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

Best to own a business rather than work for one

by Rebecca Wilder

Best to own a business rather than work for one

In my effort to move away from covering Europe exclusively on this blog, I’ve returned to a little niche of economic data that had intrigued me in the past: US national income accounts/accounting. This time I’ll look at national income, specifically corporate profits – I’ve written about it before, and my colleague Ed Dolan covered it on Economonitor in June.

It’s best to own a company rather than work for one

Ed Dolan reports that corporate profits are rising as a share of gross domestic product at the expense of small business income and presents normative solutions. This redistribution of business income toward large corporations is a relatively recent phenomenon. Proprietor’s income as a share of national income peaked in the mid 2000s and has broadly declined; but before that point, proprietor’s income (green line) and corporate profits (purple line) jointly trended higher as a share of national income while gross employee compensation declined (blue line). It’s the business employees that are the real losers in this cross section of income.

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Fiduciary duty and self-interest

Lifted from comments from Linda Beale’s post Graphs Show It Clearly–the richest are much richer and most of us are poorer discussing the main points and data from David Cay Johnston’s Reuters article The richest get richer is Bruce Webb’s thinking on how the American market system was designed over time:
Defenders of Goldman who base that defense on “greed is good” reductionist understanding of capitalism are simply ignoring the legal and I would say moral structure in which banking and management were embedded: that of fiduciary responsibilities and principal/agent law.

Before Glass-Steagal repeal (and similar legal and business culture changes dating back to the fifties) there was an understanding that commercial bankers had a fiduciary responsibility to their customers,that the relation in question was one of agent to principal. And the same for management, managers were agents of the owners whether directly in a private firm, or indirectly via the Directors of either a joint-stock company or as in insurance of a mutual structure where policy holders were ‘owners’. On the other hand investment banks ad law firms and reinsurance companies like Lloyd’s and it’s ‘Names’ we’re generally set up on a partnership basis where the agents were principals, at least at top levels.

  But that distinction broke down, maybe as early as the rise of the Conglomerate and the Multinational where the link between the manager/agent and the principal/owner the principal/mutual holder became attenuated to the point of near nonexistence with the result that what had been agents, say a plant superintendent, now reported to an executive suite at ‘Corporate’ where one-time agents were de facto principals. As exemplified by the bastard blend of President and Chairman of the Boardand Chief Executive Officer into a single person whose theoretical agency relation to ownership was at best mediated through a board of Directors often largely serving under his direction.


  And this attenuation of Agent-Principal relations broke down entirely when Glass-Steagal and other actions simply smushed together the partnership and joint-stock/mutual models where the formal and legal structure remained the latter even as the decision making went with the former.

  Thus Goldman-Sachs Corporate culture. Instead of maximizing profits for the partners on one hand or for the shareholders on the other and all while maintaining a fiduciary responsibility to the customer/depositor, the executives and traders, who in law are simple hired help, i.e agents promoted themselves in their own minds to principals. Something complicated by the fact that various forms of stock based compensation made certain top executives both de facto and de jure principals quite beyond their selected/elected Chairman/CEO/President blended position.

  This obviously needs some polish, it is a blog comment after all, but I think I am on to something, something I have been bouncing around in my mind since I first took a course on Post WWII American History back in the early eighties, that is post multi-national conglomerate but prior to the barrier break represented by Glass-Steagal repeal. That is we are seeing a confluence of several streams that have mostly reduced all notions of fiduciary responsibilities and/or principal-agent law into a fetishizing of maximizing individual self-interest as if every trader at G-S was in the same legal and moral position as a medieval chapman selling goods from his pack purchased with his own money from the producer.

  So yes capitalism is organized around the principle of principals maximizing their self-interest. But not everyone is, or should be considered,a principal. And no “Well duh, capitalism equals maximizing return” does not in itself wipe out the entire legal and moral structure that grew up around it. Agency and fiduciary responsibilities still are or should be operative. That is you don’t get to operate Wall Street on the principle “We eat what we kill” no matter what some hot-shot MBA trader might think.

(Dan here…Title added, introduction edited for  clarity)

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Wired’s Embarrassing Whitewash of Foxconn

Yves comments on Wired’s Embarrassing Whitewash of Foxconn :

But Johnson admits he’s a tech toy writer who apparently has no knowledge of manufacturing …. Yet he’s remarkably uninhibited in using his fantasies and abject ignorance as a basis for making sweeping generalizations about the Taiwanese powerhouse.

I find this little chart (hat tip Richard Smith) from ninety9 via Alea (who is the antithesis of a socialist) to be more though-provoking than the entire Wired piece:

appleproducts

More can be found here.   Lots of links as well adding to the state financed aspects of Foxcomm.

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Small businesses and drive the economy?

Taxprofblog
points to research suggesting a tipping point about the notion that small businesses drive the economy:

Martin A. Sullivan (Tax Analysts), New Research Weakens Case for Small Business Tax Relief
The National Federation of Independent Business states on its website: “Small business has created about two of every three net new jobs in the United States since at least the early 1970s.” And on its website, the Small Business Administration claims, “Small firms accounted for 65 percent (or 9.8 million) of the 15 million net new jobs created between 1993 and 2009.” These claims are endlessly repeated on television and in print. And both political parties are perfectly happy to leave them unchallenged. But two new strands of academic research are quietly shredding the idea that policies to support small businesses hold the key to job creation.

  • [John Haltiwanger (University of Maryland, Department of Economics), Ron S. Jarmin (U.S. Census Bureau, Center for Economic Studies) & Javier Miranda (U.S. Census Bureau, Center for Economic Studies), Who Creates Jobs? Small vs. Large vs. Young
  • Erik Hurst & Benjamin Pugsley (both of the University of Chicago, Department of Economics), What Do Small Businesses Do?]

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