The Progressive Ensign

insights and analytics to build an economy that works for all

Category: Corporate Reform (Page 1 of 3)

Workers Exercise Power Through Pensions on Corporate Policies

Photo: commondreams.org

Toys R Us was saddled with billions of dollars of debt by private buyout firms like Kohlberg Kravis Roberts.  Pension funds provide firms like KKR with funds to invest expecting higher returns than stock market rates. When the workers at Toys R Us petitioned the Minnesota Pension Fund that they had been denied a severance the fund suspended making investments with KKR.  About 35 % of all private equity funding comes from public pension investors.

The New Jersey pension fund has listened to its pensioners on issues like not foreclosing on Puerto Rico residents who are recovering from Hurricane Harvey and an investment in a payday lender.  Adam Liebtag, the acting chairman of the New Jersey State Investment Council, told the New York Times,  “They are paying closer attention. They are following the money.”

Pension funds provide about 35 % of all private equity funding. providing a good channel of leverage for activist groups.  The deals that pensions do with private equity firms continues to rise as well.

Source: Prequin Private Equity Spotlight, Value Walk – 10/2014

Sarah Bloom Raskin, a fellow at Duke University and a deputy Treasury secretary in the Obama administration, observed, “Workers don’t want their pension money invested in ways that hurt other workers”.  Workers are waking up to the fact they have financial power to get private equity firms to listen to their concerns that private equity policies are hurting some workers as in the Toys R Us case, heavily loaded with $5 billion in debt from a private buyout.

Next Steps:

We see the pension leverage option on private equity firms as a model to build on.  Why not require pensions to listen to their investor – workers by having a set of investor – workers on their board, participating in the investment decisions the board makes to begin with.  Workers should be constantly polled for their concerns to ensure adherence to investment policies that are moving the lives of workers better in any company where the pension is invested.  Workers are mainly left out of the financial decisions that manage their lives while working for a company, at least after retiring the money they have saved in a pensions fund should speak for them and their concerns in building a better life for all employees.

U.S. Healthcare Spending 41 % More Than OECD Countries

(Editor Note: Insight Bytes focus on key economic issues and solutions for all of us, on Thursdays we spotlight in more depth Solutions to issues we have identified. Fridays we focus on how to build the Common Good. Please right click on images to see them larger in a separate tab. Click on the Index Topic Name at the beginning of each post to see more posts on that topic on PC or Laptop.)

Image: consumersunion.org

The United States healthcare system is an expensive healthcare system compared to the OECD countries that spend 41 % less per person as a percent of GDP with a 4 year higher life expectancy rate.

Sources: The Daily Shot, The Wall Street Journal – 10/1/18

As U.S. spending continues to increase life expectancy rates are stagnant, simply not improving.  Note that while OECD spending continues to grow at a much slower pace the life expectancy rate continues to climb. Americans are not getting the health care system performance that our European sister countries are achieving.

Sources: OECD, CMS – US, Moody’s Investors Services, The Daily Shot, The Wall Street Journal – 10/1/18

Even when looking at similar income level countries the cost difference is highly apparent in cost per capita.

What are OECD countries doing that the U.S. is not doing?   For starters they do not have a private health insurance system which adds a profit motive to treatment, triages services to the higher income people and increases drug prices to consumers.   Administrative costs in the U.S. are 8 % of the total healthcare spending versus the OECD countries which range from 1 to 3 %. One reason for the high administrative burden is administrative hiring was 650 % more than hiring of health services workers since 1970. Generalist physician salaries are significantly higher in the U.S. by 50% compared to developed countries. Drugs in America cost twice the average prices in comparable developed countries.  The drug costs are distorted in the U.S. largely due to price controls in European countries so drug manufacturers charge as much as they can to U.S. providers and patients to make up the difference. Finally, another key reason is about 10 % of the U.S. patients are not covered by insurance.  Which means they do not receive care from birth, let medical issues fester and go to emergency rooms for all their care (as U.S. law requires hospitals to serve all who come regardless of insurance). A study of the healthcare delivery system in Philadelphia showed that overall healthcare costs in the city could be reduced by 20 % if patients that needed care had services offered in doctor offices covered by insurance.

Next Steps: 

We have recommended in previous posts that we have one insurance system in the U.S. as other developed countries.  Administered by the Health and Human Services department, a health account would start as soon as a baby was born.  Contributions by individuals, their employer and the government would go into one account.  Private insurance could continue in those years where a worker is on the payroll of a company with benefits.  In the event the worker is between jobs he or she would be covered by the government supported part of the plan.  There would be only one formulary  for drugs, and schedule for treatments and procedures.  The administrative overhead could be cut to the 1 to 3 % range that other countries enjoy.  Staffs in providers offices dealing with insurance idiosyncrasies and byzantine rules could be cut by 75 %.  Drug companies would be prohibited from implementing stock buybacks which would make billions of dollars available to cut prices and innovate new medicines instead of lining the pockets of executives.

Building Economic Independence Can End Hopelessness

(Editor Note: Insight Bytes focus on key economic issues and solutions for all of us, on Thursdays we spotlight in more depth Solutions to issues we have identified. Fridays we focus on how to build the Common Good. Please right click on images to see them larger in a separate tab. Click on the Index Topic Name at the beginning of each post to see more posts on that topic on PC or Laptop.)

Image: operationhope.org

The greatest threat to a civil society are people without hope.  They are angry, feel the system is rigged and look for scapegoats as the cause of their poor economic standing. This group left out of the economic mainstreams is located in rural regions where globalizations has taken jobs, and in inner cities where companies have fled to the suburbs. These people that John Hope Bryant calls, The Invisible Class, are off the economic grid, and largely left out of the political mainstream as well except when they demonstrate on the streets when a policy has gone too far.

Economic independence is crucial if we have an economy that works for the 99 % not just the 1 %. To build economic opportunities our governmental policies and programs must ensure a level playing field for all people and support a high quality education for all income levels.

It is about building our society for the common good. It means enabling building enterprises, non-profits and organizations that serve people. Our policies should be about enabling the ability of people to build. We need to rethink our framing of labor from a cost to an asset which it always was. Capital means in the Latin root ‘knowledge in the head’ derived from the capital end of a column at the top in a building.  Poverty is not about money so much as a dearth of relationships and know how to build the skills toward a productive life, where money is a indicator of success.

Somehow the early accountants leading to the Venetians who invented double entry accounting systems with debits and credits called assets money, land and equipment while labor was labeled an expense.  Labor is viewed as an expense to this day because the owner-entrepreneur has to pay employees to work.  Workers have had the ‘cost’ yoke around their necks ever since.  Yet, are employees really a cost?  The staff are the ones doing the work, creating the product or service and solving the problems – money does not create the product or service only people do. CEOs are often heard to say that employees ‘are our key asset’ but then treats them like second class citizens in making policies in the company, gaining a fair share of the profits or enjoying job hours flexibility. Today, Wall Street applauds wages being stagnant for the 80 % while profits go up and wealth accumulates for The Elite.

We need to change our perspective about people and their labor. How do we build an economy that works for all? One way is to focus on enabling, The Invisible Class with economic independence.  Bryant points out that most of these people have credit scores at 550 or below, so they can’t get jobs, buy automobiles, or purchase a home.  In short they can’t participate in the economic mainstream. Bryant’s Operation Hope program teaches those in poverty how to increase their credit scores, start businesses and strategies for accumulating wealth.  By bringing them into the economic mainstream they can begin to feel more confident about their lives and the future. Operation Hope has partnered with Bank of the West who invited Bryant to locate Operation Hope offices inside their branches. Bank of the West in a far reaching vision understands educating prospective customers on the good use of credit and finance will make them better customers and likely to come back for additional services.

We need to learn from programs like Operation Hope, understand its key elements and see how to implement its tenets and power on a major scale like the Marshall Plan if we are to make a dent in the level of poverty in the Heartland or cities.  The only way we are going to increase the size of our economy in a fundamental way is to empower millions of workers who are out of the economic mainstream.  We have more companies going bankrupt then new businesses being started for the first time since WWII. It  is time to recognize we have people who are assets with innovative skills to can build an economy that works for all.

High Tech Behemoths Run State and Local Politics

(Editor Note: Insight Bytes focus on key economic issues and solutions for all of us, on Thursdays we spotlight in more depth Solutions to issues we have identified. Fridays we focus on how to build the Common Good. Please right click on images to see them larger in a separate tab. Click on the Index Topic Name at the beginning of each post to see more posts on that topic on PC or Laptop.)

Image: youtube.com

Recently the high technology power houses like Google, Facebook, Uber and Amazon have appeared in the news related to national issues privacy, Russia hacking, driver contractors and conservative viewpoint censorship.  There is an even more troubling trend; major high tech corporations are controlling key decisions, policies and direction of development for many major American cities and states. Amazon is throwing its weight around the U.S. in search of a 2nd corporate headquarters.

Source: LA Times – 1/19/18

Amazon has already received millions of dollars in tax subsidies and compensation  for locating warehouses in some regions. The Governor of Maryland has offered a $5 billion package of transportation and tax breaks to the company to locate in Maryland, while Newark and New Jersey have offered a $7 billion package of subsidies.  Amazon has been adept at Seattle politics as well, when the city unanimously passed a $275 per employee tax on businesses to pay for homeless shelters and affordable housing. Amazon along with local businesses pushed back and the measure was repealed.

Apple purchased a site previously owned by Hewlett – Packard for its Apple Park spaceship headquarters.  The Cupertino city council was delighted with the plan to put 14,000 employees on the site, doubling the number of workers at the large parcel.  After the headquarters building was built the local council realized that the traffic congestion around the site and the city was going to be a major problem. The city then proposed a per employee tax to gain revenue of $10 million versus the present tax structure based on square footage would have netted only $800, 000. The proposed funding would have been allocated to buses, road widening, express lanes and other traffic flow enhancements. Apple and other businesses protested so the proposal was tabled until the 2020 election.

Uber has gone into cities all over the country from its base in San Francisco without authorization, creating major competition to local taxi companies.  Cab companies in most cities purchase a medallion from the city at great expense, some in the hundreds of thousands of dollars to license them to provide ride services in the city.  Uber has run into opposition in some major cities like New York, where the number of cars is capped.

Google has quietly purchased hundreds of acres of land in downtown San Jose, until newspaper stories began to spot light the land purchases.  The high tech behemoth plans on deploying up to 20,000 employees around the city hub and train station.  Planning for a huge employee center near public transportation makes sense, but local businesses and housing near purchased lots are under pressure to sell to make room for the corporate plan.  Local housing groups are concerned about the availability of affordable housing and small business.

Next steps

Our concern is that major corporations, their planning departments and executives have so much power that local elected leaders have little clout to push back on building or development that may not be in the interest of the local community.  As local government struggles to gain revenues lost to an Internet based economy, and stiff opposition from local citizens to raising taxes causes local city government power to decline.

Local leaders will need to rethink their base of power in the city, seeking alliances with local businesses while building a base of economic support for city services.  Cities and states often interested in luring businesses to their local regions spending hundreds of millions of dollars in the process maybe missing the point of their charter.  Building necessary infrastructure, affordable housing, fast transportation systems, healthcare for those not covered and safe streets are their mandate from local citizens. It is a challenging time for local and state governments, yet they need to take up the mantle and assert the policies and programs they were elected to implement.  Plus, corporations need to take responsibility for their actions and how they affect building the common good of the community.

Hospitals Cut Non-Compete Deals With Insurers

Image: wbur.org

Hospitals are the number one cost in health care nationwide at $1 trillion per year.  Healthcare is close to 20 % of the U.S. annual GDP.  Physician and clinical services are second followed by prescription drugs.

Sources: Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, The Wall Street Journal – 9/19/18

Hospitals are at the center of the most intense and high care treatments for surgeries, interventions, procedures and emergency care.  Most must take Medicare payments if they are to have a wide enough patient population to support their business. Yet, Medicare reimbursements often don’t cover the actual costs of treatment.  Hospitals look to employer – insurer plans and cash customers to make up the difference.

The Wall Street Journal investigated a number of hospital – insurer contracts and found in some cases the hospitals and insurers were cutting contracts which included non-compete clauses.  Thus, if a hospital had a dominant position in a patient market, it would require that the insurer not insure patients of their competitor.  Clearly, a restraint of trade, causing employer plans to pick up the balance, and in some cases where doctors were affiliated with hospitals employees were having to pick up the extra cost. Employers have seen premiums from insurers going up to handle the extra cost of these sweetheart deals.

These close partnership deals between hospitals and insurers create higher costs where services are much cheaper outside of the hospital in a doctor’s office.

Sources: Health Care Cost Institute, The Wall Street Journal – 9/19/18

Instead of hospitals steering patients to their doctors for many services, they provide the services on an outpatient basis at a much more expensive price. Insurers pick up the outpatient cost and then charge employers and patients higher premiums than necessary.

Next Steps:

 We have supported the Affordable Health Care Act provisions requiring insurers to insure all patients with existing conditions, and other patient oriented options.  However, this law is only the first step in reforming the healthcare industry, rigorous enforcement of anti-trust laws needs to take place to eliminate practices like these non-compete agreements.  We call for transparency in pricing of all drugs, and the relationship between drug manufacturers and pharmacies. We recommended in earlier posts that all Americans should have access to good quality health care, beginning with a healthcare account at birth. Then, as the patient takes a job, employer plans can be used, but always between jobs or disability the patient is covered.  Medicare should be the first line of insurance for all from birth with employer plans supplementing the main plan.  Medicare should have complete negotiating rights with drug manufacturers to get the best price for all patients.  All health care for profit companies should be barred from buying back stock and wasting money on executives which is better spent reducing prices and increasing the quality of care.

End Offshore Corporate Tax Havens

(Editor Note: Insight Bytes focus on key economic issues and solutions for all of us, on Thursdays we spotlight in more depth Solutions to issues we have identified. Fridays we focus on how to build the Common Good. Please right click on images to see them larger in a separate tab. Click on the Index Topic Name at the beginning of each post to see more posts on that topic on PC or Laptop.)

Image: marylandpirg.org

In 2016, multinational U.S. corporations booked over 50 % of their foreign profits in overseas tax havens.  Whether the profits are made in Casablanca or Singapore corporations are using lax US tax laws and accommodative offshore tax haven laws to book profits where they can’t be taxed at fair share rates.  Note that pre-tax profits viewed as a percentage of wages paid ranged from 200 % in Singapore to 800 % in Ireland!

Sources: The Wall Street Journal, The Daily Shot – 9/12/18

Combine this tax information with the soaring use of stock buybacks by moving dollars from these offshore accounts to juice the price of their stock and we see corporate executives doing a great job of increasing their stock based compensation.

Sources: Compustat, Bloomberg Finance LP, Deutsche Bank, The Wall Street Journal, The Daily Shot – 9/12/18

The US stock market has dramatically diverged from overseas markets where China markets are down in bearish territory at 20 % for the year and emerging markets down close to 18 %. Yet, the  S & P 500 Index of U.S. stocks is up 7.4 % for the year.  With all the uncertainty in emerging country currencies, trade wars, lack of wages, falling home and care sales, the U.S. stock markets keep rising being propped up by stock buybacks. Nearly $1 trillion of buy backs have been announced for the year. Buy back dollars are not going toward raising employee wages which are 312 times lower than CEO wages.

Sources: The Wall Street Journal, The Daily Shot – 9/12/18

Little wonder workers are not getting a fair wage in many industries with corporate executives stashing money overseas where it is out of reach of U.S. tax laws.  Plus, executives are compensated for increasing profits, not increasing wages that would cut into profits.

Next Steps:

Corporations received a windfall from the Tax Bill last year which did not change taxation of U.S. corporate profits overseas, but instead gave corporations a huge one-time tax break on repatriated funds from the listed rate of 35 % to 15.5 % for cash related assets and 8% for illiquid assets.  Many corporations did bring funds back to U.S. this year, yet 70 % of the funds were used for dividends and stock buybacks. Only a small percentage of repatriated funds went to raising worker’s wages which is what CEOs promised they would do when lobbying for the Tax Bill.

It is time for corporate leaders to understand they need to start paying their fair share of U.S. taxes for entities overseas, and they need to pay a share of the cost of our armed forces overseas.  They benefit directly from having safe countries, government protection through embassies and staff and safe passage of cargo worldwide.  Plus, the U.S. government working in partnership with corporations provides businesses opportunities that firms from other countries with less presence don’t enjoy.  U.S. corporations need to pay up, and recognize profits in their respective countries where they do business with a share going to the U.S. government for the offshore benefits they receive.

57M Gig Economy Workers Hit Benefit Limits

(Editor Note: Insight Bytes focus on key economic issues and solutions for all of us, on Thursdays we spotlight in more depth Solutions to issues we have identified. Fridays we focus on how to build the Common Good. Please right click on images to see them larger in a separate tab. Click on the Index Topic Name at the beginning of each post to see more posts on that topic on PC or Laptop.)

Image: thcceomagazine.com

Gig workers create millions of dollars of goods and services for the U.S. economy yet remain frustrated at not picking off a benefits stream for themselves. While, gig economy workers enjoy ‘lifestyle benefits’ they are lacking in good health insurance, retirement plans, stock options and addons like commute cost compensation, discounts at restaurants, staff lunches, evening taxi service, onsite laundry and company cafeteria.  Income is irregular and unpredictable for contractors whether the gig is a project or a longer term assignment with an agency.

In Silicon Valley and many high growth regions jobs in security, food concession, facilities management, IT, accounting, travel, web design, and HR have been outsourced, contracted or shifted to independent contractor roles working in their home. While independent contractors have autonomy and work flexibility they are missing key benefits.  Contingent workers like Uber drivers using the Uber app to find riders and handle billing are essentially working for the company yet not enjoying full time worker benefits.

So, how widespread in our economy is the contractor workforce?  Gallup completed a recent survey and found about 36 % of the workforce is engaged in some type of gig work.

Sources: Gallup, The Wall Street Journal, The Daily Shot – 9/5/18

Seven percent of workers had one traditional job and a gig job while 3 % had two gig type jobs for a total of 10 % with two jobs.  Workers in the bottom 80 % in income have seen their wages actually decline over the past 10 years. So, it is no surprise they need to hold at least two jobs to maintain their standard of living.  The number of workers holding multiple jobs has skyrocketed in the past few years.

Sources: Deutsche Bank, The Wall Street Journal, The Daily Shot – 9/5/18

Note the high during the Great Recession of multiple job holders, and yet today in a strong economy we see a similar peak in workers with multiple jobs.  Is this economy really working for the majority of the labor force?

Next Steps:

The economy has not ‘lifted all boats’, we know that the top 10 % in income received 90 % of the income gains since 2008.  The most recent Tax Bill from Congress benefited the top 1 % and corporations to the tune of a $1 trillion deficit to be paid by all taxpayers who are seeing their incomes and benefits decline.  The gig economy has been a mechanism for corporate executives and their wealthy shareholders to cut costs, pass along retirement benefits responsibility to employees and shut many workers out of profit sharing programs.

We have proposed in previous posts that in addition to raising worker wages, gig economy works would be well served if they received health insurance from birth, a retirement program in tandem with Social Security at the time of a worker’s first job and other income protections.

It is time we recognize that the gig economy is here to stay, it is a key component of the dynamism and flexibility in the workforce to drive growth and innovation – we need to plan for the just needs of workers to make the economy work for all.

Labor is Our Most Productive Asset

 

Image: progressivebumperstickers.com

“Nothing will work unless you do” – Maya Angelou

On Labor Day it is a good time to reflect on our labor force – the people who make our economy go. What has become of labor in America? Does labor hold equal power with capital? No.

Wall Street, the citadel of capital,  wields supreme power focused on profit throughout our economy and control of our government. Corporations pander to financial leaders with ever higher profits manipulated by stock buybacks juicing the value of share prices. Management ensures investors are pleased with financial results using loose financial gimmicks and laying on record debt. While workers have seen their wages stagnate for 30 years since the 1980s.

Executives are handsomely compensated at 300% of the average worker’s wage. Why? They think they ‘are’ the company. At a $400 million biotech firm, this author listened to a VP extoll the value of management over workers, “we have all the power; we decide wages, allocation of resources, when and how work is done, and we can fire them anytime”.  Yet, workers make the company go.  Nothing works until the employees make it work. Managers don’t do the work, they manage the work that is getting done.

Managers are doing what they are compensated to do – increase profits and reduce costs. In Western accounting labor is viewed as an expense while money and machines are viewed as assets. Wait, aren’t employees assets? CEOs are always telling employees at ‘all hands’ meetings they are the companies’ most important asset. Do they treat employees that way?  What about when things get tough; instead of selling equipment, moving out of buildings or reducing executive benefits they lay off employees who can least afford it. Executives need to start treating employees like they are an asset.

Maybe we need to start recognizing labor as an asset from an accounting perspective. When we label capital an asset and labor a cost we are fundamentally placing a higher value on money and a lower value on people. That framework us wrong – if anything it should be the other way around. Because people create value in corporations not money. Money does not come up with the latest innovation or new process or service – people do. We need to require corporations to report on how they are building employees as assets and worker contribution to increasing company value.  The next step is for Wall Street to recognize social responsibility in their investments as Blackrock, CEO Larry Fink, has in a letter to CEOs of companies in their portfolio that he will be looking beyond profit, for implementation of policies by management in sustainability and worker advancement.

Unfortunately labor power is at an all-time low when in a great ‘boom’ economy now the 80 % in income have experienced declining wages since the Great Recession. On Labor Day we need to dig deep and renew our commitment to recognizing labor must share equally in all corporate prosperity.

Our Internet Purchases Are Private, Let’s Keep It That Way

(Editor Note: Insight Bytes focus on key economic issues and solutions for all of us, on Thursdays we spotlight in more depth Solutions to issues we have identified. Fridays we focus on how to build the Common Good. Please right click on images to see them larger in a separate tab. Click on the Index Topic Name at the beginning of each post to see more posts on that topic on PC or Laptop.)

Image: scienceprogress.org

A year ago, Mastercard sold consumer store transaction data to Google, who sells the store transaction information and correlates it to searches for the same product or service to advertisers.  Advertisers can see patterns in consumer behavior from the ads that are run and whether a prospective buyer went to the store to buy the item or online (online tracking databases). This strategy by Google is focused on Amazon’s business, and their recent moves into in store retail to dominate emerging sectors.

Google is dominant in digital advertising:

Sources: eMarker, Recode – 2018

In digital advertising Google has 2 times the share of its next largest competitor – Facebook.  In mobile advertising, Google has a 1.5 times greater share of the advertising business. In short, Google is the digital advertising player for most advertisers to work with, and Google is interested in maintaining that dominant position versus possible competitors like Amazon. Amazon now has 50 % of the eCommerce business in the U.S. The eCommerce behemoth is in a position to both track consumer behavior and offer point of decision purchase capabilities.

So, what does this mean for us as users and our privacy?  Google is no longer a company just setting up a partnering relationship with Mastercard, they are controlling the retail market and manipulating data to put us under constant surveillance. We did not give our permission to Google to constantly put us under surveillance.  It is dangerous to our private lives to have a big corporation or partners knowing everything we are doing and buying.  What happens if hackers break into these databases and begin to use the data to find us or siphon off our purchases or find out our transaction information or credit card data?

Next Steps:

First principle is that we own our data, and we own the patterns of our searches that is our propriety information because it is our behavior and is not owned by the company. When users search on Google, they are looking for an idea, a product or a service or a person – not to be spied on.  Recently, Google was still keeping user location even when the user turned off  location services.  A couple of years ago Google tracked words in user email messages and sold the information to advertisers, so if a user mentioned their child’s bike, all the sudden bike ads were showing up in the side bar – they finally ended this practice after a lot of complaints it was just too spooky.

Second, Google and Internet companies can’t build trust with users if they are constantly telling us one thing and doing something else to their benefit and not ours. The U.S. should look at implementation of a policy like the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) plan which could be widened to include schemes like the Google – Mastercard deal. The GDPR provides users with control over their personal data and how or if it may be transmitted outside of the country. The GDPR policy particularly focuses on personally identifiable information and how this information is to be handled in a confidential manner, not disclosed to third parties and the information made anonymous to outsiders.  In a provision we particularly like the information processor (ie Google) must enable users to be able to erase their information on the system.

We need to take a stand as a user community that user rights come first. User’s own their data not the processors.  Users should have control over any processing of that data and who has access to their personal data. Otherwise, we are opening our citizens to corporate spying for any reason, and targeting of the linked Mastercard – Google profile data to hackers.

Workers Facing High Prices, Stagnant Wages Are Taking On Debt

 

Image: guardiandebtrelief.com

Worker pay continues to stagnant. Yet, companies are raising prices.  The price increases are due to tariff based supplier cost increases and government tax credits juicing the economy.  The Federal Reserve survey for July in the Philadelphia area showed that manufacturers plan on raising prices by 3 % versus 2 % last year.

Source: HIS Markit, Bloomberg – 8/28/18

How did companies get this pricing power?  Corporations have received a $1 trillion tax cut,  reduced regulations by the Trump administration, less oversight by the EPA, and less scrutiny on mergers.  Companies are at the zenith of their power allowing them to raise prices, keep wages low – below inflation, while increasing profits and executive compensation.

Source Bureau of Labor Statistics, Bloomberg – 8/24/18

Worker economic power continues to wane, as real wages actually turned negative this past month. Worker share of income as a percentage of non-farm business income is at a 70-year low even in a strong economy.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Bloomberg Businessweek, The Wall Street Journal, The Daily Shot – 8/27/18

How are consumers handling the budget shortfall?  By borrowing, the debt as a percentage of income of the bottom 80 %  is 4 times the debt of the top 20 %.

Most of this debt is in the form of credit card, auto loans and home equity lines of credit.  Home owners have done a better job keeping their first mortgages in line with incomes this year versus the housing bubble of 2008.

Next Steps:

Caught between high prices and flat real wages, consumers are filling the budget gap by piling on debt. Companies are getting even richer from both sides of making a profit – increasing income by raising prices and reduced costs by keeping worker wages low.

Why is this vise tightening on worker budgets?  Corporations are accumulating power every day at an ever increasing rate; buying other companies, issuing stock backs to hype stock price, increasing lobbying budgets to get the federal government to make rules that tip their way, consolidating supply channels, distributing manufacturing world-wide and automating every job they can conceive be done by a robot.  Prices are rising due to tariffs in many industries, the wide spread use of tariffs on some consumer goods, contagion of one product category to another (tit for tat) and shrinking channels of distribution reducing price competition.

Meantime, workers continue to lose power at even faster rate than corporations gain power.  Wages have been stagnant for 20 years for the bottom 80 % in income.  We have outlined in previous posts why wages have actually declined – rise of corporate power, fewer unions, automation, mergers in the same industry reduce the overall number of jobs, increased availability of candidates over the Internet, outsourcing, and the gig economy.  Workers are getting some relief in the gig economy with lawsuits to recognize Uber drivers as employees, but it is a tough long slog through the courts.  Overall, most court decisions are favoring companies in reducing union power, allowing companies to give millions to campaigns unchecked (Citizens United case) and overtime pay.

Eventually prices will rise too high for declining incomes causing consumer spending to fall. Consumer spending has been falling this year, with the most recent decline announced today, as a revised downward revision to 3.8 % in 2nd quarter.

Sources: BEA, Factset – 6/1/18

Remember, corporate executives are compensated handsomely for what?  Making more profit by increasing income and reducing costs.  Workers, after all the PR from executives are viewed as a cost when managers get into salary and compensation review meetings. Workers are being squeezed between low wages and increasing prices nationally to feed the ever increasing profit making systems of corporations. Until, we as a society start to see that workers need to be an equal partner in corporate management, sharing in profits and benefits things will not change.  Without workers receiving a fair share of the economic pie, the common good will suffer and will lead to civil unrest and a contracting economy when consumer spending evaporates. The economic reality is that the U.S. economy is not working for the bottom 80 % and until it does we are faced with major disruptions in our economic life.

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