Posts tagged ‘corporate state’

The Cost of our New Corporate State

As Obama pushes the US into a corporate state model like those in Europe, here is one cost we will face: increases in long-term unemployment.  Already we see higher structural barriers being created to employment (preference for preferred unions, higher minimum wage, reduced internships) combined with increasing incentives to remain unemployed (extension of unemployment benefits, subsidized medical services).

Most countries who move to this model experience very high long-term structural unemployment.   The costs to add an employee in Europe are really, really high, meaning that it is only done reluctantly and the preference is for highly skilled workers  (who is going to give a job for life to an untested, unskilled young worker?)  Further, these states are run by a troika of large corporations, unions, and government insiders who protect each other from competition.  Young unskilled workers are a competitive threat to established unions.  Since these unions workers get above-market wages, they are protected from younger workers who are willing to offer their admittedly less skilled labor much cheaper.

I was playing around with data released from the World Bank, and compared the US to a number of other industrialized countries on this metric.  Even in past recessions, long-term unemployment has remained low in the US (click to enlarge).  The metric is percent of total unemployed that are unemployed for longer than 1 year.

Another Union Bailout by Obama

After famously throwing out 200 years of bankruptcy law to hose secured creditors in favor of uni0ns at GM and Chrysler, the Obama Administration is again bailing out the unions that helped get him elected

Barely 15 percent of all construction-industry workers in the United States are union members, while the remaining 85 percent are nonunion, according to the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics. So why has President Obama signed Executive Order 13502 directing federal agencies taking bids for government construction projects to accept only those from contractors who agree in advance to a project labor agreement that requires a union work force? Obama's new order applies to all federal construction projects with price tags of $25 million or more, and it means all such contracts will only be awarded to companies with unionized work forces.

The costs of this to the public are pretty obvious, not only in terms of fairness but in increased costs and reduced competition.

Another factor helps explain Obama's willingness to sign an executive order that will put millions more tax dollars in union coffers. Mix points out that unions under PLAs typically exact agreements that include requiring contractors to make payments to union pension funds. This is an increasingly urgent issue, as the Washington Examiner's Mark Hemingway has recently detailed in these pages. According to Labor Department filings, the average union pension has only enough money on hand to cover 62 percent of the benefits it has promised to union members. Pension plans with 80 percent funding are considered "endangered" by federal auditors, while those with less than 65 percent funding are put on the "critical" list. With this latest executive order, it's clear that Obama intends to give unions on the critical list a massive dose of federal tax dollars to cure what ails them.

I'll keep saying it - this is right from the playbook of the European-style corporate state.

Obama and the Corporate State

For a while now I have been saying that Obama is not promoting Socialism, but rather an European-style corporate state -- where a troika of large unions, powerful politicians, and favored corporations worked together mainly to get themselves in power and to protect each other from competition.

It seems that Ron Paul sees it the same way:

Republicans and tea party activists are fond of accusing President Barack Obama of being a socialist, but today party gadfly Ron Paul said they had it wrong."In the technical sense, in the economic definition, he is not a socialist," the Texas Republican said to a smattering of applause at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference.

"He's a corporatist," Paul quickly added, meaning the president takes "care of corporations and corporations take over and run the country."

A Rare Links Post

I am really swamped at work, but I have a number of good things saved that I want to share.

1.  This picture is the best single explanation of what is wrong with the stimulus jobs creation numbers -- the stimulus money comes from somewhere, and starves efficient businesses of capital in favor of politically connected endeavors.  HT Russ Roberts

2.  More on what I call the only good idea for reducing health care spending -- making individuals responsible for making price-value purchasing tradeoffs like we do, oh say, with absolutely everything else we buy.  This article on on HSA's in Indiana:

State employees enrolled in the consumer-driven plan will save more than $8 million in 2010 compared to their coworkers in the old-fashioned preferred provider organization (PPO) alternative. In the second straight year in which we've been forced to skip salary increases, workers switching to the HSA are adding thousands of dollars to their take-home pay.

Most important, we are seeing significant changes in behavior, and consequently lower total costs. In 2009, for example, state workers with the HSA visited emergency rooms and physicians 67% less frequently than co-workers with traditional health care. They were much more likely to use generic drugs than those enrolled in the conventional plan, resulting in an average lower cost per prescription of $18. They were admitted to hospitals less than half as frequently as their colleagues. Differences in health status between the groups account for part of this disparity, but consumer decision-making is, we've found, also a major factor.

Mark Perry reports in a later post that Congress is declaring war on HSA's

3.  There has been a lot of good stuff lately on the growing rift between the two America's -- those in government or with access to government patronage and those who actually make a living by being productive.  I am increasingly convinced that Obama and Congress are working to create a European-style corporate state, where government insiders, a few large corporations, and a few large unions protect themselves against everyone else.  Katherine Mangu-Ward looks at a study of government vs. private pay for the same jobs.  It used to be government paid less in return for having to work less hard and being impossible to fire.  Now government workers have it all.

There are two million civilian federal workers. 1.1 million of them have direct private sector equivalents. And they are laughing their asses off at those private sector suckers, who are doing similar jobs for less pay"”often a lot less.

"Accountants, nurses, chemists, surveyors, cooks, clerks and janitors are among the wide range of jobs that get paid more on average in the federal government than in the private sector," according to a USA Today report. In jobs where there are private equivalents, the feds are earning $7,645 more on average than their private counterparts.

Her post has more data. And an update and response to criticisms is hereMark Perry looks at wage growth, and the difference is amazing.  Government employees are the new robber barons, and this time, the title is appropriate.

And speaking of the corporate state, this was an interesting essay at the Claremont Institute, via Maggies Farm.

Joseph Schumpeter ominously speculated that as capitalism succeeded, democracies in time would come to expect its end (wealth) but reject its means (free-market competition). He worried that because of the inequality and creative destruction it brings, capitalism would provoke a kind of adverse reaction. A popular call would arise for government to plan market outcomes according to some utopian view of society's good, and this democratically guided central planning would inevitably slow economic growth. Schumpeter predicted, in turn, that if economic expansion faltered, individual liberty would be directly imperiled or quietly ceded by citizens resigned to having their diminished economic position protected by the state.

The one mistake writers often make is to call capitalism a "system."  Capitalism is the un-system.  It is the lack of a system.  It is the natural self-organization of individuals when they freely follow their own self-interest.

4.  The individual responsibility story of the day, via Overlawyered

In 2004, truck driver Simon Loza Mejia violated company regulations, and took his eight-year-old Diana Yuleidy Loza-Jimenez along on a long-haul trip from Oregon to Bakersfield. That November 27, he was pulling away in the truck, but apparently didn't bother to check where his daughter was, and ran over her. This was, argued her attorneys, the fault of her father's employer"”and a Sacramento County judge agreed with the argument that it was legally irrelevant that her father was the one who ran her over. Unsurprisingly, a jury ignorant of the facts awarded Diana, whose lower body was crushed, a jackpot verdict of $24.3 million.

5.  Charter schools in Harlem.  Never have so many kids been held hostage to so few, in this case a few union officials and their captive legislators.

The United Federation of Teachers and its political acolytes in the New York state legislature are hell-bent on blocking school choice for underprivileged families. Worried that high-performing charters are "saturating" Harlem, State Sen. Bill Perkins and State Assemblyman Keith Wright have backed legislation that would gut state per-pupil funding at charter schools and allow a single charter operator to educate no more than 5% of a district's students. Unions dislike charter schools because many aren't organized. But how does limiting the replication of successful public education models benefit ghetto kids?

These obstructionists, Mr. Clark says, aren't doing the community any favors. "The teachers unions ought to be ashamed of themselves because they know better than I do how bad these schools are," he says. "Everybody on my block and in my building and around the corner . . . they all want charter schools. They don't want a political debate."

Separately, John Stoessel digs into Diane Ravitch's shilling for the teachers unions.

6.  I could have sworn the politicians swore up and down they would never ever interfere with business decisions at GM.

General Motors Co. will reinstate 661 dealerships it sought to drop from its sales network.GM executives said Friday that the dealerships -- more than half of those seeking to stay with the automaker -- will receive letters giving them the option to remain open. GM said it would not have enough time to negotiate with all 1,100 dealerships that appealed the automaker's decision to close them within a four-month window imposed by the federal government....

"It's not exactly what they wanted to do, and it's always I think a little embarrassing when you have to make changes based on an arbitration process, but they've had to adjust and move forward," he said.

Well, at least the Congress and the DOT is hammering GM's competitor Toyota, so I guess they can call it even.  Welcome to Europe, guys.  I have said it before, but this is exactly the kind of BS European nations do all the time - hammering foreign competitors of their domestic politically connected manufacturers in exchange for substantial ability to regulate and modify these companies decisions.  Soon to follow - Europe's lower growth rates and higher structural unemployment.

7.  Dog bites man:  Paul Krugman still a political hack who is willing to eschew everything he knows or has written about economics to support his team.

I'm Confused

I know conservatives get as excited about nuclear energy as a progressive at hempfest, but can anyone tell my why conservatives are so quick to endorse $8 billion of government loan gaurantees to a private company?    We are headed for a corporate state and our two parties are simply competing with each other to see who can get us there first.

A Few More Thoughts on Citizen's United

A friend of mine from Princeton days writes:

... and you seem in favor of the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United vs the FEC, I was wondering how you feel about being a customer or supplier or competitor of large businesses who can spend far more than your business to influence the rules of the game.

From what I read, I am sure you have a compelling answer, but I would be scared to death. (Maybe that's why I work for a large corporation [Target] instead of attempting to run my own business.)

I thought this was a pretty good question, and I answered:

  1. I try hard not to make utilitarian arguments to Constitutional and rights issues.  As an example, I am sure we might have less crime if the police were empowered to incarcerate anyone they wanted without trial, but we don't do it that way.
  2. I worry most about corporate lobbying (e.g. by Immelt at GE) and this is unaffected by this ruling - it was legal before and after.   This decision allows corporate advertising, which is public and visible, which I can at least see and react to, as opposed to back room deal making.
  3. Libertarians certainly worry about your question, and why many of us fear that what we are creating in this country is a European-style corporate state, rather than socialism.  To a libertarian, the answer is not less speech, but less government power to pick winners and losers in commerce.

The Most Negative Leading Economic Indicator

Will we look back on 2009 as the tipping point where productive resources began to spiral faster and faster into the government black hole?  A few stories that have caught my eye the last few weeks:

Federal salaries exploding, from USA Today via Q&O

The number of federal workers earning six-figure salaries has exploded during the recession, according to a USA TODAY analysis of federal salary data.

Federal employees making salaries of $100,000 or more jumped from 14% to 19% of civil servants during the recession's first 18 months "” and that's before overtime pay and bonuses are counted....

The trend to six-figure salaries is occurring throughout the federal government, in agencies big and small, high-tech and low-tech. The primary cause: substantial pay raises and new salary rules.

The highest-paid federal employees are doing best of all on salary increases. Defense Department civilian employees earning $150,000 or more increased from 1,868 in December 2007 to 10,100 in June 2009, the most recent figure available.

When the recession started, the Transportation Department had only one person earning a salary of $170,000 or more. Eighteen months later, 1,690 employees had salaries above $170,000.

Government Employment Rising, via Glenn Reynolds

Government services rising as a percent of the economy (from the Heritage Foundation via the same Glenn Reynolds link above)

Capital to private firms is increasingly allocated by the state -- the new Corporate State.  First, Representative Paul Ryan in Forbes:

Thirty years later, this crony capitalism is back with a vengeance, accelerated by an aggressive program by President Obama and the Democratic congressional leadership. It is wreaking havoc on economic recovery and fueling continued resentment among the American people.

The actions taken at the height of the financial panic last fall, with credit markets frozen, succeeded in preventing a systemic--and catastrophic--collapse. Since bringing us back from the precipice however, the Troubled Asset Relief Program [TARP] has morphed into crony capitalism at its worst. Abandoning its original purpose providing targeted assistance to unlock credit markets, TARP has evolved into an ad hoc, opaque slush fund for large institutions that are able to influence the Treasury Department's investment decisions behind-the-scenes. No longer concerned with preserving overall financial market stability, Treasury's walking around money continues to be deployed to reward the market's Goliaths while letting its Davids suffer.

Further, via Reuters:

U.S. banks that spent more money on lobbying were more likely to get government bailout money, according to a study released on Monday.

Banks whose executives served on Federal Reserve boards were more likely to receive government bailout funds from the Troubled Asset Relief Program, according to the study from Ran Duchin and Denis Sosyura, professors at the University of Michigan's Ross School of Business.

Banks with headquarters in the district of a U.S. House of Representatives member who serves on a committee or subcommittee relating to TARP also received more funds.

Political influence was most helpful for poorly performing banks, the study found.

"Political connections play an important role in a firm's access to capital," Sosyura, a University of Michigan assistant professor of finance, said in a statement.

The Government has gained new power to allocate capital in the future. This was perhaps one of the most under-reported stories of the last few months (mea culpa as well).

To close out 2009, I decided to do something I bet no member of Congress has done -- actually read from cover to cover one of the pieces of sweeping legislation bouncing around Capitol Hill....

The reading was especially painful since this reform sausage is stuffed with more gristle than meat. At least, that is, if you are a taxpayer hoping the bailout train is coming to a halt.

If you're a banker, the bill is tastier. While banks opposed the legislation, they should cheer for its passage by the full Congress in the New Year: There are huge giveaways insuring the government will again rescue banks and Wall Street if the need arises....

Here are some of the nuggets I gleaned from days spent reading Frank's handiwork:

-- For all its heft, the bill doesn't once mention the words "too-big-to-fail," the main issue confronting the financial system. Admitting you have a problem, as any 12- stepper knows, is the crucial first step toward recovery.

-- Instead, it supports the biggest banks. It authorizes Federal Reserve banks to provide as much as $4 trillion in emergency funding the next time Wall Street crashes. So much for "no-more-bailouts" talk. That is more than twice what the Fed pumped into markets this time around. The size of the fund makes the bribes in the Senate's health-care bill look minuscule....

But don't worry, trust Congress to get at the heart of the financial meltdown

The bill calls for more than a dozen agencies to create a position called "Director of Minority and Women Inclusion." People in these new posts will be presidential appointees.

The Corporate State, Illustrated

Couldn't have illustrated the new corporate state that Obama is building better than this -- at state where large corporations, unions, and government officials conspire to use government power to enrich their contituencies to the detriment of smaller businesses, consumers, and taxpayers.  WSJ via Tad DeHaven:

The government has taken on a giant role in the U.S. economy over the past year, penetrating further into the private sector than anytime since the 1930s. Some companies are treating the government's growing reach "” and ample purse "” as a giant opportunity, and are tailoring their strategies accordingly. For GE, once a symbol of boom-time capitalism, the changed landscape has left it trawling for government dollars on four continents.

"˜The government has moved in next door, and it ain't leaving,' Mr. [GE CEO Jeffrey] Immelt said at the International Economic Forum of the Americas in Montreal in June. "You could fight it if you want, but society wants change. And government is not going away.'

A close look at GE's campaign to harvest stimulus money shows Mr. Immelt to be its driving force"¦ Inside GE, he pushed his managers hard to devise plans for capturing government money.

By January, Mr. Immelt had become a leading corporate voice in favor of the $787 billion stimulus bill, supporting it in op-ed pieces and speeches. Reporters who called the Obama administration for information on renewable-energy provisions in the legislation were directed to GE.

When the stimulus package was rolled out, Mr. Immelt instructed executives leading the company's major business units "to put together swat teams to get stimulus money, and [identify] who to fire if they don't get the money," says a person who heard him issue the instructions.

In February, a few days after President Obama signed the stimulus plan, GE lawyers, lobbyists and executives crowded into a conference room at GE's Washington office to figure out how to parlay billions of dollars in spending provisions into GE contracts. Staffers from coal, renewable-energy, health-care and other business units broke into small groups to figure out "how to help companies" "” its customers, in particular "” "get those funds," according to one person who attended.

From Henry Payne, in an article on the auto industry:

The Left likes having Big Industry straw men to bash whenever their socialist plans run aground, but the fact is, Big Industry is embracing the U.S.'s leftward lurch. Better to secure your place at the Rentseekers Roundtable, to lock out new competition and guarantee a never-ending stream of government welfare.

ADM's Mistake (Mostly Corrected)

Alex Tabarrok discusses the new movie about Mark Whitacre and price fixing at Archer Daniels Midland.  ADM apparently was caught holding meetings with competitors to fix prices of certain chemical commodities, specifically Lysine.

Here was ADM's mistake, and it is one they have clearly learned from:  in the modern American corporate state, there is no reason to engage in illegal private price fixing or cartel arrangements when corporations can achieve similar ends legally and openly through the government.  If ADM was concerned about difficult competition depressing pricing, they could have emulated any of these examples:

  • Run to Congress to beg for strong tariff's on foreign sources of their commodity product (as do the sugar and ethanol industries)
  • Run to Congress and have them institute minimum pricing or buy up excess supply (as do many agricultural producers)
  • Run to Congress to seek supply restrictions (as does the taxi business)
  • Run to Congress and have them restrict new competition and sources of supply through licensure (as do a variety of industries, from real estate to funeral homes to medicine)
  • Run to Congress to have them pass onerous legislation that makes it difficult for new capacity to be added in the business (as does the waste disposal industry)
  • Run to Congress to seek subsidies for their product in the name of some public good - it doesn't even have to be true (as does, well, ADM with ethanol)
  • Run to Congress to seek regulations that favor your particular production and product technologies while hamstringing your competition (as does GE with light bulbs)
  • Run to Congress and have them enforce an industry price-fixing arrangement -- its legal when Congress does it (as do the Milk producers)
  • Run to the FTC to bring anti-trust actions against your competition (as did Netscape and Sun against Microsoft)  This is an interesting article on this, which says in part, "Most [antitrust] cases are not brought by public representatives, whether elected or self-appointed, but by private companies, often rivals of the defendant who are being driven out of business. Businessmen believe that competition is good if they win but bad if the other guy wins."

Of course, all of this takes a little care.  The competitive relief must be couched in something like "consumer protection" or "saving jobs" or "going green" or "fairness," but there are plenty of good examples of consumers getting the shaft in the name of consumer protection that it shouldn't be too hard to come up with something.  Developing a high profile in an early Presidential primary state like Iowa doesn't hurt either.

As I said in the title, ADM has certainly figured this out, if their approach to the ethanol business is any guide.  In ethanol, they have resorted to any number of these tactics simultaneously.

Today's Quiz

In our new corporate state, does anyone think this decision was made purely on the business merits?  Note that the only people mentioned or commenting in the article (other than a GM and UAW PR flack) are politicians of the various states.

The Obama Years In Two Sentences

The perfect storm: arrogant preachy leftists throwing money at useless things - and rational but amoral capitalists running around picking up the money.

The only loser is the taxpayer who is on the hook for all that money.

Via TJIC.  The Corporate State in a nutshell.

Because there is no disaster that immediate, decisive, wrong action cannot make worse

The post title is a quote from this video on the bailout, which is not a deep analysis of the financial crisis, but spot-on none-the-less. Via the Liberty Papers.

Men are From Mars, Women are from Venus, and GM CEOs are from Another Universe

Wow!  How far out of touch with reality can you be?

General Motors Corp. Vice Chairman Bob Lutz said he is looking forward to having a "car czar" in place so U.S. automakers have someone sympathetic to its needs in Washington.

"We will have someone to talk to about the pain being inflicted on use [sic] for no unearthly [sic] reason," Lutz said Sunday on the sidelines of the North American International Auto Show.

Via the Libery Papers