Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Invisible Voter

I've been reading a book called Literature and the Economics of Liberty, a collection of essays about economic principles found in classic novels. What drew my attention to it was one of the essays on The Invisible Man by H. G. Wells. I had read the book as a kid, strictly as a science fiction story, with no thought of it's literary value. Most literary types will tell you that it is a story of the loss of individualism in modern society. In the essay, Paul A. Cantor says it's a critique of capitalism. I think I'll stick with conventional wisdom on this one, but it did get me thinking about alternative interpretations.

The story itself, for those who only saw the movie, concerns a young scientist of limited income. Rejected by the powers that be, he takes a room in the London slums to work on his idea. He is forced to deal with the worst of humanity, from petty thieves to snooping landlords. Once his experiments become reality, he soon finds disadvantages to invisibility that he hadn't considered. There is no way for him to make an honest living. He can have all the money he wants, but there is nothing he can buy. He can eat the finest food, but only in isolation. He can hear any private conversation, but there is no-one with whom he can talk. His attempts to find an ally all end in betrayal. His frustration turns to anger and the townspeople's curiosity turns to fear.

Jump forward now, from 1898 when The Invisible Man was first published, to yesterday, when this appeared on the Vox Day blog:

In 2008, the bankers, bureaucrats, and politicians tore the veil of the unwritten American social contract that permitted our debt-based economy to function. While the deck was always stacked to the benefit of the financial elite, it wasn't always so egregious. But in ramming through TARP and the bailouts over the furious objections of the American people, they shattered the illusion of relative fairness... The parasites came to believe they were invaluable and in doing so forgot the very first rule of parasitism: do not harm the host.

We, the host, have become invisible. We can see the bankers, bureaucrats and politicians, but they can't see us. Outside the halls of money and power, there are only the faint sounds of footsteps and the vague feeling of an unseen presence. We hear them talking and have no means to enter the conversation in any meaningful way. Our coins are worthless. Our isolation from them is as near complete as their betrayal is of us. Yes, we are frustrated and angry, and for that, we receive fear in return.

Unlike Mr. Wells' story, we the invisible are many, and the townspeople are few. For the time being, there is little we can do about the massive fraud of our bankster government. The fix is in. They're going to get away with it, and everybody knows it. We are at the point in the story where the Invisible Man sits alone in the countryside, pondering his next move, thinking through how best to make his retribution felt. And the townspeople are hearing strange stories, unsure of what to believe, but planning their defense nonetheless.

When the politician's solicitations appear in your inbox, when their pictures are above the fold, and when their blathering voices won't leave the TV set, remember, they can't see you. They're unsure you even exist. When the time comes to enter the voting booth and make your presence known, ask yourself; 'Who among these people could hear the sound of my voice without reacting in fear? Who will be an ally of the invisible?'

Sunday, February 14, 2010

REAP's Website Upgrade

Dr. Gary Smith, who heads the Regional Economic Analysis Project (REAP), has announced a major upgrade for the Nevada website.

Many of the enhancements we made to the website are backstage and may not meet your eye from the front end: a new computer server, new server software (Win Server 2008), and a major revamp and restructuring of the programming architecture for the entire website...we’ve endeavored to make more explicit the functional characteristics of the menus to help novices better navigate.

Well, I think I qualify as a "novice economist" (who isn't?), so I decided to give it a spin. Just poking around in the introductory analysis on income growth, Dr. Smith's analysis, along with Dr. Tom Harris of UNR's University Center for Economic Development (UCED), shows a rise in property income and transfer payments as indicative of an influx of retirees. So, is Reno turning into a retirement community?

In the "Personal Income by Major Source" section, is a spreadsheet that anyone can use. A menu on the right side of the page offers several choices for different areas. I made the following chart showing Reno/Sparks, using Population Growth as a yardstick to compare with Transfer Payments (social security, medicare, etc.). Transfer Payments also includes sub-categories that are not retirement related, but I'll dig a little deeper later. I also included State/Local government income and non-military Federal income just because the growth of government is my favorite pet peeve.


Population shows a steady rise while transfer payments are going through the roof. Income from state and local government workers also shows a sharp increase, which in fairness, could be due as much to the housing situations between Reno and Carson City, as well as other factors. The Feds keep a low profile in line with population.

There are several sub-categories for things, and I had wanted to look at housing a little deeper, but there are just enough years marked "U", for unreported, to make a chart rather meaningless. The Retail Trade category might offer some insight as to how things have been going.

REAP_Reno Retail

The retail trade looks to have had a mini-boom/bust cycle in the late 90's from which it has never recovered. This is only one small piece of the puzzle, and a bit of an apples to oranges comparison at that, but comparing retail to transfer payments, it's easy to see why our state has a budget problem. The supply of the profit-seeking and productive has been shrinking while the demands of the unprofitable and unproductive has been rising. The so-called "Death of Capitalism" may yet take the welfare state with it.

In any case, Dr's Smith and Harris have been doing yeoman's work gathering and publishing economic data tailored to our area. As I've noted in previous posts, most economists are content to talk to each other. A precious few are willing to take the time and make the effort to educate the general public. This website does seem much easier to use than before. Why that is, is hard to say. There is a more natural progression between the pages, and the menu's are better explained. Like all websites everywhere, it remains a work in progress. This a tremendous asset for any Nevadan interested in the relationships of economic growth and decline.