Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

Phil Ebersole: Monopoly power and what to do about it

Blogger Phil Ebersole writes today in a post titled “Monopoly power and what to do about it” (all boldface in original):

The trouble with the U.S. economy is monopoly power.

Concentrated business power means less consumer choice, less opportunity for entrepreneurs and greater concentration of wealth.

Senator Elizabeth Warren

Senator Elizabeth Warren described the problem very well in a speech on Wednesday.  If you care about this issue, I strongly recommend that you click on the first link below.

She noted that five banks have been designated as “too big to fail” by the Federal Reserve Board and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

But that situation is not limited to the banking industry.  Four airlines (down from nine in the past 10 years) control 80 percent of all airline seats.  If American, Delta, United or Southwest were to be in danger of ceasing operations, could there be any doubt that the government would want to keep them flying at all costs?

There’s another problem with concentration in the transportation industry, and that is the incentive to abandon small and remote communities and concentrate services in a few hubs.   The second article linked below describes how concentration in the airline, railroad and trucking industries has harmed small cities in the Heartland. “Flyover country” wasn’t always flyover country.

Concentration means less consumer choice.  Warren pointed out that more than half of Americans who with Internet or cable television service use Comcast.  Yet, she said, a third of U.S. citizens who theoretically have access to high-speed Internet service can’t afford it.   Americans pay more than Europeans for Internet service and get worse service.

Concentration gives large companies the power to block emerging competitors.  Recently, Warren said, complaints have been filed against Google for using its search engine to harm rivals of its Google Plus user review feature, against Apple for making it difficult for rivals of Apple Music to offer streaming services via i-Phone and against Amazon for steering customers to books published by Amazon to the detriment of other publishers.

Even with straight-out competition, there is the “Wal-Mart” effect.  When a big box store comes to town, small locally-owned businesses fail.

And when economic power is concentrated in the hands of a just a few, the “job creators” have the power to drive down middle-class wages while enriching themselves.

∞∞∞

The solution to this problem, Warren said, is simply to enforce the anti-trust laws as originally written.

The reason that they aren’t is a neoliberal philosophy of business regulation that took hold in the late 1970s, which held that the most important thing was not competition, but business efficiency.  If Amazon can serve customers more efficiently that a local bookstore, then, according to this idea, there was no reason for the local bookstore to exist.

That could be true only if Amazon, Wal-Mart, Comcast and other big corporations were owned and operated by altruists, who passed along the gains in economic efficiency to customers, workers, suppliers and the local community.

But even when consolidation produces economic efficiency that benefits consumers, economic efficiency isn’t everything.   Concentration of economic power means concentration of political power, which results in the kind of dysfunctional economic system we have now.

The benefit of Warren’s proposals is that they do not require action by Congress.   All they require is enforcement of the letter of the law.

I myself would go beyond this.  In banking, for example, and maybe Internet service and other industries, there is a benefit in a public option.   And in some cases, there is a need for public utility-type regulation.  But a return to traditional anti-trust enforcement, as Warren proposes, would be a big change for the better.

LINKS

Elizabeth Warren’s Consolidation Speech Could Change the Election by Paul Glastris for the Washington Monthly.   This includes the complete transcript of Warren’s speech.   Of course what’s important is whether her proposals are actually put into practice, not whether they help Hillary Clinton against Donald Trump.

Bloom and Bust: Regional inequality is out of control, here’s how to reverse it by Phillip Longman for the Washington Monthly.

Monopoly Power Is on the Rise in the US: Here’s How to Fix That by Mike Konczal for The Nation.

ANTITRUSSSTTT!  (Bernie Sanders did SO talk about antitrust during his campaign.  A LOT.  But thank you, Elizabeth Warren, for picking up that mantle now) by Beverly Mann for Angry Bear.

Okay, so other than that Ebersole listed my post after those articles by those two lesser lights, this is thrilling.  I mean, that this issue, so critical to the central themes driving this election cycle, is actually gaining genuine attention, so long overdue.

This movement, our movement, which began in the fall of 2011 with Occupy Wall Street, is on track to cause a political and economic earthquake.

Tags: , , , , , Comments (7) | |

What’s a person to do? or ‘motivated avoidance’

What’s a person to do? or ‘Motivated avoidance’

 From the American Psychological Association comes two studies here and here.

Individuals are often confronted with information that they do not know how to comprehend or evaluate, even though this information can be of critical importance to the self (or society as a whole). In the case of energy, nearly 40% of respondents in a Public Agenda (2009) survey could not identify a fossil fuel. Nearly one third could not identify a renewable energy source and incorrectly believed that solar energy contributes to global warming. This lack of knowledge should be of concern to these individuals, as 89% of respondents worry about increasing fuel costs, and 71% worry about global warming.
 
The economy serves as another example.


Approximately half of surveyed adults did not know what an increase in gross domestic product meant and thought that “money holds its value well in times of inflation” (National Council on Economic Education, 2005). Worse still, in a national survey of American adults, 54% of respondents did not know what a subprime mortgage was (Center for Economic and Entrepreneurial Literacy, 2009), despite the fact that the subprime mortgage crisis was a significant contributor to the economic recession that began in 2008, and almost certainly affected some substantial portion of those surveyed. In short, it is apparent that a solid grasp of the basics (let alone the complexities) of these domains elude many people, and there appears to be a discrepancy between how much people know about social issues and their importance and relevance to one’s day-to-day life.

….
Given the psychological discomfort associated with epistemic uncertainty, one appealing way to deal with the anxiety of being unable to comprehend or manage information is to simply outsource personal responsibility to supposed qualified others. This strategy may, at times, be considerably more appealing than seeking
out knowledge and information for oneself, which assumes that people have the time and ability to sieve through challenging, and potentially threatening, information. The amount of information available to us to sort, comprehend, and assimilate has substantially increased due to technological advances, all of which compete for our time and attention. As a result, trade-offs have been made over time whereby society’s members have forfeited a certain amount of autonomy to have these burdens placed onto systems of power composed of knowledgeable others. Society has prescribed that, for example, our health is managed by health professionals, our buildings by engineers and contractors, and, relevant to the present research, our social and economic security is managed by the government. Indeed, survey data show that 88% of adult respondents thought it was very important for politicians to have a good understanding of economics,

only are people motivated to avoid social issues when they feel issues are complex—thus maintaining their present level of unfamiliarity— but this effect appears strongest for those issues believed to be most urgent and serious. It is at times when change is most needed, therefore, that people may become the most likely to
defend the status quo and agents of sociopolitical systems. As such, the present studies suggest that rather than ensuring those in charge are maximally qualified to be in charge, and rather than remaining especially attuned to any limitations of the system, the psychological processes that are instigated when issues are seen as both severe and complex may limit any criticism of the current system and its decision-making process. And, perhaps even more critically, they may also prevent the types of behaviors, such as information gathering, that are necessary to efficacious social action
(Attari et al., 2010; Larrick & Soll, 2008).

italics are mine

Tags: , , , , , Comments (22) | |

Guest post: Who Are the 1%?

Update: Mike Konczal also takes a  look at this question in Who are the one percent and what do they do for a living.


Update 2: Another source for historical trends on inequality is at The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities

by Taryn Hart 
    
Taryn Hart publishes at her blog Plutocracy files and has interviewed John Quiggen, Bill Black, Larry Mishal to name three economists

Guest post:    Who Are the 1%?

A week or so back, Dan from Angry Bear passed along this Boston Globe article. On its face, the article bemoans rising inequality through a comparison of two Massachusetts neighborhoods: Sherborn, the State’s wealthiest neighborhood and Springfield, a former working-class neighborhood that now resembles a globalized ghost town. Although the article quotes a Sherborn resident disavowing his status as a one percenter, the piece clearly implies that the upscale Sherbornites are one percenters.
However, as Dan correctly pointed out, Sherbonites are not the one percent: The median income of Sherborn is $190,000 per year; not peanuts, I know, but the lowest paid one percenters make $500,000 per year (even using a significantly narrower definition of income, one percenters make in excess of $330,000 per year). Moreover, the biggest gains over the past thirty-odd years have gone to the top .1%.
When Occupy Wall Street identifies its opposition as the 1%, it’s not talking about people who live in posh neighborhoods with great schools; it’s talking about people who can hire teams of lobbyists who live in posh neighborhoods with great schools. As Gordon Gekko put it:
I’m not talking a $400,000 a year working Wall Street stiff flying first class and being comfortable, I’m talking about liquid. Rich enough to have your own jet. Rich enough not to waste time. Fifty, a hundred million dollars, buddy. A player, or nothing.
And keep in mind, that’s 1980s dollars. Given the scandalous increases that have gone to the top 1% since then, the amount required to be a player these days is several times that amount. And the problem with that kind of concentration of wealth is that it inevitably undermines the incentive for collective action required for social well being.
As Matt Taibbi has pointed out in response to the one-percenter meme that those who are so poor they don’t pay federal income tax have “no skin in the game,” concentration of wealth creates perverse incentives that ensure most of the mega rich are terrible citizens:
The very rich on today’s Wall Street are now so rich that they buy their own social infrastructure. They hire private security, they live in gated mansions on islands and other tax havens, and most notably, they buy their own justice and their own government.
            *            *            *
Most of us 99-percenters couldn’t even let our dogs leave a dump on the sidewalk without feeling ashamed before our neighbors….
But our Too-Big-To-Fail banks unhesitatingly take billions in bailout money and then turn right around and finance the export of jobs to new locations in China and India. They defraud the pension funds of state workers into buying billions of their crap mortgage assets. They take zero-interest loans from the state and then lend that same money back to us at interest. Or, like Chase, they bribe the politicians serving countries and states and cities and even school boards to take on crippling debt deals.
Nobody with real skin in the game, who had any kind of stake in our collective future, would do any of those things.
Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz made the same point in May of 2011 (well before Occupy Wall Street), in a must-read Vanity Fair piece entitled, Of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1%”:
[A] modern economy requires “collective action”—it needs government to invest in infrastructure, education, and technology…. America has long suffered from an under-investment in infrastructure (look at the condition of our highways and bridges, our railroads and airports), in basic research, and in education at all levels. Further cutbacks in these areas lie ahead.
None of this should come as a surprise—it is simply what happens when a society’s wealth distribution becomes lopsided. The more divided a society becomes in terms of wealth, the more reluctant the wealthy become to spend money on common needs. The rich don’t need to rely on government for parks or education or medical care or personal security—they can buy all these things for themselves. In the process, they become more distant from ordinary people, losing whatever empathy they may once have had.
Be clear: This is who Occupy Wall Street is talking about – the small class of people who have amassed so much wealth that they have no need for the social infrastructure that is the life blood of the 99% (even the 99 percenters who live in swank neighborhoods like Sherborn, Massachusets).
And suggesting that Sherborn is the 1% and Springfield is the 99% – when they’re both the 99% – seems designed to falsely frame the problem of inequality as the poor (Springfield) versus the well-to-do (Sherborn). Of course, in the realm of those set on denying or deflecting inequality concerns, improperly defining the opponents of the 99% is fairly mild. (See discussions of income-inequality deniers here and here). However, this particular sleight of hand has made more than one appearance of late and therefore, is worth reviewing a bit more closely.
David Brooks recently distinguished what he termed “Blue Inequality” of the mega rich from “Red Inequality,” which Brooks claims results from an education gap and is “much more important.” According to Brooks: “The zooming wealth of the top 1 percent is a problem, but it’s not nearly as big a problem as the tens of millions of Americans who have dropped out of high school or college….”
As Dean Baker immediately pointed out, Brooks’s Blue Inequality/Red Inequality thesis is absolutely unsupported by the data:

David Brooks Complains That He Can’t Get Access to Inequality Data

Actually he didn’t complain about his lack of access to data, but he probably should have given the column he wrote today.
Let me just pause for a moment to say: Snap! Good on Dean Baker for pointing out that Brooks’s argument flat-out ignores well-known inequality data. Alright, back to Baker:
Brooks purports to lecture the Occupy Wall Street crew about how they are focused on the wrong inequality.
He tells them that that there are two inequalities in the U.S. On the one hand we have the CEOs, the Goldman Sachs crew, the lobbyists and the other members of the one percent who have done incredibly well in the last three decades. Brooks calls this the “blue inequality”….
Brooks tells us that this is less of a big deal than the red inequality, which he defines as the gap between college educated workers and those without a college degree….
This is where Brooks lack of access to data is so important….
[S]ince the 90s, the wages of workers with high school degrees have not departed much from the wages of workers with just college degrees, the vast majority of the economys gains have gone to the top 1 percent.
Despite the blatant lack of empirical support and Dean Baker’s decisive take down, Megan McArdle dutifully picked up on the trope. And, of course, the Boston Globe piece highlights the education gap between the residents of Springfield and Sherborn and implies the gap between two communities is the result of the “one percent phenomenon.” However, these arguments – and, more often, implications – are clearly undercut by the data.
The mega rich Occupy Wall Street opposes do not live in “neighborhoods,” not even well-to-do neighborhoods like Sherborn. The top 1% – and probably more accurately the top .1% – live in gated mansions with private security. As Joseph Stiglitz and Matt Taibbi have pointed out, the mega rich have reached a level of wealth that completely insulates them from society. So, don’t be fooled: Occupy Wall Street is not opposed to the affluent. Residents of Sherborn and similar affluent communities – like all citizens who still have a stake in our country’s well being – are part of the 99%.

Tags: , , , , , Comments (44) | |

A little OWS, a little 99%, a little history

So today I read at the Yahoo Finance (it’s my home page because I can look at the stock numbers on the left and read the headline on the right for a guaranteed laugh) that  John Mauldin thinks the OWS would be better off if they occupiedCongress:
Mauldin believes America still has time to figure out a path out of what he says is the big problem worldwide: “We’ve over committed public monies and we don’t have them.” While some what sympathetic to the protestors’ frustrations, Mauldin says their anger is misdirected.
“My message to the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ guys: if they really want to If  they really want to go after the source of the problem, they should go occupy Congress,”
Instead of focusing on Wall Street,Washington and the protests should be focusing on reducing regulation and making it easier for new businesses to start, Mauldin says. To that end, he offers a new slogan I somehow doubt will showup at any Occupy Wall Street protest anytime soon: “Up with Entrepreneurs”
As I understand it, OWS is about economic equality. President Roosevelt referred to it as the economic royalty. I just don’t see how one can stop, look and listen to OWS and think “go tell congress to further deregulation”. John Boy can’t be this much of an idiot, can he?
My sweetheart gets home from the dentist. $4000 dollars worth of bridge work is down the drain because a tooth of the bridge went bad. 

For those who don’t know, we are the “Entrepreneurs” John Boy is referring to, thus we are paying for our health insurance, no dental. But, she was offered a payment plan. Has a nice dental name at 14.5% interest! This bit of private market solution to paying for health care is brought to you by GE Financial. Yes, the GE of Jeffrey Immelt, Obama’s job creating adviser. Hey Obama? Did you read my state of the union?  Obviously not or Jeffrey baby would not be your man.
Did you hear that JP Morgan was all blowed up? Yes, I’m not lying. People got pissed at Wall Street and blew up JP:
“During this period anarchists and socialists held protests on Wall Street out of a similar sense of frustration and rage at the banking system. The movement culminated in what was known as the greatest act of terrorism on American soil: the 1920 bombing outside J.P. Morgan and Company
Thirty eight people were killed when the horse and wagon bomb went off at noon on Sept 16, 1920. The perpetrators, thought to be anarchists, were never caught, but their exploits and the aftermath were captured by photographers.”
Check out the pictures here. 
Why do we not hear about this history considering the present times? I know, stupid question. To ask it is to give purpose to OWS. Though one sector of this nation seems to remember a portions of this history or we would not be hearing the pejoratives being slung a the 99%’ers. You know Anarchists, socialists, communists out to destroy the American Way (A catchy phrase brought to you by the National Association of Manufacturers via General Food’s CEO, the US Chamber of Commerce and AT & T’s monopoly is good all via Madison Ave, Time Magazine 9/28/1936) .
Which brings me to my original question since the shit hit the fan: HOW MANY TIMES DO WE HAVE TO DO THIS? HOW MANY FREAKIN’ TIMES DO WE HAVE TO LEARN THE LESSON?
Obviously from the above 3 subtopics, quite a few more times as we seem to have not learned the definition of Rat Race yet: A rat race is a term used for an endless, self-defeating or pointless pursuit…
I think I know what is wrong with US today. When I typed in Deja Vu at youtube,  amazingly this tune did not even come up in the suggestion list. 

No, I had to actually know that CSNY wrote what I consider the true musical capture of the concept of deja vu…the song that is most appropriate for the application of the concept today. I say this because they intentionally wrote the song so that it does not repeat any one section (heard years ago in an interview).

Get it?
(I haven’t forgotten the tax tables. It’s a coming.)

Tags: , , , , , , , , Comments (33) | |