The general purpose of all business should be to innovate and grow, developing technologies, employees and products, delivering value to customers and shareholders as well as for the common good (which includes for future generations living on this planet), through their operations in competitive markets. This is a worthwhile aim from which the economy as a whole and the general population should benefit. That is the arguable aim of ‘light touch regulation’. It is ‘light’ so as to avoid the bureaucratic strangulation of competition and the benefits that flow from it.
But there is a huge flaw in this reasoning. The basic assumption is that unregulated markets are competitive. But the reality is somewhat different. While most markets are competitive when they first emerge, as they mature, the most successful players achieve greater market shares and in due course become dominant. Such markets are not at all competitive, but are in effect controlled by monopolistically empowered leviathans. Continue reading The Importance of Competitive Markets
In this election campaign, much is being made of whether or not the main UK Parties are business friendly. The fire sale of British owned assets, euphemistically nominated as foreign direct investment, is held to indicate that the UK is ‘open for business’. Over the past 35 years, company after company and industry after industry has been sold off to foreign ownership. The same has been achieved with the sell-off of public assets, the latest example being Eurostar, and public services and utilities which have been privatised and in the majority of cases sold to foreign owned entities.
It all has nothing to do with being ‘open for business’. The political motivation is to achieve a short term (ie relating to the next election) economic gain, completely ignoring the long term costs. The short term stats appear to be all that matters, so they can be quoted ad nauseam in media interviews.
Being seen as business friendly is clearly conceived as being worth either a lot of votes or a lot of money. So Parties shrink from confronting or challenging in any way what they conceive of as “business”. They appear ‘intensely relaxed’ about business people getting ‘filthy rich’. They seem tolerant of tax fraud on a massive scale. They shrink from regulation of markets. They are in awe of the financial sector. They talk about support for the SME sector, but do little. It seems they simply do not understand what business is about. Why should they? They’ve none of them been near it except for photo-opportunities.
Continue reading UK ‘Open for Business’
Our children and grand-children are facing a far less fair and equitable society than the one people grew up in 30 or more years ago. The wealthy are far richer and the poor both poorer and more numerous. But yet the three main political parties all seem to accept that state of affairs, despite the overwhelming evidence that it is truly bad news for the well-being of both rich and poor alike. Britain is in danger of becoming a permanently divided society.
One of the main causes is the mainstream economic theory that the current elite were all taught to believe. The theory teaches that money paid to the wealthy will be invested in enterprise and the resulting benefits will trickle down to the poorest sections of society so that everyone gains. Therefore government should reduce taxes on the wealthy. It also teaches that privately own companies are much more efficient than publicly owned. Therefore state owned activity should, where feasible, be outsourced to the private sector for everyone to gain. There’s a whole raft of such arguments justified by the theory.
Continue reading A High Velocity Economy
All politicians want these days is a story which enough people will believe in, so the politicians can scrape back into government at the next election. The Tory story, as Ha-Joon Chang summarises it, is that they are having to make tough spending cuts to recover from the mess left by the last irresponsibly overspending Labour government. Moreover, the cuts are working: unemployment is down and earnings are up. The Labour story, as told by Ed Balls, appears to accept the Tory austerity prescription as necessary and effective. So it might be better called the Westminster story. Sir Mike Derrington had a nice phrase which adequately sums it all up: ‘Total Bollocks’!
First, the real source of the mess was the financial crash caused by the as yet largely unpunished criminality of the global financial sector, led by the City of London and Wall St.
Second, government employment statistics are deliberately misleading, massaged by zero hours contracts, reluctant self-employment, and time related underemployment. Adjusted as the statistics are, unemployment still stands at 6%, well over double the rate reported on the more honest basis in the post WW2 decades.
Third, the Westminster story avoids altogether the rapidly rising, and clearly unacceptable, level of inequality between rich and poor.
Continue reading A New New Deal
When Ebay announced its intention last week to sell off PayPal, it was giving into the so called ‘activist investor’, Carl Icahn, who had been calling for the deal for months. The Financial Times reported Icahn’s victory statement calling “for PayPal to look to consolidate the payments industry further, either through acquisitions or a merger, to fight off competition from newcomers.” That such an individual should so openly declare war on competition, with total impunity, surely means the establishment has won.
In the not too distant past such anti-competitive moves were illegal. They were recognised as against the public interest and were prevented in the UK by bodies such as the Office of Fair Trading and the Monopolies and Mergers Commission. Moreover, where such anti-competitive corporations had been established, they could be dismantled, and were, notably in the United States. Competition was recognised as the spur to innovation and improvement, which was for the common good. That lesson had been learned from the 1929 Wall Street crash and subsequent great recession.
Continue reading The Final Victory of the Establishment?
People are angry about corporate abuses: tax avoidance, asset stripping, fat cat salaries and bonuses and much else. Corporate capitalism has lost its moral compass and its social values. It has plunged the world into recession and austerity and contributed to growing social inequality. The prevailing focus on shareholder value has placed short term profit ahead of constructive investment. The current structures of corporate law and practice are clearly in need of radical reform.
And yet the underlying principles of corporate law – providing for external investment in enterprises which combine the labour of workers to produce goods and services – are not inherently wrong. They have worked over the years to increase prosperity and living standards in many countries. What is needed is a realistic and pragmatic programme to eliminate abuses and promote fairer and more productive alternative corporate structures.
Continue reading Fighting Corporate Abuse: Beyond Predatory Capitalism
The Big Six energy suppliers must be desperately worried. Dermot Nolan, boss of energy regulator Ofgem, is demanding that they explain to customers why they have not lowered gas and electricity prices following wholesale price reductions. They are quick enough to stick them up when wholesale prices rise; they must explain why they don’t cut them when wholesale prices fall. Not only that, but Ed Davey, energy secretary, says they need to ensure they pass on savings to customers as quickly as possible. The Big Six must be quaking in their boots. Or perhaps not!
They don’t pass price reductions on, for the very obvious reason that they don’t have to. Energy supply was privatised because of a simplistic and profoundly misinformed belief in the automatic efficiency and effectiveness of for-profit business and a complete lack of comprehension of what constitutes a competitive market.
Continue reading More Big Six energy rip- offs
The Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards published its 571 pages and its chairman, Tory MP Andrew Tyrie, hopes ‘the higher standards it advocates will help revive the banking sector and the UK generally’. ‘This is not,’ he assures us, ‘a bank bashing report.’ Indeed so. It is as supportive of banking, the City and its financial activities as such a report could be, while talking the language of reproof and proper correction. Its disapproval of massive bonuses, especially those being paid for failure, is given full voice. But proposed substantive action is limited. The extension of deferred bonus payments with easier “clawback”, seems unlikely to make much difference.
A much repeated complaint in the report, especially of people at the top, is the lack of personal responsibility and accountability. Those responsible for the decisions and behaviour which led to the sector’s failure have continued to be rewarded with massive bonuses and pensions. To address this the report recommends top appointments having to be authorised by the regulator who will identify specific responsibilities. Would that make any difference? Would the regulator have rejected the appointment of Fred Goodwin or Bob Diamond. Or any other likely incompetent?
Continue reading Banking Standards Apple Pie
So President Francois Hollande has not given up on his election promise to levy a 75% tax on those who pay themselves, or get paid, in excess of €1m (£840,000) pa. The French high court rejected his original proposal, but it seems the revised version, to levy the tax on the payers rather than the recipients, may well prevail. The promise is that it will only be for two years, but Pitt said much the same when he introduced the first British income tax to pay for the Napoleonic wars. If it works, it will no doubt stay and perhaps be built upon
Taxing the income of the very high paid at a higher rate than the low paid is part of what made the French vote for Hollande as President. The people want it. They apparently don’t like the idea that the wealthy are sneering contemptuously from their tax avoiding havens at the poor who are being clobbered left, right and centre. And in that respect the French are probably not much different from the Brits. If a British political party were to advocate a 75% tax rate, with no escape, for those earning a million or more, would it gain support from the mass of people?
Continue reading Grasping the Nettle Now
Back in July last year, this site pondered what would replace the public company, formerly the most powerful institution in the economy (see http://www.gordonpearson.co.uk/11/what-will-replace-the-public-company/). Its numbers had halved over the past decade and the number of small and medium sized firms’ initial public offerings had declined by more than 80%. Shareholders’ funds appeared to be no longer of much worth to the public company, the flow of money having been reversed so that shareholders, and indeed the whole financial sector, were now taking rather than investing, Nevertheless, media interest in the FTSE100 and other stock market indices continues unabated, even though they only measure betting activity on such as M&A rather than real new investment. A posting last month offered a reasoned explanation of how democratic capitalism, which had delivered so much and promised so much more, appeared now to be approaching the buffers – http://www.gordonpearson.co.uk/20/democratic-capitalism/.
The still dominant Friedmanite version of capitalism is now being seen to self-destruct with its array of naïve beliefs and illegality. Company law (eg Companies Act 2006) charges company directors, Friedman’s ‘corporate officials’, with the legal duty of looking after the best interests of the company having regard to the long term and to the interests of all stakeholders. Friedman argued they had no other duty than to make as much money as possible for shareholders. Friedman clearly won hands down against the law, and that despite the fact that ‘corporate officials’ have legal contracts of service and employment with the company, not its shareholders, and those contracts invariably charge them with the duty of looking after the company’s best interests.
Continue reading Glencore, PwC and Horsemeat