Jeremy Grantham Exposes The Corporatocracy: America’s “Run By Those Guys For Their Own Interests”

america the corporatocracy

Have profit margins risen to a permanently higher plateau? Are average Americans better off than they were a generation ago? I had the opportunity to discuss those questions, which are centrally important to investing and economic policy, with Jeremy Grantham a couple of weeks ago.

The discussion took place as part of a larger interview about climate-change investing. Grantham is the co-founder and chief investment strategist of Boston-based Grantham Mayo Van Otterloo (GMO).

It’s been widely reported that over the last 20 years the number of publicly traded companies has decreased by about 50%. The common explanations center on the fact that the number of de-listings, mergers, acquisitions and bankruptcies have outstripped the initial public offerings (IPOs).

But I wanted to know if there was a deeper explanation related to the fact that corporate profit margins are at historical highs. Over the last dozen years, with the exception of the financial crisis, profit margins have been between 9% and 11% of GDP. Prior to that, the last time they were above 9% was in 1951.

The U.S. economy has become more concentrated in the service and technology sectors, which are inherently more profitable than the manufacturing businesses that dominated 50 years ago. Those business, like Amazon, Apple and Google have built incredibly strong, near-monopolistic franchises that should translate to higher margins.

If the market has become dominated with highly profitable, monopolistic franchises, then maybe that is why there are fewer companies and profit markets are no longer “the most mean-reverting series in finance,” as Grantham once claimed.

GMO has looked at this issue extensively. As Grantham noted, “profit margins and return on sales will vary much depending on whether you are in the supermarket business or whether you are in some software company. There is no average to which it moves.”

But that doesn’t necessarily mean that returns for equities will be greater going forward. As Grantham explained, higher margins will attract more capital and reduce the returns relative to other asset classes. “If your capital is returning more in this area than the other area then capital will flow and balance it out,” he said.

Higher margins have been offered as an explanation, by Grantham and others, for why the cyclically adjusted price-earnings (CAPE) ratio is higher than its historical average. But CAPE ratios depend on other factors, such as real interest rates, so margins only tell part of the story.

Grantham said that the monopoly factor has increased margins “a bit.” “Corporate power as exercised through Congress, particularly in the U.S., has clearly increased the total domination of regulatory boards by the industries. Regulations have gone from being concerning to laughable, and totally run by those guys for their own interests,” he said.

Grantham is far more concerned about the societal impacts of unchecked capitalism than he is with its effect on margins. “We are seeing a flowering of corporatism where government is designed to maximize the opportunities of giant influential companies and industries that spend a lot of money lobbying,” he said. “We continue down that primrose path today with yet another cycle of deregulating designed to help corporations.”

Grantham spoke about the “punishing consequences” that tax cuts and deregulation will have on the general public. He said that “maximizing the returns and the share of the pie going to corporations and the superrich is deplorable and has terrible effects on the economy in the long run. The average person in the street doesn’t have the buying power increments that they used to have.”

American prosperity

But is the average American really losing buying power? On this point, Grantham and I disagreed. Whether you go back 10, 20 or 40 years, I contend the standard of living for Americans has increased enormously.

Grantham, however, said that in terms of general well-being and happiness, Americans are worse off.`

“If you do your best to control for everything and measure happiness, this is not a particularly happy country,” Grantham said. “It is not entirely dependent on income by any means, and we have not improved.”

He acknowledged a couple areas where Americans are better off – entertainment, such as high-tech computer games, and medicine, where he said progress in drugs and technology are keeping people alive longer. To those I would add food, in light of the advances in the quality and variety of choices in cuisine, and transportation, considering the speed and safety at which we can travel by car, plane and other means.

But Grantham said that the average worker has not been paid more since 1974 for an hour’s work. “Does he feel more content, or does he feel extremely frustrated by his relative lack of progress compared to others?” he asked, rhetorically. “There is no doubt that he is more frustrated. The suicide rate in that group has gone way up. The drug addiction has gone way up.”

Indeed, he said there are all the indications of a “thoroughly miserable middle America.”

Read More: https://www.advisorperspectives.com/articles/2018/01/08/jeremy-grantham-on-profit-margins-and-american-prosperity

The Colonization of Local-Business Main Street by Corporate America: Charles Hugh Smith

Employment Under the New World Order

This is what our mode of production optimizes: ugliness, debt-serfdom, and servitude to politically dominant corporations.

An insightful correspondent recently remarked on the striking transition of American neighborhoods from commercial districts dominated by locally owned businesses to streets lined with look-alike outlets of Corporate America. This transition is so obvious that few even comment on it, much less ask if this wholesale replacement is in the best interests of residents and consumers.

I have long suggested starting any inquiry with a simple question: cui bono— to whose benefit? Let’s add a second essential question: what does the system optimize?

By this I mean: what is optimized by the infrastructure, regulations, political structure, etc.–what we call the mode of production.
I think it’s abundantly clear that our mode of production optimizes large-scale global corporations, which have access to the capital and expertise needed to optimize production, management, employee training and discipline, supply chains and the purchase of political influence.

The net result of nearly-free credit for corporations is a Corporatocracy that constantly expands its financial and political power. Governments come and go, candidates come and go, and political movements come and go, but the Corporatocracy remains at the top of the power pyramid because it can always afford to “buy” as much democracy as it needs for the state to protect its power and profits.

Our mode of production optimizes the commoditization of everything: computer chips, fish and chips, labor, expertise, everything. It’s very convenient if you have a reliable vehicle; if not, tough luck–convenience is for those with cars.
If you want a burger that’s essentially identical everywhere in the nation–i.e. a burger that has been ruthlessly commoditized–then Corporate America’s fast food chains are the place to go.
If you want a hotel room that’s identical to hundreds of other rooms, a store that has identical items and nearly identical layout no matter which outlet you enter– Corporate America’s chains are the place to go.
That this commoditization / homogenization has consequences other than low prices and convenience is not advertised. One consequence is every town and street in the country looks alike: a garish row of one corporate outpost after another.
The ugliness of this commoditized wasteland is so obvious that it’s assumed to be unavoidable.

Trust Joker Brand! – 10 companies control the food industry – Oxfam Graphic

1989's Joker says, "With Joker Brand I get a smile again and again."Joker for Joker Brand

Oxfam International sounds cheery about global corporate monopolies turning the world into sick and lethargic, clowns.

How many of these products contain cheap chemicals banned in other countries but still used in the US and developing markets to increase corporate profits?

Behind the Brands Illustration | Oxfam International | These 10 companies own hundreds of consumer brands.

 

By Anna Kramer
December 10, 2014

It sounds like a conspiracy theory, but it’s true: There really are 10 companies that control most of the food and drinks you’ll find in the grocery store. Between them, these giants—whose revenues add up to more than a billion dollars a day—own hundreds of common brands, from Cheerios to Ben & Jerry’s, Odwalla to Tropicana. (See the infographic above to learn more.)

Read More on Oxfam: https://www.oxfamamerica.org/explore/stories/these-10-companies-make-a-lot-of-the-food-we-buy-heres-how-we-made-them-better/