Debunking Economics

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Debunking Economics Supplement

The Zed Books website is being redesigned it appears, and hence the link to the figures supplement to the second edition of Debunking Economics has gone missing. You can now download it from here:

Debunking Economics Supplement

There is also a Kindle version of the book that has all the figures included:

Complete Debunking Economics

History of Debunkingeconomics.com website

Prologue

After the saga reported below, Gonzalo Lira failed to pay the web designer to maintain the site, and I reached an amicable agreement with the designer to regain control of the site. I don’t have time to maintain it, but it is still up there and alive on the web. At some stage it will be redesigned to support the book once more.

Some history

I’ll get to the punch-line of this page immediately: I have lost control of the Debunking Economics subscription website to my so-called partner Gonzalo Lira, and I want to shut it down. Since I am unable to do so (as I will explain below), I can only advise people NOT to sign up to this site. When I manage to regain control of it, it will revert to supporting my book Debunking Economics.

At about this time last year, I was seriously considering shutting down my site Debtwatch (www.debtdeflation.com/blogs). The blog had been a fantastic means for me to communicate my warnings about the approaching crisis, and to get my non-orthodox economic analysis more widespread, but after six years, the time it took to maintain it was seriously reducing my capacity to focus upon my main concerns. These were no longer warning of the crisis, nor even commenting upon it, but on developing a serious alternative economics. But by 2012, I was spending more time doing effectively clerical work related to the blog than I was devoting to economic research.

I had two alternatives: either I made the blog pay for me so that I could hire someone to take that load off me, or I shut the blog down. This was doubly urgent at the time since I had hired a helper on the clerical front using a grant from the hedge fund Sabretooth, and they had shut their doors in April.

I was leaning towards shutting Debtwatch down when Gonzalo Lira approached me on May 19th with an idea for a commercial blog that he supremely confident would be successful:

Email on May 19th 2012

Hi Steve,

I want to talk to you about an idea I have—a way to monetize your site’s traffic which I think you’ll like, and which I already know will be successful.

I know it will be successful because it’s the basis of my current site, LiraSPG.com. And I’m in the process of implementing it with a few other people, including our mutual friend Max Keiser.

He argued that it would involve very little extra work for me—a video a week, an audio podcast, a blog entry, a monthly webinar—in return for an revenue stream that would let me offload my unwanted work onto support staff and get a tidy income on top for me.

Email on May 30th 2012

To reiterate: I will finance and set up the paid site, plus cover ongoing server costs, maintenance and the all-important customer support. I will also carry out the marketing of both the paid and the free sites, in order to bring in new subscribers.

If we succeed at getting 300 new subscribers per month—which I think is completely achievable—that would represent an income for Steve of approximately US$180,000 in the first year.

Figure 1: May 30th 2012 projections of expected revenue

I had had some brief correspondence with Lira in previous months, but didn’t know him otherwise. I checked and saw that he had been on some of the same shows that I had been interviewed by—Capital Account and Max Keiser’s show—so I accepted his bona fides and decided his idea was worth a try.

As part of putting the site together, Lira argued that it would facilitate the redesign of debunkingeconomics.com if he had ownership of the domain name:

Email on July 7th 2012

Guys, the domain name “debunkingeconomics.com” is set to expire in about a month, according to my tech guy.

I suggest that Echo Chamber Media assume ownership of the domain name, for the sake of making the building of the site more expedient.

However, if our association ends for whatever reason, Steve receives the domain name back from Echo Chamber Media, for a nominal sum of $1.

The reason for this is that the tech guys have to do some stuff for security on the site. If the domain name remains in Steve’s name, then we have to do a whole to-do with attorneys and notarized letters that ascertain that ECM has the right to fiddle with the domain name.

This stuff takes time, money, and a lot of patience with bureaucracy.

But if ECM is the owner of the domain name, this can proceed much more quickly and efficiently.

To reiterate: ECM would sell back to Steve the domain name for the sum of one dollar the second our association ends for whatever reason.

We would of course write a specific addendum to our original deal memo, articulating this contingency.

Tell me if this is acceptable. I hope that it is, because it would save us from a lot of legal hassle.

When the site was launched, rather than the immediate 210 monthly subscribers and 140 yearly that Lira was expecting as a minimum (he had hopes of hitting 1,000 on day one), the actual signup was far lower: 98 in total, with the majority of those being yearly subscribers.

Table 1: August startup subscriptions

Membership Number of Members Subscription Fee Total
Monthly Memberships 38 $25.00 $950.00
Monthly Memberships 1 $0.01 $0.01
Yearly Memberships 57 $250.00 $14,250.00
Yearly Memberships 2 $225.00 $450.00
Totals (A) 98   $15,650.01

With a 50:50 revenue share, my gross income for that first month was about $7500 (versus initial costs of about $2500 for video production). That was still revenue positive, but a long way below Lira’s optimistic forecasts.

The second month was somewhat better, but here I made an error that exaggerated the apparent performance: I thought I was getting information on new subscriptions only—so that the 108 new monthly subscribers for September were in addition to the 38 who signed up back in August.

Table 2: September 2012

Membership Number of Members Subscription Fee Total
Monthly Memberships ($25) 108 $25.00 $2,700.00
Monthly Memberships ($40) 6 $40.00 $240.00
Yearly Memberships ($225) 3 $225.00 $675.00
Yearly Memberships ($250) 65 $250.00 $16,250.00
Yearly Memberships ($400) 2 $400.00 $800.00
Membership Refund 1 -$215.00
Totals (A) 184   $20,450.00

In fact that was not the case. The yearly subscribers were new, but the monthly subscribers included those who had continued on from the previous month. So I falsely believed that the revenue I was seeing from monthly subscribers would grow and be quite substantial over time. This was my own mistake here, not Lira’s.

Table 3: October 2012

Membership Number of Members Subscription Fee Total
Monthly Memberships ($25) 106 $25.00 $2,650.00
Monthly Memberships ($40) 15 $40.00 $600.00
Yearly Memberships ($250) 1 $250.00 $250.00
Yearly Memberships ($400) 6 $400.00 $2,400.00
Membership Refund 2 -$215.00 -$430.00
Totals (A) 128   $5,470.00

By November, when I saw these results, I had the additional distraction of UWS’s proposal to terminate its economic degree. That wiped out most of the next five months for me—firstly in a campaign to try to get UWS to reverse its decision, and then in industrial relations proceedings that ultimately resulted in me taking redundancy from UWS on March 30th. The financial viability of this site, which had been a second tier issue for me, became first tier.

Table 4: November 2012

Membership Number of Members Subscription Fee Total
Monthly Memberships ($25) 96 $25.00 $2,400.00
Monthly Memberships ($40) 19 $40.00 $760.00
Yearly Memberships ($250) 0 $250.00 $0.00
Yearly Memberships ($400) 2 $400.00 $800.00
Membership Refund 0 $0.00
Totals (A) 117   $3,960.00

With my false belief that the figures I was seeing were for new signups of both monthly and yearly subscribers, I became concerned at what appeared to be a growing discrepancy between what I was receiving (half of the totals shown in these tables) and what I thought the site was earning.

Table 5: December 2012

Membership Number of Members Subscription Fee Total
Monthly Memberships ($25) 88 $25.00 $2,200.00
Monthly Memberships ($40) 26 $40.00 $1,040.00
Yearly Memberships ($250) 0 $250.00 $0.00
Yearly Memberships ($400) 2 $400.00 $800.00
Membership Refund 0 $0.00
Totals (A) 116   $4,040.00

When I saw the December results, I challenged Lira over this:

My email January 17th

We need to talk–urgently.

I was waiting until this month’s payment to confirm this, but you are only transferring to me the revenue from new signups: you are not giving me the payments from continuing customers.

The discrepancy is now enormous: on my calculations you owe me $9,977–see the attached spreadsheet. The two tables below–copied from that sheet–confirm that your payments to me to date are only for new signups, and do not include monthly payments by existing $25 and $40 per month subscribers.

Table 6: My erroneous calculations

New Payments $15,650 $20,665 $5,900 $3,960 $4,040
Minus Costs $37 $715 $1,131 $272 $171
Net Halved $7,806 $9,975 $2,385 $1,844 $1,935
Actual Payment $7,806 $9,975 $2,385 $1,844 $1,935
Difference $0 $0 $0 $0 $0
Total Payments $15,613 $20,900 $8,659 $10,828 $14,169
Minus Costs $37 $715 $1,131 $272 $171
Half Total Payments minus costs $7,788 $10,092 $3,764 $5,278 $6,999
Actual Payment from ECM $7,806 $9,975 $2,385 $1,844 $1,935
Discrepancy -$19 $117 $1,380 $3,434 $5,065
Owed $9,977

He then corrected me:

Steve, I think you are severely mistaken.

The payments we have made to you are for ALL customers, both new and ongoing.

The absolutely easiest way to confirm this is to go to the Authorize.net account you have, and run an account summary, starting from August 25, 2012, when we started the site. Then add up all the payments, less the credit card processing fees which we agreed to split.

You will see that there is no discrepancy. Please check the information, and you will confirm this for yourself.

I checked, and Lira was right: the total shown each month for monthly subscribers was the absolute total, not new signups. I still find this puzzling: when I have signed up for a monthly service (as I have for the New York Times and Sydney Morning Herald) the payment is taken out each month unless I deliberately cancel. I thought I’d see cancellations in the monthly report, but clearly it didn’t include that (the spreadsheet comes from the payment gateway Authorize.net).

So I suddenly realized that the site was far from profitable—given my production costs of about $2500 a month—and asked Lira to shut down yearly memberships while I decided what to do.

This is why the videos stopped being made—on top of the time I was losing to the industrial relations dispute with UWS, and getting ready for the Kickstarter campaign to raise development funds for my Minsky software (which ran from February 9 to March 18). I was now conscious that the site was costing me more than I was actually earning from it. My objective had never been the money itself—first and foremost, I was hoping to “buy time” using its revenue stream so that I could focus on my research—so the fact that it was losing money as well as costing my time made it a doubly bad project.

I therefore stopped recording videos and cut back to just providing my weekly blog column here prior to its publication on Business Spectator (more about this below) and asked Lira to terminate the yearly membership option immediately—since this made it harder to ultimately terminate this site. Then I received the January statement on March 2nd—and saw that yearly memberships were still being taken.

Table 7: January 2013

Membership Number of Members Subscription Fee Total
Monthly Memberships ($25) 75 $25.00 $1,875.00
Monthly Memberships ($40) 27 $40.00 $1,080.00
Yearly Memberships ($250) 0 $250.00 $0.00
Yearly Memberships ($400) 6 $400.00 $2,400.00
Membership Refund 0 $0.00
Totals (A) 108   $5,355.00

I wrote to Lira insisting that he terminate the yearly membership option as he had agreed to do a month earlier:

My email of March 6th

Two things:

Firstly can you change the account for my payments? I am shutting down my business account and just going with my personal account. See details below (this is less important than the second issue however).

Secondly, I notice that virtually half the income this month came from another 6 yearly subscribers at $400. This is just money we are going to have to pay back when the site is terminated. Can you please, as we discussed, END yearly memberships now? I want to keep our refunds to a minimum when the site is finally shut.

 

On March 31st, I received the February statement—and saw that there were still yearly subscribers signing up.

Table 8: February 2013

Membership Number of Members Subscription Fee Total
Monthly Memberships ($25) 64 $25.00 $1,600.00
Monthly Memberships ($40) 30 $40.00 $1,200.00
Yearly Memberships ($250) 0 $250.00 $0.00
Yearly Memberships ($400) 2 $400.00 $800.00
Membership Refund 0 $0.00
Totals (A) 96   $3,600.00

 

My email of April 1st

Thank you.

Two issues:

(1) Please terminate the availability of yearly memberships, as we discussed and agreed previously.

(2) Please retain and additional $1 for yourself from the next payment and transfer ownership of debunkingeconomics.com to me, as allowed for in our agreement.

(3) Please arrange for me to have administrator’s rights on the blog.

I received no reply to this email, nor to any subsequent email. Nor have I received payments for March (or April), which on our agreement I should have received by April 30th at the latest.

I had planned to wait until after May 30th to write this post, since by then I would know whether he was adding injury to insult by hanging on to all the blog revenue, as well as ignoring my initially politely worded but ultimately insulting emails (see the end of this post for the set). But today I received a justifiably angry email from one of you about how Lira has been treating subscribers:

Please spend a few minutes to provide communication support for your website debunkingeconomics.com, as there is no means to communicate regarding billing issues. Please instruct your support staff to credit my credit card for two charges of $40.00. This is time consuming to get these charges reversed. You would do better to not have a web site charging folks if you do not provide a means to communicate regarding these billings. see below.

 May 16, 2013 12:22 PM

I have contacted the telephone number provided at 702-739-6883 (number listed on the credit card charge) and I have not been able to speak with a person at this listed number receiving a voice message “There is no one to answer your call”. My credit card has been charged twice at $40.00 dollars each time, the latest charge applied on May 8, 2013 with number F9GHCZRJM. When I go online to cancel this service, I am provided with a message that I am not a paid subscriber, ” Nothing to cancel as you are not a paid member.”

I have never been able to access the paid subscriber site. As Steve Keen will be in Seattle on May 23rd I intend to publicly question him at his lecture as to his business practices where he has a web service upon which charges are made but fails to provide a means of communication to resolve this type of issue or to cancel service.

Please credit the two charges made to may account at $40.00 each. I will be contacting Visa should you disregard my request for a credit. Thank you for your resolution of this matter.

I’ve replied to this subscriber recommending him to contact Visa to cancel the payment. Hopefully most of you will be able to cancel via Authorize.net, but if not, please cancel via your credit card provider instead.

I apologize for the unsatisfactory saga this has been for you as subscribers—and for the fact that unforeseen events (such as UWS’s decision to terminate its economics degree and my ensuing redundancy—the sort of thing no economic theory could ever anticipate!) prevented me from keeping you informed as events unfolded, and acting in a more timely fashion.

I appreciate that most of you were here primarily to support me in my endeavor to reform economics. I hope you accept that this site, rather than being a means to that end, had become yet another hindrance to it, and it therefore has to go.

My problem here is, with Lira being totally uncooperative and reneging on various agreements—most importantly, the transfer of ownership of the site back to me for the token amount of $1—that I can’t easily shut this site down. I will instead have to go through the laborious process of trying to get ownership given back to me via appealing to domain name server management systems.

In the meantime, this site will continue advertising as if it is mine, and since I don’t have administrator rights on this site, there will be nothing that I can do about it—apart from warn subscribers by making this my last post, and putting the news out by social media. It will serve as a lesson to me in future to be much more cautious in whom I accept as a business partner.

The Future

I’m happy to discuss this here, but my plans for the future are:

  • To continue writing for Business Spectator (see below on that);
  • To post the first couple of paragraphs to each story on Debtwatch with a link to Business Spectator; and
  • Perhaps to put the full posts on Debtwatch behind a much cheaper paywall than here—maybe $2 a month. And if I can to restrict comments on Debtwatch to those who are subscribing. This is partly to get some supplement to my post-employment income after my redundancy from UWS, and also to restrict the amount of work involved in keeping up with comments on Debtwatch.

Business Spectator

Business Spectator is an independent factor in all this that has enabled me to continue functioning despite the loss of my income from UWS. in August 2012, Business Spectator agreed to pay me for my weekly column, so long as the content was not freely available elsewhere. The sum isn’t great—it’s about equivalent to the median wage in Australia—but with my superannuation savings as a fallback I can manage to survive and function as an independent scholar.

Unanswered emails to Lira

February 1st

Dear Gonzalo,

Please quarantine this and the other recent yearly from our payments. I don’t want to get income from this which we then have to refund most of soon after.

February 21st

Dear Gonzalo,

We agreed to not allow any more yearlies. This is a second one this month. Please shut down the yearly membership option and quarantine these two payments to minimize our future refunds when I terminate the site.

March 9th

Gonzalo, PLEASE CANCEL Yearly subscriptions. I don’t like shouting, but we agree to this over a month ago.

March 14th

Gonzalo,

This is at least the tenth yearly sub since we agreed to shut yearly subs down. Either do so or give me admin rights so that I can do it myself.

March 20th

This is the sixth email I’ve sent asking you to live up to your agreement to end the yearly subs.

I’ll make this simple Gonzalo: shut down the yearly subs, or I’ll shut the blog down.

March 31st:

Dear Gonzalo,

As per our agreement, please retain $1 from my next payment as payment to you to repurchase the domain debunkingeconomics.com. Please also arrange for me to be given administrative rights over the blog.

April 3rd

Dear Gonzalo,

At last count I have sent you seven emails asking you to cancel yearly subscriptions as agreed, and two to transfer ownership of debunkingeconomics.com back to me for $1 as agreed. I have received no replies.

It occurred to me that this may be because you have not received them: a number of people have failed to receive emails from me recently because their spam filters block emails with short URLs.

I am therefore sending this one without a short URL.

To repeat my requests:

Please cancel the yearly subscriptions: allow only monthly from now on;

Retain $1 from my next monthly payment as the transfer fee to return ownership of the domain to me;

Arrange for me to have administrator rights on the blog; and finally

Please acknowledge receipt of this email.

April 27th

Fuck you Gonzalo! You agreed three months ago to terminate yearly memberships.

Do it–and give me back ownership and admin control of debunkingeconomics.com–or I’ll conduct our future correspondence on Twitter.

May 10th (to a new yearly subscriber, cc’ed to Lira)

Dear Simon,

My first email to you has to be an apology. Some months ago, Gonzalo Lira, my partner in this venture, agreed to end yearly subscriptions to this site. He has not implemented that promise, despite repeated emails from me requesting him to do so.

So I am instead requesting you to cancel your yearly subscription immediately. If you wish to subscribe, please take out a monthly subscription instead.

I will be explaining the reasons for ending yearly subscriptions shortly on the blog.

May 11th (to a new yearly subscriber, cc’ed to Lira)

Dear Susan

My first email to you has to be an apology. Some months ago, Gonzalo Lira, my partner in this venture, agreed to end yearly subscriptions to this site. He has not implemented that promise, despite repeated emails from me requesting him to do so.

So I am instead requesting you to cancel your yearly subscription immediately. If you wish to subscribe, please take out a monthly subscription instead.

I will be explaining the reasons for ending yearly subscriptions shortly on the blog.

May 15th

As well as not replying to about 8 emails, you are now late in making payments. The last payment I received from you was for February, on April 2nd

On past schedules, you should have submitted March by now at least.

Please make the outstanding payments immediately, and transfer ownership of the site back to me for $1 as agreed, and shut down yearly memberships.

If I don’t receive a response and payments, I will initiate alternative methods for redress.

9 Responses to Debunking Economics

  1. al49er says:

    Having been ‘relatively’ early member and fan of Steve’s work (having some reservation about some of his otherwise lefty type/Green views ) I am very saddened about him being shafted here and at the Uni. I cannot understand how Australia has failed to widely recognise that in Steve we have one of the worlds PROVEN foremost economists (substantially recognised overseas).I have been substantially influenced by Steve’s work and my other observations concerning ‘debt’ that brought me to his work, that the ‘shit’ was going to hit the fan with the world economic, financial and monetary systems. That Ben’s money printing and other things I struggle to understand, have delayed the inevitable calamity means that it is more important than ever that Steve’s voice remains strong and his work on a ‘new economics’ progresses for the ultimate ‘rebuild’. I sincerely hope you can get things resolved and that your interlocutor sees the wider harm he is doing and concedes forthwith. All the best Steve from your devoted ‘Climate Sceptic’ fan.

  2. al49er says:

    P.S Being in some things a dinosaur I don’t Tweet, Facebook or any of that ‘crap’ so am not in the current loop as to what is otherwise happening with you Steve.

  3. Steve Keen says:

    Thanks Al,

    I now describe myself as “the world’s most famous unemployed economist”. Thankfully the BS gig is keeping me liquid (if not as well paid as I was with my academic salary), and the freedom from bureaucrats has its own compensations. I’m now regrouping (amidst a ridiculous amount of travel) so that I have the time to work on my long overdue magnum opus.

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  5. Harps says:

    Steve
    Unfortunate circumstances but you seem to have regrouped somewhat in the last 6 months since this post.
    In response to your post, given my interest the subscription cost last year was a prohibitive . Would be prepared to pay a couple of $s per month or an annual subscription.

  6. Steve Keen says:

    Yes Harps,

    Now that Lira is out of the picture with his failed marketing approach and fraudulent behavior, I will probably introduce a low cost scheme here giving complete access to subscribers while directing others to Business Spectator.

  7. Ted Carron says:

    Sorry for your troubles dude. $20 a month was too much. $40 was way too much. But I would so subscribe for anything up to to $5 a month – just to help the cause. What happened to the donations page on this site?

    If you ever want me to look at the code for your site I would be more than happy to do so. I would so like to fix up the broken image links on your manifesto page and get that donations page going again.

  8. Steve Keen says:

    Hi Ted,

    Yes it was Gonzalo Lira’s idea to go so expensive, and like everything else he touches it turned to lead.

    I’m having the site redesigned now by a professional who is also a good friend, and when relaunched it will have pricing of that level–and lower still for students.

    And thanks for the offer Ted–get in touch via my email. I had so many catastrophes with blogs last year–including a total hardware crash by an ISP–that it qualified as an annus horribilus.

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