Governor of Bank of Canada Doesn't Know Canada's Own History

Governor of Bank of Canada Doesn't Know Canada's Own History

04/16/2018Tho Bishop

Unfortunately I will not be able it make the highly anticipated debate between Bob Murphy and George Selgin on fractional reserve banking tonight, it should be a great event between two great scholars (and former Mises Institute alums). Though I'm obviously on Team Bob tonight, I did want to point out a great tweet from Dr. Selgin over the weekend that help shows the very superficial grasp of history many central bankers have.

In a thread sparked by recent comments from Mark Carney of the Bank of England about central bank digital currency, a participant pointed to an article from Stephen S. Poloz — the head of the Bank of Canada. While explaining his skepticism of cryptocurrency, Poloz remarks that providing cash "is an absolutely vital public good, which has always been provided by the central bank." 

The problem as Selgin notes, is that central banks didn't provide cash for Cananda until the BoC was founded in 1935. Prior to that, Canada had a system of free banking and private currency — a monetary regime that proved to be far more stable than the United States under the Fed.

While this could perhaps be dismissed as simple absent mindedness on part of Poloz — his own "57 states" moment — the problem is that his entire point about the inherent "public value" of government-backed currency is directly undermined by Canada's own history. It is precisely because the record has shown that money is best left up to the market — coupled with the past decade of unprecedented monetary policy — that recent projects such as cryptocurrencies (along with private gold/silver/etc.-backed money) are so fascinating. On this point, I'll continue to shamelessly borrow from Selgin's work by pointing to his blog articles (Part 1Part 2, and Part 3) that critique a paper about what Canada's history of private bank notes might mean for cryptocurrency.

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Congressman Questions Fed, Treasury About US Gold

8 hours agoTho Bishop

One of the pieces of legislation Ron Paul pushed while leading the Congressional committee overseeing monetary policy was a bill to audit the US gold reserves. As one may expect when dealing with the Fed, there has long been a general lack of transparency with America's gold holdings. In fact, last year was the first time in over four decades that any member of Congress had been allowed inspect Fort Knox. 

At a hearing on the topic back in 2011, Dr. Paul explained while this matter was so important: 

Because the Government has for so long refused to provide substantive information on its gold holdings, it is not surprising that so much confusion abounds, both within and without the Government.

This gold belongs to the people, especially since much of it was forcibly taken from them in the 1930s, and the Government owes it to the people to provide them with the details of these holdings.

We would greatly benefit from a full, accurate inventory audit and assay with detailed explanations of who owns the gold and who is responsible for ownership, custody, and auditing. 

For the first time since Dr. Paul's retirement from Congress, a member of the House has questioned the Federal Reserve and the Treasury about the Federal government's handling of its gold reserve. 

In a letter yesterday addressed to Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and Fed Chair Jerome Powell, West Virginia Congressman Alex Mooney asked the following questions:

1) Records in the archives of the historian of the U.S. State Department describe U.S. government policy in recent decades as aiming to drive gold out of the world financial system in favor of the Federal Reserve Note or Special Drawing Rights issued by the International Monetary Fund.

Is this still U.S. government policy toward gold? If not, what IS the U.S. government’s current policy toward gold?

2) I have heard complains that the U.S. gold reserve has not been fully audited for many decades, particularly as there seems to have been no acknowledgement of – or account for – “swaps” and leases of gold or arrangements for such to which the U.S. government has been a party.

Does the U.S. government, through the Treasury Department, the Federal Reserve System, or any other agency or entity, transact in gold or gold derivatives either directly or through intermediaries? If so, what are those transactions and what are their objectives?

3) Does the U.S. government undertake any transactions in gold or gold derivatives through the Bank for International Settlements, Bank of England, or other central banks or governments? If so, what are these transactions and their objectives?

Rep. Mooney also made headlines earlier this year for introducing legislation calling for the dollar to be re-pegged to a weight of gold. 

As he wrote in the Wall Street Journal at the time:

The current Federal Reserve system benefits elites. The gold standard is equitable and puts “we the people” in control of the money supply. That’s why it was part of America’s founding and has been a key to the country’s long economic success.

As President Donald Trump continues to disappoint with his central bank nominees, it's nice to see a few voices in the swamp questioning the Fed. 

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Stockman on Fox Business: No, the Pentagon Doesn't Need Its Budget Raised to $700B

10 hours agoDavid Stockman

David Stockman brought some sanity to Fox Business's Mornings with Maria earlier today. He blasted the hypocrisy of both parties on spending, warned of the dangers of rising bond yields, and called out the absurdity of US foreign policy.

Stockman Battles Fox Business: No, the Pentagon Doesn't Need Its Budget Raised to $700B

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Trickle-Down Economics

04/24/2018Gary North
“It’s kind of hard to sell ‘trickle-down,’” he [David Stockman] explained, “so the supply-side formula was the only way to get a tax policy that was really ‘trickle-down.’ Supply-side is ‘trickle-down’ theory.” [William Greider, "What David Stockman Said," Washington Post (Nov. 22, 1981)

During the Eisenhower administration, critics of the Republican Party’s economic policies called them the policies of “trickle-down economics.” There was even a lyric in a Joe Glazer “folk” song about “trickle-down George” Humphrey, who was the Secretary of the Treasury. Trickle-down economics, the critics said, was based on the theory that tax breaks given to the rich would multiply investment, provide jobs, and eventually create increased income for everyone in the economy. In other words, by “giving” the rich more after-tax income, the government would foster economic growth, because the rich are more likely to invest than the poor, since any additional money in their hands would not have to be spent on necessities.

The critics resented the suggestion that the rich should receive a reduction in their tax rates. They had campaigned long and hard for the “progressive” income tax—the graduated income tax—and they were not happy with any suggestion that the reason why the American economy was not experiencing maximum economic growth was because of the graduated income tax, which in the 1950s extracted a maximum of 91 per cent of “unearned” (investment) income.

VALUE THEORY

It is one of the ironies of history that both the critics and the defenders of reduced tax rates in the highest brackets relied on the same view of income. What we call “welfare economics” was created at the turn of the century by a group of British economists, most notably A. C. Pigou, who misused the crucial economic doctrine-of marginal utility. They argued that since each additional unit of income (ounce of gold, dollar, pound sterling, etc.) is worth less to the recipient than the preceding unit of income, we must conclude that it would increase total social utility within a society to impose graduated income taxes. Why? Because the goods bought by the thousandth dollar received by a poor man are worth so much to him, whereas the goods that the millionth dollar will buy a rich man are valued very low by the recipient. The rich man will have purchased all those goods and services that were high on his value scale long before he receives his millionth dollar. Thus, concluded the welfare economists, the civil government can increase total social utility in a society by taking (say) 75 cents of that final dollar away from the rich man and transferring the money to the poor man.

It took three decades for an economist to come up with a theoretically precise rebuttal to this position. Lionel Robbins, who had been influenced by the writings of Ludwig von Mises early in his career, provided the answer. Robbins argued that while it is legitimate for an individual to compare the value to him of the first, second, or nth dollar of his own income, it is not legitimate for anyone to make interpersonal comparisons of subjective utility. We cannot make scientifically valid statements comparing the subjective value of the second dollar of income (or the millionth) in one person’s income with the subjective value of the second, third, or nth dollar of another person’s income. We cannot even make cardinal (quantitative) comparisons in our own minds—this is worth precisely this much more to me than that but only ordinal comparisons: this is my first choice, that is my next choice, and so forth.

Common sense may not accept Robbins’ conclusion, but such is often the case in matters of economic theory. Science frequently produces conclusions that are in flagrant opposition to common sense. We need to consider an example regarding interpersonal comparisons of subjective value. The millionaire may value his millionth dollar very highly, if he has some investment in mind which requires a high initial payment, or if he regards his income as a kind of measure of his value to society. On the other hand, some mystic or ascetic may not place a high value on his thousandth dollar of income in any given time period.

We do not have a quantitative measure of pleasure or utility; thus, we cannot, as scientists, make interpersonal comparisons of subjective utility. Conclusion: it is not scientifically demonstrable that total social utility within a society can be increased by taking 75 per cent of the rich man’s income in the highest tax brackets and transferring this money to a poor man (minus 25 per cent for government handling). There is no such thing, scientifically speaking, as total social utility. We cannot add up subjective utilities as if we were adding up a column of figures.

Admittedly, as policy-makers we have to make judgments concerning the advisability of particular economic programs. But Robbins’ refutation of welfare economics by means of the argument against the scientific validity of interpersonal comparisons of subjective utility cannot be limited to the narrow case of the graduated income tax. It undermines all attempts to “tally up” social utility in the name of economic science. We cannot, as economic scientists, say that any policy will increase total social utility. There is no way to measure “total social utility.” So effective is this argument that it denies to economics the legitimacy of making estimates of the total value of any aggregates. What does Gross National Product mean, anyway, if we cannot assign any value (or meaning) to the columns of figures in a GNP index? If Robbins’ thesis is correct—and since 1932, no economist has shown how it might be incorrect—then most of what we know as modern applied economics, including the formulation of economic policy, is an illusion.

Robbins had this pointed out to him by Roy Harrod, who later became Keynes’ biographer, in 1938. Incredibly, Robbins capitulated to Harrod and abandoned the obvious and inescapable logic of his earlier argument. But he could never explain where he had been incorrect. He simply wanted to maintain the status of economists as scientific advisors, so he abandoned the logic of subjectivist economics. Somehow, he and Harrod agreed, economists as scientists can make assessments of the total social utility of particular economic policies. Somehow, GNP (or other economic statistics) are meaningful They could not say exactly how, but somehow. It was a matter of faith.

Read more.

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Timothy Terrell Named T.B. Stackhouse Professor of Economics at Wofford College

04/24/2018Mises Institute

Congratulations to Mises Scholar Timothy Terrell for being named the T.B. Stackhouse Professor of Economics at Wofford College. 

As Wofford notes, "The T.B. Stackhouse Endowed Professorship of Economics was established in 1949 by the Wofford Board of Trustees in memory of Stackhouse, who graduated from Wofford in 1880 and resided in Columbia, S.C."

Along with his position at Wofford, Dr. Terrell is a member of the Mises University faculty and serves as publishing editor for the Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics.

 

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Illinois County Votes to Nullify State Gun Laws

04/24/2018Tho Bishop

Across the country we have seen Democrat-controlled states and cities announcing themselves as "sanctuaries" for immigrants in the opposition to policies handed down from the Trump administration. Last week, a county in Illinois voted to become a "sanctuary county"of its own, but this time the battle is over gun control measures that may be passed by their state government. 

As the USA Today reports:

The Effingham County Board approved the resolution 8-1 on Monday. Board members said they felt it was necessary to "take a stand" against gun control efforts in the Illinois legislature. 

Effingham County State's Attorney Bryan Kibler told Fox News that they decided to "flip the script" and "make this a sanctuary county like they would for undocumented immigrants." 

This is precisely how political self-determination should look like. Instead of leaving it up to legislators in an isolated capital dictate laws on a country as large and diverse as the United States, we are all better off having decisions be left at political units closer to the citizens themselves. Just as states should be able to nullify bad Federal policies, local governments should opt to nullify bad state law.

As Mises wrote in Liberalism:

[T]he right of self-determination...is not the right of self-determination of nations, but rather the right of self-determination of the inhabitants of every territory large enough to form an independent administrative unit. If it were in any way possible to grant this right of self-determination to every individual person, it would have to be done. 

Of course in order to check the political authority of larger entities, those trusted with enforcing the law must be willing to stand with their local community. Unfortunately in the case of Effingham County, it seems their sheriff isn't prepared to do so. Still, the increased willingness of state and local governments to question the wisdom and rules of larger government bodies is one of the more promising trends in American politics. 

Recommend reading: Anarchism and Radical Decentralization Are the Same Thing by Ryan McMaken
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Newman on the Tom Woods Show: The Progressive Era Was a Scam

04/24/2018Patrick Newman

Patrick Newman joined the Tom Woods Show yesterday to talk about the Murray Rothbard book he edited on the Progressive Era.

Check out the episode here. 

 

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Was Mises a Neoliberal?

04/23/2018Jeff Deist

Does neoliberalism, the tired slogan of our time, have a precise definition? 

The short answer is no, it doesn't. At least not readily one readily at hand, if this New Republic article is any guide:

For the left, neoliberalism often connotes a form of liberal politics that has embraced market-based solutions to social problems: the exchanges of the Affordable Care Act, for instance, rather than a single-payer, universal program like Medicare. {Jonathan} Chait argues that leftists use the word to “bracket the center-left together with the right” and so present socialism as the only real alternative. But the term has its critics on the left, too: Political economist Bill Dunn finds it too insular, rarely adopted by the people it is said to describe. The historian Daniel Rodgers, meanwhile, argues that neoliberal means too many different things, and therefore not enough.

But is neoliberal a slur, as some contend, used to attack Democrats who are overly cozy with Wall Street and global corporations? Does it describe left-liberals who have given up the fight for full democratic socialism, and sold out their principles to enjoy the fruits of unjust capitalism?

English anthropologist and geographer David Harvey implies as much, though he does assign reasonably cohesive elements to the term:

An economy built on just-in-time production, the internationalization of capital, the deregulation of industry, insecure labor, and the entrepreneurial self. In the years since, these trends have only accelerated due to improvements in, and the spread of, information technologies. But few call this “post-Fordism” any longer. They mostly call it “neoliberalism.”

Harvey references Henry Ford, not Gerald Ford, in his identification of neoliberalism as the political devolution of western societies from democratic nation states into subdivisions of borderless mass production and mass consumption. And this materialism is at the core of why left-progressives view neoliberalism as a pejorative term; and perhaps not surprisingly label the New Republic itself a neoliberal outlet (notwithstanding protestations by Chait and others). To progressives, the Clintons, the Democratic National Committee, and traditional old guard liberal media outlets are merely center-right leaning mouthpieces for big business.  

As with most political (and politicized) terms, definitions vary wildly depending on who uses them. Murray Rothbard and Elizabeth Warren hardly mean the same thing when they say "capitalism," and we all suffer from the tendency to imbue words with meanings that suit our purposes. Interestingly, use of the term "neoconservative" similarly has been attacked as a slur, one designed as code for undue Zionism or overeagerness to unleash military forces. Helpfully, however, neoconservative Godfather Irving Kristol himself provided us with the broad parameters, and the expression has lost much of its bite in the post Bush 43/Cheny/Rumsfeld era.

Within the current zeitgeist we can offer a less inflammatory yet still loose definition of neoliberalism than Harvey: the basic program of late 20th century liberalism (social democracy, public education, civil rights, entitlements, welfare, feminism, and a degree of global governance), coupled with at least grudging if not open respect for the role of markets in improving human life. In other words, neoliberals are left-liberals who accept the role of markets and the need for economic development as part of the larger liberal program. Think Bono, who considers himself a progressive "citizen of the world" yet admires markets and globalism.

With this definition in mind, the New Republic article goes badly astray when it asserts that neoliberalism "emerged from the ruins of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the early twentieth century." First and foremost, it's hard to consider any century-old framework of thought as neo anything. And it's difficult to trace meaningful connection between first and second generation Austrian economists, writing before World War II, before truly global trade, and before the triumphant ascension of central banks, with today's neoliberal political program of social democracy and political globalism. Menger, Mises, and Hayek, with their deep regard for specialization, comparative advantage, and global trade, all wrote within a basic framework of nation states.  

As is often the case, critics of markets and private property mistake means with ends, and assume a lack of concern for "human" considerations is necessarily bound up with rigorous concern for material considerations. Hence author Patrick Iber travels a winding path of cherry-picking Misesian and Hayekian thought, the effect of which is deeply misguided though not malevolent. Not much is new here; Iber simply repeats the standard progressive arguments: they favored capital over labor. They supported democracy only as a means of reducing violent people's uprisings. They supported government, but only in service to wealth and property. And so forth. Yet by New Republic standards he treats both men somewhat fairly, far better than, say, The New York Times or Washington Post would and have. There is only one out-of-context cheap shot directed at Mises ("he was pleased when an anti-fascist uprising was violently suppressed in 1927"); meanwhile the article at least recognizes Hayek's moral concerns over apartheid in South Africa and Pinochet's dictatorship in Chile.

But the author errs badly in assuring the reader that Mises (the democrat) preferred capital to labor in service of the bourgeoisie, and that Hayek thought markets took priority over "human rights and social justice." This is especially interesting given Hayek's own perspective on the latter term, and the typically vague manner in which the author employs both.

For our purposes we can neatly distinguish "real" liberalism, or classical liberalism for lack of a better historical term, from neoliberalism. Liberalism in Mises's conception is fundamentally concerned with private property. In this view the means of production — capital — are in private hands. They are not owned by the state, by society, by "the people," or collectively. Full stop. No amount of regulated semi-capitalism or semi-socialism can evade this foundation, because both individual and economic freedom hinge on the free use and control of private property. Control over one's property, meaning the ability to use, alter, alienate, encumber, or sell it, is the essence of true property ownership—albeit always subject to tort liability for harms caused to others. Any amount of taxation, regulation, or outright confiscation necessarily erodes this control, which Mises acknowledged even within his framework of utilitarian democracy as a protector of property rights.

This insistence on property rights at the core of any liberal program is scarcely to be found in today's neoliberalism, yet again it remains at the heart of left-progressive antipathy to the term. They are suspicious of any introduction, or re-introduction, of markets and property into what ought to be a worldview of economic planning by the state.

We should note that Mises also appended his program of liberalism with two important corollaries that were "neo" for the time, specifically the interwar years: freedom and peace. In contrast with what he saw as the "old" 19th century perspective, a "present-day" liberalism had "outgrown" the old version through "deeper and better insights into interrelationships." Meaningful liberalism required political freedom for the individual, especially freedom from involuntary servitude. And peace was the foundation for all true economic activity, inescapably tied to civilization. Undoubtedly New Republic readers would benefit from understanding just how progressive Mises really was when Liberalism first appeared in 1927!

Meaningful argumentation, as opposed to politics and outright war, requires words and precise definitions. This is why, unfortunately, almost all political talk devolves into what Orwell accurately described as "meaningless words." Meaningless words attempt to impugn or attack the "other," rather than convey specific information or create understanding and consensus. Politics is not a science, but we would all benefit from insisting on rigor in definitions from political pundits just as we once did from social scientists. Imprecise meanings and shifting semantics generate more heat than light, and leave us all talking past one another.

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Fed: "Underlying Inflation" near a 12-Year High

04/23/2018Ryan McMaken

According to the Federal Reserve's Underlying Inflation Gauge, the 12-month inflation growth in March was at 3.13 percent. That's the highest rate recorded in 140 months, or nearly 12 years. The last time the UIG measure was as high was in July 2006, when it was at 3.2 percent. 

The Fed began publicly reporting on new measure in December of last year, and takes into account a broader measure of inflation than the more-often used CPI measure.

uig.png

Not shockingly, the UIG has shown a higher rate of inflation than the CPI, most of the time in recent years. Moreover, this gap between UIG and CPI appears to be growing.1 

gap1.png

In March, while the UIG was 3.13 percent, the CPI growth rate was 2.4 percent. This was a 13-month high for the CPI. 

The use of consumer prices only in the CPI has long been a problem, in that the cost of living and planning for the future does not involve only the basket of goods used in the CPI calculations. A wide variety of assets affect the American economy as well. 

As explained by the New York Fed's summary of the UIG measure:

We use data from the following two broad categories: (1) consumer, producer, and import prices for goods and services and (2) nonprice variables such as labor market measures, money aggregates, producer surveys, and financial variables (short- and long-term government interest rates, corporate and high-yield bonds, consumer credit volumes and real estate loans, stocks, and commodity prices).

But don't expect the Fed to abandon its fondness for the CPI and the arbitrary "2-percent inflation" goal any time soon. The fact that the broader measure of inflation is climbing to the highest level seen in more than a decade is apparently not a matter of concern. 

Today, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, Charles Evans, reiterated that the Fed is holding to its 2-percent inflation goal - and they're not talking about using the UIG measure. 

  • 1. The gap is simply calculated by substracting the CPI YOY growth rate from UIG YOY growth rate. A negative value means the CPI was higher than the UIG in that period. 
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What Will Weapons Inspectors Find in Syria — And Does it Matter?

04/23/2018Ron Paul

Inspectors from the Organization for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) have finally arrived in Douma, Syria, to assess whether a gas attack took place earlier this month. It has taken a week for the inspectors to begin their work, as charges were thrown back and forth about who was causing the delay.

Proponents of the US and UK position that Assad used gas in Douma have argued that the Syrian and Russian governments are preventing the OPCW inspectors from doing their work. That, they claim, is all the evidence needed to demonstrate that Assad and Putin have something to hide. But it seems strange that if Syria and Russia wanted to prevent an OPCW inspection of the alleged sites they would have been the ones to request the inspection in the first place.

The dispute was solved just days ago, as the OPCW Director-General released a statement explaining that the delay was due to UN security office concerns for the safety of the inspectors.

We are told that even after the OPCW inspectors collect samples from the alleged attack sites, it will take weeks to determine whether there was any gas or other chemicals released. That means there is very little chance President Trump had “slam dunk” evidence that Assad used gas in Douma earlier this month when he decided to launch a military attack on Syria. To date, the US has presented no evidence of who was responsible or even whether an attack took place at all. Even right up to the US missile strike, Defense Secretary Mattis said he was still looking for evidence.

In a Tweet just days ago, Rep. Thomas Massie expressed frustration that in a briefing to Congress last week the Director of National Intelligence, the Secretary of State, and the Secretary of Defense “provided zero real evidence” that Assad carried out the attack. Either they have it and won’t share it with Congress, he wrote, or they have nothing. Either way, he added, it’s not good.

We should share Rep. Massie's concerns.

US and French authorities have suggested that videos shared on the Internet by the US-funded White Helmets organization were sufficient proof of the attack. If social media postings are these days considered definitive intelligence, why are we still spending $100 billion a year on our massive intelligence community? Maybe it would be cheaper to just hire a few teenagers to scour YouTube?

Even if Assad had gassed his people earlier this month there still would have been no legal justification for the US to fire 100 or so missiles into the country. Of course such a deed would deserve condemnation from all civilized people, but Washington’s outrage is very selective and often politically motivated. Where is the outrage over Saudi Arabia’s horrific three-year war against Yemen? Those horrors are ignored because Saudi Arabia is considered an ally and thus above reproach.

We are not the policemen of the world. Bad leaders do bad things to their people all the time. That’s true even in the US, where our own government steadily chips away at our Constitution by setting up a surveillance state.

We have neither the money nor the authority to launch bombs when we suspect someone has done something wrong overseas. A hasty decision to use force is foolish and dangerous. As Western journalists reporting from Douma are raising big questions about the official US story of the so-called gas attack, Trump’s inclination to shoot first and ask questions later may prove to be his downfall.

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Reprinted with permission. 

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This Is Amazon Go’s Real Innovation

04/23/2018Per Bylund

In this year’s letter to Amazon shareholders, released earlier this week, CEO Jeff Bezos extolled the value of high expectations. “We didn’t ascend from our hunter-gatherer days by being satisfied,” he wrote. Among the products that Bezos summarized was the company’s new shopping concept, Amazon Go.

“Since opening, we’ve been thrilled to hear many customers refer to their shopping experience as ‘magical,’” Bezos wrote. “What makes the magic possible is a custom-built combination of computer vision, sensor fusion, and deep learning, which come together to create Just Walk Out shopping.”

Innovation is a tricky thing. Too much change too quickly, and consumers will shun the advancement. Microsoft knows this well, having unsuccessfully launched the Tablet PC nearly a decade before iPads hit shelves.

Going too far or arriving too early is just as bad as arriving late to an industry trend—your company’s expectations can’t overshoot the customer’s expectations. Bad timing leads to losses. To disrupt the marketplace, businesses must show consumers the obvious value of the innovation before they make them feel comfortable enough to try it.

Bezos is right: The new Amazon Go store absolutely nailed that execution. The cashier-less shopping experience is a (rather obvious) next step toward automation, but it’s not so shocking that customers feel uncomfortable with the experience.

The real innovation of Amazon Go, however, is not the lack of cashiers. Amazon’s true endgame is what comes next: the end of the traditional grocery store.

Read the full article at Fortune
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