Most of us almost subconsciously know that Amazon is just about everywhere, that it is such a natural part of our lives that we do not give it much more thought. Thanks once again to Visual Capitalist, we now have a useful visualization of just how powerful Amazon has become, and how swiftly it has overcome all competitors.There seems little to stop further exponential growth. Bezos can keep spinning off more and more multi-billion dollar corporations in emerging markets for as long as the aggregate cash flow is counted in the trillions. This will eventually lead to “trust busting” populists breaking it up, like Standard Oil and Bell, I guess. But I think any unravelling of Amazon-Bezos will be far more wrenching than any of the historical parallels.
There is a petition circulating right now called Back2Basics. It seeks to cut back on the services provided by the City of Vancouver with the express aim of relieving home owners of any additional burdens placed on property tax.
It seeks to use the covid-19 crisis as the cover for what is, in reality, a major Tory-like austerity rollback. And we all know from bitter experience gained across so many jurisdictions, that the only people who suffer during such an austerity squeeze are the poorest and most vulnerable. Their services are the first to be cut in austerity and — should the crisis ever be declared over — their services are always the last to be restored.
We should not be cutting services during a major crisis. In fact, progressive economists will say that now is the time we should be spending more. Governments need to step in when needs are greatest, and step back when good times are here.
The promoters of the petition will not remind you that Vancouver already pays the lowest property tax in North America based on tax per $1,000 value. Their petition does nothing but attempt to guarantee that unsustainable position into the future.
The petition says: “The city must stop pushing their out of control spending onto tax payers.” We do have out of control spending but it is not because we are spending too much, but rather that we are spending so unwisely.
The failure of the Stewart administration in this crisis has been a failure to prioritize spending where it can do most good. Steered by City staff inherited from the woe-begotten Vision Vancouver years of build for greed and headlines not for genuine need, Vancouver city’s budget is top-heavy on administration and “world class” projects, and sorely lacking in a vision for the most needy half of the population. And any advantage extra staff may have provided is completely lost in the ridiculous byzantine world of delays in development approvals for local projects.
The best thing John Horgan in Victoria could do for the City right now is to free them up to move parts of the huge and unwieldy capital budgets into operations. Put those capital projects on hold for the time being, and plough money into services on the ground where they are most needed. Keeping transit free beyond the virus crisis would be helpful, too: if we can afford Site C, we can afford free transit!
For all of the security concerns, the China concerns, and the techno hiccoughs, Zoom is coining it when it comes to corporate valuation. As shown in this chart from Visual Capitalist, it is now more valuable than the seven largest airlines in the world.
What this really shows is the flippancy of stock markets.
The full article has a lot of detail comparing these industries. Well worth the view.
As anyone who has read the papers or seen the news in the last few years knows, banks around the world have broken numerous serious laws, have had to be bailed out with taxpayers money, and yet still pay millions of dollars to inept executives and billions more to stockholders. Many of their problems involve their connection to complex financial transactions that do nothing but make money for already-rich individuals. There has to be a better way, and there is. The economic melydown created by the covid-19 crisis seems a perfect time to reorganize the sector.
I would oblige all banks to become credit unions and I would strictly limit their functionality.
Credit unions are not-for-profit institutions cooperatively owned by their members. They operate solely for the benefit of their members rather than for outside shareholders, of whom there would be none. Their senior management is elected by the members and their policies are offered up for approval at regular meetings of the membership. Senior management remuneration would require members’ approval. The billions of dollars that are currently paid out in dividends to outsiders would be used to increase services and lower costs for the members. Any surplus could be re-paid to the members or added to the credit union’s capital.
I would limit their functionality to the taking, managing and disbursement of members’ deposits, and to the issuance of personal loans (including credit cards) and personal mortgages. Any member or corporation that required business loans, corporate mortgages, investments or insurance would turn to investment companies, mortgage brokers and insurance companies designed specifically for that function.
No one would be limited in their desire to engage in stock market or other investments. But these would be handled entirely by companies separate from banks. No longer would bank depositors’ cash be at risk in the marketplace for derivatives, for example.
Competition between credit unions, if such were needed, would become a function of service and accessibility. I believe this would get us more branches on the streets and a more personalized service between member and bank. It would bring banking back to the people, to a smaller scale that we can understand and control — after all, it is our money they are using.
Some years ago, I wrote a piece about Bombardier receiving tax-payers subsidies. In that piece I suggested some rules that should be put in place for such loans and subsidies. As we are about to grant similar multi-billion handouts to major corporations, I thought I would repeat the rules as to how we should deal with the current crisis.
My own position is that no corporations should receive public funds, period. However, until we straighten out our economy to be self-supporting, I would be prepared to lend affected industries the money they need, but only under certain conditions:
- The company cannot issue dividends or share buy-backs or any other kind of profit-sharing until the loan is repaid in full;
- No executive bonuses or similar payments to be paid until the loan is fully repaid;
- No executive salaries or other payments to be increased until the loan is fully repaid;
- If the company goes bankrupt (or similar), the taxpayer loan is in first place for repayment after wages and salaries.
Who on earth could object to this? It gets the company the cash it needs and gives executives every incentive to repay the taxpayer as quickly as possible. I would push this idea for any and all companies seeking tax-payer assistance.
The often interesting Visual Capitalist has published a graph of nominal interest rates from the 14th century through to today:
Select image for a larger look.
“Today’s graphic from Paul Schmelzing, visiting scholar at the Bank of England, shows how global real interest rates have experienced an average annual decline of -0.0196% (-1.96 basis points) throughout the past eight centuries.
Collecting data from across 78% of total advanced economy GDP over the time frame, Schmelzing shows that real rates* have witnessed a negative historical slope spanning back to the 1300s. Displayed across the graph is a series of personal nominal loans made to sovereign establishments, along with their nominal loan rates. Some from the 14th century, for example, had nominal rates of 35%. By contrast, key nominal loan rates had fallen to 6% by the mid 1800s.
Centennial Averages of Real Long-Term “Safe-Asset”† Rates From 1311-2018
% 1300s 1400s 1500s 1600s 1700s 1800s 1900s 2000s Nominal rate 7.3 11.2 7.8 5.4 4.1 3.5 5.0 3.5 Inflation 2.2 2.1 1.7 0.8 0.6 0.0 3.1 2.2 Real rate 5.1 9.1 6.1 4.6 3.5 3.4 2.0 1.3
*Real rates take inflation into account, and are calculated as follows: nominal rate – inflation = real rate.
†Safe assets are issued from global financial powers
Starting in 1311, data from the report shows how average real rates moved from 5.1% in the 1300s down to an average of 2% in the 1900s.
The average real rate between 2000-2018 stands at 1.3%.”
The current rash of negative interest rates that we see today is therefore in line with historical trends.
The Pew Research Centre has published interesting results from a survey on inequality — or rather, attitudes to inequality — in the United States.
Views on the importance (or lack thereof) of tackling economic inequality tend to be a function of the respondent’s current economic situation:
“Asked about what contributes to economic inequality in this country, Democrats are more likely than Republicans to point to structural factors, such as the tax system (56% of Democrats vs. 30% of Republicans say this contributes a great deal) and problems with the U.S. educational system (49% vs. 38%). In turn, Republicans are more likely than Democrats to say that the different life choices people make (60% of Republicans vs. 27% of Democrats) and some people working harder than others (48% vs. 22%) contribute a great deal to economic inequality.”
I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that no-one seems to have mentioned it, but capitalism is inherently unequal. The tax and education systems, the choices and the effort one puts into work are almost irrelevant to the systemic inequality that capitalism requires for it to function.
A recent story in the Washington Post and republished in Greenwich Times shows that, once again, major profitable US corporations are playing the tax code to their own advantage and to the cost of the rest of US taxpayers.
- 91 of the Fortune 500 paid NO taxes at all on earnings of $101 billion;
- Amazon made a profit in excess of $10 billion but received a tax rebate of $129 million;
- Video game maker Activision Blizzard had $447 million in profits but received a tax rebate of $243 million, resulting in an effective tax rate of -54.4%.
The new Trump tax code,
“lowered the U.S. corporate tax rate from 35% to 21%, but in practice large companies often pay far less than that because of deductions, tax breaks and other loopholes. In the first year of the law, the amount corporations paid in federal taxes on their incomes – their “effective rate” – was 11.3% on average, possibly its lowest level in more than three decades … [T]he new law introduced many new breaks and loopholes.”
Corporations around the world play the same tricks. Often they reside in tax havens and levy enough “corporate service charges” on their overseas subsidiaries to ensure that no taxes are paid.
And this all comes at a cost to the rest of us. As corporate taxes fall and government deficits grow, there is increasing pressure to reduce those deficits by reducing spending on welfare services, health, and education.
Centre-right politicians have suggested that lowering corporate tax rates will encourage more companies to stay in-house as it were. That is just an excuse to make the rich richer as the new Trump tax code proves. There is a simpler and much more efficient way.
I suggest that corporate income taxes be eliminated completely. They should be replaced by a “license to operate” fee equal to, say, 10% of revenues earned in the country no matter where the head office is based. Simple to understand, simple to manage, and, I suspect, very difficult to get around.
Country of ownership becomes immediately irrelevant, and transfers to an offshore HQ will be pointless for tax purposes. Indeed, they may well create a double taxation situation in which those transfers become taxable revenue in the home country. It also gives corporations the right to NOT operate in any particular country if they choose to forgo the revenues.
Finally, I would make this tax law bullet-proof by including a provision that, should some smart accountant or lawyer find a loophole, then that loophole is closed retroactively to the dater of the law’s passage.
We should give this a try. It is a commonsense approach, eliminates the need for accountants, lawyers, and an army of regulators. It will produce fairness across the board.
My wife and I are not part of the consumer rental economy. We have always rented our accommodation and since we gave up our car in 1991, we have rented cars and we recently joined Evo. But those don’t count as consumer rentals. About fifty years ago in London, when I was first married, we rented our TV set, and I once rented a tuxedo for a weekend, but I can’t think of any other consumer goods that I have ever rented.
Not so the millennials, as a recent and highly informative infographic from Visual Capitalist shows.
“Although the current market for rentals is still in its early stages, the sheer momentum that the industry has gained in the last year is enough to threaten even the largest retailers—forcing them to reconsider their own business models … According to the research, very few millennials choose to rent consumer goods because it is better for the environment. However, Nielsen claim that 73% of millennials are willing to pay more money for sustainable offerings—impacting both retail and rental industries. As evidence of this, Ikea will test a range of subscription-based leasing offers in all 30 of its markets by 2020 in a bid to appeal to environmentally conscious consumers and boost its sustainability credentials.”
Other than tuxedos and, perhaps, wedding dresses, it never would have occurred to me to rent clothing. However:
“In the clothing rental space, brands like Rent the Runway pave the way, but there has also been an explosion of startups entering the market in the last year. One example is the monthly subscription service Nuuly. The company offers consumers access to over 100 third-party brands and vintage items. Consumers can borrow up to six items a month for $88. Similarly, American Eagle’s Style Drop program rents out the latest collections for a flat monthly fee of $49.95.”
It’s a brave new world out there.
According to a fascinating feature in Forbes, the major legal marijuana companies are in terrible trouble — because they are growing more weed than anyone could smoke in several lifetimes.
“In just a year after Canada’s historic pot legalization, pot producers built up a massive surplus of pot. In fact, only 4% of pot produced in Canada in July has been sold!”
This has caused the business market to crash. Aurora Cannabis is “Canada’s largest cannabis producer and one of the most popular pot stocks on earth. In fact, this stock has recently topped Apple as the favorite stock among American Millennials.” But that hasn’t saved the company stock price:
“If you look at Aurora Cannabis’s most recent financial report, you’ll see its revenue grew 52% in the last fiscal quarter, compared to the previous quarter. That sounds good… but it’s hiding a dirty secret. Aurora Cannabis is actually dumping part of its harvest into “wholesale,” which means it is selling it for cheap… according to a line buried deep in the company’s Q4 financials. Last fiscal quarter, the company dumped $20 million worth of pot, a 869% increase from the previous quarter. It is doing this because there’s not enough demand from consumers.”
The Forbes article likens this to the situation in American agriculture in the 1930s when an overabundance of product caused crops to be burned just to maintain prices at a floor level. They also suggest that the situation is likely to get worse as most large marijuana producers have invested heavily to increase production in the future.
No wonder then that in Canada, street (illegal) prices have fallen while legal dispensaries have to charge much more to meet regulatory stipulations, and thus the number of legal stores has not grown as expected and government revenues are not as they had hoped.
This is the third in a series of discussions about changes that need to be made to modern capitalism to protect the mass of humanity in advance of a full and revolutionary change to mutual aid and co-operativism. In the first, I proposed new taxation rules for corporations and in the second, I suggested changes in structure for banks; here I discuss corporate governance in more general terms. I note once again that these are just notes, eager for debate and adjustment.
The key to the improvements required for corporate governance is a constitutional amendment (or similar, depending on each national situation) stating specifically that corporations do not have the same rights as human beings; they have only the specific and particular rights granted to them by legislative or executive action.
More specific changes would include a ban on quarterly reporting and forecasting; possibly the half-yearly reports, too. This will enable a new cadre of senior executives to concentrate on managing their companies for the long-term rather than for short-term stock market speculation. The CEO of the world’s largest investment management firm, Larry Fink of BlackRock agrees that CEOs should “focus on creating long-term value instead of emphasizing quarterly targets.” This is such a fundamental and important priority that I would impose severe penalties (including mandatory jail time) on CEOs for any breach.
Loans from the taxpayer would be permissible (see the recent Bombardier requests) but indulgence of this kind in state socialism would trigger a specific set of rules of governance. Until the loan has been completely repaid:
- no dividends or similar may be paid to shareholders;
- no share buy-backs or similar schemes are permitted;
- no increase in executive emoluments (of any and all kinds);
- no executive bonuses of any form.
Lay-offs totalling 5% or more of company personnel in any two-year period trigger the same rules as loans for a period of two years; this sanction shall not be concurrent with the loans’ rules. The two-year sanction for any breach of maximum lay-offs will be imposed at the end of any loan repayment.
Corporations may pay unlimited salaries and bonuses to executives, subject to sanctions not being in place. However, the portion of any emolument exceeding thirty (30) times the average non-executive wage or salary shall not be a deductible expense for purposes of determining the corporation’s taxes (in a corporation income tax situation), or shall be added to aggregate revenues (in the license scheme proposed earlier). This will assist the system to return to the Eisenhower days (for example) when profits from increased productivity were shared more equitably among all workers. Currently, CEO pay and benefits are on average more than 300+ times that of the average employee.
Bankruptcy rules for corporations must be changed to ensure that non-executive wages, salaries, and pensions are first in line for payment. Labour should not be a risk proposition. If you work, you must be paid. I believe trade suppliers should be paid next. Banks, other lenders, and investors have to bear the risks that their rewards and “free enterprise” suggests.
Finally, no corporation should be allowed to make political donations (in cash, in kind, through third-parties, etc. without limitation) without the express consent in advance of sixty percent (60%) of all shareholders both as to amount to be contributed, and to whom donated. This rule will stay in place until we rid ourselves of political donations altogether.
If we put these rules in place, then we will mitigate some of the worst excesses of modern capitalism. If they stay in place long enough, these changes will tend to lean us in the direction of mutual aid and co-operativism, which should be the ultimate aim.
“This is a truly staggering fact: Wall Street bonuses totaled $27.5 billion last year, which is 3 times more than the combined annual earnings of *all* American workers employed full-time at the federal minimum wage.” — Robert Reich.
That is a sentence that needs to be read over several times, really slowly, to let the meaning sink in.
I have written how I would deal with banks.
It is tax time again. And yet again I make my pitch for an all-voluntary tax system.
Way back in June 2002, I proposed doing away with all non-voluntary taxation by replacing income and all other taxes with a consumption tax. This is what I wrote in 2002, and I still see little need to change the basic structure proposed:
The basic principles for a new tax scheme are that it should be essentially voluntary, and concerned with ensuring equal opportunities for all. Therefore, I would propose the elimination of all personal and corporate income taxes as they violate by their very nature the voluntary aspect of taxation. I propose to replace the revenue with an all-inclusive sales tax on goods and services with a few, well-defined exceptions (the figures below represent Vancouver costs of living and could be adjusted as required):
• all foods
• shelter (to $24,000/year rent or the first $700,000 of purchase)
• all non-cosmetic medical, dental and optical-health services
• all educational services
• financial services (bank charges etc) to $500/year
• legal services to $2,500/year
The sales tax should be a single percentage across all categories of goods and services in order to reduce accounting and bureaucratic requirements.
The use of the sales tax for the bulk of government revenues brings a great deal of volunteerism to the matter. The exceptions provide an important and necessary break for those goods and services which can be described as the necessities of life; above that, the more I choose to buy, the more taxes I choose to pay. Rampant consumerism therefore becomes a tax liability.
On the other side of the ledger, also to the good, the simplicity of the scheme allows for huge bureaucratic savings in administration and zero non-compliance. The tax would also be levied on all capital transfers outside the jurisdiction. It will oblige tens of thousands of “tax lawyers” to find genuine productive employment.
All government activity should be categorized into line items that can be shown to have a direct bearing on the level of the sales tax. In this way, the people are enabled to make decisions about what sections of government can be further cut to reduce the level of taxation. Conversely, any additional work to be performed by the government can be readily calculated as an addition to the sales tax.
In other words, the cost of a government service will be immediately and directly calculable — and the people can make their judgments on whether to go ahead with it on that basis. It is one thing to say that a government program costs $600 million — an abstraction at best; it is quite another to say that program x will cause a rise in the sales tax by 1%.
In a capitalist system where the government bureaucracy acts as a nanny on so many issues, taxation of some sort is inevitable, as will be resistance to such taxation. The sales tax that I propose will allow the taxation system to operate on a voluntary basis, thus achieving considerably greater support and compliance.
It might be claimed that rich folks will simply remove their money from Canada to avoid the sales tax. Possibly true, but in my scheme, the sales tax would apply to all such financial transfers from the moment the scheme is announced.
Finally, I believe that many political types concern themselves far too much with how much money people make. If we concentrate on the input (salaries, bonuses etc) there will always be those who can play fast and loose with the rules. However, if you apply taxation to outputs (purchases, transfers etc), the returns will always be progressive: the more they spend, the more they’ll pay.
Back in January, I reported on an Author’s Guild report that showed the average income for a full time writer in the US in 2017 was just $20,300. Of course, averages are a function of the highest and the lowest figures available.
Literary Hub has compiled a list of the high numbers over the last ten years. These are the estimated incomes of the top writers since 2008:
1. James Patterson : $836 million
2. J. K. Rowling : $546 million
3. Stephen King : $259 million
4. Danielle Steel : $231 million
5. John Grisham : $192 million
6. Jeff Kinney : $165 million
7. E. L. James (Tie) : $153 million
7. Janet Evanovich (Tie) : $153 million
9. Nora Roberts : $128 million
10. Suzanne Collins : $114 million
11. Dan Brown : $111 million
12. Dean Koontz : $101 million
13. Rick Riordan : $91.5 million
14. Stephenie Meyer : $75 million
15. Ken Follett : $68 million
16. George R. R. Martin : $60.5 million
17. Veronica Roth (Tie) : $52 million
18. Bill O’Reilly (Tie) : $52 million
19. Nicholas Sparks : $46 million
20. John Green : $45 million
21. Tom Clancy : $35 million
22. David Baldacci : $26 million
23. Paula Hawkins : $23 million
24. Gillian Flynn : $22 million
25. Michael Wolff : $13 million
Extraordinary numbers, I think. They prove the power of TV and movies to vastly expand the earning capacity of the novels, especially those in series.
And they show, as if we needed more evidence, that the inequality of rewards inherent in capitalism are just as prevalent in cultural industries as in any other.
As an anarchist, I am always interested in finding alternative (i.e. non-capitalist) ways of organising production and society. The idea of worker co-operatives has always appealed to me as a step toward both an economy and a decision-making process based on mutual aid rather than exploitation.
I came across this really interesting video that covers a lot of ground about setting up a co-op and thought it worth sharing:
It has to be remembered that all of the organization discussed here is setting up within a capitalist economy; establishing it within a mutual aid model would need some tweaks.
However, variations of the basic model works at any scale, as I have discussed previously in regard to the banking industry.