A Frank Letter to the Homeless Man Under the Bridge

letter-to-homelessThis is a re-post from eight years ago. I still feel the same.

I see you standing here, asking for help, about once a week. You are always polite, and I respect that. I’d like to do something for you… something that would matter long-term. Giving you a few notes or coins now and then may be fine, but I’d really like to improve your situation more permanently.

In other words, I’d like to give you a job. Continue reading “A Frank Letter to the Homeless Man Under the Bridge”

Free Money Doesn’t Fix Broken Processes


Massive monetary bailouts have been ordered and more are promised to follow. A first, and completely valid, first response goes something like this:

So, you’re printing up six trillion dollars, giving 7/8ths to banks and corporations and 1/8th back to us… which we’ll be taxed on… plus, all that money creates a monster deficit that our children be expected to pay back anyway? The honest answer, if it were ever given, would be “yes.” And for this we’re expected to thank them!

So, angry responses are understandable. That said, I want to go deeper, down to the things that cannot be fixed with ever-more money.

Business is a massive coordination of people, materials, information, tools and machines. Money is just something we use to exchange these things efficiently; it doesn’t directly fix any of them when they break.

If a business process is broken, money allows you to thrown more tools and people at it. But if the break in the process doesn’t respond to those things, more money won’t fix it. Here’s an example:

  1. A business finds that they can’t send their goods by cargo ship as usual. The manufacturing of some part was considered non-essential and the boats won’t be sailing for weeks at least.

  2. The business can consider shipping by air, but they’ll also be guaranteed to lose money on the order, since that option is much more expensive.

  3. The new money available to them is a loan, not a gift. If the company takes the free money and sends their goods by air, they’ll be unable to repay the loan, ending their business.

So, free money doesn’t fix this kind of broken process, of which there will be many. (And the longer things are locked down, the more there will be.)

And consider what happens if the manufacturer of the critical part goes bankrupt. No one automatically picks up the slack, and if there’s a file cabinet full of regulations to be conquered before making the missing part, will anyone want to attack that obstacle? Better off to start a new robot company.

So, we’re in for a lot of shortages. Eventually things will limp back to functionality – Europe recovered from World War II, after all – but only after a lot of pain and loss. Politicians don’t let go of regulations until lots of people suffer and/or die. And the corporations who paid for those regulations are likely to fight the whole way.

As I noted recently, politicians understand nothing about business. An economy, to them, is a big, magic box that spits things out. They’ll be the last to understand what’s happening, and they’ll knee-jerk to more and more centralized responses… until they can’t.

**

Paul Rosenberg

freemansperspective.com

I Am Not a Ferengi

ferengiCall me a businessman if you like; an entrepreneur, a capitalist even… but I am not a Ferengi, dedicated to grabbing as much of your money as I can, however I can.

If that was all I wanted, I’d be exploiting Washington and Wall Street, or maybe I’d see if I could wriggle my way into central banking.

And just in case some of you are not familiar with the term, the Ferengi are a fictional race of aliens in the Star Trek universe. They are characterized by a completely amoral obsession with profit. Here, to illustrate, are a few of their Rules of Acquisition:

The best deal is the one that makes the most profit.

Anything worth doing is worth doing for money.

A deal is a deal (is a deal)… until a better one comes along.

Expand or die.

Learn the customer’s weaknesses, so that you can better take advantage of him.

The reason I bring this up is that I have, for too many years, heard people repeating the slogan, “The job of a company’s management is to maximize profit for the stockholders.” If you want to define “profit” more broadly than currency units, the statement is okay, but I’ve very seldom heard it used that way.

If all that matters to you and your company are the Rules of Acquisition, you should be bribing politicians and marketing cocaine. And yes, sadly, there are companies whose managers believe in the Rules of Acquisition but are too slick to admit it.

I happen to think that business is much bigger and much better than that.

“Why Is the Hippie in Crypto?”

I manage a company called Cryptohippie, and this is a question I get from time to time, and I think the answer is illustrative:

The people who run our company decided on this name to make what we think is an important point. This is a humane mission for us and not about the maximization of profits. We all had other careers; we didn’t need to start the company. We did it because it needed to be done and because no one was doing it even remotely well.

We see profits as a tool, not as the sole purpose of our lives. And that’s my point today. There has to be something more to your business than profits alone, or else you may as well exploit human weaknesses, spread enough money around to secure profitable legislation, and pay off whatever enforcers you need to.

I believe the contrary: that business can be a great, creative venture, delivering real benefits to humanity. Businesses feed people; they move them effectively; they house them, clothe them, cure their diseases, and so on.

Businesses bless humanity.

Good businessmen and women are blessings to the world. They are not craven Ferengi, perpetually grasping at everyone else’s wallet.

Yes, Profits Are Important

Indeed they are. And in truth, profits are far more than important; they are no less than essential. And here’s how necessary I believe they are:

Without profits, we go back to slavery.

If you’d like support for that statement, you can find it here.

To portray profit as something dirty is immensely ignorant. Sure, some Ferengi-type operators may be dirty, but as an ancient prophet once wrote, “What is the chaff to the wheat?”

Why I Love Business

If you look carefully through history, one of the things that will jump out at you is that the real good of mankind doesn’t come from governments, but from business: from traders, from the financiers who make trade possible, from hustlers, smugglers, inventors, entrepreneurs, and small business people of all sorts. Governments and other hierarchies just get in the way to a greater or lesser extent. Commerce frees people from poverty and grim lives of bare subsistence.

Think of a poor boy growing up in a small village, living in the same primitive squalor that his great-great-great-grandfather did. Then he gets a chance to work in a condition of market-based trade. He works very hard, lives responsibly, and makes a beautiful life for himself, for his wife, and for his children.

It’s commerce that makes that possible, not rulers.

My Point…

My point is that “businessman” should be a term of honor.

Yes, I know, we’re coming out of a century where Marx ruled the university, ruled half the political dialog, and ruled over a goodly portion of the planet. And I know that even with the sickening death toll attributable to Marxist ideas (or at least Marxist-Leninist ideas), the slander on profit continues. Businesspeople and economists, however, should not be helping such ideas along.

Good businesses bless the world, and if that isn’t what we’re doing, what’s the point?

Business is not a competition to stack up the most game chips and to declare ourselves the monkey with the most… or at least I don’t think it is.

The point of business is to bless ourselves while blessing others. There is virtue and beauty and honor in that. To portray it as anything less is to devalue ourselves.

Paul Rosenberg
www.freemansperspective.com

A Report from Middle America

middle americaI was recently involved in a day of meetings with small business owners in the American Midwest. It was both encouraging and sad at the same time.

What I Found First

Overall, I found a large room full of productive human beings. It was uplifting. Most of these people were between thirty and seventy years old, more men than women, and they were all productive people, the kind who get up early every day, make sure that complex systems are producing properly, fix anything that is broken or near breaking, plan for the future, cooperate with large numbers of other people, and then go home at the end of the day and love their families.

If all the world lived like these people, we’d be halfway to a paradise by now. And that was a thought that made me sad.

Why? Because these people – by any standard of decency – should be left alone to create their better world. But instead, they are forcibly tied to wasteful, parasitic, and destructive systems. Half or more of their earnings are taken from them every year. Their actions are restricted by their moral inferiors. They live less than half the rewarding lives they should be enjoying, and for no defensible reason.

The Other Things

Beyond my overall happy/sad impressions, I found quite a few particular things:

  • These people would have preferred to discuss the practical particulars of their businesses – tools, materials, technical obstacles and solutions, and so on. But instead, they were forced to discuss government compliance. Almost every subject discussed from the front of the room dealt with government regulations. Most of the subjects discussed on the sides involved tools, equipment, business strategies and so on.
  • Dealing with employees is a major issue, especially involving the immigration police. These people are justifiably concerned with fines and indictments, just from hiring employees who are clearly long-time Americans. (That is, not Hispanics or other recent immigrants.) A few of the comments I heard:

“Good luck trying to explain that to an ICE agent.”

“Do NOT waive the 72 hour waiting period.”

“Do NOT allow them to enter your facility or inspect anything without authorization from counsel.”

  • Nearly all of these people agreed that government in America is out of control, abusive, and oppositional to their happiness. I think that’s a positive opinion, since it reflects reality, meaning that they have stopped looking at the world through myth-colored glasses. The sad part of that is…
  • These (good) people don’t know what to do about it. The system they grew up believing was their friend has turned against them. They’ve gathered the considerable courage required to face that, but they don’t know what to do next. They are working within the system as they can, trying to avoid its hazards, but don’t see any clear alternative – and no path of escape. They’d like to do other things, but they also need to feed their kids, and don’t know what to do about it all.
  • Bitcoin is spreading everywhere. One of these business owners, in a very rural area, has built a Bitcoin mining operation. And not only Bitcoin, he is also mining for the other cryptocurrencies. And, he’s telling everyone else about it. I was surprised (and pleased) by this, since this meeting had absolutely nothing to do with computers, economics, or anything else that usually connects to cryptocurrencies. This man simply saw a great opportunity and jumped on it.

All In All

All in all, I came away from the day more confident in the future than I had been the day before.

We are exposed to so many horror stories every day. The images thrust upon us show a world filled with danger and discouragement. The reality, however – once you remove yourself from the newsfeed – is that there are a lot of very decent people who are generally doing the right things.

Our job now is to define newer and better ways to live and to spread that information to as many good people as we can. And to remind them they DO have the right to live good, happy, prosperous lives.

Please do everything you can along these lines. Thanks.

Paul Rosenberg
FreemansPerspective.com

The Fascist’s Guide to Business Success

business successI was downtown last Thursday and ended up with an hour to kill before my train home, so I went down the station’s back stairs and around the corner to Jay’s Bar. It was almost six o’clock, so the crowd was a mix of corporate suits buying expensive vodka, tradesmen enjoying decent beer, and jobless neighborhood guys drinking cheap beer. I ordered something inoffensive and watched to see if any of my old Cypherpunk pals would show up.

But instead, my oldest nemesis showed up, whom I’ll call Jerry. I went to school with Jerry, and whatever I did, he was always desperate to do better. The crazy thing was that we were almost the same guy: We played the same positions in sports; we were both crossing guards; and we were equally skilled at almost everything we did. We should have been buddies, but instead, Jerry was my permanent opponent. I never hated him and he never really hated me, but whatever I did, he had to do better.

I hadn’t run into Jerry in ten years, and the last time I saw him, he was trading coffee futures. We greeted each other; then, he sat down and ordered a better drink than mine. He asked what I was doing lately. I did not mention that I was writing – this job is strange enough without Jerry turning it into a win-lose game. Instead, I said that I was managing a few companies.

“Are they big companies?” he asked.

“Nah, they’re small start-ups.”

He got a disgusted look on his face, and I knew immediately what it was – he was disappointed that beating me wasn’t going to be a challenge.

“That’s for suckers, Paul. You’re smart enough to know that!” He was legitimately disappointed.

“It isn’t just about money, Jerry.”

He looked double-disgusted. And then he looked sympathetic. He was actually sorry that I had lost my edge, and wanted to help me get it back.

“Look, Paul, all that ‘how to get ahead’ stuff we used to read is ancient history. That world ended in 1980. If you want to get ahead now, you have to play the new game.”

I knew what he meant; the old ideal of “work hard, follow the rules, and prosper” is indeed dead. But I said nothing and waited for him to continue.

“You can’t outsmart people anymore; information gets around too fast. They’ll copy what you’re doing in a week. If you want to make real money, you have to have an advantage that will last. And that means you have to get some kind of law or regulation. Then you can rake it in.”

At this point I couldn’t help myself. “I don’t want to whore myself out to politicians, Jerry.” And again he got the disgusted look.

“It’s not whoring, Paul, it’s business. This is how it is now. And the politicians are always looking for smart guys who know how to make money. They’ll be thrilled to write regulations for you! You just have to tell them how, and then take care of them. They’re business expenses, Paul, nothing more!”

At this point I needed to change the subject, at least a little.

“So, is that what you’ve been doing lately?”

“Yes. I work deals between boards of directors and government officials, mostly between New York and DC. I put the deals together and get a piece of the action. I have four homes now Paul, and a fifty four foot boat. And you know what else? I’ve got a dozen ‘get out of jail free cards.’ This is the perfect game for a smart guy, Paul. You need to get busy playing it!”

In his own, thoroughly amoral way, Jerry was looking out for me.

“But what about the people who get screwed on this stuff, Jerry? All those regulations force people to buy things they don’t want.”

“C’mon, Paul, you’re fantasizing that they’re moral, like you. They want laws and regulations. They beg for them! They need politicians to order them around, and they need someone to blame. Otherwise, things might be their own fault.

“The extra money they pay is just a service fee. They want to be ordered around, and they pay the price without complaining. When was the last time you saw someone disobey a government?”

“Not in a while.”

“Right, because they don’t actually mind paying. We’re giving the average schmuck exactly what he wants: orders to follow and someone to blame. And we get paid a lot of money for it.”

Then Jerry looked at his watch and tossed a twenty on the bar.

“Look, I hafta go, but think about what I told you, Paul. You should be doing better.”

And with that, Jerry walked away, probably for another ten years… though more would probably be better. But as unpleasant as the conversation was, he was right. The current situation is that way.

I don’t think I’ve ever heard a better argument for an alternative economy.

Paul Rosenberg
www.FreemansPerspective.com