Thursday, January 24, 2019

"Seeking a Cure for Our New Gilded Age — For the Total Corporate Domination of Everything"

Yes, naked capitalism did win the "Headline of the Day" with:
And as a followup here's the story naked cap had after the CalPERS brouhaha:

The Myth of Capitalism: Monopolies and the Death of Competition by Jonathan Tepper with Denise Hearn (Wiley 2018)
Reviewed by John Siman
Jonathan Tepper, the lead author of The Myth of Capitalism, is one of the founders of a macroeconomic research group for clients who are asset managers, i.e. investors who manage people’s savings. He previously worked as an equity analyst at SAC Capital and as a vice president in proprietary trading at Bank of America. He was a Rhodes Scholar.

Tepper is disdainful (to say the least) of the theories of Marx and Piketty, and so he advances a new explanation for the chasming inequality which disfigures post-Reaganite and post-Thatcherite economies: “The growing gap between the rich and the poor is happening due to a decline in competition,” he writes. “This has been driven by industrial concentration and extremely lax to nonexistent antitrust enforcement” (p. 227). We consequently find ourselves in “a second Gilded Age” (p. 8) which requires us to wage a second campaign “to institute new antitrust laws that serve the people” (p. 234).

But while Tepper describes capitalism as “profoundly broken,” (p. 224), he is nevertheless optimistic as he proposes a generally-advantageous solution. “Capitalism can be fixed,” he writes (p. 217). “The appropriate solution is more competition and more capitalism, not less” (p. 228). More specifically: “Economic inequality is a bug that can be fixed with antitrust and with greater competition” (p. 229).
Over the last month I’ve watched a few hours of Tepper being interviewed on YouTube, read this book three times, and conducted my own pleasant telephone interview with him (his main office is in London). He exudes calmness, thoughtfulness, competence, diligence, good sense, trustworthiness, and a certain conciliatoriness of character — what psychologists describe as trait agreeableness.
“We hope this book,” he writes in the introduction, “will bridge the divide and find a common ground between the left and right. Both sides may prefer different tax rates or have different views on social policy, but left and right should agree that competition is better for creating better jobs, higher pay, greater innovation, lower prices, and greater choice” (p. xix).

As a devotee of street-smart hardcore lefties from Chris Hedges to Jimmy Dore, I was not anticipating a rough ride from such a straight-arrow nice guy as Tepper. I was in fact, as I began reading, expecting a lot of wonky, noncontroversial, carefully-worded, good-government bromides. Boy was I in for a surprise. The theme of gentle Jonathan Tepper’s book is outrage. Sustained outrage.

Tepper uses an analogy to “Lucky” Luciano’s Mafia Commission of the 1930s to explain how contemporary American corporations divide up the turf in order to rid themselves of any real business competition (pp. 21-22). He uses an analogy to a brain-eating tapeworm to illustrate how the extreme concentration of industry has a literally parasiticeffect on our economy: “Monopolies and oligopolies won’t kill the economy, but they can cripple it” (p. 36). Tepper sarcastically notes that when Walgreen’s tried to buy up all of RiteAid’s stores, the Department of Justice, being “unusually bold,” allowed Walgreen’s to acquire only half of RiteAid: “The appropriate analogy here is of disapproving parents who dislike their son’s coke habit and tell him to settle for half a line” (p. 116). The title of Tepper’s chapter seven is “What Trusts and Nazis Had in Common.” He mentions in passing that “workers at the Securities and Exchange Commission spent their time watching porn while the economy crashed during the Financial Crisis” (p. 116).

The sensitive reader will feel morally obligated bear some of Tepper’s burden of exhaustively-researched outrage, but will also fear being, as I was, overwhelmed by it. My recommendation is to begin with Tepper’s chapter six, felicitously entitled “Toll Roads and Robber Barons.” Study chapter six. Digest chapter six. In it Tepper presents a catalog of the extent of — the ubiquity of — the hypertrophic concentration of industry in neoliberal America. “If you’re not outraged by the time you get to the end of the chapter,” Tepper writes, “you weren’t reading carefully. Most industries have carved up the United States with the sole purpose of screwing the consumer” (p. 116).
Thus I feel the least I can do here is to present to the reader a digest of Tepper’s catalog of monopolies, duopolies, and oligopolies. Tepper describes twenty-nine of them but notes that there are dozens more.

And as the reader begins to peruse this abbreviated but still-lengthy catalog, he or she should keep in mind that our vernacular term robber baron is actually a nineteenth-century translation of the German word Raubritter. At their worst during the thirteenth century, the Raubritterwere rapacious Rhineland feudal lords who pounced on travelers and shook them down and extracted tolls and fines and whatever else they could seize. They were landed highwaymen. They were, to use the academic term, rent-seekers, coercive monopolists. Tepper accordingly reuses the analogy of the robber baron and applies it to our second Gilded Age: The wealthy own the toll roads, while the rest pay to use them” (p. 136). The word Raub-ritter, robber-baron, it is I think worth mentioning, could just as accurately be translated into our current American idiom as rape-knight:

1. Cable/High Speed Internet: Three companies control 65% of the nation’s cable market but this figure is meaningless. At the local level, the companies face no real competition…. Almost all of the United States has essentially been carved up geographically.

2. Computer Operating Systems: Microsoft has an over 90% market share.

3. Social Networks: Facebook has over 75% market share in all global social media…. Mark Zuckerberg is the emperor of the private data of 2 billion people who have handed over all their personal information, political views, likes, and preferences. Users should be very scared…. When Facebook was growing, he could not believe how stupid his users were in handing over all their personal information,“They trust me – dumb fucks.

4. Search: Google has an almost 90% market share in search advertising.

5. Milk [monopsony]: If you’re a dairy farmer, you often have no choice when it comes to selling your milk. Dean Foods is the dominant player…. The firm has had to pay millions of dollars in price fixing and monopoly lawsuits....
...MUCH MORE, it's really more of a review/essay than just a straight review, and these are  the best kind.