  More >

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