Sunday, June 20, 2021

Hysteresis and the Fed


The Fed controls interest rates and often is too late when making corrections, or over-corrects.

The stock market is off lately, after being on a tear for so long.   The Fed is making noise about raising interest rates, which sort of will put a damper on the party for the banks, as well as the housing industry, which is on a tear due to ultra-low mortgage rates.

Traditionally, interest rates were used as a "lever" in the economy to control growth and inflation.  If the economy was lagging, the theory went, you lower the interest rates and people will borrow more money, buy stuff and invest in new businesses and then hire people and the economy will grow.  If the economy becomes over-heated - where people and corporations are borrowing too much money and inflation is taking off - you raise interest rates to slow things down.  Sort of like turning on the overhead fluorescent lights at the disco at 2AM to get everyone to leave.

Inflation is always an issue.  You want some inflation, a predictable amount, but not so much that it ruins an economy by devaluing the currency to the point where it is worthless, particularly if you are trading with other countries that use other currencies.

The problem with this theory of interest rates and inflation, is that it has been proven wrong and doesn't always apply.  In the distant past, it seemed to work pretty well, as a "cruise control" for the economy.  You set the interest rates and adjusted them to speed up or slow down the economy to maintain a steady speed.  But then the Arab oil embargo and OPEC happened, and suddenly, these ideas had no merit.

Simply stated, we realized that our economy was dependent entirely on energy (which most modern, or indeed, even ancient economies are) and over the years, "energy" came to mean oil.  We had relied on coal-fired trains and powerplants and even coil gas to light lamps in our cities.   Of course, back then, many cities were black with dust from coal fires - so much so that animals even adapted to this change.

The switch from coal to oil was inevitable, however.  Not only was oil cleaner, it didn't need armies of  firemen to shovel coal into furnaces.   You just pumped it in.  Re-fueling a coal-fired ocean liner or freighter could take days and was a horrifically messy business - and one reason, some say, ocean liners were painted black back then - to hide the messy stains that resulted.   But of course, cars needed oil to run - you can't run a car on coal, although I am sure Trump, had he been re-elected, would have fueled (sorry, pun!) research in to a coal-fired car - he's just a steampunk kind of guy.

So overnight, the cost of energy nearly doubled, and shortages ensued.   As the cost of energy was part of the cost of everything, prices for everything soared.  As one of my professors at GMI put it, to make a glass of milk, you would need to use a half-a-glass of oil, to make the fertilizers to grow the feed, to run the milking machines and lights and fans in the barns, the refrigeration to keep the milk fresh, the fuel for trucks to ship it to stores and so on and so forth.  I suspect he was not far off the mark.

Compounding this problem was that many people had "cost of living adjustments" in their wage contracts (or went on strike to get such raises) and many pensions and Social Security had such adjustments as well.   So the cost of goods goes up, the workers go on strike for more money, which in turn causes the cost of goods to go up.  It is a feedback loop, and like your drunken cousin taking the mike at your Sister's wedding, the resulting squeal is deafening.

So, the government raises interest rates - that will dampen inflation!  The idea being that people will stop borrowing money and less will be in circulation.  Hence, the theory goes, money will be worth more - it will be more dear - and people will spend less.  Retailers will have to lower prices and inflation will abate.  That's the theory, anyway.

But since the cost of energy was out of our control - and a big component of most products - manufacturers and retailers couldn't cut costs much, particularly when the employees were demanding higher wages to pay for higher-priced products.  And that is why, when you look back to the late 1970's, you see such high prices for products and such low content.

We've been watching old episodes of The Price is Right which for some reason is on YouTube.   It is interesting to see the price of a refrigerator was close to $900 back in the late 1970's - what we paid for our refrigerator back in 2008!   If you factor in inflation, that would mean that refrigerator, in the late 1970's, would cost $2500 or more today.  Pretty scary numbers!

But that was the way things were, back then, in the Good Old Days - we learned to live with less and products were pretty stripped, in terms of options and accessories.  Yes, things like air conditioning, power windows, power seats, power door locks and whatnot were available, but no one actually ordered them.  You went to your local car dealer and most of the cars on the lot had power steering and power brakes.  Who could afford more than that?   We have no idea how lucky we are today - but I digress.

Raising interest rates, of course, raised the cost of borrowing.  People didn't stop borrowing money just because interest rates went up.  If you wanted to buy a house, you had to get a mortgage.  Housing prices were fairly stagnant, but still they weren't free.   So your monthly house payment went up, and again, you demand more money from your employer to pay for it all.   Maybe housing prices didn't skyrocket during that era, but the monthly cost of owning a home, did.

So this feedback loop took off and inflation went to 10% or more.  Mortgage rates were as high as 14%. As late as 1989, we had a 11-5/8% mortgage.  Those were crazy times.   So what happened?

Well, they started lowering interest rates.  Clearly, the old mechanism wasn't working.  Raising rates didn't dampen the inflation, as inflation wasn't due to low interest rates, but due to high energy costs.  Over time, things got better as rates dropped.  And as rates dropped, people refinanced their 12% mortgages and had more money to spend and the economy took off.   Of course, this also meant that housing prices took off, too, as the monthly payment at 6% would buy a helluva lot more house.  So we had the housing bubble of 1989.  But again, I digress.

The situation we are in now is different.  Shortages of materials, often driven by shortages of labor, driven by free money handed out, is causing prices to rise.  When you have 100 F150's parked at your dealership (which was not atypical a year or so ago) you offered discounts and bargains.  When you have six (which is typical today) you sell for above manufacturer's suggested retail price.

Inflation is driven by other factors as well.  When you "print money" - that is to say, increase the money supply by borrowing - you devalue the currency.  This is what is happening in Venezuela and other third-world countries. El Presidente decides to "solve" his economic problems and pay off foreign debts by printing more money.  It never works.  The foreign debts are denoted in dollars, not Bolivars, and as a result, you are just swimming in place, when you devalue your own currency.

We've done the same thing here, borrowing huge amounts of money during the Bush years to fund his little wars, and then borrowing more during the Obama years (but not as much as he wanted to) to try to get the economy moving.  Trump took office and promised to cut back on spending and pay off the national debt (!!) and of course, wallowed in the swamp like the rest of them, borrowing even more money than Obama did in his eight years, and that's before the pandemic started.   Biden looks to want to borrow even more and more giveaway programs are suggested.

People have all this "free money" and they spend it.  Since it is unearned income, they don't spend it very carefully - and stop looking at prices.  Not only that, since all their neighbors are spending that same stimulus money, demand for products increases, which of course, increases prices - it is Ying and Yang.

The problem is, of course, that the Fed is always just a little too late when it comes to stepping on the brakes, and when they do, often they jam them on.  Rather than a nice steady cruise control, they drive like some of the old people here on the island, alternately pumping the gas and brake pedals, as if they were pedals on a bicycle.  You hear them all the time, going down the road, their engines racing, Voom! Voom! and sometimes even the brake lights pulsing like a disco.

Raising interest rates could help slow the economy and ease inflation.  But like with the energy crises, there are other actors in the equation.  The interest rate lever doesn't "work" when inflation is caused by an Arab Oil Embargo - an outside force that Fed rate can't affect.  And in our situation, raising interest rates won't "work" unless we rein-in government spending and giveaway programs.  So long as we pay people not to work, the cost of labor will continue to skyrocket, shortages will continue to exist, and prices will continue to go up.

It is not just extended unemployment which is to blame - although that is a big part of it, and some on the Left are arguing that enhanced unemployment benefits should be extended another year.  It is insanity, when there are "help wanted!" signs all over the place.   But years ago, I predicted a labor shortage could occur - because of demographics.  There are a lot of retired people today and the next generations are smaller than the retired generation.   Throw in the restrictive immigration policies of the Trump era, and we have a perfect storm.

Funny thing, though, I was driving through rural Georgia and saw an old school bus, painted green, with the sign, "Gomez Harvesting Services" on the side.  I talked to a local, and apparently, to get around ICE raids and fines for hiring undocumented workers, the farmers set up a local green-card recipient in business, where he hires undocumented aliens and then leases them out to harvest crops and do other farm labor.  The farmers are hiring a contractor and not hiring illegal immigrants and thus can feign ignorance when the immigration authorities show up.   And since the aliens aren't living on the farm, well, they are a little harder to find.  Sounds like an opportunity for those aliens to be exploited, though.

But I digress.

Yes, the Fed should raise rates.  They should have done this a year ago or more.  The stupidly low rates we had for so many years (near zero or zero) were just ridiculous.  Some countries even went to negative rates, if you can believe that.  It is not a sustainable model.   The Fed perhaps isn't like the old drivers pumping the pedals, but more like a drunk driver, weaving from one side of the road to the other, waiting until one tire is in the ditch before making a correction.

Or maybe, like the video above, like an imbalanced trailer, without enough weight on the tongue, swinging wildly from one extreme to another, with each input from the driver only making things worse.

I was in a situation like that once with our first trailer - had it up on one wheel.  All you can do is hold the steering wheel tight, apply the trailer brakes, and let up on the gas gently.  Sudden movements and attempts to counteract the sway only make things worse.   I was lucky that the sway dampened down  and we didn't roll over.

I hope our economy is as lucky!

Saturday, June 19, 2021

The Profit In Politics & Pandering

 

Who is behind all these political organizations which keep SPAMing me and telling me I've already joined their cause?

I noted in a very early posting that most organizations go into self-preservation mode early on, and serve the needs of the founders and employees.  There's a lot of profit in non-profit!  And in most cases, folks don't look too closely at the accounting.

PACs and other political organizations are particularly troublesome.  You donate to a PAC and some of that money goes to people working there, others goes to media companies to prepare online or television ads.  Some actually goes to candidates!  Some goes to other PACs which in turn starts the whole thing over again.  It becomes a real trip down the rabbit-hole trying to figure out what these people are doing with your money.

Today, in the e-mail, I get this latest plea.  Now, I am not picking on this particular PAC, because I have received literally dozens of such pleas in recent months, all from organizations of various names, each claiming I have "joined" their cause, and of course, each asking for yet more money.  I just used this one because it arrived today;

You're on the team! 
Robert, 
Welcome to Integrity First PAC! 
We’re a digital-first grassroots organization dedicated to holding Republicans in Congress accountable and supporting Democratic leaders who put their integrity first. 
You’re joining a nationwide organization with over 300,000 supporters taking action to advance a Democratic agenda. In 2020, we had major success thanks to supporters like you. Here’s what we accomplished:

Now, with Joe Biden’s administration, we’re dedicated to helping advance progress on all the critical issues of our day.

And when the GOP obstructs or attacks, we’ll be there to fight back. Thanks for joining us. Be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter to get in on all the action.

-- Integrity First PAC

Like I said, I am not picking on this one PAC, they just happened to be the one that e-mailed me today.  They all suck, in my opinion, as they all claim I have joined their cause, when in fact, they merely bought my name from an e-mail list, which was sold to them by Democratic candidates I contributed to.   Lesson learned - don't do that again!  Just kidding, but..... it is something to think about and something candidates should think about, too.

But why should I donate money to this pathetic PAC?  I mean, raising a million dollars isn't squat these days, particularly from 300,000 people (an average of $3.33 per person!).  And if you spelunk their financial data, it turns out a minority of this money actually went to candidates.  What's more, only one officer of the PAC is listed.  I think this guy is running the whole deal from his living room.

Weirder still, it seems that about a third of the million dollars they raised went to an internet media company, which according to their profile, is apparently staffed entirely by seventh-graders.  Or maybe everyone looks young to me these days, living as I do, on old people island.

But that is the nature of these deals.  I donate money to this PAC and where it goes, well, I have no idea.  Some goes to a media company, who draws salaries to make online ads, I guess.  And judging from the number of employees they have, a lot of salaries.  So the PAC in question acts as a "feeder" to plow money into this media company.  Build up a few dozen PACs and your media company is fully funded - or that's the way it appears, anyway.  Or it would be a good strategy.

The problem I have with this model - besides the insulting technique of congratulating me for joining a cause I have yet to join - is that they make vague promises of what they are going to do with my money.  "Integrity" they say, without irony.  Apparently, they turned Arizona blue and spent only a million bucks doing so.  I guess I should give them my money, as after all, they are very efficient with it.  Flip a whole State for a lousy million!  The NRA should take lessons from them!

Are these PACs all scams? I never said that. The people running them are no doubt politically motivated, but then again, some are drawing salaries, and the PACs are donating money to organizations which hire people who draw salaries - and often not insubstantial ones. I stopped donating money to Public Broadcasting when I realized that the CEOs of these content companies like NPR were taking home millions of dollars a year - at the expense of local public broadcasting.  They fire the local announcer for "Afternoon Classics" and pay the franchise fee for "Performance Today" - the Casey Kasem of classical music.  Public Broadcasting is no longer public, but basically a for-profit (salary) enterprise for huge media conglomerates.  These PACs - maybe more of the same thing?

If I want to donate money to a candidate, I should just send that candidate money.  PACs are fine and all for Billionaires who want to skirt the election finance laws - you can donate to a PAC all you want to (Citizens United) and they can direct money to the media companies for attack ads and whatnot.  But for the small donor like me - the guy sending in $10 or $100 or even $1000, donating directly to a campaign is probably a more efficient use of my donation.  There are fewer layers of people between me and the candidate.

I just wish the candidate didn't sell my name to these PAC mailing lists.

But this brings us to our second topic - Pandering.  Both sides of the political spectrum pander to ludicrous far-out whack-jobs with weird proposals and even weirder beliefs.  The whole Qanonsense thing is just bizarre, but it generates a lot of money for people who sell books and t-shirts and put on seminars or radio shows or whatnot.  And Republican politicians realize that it doesn't pay to denounce Qanonsense, and in fact, you are better off dog-whistling to it, so with a wink and a nod, the "true believers" know you are "one of them" and will be the first to hang Hillary when the time comes.  Send in your money!

I noted before that the worst thing you can do, as a politician, is actually solve one of these intractable problems.  If you abolish Obamacare, you have to come up with an alternative.  So instead, you cook up designed-to-fail lawsuits and laws, and then shrug your shoulders and hope the constituents forgot all about your promises by them.  But of course, by then, half the rebel-flag waving supporters in the trailer park are on Obamacare, but of course they won't admit it. "It's the Affordable Care Act!" they say.

Ditto for abortion - you want a nice festering issue that the local pastor can rail against from the pulpit.  But woe be to the politician who actually outlaws abortion and thus removes this issue from the debate.  It is akin to the gay marriage issue, which is why a conservative Supreme Court legalized it - to pull the rug out from under the Democrats (while giving Republican lawmakers cover).  Democrats, flummoxed by not having that issue to run on, move on to "transgender pronouns" which makes them look ridiculous.  Nice move SCOTUS!

So Democrats talk about "Slave Reparations" every decade, and make quite a show about "doing a study" on it, or setting up a committee to investigate it.  But they know it is a non-starter.  They can count votes in the House and Senate.  Most Americans can't - they secretly believe the President rules by fiat - and by that, I don't mean an Italian car. There simply are not enough votes for slave reparations, free college, blanket student loan forgiveness, and basic free money or whatever.  They also know that voting for these things is political suicide.  It is only if you can get the money people on board, that you can pass such things.  And banks don't profit from student loan forgiveness.

Many on the Left complain about Obamacare - preferring a "single payer" government-run insurance plan instead, such as "Medicare for All".  And who knows?  Maybe that would work.  Medicare certainly works for Seniors.  But before you jump on that bandwagon, go ask your Granddad about his "Medicare Supplemental Insurance" premiums, particularly the "Part D" for prescriptions.  They can get pretty pricey!  And if you miss the arbitrary government deadlines (just like Obamacare) you are pretty much screwed.  But the point is moot - unless you can count the votes, pining for such solutions is just pointless.

The point is - and I did have one - is that Obamacare succeeded because it was a huge handout to the insurance companies and the medical industry.  My "healthcare provider" (insurance company) pesters me to get a colonoscopy, as under Obamacare, these things are covered.  And maybe this is a good thing - encouraging people to eat right and take better care of themselves and reduce medical costs in the long run.  But in the short run, well, the premiums went through the roof.  Funny thing, but when you tell people medical care is free, they tend to seek out more of it - whether needed or not.  And I know a plethora of people who seek out sleep studies and CPAP machines but would never dream of giving up on fast food, snack cakes, or heaven forbid, drinking.  Patient, heal thyself.  But why bother when we have developed a whole new science of obesity medicine!

I digress, yet again.  But pandering to voters is an old game - saying you support (or better yet, implying you support) causes and ideas that will never come to fruition, by design - in order to get the plebes to vote for you.  Meanwhile, the bread-and-butter business of government goes on as before, with hardly anyone noticing what is going on, other than the people (and corporations, who are people too, right?) who often benefit from such actions. While we pine and protest for nonsense, the real workings of government go on, not behind closed doors, but right out in the open.

That's how you get the rebel-flag flying redneck in the trailer park to vote against his own Social Security raise or to cancel his health insurance or food stamps.  It's how you get the wealthy urban liberal to vote to increase his taxes.  You use these never-ending "window-dressing" issues to distract - like any good magician - while you do the real business, right there in the open, if anyone bothered to look.

And the media is a big help here, as they love to publish articles about these pie-in-the-sky ideas, as they generate click revenue.  No one will click on an article about pork subsidies in the latest farm bill, even if it affects them more and is actual legislation that will pass.  They will click on anything with Bernie Sanders ugly grimace on it - whether they love him or hate him.  He's the Howard Stern of Politics!

So what's the answer?  There isn't one.  And why do you keep asking me?   This sort of nonsense has been going on since time began and won't end anytime soon,, because it works so well.  On a personal level, my only suggestion is to obsess less about politics and just discard wacky ideas that have no hope of going anywhere.  This stuff doesn't profit you personally and it may, in fact, drive people away.

I know several couples on our island who lose friends over politics.  I'm still friends with them, even though the husband tries to provoke me with shit like, "Well, I saw in the paper today that your President did something stupid again...." as if I had sworn eternal loyalty to Biden by voting for him, and not just making a pragmatic decision not to vote for a clearly insane person.  Funny thing that, he never talks about the crazy crap Trump does.  Usually his wife "shushes" him, though, after he says shit like this, and I try not to rise to the bait.  But then I ask myself, why do I need friends who bait me?

Obsessing about politics is a loser's game.  Just vote and leave it at that.

Friday, June 18, 2021

Why Guaranteed Annual Income was, is, and always will be, a very bad idea and never, ever happen.

Bad ideas don't become good ideas because celebrities endorse them!

A reader writes (and I am paraphrasing here):

Dear Stupid Do-Do Head:

You are so wrong about guaranteed annual income!  All the smart people like Professor Know-It-All (and he has a PhD!) say it is great!  And Jeff Bezos, too!

So you are wrong!  Pfffffft!

Hard to parse this, other than the reader never read my blog, particularly the articles about credentialism.  Credentialism isn't an argument, it's a way of trying to shut down argument.  By saying some "smart guy" or "rich guy" supports an argument, you are not addressing the merits of the argument, but turning it into a war of credentials.  Whichever side has the best credentials wins!

But as I noted in earlier postings, credentials can be exaggerated, faked, or not related to the field in question.  Quoting a Physicist when you should be quoting a Physician (as Penn & Teller did), is a case in point.  Both are "Doctors", but only one is qualified to talk about the effects of smoking.  People with credentials can and have been, wrong about so many things.  Look at me, an Electrical Engineer and a Lawyer and I'm wrong about everything most of the time.   The major fuck-ups in history were all supported by people with incredible credentials.  That doesn't turn a wrong answer into a right one.

So if you throw away credentialism, his argument amounts to... nothing.   On the other hand, even a schoolboy can see through the fallacies of this "basic income" or "guaranteed annual income" or whatever it is:

1.  It ain't never gonna happen:  Even with the Presidency and the House and the Senate, President Biden can't push through all of his agenda, thanks to the Filibuster.  Love it or hate it, it exists and isn't likely to go away, simply because the party in power can quickly become the party out-of-power.  Republicans loathed the Filibuster when they were in power - they love it today.  Ditto for Democrats when the situation is reversed.

OK, you say, let's all vote Democratic and take over 60 seats in the Senate, or abolish the Filibuster!  Well, even then, it fails.  You see, a lot of Democrats are NOT Ms. AOC or someone like her.  Many are middle-of-the-road and some actually think things through, and they don't go along with every liberal idea that comes down the pike - nor do most Americans.  These Democrats, in "swing States" know also they won't get re-elected if they support a far-left agenda.  This Rep. Manchin fellow from West Virginia, for example, isn't being obstinate, he's just representing the views of his constituents.

The idea that an overwhelming majority of Americans would support this (or student loan forgiveness, slave reparations, or other giveaways) is just a fantasy.  The idea that there are enough Democratic votes to make this happen is a fantasy as well - particularly after we lose the House or Senate in 2022.  Rep. Warnock spams me daily, asking for more money (than I already gave him).  Sadly, the Democrats will likely lose the House or the Senate because they are embracing far-left proposals like this, and the GOP will paste these ideas on to even conservative Democrats in swing States and people will vote them out.

2.  It wouldn't work.   Sure, they have tried "experiments" with "basic income" where Andrew Yang or some Mayor hands out checks to a random group of people.  Sociologists then do "surveys" that show that, when you hand someone money it makes them happier.  Surveys, however, are not science, as I have noted before.  And whenever someone uses a survey to try to prove a point, watch out - you are being snookered.

But even in these limited experiments, the result were sort of mixed.  People getting more free money didn't feel compelled to seek out a job, nor did it improve the local economy much, at least according to one study in Finland

The problem with these experiments is that they don't give the money to everyone. If they did, well, we'd see the actual effect it has on people.  Fortunately, we have run a nationwide experiment during the last year, which did hand out money to everyone, rich and poor in the form of "stimulus checks" and the results are about what a first-year economics major would report.

Namely, inflation, materials shortages, and labor shortages. Funny thing, but when you pay people not to work, they don't work.  So they aren't. Help wanted signs are all over the place and many businesses are cutting back on production or hours of operation or even changing how they operate, because of the lack of labor.  It is a simple equation - if I can make enough money sitting at home, why bother working?

Free money - unearned income - erodes the soul, squashes ambition, and leads to depression.  Almost every single person I've met who has inherited wealth - enough to goof off all day long and never work - suffers from some sort of mental illness or another.  The suicide rate amongst the wealthy is surprisingly high - you would think it would be zero.

3.  It just resets zero: But you won't have to worry about any of that with basic income.  Once all this money is handed out and put into the economy, prices will go up, as people will have more to spend, and as a result, fewer will work and labor costs will escalate.  Finally, the $15 minimum wage is here - not by law, but by default!  And I say this with confidence as this is what is happening today, right now, right in your home town (or at least mine).

Inflation erodes earning power, as we are seeing right now.  $1000 a month is great, if you receive it as part of Andrew Yang's "experiment" and no one else does.  It has real buying power.  But when everyone gets it, $1000 becomes the new zero.  Well, not exactly zero, but it ain't worth what $1000 was before we started printing money.  And that's what we would have to do - print money.

And by the way, Andrew Yang is not a "billionaire silicon valley startup guy" but a dude who started a test prep company and has a net worth hardly more than mine.  Somehow this mythology has erupted that he has more money than God and he is some sharp businessman.  Like I said, credentialist arguments are flawed, as credentials can be exaggerated and entirely made-up.

4.  We can't afford it:  $1000 a month ($12,000 a year) is the amount some propose for "basic annual income" or whatever you want to call it.  For 330 million people that would come to three trillion nine hundred sixty billion dollars a year.  Or about four trillion dollars.  Find that loose change under your sofa cushions!

Our annual budget for the US government, as proposed by President Biden, is about $4.89 trillion.  So either this "basic income" concept would double the national budget or we would have to cut every other program to the bone to afford it.  And bear in mind our current budget is far, far more than we take in, in taxes, and adds to the national debt. We would be throwing gasoline on the fire of debt.  And that's already a New Jersey tire fire!

But wait! some say, We can abolish social security and other programs and use basic income instead!  Nice try.  First of all, social programs make up only about half the budget.  Or are you proposing zeroing-out our military budget as well, Comrade? Second of all, not only would there be rioting in The Villages but in the trailer park and ghetto as well.  You see, while a lousy $1000 a month might buy a lot of weed for a 20-something living in their Mother's basement playing video games all day long, it represents a 2/3 pay cut for a middle-class person who spend the last 40 years paying into Social Security.  And let's face it - old people vote, in droves.  This is exactly why Florida went from Blue State to reliable Red State in the last 20 years.

Those on our various welfare programs would be similarly pissed-off.  $1000 a month?  People in Section-8 housing get more than that in housing subsidies alone, in many cases.  Add in the food stamps, Obamaphone, Medicaid, and other forms of subsidy we provide as a compassionate nation, and you're talking 40 grand a yearYou want to tell them they are only going to get 12 grand?  It won't even fly with them.

It is just not a well-thought-out idea and it isn't going anywhere.  And stupid "experiments" where small numbers of people are handed taxpayer's money willy-nilly, don't prove a damn thing.  And quite frankly, I'm surprised some taxpayer hasn't challenged this nonsense in court.  We used to call that corruption.

It is sad to me that people even think this way today - but maybe people have always been idiots.  Back in the 1960's, we were going to fly to the moon, and we would all become Scientists and Engineers and embrace a new age of reason and technology.   I held up my end of the bargain.  Others went off the deep end.

Basic Guaranteed Income is right up there with Qanonsense, Antifarts, Anti-vaxxers, Holocaust deniers, neo-Nazis, Flat-earthers, Moon-landing deniers, 9/11 "Truthers", UFO believers, Gold-bugs, Crypto-nonsense, Scientologists, and some Evangelical Christians - you know, the hatey-whack-church kind.  We have entered a new age of unreason, where you can believe what you want to believe and not only is this OK, it is not up for discussion.

And many of these beliefs are amplified by Russian and Chinese influencers - who want us to become divided, passive, and all living on welfare.  We've gone from being the vanguard of intellectual ability and the apex of civilization, to reverting to belief systems of the 12th Century.   I mean, flat earth - really?  If I was to go back in time to 1968 and tell people that flat-earthers were a "thing" in 2020 and that people thought polio vaccines were evil, I would have been laughed at.

And yes, a lot of celebrities and "smart people" and "rich people" lend their voices to some of these ideas - on occasion - or are quoted out of context.   Elon Musk tweets about Bitcoin, not because he believes in it, but because he knows the price will spike when he tweets about it, and he'll make a cool Billion in an afternoon.

Maybe right there is the key. If we can get people to believe in just about anything, then you can manipulate them out of their last dime. An article in the paper today talks about "Trump Conventions" being held nationwide, where "My Pillow Guy" gives speeches and Trump appears by remote hookup.  No doubt, they solicit donations for the Trump cause.  So maybe these crazy ideas are being bandied about to try to loot people's wallets.

But how would "basic income" or UBI as AOC calls it, factor into this?  Why would Jeff Bezos support this idea, when it would prevent his workers from coming to work or force him to pay correspondingly higher wages (and not to mention, raise his taxes astronomically)?   Well, if you look into it, Bezos (and other tech Billionaires) never said it.  Or to be more precise, it was taken out of context.

Bezos (and Gates, who thinks "AI" is going to take over the world) did muse once that if robots really become a "thing" and everyone gets laid off from work, then "UBI" might make sense, since everyone will have nothing to do and there won't be any jobs around.  So he wasn't saying we need "basic income" today, but in some hypothetical far-off future where robots rule the world.  A hypothetical future that likely won't happen, or if it does, doesn't mean jobs will go away.

If you look at the history of mankind, the amount of labor required to keep our civilization going has decreased dramatically through the centuries, the trend accelerating rapidly in the last few decades. Yet not only are massive numbers of people not out of work, more people are working than ever before. In medieval times, almost everyone worked in agriculture, and it took dozens of workers to farm even a small plot.  Over time, agricultural processes improved, and more and more people left the land and moved into cities.  They all found jobs, though, as technology took off - technology needed to keep an ever-increasing population supported. Today, few farm the land, and fewer and fewer work in factories. A modern auto plant has less than half the workers of even 30 years ago, and yet produces more cars that are also better made.  And yes, this is in part, due to robotics.

But even with half the people gone, unemployment rates haven't increased to 50%. or even close to that. And during this time period, the workforce effectively doubled, when women entered the workforce in droves in the 1970's.  When I was a kid, if you were a woman, you were a housewife, period.  Women made up a small part of the workforce.  Today, they make up nearly half.   Yet the workplace absorbed all those women as well.  Unemployment has rarely risen above 10% in my lifetime and it is considered "normal" for it to be around 5%.   Are robots really going to put us out of work?  Why aren't they already?  Because robots already exist, and they aren't displacing many people from work - yet.  Perhaps they never will.

Or perhaps life will get better for us humans.  Over time, not only are fewer people needed to do jobs, but people have worked fewer hours.  Maybe in the old days, people slaved (often literally) for 12 hours a day, seven days a week. Religion became wildly popular in part because it promised people a day off. Henry Ford introduced the assembly line, making it possible to produce a massive amount of cars with less man-hour per vehicle.  He also introduced the 40-hour workweek and doubled wages overnight to attract and retain workers.

There is a pattern here - with technological advances and "labor-saving" devices, labor is actually saved (funny thing, that!) and our lives get easier and easier.   So yes, as more automation (not "robots") takes place, we will work fewer days, fewer hours, and have longer vacations, perhaps.  But unemployment?  I suspect not.

But perhaps there is another reason Mr. Bezos - who rivals Walmart as one of the nation's (if not the world's) largest low-wage employer - might think this "UBI" concept is keen.  It acts as a wage subsidy to low-wage employersI wrote before about food stamps and Obamacare and other programs designed to help the working poor.   Republicans make noises about abolishing welfare-type programs, but they go along with Medicaid and Foodstamps and whatnot, provided there is a working requirement.  Walmart can pay its employees less if they can get by with food stamps - and their own employee website has (or had) links on how to sign up.  Obamacare is opposed by many in the GOP (mostly for show, it turns out) but low-wage employers don't mind - it means their part-time employees can get health care and they don't have to provide it.  They just would rather not provide it for full-time employees as well!

So, to Bezos, $1000-a-month in "UBI" is $1000-a-month in wages he doesn't have to pay his employees, at least in theory.  So maybe even without the robot apocalypse, he might favor it.

Or maybe, since he knows is just ain't never gonna happen, he can say he supports it, to build up his "street cred" with the plebes, who then might decide they don't need to unionize, as Uncle Jeff and Uncle Sugar will take care of them.

It is a funny thing, ain't it?  I mean, how many poor and underpaid people in the United States have made folk heroes out of Billionaires, like Space Jesus.  Maybe it started years ago, with "Sir" Richard Branson.  He was hip with the cool kids, and allowed all us hippies to fly to the UK for cheap on one of his 747's.  But any good Communist shouldn't be rubbing elbows with Billionaires, should they?  Yet, many do, and many people who are Billionaires or wealthy celebrities, claim to endorse far-left causes that are really not their own.  Like I said, it is a funny thing.

So, to the dear reader who never really read my blog - no sale to credentialist arguments.  If you can't argue the thing on its merits, but have to revert to credenitalism, it means you have nothing really to say, particular when your citations to authority are a wee bit overstated.  Moreover, it just isn't going to happen, and in fact, pining for these sort of things is what is going to cost us the 2022 and 2024 elections.

We need to focus on the ground game.  And winning elections is really the only thing that matters - to either party.  One reason Biden won last time around, was that people wanted not just change from Donald Trump, but a more middle-of-the-road, centrist candidate.  Liberals are pissed-off that Biden hasn't "come out" as a raging Bernie-like Socialist, and likely he never will, as he never was.  And that isn't what the majority of Americans want, anyway.  Get over that.

We keep blathering on about "slave reparations" - as if paying people today for ills visited upon people who were their distant ancestors, will some how make things right (Again, does Obama get these, given that none of his ancestors were slaves in the US?). Similarly, "free college" and "student loan forgiveness" ring pretty hollow to people who never went to college or who paid off their student loans. Encouraging these sort of things only encourages people to borrow yet more money - or stop making payments on their current loans.   Free money corrodes society.

The GOP will do a bang-up job of painting all Democrats with this wide, red brush, defacing campaign posters with the hammer-and-sickle. People like Bernie Sanders (who is NOT a Democrat!) and Andrew Yang (who barely is) are not helping matters, any more than Qanonsense supporters and the MyPillowGuy are making the GOP appear attractive and normal to mainstream America.

But in most elections, people "hold their nose and vote" - and will vote for a candidate they might not even like, if they dislike the other fellow even more, or see him as a threat to their way of life.  Trump screwed the pooch with his toxic behavior over four years.  He could have behaved a smidgen more rationally and been re-elected.  But his paranoid, narcissistic behavior - which came into full bloom after the 2020 election - convinced people to vote Democratic, even if they feared some of the more liberal tenets of the Democratic party.

Next time around, the narrative will be flipped.  People will vote for GOP candidates in swing States in 2022, because they fear the Democrats will "go too far" - and in fact, this is how our system works, to dampen extreme swings in policy. Whether this will put Trump back in the White House in 2024 (presuming he hasn't choked on a Col. Sanders chicken bone by then) remains to be seen.  I suspect Trump has had enough of being President, and would prefer to be king-maker instead, next time around.

We'll just have to see.  The point is, pining for nonsense political views - whether they are far-left or far-right, not only is a waste of time, it damages the party you are most closely aligned with, and emboldens the party you are diametrically opposed from.  "Basic Income" is never going to happen.  So just give it up!

Another Day, Another Scam....

Scams aren't funny and they should bother you because they are an attack on civilization itself.  That, and they are on the rise.

Scams bother me.  Some people say, "Well, you'd have to be stupid to fall for a scam!  Those people get what they deserve!" - which is just blaming the victim.  Yes, you should not walk down a dark alley at night, but if you are raped, robbed, or murdered, it wasn't your fault, but that of the rapist, robber, or murderer.   Of course, defense attorneys would (and do) argue otherwise, which is why they always try to put the victim on trial, not the defendant.

Scams bother me on a number of levels.  The first is that they are on the rise and have been for decades.  Al Gore once famously (or fatuously) said that we are moving from a manufacturing-based economy to an information-based economy.  I will take that a step further and suggest that we are moving from an information-based economy to a fraud-based economy.  When so much "information" out there today is clearly fake, how can such an economy succeed? It is a lot easier (and far more profitable) to scam people than to do business with them.  Eventually, we will spend all day defrauding each other, rather than doing actual work.

The problem is, of course, that scamming has gone mainstream. Back when I was a kid, shysters and con artists weren't so hard to discern.  There weren't so many of them, as each Police department had a "bunko" squad who chased such gypsies out of town. Ordinary merchants offered reasonable deals.  Your local banker paid 3% "bank interest" on your savings and loaned out that money to local people in 6% mortgages and pocketed the difference.  Maybe there were no screaming deals, but there were no ruinous rip-offs, either.

Today, in an era of 3% mortgages and fractional savings (and near-zero fed rates), Banks offer 22% credit cards to middle-class people, and the friendly people at the payday loan place offer 300% interest to the very poor.  You can make more money today by ruining your customer than by doing business with them.  No one cares about their business reputation anymore or "repeat customers."  It is assumed that every customer you deal with will be browned-off at you, but since every other merchant is offering shoddy, deceptive deals, what are people going to do?   The cable companies knew this - and perhaps today they may be paying the price.   Or maybe not.

But beyond that, shoddy deals erode away our civilization.  Scratch a Qanonsense believer or an Antifart Activist and you get the same thing - a person who is upset with society because their personal lives are a train wreck.  Whether it is ruinous student loans or an upside-down mortgage they've been struggling to hold on to since 2008, these are people for whom the American Dream turned out to be a nightmare.   Their education - if they have one - turned out to be worthless, and every merchant they deal with basically loots their wallet.  It is all so unfair, and as far as they are concerned, our society isn't worth maintaining. They pine for the end-times, or the zombie apocalypse.

Now, of course, it is easy to play blame-the-victim, as I have done here in this blog.  These folks made a series of shitty choices in life, often egged on by the industries offering these shitty choices.  The College Industry promotes the idea that a college degree - any college degree - will make you wealthier, and they use backward-looking statistics going back to the 1960's to make this point.  And yes, back in 1968, a degree in "Liberal Arts" might get you a job.  Today?  Not so much.

Similarly, the blue-collar worker never saved a dime from his cushy union job, but relied on the pension plan and health insurance provided by the creaky, money-losing steel mill. Mitt Romney buys the mill, guts the benefits and underfunds the pension and suddenly, their world comes apart. Yes, they probably shouldn't have gone on strike for two years to demand wages double those prevailing in their area.  They are to blame for the choices they made.  But of course, it is too late to unbark the dog.

The problem is, in both cases, these folks feel they have nothing left to lose in our society, and that is a dangerous thing.  The 1% has a vested interest in keeping the 99% happy, or at least not miserable, as the 99% outnumbers them, well, 99 to 1.  When people start to think that working hard and saving money is only for chumps, they stop working hard and saving money and instead think that voting for Andrew Yang is the answer.  Free Money!  Why bother trying?  And that is how civilizations fall.

Which is why it is obvious to anyone who thinks for even a microsecond, who is promoting these sort of things. Maybe such movements originated organically, but foreign forces certainly do their best to amplify such discontent on the Internet.   And I say this with certainty, as it is well documented that the same foreign influences have been at work for decades, and in fact, our government does the same thing, by trying to influence elections in foreign countries, or destabilize foreign governments.

Yet, people spread disinformation about even this.  Russia is our friend! they say, denying that the Russian Internet Research Agency even exists, or that ransomware attacks are going on daily.

It seems that the sheer volume of scammery is increasing every day.  Since sending e-mails and texts and setting up websites is basically cost-free or of very low cost, you can attempt to scam millions of people at a time, for only pennies. Every day, I get dozens of scam e-mails in my SPAM box - a box created to accommodate the incredible volume of this stuff.  My phone rings daily, exhorting me to buy an extended warranty or some other scam.  It never ends, these days - even letters in the mail (how old school!) arrive almost daily, pushing some scam or another.

Consider the one above.   The letter is addressed to me, and no doubt uses data pulled from "public record" or some other data source.   We've been living in our house for 15 years now, and never had a home warranty.  And while I have had a number of mortgages with Access National Bank (which was bought out by another bank several years ago - I was a founding shareholder) all of those were for investment properties. 

Home warranties are not a wholly bad deal.  For a few hundred bucks, you can offer one, as a seller, to qualm the fears of buyers, particularly first-time buyers, in a normal real estate market.  Today, well, right now you can ask whatever price you want, no matter the condition.  But back in the day, it was an incentive many used to sell their home, or something buyers bought if they were nervous.

However, no home warranty company is going to offer to "extend" a warranty 15 years after purchase. It is just a SPAM letter, hoping to snag someone who is nervous and fearful - and this is an excellent example of why fear is never an emotion to be trusted. The "home warranty" is fraudulent, period.  They take your credit card payment over the phone, send you some official-looking documents, and figure you won't file a claim for months - if ever - and never realize the scam.  Even if you file a claim, well by then, they have closed up shop and moved along.

And I can say this with certainty as they are lying to me from the get-go - saying the home warranty I never bought has expired, on my house which is mortgaged by a company that never held the mortgage.  You don't need to spelunk this deal to see if it is a scam, any business deal predicated on a lie, no matter how trivial, will go downhill from there.  So getting a letter like this, with obvious mistakes, misstatements and lies, well, you need not try to figure out if the home warranty company is a fraud or not.

Notice how the top of the page, which appeared through a window in the envelope, says "To the Order Of" as if it were a check, and also "FINAL NOTICE" as if it were an overdue bill.  Both of these are lies, small lies, to get one to open the envelope.  But lies nevertheless.  And I just think it's swell that my postal person thinks I am not paying my bills!  But then again, she probably delivered the same piece of junk mail to everyone on the street.

And like I said, such warranties have uses - but you have to buy them from a legitimate company at the time you buy your house.  You can't wait until your roof leaks and then try to buy a home warranty and think you are going to get a free roof out of the deal.  No shit, some people really think that way.  They think they are going to "pull a fast one" on a major multinational corporation. And those corporations like to let you think you are getting away with things like that, with free flyer miles and BoGo bonuses.  I know way too many people who go on frequent cruises and claim to have gotten away with some great freebie because they knew the secret tips 'n tricks.  Disney people are the same way - buy the annual pass and spend $10,000 and you get a free tote bag!  Betcha didn't know about that!

But nothing in life is free and Their Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch (TANSTAAFL!) and when we try to seek out free things or too-good-to-be-true bargains, well, that's when the scammers get us.  And by scammers, I mean not only the outright crooks in the world, but the companies trying to throw pennies at us, hoping we spend dollars.  And yes, this is blaming the victim - but again, you kind of sort of have to these days, as there is no way to go after many of these scammers, as often their business model is perfectly legal, because our "free enterprise" friends in government legalized their scams.  Payday loans exist only because we decided to allow them to exist.

Scams make me angry - or sad anyway.  Because they are corrosive to our society.  And sadly, today, so many people get scammed and then want the government to bail them out.  Republicans decry such bailouts, but then again, they were the same ones who voted to make the scams that people fall for, legal.

Maybe we can put a stop to a lot of this nonsense, or at least try to.  At one time in this country, we tried to stamp out bad bargains, scams, and rip-offs.  Today?  Well, we just shrug and hope it isn't us who gets caught in the trap.

Somehow, I don't think that is a good plan.

If You Can't Perfect Your App - Perfect Your Autogrooming!

 

Why bother making something nice, in this world of fake news and online shilling?   Just spoof the system so people think it's nice!  A short video of the app developers for McDonald's.

I recently updated my posting about the McDonald's online ordering app.  I downloaded it in December, but I didn't use it very much over the last few months - maybe six times.  At first, it worked great, and the "deals" were pretty decent.  But over time, as the pandemic waned, the deals got less and less attractive, to the point where free medium fries was about it.  No more buy-one-get-one-free, which worked great with two people.

But the final straw was when the app stopped working properly.  You would place an order, go to the "store" and wait.  And wait. And wait.  The people behind the counter would claim they never received the order.  In one instance, they were apologetic and filled the order, but not until after I had to "speak to the manager" and of course, the other customers staring at me like I was a trouble-maker.   It wasn't very fun and it took four times as long.

The second time, no food and no offer to even make it - after waiting a half-hour (!!).  So much for "fast food" - they don't even call it that anymore.  The "manager" said the hold on my credit card would come off, as I was never served.  But three days later, they charged my card, and I ended up disputing it with the bank.  The bank processed a refund right away.  But what a waste of time!

So I uninstalled the "app" and decided that we didn't really need to go there anyway.  The last time we went, well, I could have made a ham sandwich at home for less money.  I should follow my own advice!

I was curious about the reviews of the app, though, and as you might guess there were a plethora of (fake) five-star, one-word reviews, and an awful lot of one- and two-star reviews with detailed comments (I added one of my own).  There seemed to be a pattern, too.  Many complained of never receiving their food and being charged anyway (and most seemed to take this on the chin rather than contest it!)  Others complained that the new versions of the app froze their phone.  Still others complained that their "bonus" points were erased and the free coffee drinks they were promised were scotched.

I digress, but I never investigated the "bonus points" thing as it applied to "McCafe" drinks only, and paying huge amounts of money for something as cheap as coffee is stupid.  I make a big pot of coffee every morning (or tea) in our $9.48 Wal-mart coffee maker.  In the afternoon, after the coffee goes cold in the carafe, I fill a glass with ice, add the cold coffee and a little cream and - voila! - an iced coffee drink.  Why bother going to a store for such a thing, when you can have it for pennies at home?   But an entire generation has been trained that coffee is something that you buy at Starbucks, prepared for you by an expert.

But getting back to the review site, it was clear that Micky-D's has a lot of problems with their app.  And the big problem, as I see it, is that the app says your order has been transmitted to the store, but in no way actually confirms this (by receiving a message back from the store that the order was received) and then sending you a confirmation of this.  If they could put in this feedback-loop, you wouldn't sit there for a half-hour waiting for the order.  Of course, that would be hard to do, and require a lot of coding and reprogramming of the store computers and whatnot.   It is just easier to put up a lot of fake five-star reviews and pretend it isn't happening.   Sort of the Captain-of-the-Titanic approach.

But what about those one-star reviews that populate the app store?  How do you deal with that? Well, that's easy.  You program a "bot" to post kicky, casual messages that sound like someone actually wrote them, but are just selected from a template of a half-dozen canned responses.  Each message encourages the user to visit a URL to express their dissatisfaction.  But as I learned, filling out that form only generates two automated e-mails, one which tells you they received your message and another - pages long - telling you to call an 1-800 number.   Both messages are from do-not-reply mailboxes.  You call the 1-800  number and the person on the other end isn't authorized to do anything or even look up the transaction.  The only thing they do is act concerned and tell you there is nothing they can do.

Pretty slick, eh?  Why provide customer service when you can just provide the appearance of customer service?  Contrast this with GEICO, where even the "chat box" connects to a real person who is authorized to actually do things and can provide real help.

And of course, the reason for all of this is that McDonald's doesn't need or want the app anymore.  They make their money from hungry people going through the drive-through, ordering the same five $12 meals.  When a basic sandwich is $4.95, well, fast-food isn't fast or cheap anymore.  They don't need or want someone ordering from the dollar menu or using a coupon on the app.  They don't need or want to sell a McSalad, or an ice cream either - which is why they stopped selling McSalads and why the ice cream machine is always broken.  Why bother screwing around with that shit when shoveling french fries and burgers and high-fructose soft drinks makes you so much money?

The whole thing is creepy, but what was really creepy was these messages, which were responses to the one-star app reviews, that usually say things like "Yo!" or "ya" or whatever, trying to be hip with the kids.  Here is a sampling:

McDonalds USA, LLCApril 27, 2021

Let's get that looked into, Patriece. Please provide our Mobile App team with more info at: https://www.mcdonalds.com/us/en-us/contact-us/mobile-app-questions.html

McDonalds USA, LLCNovember 10, 2018

We're sorry to hear about this, Judy! We’d love to help you with a solution. Please give our McDonald's Mobile App team a call at 877-334-4332, so we can look into this further.

McDonalds USA, LLCDecember 31, 2019

We're sorry to hear about this, Joel. Try uninstalling and reinstalling the app. If that doesn't help, please reach out to our Mobile App team, so we can assist you further at 1-877-334-4332.

McDonalds USA, LLCJuly 24, 2019

We're really sorry you were disappointed, Tyler! Can you provide some more info in this link https://www.mcdonalds.com/us/en-us/contact-us/restaurant-feedback.html/ so we can look into this further.

McDonalds USA, LLCMay 11, 2018

Hi there, Donald! While we understand your experience should be a flawless one, we appreciate you bringing this to our attention. We will make sure to forward your feedback on to the appropriate team. Thanks!

McDonalds USA, LLCSeptember 4, 2019

We're sorry to hear about this! We’d love to help you with a solution. Please give our McDonald's Mobile App team a call at 877-334-4332, so we can look into this further.

McDonalds USA, LLCJune 16, 2021

That's no good, Jacob. Try uninstalling and reinstalling the app. If that doesn't help, please provide our Mobile App team with more info at https://www.mcdonalds.com/us/en-us/contact-us/mobile-app-questions.html, so we can look into this further.

McDonalds USA, LLCDecember 21, 2018

Oh no, friend! We suggest clearing your phone's cache. Head to the Settings menu of your device. Find Apps in the menu and then the McDonald’s App. Tap Storage and the buttons for clearing the cache should become available. If that doesn’t resolve your issue, give us a call at 1-877-334-4332, so we can look into this further.

McDonalds USA, LLCDecember 31, 2020

We always want your Mobile Ordering to be awesome, Chris. Please provide our Mobile App team with more info at https://www.mcdonalds.com/us/en-us/contact-us/mobile-app-questions.html.

McDonalds USA, LLCMay 30, 2021

That doesn't sound too good, David. Please contact our Mobile App team at https://www.mcdonalds.com/us/en-us/contact-us/mobile-app-questions.html, so they can help you solve any issues you're having with the McDonald's Global Mobile App.

McDonalds USA, LLCApril 11, 2021

That's not too great, Dan. Try uninstalling and reinstalling the app. If that doesn't help, please provide our Mobile App team with more info at https://www.mcdonalds.com/us/en-us/contact-us/mobile-app-questions.html, so we can look into this further.

McDonalds USA, LLCNovember 24, 2020

Sounds frustrating, Linda! Please contact our Mobile App team at https://www.mcdonalds.com/us/en-us/contact-us/mobile-app-questions.html

McDonalds USA, LLCJanuary 23, 2021

Sounds like you've had some difficulties with your payment, Patrick. Please provide our Mobile App team with more info at https://www.mcdonalds.com/us/en-us/contact-us/mobile-app-questions.html, so we can get this looked into for ya.

What is creepy about the messages, is that they are always dated months or even years before the complaint in question.  The messages above were posted in response to reviews from 2021, yet many are dated as early as 2018 - before the present version of the app even existed! Why is this?  Also, they don't respond to every low rating, just every fifth one or something.

Sometimes, the messages clearly are robotic and not a response from a real human.  Consider this exchange;

Jeff Fulcher
June 17, 2021

Was terrible and now works great. Now it's back to terrible. No access to daily deals or my rewards. Going on day 3.
McDonalds USA, LLCOctober 30, 2018
We're happy to hear that, Jeff! Swing by for your faves anytime the craving hits!

We're so glad to hear that the app sucks, Jeff!  WTF?  Clearly some bot is being used, or a person from a third-world country is selecting from a menu of canned responses.  But what is interesting is that they have this auto-grooming machine working flawlessly, but for some reason can't get the app to work right.  Maybe the guy in charge of auto-grooming should be put in charge of the app itself.

But that isn't the answer.  Now, more than ever, it pays to consume less, and yet people are running around trying to consume as much as possible.  There are no deals to be had in today's labor-shortage, material-shortage, and inflationary economy.  I drove by the Ford dealer the other day and the lot was empty.  Oh sure, they had a few oddball cars there, but very few pickups and SUVs.   Do you think the dealer is going to sell you one at a discount right now?  Of course not.

And so on down the line.   Maybe a year or two ago, the merchants were interested in selling to every customer, as they had product to sell and if a coupon, sale, or discount got you in the door, so be it. But today, with five buyers for every one product on the shelf (or so it seems) it is sold to the highest bidder.

So McDonald's perhaps, is sabotaging the app, or more precisely, some of the franchisees are sabotaging it.  With the line at the drive-through a mile long, they don't need Joe Cheapskate and his coupons or apps, screwing up the flow and demanding a discount.  So they claim they never received the order or whatever.  It is like the ice cream machine - they just give up and say it is broken, because they are in the business of selling greasy burgers and fries, and ice cream is just a distraction.

I would have a lot more respect if they just stopped selling the ice cream, but again, I suspect there is a tension between the franchisees and corporate.  Corporate says to sell ice cream, the franchisees find it easier to say the machine is broken, particularly when the service calls are so expensive.

And the same is true, I think, for the "app".   Maybe at the height of the pandemic, they were willing to walk out to your car and deliver food "curbside" or work with Uber Eats to deliver product.  But Uber Eats wants a cut, so today they say they aren't doing delivery anymore (which is a good thing - who wants cold fries delivered to their house for $20?)  And discounts and BoGos are not profitable for the franchisees, either.  With the labor shortage, the best thing for them is to pump out the same three meals through the drive-through window and leave the front doors locked.

The good news is, this is (or should be) a transitory situation.   Shortages usually resolve themselves, unless the government tries to help by rationing.   Once the supply chain is re-started and pandemic panic dies down, things should return to normal or at least a new normal.

(Or maybe not.  As I noted in a very early posting, demographics may be driving the present labor shortage.  That and restrictive immigration policies.  The latter we can fix, the former is systemic).

But in the meantime, it is not a very good time to visit a restaurant or buy a car or even purchase lumber.   It pays to wait for these shortages to abate, rather than panic-buy.

UPDATE: I received an email this morning from McDonald's informing me that they are basically turning the app into a frequent flyer program where you can accumulate points based on how often you visit the store. Since I don't go there very often this is of no interest to me. But it explains why they sort of sabotage their old version of the app, is part of a transition to the new rewards model.