Saturday, July 3, 2010

The Producer-Consumer Problem, Again

In a earlier post we talked about how a net-producer (Germany) ended up with all the money, and the net consumer (Greece) ended up with lots of debt. Apparently the same thing is happening in the US. US corporations seem to have an extra $1.84 Trillion in cash lying around. And consumers…well.

You will remember the producer-consumer problem: No matter how much cash the consumer starts with, the consumer has to keep spending it, and eventually the producer ends up with all the money. Then the system crashes. The problem is more general, since any difference in relative gains results in one party ending up with all the money. For instance, if we imagine a system of company and labor in balance, and then, say, labor is given a slight cut in pay, eventually the company is going to end up with all the money. And then it’s the company store. 16 tons. That’s because the equilibrium between company and labor is an unstable one: The slightest disturbance and it heads, one way or another, for a crash. (It could head the other way, labor ending up with all the money, the company in bankruptcy. But it hasn’t.)

Now an enlightened government, (we don’t have one,) would either take steps before things got out of hand, (like say around 1990,) or arrange things so that the equilibrium between company and labor was, locally, a stable one. Graduated asset, or property taxes might by one way. Graduated income taxes, one for the corporation, one for labor, though trickier, would be more efficient.

The idea is actually tax and subsidy: Suppose the system of company and labor in balance. Then there would be no net transfer of money, and no taxation or subsidy by the government.. Suppose the company got a little ahead. Then there would be a slightly greater tax on its earnings than this increase, which would, directly or indirectly, go to labor, to bring it back down to equilibrium. If labor got ahead, there would be a tax on labor, which would go to subsidize the company, to bring the system back to equilibrium.

This oversimplifies things. Of course, you want the system to grow. That means business has to make a profit. It has to have the extra money to invest in itself. But this profit would have to be shared, since you want labor, (demand) to grow apace. One way to do this would be to induce inflation. Suppose with a 3% inflation rate, the company has a nominal 6% profit. The government spends the extra, inflation inducing deficit on labor, effectively sharing the profits. Hmm. Interesting. Another motive for moderate inflation. In fact, the whole thing could be managed through the rate of inflation: Set inflation to over half the nominal profit rate of business to transfer resources to labor, so demand would grow faster, or to under half, to transfer resources from labor to business, so supply would grow faster.

Another Hmm. We’ve been at very low inflation for along time now. We should not be surprised, then, that corporations have a lot of extra cash. There’s been a lot of transference of money from labor to business in recent years. So not only do we have grounds for policy, but we have an explanation, in part, anyway, for what is now happening.

As grounds for policy, though, it has problems, most noticeably the delay between the time the money is actually pumped into the system and the inflationary effect. Perhaps business profits could be anticipated…

But what is to be done with the current corporate cash glut. Well things are way ($6000 per capita) out of balance. The problem, of course, is that the corporations have no motive to spend the money on increased production: Consumers (labor) don’t have any money to spend! So corporations have to be induced to give it up, or it has to be taken from them, or government can print more money to give to labor, to compensate.

So we have a financial asset tax on corporations. And a tax holiday for labor.
But, our government has neither the guts, nor the sense. And, of course, there’s all those bonds.

By the way, if corporations have been taking money out of the system in equal amounts over the last 10 years, about $184 Billion per year, then that contributes about 1.3% per year deflationary pressure, that is inflation would be 1.3% more without their hoarding all that money.

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