The worst Enemy of Capitalism is a free Market
This article is about one the biggest Political and Economic issues of our time. After reading it, you might seriously consider to share it. (Photo Credit: Umbrella-Rosenblum Films Productions and Virgin)
I humbly and gratefully dedicate this article to my teachers and professors, to whom I have a debt I will never be able to pay.
The Worst Enemy of Capitalism is a free Market
I bet I got your attention with this seemly counter-intuitive statement. It might remind you of Orwell's 1984, with its "War is Peace," "Freedom is Slavery," and "Ignorance is Strength," even if it is not there, or the other Orwell's masterpiece, Animal Farm.
In these times, it can be easy to think in 1984 and the character of Emanuel Goldstein's, Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism. In the book, the truth is placed in front of everyone, to be demonized, scorned and hated, to be hidden in plain sight, while the brainwashed wannabes, fanatically acted against their best interests... Interestingly, the symbol of that truth and object of that guttural, fanatic, completely irrational hatred is its messenger, probably a creation of the party, Emanuel Goldstein.
This article is directed to non-economists, who have at least a very basic understanding of the discipline. There is no math. Is by no means exhaustive and is fully open to debate.
Let's first define what is a free market, then, see what we have as a system, explain why I assert this in the title, and why this might be one of the most important ideas shaping our politics today.
What is a Free Market?
In Economics, a free market is generally defined as a set of infinite buyers and sellers who has equal and perfect access to information, wealth, capital and resources, who can do whatever they want with this (opportunity) whenever they want (freedom), who enjoy no entry barriers (legal, political, social, economic, natural nor systemic, therefore, no need for government) nor market imperfections like, i.e., economies of scale, and, where the actors are paid the monetary value of their marginal productivity (everyone is correctly compensated at equilibrium, profits, as we know them, does not exist, therefore, no need of taxation to redistribute income). The first definition broadly accepted was Adam Smith's (Portrait, Photo Credit to United High School Org). Please, click here for a very good, revealing and well-written article on the moral philosophy aspect of the discipline, economists were called moral philosophers: The Invisible Handshake.
Again, we are in a free enterprise system, not a free market, where, by definition, there are infinite buyers and sellers, no entry barriers nor market imperfections and there is perfect competition, which drives prices to where marginal revenue, marginal cost are equal, with no elastic support to go beyond that equilibrium. This kind of Utopian (and mathematically asymptotic) situation resembles that of a Star Trek economy, where anyone can ask the replicator and the Holodeck to produce everything one may want to have or experience.
This is the main reason, as we will see later, the Libertarian and Anarchic ideals does not work today, under current conditions, these only serve to agglutinate power in a few players in spite of getting rid of central authority, as the power vacuum is filled by private interests of varying power and with specific interests of their own, some, in opposition to the interests of others.
As we move closer to real free market conditions, some of the premises of the Libertarians and Anarchists may start to work, as wealth and income will be closer to Pareto's optimum; we could be more able to take care of ourselves.
Until that, Free Market Capitalism will be an economic oxymoron, as perfect competition kills economic profits, as we will explain later in this article, and the Laissez Faire Capitalism, preached by Ayn Rand followers, will be just another form of taxation, instead of coming from the state, coming from the ones controlling capital, as the difference between the monetary value of the marginal productivity and the monopsonistically induced imperfect market prices for human capital goes up in the food chain with some going to investment, part to stock buybacks and the rest mainly to the pockets of the ones controlling capital.
Probably, some of the best and closest examples to a free market are seen in some parts of the financial markets, where some very liquid securities, commodities, and currency pairs, tend to have very low spreads (differences between the Bid and the Ask, or buy and sell prices), like short-term money market instruments, Fed Funds, overnight REPOs, the QQQQ and the USD/EUR currency pair. Their prices tend to capture most available information, are widely held and generally heavily traded and profits per unit traded at a given time are very small (at least for the market maker).
Paradoxically, because we are not in a real free market, in order to assure confidence, these markets are very regulated, at least at the national level.
The spread between the monopsonistically induced imperfect market price for human capital and the monetary value of its marginal productivity is the main cause of inequality, at least in the aggregate, if all the employers paid the monetary value of the marginal productivity, the macro effect may raise income distribution closer to the Pareto optimum where society as a whole may achieve its optimum levels of income and a higher standard of living and a higher level of consumption, in monetary terms. In a real world, however, the thing is a bit more complicated as it is not always easy to calculate these values beyond the market price, especially at the individual level and a bit of game theory may be needed to estimate the pints where the stakeholders may advance toward this optimum goal.
We are not in a free market, we are in a free enterprise system. In a real free market, without any of the market imperfections and infinite buyers and sellers and no economies of scale and no entry barriers and perfect information and logistics and time, the competition would so that economic profits, those beyond covering real and opportunity costs would be null.
With the use of some more advanced math, we can plot the approach of a market to free market conditions and it will look asymptotic to a limit where free market conditions are met. Obviously is Utopian. However, approaching that limits can have significant political consequences as many libertarian ideals may start to work (they are not really workable now as we need government to manage risk and do things the private sector cannot, due critical mass and its related economies of scale.
Of course, over regulating and under-regulating out of equilibrium tends not to be good. Irrationally over-regulating, worst if over ideological thinking, can deter entrepreneurial initiative and creativity. Under-regulating can be as bad or worst.
The relative lack of regulation over the financial markets in the late 1920's coupled with the massive banking losses after the great Miami hurricane of 1926 (NWS Memorial Page here), created the conditions of the financial meltdown that led to the great depression. The lax and ineffective oversight of the financial markets, especially the housing bubble, in the mid-2000's, led to the great recession. The California deregulation of the energy markets led to price manipulation and other abuses by power brokers like ENRON, an 800% price increases and the bankruptcy of two energy generation companies, not counting costs for society nor political costs.
Recently, the big thing in attempting to play a free market over a market with imperfections was the FCC move to allow the main actors in the internet supply industry to selectively decide what to charge for bandwidth, terminating net neutrality. We are already experiencing selective bandwidth allocation, generally reducing bandwidth bellow capacity in many markets.This not accounting the political risks for society as powerful interest may control information and with this, what you believe.
"People of the same trade seldom meet together, eve for merriment and diversion, . . . but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices." - Adam Smith.
In a real free market, not the one the 'free marketeers' propose, which is actually an attempt to prevent a free market, the invisible hand of supply and demand rules and any disequilibrium caused by physical, time and logistic constraints is corrected via specialization, in accordance to comparative advantage. (David Ricardo, pictured, originated the idea of a global economy based on comparative advantage. Photo Credit: Biography Online)
The tremendous implied leverage that can be attained during a real free market, especially, global free market conditions, must be, of course, guaranteed by the lack of disruption caused by war and political upheaval (a possibility in a real free market as there is no government and everyone have the same perfect access to wealth, capital and opportunity, therefore, no crime and geopolitical issues, ceteris paribus -all other things constant, except for those related to the human condition, as everyone has everything they want).
Natural disasters and other acts of nature are not taken into account in this simplified model (and these are ones of the few risks left). By this time, some of you already inferred why I used the title.
Interestingly, the people labeled as 'Liberals' precisely want that equality, which is conducive to the Free Market conditions those labeled as 'Conservative' and 'Libertarians' wants. Maybe, this is an artificially induced divide created upon two main mindsets already existing from the times of the revolution (in the USA), by a very sophisticated albeit still loosely connected marketing apparatus to provide support, unknowingly, via one or both groups, to conditions that have nothing to do with a free market at all...and these may resemble more Orwell's other classic, 'Animal Farm.' I leave that to the readers to judge by themselves.
Correcting disequilibrium is probably the most profitable business in the world, as it is enabling them... There are some actors with heavy vested interests for whom it is very convenient that the things remain permanently out of whack, and that to a large extent and degree.
What we have as a system
We are in a 'Free' Enterprise system built over an imperfect market. Notice the quote-marks on 'Free.' We are not a free market.
There is a large sector in the country population that is clearly anti-intellectual, simple-minded, that tends to coalesce along ideological lines that support a feedback loop that works against their best interests and tends depress consumption (70% of the economy) out of the equilibrium needed to sustain structural employment vs technological change. This is one of the political causes of inequality. Another is using price discovery over an imperfect market. We have free enterprise, not a free market. This tends to price resources below the monetary value of their marginal productivity.
The system we have in most developed countries (including in Communist China now the second largest economy in absolute terms), is one of a relatively free commerce. As long as you do not mess up with a big guy, you are left alone and even helped. If you want to make some waves and disrupt, you better have a great idea everyone likes or at least likes enough to reach critical mass and lots of capital or access to it.
There is relative freedom but it is not a free market. Capital, many times in large amounts, still has to be pooled, in order to attain economies of scale. You need an environment that protects your interests (a political, fiscal and monetary structure) so you have enough degree of monopolistic power to capture enough market share.You need a regulatory environment that protects your clients and yourself, so there is enough confidence in the markets by everyone in order for the system to be liquid enough to work (a government capable of enforcing the law and protecting national and supranational interests, and/or a private army and/or a gang of thugs). (U.S. Navy supercarrierUSS Nimitz on November 3, 2003. Photo Credit: Wikipedia)
In net terms, this capitalist, free commerce model served well humanity, as it allowed the pooling of resources and the distribution of risk and provided a competitive environment where 'creative destruction' worked in a quasi Darwinian fashion.
The usual counter-party, although not effectively always (in example, the weak Federal Government during the reconstruction after the Civil War in the USA and the emergence of the Robber Barons, as well as the same or similar in many developing countries), is a government with enough teeth to rationally enforce the rules that give the necessary structure upon a market, so it can work.
Governments, provide another way of massively pooling resources via taxation and government spending, which allowed society to build, in example, massive infrastructure and very advanced technological projects, things like an interstate highway system or autobahn, the internet and going to the moon, among many others, all with their peripheral benefits for all.
The Main Cause of Inequality
The main cause of inequality, in the aggregate, is how the difference between the monetary value of the marginal productivity of resources, adjusted for competition, and the base imperfect monopsonistically induced market prices for resources are taken by the monopsonies.
To illustrate, let's say you are in the market or a car as it will increase your productivity and overall utility. I you are the only person buying and many are selling cars, you have enough bargaining power to buy the car for salvage value and not or its change of rate in productivity, as would happen in a classic Nash equilibrium.
A problem this free commerce system has, is that when a system that relies on monopolistic and monopsonistic power to be profitable and preserve itself is put to work under the idea that this is a free market (which requires everyone to be equal) it concentrates economic (and political power) in a few actors and depress the rest bellow optimum equilibrium levels.
Resources, human and capital, instead of being paid the monetary value of their marginal productivity (the first derivative of the productivity equation, expressed in monetary terms, for those into math), are paid at imperfect market prices, where supply has been monopolized (in full or to an extent) and demand has been cornered, a monopsony (few actors in capacity to buy the existing supply, including labor).
(Joan Robinson, pictured, coined the word Monopsony and made important contributions to post-Keynesianism arguing for greater state involvement to overcome inequality and the failings of the 'free market.')
In the case of labor, in an example, within the constraints of elasticity of demand and substitution and the macroeconomic environment, employers can pay as low as they want, unless a government puts a floor and/or there is collective bargaining. Employers can pay so low that the local economy would resemble that of a third world country where Islands of wealth exist within a sea of poverty.
This is already happening in the USA. If not because the magnitude of its economy is so large, a big social revolt would have happened a long time ago. The size of the economy and the technology available can make poor people in the USA to look like the upper middle class in some places.
A potential solution to the inequality? Traditionally, taxation and government transfers have been a way to redistribute income, but it is very unpopular, especially in the middle classes, who bear the brunt of the downward socialization of risk and effective taxation, even if can do, not just do good, but, even circulate for more time currency in our porous external sector heavily influenced system. Maybe, in order to disrupt the system, we may have to look for ways to create incentives for employers to pay as close as the monetary value of marginal productivity as possible and tax those who don't, as a way to recover the implied private sector tax on labor.
More about income inequality from Dr Robert Reich on the presentation
Capital can move almost at ease, profits can be allocated, the local macroeconomic effects can be lessened by internationally earned profits, also, one need increasingly fewer people to produce. The global economic centroid will be shifting toward economically poor nations with large populations that can use that potential comparative advantage, by a factor related to the weight of their population, at least for a generation or two. If left unchecked, this will drive down the standards of living, mainly for the middle classes, of the most developed countries.
We the taxpayers have been subsidizing part of the spread between the monopsonistic market cost of human capital and the monetary value of its marginal productivity, one of the main causes of inequality beyond the Pareto optimum. A pure evil interpretation of Social Darwinism.
Add to this, the economic cycle phenomenon, expansions, and contractions. These are mainly caused by the time lags in the production of resources to cope with demand. In an example, it takes over eight years to produce a medical doctor in the USA, four to five years to produce an undergraduate engineer, and so on. By the time they graduate, maybe the demand for them could be different. One of the first to observe and predict this was Karl Marx, and he predicted correctly that the amplitude of the cycles would increase to a point of no recovery. Just look at the great depression, the latest in several bouts before it with disaster and the biggest. (Karl Marx, pictured, Photo Credit: The Chabad Sociologist)
With the advent of a central bank in the USA, and the application of monetary economics and the advent of Keynesian macroeconomics, plus the globalization, probably better said, internationalization of the economy, we have been diffusing and dispersing the magnitude of the cycle, therefore, dodging the bullet, for now...
For a few decades, these two economic disciplines, done by central bank action manipulating money supply (size of money supply, velocity of money and how much money the banks can create by lending), and fiscal policy (taxes and expenditures, with debt as a common point), has served well the USA and other countries.
Then, in an example, a USD thrown into the economy, could produce about 5 USD in economic activity. The central bank (the FED in the USA, actually the FEDs, there are 13 FEDs with relative autonomy, 12 actual banks), could buy USA Debt, stimulate lending, and other things to increase the money supply, the US Treasury could lower taxes or maintain the tax base and increase spending, or issue debt. (Pictured, John Maynard Keynes; Photo Credit: Biography Online)
The reasons, ceteris paribus and politics aside, this worked was that the multiplier was so high. The multiplier was so high because of the external sector of the economy, ex-imp, was not important, the system was not porous. Currency stayed far longer in circulation.
Now, the external sector in the USA, where a country can put to shine its comparative advantage, is large and money goes out of the country faster, reducing the multiplying effect of each unit of currency.
This, in addition to structural changes, explains why policies that traditionally worked, are less effective. The USA average multiplier is less than 2 now. (The introductory textbook formula for multipliers is 1 over the marginal propensity to consume, but when the effect of imports is added the real world story is different.)
A result of all this is the socialization of risk down in the food chain while socializing profits upwards...
In a modern, developed country, the main paper of government is risk management. Is its responsibility to protect their constituents from the forces that can make their people poor, especially during the transition to a global economy.
In the case of the USA, which I use heavily as an example because of its weight in global GDP, The article 1, Section 8, of its Constitution states that "The Congress shall have the power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts, and excises, to pay the debts and provide for the common defense and GENERAL WELFARE of the United States..." (Scene at the signing of the US Constitution. Photo Credit: Wikipedia).
Is the government of the USA, or key parts of it, doing its job regarding the GENERAL WELFARE of the United States of America, as mandated by its Constitution? Are the rest of the other governments of the world, depending on the stage of development of their countries, doing this?
Is the United States and/or any other world potency, when they export 'freedom' (by commerce, military invasion, religion, mass media spread of material culture, including via the Internet) exporting GENERAL WELFARE? or Are they exporting ways to socialize profits upward and socialize risks downward? Empires do the second to their colonies until they become a unified nation (and the risk is spread downward caste-wise), they lose their colonies or disappear.
The forces that want to preserve the out of equilibrium status quo are very active politically, like in the times of the robber barons. They do not have to talk to each other, they know what they want. These are the same forces that are really against a truly free market, in spite of pseudo preaching it.
Is bad to be rich? Of course not, I would rather be rich than poor. You can have a degree of security for you and your loved ones, be healthier, have more options and help others less fortunate with their needs, and better, to learn how to move upwards and have an effective chance of doing it. Even the robber barons did it at the end of their lives, and, in a real free market, not the pseudo one the 'free marketeers' promote, everyone would, to the extent the state of development and technology allows. But to get there people must wake up from the brainwashing and misinformation constantly bombarded upon them and put in power governments that watch for their best interest also, and I say also, because, in the other hand, destroying the private sector and the formation of capital is as bad or worse than what we have now.
Just imagine, the Tree D printers we see today, they may resemble the future replicators we see in Star Trek. Technology is pushing humans toward the equality needed for a free market.
Why I assert that the worst enemy of capitalism is a Free Market?
Now, why I titled this post as I did? Because there is no free market. A free market is Utopian. The rules of engagement, written and non written, that has been pushed into the system are tending very rapidly to work under a free market that does not exist.
The goal of capitalism, better said, the use of capital, as capitalism is the ideological side of it, is to, by using the available resources, to take advantages of economic disequilibrium to the extent to make at least enough profit to justify risk and opportunity cost.
The goal of capitalism is to protect the interests of those using capital, by means of preserving the market imperfections that create fluctuating disequilibrium, in order to continue producing an economic profit.
Consider a free market an asymptotic condition where society moves as its grow to infinite population and there is an infinite supply of resources and no time, logistical, scale nor sustainability constraints.
We will never get there until we populate the universe and brake by a very large factor the speed of light constraints, use effectively wormholes or get a quantic way of traveling through the fabric of nature.
However, trying to approach this asymptotic limit can unleash tremendous forces that can raise civilization to new levels.
Of course, the 'creative destruction' will continue and supply and demand will get more granular and fragmented, albeit how much more efficient the economic process becomes.
Those who cannot adapt because the weight of their sizes and investments, will have to fight the social transformation or get extinct. Many are already doing it...
The increasing income and wealth gap is mind-boggling, Middle classes are eroding, while corporate coffers are plenty, and in the USA, which accounts for a bit over 20% of the global GDP, the macroeconomic risk is not only local, there is a big risk that the emerging middle classes around the world suffer contagion, as real consumption in the USA deteriorates and with them these nations' exports. (Vilfredo Pareto, pictured, who worked on income distribution and mathematically demonstrated a constant income distribution among the several historical forms of government systems. We may not escape these natural ratios but the distribution kurtosis may improve or reduce- the absolute standard of living. Photo Credit: Chatfrika.)
Generally, cheap imports from developing countries has been keeping a lid on prices in developed countries, although real incomes have been not been growing for most of their population.
Although countries with very large populations, still have hundreds of millions waiting in line to get out of poverty, labor cost has been increasing as people become more educated and aware of their value and their material culture changes accordingly.
Because of the above, capital import based economic development models tend to be effective for one or two generations, unless there is a large and viable pool of people waiting to participate.
Why might this be one of the most important ideas shaping our politics today?
At some point, however, we may end exporting the same...'freedom...' we have here in the USA: A few enjoying most of our productivity while most struggle to achieve a secure standard of living.
Am I saying that the rich are in a big conspiracy to enslave our society? Nope. Just a few bad apples and some of them not even human (although run by humans) and the system is rigged to favor a few, even in conditions of apparent equality (the tide rises all boats, but not all boats are equal...)
It has been said many times that freedom and opportunity are like the tide, it lifts all boats. A problem with the implied message on this is that not all the boats are equal, worst, some are struggling to be afloat and some are sinking. The economics and technology to address many of the issues surrounding this are there, but not the politics.
During the times of the robber barons, they were competing against each other for who had the largest fortune and not necessarily caring much about the common folk, and when some politician (i.e., William Jennings Bryan) addressed the issues, they poured their money massively in the other candidate (in this case, William McKinley), used the press, owned by them, scare tactics and then business as normal.
Today, in order to have a politically viable position where only a fool would vote against his best interest, the faction for whom is not convenient that society moves to a real free market, retorts to very sophisticated marketing tactics.
It managed to coalesce a disparate group of people under the umbrella of an axiological ideology, similar in nature to an ethnic religion. The ideas are not reasoned, are strongly felt.
A recurring theme is something like: 'Don't mess with my faith, don't mess with my freedom, don't mess with my country, don't mess with my family, don't mess with my guns, don't mess with my flag.' These powerful statements appeal to the emotions of those sensitive to change, uncertainty, fear of the unknown, fear to be alone, fear of what is different, who need to feel secure. Probably your heart is beating a bit faster...
As Thomas Paine once said: 'To argue with a person who renounced the use of reason, is like administering medicine to the dead.'
This is where the big divide lies. This is where the new robber barons are putting their money and efforts to conquer the Republic and convert it into an oligarchy. The warning of President Dwight Eisenhower about the emergence of a Military Industrial Complex is right here.(President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Pictured. Photo Credit: Fed Secrets)
Of course, there will always be a symbiosis between the private sector and government. With the adequate checks and balances, and good people, it would be a wonderful one. The problem is when the one with a bill of rights and the teeth to enforce the law is gutted by the people representing the interests of ones who have no bill of rights.
This is no longer a Military-Industrial Complex thing, it literally involves all sectors of society where power can be exerted. It involves all the industries and government, health, science and technology, transportation, communications, all sectors. That's where the oligarchy is building up.
With a government that watch for all its constituents welfare, as it is its constitutional mandate, even if in symbiosis with the potential oligarchy, as long as the checks and balances are not legislated out nor juridically rendered null nor administratively rendered unenforceable, society can continue its progress to approaching the Utopian conditions of a free market. It is a matter of moving toward, not getting there.
Certainly, a movement towards a real free market is not convenient for some, as it implies their business could be disrupted, not a new thing, as it happens all the time. Most progressive business adapt and make new heights or become another business and survive. Others, may not want to do this or just think too short term.
The symbiosis between the private sector should be always closely monitored and the checks and balances immediately enforced. You cannot put the goats to watch for the lettuces. Not everyone is General Butler, the man who saved the USA Republic, when the robber barons of the time, asked him to put his troops in Washington, DC and give a Coup de Etat to FDR substituting him for a puppet military government that eliminated all the new laws enacted as a result of the economic catastrophe ruining the world. In the best of the USA military honor and tradition and its mandate to defend the constitution and freedom, the General advised the government and the Coup was over. Franklin Delano Roosevelt chose not to press charges for treason and end hanging the upper echelons of the economic elite of the USA and cause further damage to the nation. The incident was thrown under the rug.
With the increasing rise of extremism and craziness in politics, is very wise to have a watchful eye, critical sense and willingness to participate in the political process, in order to protect your civil liberties and your chances for progress and the planet itself.
Now, what you want to do? Becoming a poorer serf or have a real chance in the pursuit of happiness?
Some intermediate rational will probably have to be undertaken and several models have been discussed over time. Here is an old one, that even was discussed even before the word for it was coined. You may be surprised.
The USA, as the developed world, is, for all practical purposes, a free enterprise based socialist republic where income, transactions, and property are taxed and, the resulting government revenues, directly and indirectly, redistributed, as subsidies, services, and transfer payments, enough to guarantee a base consumption that can sustain business, industry and ultimately, capital
What we do here, with only 5% of the global population, not only affects us, it also affects the rest of the 95% of the world, people who do not have a say in our process...think about it.
The trickle-down free-marketeers have been systematically socializing down risks and costs, and dripping down benefits (which should be, ideally, equal to the monetary value of the rate of change in the productivity associated to the risks and costs), as a response to the inherent economics of consolidation into monopolistic competition, attributed to the need to achieve economies of scale, which in a market, far from really be free, is an imperfection that drags the markets into monopolistic and monopsonistic abyss.
Many of the critics of our work as Economists say that we foment class warfare. The only real class warfare is the one coming from some among the rich and powerful and their lackeys in their political side, mainly in the US Government, at all levels, with the support of the ignorant and brainwashed masses who vote contrary to their own interests, against the people they want to keep in economic slavery and in-check by means of the systematic erosion of their civil rights and liberties via the riddled economic system disguised as a 'free market democracy' that we have. Blame-the-victim articles floating around are a prime example of the Economics and History ignorance so prevailing among those who confound freedom with economic, de facto slavery.
We seem to be moving toward an Oligarchy, probably a Plutocracy, on a worldwide scale, where the definition of the New World Order is not the one in the US Dollar Bills, instead, is the revival of the Old Feudal Order.
Certainly, commerce, enterprise and. in general, the private sector of an economy, is an expression of freedom, but, remember, it does not have a bill of rights...
#2030NOW #FixIt #Tip@LinkedInPulse
An Olympian fellowship of America's wealthiest men at a banquet honoring Harrison Grey Fiske (center) - 1901 Photo Credit: The Byron Collection, Museum of the City of New York
"The farther a society drifts away from the truth, the more it will hate those that speak it..." -George Orwell
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