What should capital chase?

The previous two posts are really just preparing me for this final one about returns on capital. We have talked about the aspirations of labour and that perhaps capital should be more like labour, where it is not just trying to get a return to multiply itself, but actually to look to more qualitative returns as well. But how would capital do that?

We see examples of this done using state capital. The government uses its capital to invest into public infrastructure, education or even public housing; all of these drives returns at broad economic and social levels. And this can generate more taxes in the future but the idea of the government isn’t to actually be able to generate more taxes in the future. Having more taxes is good because it can sustain the pace of these investments but the actual return is what the society reap in terms of better standards of living, greater knowledge in the people and so on.

Yet private capital holders are not exactly thinking this way. Private capital holders act as if most of what matters is that invested capital reaps more capital. And imagine if this was applied to the government, that it simply invests more so as to gain more taxes. It might end up investing in more coercive approaches to extracting more taxes. Or to just invest in areas that gives it more power.

If companies starts developing a vision of the future and of the world it wants to build, and define the returns on capital as what gains the world get in steps towards those vision, one could expect businesses to behave differently. In other words, we start investing the way we would want to be able to practice charity or giving effectively. We put our money where there can be most impact and action towards the future we want to see in the world. The returns come when we are able to step into the future that we had envision, not when the money flows back in. In most cases, if that future in our vision materialises, the monetary gains should come in to sustain that vision. If it doesn’t, then something is missing somewhere, and you either find another vision or path to invest into, or harness further resources needed to move towards that.

On Incentives & Debts

Red and White; all too familiar
Red and White; all too familiar

James Surowiecki fiddled about the idea that our tax breaks on debt interests are encouraging debt, the ones that eventually pulled down the system with it. He makes a lot of sense, especially when he mentioned:

Debt didn’t get dangerously out of scale because the system was broken. It got out of scale, in part, because the system worked.

Of course, he was speaking largely of corporate debts as well as mortgages but he did also raised the point that “In the U.S., people used to be able to write off the interest they paid on credit cards. That tax break was abolished in 1986…” Interestingly, Fortune Magazine ran a story about record debt in China. The diagnosis sounds grim but it does little to compare the context of the debts in China and US, making it difficult to assess if the ‘some economists’ quoted by them makes sense. Moreover, the statement about infrastructural investments is way too wobbly, China has much room to pull ahead when you compare them with the developed world; to be frank, the top cities in China barely compare with top cities of the world. In addition, The Economist have also tried to offer an alternative, more comprehensive explanation of China’s growth linked to productivity.

Some economists believe China’s infrastructure, already superior to that of many other developing economies, has now passed the point where more investment can contribute much to growth. China, in other words — despite the rosy, headline GDP numbers — might be stuck.

And yes, Japan is now fearful of the D-word, or rather the comeback of it; not depression, or debts. It’s kind of cool to have a central bank that combats ‘deflation’ rather than ‘inflation’ though.