Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Big business’

One of the worst examples of Washington cronyism is the Export-Import Bank, which has provided subsidies for big companies that sell to foreign buyers.

Corrupt firms such as Boeing and General Electric argue that they need help from the Ex-Im Bank in order make those sales.

Is that true?

Interestingly, we had a real-world test earlier this decade when the Ex-Im Bank was temporarily shut down and then, after re-opening, was largely unable to provide subsidies to big corporations.

So what happened? Veronique de Rugy of Mercatus explains that exporters did just fine when the Ex-Im Bank was curtailed.

Back in 2015, there was widespread agreement in Congress that the Export-Import Bank — the U.S. government’s export credit agency — was nothing but a crony bank, mostly serving the greedy interests of Boeing and other large companies. As a result, Congress let the bank’s charter expire. It was reauthorized a few months later but in a much-diminished form, operating at 15% capacity. …A thorny problem for those supporting Ex-Im’s revival is that we now have nearly a half-decade’s worth of data on what happened to U.S. exports, economic growth, jobs and beneficiaries while the institution was mostly dormant between 2015 and 2019. During that time, …its activities dropped from $21 billion in 2014 (the last year the bank functioned at full capacity) to $3.6 billion in 2018. …Back in 2014, 65% of the bank’s activities benefited 10 giant companies. Boeing alone got 40% of Ex-Im’s largesse. On the foreign side, the bank’s clients belong to a who’s who list of large, wealthy, successful and often state-owned companies. …Most of this profligacy ended between 2015 and 2018. During that time, the share of funding that benefited large firms dropped by 93%. …once Ex-Im stopped extending giant deals to giant companies, American taxpayers’ liability fell from $112 billion in 2014 to $72.5 billion in 2018. U.S. exports continued to grow without being impacted whatsoever by Ex-Im limitations, and many beneficiaries of the bank had their best year ever in 2018, demonstrating that none of these subsidies are necessary for their success.

Sadly, the Ex-Im Bank is now back in business (and President Trump deserves a big chunk of the blame).

But its charter has to be renewed this year.

There’s no chance of killing the program, but there may be an opportunity to at least curtail its power and authority.

Negotiations on Capitol Hill have produced a compromise package between the top Democrat and top Republican on the House Financial Services Committee.

But not everyone is a fan. The Washington Examiner opined that the deal should be rejected.

House Financial Services Chairwoman Maxine Waters, D-Calif., has drafted a bill that would expand the Ex-Im Bank, rename it, free it from oversight, and charge it with a handful of irrelevant liberal mandates. The committee’s top Republican, Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., has unfortunately agreed to Waters’ bill. …Republicans should outright reject Waters’ proposal. It’s pitched as a compromise, but the Senate GOP has no reason to compromise. Either fix Waters’ bill or let the Ex-Im Bank’s charter expire in the fall. The “reforms” in Waters’ bill are weak tea. They don’t do anything to steer the Ex-Im Bank away from being welfare for America’s largest corporations.

So did House Republicans kill the deal, which should have been an easy decision?

Not exactly. According to a Politico report, House Democrats stopped it.

But not because they’re opposed to corporate welfare. They rebelled because they want a deal that’s even worse.

House Financial Services Chairwoman Maxine Waters on Wednesday shelved a bipartisan Export-Import Bank bill that sparked a fierce backlash from her own caucus… The delay raises questions about the fate of the beleaguered bank, which, without action by Congress, will see its operating charter lapse in September. …the original compromise she drafted with McHenry ignited criticism from a wide swath of the Democrats on the committee… They objected to new restrictions that would be imposed on the bank and big manufacturers such as Boeing, that benefit from its loan guarantees… Rep. Denny Heck (D-Wash.)…had been raising concerns about sections of the bill that would impose new disclosure requirements on major manufacturers and restrict the agency from providing financial support for deals with Chinese state-owned enterprises. …The restrictions turned out to be one of the biggest sticking points for Democrats. …The bank is only now returning to full operation after years of being hobbled by conservative Republican lawmakers who criticized the agency as engaging in “crony capitalism” and posing a risk to taxpayers.

The moral of the story is that big government and big business shouldn’t be in bed together.

The federal government shouldn’t redistribute money, and it’s especially offensive to have programs that give handouts to rich and powerful companies.

And it’s not just the Ex-Im Bank.

P.S. If you want to understand why export subsidies are economically harmful, I strongly recommend this video from Mercatus.

P.P.S. I have no objection to companies getting profits, but I want them to earn money by serving consumers and not steal money by fleecing taxpayers.

Read Full Post »

Back in 2014, I wrote a feel-good story from Ferguson, Missouri, about how armed black men protected a white-owned store during riots that wreaked havoc in the city.

Sarah Silverman surely wouldn’t approve, but I thought it was a heartwarming combination of human solidarity and individual rights.

It’s time for another feel-good story. The Washington Free-Beacon reported earlier this month that Dick’s Sporting Goods is suffering because the company adopted an anti-gun posture.

Dick’s Sporting Goods told investors during the Goldman Sachs Retailing Conference that its gun-control stance hurt sales of its hunting business, outdoors business, and that it may close its outdoor-focused Field & Stream stores. Edward Stack, chairman and CEO of Dick’s, said during the event that the sporting goods chain’s recent 3.9 percent drop in same-store sales was the result of a mix of factors beyond their control as well as some he called “self-imposed.” Specifically, he said, “the decisions we made on firearms” negatively affected their bottom line… The company insisted during the earnings call that while their embrace of gun-control policies was hurting store foot traffic as well as their hunting and outdoors business, they’ve found ways to offset the losses. …Still, Dick’s admitted both firearms customers and the firearms industry have rebutted the retailer because of their gun-control advocacy. …The company said it may soon close down their entire Field & Stream chain of 35 stores across 18 states.

By the way, I was interviewed earlier this year by a French TV program on the issue of gun control. Here’s the part where I discussed the company’s foolish decision.

Since I’m not a shareholder, part of me is unconcerned about decisions made by the management at Dick’s.

The CEO presumably lives in a wealthy area, far removed from the threat of crime or chaos, so I’m guessing he has no understanding or appreciation of the need for self defense.

And he probably thought – foolishly, we’ve learned – that the company’s decision would help the bottom line by generating positive coverage from the establishment media.

It brings to mind this insightful tweet, which I saw thanks to Amy Alkon.

Except the people who buy sporting goods are not the vapid social justice warriors who proclaim their hostility to capitalism while patronizing some of the world’s most aggressively hyper-capitalist companies.

In any event, I don’t care that the senior management at Dick’s has adopted an anti-gun ideology.

But I get very agitated when the company gets in bed with government in a campaign to reduce the freedoms of other people.

Dick’s decided to hire their own gun-control lobbyists in order to push for stricter gun laws nationwide. That action led the National Shooting Sports Foundation—the firearms industry’s trade group—to expel the retailer.

This is why I’m happy to see Dick’s go downhill.

Schadenfreude rocks!

P.S. I love capitalism because it a moral system that generates unparalleled prosperity, but I always remind people that this doesn’t make me a fan of big companies. Too many large firms (in finance, health, tech, energy, manufacturing, autos, pharma, agriculture, etc) are far too willing to seek “profits” using the coercive power of government.

Read Full Post »

I want higher wages.

Indeed, that’s a big reason why I favor better tax policy. I want low rates and less double taxation so we get more entrepreneurship and investment, which then will lead to higher productivity and more compensation for workers.

With this in mind, let’s look at some good news from a story in the New York Times.

Amazon said on Tuesday that it would raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour for its United States employees, a rare acknowledgment that it was feeling squeezed by…a tight labor market. The raises apply for part-time workers and those hired through temporary agencies. …The new wages will apply to more than 250,000 Amazon employees, including those at the grocery chain Whole Foods, as well as the more than 100,000 seasonal employees it plans to hire for the holiday season.

This is an encouraging development. My support for pro-market policies is partly driven by philosophy (freedom to engage in voluntary exchange, etc), but also motivated by a desire to help people become more prosperous.

It’s too soon to say for sure, but perhaps we’re seeing evidence that last year’s tax reform is paying dividends. Of course, it’s also possible that we’re in a bubble that’s about to pop, but let’s hope that’s not the case.

In any event, there’s also some bad news in the story. Amazon’s decision may not simply be a business decision. It also might be a way of appeasing the crowd in Washington.

The company now employs about 575,000 people worldwide, up more than 50 percent in the past year…the pay of those workers has become a growing issue for activists… “I think they saw the writing on the wall…,” Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont said in an interview after the announcement. …Mr. Sanders and labor organizers have criticized the wages and conditions of Amazon’s work force. …As recently as last month Amazon was resisting the pressure.

The most nauseating aspect of this is that Amazon’s boss issued a groveling tweet to Crazy Bernie.

Since I’ve shared the good news and bad news, now let’s look at the ugly news.

Having decided to boost wages for his workers, Bezos now want to impose higher costs on smaller companies that compete against Amazon.

The company said it would also lobby Washington to raise the federal minimum wage, which has been set at $7.25 for almost a decade.

This is a classic example of cronyism. A big company is using the coercive power of government to unfairly tilt the playing field.

The Wall Street Journal opined about this oleaginous development.

Jeff Bezos…the Amazon CEO showed he also has impeccable political timing. His decision to raise Amazon’s minimum wage to $15 an hour will buy the tech company some political insurance… Mr. Bezos also announced that Amazon will now lobby Congress to raise the national minimum wage from $7.25 an hour. If Amazon is already paying $15, it’s no competitive sweat for Mr. Bezos to look virtuous for the media and politicians.

The WSJ also commented on the implicit extortion.

Speaking of government, Amazon’s wage increase may also buy some insurance against a looming assault from Congress. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont socialist and likely presidential candidate in 2020, has introduced the Stop Bezos Act that would tax Amazon to finance government transfer payments like food stamps. …Mr. Bezos also wants to hold off the federal antitrust cops, but that may cost more than $15 an hour. Politics aside, Amazon’s wage increase wouldn’t be possible if the U.S. economy hadn’t risen out of its eight-year Obama doldrums. As always, the best way to raise living standards is faster growth, not political coercion.

Amen.

Sadly, this is not the first time Amazon has climbed into bed with politicians. It is currently seeking special handouts from state and local governments for a new headquarters complex.

P.S. If you want to understand why government-imposed mandates for higher minimum wages are misguided, there’s very powerful evidence from Seattle. Simply stated, workers lose jobs and income.

Read Full Post »

I explained back in 2013 that there is a big difference between being pro-market and being pro-business.

Pro-market is a belief in genuine free enterprise, which means companies succeed of fail solely on the basis of whether they produce goods and services that consumers like.

Pro-business, by contrast, is a concept that opens the door to inefficient and corrupt cronyism, such as bailouts and subsidies.

It basically means big business and big government get in bed together. And that’s going to mean bad news for taxpayers and consumers.

Washington specializes in this kind of cronyism. The Export-Import Bank, ethanol handouts, TARP, and Obamacare bailouts for big insurance firms are a few of my least-favorite examples.

But state politicians also like giving money to rich insiders.

A report in the Washington Post reveals how states are engaged in a bidding war to attract Amazon’s big new facility, dubbed HQ2.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) will offer more than $3 billion in tax breaks and grants and about $2 billion in transportation upgrades to persuade Amazon.com to bring its second headquarters and up to 50,000 jobs to Montgomery County. …It appears to be the second-most generous set of inducements among the 20 locations on Amazon’s shortlist. Of the offerings whose details have become public, either through government or local media accounts, only New Jersey’s is larger, at $7 billion.

Richard Florida, a professor at the University of Toronto, explains to CNN why this approach is troubling.

…there’s one part of Amazon’s HQ2 competition that is deeply disturbing — pitting city against city in a wasteful and economically unproductive bidding war for tax and other incentives. As one of the world’s most valuable companies, Amazon does not need — and should not be going after — taxpayer dollars… While Amazon may have the deck stacked in picking its HQ2 location, the mayors and elected leaders of these cities owe it to their tax payers and citizens to ensure they are not on the hook for hundreds of millions and in some cases as much as $7 billion in incentives to one of the world’s most valuable companies and richest men. …The truly progressive thing to do is to forge a pact to not give Amazon a penny in tax incentives or other handouts, thereby forcing the company to make its decision based on merit.

It’s not just a problem with Amazon.

Here’s are excerpts from a column in the L.A. Times on crony capitalism for Apple and other large firms.

State and local officials in Iowa have been working hard to rationalize their handout of more than $208 million in tax benefits to Apple, one of the world’s richest companies, for a data facility that will host 50 permanent jobs. …the Apple deal shows the shortcomings of all such corporate handouts, nationwide. State and local governments seldom perform cost-benefit studies to determine their value — except in retrospect, when the money already has been paid out. They seldom explain why some industries should be favored over others — think about the film production incentives offered by Michigan, Louisiana, Georgia and, yes, Iowa, which never panned out as profit-makers for the states. …the handouts allow big companies to pit state against state and city against city in a competition that benefits corporate shareholders almost exclusively. Bizarrely, this process has been explicitly endorsed by Donald Trump. …politicians continue to shovel out the benefits, hoping to steer their economies in new directions and perhaps acquire a reputation for vision. Nevada was so eager to land a big battery factory from Tesla Motors’ Elon Musk that it offered him twice what Musk was seeking from the five states competing for the project. (In Las Vegas, this is known as “leaving money on the table.”) Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker gave a big incentive deal to a furniture factory even though it was laying off half its workforce. He followed up last month with an astronomical $3-billion handout to electronics manufacturer Foxconn for a factory likely to employ a fraction of the workforce it forecasts.

And here’s an editorial from Wisconsin about a bit of cronyism from the land of cheese.

The Foxconn deal…should be opposed by Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives. There are no partisan nor ideological “sides” in this debate. The division is between those who want to create jobs in a smart and responsible way that yields long-term benefits and those who propose to throw money at corporations that play states and nations against one another. The Foxconn deal represents the worst form of crony capitalism — an agreement to transfer billions of dollars in taxpayer funds to a foreign corporation. …Walker offered the company a massive giveaway — discussions included a commitment to hand the Taiwanese corporation nearly $3 billion in taxpayer funds (if it meets hazy investment and employment goals), at least $150 million in sales tax exemptions…the Legislative Fiscal Bureau, which analyzes bills with budget implications…pointed out that Foxconn would receive at least $1.35 billion and possibly as much as $2.9 billion in tax incentive payments even if it didn’t owe any Wisconsin tax… This is a horrible deal.

Let’s now circle back to Amazon and consider how it gets preferential treatment from the Post Office.

I don’t feel guilty ordering most of my family’s household goods on Amazon. …But when a mail truck pulls up filled to the top with Amazon boxes for my neighbors and me, I do feel some guilt. Like many close observers of the shipping business, I know a secret about the federal government’s relationship with Amazon: The U.S. Postal Service delivers the company’s boxes well below its own costs. Like an accelerant added to a fire, this subsidy is speeding up the collapse of traditional retailers in the U.S. and providing an unfair advantage for Amazon. …First-class mail effectively subsidizes the national network, and the packages get a free ride. An April analysis from Citigroup estimates that if costs were fairly allocated, on average parcels would cost $1.46 more to deliver. It is as if every Amazon box comes with a dollar or two stapled to the packing slip—a gift card from Uncle Sam. Amazon is big enough to take full advantage of “postal injection,” and that has tipped the scales in the internet giant’s favor. …around two-thirds of Amazon’s domestic deliveries are made by the Postal Service. It’s as if Amazon gets a subsidized space on every mail truck.

In this last example, the real problem is that we’ve fallen behind other nations and still have a government-run postal system.

The way to avoid perverse subsidies is privatization. That way Amazon deliveries will be based on market prices and we won’t have to worry about a tilted playing field.

And that last point is critical.

Yes, cronyism and corporate welfare is an economic issue. It is bad for long-run growth when political favors distort the allocation of capital.

But an unlevel playing field is also a moral issue. It’s simply not fair or not right for politicians to give their buddies special advantages.

And it’s both economically harmful and morally harmful to create a system where the business community views Washington as a handy source of unearned wealth.

For what it’s worth, I also think it should be a legal issue. For those of us who believe in the rule of law, a key principle is that everyone should be treated equally. Heck, that principle is enshrined in the Constitution.

So I’ve always wondered why courts haven’t rejected special deals for specific companies because of the equal-protection clause?

Then again, maybe I shouldn’t wonder. After all, the Supreme Court twisted itself into a pretzel to miraculously rationalize Obamacare.

But none of this changes the fact that it’s time to wean big business off corporate welfare.

P.S. Just in case you harbor unwarranted sympathy for big companies, remember that these are the folks who are often keen to undermine support for the entire capitalist system.

Read Full Post »

With apologies to Elizabeth Barrett Browning, here’s the opening of the big-business version of Sonnet 43.

How do I hate thee, capitalism? Let me count the ways.
I hate thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, for I am big and competition is a threat
Better to have bailouts, subsidies, mandates, protectionism, and cronyism.

I wish this was just empty satire. Sadly, however, there are many examples of big businesses fighting against free enterprise.

And now we have a new example.

The head of a huge investment fund has implied that businesses should become social justice warriors, a missive that (predictably) led to some fawning coverage in the New York Times.

Laurence D. Fink, founder and chief executive of the investment firm BlackRock, is going to inform business leaders that their companies need to do more than make profits — they need to contribute to society as well if they want to receive the support of BlackRock. …“Society is demanding that companies, both public and private, serve a social purpose,” he wrote in a draft of the letter that was shared with me.

Actually, as Walter Williams has eloquently explained, businesses perform a very valuable social purpose when they earn profits.

Indeed, the free enterprise system is why we enjoy unimaginable prosperity and why poor people in the United States have higher living standards than the average person in a socialist economy.

But that’s not the point Mr. Fink is making. Instead, he’s giving aid and comfort to the interventionists and redistributionists who want politicians and bureaucrats to have more power.

Which is, of course, the angle the New York Times chose to highlight.

It may be a watershed moment on Wall Street, one that raises all sorts of questions about the very nature of capitalism. …for the world’s largest investor to say it aloud — and declare that he plans to hold companies accountable — is a bracing example of the evolution of corporate America. …Mr. Fink’s declaration…pits him, to some degree, against many of the companies that he’s invested in, which hold the view that their only duty is to produce profits for their shareholders, an argument long espoused by economists like Milton Friedman.

Friedman was right, of course.

And not just about the value of profits. He also pointed out that people like Mr. Fink play a very destructive role.

Friedman wrote…in this very newspaper. “Businessmen who talk this way are unwitting puppets of the intellectual forces that have been undermining the basis of a free society these past decades.”

Amen.

So why would a fabulously rich man like Mr. Fink engage in this kind of stunt.

There are three possible explanations.

  1. He’s stupid. But I think we can eliminate that possibility by virtue of what he has achieved.
  2. He sincerely believes that businesses should sacrifice profits to pursue social justice. If that’s the case, I would suggest he lead by example by voluntarily giving the government 90 percent of his income over $200,000 per year (sort of a do-it-yourself version of 1950s tax policy). Needless to say, I’m not holding my breath. Rich people who decide to become left-wing always seem to want to appease their feelings of guilt by coercing other people into giving more money to politicians.
  3. He realizes his letter is a bunch of nonsense, but he wants to appease the left in order to shield his industry from bad policies such as an increase in capital gains taxes on “carried interest.” If this is the right answer, I sympathize with Mr. Fink’s policy objective (especially since higher taxes on carried interest would be the precursor for higher taxes on other forms of capital gains), but I very much disagree with his tactics.

Indeed, I have a suggestion for Republicans on Capitol Hill, one that I’ve made in the past when big businesses have urged tax hikes.

They should invite Mr. Fink to testify and ask him whether he supports higher taxes to achieve warm and fuzzy goals. Assuming he then says yes, they should then ask how much of his income he is voluntarily giving to Washington.

He’ll presumably say none (like all the other rich leftists), at which point they should rake him over the coals for hypocrisy,

And then they should ask him for a yes-or-no answer on whether he will support legislation specifically increasing the tax rate on CEOs of investment funds.  And follow that with a question of whether he endorses higher capital gains taxes on carried interest (a class-warfare levy that would be very painful for firms that specialize in private equity investments.

Last but not least, they should ask him for examples of BlackRock choosing unprofitable (or even less-profitable) investments in order to “serve a social purpose.” It would be somewhat amusing to see the reaction of investors if Fink actually named examples (and amusing to expose an additional layer of hypocrisy if he didn’t).

Here’s my bottom line on this issue. If Mr. Fink wants to be an effective advocate of social justice, properly defined, then he should concentrate on making very wise (i.e., profitable) investments. Because getting a healthy return on his investments would be the best possible evidence that he was helping the poor.

P.S. The first dictator of the Soviet Union, Vladimir Lenin, is rumored to have said that “capitalists will sell us the rope we will hang them with.” There’s no proof he actually said that, but the “Order of Lenin” was the highest civilian award granted by the Soviet Union.

So maybe we should mix the two concepts and create “The Lenin Award for Rich People Who Want to Destroy Free Enterprise.” Or something like that.

It definitely would be more meaningful than the Bob Dole Award or the Charlie Brown Award, and I know a good candidate for the inaugural prize.

Read Full Post »

In my 30-plus years in Washington, I’ve lived through some very bad pieces of legislation.

But the most depressing experience was probably the TARP bailout. In part, it was depressing because bad government policy created the conditions for the crisis, so it was frustrating to see the crowd in Washington blame capitalism (in effect, a repeat of what happened in the 1930s).

Far more depressing, however, was the policy response. Thanks largely to the influence of Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, the Bush Administration decided to bail out the big firms on Wall Street rather than use “FDIC resolution,” which would have bailed out depositors but at least shut down big institutions that were insolvent.

In other words, TARP was pure cronyism. Wall Street firms had “invested” in Washington by giving lots of contributions to politicians and TARP was their payoff.

With this background, you’ll understand why I asserted in this interview that the dissolution of two business advisory councils is the silver lining to the black cloud of Charlottesville.

Since that was just one segment of a longer interview and I didn’t get a chance to elaborate, here are some excerpts from an article in Harvard Business Review by Robert Litan and Ian Hathaway about the connection between anemic productivity numbers (which I wrote about last week) and cronyism.

Baumol’s writing raises the possibility that U.S. productivity is low because would-be entrepreneurs are focused on the wrong kind of work. In a 1990 paper, “Entrepreneurship: Productive, Unproductive, and Destructive,” Baumol argued that the level of entrepreneurial ambition in a country is essentially fixed over time, and that what determines a nation’s entrepreneurial output is the incentive structure that governs and directs entrepreneurial efforts between “productive” and “unproductive” endeavors. Most people think of entrepreneurship as being the “productive” kind, as Baumol referred to it, where the companies that founders launch commercialize something new or better, benefiting society and themselves in the process. A sizable body of research establishes that these “Schumpeterian” entrepreneurs, those that are “creatively destroying” the old in favor of the new, are critical for breakthrough innovations and rapid advances in productivity and standards of living. Baumol was worried, however, by a very different sort of entrepreneur: the “unproductive” ones, who exploit special relationships with the government to construct regulatory moats, secure public spending for their own benefit, or bend specific rules to their will, in the process stifling competition to create advantage for their firms. Economists call this rent-seeking behavior.

That’s the theory.

What about evidence? Well, Obamacare could be considered a case study since it basically was a giveaway to big pharmaceutical firms and big health insurance companies.

But the authors look at the issue more broadly to see if there is an economy-wide problem.

Do we…see a rise in unproductive entrepreneurship, as Baumol theorized? …James Bessen of Boston University has provided suggestive evidence that rent-seeking behavior has been increasing. In a 2016 paper Bessen demonstrates that, since 2000, “political factors” account for a substantial part of the increase in corporate profits. This occurs through expanded regulation that favors incumbent firms. Similarly, economists Jeffrey Brown and Jiekun Huang of the University of Illinois have found that companies that have executives with close ties to key policy makers have abnormally high stock returns.

This is very depressing.

I don’t want companies to do well because the CEOs cozy up to politicians. If entrepreneurs and corporations are going to be rolling in money, I want that to happen because they are providing valued goods and services to consumers.

I wrote about Bessen’s research last year. It’s very unsettling to think that companies make more money because of political connections than they do from research and development.

There are two reasons this is troubling.

First, it means slower growth because government intervention is undermining the efficient allocation of labor and capital that occurs with productive entrepreneurship.

Second, cronyism is very corrosive because people equate business with capitalism, so their support for capitalism declines when they see companies getting special favors.

I wish ordinary people understood that big business and free enterprise are not the same thing.

Though I fully understand their disdain for certain big companies. Consider the way a select handful of big companies use the Export-Import Bank to obtain undeserved profits. How about the way big agri-businesses rip off consumers with the ethanol scam. Don’t forget H&R Block is trying to get the IRS to drive competitors out of the market. Big Sugar also gets a sweet deal by investing in politicians. Another example is the way major electronics firms enriched themselves by getting Washington to ban incandescent light bulbs. Needless to say, we can’t overlook Obama’s corrupt green-energy programs that fattened the wallets of well-connected donors. And General Motors became Government Motors thanks to politicians fleecing ordinary Americans.

The bottom line is that it’s time to save capitalism from the rent seekers in the business community.

Read Full Post »

One of the points I repeatedly make is that big government breeds corruption for the simple reason that politicians have more power to reward friends and punish enemies.

It’s especially nauseating when big companies learn that they can get in bed with big government in order to obtain unearned wealth with bailouts, subsidies, protectionism, and other examples of cronyism.

And these odious forms of government intervention reduce our living standards by distorting the allocation of labor and capital.

But just as crime is bad for society but good for criminals, it’s also true that cronyism is bad for the economy and good for cronies.

Two professors at the University of the Illinois decided to measure the “value” of cronyism for politically connected companies.

Gaining political access can be of significant value for corporations, particularly since governments play an increasingly prominent role in influencing firms. Governments affect economic activities not only through regulations, but also by playing the role of customers, financiers, and partners of firms in the private sector. …Therefore, gaining and maintaining access to influential policymakers can be an important source of competitive advantage… In this paper, we investigate the characteristics of firms with political access as well as the valuation effects of political access for corporations. Using a novel dataset of White House visitor logs, we identify top corporate executives of S&P 1500 firms that have face-to-face meetings with high-level federal government officials. …We match the names of visitors in the White House visitor logs to the names of corporate executives of S&P1500 firms during the period from January 2009 through December 2015. We are able to identify 2,286 meetings between corporate executives and federal government officials at the White House.

And what did they find?

That cronyism is lucrative (I deliberately chose that word rather than “profitable” because money that it legitimately earned is very honorable).

Here are some of the findings.

…we find that firms that contributed more to Obama’s presidential election campaigns are more likely to have access to the White House. We also find that firms that spend more on lobbying, firms that receive more government contracts… Second, we find that corporate executives’ meetings with White House officials are followed by significant positive cumulative abnormal returns (CARs). For example, the CAR is about 0.865% during a 51-day window surrounding the meetings (i.e., 10 days before to 40 days after the meetings). We also find that the result is driven mainly by meetings with the President and his top aides.

For those interested, here are the companies that had a lot of interaction with the Obama White House.

And here are the officials that they met with.

For what it’s worth, I would be especially suspicious of the meetings with Valerie Jarrett and the three Chiefs of Staff. Those officials are political operatives rather than policy experts, so companies meeting with them were probably looking for favors.

Interestingly, it turns out that it wasn’t a good idea for companies to “invest” a lot of time and effort into cultivating relationships with Democrats.

…we exploit the election of Donald J. Trump as the 45th President of the U.S. as a shock to political access. We find that firms with access to the Obama administration experience significantly lower stock returns following the release of the election result than otherwise similar firms. The economic magnitude is nontrivial as well: after controlling for various factors that are likely correlated with firms’ political activities, such as campaign contributions, lobbying expenses, and government contracts, the stocks of firms with access to the Obama administration underperform the stocks of otherwise similar firms by about 80 basis points in the three days immediately following the election.

Though I guess you can’t blame the companies. Most observers (including me) expected Hillary to win, so the firms were simply playing the odds (albeit from an amoral perspective).

By the way, there are two very important caveats to share.

  • First, we can’t universally assume that corporate executives who met with White House officials were seeking special favors. They may simply have been urging the Obama Administration not to raise taxes or impose new regulations (i.e., honorable forms of lobbying).
  • Second, we can’t assume that the bad forms of lobbying have disappeared simply because there’s a Republican in the White House. As we saw during the Bush years, the GOP is more than capable of creating opportunities for unearned wealth by expanding the size and scope government.

For what it’s worth, I fear Trump will be tempted to play favorites as well. Which is why the real message for today is that smaller government is the only way to limit the corrupt interaction of big business and big government.

This image from the libertarian page on Reddit illustrates why my leftist buddies are naive to think that a bigger government will be a weapon against cronyism.

P.S. We should learn from Estonia on how to limit cronyism.

P.P.S. To close on a humorous note, those with left-wing children may want to get them “Kronies” for their birthdays or Christmas.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: