Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The tyranny of the Monopoly in American economic life.

We have been imbued with the idea that free enterprise dominates in the Western economies and particularly in the USA.  To some extent that does holds true but at the same time critical sectors of the economy have been hived of to establish both formal and informal monopolies that work against the common interest.  Obviously, these are best kept hidden from the victimized.  It also makes it very difficult to reveal this framework when the proponents themselves are often blind to the process.

The best way to work up these arguments is through case studies, but this is not the media for that at all.

It is enough to know that the two most damaging monopolies operating today in the USA are the health care industry and the financial services business in all its expressions.  Between them they control around twenty five percent of the US economy and are unable to extract more from its victims internally.

But there are multiple participants you say!  Surely that is competition.  It is competition only in the sense that a flock of vultures is competing.  The monopoly is produced by rule rigging that makes the victim supine.

It is simple.  We pass laws insisting the consumer must buy turnips from a licensed vender.  We then sell a few licenses to a handful of venders at a high price.  He then got to the producer and demands a cut for peddling his turnips.  He also jacks up the turnip price to make a good profit.  Over time, he develops expensive tastes and convinces himself that those turnips are valuable and up goes the prices and down goes the cost.

This is a regulation monopoly gone badly wrong.  The regulator solves it by feeding in plenty of new competitors if it is deemed necessary.  Unfortunately, this is a judgment call easily influenced by a small envelop.

Capital is always looking for surety and regulation monopoly provides just that.  In most industries, it is a fight to ameliorate such a regime by licensing new effective competition.

In the USA we have seen a centralization of pricing power in the hands of only several major investment banks who have also been allowed remarkable latitude to gamble their reserves.  Since too big to fail also means too big to do much safe business, they have gambled away their patrimony for short term often personal gains.  They are no longer able to properly compete with each other and instead now operate in lock step.

There is absolutely nothing legitimate that they do that could not be syndicated to hundreds of healthy mid sized firms.  In fact a remarkable outcome of the collapse was the fact that the rest of the industry sailed right through almost untouched.  It is normally the other way around.

This monopoly held the US government hostage in order to solve the direct consequences of their reckless behavior.  It must be aggressively broken up and size limits established for both internal and external players.  Only then may we get proper competition established again.

Their take of the GDP has risen from under three percent to nearly ten percent.  They have achieved this by converting a large part of the US economy to supporting their selfish interest.  Part of that ‘management’ included transferring millions of US jobs out of country, instead of trying to make the necessary changes that could have easily have prevented that.

The reality is that an expanding capital monopoly was able to grab control of managing the US economy from the government and was able to suppress government influence.

A comparable monopoly is the US war machine that once again seems unable to quit growing.  It is doing so wonderfully, that we soon will not need soldiers who are real costs.  The fact of the matter is that we have procurement chains that just keep growing.  We do not need half the aircraft carriers now at sea or any of the others now on order.  Again no one knows how to cool their heels except by swiftly ending the wars we are in, that by the way presently need little air and sea power.  Just marines and other guys with boots.

The nastiest monopoly is the healthcare insurance gag.  It now grabs 14 percent of the GDP to satisfy two thirds of the task at hand.  A large piece of that money goes to Wall Street through the insurance industry.  Everyone one else does the whole task with half the money.  And let me give you a hot tip.  Most medical care is as basic as it gets and makes no demands on advanced skills.

The fact is that the customer has lost control over pricing and so has the doctors and the drug merchants.  Control is in the hands of folks who surely work on a percentage of the gross billings.  That means they have an incentive to increase prices.

The most sickening report last week was an insurance company jacking up their fees because the layoffs had reduced the number of customers.  In time on that logic we will get down to an industry serving at best a third of the customers who can afford over pricing.

The simple solution is single payer and competitive administration preferably at state level.  There is at least a dollar worth of fat to cut for every two now been spent.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Generally well put. My only real complaint is that you left out the critical enabling monopoly: education, better described as mind-numbing conditioning to produce willing participants/followers in the authoritarian hierarchy.