American Capitalism Is Fine, Thank You

The real debate is whether to accept the creative destruction at the heart of the free-market system.

Today, American Democrats have a more positive view of socialism than capitalism, and less than half of young adults have a positive view of capitalism. But the debate isn’t merely between left-wing socialists and right-wing capitalists. Even President Trump argues that capitalism generates prosperity abroad at the expense of American workers. Years of wage stagnation and diminished economic prospects have soured many Americans on the system that made the U.S. the world’s largest economy.

Compared with faster-growing economies in the developing world, America feels older, and not only because the elderly will soon outnumber children. Important parts of the economy, from smartphones and cellular carriers to airlines, resemble sluggish oligopolies more than dynamic marketplaces. Ever more sectors of the economy look like heavily regulated utilities that are at reduced risk of disruption or innovation. In health care, hospitals, physician groups and insurance companies are getting bigger and in some cases driving out competitors.

The Trouble With Taxing Wealth

Elizabeth Warren’s proposed tax on net worth seems like a nearly surgical strike at inequality, but it may not be efficient

The median U.S. family’s income, adjusted for inflation, fell 4% between 2007 and 2016, while its wealth plummeted 20%, according to Federal Reserve figures. For the richest 10% of families, median income rose 9% while wealth leapt 27%.
More than 80% of American households had less wealth in 2016 than on the eve of the last recession, in great part because their homes, the principal asset for most families, were below their precrisis values whereas stocks, whose ownership is concentrated among the rich, have roughly doubled since 2007..
.. This poses a number of challenges. For the middle class, stagnant wealth limits their ability to
  • buy a home,
  • pay for college or
  • respond to a financial emergency.

Wealth imbalances may also undercut economic growth because assets, which typically rise in response to interest rate cuts, are concentrated among people who are less inclined to spend.

This poses a number of challenges. For the middle class, stagnant wealth limits their ability to buy a home, pay for college or respond to a financial emergency. Wealth imbalances may also undercut economic growth because assets, which typically rise in response to interest rate cuts, are concentrated among people who are less inclined to spend.

For policy makers who want to tax the rich more, this limits the reach of income and consumption taxes. Shielding capital income leaves a big chunk of the richest families’ incomes untouched by taxes, says Greg Leiserson, director of tax policy at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, a left-of-center think tank.

.. Ms. Warren estimates only 75,000 families would pay her tax, yet it would raise $2.75 trillion over 10 years.

..  It was barely a year ago that Republicans slashed the U.S. corporate tax rate to closer to international levels in hopes of juicing growth. A wealth tax would go in the opposite direction. For example, on an investment in a company averaging 8% annual returns, a shareholder may expect her holdings to grow 8% per year. A 3% wealth tax on that increase represents, on average, an implicit 37.5% income tax, on top of the corporate taxes

And unlike the corporate tax, it would have to be paid even if the company made no money that year.

.. That wouldn’t necessarily undercut growth, because the U.S. could turn to foreign savings to finance an investment. This, however, means foreigners would take a bigger share of U.S. income.

.. There may be more effective ways to tax wealth. A large chunk of capital gains are never taxed because shareholders bequeath shares to their heirs without selling them. President Barack Obama proposed in one of his budgets taxing unrealized capital gains at death. 

Adam Looney, a Brookings Institution economist who worked on the proposal, says it would have raised roughly $200 billion over a decade. Mr. Auerbach says taxation at death seems to have less effect on the saving of the wealthy than taxation during life.

.. An even better response would be to attack the concentration of economic power that results in monopoly-like profits by reducing barriers to competition. Competition policy, unlike tax policy, faces no trade off between equality and growth.

The BuzzFeed Layoffs as Democratic Emergency

Digital media has always been a turbulent business, but last week’s layoffs suggest a reason for panic.

The cause of each company’s troubles may be distinct, but collectively the blood bath points to the same underlying market pathology: the inability of the digital advertising business to make much meaningful room for anyone but monopolistic tech giants.

.. In the troubles at Verizon, we see a behemoth that tried to take on Google and Facebook. Under a former executive, Tim Armstrong, the phone company bought up Yahoo and other media brands as useful pawns in a strategic war against internet giants. For similar reasons, Comcast has also plowed money into media start-ups.

But Verizon quickly learned that Facebook and Google are insurmountable. When new management took over last year, it began dumping the news in favor of readier ways to make money.

.. It’s the cuts at BuzzFeed that sting most. You may regard the site as a purveyor of silly listicles and inane quizzes. I think of it as a relentlessly experimental innovator: It’s the site that gave us The Dress and published The Dossier, a company that pushed the rest of the industry to regard the digital world with seriousness and rigor.

More than anyone else in media, BuzzFeed’s founder, Jonah Peretti, bet on symbioses with the tech platforms. He understood that the tech giants would keep getting bigger, but to him that was a feature, not a bug. By creating content that hooked into their algorithms, he imagined BuzzFeed getting bigger — and making money — along with them.

At the least, the layoffs suggest the tragic folly of Mr. Peretti’s thinking. Google and Facebook have no economic incentive for symbiosis; everything BuzzFeed can do for them can also be done by the online hordes who’ll make content without pay.

So where does that leave media? Bereft.

It is the rare publication that can survive on subscriptions, and the rarer one that will be saved by billionaires. Digital media needs a way to profitably serve the masses. If even BuzzFeed couldn’t hack that, we are well and truly hosed.

Davos: A Family Reunion for the People who Broke the Modern World

For the past several decades, world leaders, CEOs, tech titans, billionaires, philanthropists, and celebrities have descended upon Davos, Switzerland with the goal of “improving the state of the world.” Anand Giridharadas, author of Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World, says they are part of the problem.

Trade wasn’t working for everyone.

Dynamic scheduling, underpaid, contractors, fight minimum wage, more flexible labor, tax cults for the wealthy anti-inheritance taxes, evade existing taxes, rewards offshoring, expresses no loyalty to communities. (5 min)

I don’t think arsonist need to attend at a firefighter’s convention.

Poor people are very accessible. They want someone to bear witness. They don’t have publicists.

You can’t understand inequality without understanding rich people and the systems they use to justify themselves (10 min)

Today’s elites are among the most socially away, yet also predatory

I don’t think we have free markets, we have a capitalism of monopoly, and rent seeking

Jane Meyer’s Dark Money: how we got here.

Business didn’t have power (Nixon started the EPA) and worked to understand it. They used an alliance with evangelicals and philanthropy to build power.

History is life a mob boss: we can do this the easy way or we can do this the hard way.  It can go down like the civil war or women’s suffrage.

82% of new money was in the 1 percent’s hands.

It’s going to require many to become traitor’s to their class.  If Gates devoted as much to pushing an estate tax, he could have a bigger impact.

I think things are changing.  There aren’t going to be as many Goldman Sachs and McKinsey people in the next administration.