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Why the US economy isn’t as competitive or free as you think
November 14, 2019 | Financial Times | by Martin Wolf.

The Great Reversal: How America Gave up on Free Markets, by Thomas Philippon, Belknap Press RRP$29.95, 368 pages

It began with a simple question: “Why on earth are US cell phone plans so expensive?” In pursuit of the answer, Thomas Philippon embarked on a detailed empirical analysis of how business actually operates in today’s America and finished up by overturning much of what almost everybody takes as read about the world’s biggest economy.

Over the past two decades, competition and competition policy have atrophied, with dire consequences......America is no longer the home of the free-market economy, competition is not more fierce there than in Europe, its regulators are not more proactive and its new crop of superstar companies not radically different from their predecessors.

Philippon's argument:
(1) US markets have become less competitive: concentration is high in many industries, leaders are entrenched, and their profit rates are excessive.
(2) this lack of competition has hurt US consumers and workers: it has led to higher prices, lower investment and lower productivity growth.
(3) contrary to common wisdom, the main explanation is political, not technological: Philippon traces the decrease in competition to increasing barriers to entry and weak antitrust enforcement, sustained by heavy lobbying and campaign contributions.”....... the US economy has seen a significant reduction in competition and a corresponding rise in monopoly and oligopoly.

What should the US want? The answers, suggests Philippon, are: free entry; regulators prepared to make mistakes when acting against monopoly; and protection of transparency, privacy and data ownership by customers. The great obstacle to action in the US is the pervasive role of money in politics. The results are the twin evils of oligopoly and oligarchy. Donald Trump is in so many ways a product of the defective capitalism described in The Great Reversal. What the US needs, instead, is another Teddy Roosevelt and his energetic trust-busting. Is that still imaginable? All believers in the virtues of competitive capitalism must hope so.
antitrust  barriers_to_entry  books  book_reviews  campaign_contributions  Citizens_United  competitiveness_of_nations  crony_capitalism  dark_money  economics  economists  entrenched_interests  EU  FAANG  free_markets  French  gun_laws  healthcare  lobbying  market_concentration  monopolies  monopsony  oligopolies  oligarchs  regulators  Theodore_Roosevelt  uncompetitive 
november 2019 by jerryking
A ‘Grass Roots’ Campaign to Take Down Amazon Is Funded by Amazon’s Biggest Rivals - WSJ
Sept. 20, 2019 | WSJ | By James V. Grimaldi.

Walmart, Oracle and mall owner Simon Property Group are secret funders behind a nonprofit that has been highly critical of the e-commerce giant

About 18 months ago a new nonprofit group called Free and Fair Markets Initiative launched a national campaign criticizing the business practices of one powerful company: Amazon.com Inc. AMZN -1.50%

Free and Fair Markets accused Amazon of stifling competition and innovation, inhibiting consumer choice, gorging on government subsidies, endangering its warehouse workers and exposing consumer data to privacy breaches. It claimed to have grass-roots support from average citizens across the U.S, citing a labor union, a Boston management professor and a California businessman.

What the group did not say is that it received backing from some of Amazon’s chief corporate rivals. They include shopping mall owner Simon Property Group Inc., SPG 0.27% retailer Walmart Inc. WMT -0.11% and software giant Oracle Corp. ORCL 0.19% , according to people involved with and briefed on the project. Simon Property is fighting to keep shoppers who now prefer to buy what they need on Amazon; Walmart is competing with Amazon over retail sales; and Oracle is battling Amazon over a $10 billion Pentagon cloud-computing contract.

The grass-roots support cited by the group was also not what it appeared to be. The labor union says it was listed as a member of the group without permission and says a document purporting to show that it gave permission has a forged signature. The Boston professor says the group, with his permission, ghost-wrote an op-ed for him about Amazon but that he didn’t know he would be named as a member. The California businessman was dead for months before his name was removed from the group’s website this year.

Free and Fair Markets, or FFMI, declined to reveal its funders or disclose if it has directors or a chief executive.

“The bottom line is that FFMI is focusing on the substantive issues and putting a spotlight on the way companies like Amazon undermine the public good—something that media outlets, activists, and politicians in both parties are also doing with increasing frequency,” it said in a statement in response to questions from The Wall Street Journal. “If Amazon can not take the heat then it should stay out of the kitchen.”

The creation of a group aimed solely at Amazon is an indication of the degree to which competing companies have coalesced to counter the growing and accumulated power of Amazon and how far competitors are increasingly willing to go to counter-strike. Lobbyists that exaggerate the extent of their grass-roots support—a practice known as “AstroTurf lobbying”—are common in Washington, but it is rare for a nonprofit group to be created for the sole purpose of going after a single firm.

Amazon is facing additional opaque opposition as well, with websites and articles popping up portraying the software giant as the Evil Empire. The website Monopolyamazon.com, which does not disclose who is behind it and registered its web address anonymously, includes a handful of articles calling on the Defense Department to reject Amazon’s bid for a $10 billion cloud-computing contract. For months last year, an anti-Amazon dossier circulated in Washington alleging conflicts of interest in the Pentagon procurement process and a chart from the document later reached President Trump before he asked for a review of the Amazon bid.

Free and Fair Markets is run by a strategic communications firm, Marathon Strategies, that works for large corporations, including Amazon rivals. Marathon founder Phil Singer is a veteran political operative who has worked as a top aide to prominent Democrats, including Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York and on Hillary Clinton ’s 2008 presidential campaign.

In a statement, Mr. Singer defended the group. “FFMI is not obligated to disclose its donors and it does not,” Mr. Singer said.

Marathon initially asked for a fee of $250,000 per company to fund the anti-Amazon group, according to a person at one of the companies approached. Among those invited to fund the group but declined were a trade association that includes members who compete with Amazon, and International Business Machines Corp. , according to people familiar with the contacts. IBM, which declined to comment, previously was a client of Marathon.

In a statement, Amazon said, “The Free & Fair Markets Initiative appears to be little more than a well-oiled front group run by a high-priced public affairs firm and funded by self-interested parties with the sole objective of spreading misinformation about Amazon.”

Simon Property, the world’s largest mall landlord, declined to comment. Simon does not have any brick-and-mortar Amazon stores in its roughly 200 malls, outlets and open-air centers in the U.S., whereas its peers with smaller portfolios count multiple Amazon stores in theirs. The Indianapolis-based landlord recently launched its own online shopping platform, Shoppremiumoutlets.com.

Walmart funds the organization indirectly by paying an intermediary that pays for Free and Fair Markets, according to sources familiar with the arrangement. Walmart is a client of Marathon.

Walmart spokesman Randy Hargrove said, “We are not financial supporters of the FFMI but we share concerns about issues they have raised.” Mr. Hargrove declined to comment further.

The group’s aim is to sully Amazon’s image on competition, data-security and workplace issues, while creating a sense of grass-roots support for increased government regulatory and antitrust enforcement, according to people familiar with the campaign.

Free and Fair Markets has lobbied the government for legislation and investigations of Amazon, sent dozens of letters and reports to Congress and staff, according to congressional staffers, published scores of op-eds in local and online media and tweeted hundreds of social media posts blasting Amazon.

Over the past year, many of the actions advocated by the group have gained traction. Amazon has come under increasing antitrust scrutiny from the Department of Justice, Federal Trade Commission, states attorneys general and the European Union. In New York, Amazon backed out of plans to open a second headquarters in Long Island City after facing political opposition. Free and Fair Markets campaigned against government subsidies to support the site and tweeted more than 300 times on the topic.

Oracle provided financial support as part of an all-out strategy to stop Amazon from getting a $10 billion mega-contract to handle cloud computing for the Defense Department. The Pentagon eliminated Oracle as a bidder in the first round. Kenneth Glueck, who runs Oracle’s office in Washington, confirmed that the computer technology firm has contributed to the effort.

A goal of the organization was achieved in July when President Trump said he wanted to conduct a review of the contract. In August, the secretary of defense said he was investigating conflict-of-interest allegations surrounding the $10 billion contract known as Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure, or JEDI. At the urging of President Trump, the bid award has been put on hold during the review.

Mr. Trump, a frequent critic of Amazon, cited complaints about the project from several of Amazon’s competitors, which in addition to Oracle included IBM and Microsoft Corp. , saying he had heard the contract “wasn’t competitively bid.” The contract has not been awarded and Microsoft remains one of the two remaining bidders.

Though Free and Fair Markets has contacted members of Congress and the administration, it has not registered as a lobbying organization. Such groups are required to file with Congress if more than 20% of their work involves lobbying. Marathon said it complies with lobby disclosure rules.

None of the articles notes that Mr. Engel’s group is funded by rivals of Amazon.

A spokeswoman for The Hill said the publication was unaware of the funding sources and failure to disclose such payments violates a standard written agreement all op-ed writers are required to sign.

Sandy Shea, managing editor of opinion for the Inquirer’s parent company, the Philadelphia Media Network, said, “We aren’t equipped to investigate the makeup or structure of a nonprofit that submits a piece.”

Bill Zeiser, RealClearPolicy editor, said RealClearMedia publishes “commentary on politics and public policy from a wide array of sources. These submissions are assessed on their editorial merits.”

Representatives of the Post-Gazette and Chronicle did not respond to emails.

In an interview earlier this year, Mr. Engel said the motive of the group was not to promote the views of Amazon’s rivals. He said Amazon has been the only target because its business tactics run counter to the group’s goal of free and fair markets. “The one organization that feels it stands above that is Amazon,” Mr. Engel said.

Marathon did not make Mr. Engel available for comment a second time after the Journal determined that rivals were funding the group.

Mr. Engel and his group have been quoted in publications, including once each in The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. None said who funded the group.

One article about Free and Fair Markets was commissioned by Marathon.

Last October, an Iowa writer and consultant, Jeff Patch, published an article on RealClearPolicy.com, a news website known for political coverage, about a report by Free and Fair Markets critical of Amazon’s record of hiring and firing women. “Many [women] were fired after Amazon concocted pretexts for their terminations,” Mr. Patch wrote.

Mr. Patch, who has worked as a journalist and a staffer for a Republican congressman and conservative think tanks, did not disclose in his article at the time that he was a paid contractor for Marathon.

Bank statements and invoices reviewed by the Journal show that Mr. Patch billed Marathon, and was paid thousands of dollars… [more]
Amazon  clandestine  contra-Amazon  countermeasures  counternarratives  dark_side  e-commerce  grass-roots  lobbying  lobbyists  nonprofit  Oracle  Simon_Properties  sophisticated  Wal-Mart 
september 2019 by jerryking
Big Tech in hiring spree for looming antitrust battles | Financial Times
Kiran Stacey in Washington DECEMBER 23, 2018 Print this page6
Big technology and telecoms companies have embarked on a hiring spree of former antitrust officials as their industries gear up for what experts warn could be an “existential” battle over whether they should be broken up.

In the last few months, Facebook, Amazon and AT&T have all hired senior antitrust officials from the US Department of Justice as they confront a new generation of regulators who are interested in preventing concentrations of economic power......Many of the biggest US technology companies have endured a difficult year, facing allegations of not protecting customer data, failing to prevent Russian interference in American democracy and showing political bias.

In response, several have beefed up their lobbying operations in Washington as they look to engage more with politicians, having previously preferred to operate under the radar. .....Experts say the hirings reflect a growing belief that competition policy could become the next significant political battleground....The European Commission has investigated US technology companies for alleged anti-competitive behaviour. Margrethe Vestager, the European Commissioner for Competition, is bringing cases against Google and is looking into Amazon.

Such cases have been more difficult to pursue in the US, where the law is focused more on whether anti-competitive behaviour is keeping prices artificially high.

A group of younger progressive regulators and politicians have argued in recent years, however, that technology companies that give their services away for free but dominate their markets should come in for as much attention.....Rohit Chopra, a Federal Trade Commissioner in his mid-30s, for example, recently hired Lina Khan, a 29-year-old policy thinker who has argued that large technology companies can both bring prices down and be harmful to society in general.
Amazon  antitrust  AT&T  Big_Tech  competition_policy  corporate_concentration  Department_of_Justice  FAANG  Facebook  FTC  hiring  Lina_Khan  lawyers  lobbying  market_power  market_concentration  monopolies  platforms  regulation  regulators  revolving_door  under_the_radar 
december 2018 by jerryking
Paying Professors: Inside Google’s Academic Influence Campaign - WSJ
By Brody Mullins and Jack Nicas

Paying for favorable academic research has long been a tool of influence by U.S. corporations in food, drug and oil industries. Scandals involving conflicts of interest in medical research have spurred many medical schools, scientific researchers and journals to require disclosure of corporate funding and to prohibit corporate sponsors from meddling with findings......Google’s strategic recruitment of like-minded professors is one of the tech industry’s most sophisticated programs, and includes funding of conferences and research by trade groups, think tanks and consulting firms, according to documents and interviews with academics and lobbyists.
academia  campaign  Colleges_&_Universities  education  influence  lobbying  professors  research 
july 2017 by jerryking
One Firm Getting What It Wants in Washington: BlackRock - WSJ
By RYAN TRACY and SARAH KROUSE
Updated April 20, 2016

The Problem: BlackRock believed that the U.S. Federal Reserve was leaning towards designating it as a source of financial system risk, like other big banks, and as such, be “too big to fail”.

What Was At Stake: the designation “systemically important” would draw BlackRock in for greater oversight by the Federal Reserve which would mean tougher rules and potentially higher capital requirements from U.S. regulators.

The Solution: BlackRock didn't take any chances. The company began spending heavily on lobbying and engaging policymakers. Executives at the firm began preparing for greater federal scrutiny of their business in the months following the 2008 financial crisis. BlackRock aggressively prepared a counter-narrative upon discovered a Treasury Department’s Office of Financial Research report that asset-management firms and the funds they run were “vulnerable to shocks” and may engage in “herding” behavior that could amplify a shock to the financial system. The response took the form of a 40-plus-page paper rebutting the report. The firm suggested that instead of focusing on the size of a manager or fund, regulators should look at what specific practices, such as the use of leverage, might be the source of risks. While other money managers such as Fidelity and Vanguard sought to evade being labeled systemically important, BlackRock’s strategy stood out.
BlackRock  crony_capitalism  Washington_D.C.  risks  lobbying  too_big_to_fail  asset_management  advocacy  government_relations  influence  political_advocacy  policy  U.S._Federal_Reserve  systemic_risks  Communicating_&_Connecting  U.S.Treasury_Department  counternarratives  oversight  financial_system  leverage  debt  creating_valuable_content  think_differently  policymakers  policymaking 
april 2016 by jerryking
Uber’s advocacy strategy, scrappy lobbying and rapid growth - The Globe and Mail
SIMON DOYLE
Uber’s advocacy strategy, scrappy lobbying and rapid growth
SUBSCRIBERS ONLY
OTTAWA — Special to The Globe and Mail
Published Monday, Jul. 20, 2015
Uber  ride_sharing  sharing_economy  lobbying  lobbyists  Toronto  advocacy 
july 2015 by jerryking
The murky world of Chinese influence - The Globe and Mail
CHARLES BURTON
Special to The Globe and Mail
Published Wednesday, Jun. 17, 2015

Indeed, it’s worth noting that Canadian officials and politicians who favour closer economic relations with China – playing down concerns about human rights, espionage, unfair trade practices, support for repressive Third World regimes and so on – have generally not been of Chinese origin. It’s troubling that many of these same people, after they leave politics, end up making serious money in China-related trade or lucrative China-related board of directors’ appointments. This most recently applies to Mr. Baird himself and very much so to his predecessor David Emerson, but also to former prime ministers, former Canadian ambassadors to China and many others, of all political stripes. Chinese money is seemingly welcomed almost everywhere in Canada, but it inevitably comes with strings attached: expectations of reciprocal “friendship” that lead back to the Chinese Communists and their ever-more influential global business conglomerates headquartered in Beijing.

This is not a reciprocal relationship. It is unlikely that there are many telephone calls going on between any of our consuls-general in China and influential Chinese political actors comparable in rank to our Michael Chan.

Canada could be managing these concerns much better. The Chinese money is there, but not the Canadian political will.
China  security_&_intelligence  influence  influence_peddling  intimidation  naivete  political_power  Chinese  politicians  CSIS  lobbying  revolving_door  Canada-China_relations  Charles_Burton 
june 2015 by jerryking
Think tanks need to show us the money - The Globe and Mail
KONRAD YAKABUSKI
The Globe and Mail
Published Monday, Feb. 09 2015

Like Brookings, almost of all of Canada’s leading think tanks claim to be independent and non-partisan. But while none – not even the Broadbent Institute – is directly affiliated with a political party, it’s not hard to discern an identifiable political agenda in the research they produce. American think tanks, says former think-tank founder David Callahan, “often operate as the motherships of ideological movements – weaving together a jumble of values and ideas into a coherent story and actionable agenda.” You could easily say the same of most of their Canadian counterparts.
Konrad_Yakabuski  think_tanks  lobbying  Brookings  institution-building  networks  institutions  political_infrastructure  transparency  political_advocacy  policy_analysis  policy  conflicts_of_interest  policymaking 
february 2015 by jerryking
Holman Jenkins: What the Taxi Wars Teach - WSJ
Aug. 19, 2014 | WSJ | Holman Jenkins.

"wasn't the arrival of ride-sharing apps supposed to obliterate the traditional taxi industry? It turns out the new operators have been expanding the pie more than gobbling it up, creating new rides where taxi service was scarce (such as New York's outer boroughs), luring users out of private cars and off buses, and enabling trips that previously wouldn't have been taken at all.

In Chicago, taxi medallions appear to have stopped trading amid current uncertainty but are likely to end up holding much of their value. The traditional conspicuously yellow taxi (as in New York) that can be summoned with the raise of a hand is likely to find that its highly regulated niche survives even as new options proliferate. Value still adheres to the old medallions not least because of the untapped scope for efficiency improvement, ignored till now.

America is an interesting place, a society ruled by organized interest groups where nonetheless new things can happen. It's true that taxi operators have used regulation and litigation to slow the newcomers and force compromise with regulatory edicts on insurance coverage, vehicle age and driver training.

Laws exist and can't just be ignored. Organized interests like taxicab companies have every incentive to make noise about everything, demanding concessions.

Yet despite certain tropes about our dysfunctional political system, politicians also have every incentive to avoid maximalist positions on behalf of constituents, seeking to expand the groups they can make happy."
Holman_Jenkins  taxis  Uber  Lyft  medallions  mobile_applications  lobbying  ride_sharing  constituencies  interest_groups  upstarts  politicians 
august 2014 by jerryking
The Unlobbyists - NYTimes.com
By THOMAS B. EDSALL
Published: December 31, 2013

‘relationship lobbying’ is dead, or at least not where the growth will be.” The traditional lobbyist, he argues, is no longer the éminence grise of days past but instead has been reduced to serving as a conduit for campaign contributions from corporate and trade association PACs to candidates.

The action has shifted to what is known in the business as strategic advice: how to convince and mobilize voters and opinion elites in support of a client’s agenda.... So what does this new strategic adviser actually do? He or she can plan out a legislative campaign or a drive to affect the implementation of regulation, determine which officials and agencies must be dealt with, and propose potential coalition partners.

Interestingly, all this can be done without making direct contact with elected officials, congressional aides or top-ranked department and agency appointees and employees. This arms-length approach permits strategic advisers to avoid lobbying registration and reporting requirements.
campaign_contributions  lobbying  public_relations  Communicating_&_Connecting  Washington_D.C.  WPP  relationships  advice  campaigns  Inside_the_Beltway 
january 2014 by jerryking
The Self-Destruction of the 1 Percent -
October 13, 2012 | NYTimes.com | By CHRYSTIA FREELAND.

IN the early 14th century, Venice was one of the richest cities in Europe. At the heart of its economy was the colleganza, a basic form of joint-stock company created to finance a single trade expedition. The brilliance of the colleganza was that it opened the economy to new entrants, allowing risk-taking entrepreneurs to share in the financial upside with the established businessmen who financed their merchant voyages.

Venice’s elites were the chief beneficiaries. Like all open economies, theirs was turbulent. Today, we think of social mobility as a good thing. But if you are on top, mobility also means competition. In 1315, when the Venetian city-state was at the height of its economic powers, the upper class acted to lock in its privileges, putting a formal stop to social mobility with the publication of the Libro d’Oro, or Book of Gold, an official register of the nobility. If you weren’t on it, you couldn’t join the ruling oligarchy.

The political shift, which had begun nearly two decades earlier, was so striking a change that the Venetians gave it a name: La Serrata, or the closure. It wasn’t long before the political Serrata became an economic one, too. Under the control of the oligarchs, Venice gradually cut off commercial opportunities for new entrants. Eventually, the colleganza was banned. The reigning elites were acting in their immediate self-interest, but in the longer term, La Serrata was the beginning of the end for them, and for Venetian prosperity more generally. By 1500, Venice’s population was smaller than it had been in 1330. In the 17th and 18th centuries, as the rest of Europe grew, the city continued to shrink....several recent studies have shown that in America today it is harder to escape the social class of your birth than it is in Europe. The Canadian economist Miles Corak has found that as income inequality increases, social mobility falls...Businessmen like to style themselves as the defenders of the free market economy, but as Luigi Zingales, an economist at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, argued, “Most lobbying is pro-business, in the sense that it promotes the interests of existing businesses, not pro-market in the sense of fostering truly free and open competition.”
business_interests  capitalism  Chrystia_Freeland  city-states  cronyism  crony_capitalism  depopulation  elitism  entrenched_interests  history  income_distribution  income_inequality  lobbying  locked_in  moguls  new_entrants  oligarchs  pro-business  pro-market  Renaissance  self-destructive  self-interest  social_classes  social_mobility  The_One_Percent  Venice  winner-take-all 
september 2013 by jerryking
White House Renovation Calls for a Bridge Builder - WSJ.com
NOVEMBER 16, 2010 / Wall Street Journal / By GERALD F. SEIB who argues for Kenneth Duberstein for the role.
Gerald_Seib  Obama  White_House  consensus  lobbying  chief_of_staff  bridge-builders 
november 2010 by jerryking
The Green Machine Hal Harvey spends his environmental war chest with one guiding principle: winning
FEBRUARY 12, 2007 WSJ article by JEFFREY BALL. Global warming
is tougher than localized environmental threats such as smog. That, Hal
Harvey argues, requires environmentalists to focus less on fiery
rhetoric and more on hashing out economically efficient policies that
have political legs. In doling out the dollars at his disposal, Mr.
Harvey uses much the same strategy as the other venture capitalists in
Silicon Valley. He invests where he thinks he'll get maximum return. In
his parlance, he looks for the political "pinch points" likely to
promote technologies that will deliver the most "tons of carbon avoided
per philanthropic dollar invested." He and his colleagues try to compute
that using spreadsheets.
green  environment  philanthropy  lobbying  policy  strategy  UFSC  financial_literacy  pain_points  bottlenecks  leverage  return_on_effort  investors  climate_change 
february 2009 by jerryking

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