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Economy

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.

Russell Whitehouse is Executive Editor at IntPolicyDigest. He’s also a freelance social media manager/producer, 2016 Iowa Caucus volunteer and a policy essayist.

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Economy

Armenia’s historic vision for responsible mining

MD Staff

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Armenia, named country of the year by the Economist Magazine in 2018, has led a peaceful transition of power, introducing significant reforms in an inclusive and democratic manner. Nikol Pashinyan, MP and opposition leader, was elected Prime Minister on May 8, 2018. The new administration has identified anti-corruption efforts, free and fair parliamentary elections, and greater equity as its priorities.

Armenia’s economy is gaining strength, growing at over 5.2% in 2018. The growth has been supported by global recovery and a strong rebound in domestic demand. However, the country remains plagued by the twin evils of high unemployment and poverty. The fruits of growth are not shared across the nation.

A country rich in natural resources, particularly copper, molybdenum, gold and dimension stones, Armenia has 27 metal mines. These mines employ 9,000 people in rural areas, while metals and gems represent over 60% of total exports. Indeed, copper ore alone accounts for over a third of all exports. While Armenia has the accurate regulatory and legal framework in place to support the sector in a way that benefits its citizens, enforcement is far from ideal. 

Early challenges 

Against this backdrop and recognizing that extractive industries can drive economic growth and poverty reduction, the Prime Minister at the time, Hovik Abrahamyan, announced on July 28, 2015 the government’s commitment to make Armenia become compliant with the globally recognized transparency standard in the extractives sector, the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI). The government met with both the mining industry and civil society, inviting them to participate in the process by presenting nominees for a Multi-Stakeholder Group. Such a group had never been created before to agree a joint approach to the mining sector.

With issues of trust from civil society and apprehensions from industry, it appeared that the EITI process might fail to engage all parties. Following a stalemate of many months, the World Bank, funded by the Extractives Global Programmatic Support (EGPS) Multi-Donor Trust Fund, organized a workshop which brought together government, industry and non-governmental organizations for the first time. Stakeholders agreed to create a multi-stakeholder group to implement the EITI standard, with equal voting power for each party. Armenia’s first EITI report was approved and published in January 2019, covering 2016-2017 fiscal years.

Beyond Transparency

The multi-stakeholder group chose to go beyond the remit of transparency and sought to develop a common vision for responsible mining that would shape the future of every mine across the country. With the help of the EGPS Multi-Donor Trust Fund, government, industry and civil society groups are now working together to develop a Mineral Sector Policy, a policy framework to guide mining operations. The policy will outline the country’s vision for the mining sector and articulate what responsible and sustainable mining looks like. 

The Policy will be based upon the results of two ongoing assessments of the sector: an economic assessment and an environmental and health analysis. The economic assessment will assess the mining sector’s contribution to local, regional and national development, and the potential to develop stronger economic linkages along the supply chain. The environmental and health analysis will assess the health and safety of communities and workers, and examine the existing standards, capacity and institutions to effectively address these issues through a Mineral Sector Policy.

Alongside these assessments are ongoing consultations across government representatives, mining companies, civil society organizations and affected communities, which will be used to inform the creation of the Mineral Sector Policy. 

The assessments and consultations will help to build a shared and inclusive vision of Armenia’s future mining sector.

 Electronic reporting

Armenia is one of the few EITI countries to have a fully electronic reporting system up and running, receiving reports from government and companies. Given paper-based reporting has prevailed to date, this marks a significant step forward, minimizing technical errors in reports, decreasing required time for collection of reports and their reconciliation and creating a unique system of searching and downloading open data for users by applying appropriate filters. 

World Bank

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Economy

The impact of US-China Trade war

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It is highly unlikely, that any tangible solution to the Trade war between Beijing and Washington will emerge in the short run. In May 2019, Trump increased the tariffs on commodities worth 200 Billion USD, from 10% to a whopping 25%. So far, US has imposed tariffs of about 250 Billion USD on China. While China, has retaliated with tariffs on US goods estimated at well over 100 Billion USD (110 Billion.)

It would be pertinent to point out, that trade disputes have not been restricted only to Washington and Beijing.  Imposition of tariffs has been a bone of contention with US allies including Japan.

Off late, trade issues have resulted in major differences between New Delhi and Washington. Even though there are convergences between both countries on numerous strategic issues, resolving the differences between both sides on trade related matters is likely to be an onerous responsibility.

 In response to tariffs imposed by Washington, New Delhi retaliated, and has imposed tariffs, estimated at 200 Million USD, on 29 commodities (including Apples, Almonds and Chickpeas). India’s decision was a response to US’ decision to impose tariffs, of 10% and 25% on Aluminium and Steel in May 2018. Last year, New Delhi refrained from imposing tariffs, but did raise import taxes on a number of US goods to 120%, after Washington declined to exempt New Delhi from higher steel and aluminium tariffs. The key propelling factor for India’s recent imposition of tariffs was the US decision to  scrap the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) for India from June 5, 2019. India benefitted immensely from this scheme, as it allowed duty-free exports of upto $5.6 billion from the country.

Pressure on Trump

Even though no solution is in sight, there are a number of lobbies in the US, especially Trade groups and US businesses which have been repeatedly urging the Trump Administration to find a solution to the current impasse with China.

Only recently for instance, 600 companies, including Walmart in a letter  to the U.S. President Donald Trump urged him to resolve trade disputes with China, stating that tariffs were detrimental to the interests of American businesses and consumers. The letter was sent as part of the ‘Tarriffs Hurt the Heartland’ campaign.

To underscore the detrimental impact of trade wars on the American economy some important estimates were provided. The letter stated that tariffs of upto 25% on 300 billion USD worth of goods, could lead to the loss of 2 million jobs. Costs for an average American family of 4 would also rise to an estimated 2000 USD, if such tariffs were to be imposed.

Reports indicating the challenges to the US economy and FDI from Chinese companies in US

A number of surveys and reports illustrate the profound challenges which the US economy is facing as well as a drop in FDI from China.

The University of Michigan’s consumer sentiment index also revealed a drop in consumer sentiment from 100 in May to 97.9 in June. This was attributed to trade wars between China and the US.

According to a survey released by the China General Chamber of Commerce USA, investment by Chinese companies in the United States has witnessed a significant decline since 2016 ( including a sharp drop in 2018 and early 2019)

A number of important events have been held recently, where efforts were made to draw more Chinese investments to the US. One such event was the Select USA Summit. Speaking at the Summit, US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross stated:

‘We welcome investment from any place as long as it’s investment that poses no challenges for national security,”

US states and FDI

What was clearly visible at the Select USA Summit was the fact, that a number of US states pitched for expanding economic ties with China, and drawing greater Foreign Direct Investment.

The state of North Carolina sought to attract investments in areas like IT, Aviation and biotech. The US headquarters of Lenovo are in the state of Carolina. Trump’s trade wars have hit the state in a big way, and one of the sufferers have been Soy bean farmers. As a result of a 25 percent imposition of tariffs the price of a bushel of Soy bean has dropped to 8 USD, from 10 USD in 2018.

 Other US states brought to the fore the impact of tariffs on their respective economies. According to a senior official from the state of Louisiana for instance, Don Pierson, secretary of Louisiana Economic Development the state it has suffered immensely as a consequence of the imposition of tariffs. Agricultural commodities from Middle America to China are imported through export terminals in Louisiana. Pierson said that the agricultural economy of the state, as well as the logistics economy of the state have taken a hard hit as a consequence of the trade wars. Pierson also spoke about the possibility of exporting LNG from Louisiana to China. Major investments in the state of Louisiana include Yuhuang Chemical Group (Shandong’s) decided to invest US$1.85 billion in a methanol production complex (this was one of the largest Chinese direct investments in US). Wanhua Chemical Group invested over 1 Billion (1.2) USD in a chemical manufacturing complex in South Eastern Louisiana

A number of Chinese companies have also begun to realise, that there is need to adopt a nuanced approach too are still tapping certain US states for investment.

Another important event was the Select LA Summit. The Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, and Lenny Mendonca, chief economic adviser to the California governor assured overseas investors of all possible support from the town of LA, as well as the state of California.

Impact of trade disputes and Washington’s stance vis-à-vis Huawei

US States and Chinese Provinces have been at the forefront of improving economic ties between both countries. Both are likely to suffer as a consequence of not just the trade war between both countries, but also the US ban on Huawei. The tech company, according to a report published in 2016, contributes 7% of the GDP of the town of Shenzhen (Guangdong Province). Affiliates of Huawei provide employment to an estimated 80,000 people while a research facility in a nearby city of Dongguan, provides employment to well over 3,000

Conclusion:

In conclusion, it is important for all stakeholders, not just businesses from both countries, to play their role in resolving economic and technological disputes between China and the US.  It is also important for Chinese Provinces as well as US states to play a pro-active role in reducing tensions. Both governments while realising the importance of federating units have set up official dialogues and set up other mechanisms for sub-national exchanges. It is important that these platforms now contribute towards reducing the divergences between both countries. While all eyes are on the political leadership of both countries, it is important to realise that the stakeholders in the US-China relationship are not restricted to Beijing and Washington DC.

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Economy

The Game of Tariffs

Sabah Aslam

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Adam Smith is considered the father of economics. Back in 18th century, he presented the concept of protectionism, which was given to promote the local industry. Nevertheless, in 21stcentury, the world is facing its repercussions.

It is time that the world should be well concerned by the actions that are being opted by the two economic giants. Trade deadlock between Beijing and Washington is getting intense. U.S. protectionist and unilateral approach is the impetus behind this trade war and hence so far no promising foreseeable future can be anticipated. Moreover, China’s economic and development initiative i.e. BRI and its successful pilot project CPEC is also giving headaches to Oval. This Game of tariffs has engulfed whole of the globe into its chakra.

Trump and his policies have always been scrutinized by the analysts everywhere. Even before the elections, Trump expressed his strong urge to subdue China by means of trade restrictions. It was clearly evident even before the elections that if Mr. Trump will somehow make his path to Oval, he will surely give Chinese a sturdy time.

In Nov 2016, it happened just as it was feared. The heat of July 2018 had resulted into an economic cold war. With the world being the witness, there is no doubt that when Washington says, it knows how to make it happen. Therefore, when Washington flaunted its intentions to put serious tariffs onto Chinese commodities, it actually meant it. What started from a mere USD 34 billion, has crossed over USD 200 billion till-date. So far, Washington has imposed tariffs on USD 250 billion worth of goods coming to United States. Furthermore, it has also threatened to increase the threshold to an approximate value of USD 325 billion. In return, Beijing retaliated with putting tariffs on US$ 110 billion worth of goods.

The latest development that added fuel to the fire was on May 10, when United States raise tariffs to 25% on $200 Billion products coming from China annually. This escalated tensions between the two more as it projected that U.S. is not coming slow. Not only this, China has also banned the trade of rare elements. These elements hold prime importance in making of a number of electronic products such as mobiles and laptops in the United States.

China’s ministry of commerce has shown concern over American intentions regarding the engagement of two in the trade war and had warned that the dispute may even lead to “largest trade war in economic history”. China has repeatedly shared its concerns over the trade stand-off between Beijing and Washington. Whereas, continuous cold responses from Washington are leading situation to worse ends. China, as a responsible state, talks about equality, inclusiveness, and shared future for the globe. It always encouraged openness and cooperation.

Stubbornness of Trump’s Administration is pushing the Globe towards an economic and trade crisis. High tariffs on products will ultimately raise the costs for suppliers, manufacturers, retailers and then eventually affecting the people at tail¬— consumers. The end consumers will have to face large price raises even for the general products. On November 30, 2018, Chief of the World Trade Organization had said that global free trade is facing its worst crisis since 1947 and warned that the current spectrum of conflict will lead to global trade crisis.

These tensions are not restricted between the two; instead, they have led the global market to fluctuations, which has put business persons and investors in a situation of uncertainty. This investment dilemma can halt the economic progress inside of both countries. International Monetary Fund has also warned that a full-blown trade war would weaken the global economy. Earlier in this month, Cristine Lagarde gave remarks on Donald Trump’s intent to tax all trade between two countries that it would “shrink the global Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by one-half of one percent”.

China is the new reality. Washington needs to realize that. There are new players onto the scene. Oval’s actions will be scrutinized now; its ways will be challenged. It will no longer go uncontested.

The world knows that global economic ship today is sailing towards east and Chinese dockyard is where it will anchor. Mutual understanding is beneficiary for both the countries as well as for the world economy. Beijing is determined to meet Washington’s intentions with full capacity. United States is inducing self-inflicting pain to itself and to the world too. Companies inside US have already started showing their grievances regarding the trade stalemate between Beijing and Washington. Over 600 companies including Walmart urged Trump to resolve the dispute with China as it directly affects the business community and customers inside US. Washington needs to comprehend that it will become victim of its own protectionist gambit if it continues to be on the route on which it has maneuvered itself.

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