Thursday, April 16, 2015

The 1 percent rigged everything: Why no one can end Ronald Reagan’s “dead wrong” voodoo economics

From Salon:  http://www.salon.com/2015/03/19/the_1_percent_rigged_everything_why_no_one_can_end_ronald_reagans_dead_wrong_voodoo_economics/

A thriving middle class is the cause of growth. The middle class creates rich people -- not the other way around

Thursday, Mar 19, 2015
Venture capitalist Nick Hanauer, a highly visible champion of Seattle’s $15/hour minimum wage, wrote a piece in the Atlantic last month pushing on another front in the war against toxic income inequality. “Stock Buybacks Are Killing the American Economy,” he warned, and getting rid of them would be a tremendous boon to the economy.

This latest front rebukes those who say that raising the minimum wage does little to address what ails the American middle class. First, it underscores the obvious: that battling against decades of bad economic policy must necessarily be a multi-pronged affair, with no single action able to solve everything at once. But second, it starkly highlights how much of the problem can be traced to a single source—the profoundly misguided notion that giving even more money to rich people would produce prosperity for all. Instead, the exact opposite has happened. That’s why the attack on stock buybacks is an even more profound attack on economics as usual, even if it, too, only represents one facet of what has to be a multi-faceted approach.

Corporate profits have doubled since the post-World War II boom years, from an average of 6 percent of GDP to more than 12 percent today, Hanauer pointed out, and yet “job growth remains anemic, wages are flat, and our nation can no longer seem to afford even its most basic needs.” Stock buybacks—which (as explained here) were virtually forbidden from 1934 through 1982—are a key reason why our economy is so cash-starved when it comes to wealth-producing investments:
Over the past decade, the companies that make up the S&P 500 have spent an astounding 54 percent of profits on stock buybacks. Last year alone, U.S. corporations spent about $700 billion, or roughly 4 percent of GDP, to prop up their share prices by repurchasing their own stock….

It is mathematically impossible to make the public- and private-sector investments necessary to sustain America’s global economic competitiveness while flushing away 4 percent of GDP year after year.

Hence, Hanauer argued, it’s time to end stock buybacks—they are crippling our ability to grow our economy robustly. Along the way, Hanauer also sharply criticized what he called “the 40-year obsession with ‘shareholder value maximization’” [SVM] as the narrow-minded definition of corporate purpose, which has been used to justify, rationalize and obfuscate the buyback explosion, and other ills of corporate misgovernance that have become commonplace in the post-1980 era.

Hanauer has plenty of company raising this argument and his critique of SVM, from UMass economist William Lazonick writing in the Harvard Business Review (“Profits Without Prosperity”) to a book by Cornell Law School’s Lynn Stout (“The Shareholder Value Myth: How Putting Shareholders First Harms Investors, Corporations, and the Public,” author’s overview here),  to the white paper Hanauer himself cited, titled “The World’s Dumbest Idea,” by GMO asset allocation manager James Montier, to a 2014 report from the Aspen Institute, cited by Steve Denning of Forbes, noting it “showed that thought leaders were coming to the same conclusion [questioning SVM]. In a cross-section of business leaders, including both executives and academics, a majority, particularly corporate executives, agreed that the primary purpose of the corporation is not to maximize shareholder value, but rather ‘to serve customers’ interests.’”
Continue reading at: http://www.salon.com/2015/03/19/the_1_percent_rigged_everything_why_no_one_can_end_ronald_reagans_dead_wrong_voodoo_economics/

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