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Economy

On Monopolies: From Standard Oil to Google and Amazon

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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One of the very first investigative journalists, Ida Tarbell, went after the “throttling hand” of Standard Oil and John D. Rockefeller.  By 1880, his company owned 90 percent of US oil, its transport and its sale.

Writing a series of articles over a two-year period, Tarbell’s expose led to a Supreme Court ruling in 1911 ordering the dissolution of Standard Oil — so massive, it was broken up into 34 corporations.

John D. Rockefeller who called the journalist Miss Tar Barrel — echoes of Donald Trump here — was the country’s first billionaire.  If he spent his later years giving away much of his fortune to found universities and fund research, he had been in his younger days a ruthless competitor. 

Monopolies controlling markets can set prices to their own liking.  They can raise them to increase income or cut them to stifle competition.  In effect, they are interfering with the free market forces so ardently espoused by University of Chicago economists.  On this issue conservatives and liberals have common ground, but the question is what to do with monopolies.  There is break-up and there is regulation.

Utilities are regulated but if one has been exposed to utility bills in many parts of the country, one has to wonder how well.  The renowned economist George Stigler in a landmark study covering 60 years of electricity regulation (1900-1960), in regions with varying degrees of regulatory oversight, found the differences in prices to be negligible.  The finding surprised economists, and it, added to Stigler’s enormous output, garnered him a Nobel Prize, the Nobel citation specifically noting the work. 

If monopolies damage free-markets, there is an issue staring us in the face today:  the digital colossi Google, Facebook and the aptly named Amazon.  Then there is Apple with an iPhone monopoly. The market has been unable to check their increasing power. 

The University of Chicago’s Stigler Center for the Study of the Economy and the State has recently cast its gaze on the issue.  A Stigler Center group headed by Yale economist Fiona Scott Morton analyzed the market structure of these digital behemoths.  And last May she delivered its recommendation to the US Senate as part of a hearing on digital advertising and competition policy.

It is an interesting case because far from extracting high prices from a hapless public, two of the firms offer their products/services free, the third prides itself on the cheapest prices, at-home shopping and convenient delivery.  Apple is a more conventional case holding sway over about 45 percent of cell phone users in the US through proprietary hardware and software. 

In such a diverse environment what could the study group come up with but a regulatory body, a digital authority to regulate the industry — and a supreme irony given the major research finding of regulatory  ineffectiveness from the man (George Stigler) whose name heads the Center shepherding their effort.  Other economists also have been skeptical calling it the wrong tool to address a nonexistent problem.  Yet the problem is not difficult to see.

There is a chilling nature to these websites and platforms as they follow your surfing, offering ads, purchase suggestions, other sites of interest, a looming presence behind your right shoulder.  Something is not quite right when so much power is concentrated in so few corporations.  Forget the invisible hand of free markets, there is an invisible hand guiding your clicking finger. 

Author’s Note:  This article first appeared on Counterpunch.org

Dr. Arshad M. Khan is a former Professor based in the US. Educated at King's College London, OSU and The University of Chicago, he has a multidisciplinary background that has frequently informed his research. Thus he headed the analysis of an innovation survey of Norway, and his work on SMEs published in major journals has been widely cited. He has for several decades also written for the press: These articles and occasional comments have appeared in print media such as The Dallas Morning News, Dawn (Pakistan), The Fort Worth Star Telegram, The Monitor, The Wall Street Journal and others. On the internet, he has written for Antiwar.com, Asia Times, Common Dreams, Counterpunch, Countercurrents, Dissident Voice, Eurasia Review and Modern Diplomacy among many. His work has been quoted in the U.S. Congress and published in its Congressional Record.

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Economy

The Reckoning: Debt, Democracy and the Future of American Power- Book Review

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Authors: Junaid R.Soomro and Nadia Shaheen

The chapter is written by Michael Moran in which he discussed about the relations between the economic institutions with the other institutions of the state. A state is a combination of many institutions that work together as a single body to make the state run accordingly. Political and economic institutions are two major components of the state. Politics and economy somehow depend on each other from a very long time. The both concepts are old and influenced by each other. The major changes occurred after the industrial revolution that gave birth to new tactics and opportunities to the economy. Earliest, before the French Revolution the economy was controlled by the elites that were the political identities. This is the example that how those bourgeois controlled the economic structure of the state and how they shape or influence the economical aspect of the society. These involvements of both disciplines gave birth to a new subject that is known as the political economy of the states, that how political and economic policies influence each other because it is not possible for any institution to work separately. The economic institutions shape the economic structure of the state and it is controlled by many aspects, including the political institutions, the economic regulations, the political structure of the state that somehow effects the economic institution of the state.

Summary

The chapter tells us that how economic institution and other institutions are interconnected.

Firstly, the focus is on the political institutions. The recognitions of an economic institution as a political act. The “politics” and “market” are somehow interconnected.   It’s not because the political institutions shape the fate of economy, but the economy shapes it as well. From the start of the history these two aspects are there and depend on each other. We can see it through the examination of the history that how the political elites dominated the society because they were also superior financially. The political institutions somehow legitimize the economic institutions. According  to  “Godin”  different  preoccupations  drive  inquiry  in  different  disciplines:  for instance, choice in economy and the power in the politics.

Secondly the focus is the connection between institutionalism and the economic institutions.

The institutions are constructs of human mind, we cannot see or feel them. The regulations and the market grew up together. The current world politics is an example that how the regulations affect the economy and shape it as different stats can be taken as a model who are following the regulations. The institutions determine the opportunities of the society and in result the organizations are made in order or take benefit of those opportunities. There are several parallels that shape the behavior of the institutions that later affects the other institutions including the economic institution.

Thirdly, the connection between the economic institutions and the regulations.

The regulations are made to control the behavior of the institutions. This faced major change after the industrial revolution when many regulations were made that were supposed to control the outcomes of the institutions. We cannot run from globalization, this is the reason that the concept is not the same as it was in the past, but it came up with the new characteristics. Mainly the  evolution  in  the  middle  of  the  twentieth  century  created  a  paradigmatic  shift  in  the relationship of economic and political institutions. There are agencies with in the states that regulates the working on an institution and on the international level there are multinational corporations. This gives us two basic concepts. The first is uncertainty about the boundaries between the politics and economy, and the second is the importance of the agencies that fills the space and regulates the institutions.

Fourthly, the connection between the economic institutions and the capitalism.

Capitalism  and  the  economy are  directly  connected  with  each  other  because  the  industrial revolution triggered the economy. Industries were made after the revolution and the world faced a new era of progress and economic change.  The modern organizations are the basics that can be taken as the source of understanding the modern political economy. Industries were made after the industrial revolution that mainly works on the productivity, the more the productions are the more it will benefit. This era was a game changer for the economic aspect of the society and later it the economic institutions modified themselves.

Fifthly, the economic institutions and the democratic government.

The  connection  between  democratic  political  institutions  and  the  economic  institution  is complex. It depends that how far democratic government can try to constrain the operations of the economic institutions or how far the economic institutions can try the constrain the operation of the democratic government. the basic aspect of the relation is the relationship between the democracy and the market order. The control of the trade union and the control of the business. There  are  several  problems  such  as  the  tussle  between  the  capitalist  institution  and  the democratic institution. There are several measures that can make both sides work together. The democratic governments usually believe on large economic interests and they also shape it according to their interests. There come the institutional regulations that regulates the behavior of these institutions in the particular manner.

Personal analysis

State is made of many institutions. All the institutions work together this is the reason they depend on each other to work properly. The economic institution is the important institution of the state that makes it stand on its own. Today the examples are in front of us, those states th at has the best economic structures are now ruling the world. USA is the major power but with the passage of time new economic powers are competing with each other. The institutions regulate the behaviors but there are negative aspects when people use the institutions for their benefits. After the industrial revolutions there were merits and demerits. It depends on how one regulates the authority. If the institutions work properly the whole structure can be run perfectly but the interference that affects the institutions negatively can damage the structure. Today in the world where the concept of politics and economy is so dominant it is very important to regulate the bodies properly.

About the Author

Michael E. Moran (born May 1962 in  Kearny, New Jersey) is an American author and analyst of international affairs he is also a digital documentarian who has held senior positions at a host of media, financial services, and consulting organizations. A foreign policy journalist and former partner at the global consultancy Control Risks, he is author of The Reckoning: Debt, Democracy and the Future of American Power, published in 2012 by Palgrave Macmillan. He is co-author of ‘The Fastest Billion: The Story Behind Africa’s Economic Revolution’. Moran served as Editor – in-Chief at the investment bank Renaissance Capital and has been a collaborator of renowned economist Nouriel Roubini as well commentator for  Slate, the BBC and NBC News. He is also an adjunct professor of journalism at  Bard College, a Visiting Fellow in Peace and Security at the Carnegie Corporation of New York, and conceived of and served as executive producer of the award-winning Crisis Guides documentary series for the  Council on Foreign Relations.

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Economy

China Development Bank could be a climate bank

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China Development Bank (CDB) has an opportunity to become the world’s most important climate bank, driving the transition to the low-carbon economy.

CDB supports Chinese investments globally, often in heavily emitting sectors. Some 70% of global CO2 emissions come from the buildings, transport and energy sectors, which are all strongly linked to infrastructure investment. The rules applied by development finance institutions like CBD when making funding decisions on infrastructure projects can therefore set the framework for cutting carbon emissions.

CDB is a major financer of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, the world’s most ambitious infrastructure scheme. It is the biggest policy bank in the world with approximately US$2.3 trillion in assets – more than the $1.5 trillion of all the other development banks combined.

Partly as a consequence of its size, CDB is also the biggest green project financer of the major development banks, deploying US$137.2 billion in climate finance in 2017; almost ten times more than the World Bank.

This huge investment in climate-friendly projects is overshadowed by the bank’s continued investment in coal. In 2016 and 2017, it invested about three times more in coal projects than in clean energy.

The bank’s scale makes its promotion of green projects particularly significant. Moreover, it has committed to align with the Paris Agreement as part of the International Development Finance Club. It is also part of the initiative developing Green Investment Principles along the BRI.

This progress is laudable but CDB must act quickly if it is to meet the Chinese government’s official vision of a sustainable BRI and align itself with the Paris target of limiting global average temperature rise to 2C.

What does best practice look like?

In its latest report, the climate change think-tank E3G has identified several areas where CDB could improve, with transparency high on the list.

The report assesses the alignment of six Asian development finance institutions with the Paris Agreement. Some are shifting away from fossil fuels. The ADB (Asian Development Bank) has excluded development finance for oil exploration and has not financed a coal project since 2013, while the AIIB (Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank) has stated it has no coal projects in its direct finance pipeline. The World Bank has excluded all upstream oil and gas financing.

In contrast, CDB’s policies on financing fossil fuel projects remain opaque. A commitment to end all coal finance would signal the bank is taking steps to align its financing activities with President Xi Jinping’s high-profile pledge that the BRI would be “open, green and clean”, made at the second Belt and Road Forum in Beijing in April 2019.

CDB should also detail how its “green growth” vision will translate into operational decisions. Producing a climate-change strategy would set out how the bank’s sectoral strategies will align with its core value of green growth.

CDB already accounts for emissions from projects financed by green bonds. It should extend this practice to all financing activities. The major development banks have already developed a harmonised approach to account for greenhouse gas emissions, which could be a starting point for CDB.

Lastly, CDB should integrate climate risks into lending activities and country risk analysis.

One of the key functions of development finance institutions is to mobilise private finance. CDB has been successful in this respect, for example providing long-term capital to develop the domestic solar industry. This was one of the main drivers lowering solar costs by 80% between 2009-2015.

However, the extent to which CDB has been successful in mobilising capital outside China has been more limited; in 2017, almost 98% of net loans were on the Chinese mainland. If CDB can repeat its success in mobilising capital into green industries in BRI countries, it will play a key role in driving the zero-carbon and resilient transition.

From our partner chinadialogue.net

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Economy

Oil-Rich Azerbaijan Takes Lead in Green Economy

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Now that the heat and dust of Azerbaijan’s parliamentary election on February 9thhas settled, a new generation of administrators are focusing on accelerating the pace of reforms under President Ilham Aliyev, who has ambitious plans to further modernise its economy and diversify its energy sources.

Oil and gas account for about 95 percent of Azerbaijan’s exports and 75 percent of government revenue, with the hydrocarbon sector alone generating about 40 percent of the country’s economic activity. Apart from providing oil to Europe, Azerbaijan successfully completed the Trans-Anatolian Natural Gas Pipeline (TANAP) with Turkey in November 2019 to transfer Azerbaijani gas to Europe.

Yet, with an eye on the future, the country has also begun to take huge strides in renewable energy. Solar and wind power projects have been installed, with their share in total electricity generation already reaching 17 percent. By 2030, this figure is expected to hit 30 percent.

Solar power plants currently operate in Gobustan and Samukh, as well as in the Pirallahi, Surahani and Sahil settlements in Baku.

The potential of renewable energy sources in Azerbaijan is over 25,300 megawatts, which allows generating 62.8 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity per year. Most of this potential comes from solar energy, which is estimated at 5,000 megawatts. Wind energy accounts for 4,500 megawatts, biomass is estimated at 1,500 megawatts, and geothermal energy at 800 megawatts.

President Aliyev has supported the drive for renewable energy. He signed a decree in 2019 to establish a commission for implementing and coordinating test projects for the construction of solar and wind power plants.

Azerbaijan’s focus on renewable energy has drawn interest from its European partners, with leading French companies seeking to invest in the country’s solar and wind electricity generation.

Azerbaijan is France’s main economic and trade partner in the South Caucasus. According to French ambassador Zacharie Gross, “the French Development Agency is ready to invest in Azerbaijan’s green projects, such as solid waste management. This would allow using new cleaner technologies to reduce solid waste. This is beneficial for the environment and the local population.”

“I believe that one of the areas that have greatest development potential is urban services sector. An improved water distribution system can reduce the amount of water consumed, improve its quality, and also solve the problem of flood waters in winter,” the French ambassador added.

Azerbaijan is currently a low emitter of greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. According to the European Commission, the country released 34.7 million tons of CO2 into the atmosphere in 2018, i.e. just 3.5 tons per capita. This is lower than the norm adopted by the world: 4.9 tons.

In contrast, in 2018 Kazakhstan generated 309.2 million tons of CO2, Ukraine generated 196.8 million tons,Uzbekistan101.8 million tons, and Belarus 64.2 million tons.

And the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by Azerbaijan has been consistently falling. In 1990, Azerbaijan emitted 73.3 million tons, but in 2018 this had dropped to 34.7 million tons. By 2030 the country plans to reduce its annual greenhouse gases emissions by a further 35 percent.

Measures taken by the government include the early introduction of Euro-4 fuel standards in Azerbaijan, with A-5 standards to be introduced from 2021. An increasing number of electric buses and taxis are now transporting passengers in the main cities.

Another key step is the clean-up of the environmental degradation caused by over 150 years of oil production. Azerbaijan’s state oil company SOCAR is helping to recover oil-contaminated lands in Absheron Peninsula, particularly in the once critically contaminated area around Boyukshor Lake. This involves the removal of millions of cubic metres of soil contaminated with oil.

Azerbaijan is also reducing the amount of gas it wastes in flaring. In a study funded by the European Commission, Azerbaijan ranks first among 10 countries exporting oil to the EU in the effective utilisation of associated petroleum gas.The emission of associated gases decreased by 282.5 million cubic meters from 2009 through till 2015. This is expected to fall further to 95 million cubic meters by 2022.

The government is also encouraging large-scale greening of the land. In December 2019, a mass tree-planting campaign was initiated by First Vice President Mehriban Aliyeva to celebrate the 650thanniversary of famous Azerbaijani poet Imadeddin Nasimi. 650,000 trees were planted nationwide, including 12,000 seedlings that were delivered by ship to Chilov Island.

A 2018 survey, carried out in cooperation with Turkish specialists, found that forest area is 1.2 million square meters in Azerbaijan, i.e. 11.4 percent of the total area of ​​the country.A new requirement was introduced last year to halt deforestation and to reduce the negative impact of business projects on the environment.

For a country with the 20th largest oil reserves in the world, Azerbaijan could well have chosen to stick to a hydrocarbon future. But it has instead dared to think beyond oil and gas in its energy, transportation, economy and environment. The country is setting a template that should inspire other large oil producers to emulate.

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