Archive for Market Insight

Was Marx Right? — Paul Mason’s “Postcapitalism: A Guide to Our Future”

In “Postcapitalism: A Guide to Our Future”, English journalist and broadcaster Paul Mason sets out in the third chapter to build on the theories of waves and cycles, and how Marxists leaned heavily on the idea of that capitalism was inevitability doomed to collapse. He starts in the near present (2008) with the resurgent popularity of Karl Marx, or “Marx-mania” as he puts it, and then works his way back bringing in the entire panoply of Marxist dramatis personnæ — many of whom were unknown to me.

According to Karl Marx, capitalism is beset by crises and breakdowns making it inherently unstable. While classical economists Adam Smith and Malthus explored the limits to capital as “barriers to expansion, decline of profit, and the fragility of stable growth”, Marxist theorists Rudolf Hilferding and Rosa Luxembourg by contrast awaited its doom.

My own curiosity had previously led me to Richard D. Wolff, an economics professor turned Marxist rock star in the wake of society’s disillusionment with the current state of capitalism. Among his followers he’s best known for the quip, “If you lived with a roommate as unstable as capitalism, you would have moved out long ago.”

Listen to Professor Richard D. Wolff’s widely popular monthly updates (May 2016):

Mason focuses on the theorists and activists of the early twentieth century and how their interpretations influenced the inter-war years and the rise of the Soviet Union. Luxemburg, who was critical of Lenin (but who was embraced by later communist acolytes), asked questions that we’re asking again today: “What happens when the whole world is industrialised?” and “What happens if it can’t create new markets within the existing economy?” She proposed that capitalism is not cyclical, but is in fact fatally flawed (a conceit held by Wolff and many others today). Observing the increasing financialisation of the economy, Hilferding concurred that “finance-dominated capitalism was proof of the system’s imminent doom”. Mason both praises these theorists when they moved toward concrete facts and criticizes them for their abstractions, particularly for ignoring the adaptive nature of capitalism.

Here’s Noam Chomsky on Rosa Luxemburg and Revolution (2013)

Mason ends the chapter describing the “perfect wave”, aka the typical wave structure of capitalism (I paraphrase here):

  1. The start of a wave is usually preceded by the build-up of capital in the finance system
  2. Once new technologies, business models and market structures, capital rushes in.
  3. In each up cycle, the economy has no trouble absorbing new workers into the workforce.
  4. When the ‘golden age’ stalls, there is a traumatic break point.
  5. Now the adaptations: attacks on wages, redistribution projects; and recessions become more frequent.
  6. If adaptation fails, capital retreats from the productive sector and into finance systems (as we’re seeing right now).

All of this of course is to pave the way for the premise of the book: “That there is a different route beyond capitalism”.

 

The Seventh Wave — Paul Mason’s “Postcapitalism: A Guide to Our Future”

Seventh-Wave

In Paul Mason’s “Postcapitalism: A Guide to Our Future”, the book I’m serial reviewing chapter by chapter, I’ve come upon some of his most colourful writing. Writing that also completes a gap in my understanding of Marxist economic theory.

In the second chapter, Mason sets out rhapsodically to describe the discovery of sine waves, from their natural origin to Classical Indian mathematics to harmonics in music and even with the presence of “waves within waves” that surfers rely on. It takes Mason less than a page to bring this metaphor back to his dissection of capitalist economics and from there he launches into market long cycle theory and crisis theory.

He starts by describing the sad demise of Russian economist Nikolai Kondratieff, whose assertion that Capitalism wasn’t ultimately doomed but was instead cyclical in nature. This caused Stalin and the Bolshevik boys to go all aggro on him as Communist orthodoxy at the time could only tolerate the tenet of Capitalism’s imminent collapse. So poor old Kondratieff finished his own earthly cycles in 1938 at the receiving end of a firing squad.

Mason defines some important concepts to Kondratieff’s capitalist theory – the theory of fifty-year cycles or long waves. Or in Kondratieff’s words,

During roughly the first two decades before the beginning of the rising wave of a long cycle, we observe an invigoration of technical inventions. Before and during the beginning of the rising wave, we observe the broad application of these inventions in industrial practice, due to the re-organisation of production relations…

Mason neatly translates this for modern internet-conditioned readers:

  • The rollout of new technologies
  • The rise of new business models
  • New countries dragged into the global market
  • A rise in the quantity and availability of money.

This chapter reminded me of the intellectual rigour and liveliness among thinkers and theorists in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, particularly in Soviet Russia. In the era we’re presently leaving, it seemed there has been no debate to be had about Capitalism and Socialism. As neoliberal Maggie Thatcher put it, “There is no alternative.” Now the question is—a question I suspect Mason is working up to answering—is Capitalism coming to the end of one of its fifty-year long cycles, or is this really it?

Neoliberalism is Broken — Paul Mason’s “Postcapitalism: A Guide to Our Future”

NeoliberalismisBroken

As I continue to rip my way through Paul Mason’s “Postcapitalism: A Guide to Our Future”, I realise that Mason’s fluid writing style is what makes this book such captivating reading. That and his descriptions of the shenanigans of modern economics, concepts I’ve struggled to understand for years, which Mason quickly renders into facile waves of concise prose.

In the first chapter, Mason identifies for the four horsemen (my edit) of neoliberalism which have created the modern world (circa 1988) and are now destroying it: Fiat money, financialization, global imbalances, and information technology. In a single paragraph, he clarified my hazy understanding of what’s meant by fiat money, “The Latin word ‘fiat’ means the same as it does in the biblical phrase fiat lux – let there be light; it means ‘let there be money’ created out of nowhere. In Texas, there was land, cattle and trade – but not enough of them to warrant printing $4 million and incurring a public debt of $10 million. The paper money collapse and ultimately the Texan Republic disappeared.”

The gradual move away from pegging money to real value (such as the gold standard) and the tendency of banks to deregulate has paved the wave for “gaming the system” or what others call casino banking. Since the repeal of the Glass-Steagall act, “Banking became an ever-changing tactical game focused on skimming money off your competitors, your customers and your business clients. This created the third basic reflex of neoliberalism: the widespread illusion that you can generate money out of money alone.”

Here’s Bernie Sanders back in 1999 denouncing the Financial Services Modernization Act – a repeal of the Glass-Steagall banking protections.

Mason describes the tendency of our economy to rely increasingly on financialization (such as the pre-2008 US housing bubble), even to hallucinatory levels, which ominously portents the final stages of decay in other societies ranging from the Genoese Rupublic in the late Middle Ages, to the Netherlands in the 17th Century, and London in the late British Empire.

Most astounding for me, Mason goes back to the real beginnings of trade and disputes the common assumption that money arose out of the difficulties with barter. He quotes David Graeber who found no evidence that early human societites used barter, or that money emerged from it. Instead, Mason underlines the most fundamental necessity for trade and commerce to work: “They used trust.”

Hear Paul Mason speaking on Postcapitalism: Envisaging a Shared Future at St Paul’s Cathedral, London.

Reading Paul Mason’s “Postcapitalism: A Guide to Our Future”

Postcapitalism

Writers like Seth Godin giddily describe the “new economy” as if still buffeted and buoyed by Mid-Century optimism. Seth credits the Internet for decentralizing work, “Technology has enabled the transition to the new economy, but connections in the new economy are fueled by a focus on two specific aspects of humanity – generosity and art.” But Paul Mason goes deeper. Much deeper.

Paul Mason tears at the heart of the beast—Neoliberalism. Neoliberalism—that system of endless growth, deregulation, high finance—is The Matrix, “It’s everywhere, it is all around us. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.” Neoliberalism has been so normalized as how things are run that we constantly have to review our understanding of it to remember what it is.

Reading Mason’s “Postcapitalism” also gives credence to Ralph Nader and Chris Hedges’s refusal to endorse Bernie Sanders on the grounds that he’s thrown his lot in with the Democratic party (although Hedges’s hedges his bets with Sanders based on his stand vis-à-vis Israel and the Palestine question). They know that America’s two leading political parties are no more than two flavours of vanilla—two near identical facets of the same same system.

Mason contrasts the revolts and uprisings following the collapse of 2008 and the Establishment’s attempts to suppress them with a different path opening up, “The main contradiction today is between the possibility of free, abundant goods and information and a system of monopolies, banks and governments trying to keep things private, scarce and commercial. Everything comes down to the struggle between the network and the hierarchy, between old forms of society moulded around capitalism and new forms of society that prefigure what comes next.”

Listen to Paul Mason’s talk at Google Recorded in December 2015, London.

Grammar NAZIs! Meet your Nuremberg Trial

Or…When good grammar just isn’t good enough…

Vancouver’s suburban Lougheed Highway wends its way through Burnaby with predictable consistency. At each Skytrain station paralleling the route follows a rhythmic punctuation of corporate conformity — a London Drugs, a Starbucks, a Buy-Low Foods, a capping glass condo tower. Then repeat to the horizon line. Monotony enough to put envy into the heart of any Cold War-era urban planner. So much for Capitalist diversity.

How gratifying to know then that there are a few cells of non conformity hiding within the corporate state. Take for example, the copy editor. While much of the literate world has long since parsed out the difference between “its” and “it’s”, how refreshing to come upon a non-conformist writer who dares to shake up the rules of grammar a bit. Otherwise, explain these gems.

With its jazzy use of “it’s”, I find this subtitle scintillating. It jumps out like a tangy note of peppercorn in an otherwise grey merlot. “It’s top business sectors” or more accurately “It is top business sectors” connotes authority in a way the correct form just can’t.

Don’t be fooled — the clever writer of this next one knows how to get eyeballs on paper.

Amphibious

Compared with the worn-out tricks of social media gurus and their endless listicles (“OMG – The 7 Things you need to know about nose hairs that will completely change your life forever!”), I’ll choose the well-placed malapropism every time!

There are corporate disruptors; then there are the outright anarchists. The latter I believe to be behind this next masterpiece of subject/pronoun mixology.

Subject/verb agreement magnum opus

Subject/verb agreement magnum opus

Putting aside the grey imagery of office furniture representing not a company and most certainly not people, it would be so simple to just change “company” to “companies” and put an end to this vertiginous dance between the pronoun (“them”) and its potential suitors (the two nouns in the sentence). But isn’t “company” a “them”, which has people in them? Yeah I s’pose, but it’s a collective noun so it should be singular…but wait, it’s people we’re talking about…them is people. Inside people? You see. That’s why I prefer the roller coaster whiplash Magna Search Group unleashed to the pedantic approach favoured by textbooks. It’s far more exciting.

And can you imagine yourself a fly on a wall at the Marketing think tank when they came up with such a slogan? Okay start again, “Only a company is good, if they have people in them.” No, “Inside of a company, they is people, good ‘uns.”, No wait, I’ve got it. “Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend. Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read”, um…

This next one is just pure anarchy and needs no further comment.

It's raining cats and dogs, with a chance of lizzards this evening...

It’s raining cats and dogs, with a chance of lizzards this evening…

How it ends…not with a bang, nor a whimper…

Scientists speculate sometimes that an asteroid impact would be what it would take to throw us all back into the Stone Age. But no one ever imagines that the end of modernity could actually turn out to be something much less dire…

How it turned out was a coronal mass ejection.

With our power grids destroyed, modernity as we knew it came to an abrupt end. Lacking satellite communications, international travel, automated traffic systems, and mobile phones, we could do nothing but gather with our friends around the piano, singing by candlelight.

Instead of the Stone Age, we’d been thrown back into the Biedermeier.

“They all agreed that they could scarcely remember the time when ceaselessly checking their iPhones seemed so important.”

2013 ATA Critical Issues and the Road Ahead

TheRoadAhead

Last week at the 2013 Management Conference and Exhibition, Bill Graves’ “State of the Industry” keynote address quoted from Bob Dylan’s classic song, “The Times They Are a Changin’”, and this year’s Critical Issues in the Trucking Industry – 2013 report by The American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) gives further fuel to idea that the trucking industry is in the midst of profound changes.

The Report’s opening salvo describes “no shortage of changes and challenges” and then goes on to innumerate the new federal House of Service rules that went into effect July 1, 2013, unknown safety impacts stemming from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) CSA Initiative, pending changes to regulations around electronic logging devices (ELD), and even driver shortages resulting from a revitalizing economy and more stringent CSA regulations.

How Its Top-Ten Issues are Calculated

To create the report, respondents from the industry are surveyed and asked to give values to the issues affecting the industry based on the Industry Concern Index (ICI). From that, the top-ten list is developed with particular attention paid to the top-three spots.

2012-ATRI-Survey-Stats

Hours of Service

This year, Hours of Service achieved top billing for the first time in three years. Its promotion is due largely to the new US Federal HOS rules surrounding 30-minute mandatory breaks and the 34-hour restart rule.

  • 30-Minute Mandatory Break – Drivers of a CMV operating in the US cannot drive if more than eight hours have passed since the driver’s last off-duty or sleeper break of 30 minutes or more.  When a driver reaches the eighth hour into the work shift, before continuing the driver must take a 30-minute break.
  • Restart Rules – A 34-hour restart is a “valid” restart only if the driver ensures that the period includes two back-to-back nighttime rest periods from 1:00 a.m. to 5:00 a.m. The restart rules restrict how often a restart can be used. If a driver restarts more often than what’s allowed by US rules, the driver must indicate on the log which restart will be the one that’s being used as the valid restart.

CSA

Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) was eclipsed by HOS this year, but it still held the number two spot. According to ATRI, “Two of the most significant areas of concern surrounding CSA are the lack of crash accountability in CSA scoring and the inability of CSA scores to accurately predict carrier safety performance”.

Driver Shortage

While the concern over driver shortages has dropped since its heyday back in 2006, it still rocks the top-three concerns for trucking. Even with the economy growing again and increased CSA regulations, opinions vary regarding the true source of driver shortages. Most agree that it’s a multi-faceted issue. According to ATA, estimates of the driver shortage run between 20,000 and 25,000 drivers.

Get the full report

At Webtech Wireless, we anticipate changes to HOS rules and provide regular software and hardware updates well in advance of change deadlines to ensure our customers never experience downtime and business interruption. In addition to readying all of our customers for the new HOS rules last July, in the previous December, we released an update of our In-Cab solution to offer HOS Oil Well Waiting capability for fleets in the Oil and Gas sector. Our new Webtech Driver Center is our latest solution to provide a single software platform for Hours of Service.

If you’d like a full copy of the Report, contact ATRI and complete their request form.

Highway Infrastructure Upgrades : The Good News

Webtech-FHWA

Commonwealth of Kentucky, Governor Steve Beshear at the ground breaking ceremony for the $1.3 billion Downtown Crossing project. Courtesy FHWA

Our customers know the challenge of deploying the infrastructure needed for a successful GPS/AVL deployment. The Commonwealth of Kentucky has been a leader in using telematics to improve its fleet performance, increase fuel efficiency, while keeping everyone who uses its fleet accountable. The Commonwealth is now leading the way in new highway infrastructure development. But first, a little background on this critical US infrastructure is in order.

The US Interstate system accounts for just 1.2 percent of U.S. highway miles, but at 47,000 miles, it carries 24.2 percent of all highway traffic. Since it was inaugurated during the Eisenhower administration in 1956, it’s been hard pressed to match maintenance and upgrades with the forces of wear and tear. Daily life and businesses are inconvenienced by highway construction, but that’s nothing compared with how inconvenienced people feel if a bridge fails or a route has to be shut down? Consider the long line ups on the I-5 following the recent collapse of the bridge over the Skagit river in Washington to know what inconvenience is.

According to the US Department of Transportation’s FHWA (Federal Highway Administration), “The movement of freight dominates trucking activity and is a significant component of highway traffic. Three-fourths of VMT by trucks larger than pickups and vans is for carrying freight, with much of the rest being for empty back-hauls or serving construction and utilities. Single-unit and combination trucks accounted for every fourth vehicle on almost 28,000 miles of the NHS in 2007, and 6,000 of those miles carried more than 8,500 trucks on an average day.” In other words, the US economy relies heavily on the smooth movement of freight along its interstate highways. While the bill to repair aging infrastructure may seem astronomical ($688 billion at last count), the cost to the economy of not maintaining it is much higher.

As part of the grants program for new technologies, the Federal government is deploying an ambitious program to help states improve safety and reduce congestion using new technologies. For example, on June 4, 2013, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood awarded more than $16 million to 14 innovative highway and bridge projects in 13 states (and the District of Columbia) designed “to improve safety, create jobs and enhance the quality of transportation infrastructure”.

FHWA Highways for LIFE FY2013 Discretionary Grants. Courtesy http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/pressroom

The FHWA’s Highways for LIFE (HfL) grants “encourage the use of innovative technologies and practices on America’s roads and bridges, such as accelerated bridge construction, cutting-edge building materials and advanced methods for construction project management. FHWA received 29 applications requesting more than $43 million.”

Governor Steve Beshear, of The Commonwealth of Kentucky recently launched the ground breaking ceremony for the $1.3 billion Downtown Crossing project over the Ohio River. The states of Indiana and Kentucky are working together to build the bridge between the cities of Jeffersonville and Louisville. “These bridges link more than just two banks of this historic river,”  Beshear said. “They connect people. They create possibilities. They keep commerce flowing and jobs growing. They preserve our way of life and they promise a better tomorrow.”

Like Governor Beshear, we want to create a better tomorrow by automating fleets with our GPS/AVL solutions.

New HOS Rules Mean “Comply by July”

New_HOS_Regs

Federally regulated rules and driver monitoring raise the specter of Big Brother with anyone considering a monitoring solution, but while some blatantly flout the law and force their drivers to work long hours, others lose sleep at night worrying about the safety of their drivers and operations.

Changes in HOS rules are rarely popular. The National Private Truck Council is currently running a survey and posing the question, “With the new Hours of Service rules effective due to take place July 1, 2013, what is your fleet’s estimated loss of productivity?”, but with the increase in accidents attributed to fatigued drivers, it’s no wonder that the US DoT continues to update its regulations. Safety trumps all.

At Webtech Wireless, we anticipate changes to HOS rules and provide regular software and hardware updates well in advance of change deadlines to ensure our customers never experience downtime and business interruption.

We Were Ready Then

Last December, we released an update of our MDT 3100 In-Cab solution to offer HOS Oil Well Waiting capability for fleets in the Oil and Gas sector. With Oil Well Waiting, drivers could track time waiting at a well site without it counting against their HOS time limit. This capability ensured fleets could remain competitive while complying with FMCSA HOS regulations. At the time, our Quadrant VP of Products and Services, Ernie Chatham said “This feature is designed with drivers in mind. It’s easy to use and the interface and workflow are simple, allowing for quick training, simple implementation, and immediate cost savings.”

We’re Ready Now

We’ve started letting affected customers know about the new changes to HOS rules for fleets operating in the US, so if you haven’t heard from us directly, you soon will. Here’s an overview from the US Department of Transportation.

30-Minute Mandatory Break – Starting in July, drivers of a CMV operating in the US cannot drive if more than eight hours have passed since the driver’s last off-duty or sleeper break of 30 minutes or more.  When a driver reaches the eighth hour into the work shift, before continuing the driver must take a 30-minute break.

Restart Rules – A 34-hour restart is a “valid” restart only if the driver ensures that the period includes two back-to-back nighttime rest periods from 1:00 a.m. to 5:00 a.m. The restart rules restrict how often a restart can be used. If a driver restarts more often than what’s allowed by US rules, the driver must indicate on the log which restart will be the one that’s being used as the valid restart.

For more information, see the US Department of Transportation web site.

Technical Support

If you have any questions about how the new HOS rules might affect you, please contact our technical support specialists:

support@webtechwireless.com Phone +1 (604) 419 8163

Toll Free (US/Canada) +1 (866) 945 4568

Hours of Operation:

Monday – Friday 6:00 am – 5:00 PM PT

Saturday 8:00 am – 4:30 PM PT

Ten-Top Trucking Topics of 2012

Since the release of last year’s Annual Trucking Industry Survey (in early October 2011) researched by the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI), the average price of a gallon of diesel has climbed 33.7 cents to $4.086. Yet fuel prices rank only fifth on ATRI’s ranking and even the economy lagged behind two critical issues for 2012. The two biggest issues for this past year both revolve around regulatory compliance: CSA and HOS.

Some accounting for the ranking pre-ambled the results. For example, the high elevation of HOS was thought to result from “a final rule on federal Hours-of-Service (HOS) regulations…issued at the close of 2011 and the degree to which the changes will impact the industry has yet to be fully understood.” Similarly, CSA’s rise to first place is thought to be the result of “uncertainty and dissatisfaction with the impacts of CSA” throughout the industry.

The ATRI survey is distributed to a large sample of more than 4,000 trucking industry stakeholders from both the U.S. and Canada (including motor carriers, commercial drivers and other industry stakeholders) to measure the importance of each issue. As with previous surveys, respondents are asked to rank a list of ten issues. This year, a record 943 respondents completed the survey.

2012 Results

2012-Trucking-Critical-Issues

What this means for you

As with our assessment of the 2011 ATRI survey, many of the issues most concerning to trucking fleets are in the domain of solutions Webtech Wireless provides:

#1 CSA – Two years after first debuting on the top-ten list, CSA has reached the number one position for the first time. Our customers report how their Webtech Wireless solution helps them meet CSA regulatory compliance in three key areas: unsafe driving, fatigued driving, and vehicle maintenance.

#2 HOS – Our Quadrant solution specifically targets both the US Department of Transportation and Transport Canada’s Hours of Service regulations. Quadrant’s Driver Log feature provides instant access to driver information enabling transportation companies to meet regulatory requirements, maximize driver efficiency, and eliminate manual errors.

#5 Fuel Prices – Our customers tell us how their Webtech Wireless solution significantly improved their fuel economy through reduced idling, decreased speeding, and route optimization.

#6 EOBR – By automating log books, telematics and EOBR solutions ensure drivers aren’t out of hours at the wheel. The evidence from our customers is overwhelming: their managers sleep soundly at night. With the increase in no-cell-phone laws, our customers are also happy that their EOBR solution eliminates the need for cell phones. This ensures drivers are neither fatigued nor distracted at the wheel.

#7 Driver Retention – A telematics solution levels the playing field for all drivers. Rather than bad drivers getting away with things they shouldn’t, all drivers are held equally accountable. Good drivers are more likely to stay and an in cab communications and EOBR device attracts young drivers, while reducing the number of times vehicles are stopped for inspections. That makes both drivers and management happy.

The complete results were released at the 2012 Management Conference and Exhibition of the American Trucking Associations (ATA) meeting in Las Vegas, NV, the nation’s largest gathering of motor carrier executives, which David Greer attended and shared in last week’s blog post.

“ATRI’s primary mission is to conduct transportation research with an emphasis on the trucking industry’s essential role in a safe, efficient, and viable transportation system.”
atri-online.org