Getting the Runaround

Charles Payne
Posted: Mar 24, 2012 12:01 AM

Well, big companies are putting money to work, but I'm not sure this is what opponents of large corporate hoards had in mind. Yesterday Apple announced it would enrich shareholders via a massive share buyback and a hefty quarterly dividend of $2.65. But, the company's CFO said that until tax rules change, the $60.0 billion sitting offshore would remain offshore. In my mind, these were fighting words to an administration that is threatening to snatch overseas corporate profits while they linger in overseas banks. But, it also suggests that if tax policy was friendlier then more money would flow in naturally and in the process things like hefty dividends and buybacks would happen more often.

Of course the reality is that the administration doesn't want money coming back into this country unless they can tax it and take a chunk of it to further their own agenda. The "in sourcing" campaign (which is much like the "we can't wait" campaign in the sense that they both watered down rights, the former of corporations and latter of Congress) and voters are among the biggest threats to our tepid economy rebound. It's good to see Apple draw a line in the sand. Apple's decision will see billions of dollars cascade into the economy and not cost taxpayers a dime. This is the way the economy is designed to rock and roll. This is what happens in economies already built to last.

Rise of the Machines

Another thing happens in economies built to last—they become more productive. While that means computers, the reality is the biggest source of productivity gains comes from replacing human beings. One way to do that is with robots. In his 1942 short story, The Runaround, Isaac Asimov laid out the three laws of robots:
1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2. A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except if such orders would conflict with the First Law.
3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.

Ironically you might think an unwritten law is robots must never ask for raises, but many in the Asimov school felt at some point in the future working class robots would revolt. For now, the battle is between working class Americans and working class robots, both part of the ultimate utopian society where all corporate profits are a part of the public domain, but humans still need to work despite the growing attraction of not working.

For all the talk by this administration of "in sourcing," which is a fancy way to get at the riches of corporate America, they must wonder how their Fabian society-like goals can be transitioned, when unemployment is high and most of the money businesses make is still theirs. After the close of the market, Amazon announced its acquisition of Kiva Systems for $775.0 million. The company makes amazing robotic systems that automate warehouses with much greater efficiency. I have to admit after watching a few episodes of Undercover Boss; I was shocked at how chaotic those warehouse floors can be. They are ripe for innovation.

The Kiva System boasts of order cycles that are just 15 minutes and can even be adjusted for rush orders. The systems are already in use by Staples, Walgreens, Gap Stores and Toys R Us to name a few.

The democratic socialism promoted by the Fabian Society is supposed to occur gradually, but remnants of it have been rammed down our throats including the healthcare law.

Robots have a role at some point, and when you consider we are being weaned off the notion of hard work and pulling ourselves by the bootstraps, someone has to do the work. There will be good jobs for those with the ability to maintain and improve the science of the innovation, but the great news is the rest of us can chill out while machines do all the work and we know nothing of greed or individual achievement.

Praying for Housing Recovery

I'm still concerned about the NAHB sentiment survey coming in below consensus and that huge decline in the westand wonder if everyone jumping on the bandwagon means it's just a premature shot in the dark. Maybe it's just a wing and a prayer, but if that's the case, it's not working for America's churches.