Monday, December 09, 2013

A free market doesn't look like this

7 Companies (click to see graphic) own nearly everything we buy.That is not what I would call a free market, but more importantly, this picture absolutely breaks the facade of competition we're supposed to believe. The term "free market" doesn't include interlocking directorates where one man sits on the board of directors of many companies, acting in lockstep together, rather than competing. The brands we see in the supermarket or big box store only give the illusion of competition. But given no other choice, we buy.

In this environment, very few mom&pop stores stand a chance to compete with the big guys. The big guys have so much capital, they can undercut anyone, anywhere, at will, with impunity. This graphic helps to explain how we get billionaires among us. Sitting atop a giant conglomeration of companies means that instead of raising wages, the preference is to lard up on "performance pay", which for the moment is tax deductible.

The implications of this super giant business environment are not only staggering, but also offers little to no hope for the middle class. The vacuum of unions created by President Ronald "grandpa" Reagan has been replaced by a rapacious union of businesses. No morals. No accountability. Too big to fail.

Notice that we have "franchises", the most famous being McDonald's. I remember attending a franchise expo years ago thinking that I wanted to start one of these. But the fees to get started were quite hefty, $250,000 was what I left the expo thinking. A franchise is really a union of businesses, nothing more - and they aren't in competition with each other, they work together, against the worker, and eventually, against the consumer.

The conglomerations, the franchises, all work together. Holding the common worker down. Cutting benefits, cutting wages or holding them down, working together to fix prices, colluding with each other to avoid poaching workers from each other. They are so bold as to think they know what is best for the consumer and the worker.

Well if they're so smart, why did we just go through and are still working out of a massive recession? Why are people pointing to government as the cause? The best case against the government is a lack of oversight rather than over-regulation.

The only way I see to balance the power again is to do what Germany does. Require companies to share power on the board of directors with the workers. 50% of the board membership must be comprised of workers. Workers invest their time, investors invest their money. Time is money, right? Worker representation on the board of directors would restore some sense to the way compensation is calculated for everyone working for the company, especially the C-level officers.

We must have a return to sane corporate governance if we're going to have corporations at all. But more importantly, we must give the middle class a seat at the table in big business.
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