For Governance and Economics, This is The Key Ingredient
Human Frailties Will Arise, Every Time
Every human endeavor has the potential to be a thing of beauty and long-term benefit for all concerned. Unfortunately, they also hold potential for great distortion and damage. Eventually, those failures of excess and lack of perspective almost always rear their ugly heads and do damage to people, the planet and everything in between.
One thing seems to be the best preventive measure/corrective process – good old-fashioned competition. Most of us basically understand this in economics, although as we will note in a moment, shortfalls can sneak up on us even in obvious areas like economics. But the same principles and pressures apply to politics and governance as well.
We have spoken before in this space about the imbalances in our economy, as well as the social and other areas hurt by current profiles. The last time we were this unbalanced, we wound up with the great depression. We have great potential to repeat that cycle.
Two areas lacking competition feed the problem. One is the lack of competition within sectors of the economy. Take a look.
- In civil aviation, we are down to just four major carriers: Delta, American, United, and Southwest. The other few out there are very regional or have other limiting characteristics. Only four major airlines in a country this size means little or no competition in many routes and destinations. That yields less choice and higher costs. And we just gave them several billion dollars in COVID funds.
- Look at meat production/meat packing. Essentially four firms own the US market, dictating prices to farmers and grocers across the country. They control 80% of the market, vertically integrated. Not nearly enough for competition. Tyson, Cargill, JBS, and National Beef don’t feel much pressure from anyone on prices, environmental issues, or worker conditions.
- Communications/Media. See much competition for Twitter or Facebook? Does Google (Alphabet) worry about competition or regulation? No. These are a handful of giant firms with little competition or oversight. Cable companies? A lot of people are cutting the cable, but millions are effectively under the control of AT&T, Sprint, and Charter. Programming is largely dictated by only a few (Disney, Comcast, National Amusements, NewsCorp). For the hardware, same with Google and Apple – no real competition here.
- In retail, who keeps Amazon awake at night? No one. Global shipping? Maersk, MSC, CMA, and China Shipping dwarf everyone else. Four companies with that much market share is not a healthy thing. Energy? Alternatives are coming online, but for now, the world’s energy controllers could all fit in a small van – and that includes the Russians.
The Results are Not a Surprise
For these and other sectors, the lack of competition fosters high price and low responsiveness, and the ability to stall regulation. Real competition would bring out the best and weed out the incompetent or ill focused.
The other major absence of competition has been the lack of a strong labor voice. Unions have been at all-time lows, and the effect on working conditions and income has declined with them in a clear and sustained pattern.
The post pandemic era may be breaking this old and evil log jams. Unions are not perfect, but their absence ensures workers will never have a real say or get their fair share of profits.
The democratic, two-party system worked so well for so long in this country because both parties competed to govern and worked to get the middle range voters added to their core factions. It was a model that led to cooperation and some impressive bipartisan results.
But now we have one party that really has zero interest in governance. Their only interest is in power. Through Olympic level gerrymandering, voter restrictions, and propaganda campaigns that would embarrass Josef Goebbels, they intend to keep that power with no interest in governing.
Doubt that? When was the last time you saw a Republican platform or a legislative agenda? It’s coming up on more than half a decade since anything like that appeared in any form.
Political competition is not working because the parties have completely different goals and the political base on the right will accept anything they are told. People still think Donald Trump was a swell president. That Madison Cawthorn is being picked on my liberal media. That all the news you need to hear comes from Fox.
The lack of accountability by voters undercuts the need for substance and thus the battleground for competition.
Elizabeth Warren Called It Correctly
Of all modern national politicians, Senator Warren pointed all this out earliest, loudest, and most clearly. She was, and is, right. The sooner we clean up the structure to encourage real competition in the economy and in governance, the sooner we can hope for a better America. Let all this continue to slide and we risk a point of no return in both the economy and in governance.
This is Fixable
If enough in government, globally, get focused on this set of problems, they can be managed. In a simpler age, the Sherman Anti-Trust Act and the Fairness Doctrine were pretty good tools. Government oversight of mergers that cut competition did good things for us all.
We need similar tools for the 21st Century. Without them, more and more of the world’s people will be living in something of a Dickens novel. More pudding, please sir.
If you find this blog worthy of your time and curiosity, I invite you to do three things:
(1) Join the conversation. Your voice counts here. If you wish to share COMMENTS anonymously, make the last word in your comment “PRIVATE.” I will assure your privacy via anonymity.
(2) Share the word about this post with friends and colleagues. Share a link in your emails and social media posts (https://agentsofreason.com).
(3) You are welcome to share this post with anyone. It is easy to pass on via email, of course, but also on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google Plus, or Reddit; simply click on the links for these services at the end of this article.
Let’s grow our circle.