Monthly Archives: September 2018

How Hedge Fund Activists Prey on Companies

Evonomics has republished the article How Hedge Fund Activists Prey on Companies: When corporate raiders coopted “shareholder democracy” for their own ends.

In combination, these regulatory changes increased the incidence of predatory value extraction in the U.S. economy. For more than a decade, major public corporations have routinely disbursed to shareholders nearly all of their profits, and often sums equivalent to more than their profits, in the form of stock buybacks, dividends, and deferred taxes while investing less for the future and undertaking restructuring simply for the sake of reducing costs.

This article was an education and a half for me. How many of you can attach a family name to the USA President in the 1990s when much of this got started?

Steve Keen: How Economics Became a Cult

Naked Capitalism has the article Steve Keen: How Economics Became a Cult.

Steve Keen of Kingston University, London gives an important high-level talk on the considerable shortcomings of mainstream economics. Keen argues that a major objective of the discipline is to justify the virtues of markets, which in turn leads them to adopt a strongly ideological posture along with highly simplified models and narrow mathematical approaches to reach conclusions that they find acceptable.

Sometimes (frequently) Steve Keen talks faster than my mind can comprehend, so I take what I can from his talks, and let the rest percolate for a while.

My career experience is also in scientific/engineering software design and support, so I have a little bit of an advantage understanding Keen.

The Critical Difference Between Tim Canova And Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Disobedient Media has the article The Critical Difference Between Tim Canova And Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

While Tim Canova is independently facing off against one of the most corrupt career politicians in the country, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has been busy endorsing them. Cortez has come to represent an example of why and how a supposed progressive cannot survive within the DNC framework with their integrity intact.
Like Sanders, Cortez illustrates that even a supposed “insurgency” within the Democratic Party ultimately transforms those who pursue it into apologists for the same establishment they claim to fight – by design or accident, the result is the same.

This really is something to be very worried about. When this happens to both Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez, it starts to look like a dangerous pattern.

Texas AG backs school that expelled student over Pledge of Allegiance

Let me start with a quote that Sep Ebrahimzadeh posted. This is from the History As Weapon web site article “You Have to Fight for Freedom” (1973)

When i was maybe ten years old, i changed schools. On the way to school, i had to go through a park that was for white people only. We could walk through the park but we couldn’t stop at all, just pass through it. There were swings in this park and, oh, I so much wanted sometimes to just stop and swing a little while, but we couldn’t because we were black. I would walk through this park to my school where there weren’t any swings.

Every morning all the kids would line up according to classrooms and we would have prayers and sing the Star Spangled Banner and then we’d march to our respective groups after this business.

I decided I wasn’t going to sing the Star Spangled Banner. I just stood there every morning and I didn’t sing it. One morning, one of the teachers noticed that I wasn’t doing it. So she very quietly called me over and asked me why didn’t I sing the Star Spangled Banner. I said I just didn’t feel like singing it. So she said, “Well then you have to go in to the principal and explain that to him. All of the children in the school take part and you’ve got to do it too.” OK, I went in to the principal and he asked me why I wasn’t singing the Star Spangled Banner….

Finally I told him. “Because it says ‘The land of the free and the home of the brave’ and this is not the land of the free. I don’t know who’s brave but I’m not going to sing it any more.” Then he said, “Why you’ve been singing it all the time haven’t you? How come you want to stop now?” And I told him about coming through the park and if I could not swing in those swings in the park, and I couldn’t sit in the park, and I could only walk in Shakespeare Park, then it couldn’t be the land of the free. “Who’s free?” He didn’t say anything.

Then he said, “Well, you could pledge allegiance to your flag.” I said, “It’s not my flag. The flag is with freedom. If the land is free and the flag is mine, then how come I can’t do like the white kids?”….

You can watch a reading of the above quote on Vimeo.

Now here us the CBS News article Texas AG backs school that expelled student over Pledge of Allegiance.

Texas state law prohibits students from sitting during the Pledge of Allegiance unless they have written consent from a parent or guardian, KHOU reports.

India Landry filed a lawsuit after she was kicked out of school last year when she was a senior at Windfern High School, in Harris County. She and her mother claimed the principal made an arbitrary decision to punish her given that Landry sat down for the Pledge of Allegiance in hundreds of previous cases.

“I don’t believe the flag is for what it says it’s for,” Landry said last year, KHOU reported. “For liberty and justice and all that.”

The Bank of International Settlement’s Claudio Borio, Who Warned About the Crisis, Says the World Economy Is About to Get Very Sick

Naked Capitalism has the article The Bank of International Settlement’s Claudio Borio, Who Warned About the Crisis, Says the World Economy Is About to Get Very Sick.

In addition to the inefficiencies brought about by growing inequality, fiscal policy has tended to be biased toward “trickle-down economics” in which the benefits of government spending/taxation decisions “trickle down” to the population as a means of stimulating employment and income gains, as opposed to focusing directly on programs that cover “labor gaps” through direct employment programs such as the Job Guarantee(JG). The virtue of the JG, as the economist Hyman Minsky argued, is that “instead of the demand for low wage workers trickling down from the demand for the high wage workers, [policy orientation] should result in increments of demand for present high wage workers ‘bubbling up’ from the demand for low wage workers.” This can be better achieved via the JG, than, say, tax cuts.

Monetary policy is the wrong tool to use when consumer demand is insufficient. John Maynard Keynes explained that all to the world in the 1930s. It is still true, no matter what monetarists try to fool you with. Tax-cuts and zero (or negative) interest rates are all tools from the monetary toolbox. Fiscal stimulus by government requires spending by government. Collecting less taxes is not the same as fiscal stimulus just as pushing on a string is not as effective as pulling on a string.

Episode 866: Modern Monetary Theory

It is amazing that NPR has the story Episode 866: Modern Monetary Theory.

Some ideas seem too good to be true. Like this one. It comes from a 13-year-old listener named Amy. She says she knows the government has trouble finding enough money to pay for stuff like schools and hospitals. And she wondered if it has considered just printing more money. She asked us: Can the government do that? Just make more money to pay for stuff?

NPR has made this a little too entertaining, but they do eventually cover most of the important points. It doesn’t hurt to hear this explanation and others like it until you can digest what’s being explained to you.

How the Crisis Caused a Pension Train Wreck

Naked Capitalism has the article How the Crisis Caused a Pension Train Wreck.

Pension funds have taken on many of the risks that were once held by banks. Low bond yields, which make it more expensive to guarantee an income, have forced them to take extra risks. They now hold assets, such as hedge fund and private equity investments, with much concealed leverage. And many companies have transferred the risk of bad investment performance from their shareholders to savers – and savers are not usually well-equipped to deal with them.

The result: the risk of a sudden banking collapse, which almost happened 10 years ago, has reduced. But the risk of social crisis, as people enter retirement without enough money, is rising.

Just to drive the point home, further down in the article was this.

Abandoning DB [defined benefit] plans reduces the risk that companies will face bills that they cannot pay. But it opens the greater risk that individual savers, far less sophisticated than the actuaries who run company pension plans, will fail to save enough for retirement – particularly as many suffer stagnating wages and have difficulty meeting their current commitments.

The evidence from the US is alarming…. Most Americans with DC [defined contribution] plans do not have anything like enough money saved to support them in retirement…

I retired about 12 years ago, so the crash hit me just after I retired. The financial literature says this is the worst kind of timing one can suffer.

I have managed retirement fairly well, but I’d hardly say I feel safe and secure. I try to buy high quality stocks that are currently at low historical prices for each stock. With the current stock market bubble, these companies are harder and harder to find.

Another strategy I have used to is lower our standard of living to match the returns I can get out of the stock market. We recently had our wills redone. The lawyer suggested that we should be spending more and enjoying our retirement more. That’s advice we are not going to take. Sharon and I are perfectly happy with what we are spending, and I am trying to guard ourselves against worse possibilities than the lawyer seems to be able to imagine.

Employees to be handed stake in firms under Labour plan

The Guardian has the article Employees to be handed stake in firms under Labour plan.

Employee ownership schemes in large companies could result in almost 11 million workers being given up to £500 a year each, in plans to be expanded upon by the shadow chancellor on Monday.

Under the scheme, every company with 250 or more employees will be expected to create an “inclusive ownership fund” (IOF) under a future Labour government, John McDonnell will say.

A plan something like this has been on my mind for the USA Social Security system since the 1990s. Refer to my 2013 post Saving Social Security: A Better Approach.

A search for Franco Modigliani on this blog will garner you a slew of past article.

Amazon’s Antitrust Antagonist Has a Breakthrough Idea

The dreaded The New York Times has the surprising article Amazon’s Antitrust Antagonist Has a Breakthrough Idea. The subtitle to the article is “With a single scholarly article, Lina Khan, 29, has reframed decades of monopoly law.”

This is an important article because lack of anti-trust action is a major cause of how our economy has gone wrong with its extra wide income disparity.

In early 2017, when she was an unknown law student, Ms. Khan published “Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox” in the Yale Law Journal. Her argument went against a consensus in antitrust circles that dates back to the 1970s — the moment when regulation was redefined to focus on consumer welfare, which is to say price. Since Amazon is renowned for its cut-rate deals, it would seem safe from federal intervention.

Ms. Khan disagreed. Over 93 heavily footnoted pages, she presented the case that the company should not get a pass on anticompetitive behavior just because it makes customers happy. Once-robust monopoly laws have been marginalized, Ms. Khan wrote, and consequently Amazon is amassing structural power that lets it exert increasing control over many parts of the economy.

Maybe I missed it, but I saw no mention in the article of the domination companies like Amazon exert on keeping wages down. That is a monopoly power that needs regulation to protect the little people when they are not acting as consumers.