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The Myth of Capitalism-Book Review

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Many people have labeled communism as but a myth: an unattainable fantasy.  Jonathan Tepper and Denise Hearn (T&H) have, by contrast, written a new book called The myth of capitalism: Monopolies and the death of competition.  It contains a series of liberal and conservative critiques of the economic system of the US in particular and the West more generally.

T&H chronicle the decline of competitiveness in almost every sector of the US economy.  Most people in the mainstream media are drooling over the record highs being recorded on the stock market, but the book notes,  “Between 1996-2016, the number of stocks in the US fell by roughly 50%, from more than 7300 to fewer than 3600, while rising 50% in other developed nations.”  As T&H painstakingly explain by citing studies and charts, the US economy has been stagnant by most truly relevant metrics since the Reaganomics of the 1980s, such as R&D spending, company longevity, competitive consumer product prices and the number of annual startups.

The superficiality of the recent Wall St gains is enabled via trickery such as stock buybacks, oligopolistic mergers & lobbyist-sponsored deregulation and tax exemptions.  Such corruption used to be illegal, in pre- Reagan and Buckley v. Valeo America.  Teddy and Franklin Roosevelt both cracked down on monopolies like Standard Oil and the New York Central Railroad by enforcing the Sherman and Clayton Antitrust Acts.  Every president since Teddy, both Democrat and Republican, cracked down on potential monopolies until Reagan.  This helped prevent a market crash akin to those of 1907 and 1929, which were the direct result of laissez-faire capitalism.

Wide-scale mergers started occurring during the Reagan Administration and have only picked up steam ever since. Concerning our last president, T&H note that, “Obama talked tough on big business and Wall Street, but he raised as much money from them as possible and was arguably even more pro-merger than Bush.  His DOJ approved all the airline mergers, creating an oligopoly of four airlines… He allowed Google’s major acquisitions that vertically integrated parts of the ad industry… The FTC prevented Comcast from buying Time Warner in 2015 and AT&T from acquiring T-Mobile in 2011.  These were the only notable mergers Obama’s DOJ blocked.”

The book lists all of the industries that have effectively become oligopolies or even monopolies: search engines, beer, beverages, glasses, weapons, banks, telecommunications, social media, cell phone manufacturing, agriculture, airlines, pharmaceuticals, credit rating, tobacco, railroads, etc.  The consolidation of market share to a handful of billion-dollar companies has throttled the entry of new companies in our so-called Age of the Startup.  T&H write how Facebook has (after buying out Instagram) been able to devastate upstart platform Snapchat by mimicking all of Snapchat’s features.  Such treachery, combined with Facebook’s 2B+ user base, ensured Snapchat would end up in the financial spiral that’s it’s currently in.   This is but one example of how the post-merger era has sabotaged fresh competition.  The book relays this sobering stat: “In 1995, the top 100 companies accounted for 53% of all income from publicly traded firms, but by 2015, they captured a whopping 84% of all profits.”  After decades of decline, the number of new firm entries fell below the number of firm exits in 2013.  This decline in the number of startup innovators inevitably ends up hurting technological innovations.

The merger bonanza may be great for Wall St, but it’s horrible for Middle America.  For instance, T&H write, “When workers have fewer employers to choose from in their line of work, their bargaining power disappears.  Corporate giants can squeeze their suppliers, but the main thing companies buy is labor, and they have been squeezing workers.”  Thus, wages have struggled to keep up with inflation for decades.  Benefits are cut, while stock buybacks soar.  Unhappy workers in all but 3 states can be shackled to soul-sucking jobs via non-compete clauses.  Furthermore, “56% of private sector non-unionized workers are forced into mandatory arbitration and of those, 23% were also denied any access to class-action lawsuits. This means that nearly a quarter of working Americans in the private sector don’t have the basic right to sue their employer.”

Mergers aren’t good for consumers either, despite what the corporatist rhetoric will tell you.  T&Hgive countless examples of how industries became less innovative after drinking the Oligopoly Kool-Aid.  The lack of competition this environment leads to complacency and, thus, a lack of product innovation or even concern for customer service.  The book also reports that, “in mergers that led to 6 or fewer significant competitors, prices rose in nearly 95% of cases… On average, post-merger prices increased 4.3%.”  Industries from beer to pharmaceuticals are infamous for fixing prices, due to high barriers of entry for startups and tacit (and sometimes explicit) collusion.  According to the book’s data, the average specialty pharmaceutical medication cost jumped 217% from 2011-2015.  Unsurprising, when you consider that, “In 2017, drug makers paid for 882 lobbyists and spent more than $171.5M in an effort to oppose lower prescription drug prices.”

Ironically, lobbyists will argue that mergers lead to lower prices and greater innovation.  They make the dishonest argument that the goal of the antitrust acts was solely to help consumers.  In fact, the legislation never even mentioned consumer efficiency; the bills were all about breaking up the power of the trusts.  People like Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson saw how monopolies exceeded government authority in many cases; a lack of government enforcement of industry ultimately led to the Great Depression and the resulting New Deal reformations.

In the era of the Too-Big-to-Fail banks and corporations, the lessons of The myth of capitalism are more important than ever. They expose the façade of the post-recession “economic recovery” for what it is: stock buybacks and mergers puffing up the economy.  Everyone and everything from workers, consumers, people with medical conditions, startups and the IRS suffer from the corruption of American capitalism.  Tepper and Hearn frame their central thesis with liberal ideals and arguments (protecting the consumer, income inequality, maintaining government independence from corporate influence), as well as conservative (market competitiveness, cutting red tape for small business, low consumer prices).  A lot is written about the thoughts of Hayek and Friedman, but also leftists like FDR and Marx.  The final chapter offers some solutions to the problems of our times, but they’re pretty predictable if you’ve been reading along the whole way.  Page after page of charts succinctly illustrate the points T&H make about trust-busting, the corrosiveness of the lobbyist class, the benefits of competitive markets, and livings standards for people on Main Street.  The myth of capitalism is a very readable, even-handed and informative primer for anyone questioning whether or not they’re being gas lighted by the nonstop barrage of praise for the economy by the oligopolistic mainstream media.

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Economy

Success of G-20 Summit 2018

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G-20 Summit 2018, was termed as successful and hope for better world order. In fact, recently the tension between US and China & Russia was growing and world peace and stability was at stake. Since January 2018, when President Trump, addressed house of union, expressed anti-China and Russia sentiments. Later on imposition of traffic on Chinese products and several other action were aimed to curtail China’s growth countering Russian threats. APEC summit at Papua New Guinea has also given negative signals. Under this scenario, whole world has focused on the out-come of G-20 Summit 2018, held in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on 30 November-1 December 2018.

Chinese wisdom brought fruits finally, as a result of meeting between President Trump and President Xi, in Buenos Aires on 1 December 2018, where US president agreed to not to put additional tariffs on Chinese goods.  Since beginning of 2018, starting from the President Trump’s address to state of Union, anti-China sentiments were very much obvious. Putting tariff to Chinese goods by US Dollars 200 Billion, APEC summit at Papua New Guinea etc were the moments of worry for not only China but also for the whole world.

As, US is the largest and China as second largest economy of the World. These two economies were dominating the global economy. Any disturbance to US or Chinese economy may disturb the whole world’s economy and destabilize world trade. Any such chaos may lead to political instability globally. There were clouds of destabilization due to ongoing Trade War between the two big economies and all other nations were worried about the future of their own economies.

China is an ancient civilization and has passed many ups and downs throughout the history and have become much matured nation. Chinese policy of “Peace and Development” is beauty of its century old wisdom. By nature, Chinese people wanted a smooth and frictionless society. Since the beginning of confrontation or trade war, Chinese side observed patience and always struggling to find a solution by talk or negotiation. Even China was not eager to impose any tariff on US goods, but lately reciprocated as a last option.

President Xi’s speech at summit was very comprehensive and very clear spelling out the responsibilities and consequences of any destabilization of global economy. He urged that on trade issues, the world should firstly stick to openness and free trade, maintain and further expand an open market, and realize win-win cooperation through mutual exchanges and complementarity. China is stick to opening its doors to rest of world and believe in globalization and follow the WTO as guidelines. Secondly, G20 should stick to inclusiveness, and bring the benefits of international trade and economic globalization to people of all countries and all classes, including the under developed, developing nations and especially the poor states. Thirdly, G20 should uphold rules-oriented spirit and nurture a stable and expectable institutional environment for the healthy development of international trade.

President Trump was also positive and cooperative. Finally China and the United States have agreed to halt additional tariffs as both countries engage in new trade negotiations with the goal of reaching an agreement within 90 days. The breakthrough came after a dinner meeting between President Donald Trump and Chinese leader Xi Jinping. Trump agreed not to boost tariffs on $200bn of Chinese goods to 25 percent on January 1 as previously announced, while Beijing agreed to buy an unspecified but “very substantial” amount of agricultural, energy, industrial and other products, the White House said in a statement.

Overall, G-20 final communique said the members reaffirm ‘commitment to further strengthening the global financial safety net with a strong, quota-based, and adequately resourced IMF at its centre’. Further added that international trade and investment are important engines of growth, productivity, innovation, job creation and development. Also note on current trade issues, reaffirms pledge to use all policy tools to achieve strong, sustainable, balanced and inclusive growth. The communique said the group will safeguard against downside risks, by stepping up our dialogue and actions to enhance confidence.

Overall the Summit was termed as a very successful one and hopes for stability in the global economy is obvious. Especially the developing countries and poor economies felt sigh a relief. Pakistan is also passing through its worst hit era of economic crisis and was struggling to revive its ill-economy. As the international environment may improve and there may exist a space for Pakistan to play smartly and re-gain its position in the global economies. Although, Pakistan possess a huge potential for rapid growth, because of its natural edge over its rich agriculture and tremendous natural resources in the form of Minerals and mines. Pakistan work force is also a positive factor with 70% of its population under the age of 40, are well qualified. The hindrance is only, corruption, nepotism and poor management. It is responsibility of Government to introduce reforms, friendly incentive based policies, and strict-merit based implementation.

It is believed that China-Pakistan economic Corridor (CPEC) will also prosper and will achieve its desired results. The cooperation between China and Pakistan will grow further in all walk of life and benefits the common people of both sides.

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The Single Market: Europe’s best asset in a changing world

MD Staff

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European Commission presents a fresh assessment of the situation in the Single Market and calls on Member States to renew their political commitment to the Single Market.

Over the last 25 years, the Single Market has made Europe one of the most attractive places to live and to do business. Its four indivisible freedoms – the free movement of people, goods, services and capital – have helped improve our citizens’ prosperity and strengthen the EU’s competitiveness. To exploit its full potential in the digital era and ensure sustainable growth of our economy, the Single Market needs to function properly and constantly evolve in a rapidly changing world. However, today, deeper integration requires more political courage and commitment than 25 years ago and greater efforts to close the gap between rhetoric and delivery.

Jyrki Katainen, Vice-President in charge of Jobs, Growth, Investment and Competitiveness, said: “Six months before the European elections, it is worth reminding Europeans about how the Single Market improves our daily lives and provides a unique springboard for our companies to innovate and expand their activities across borders. And to those tempted to draw up new barriers, let’s consider the bigger picture: in a world where multilateralism is being challenged, and where Europe’s competitors are growing faster both in terms of GDP and population, the Single Market is a unique asset to preserve and boost our continent’s standing, values and influence in the world.”

Elżbieta Bieńkowska, Commissioner for the Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs, added: “The Single Market means freedom, opportunity and prosperity. But for people, services, products and capital to circulate freely – physically or online – we need everybody in the EU to play by the commonly agreed rules. We need effective and consistent enforcement. And just as we are resisting protectionism outside the EU, we should resist fragmentation inside the EU. We need to continuously uphold our Single Market to preserve our best asset for future generations.”

The Commission highlights three main areas where further efforts are needed to deepen and strengthen the Single Market:

Swiftly adopt proposals on table: The Commission has presented 67 proposals directly relevant for the proper functioning of the Single Market, 44 of which remain to be agreed. The Commission calls on the European Parliament and the Council to adopt the key proposals on the table before the end of this legislature. This includes relevant proposals to integrate digitisation and new technologies at the core of the Single Market, to ensure more secure and sustainable energy in Europe, and to build the Capital Markets Union (see factsheet Overview of initiatives)

Ensure the rules deliver in practice: Citizens and businesses can only enjoy the many benefits of the Single Market (see factsheet on the Single Market) if the rules that have been jointly agreed actually work on the ground. The Commission calls on Member States to be vigilant in implementing, applying and enforcing EU rules and refrain from erecting new barriers. For its part, the Commission will continue to ensure respect of EU rules across the board, from car emissions to e-commerce, from social media to the services sector, and much more besides.

Continue adapting the Single Market: Faced with growth gradually slowing down at global level and a changing geopolitical context, the EU needs to show leadership and political courage to take the Single Market to a new level. There is significant potential for further economic integration in the areas of services, products, taxation and network industries. It will make the Union even more attractive to international trading partners and provide it with additional leverage on the international stage.

With this Communication, the Commission is providing a first response to an invitation by the European Council in March to present a state of play of the Single Market and an assessment of remaining barriers and opportunities for a fully functioning Single Market. It also invites the European Council to dedicate an in-depth discussion at Leaders’ level to the Single Market in all its dimensions to identify common priorities for action and appropriate mechanisms to match the much needed new political commitment to the Single Market with concrete delivery at all levels of governance.

The Commission is today also presenting an Action Plan on standardisation, which presents four key actions to increase the system’s efficiency, transparency and legal certainty.

Removing bottlenecks to stimulate investment in the Single Market is also one of the key objectives of the Commission’s Investment Plan, also known as the Juncker Plan. This is why today’s Communication on the Single Market goes hand in hand with the Communication taking stock of what has been achieved under the Juncker Plan also published today.

Background

The Single Market allows Europeans to travel freely, study, work, live and fall in love across borders. They have a great choice of products – whether buying at home or cross-border – -and benefit from better prices as well as high standards of environmental, social and consumer protection. European businesses – small and large– can expand their customer base and exchange products and services more easily across the EU. Simply put, the Single Market is Europe’s best asset to generate growth and foster competitiveness of European companies in globalised markets.

With the Single Market Strategy, the Capital Markets Union and the Digital Single Market Strategy, the Commission has put forward an ambitious and balanced set of measures over the last four years to deepen the Single Market further and make it fairer. Several proposals have already been adopted, but the European Parliament and the Council still have to agree on 44 out of the 67 proposals set out in these strategies. The Commission has also made important and forward-looking proposals to build a Banking Union in Europe as well as strengthen the circular economy, energy, transport and climate policies which will deepen the Single Market and foster sustainable development. To ensure that the Single Market remains fair, the Commission has proposed safeguards in the fields of employment, taxation, company law and consumer protection.

For the next long-term EU budget 2021-2027, the Commission has proposed a new, dedicated €4 billion Single Market programme, to empower and protect consumers and enable Europe’s many small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to take full advantage of a well-functioning Single Market.

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Is Your Neighborhood Store Safe? Amazon and Store Closings

Meena Miriam Yust

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Amazon has reached the far corners of the earth… and the highest elevations.  Delivery men venture 11,562 feet up in the Himalayas to leave a package.  While the company may serve a useful purpose in remote regions, its phenomenal growth also reveals that no town is immune from its less desirable consequences.  The online retailer’s omnipresence has been all too apparent in Chicago, New York, and London in recent months, where stores have been closing in droves.

Treasure Island Foods of Chicago, a family-owned business started by Christ Kamberos in 1963, announced at the end of September that after 55 years it was closing all remaining stores in just two weeks.  Now, the lights are out and the shadows empty shelves are all that remain, with the scent of fresh sourdough and gyros cooking on the spit only in shoppers’ reminiscences as they walk by the darkened windows.

Julia Child once described Treasure Island as “America’s Most European Supermarket.”  In my memory, it was unforgettable.  The stores always had treasure troves for every season, from delicious green picholine olives from France, to liver pâté and English Blue Stilton at Christmas, and of course, Marmite.  Not to mention exotic cookies and chocolates from all over the world: marzipan and chocolate from Switzerland and Austria, shortbread from Scotland, and crisp butter wafers from the Netherlands are a few examples.  It was a haven for special gifts during the holidays.

Treasure Island was not alone in the struggle to survive amidst food delivery apps and Amazon.  Not only were customers buying goods online, but Amazon was also shifting into the grocery market by taking over Whole Foods.  Not surprisingly, Chicago’s other local grocery chain Dominick’s closed in 2014.  The city lost one of its most beloved bakeries too in 2017 when the Swedish Bakery closed after 88 years in business.  Gone were the days of mouth-watering rum balls, Princess Torte laden with green marzipan, and toska cake.  In its final days an estimated 500 customers per day flocked in to have one last tasty treat.

Purchasing items online might be convenient but the trend has serious costs for many industries, not only food.  Retail has been hit hard.  Sears recently filed for bankruptcy and is closing 142 stores.  So did Toys R Us, shuttering its outlets last summer.  Luxury goods retailer Henri Bendel announced in September that its stores will be closing too, after 123 years.

What’s more the change is not just in the United States.  In the UK, Marks & Spencer plans to close 100 stores by 2022.  Debenhams and House of Fraser in London are also in trouble.  In March of 2018, Sweden’s H & M reported the lowest first quarter profits in more than a decade, down 62%.  When large international stores are being squeezed, one can understand how local shops are struggling to keep afloat.  A recent Atlantic article observes that Manhattan is becoming a “rich ghost town.”  So many store fronts once filled with interesting items are now empty, a trend that the author predicts will move to other cities.  Will the choices for future shoppers be restricted to chain stores and dark unrented windows?  Local small retailers unable to afford high rents are gradually being nudged out of existence.  They need help.

Could Local Currencies Save Our Neighborhood Stores?

The answer may be introducing local currencies.  Studies have shown that municipal currencies stimulate the local economy.  They serve as shock absorbers and protect in times of recession.

Switzerland has had the WIR since 1934 and Ithaca, New York introduced its own currency known as Ithaca Hours in 1991.  Ithaca Hours started out with 90 individuals who were willing to accept the currency as a payment for their work, and expanded to become one of the largest local currency systems in the U.S.  Ithaca’s example was an inspiration for municipal systems in Madison, Wisconsin, and Corvallis, Oregon.

The UK also has several local currencies including the Bristol Pound.  The former Mayor of Bristol accepted his entire salary in Bristol Pounds, and more than 800 businesses accept the local currency.

Once local currencies are in circulation, consumers can continue using their national currency to purchase from large retailers and from online giants like Amazon.  Their local currency, though, is typically used at local businesses.

As an example, were a Chicago currency implemented, consumers might use their U.S. dollars to purchase goods online but would use their Chicago currency to buy locally.  Legislators and communities could thus lend a helping hand to local gems that remain in our towns.  Lutz Cafe and Pastry Shop, for instance, established in 1948, is unique to Chicago, and creates some of the most delicious cakes in the world.

By 2003, there were over 1,000 local currencies in North America and Europe.  Yet this is a mere fraction of the total number of cities.  If local currencies expanded to a majority of towns, perhaps our beloved neighborhood stores would be able to survive the online onslaught.

The Benefits of Preserving Local Shops

Consumers lose a service every time a small shop shuts down.  A local paint store, for instance, can provide advice on what paint to use for a particular purpose, how to use it, etc.  Nowadays, in many towns, these stores have closed.  Consumers’ options are limited to buying online without input from an expert, or from a large national chain, where they will be lucky to find advice comparable to that from a specialized store.  The same holds true for many kinds of home repair.

Then there is the charm of familiar faces at the corner store.  Growing up near Treasure Island as a child, I could scarcely forget the cherry-cheeked cherub-like server at the deli counter.  After noticing this eight-year-old’s tendency to gorge on free olive samples once a week, he would always laugh heartily with those chubby cheeks and remark with a chuckle that I would end up eating all the olives before reaching the check out line.  Ordering specialty olives online is just not the same.  There may be no checkout line, but also no one to talk or joke with.  The same is true for the automated Amazon Go stores.  The nice deli server today is out of a job after decades of service.

Another hidden cost of online purchases is environmental.  Aside from fossil fuel emissions, delivery of a parcel requires packaging, and often bubble wrap, made of low-density polyethylene, a form of plastic that comprises 20% of global plastic pollution.  Reusable bags and a neighborhood store within walking distance are clearly better for the environment.

Amazon’s reach extends to places like Leh, India, high in the snow-covered Himalayas, where many of its goods may not be available in town.  And one can appreciate and understand the value of online purchases in such rural communities.  In fact that was exactly the original purpose of Sears with its iconic catalogue.

Yet in cities where one can readily buy the same items in stores nearby, we have to try to refrain from the convenience of one-click shopping.  The more we purchase online items, the more we pollute the environment and kill local stores.  Without small businesses, cities will eventually become homogenized with block after block of chain retailers, or dark empty windows, as has started to happen in Manhattan.  The character of a quaint town or a trendy metropolis becomes obsolete.

Gone will be the unique gift shops and the luxury tailor.  When the British high street becomes indistinguishable from U.S. ghost towns and when the only place to eat is a chain burger joint, the fun of traveling and the adventure of new places will be lost forever.  The vibrant world of new flavors and experiences will be no more.

So please think twice before clicking an online purchase.  You may be signing your local store’s death warrant.

Author’s note: this piece first appeared in CounterPunch.org

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