Monday, October 30, 2017

Asher Schechter — UN Study Warns: Growing Economic Concentration Leads to “Rentier Capitalism”

Earlier this year, a Stigler Center paper by Luigi Zingales [Faculty Director of the Stigler Center and one of the editors of this blog] argued that market concentration can lead to a vicious circle, in which companies use market power to gain political power that in turn allows them to gain more market power, and vice versa. Zingales called this the “Medici vicious circle”: “Money is used to gain political power and political power is then used to make more money.”

A new UN report shows that this vicious circle is now a prominent feature of the global economy. Thirty years of hyperglobalization, according to the report, have led to sharp increases in global market concentration and a proliferation of rentierism, whereby the world’s largest corporations attempt to protect their market power through a variety of rent-seeking activities, such as lobbying or systematic abuse of intellectual property laws. While many of these companies are headquartered in the United States, the “endemic rent-seeking that stems from market concentration, heightened corporate power, and regulatory capture” has spread much further, leading to the emergence of “global rentier capitalism.”...
Neoliberalism = rentier capitalism
UNCTAD’s research is among the first to assess the rise in market concentration on an international scale. It also attempts to measure the growth of rents—that is, the income that large companies derive solely from the ownership and control of assets, rather than from innovation.

In order to do that, UNCTAD built a database comprised of financial statements made by publicly traded non-financial companies in 56 developed and developing countries between 1995 and 2015. Measuring the size of corporate rents is difficult due to the scarcity of data and the wide variety of rent-seeking activities companies can engage in, but the UNCTAD research team tries to approximate their magnitude by estimating surplus profits within specific sectors. Using the median value of firms’ rate of return on assets (ROA), they estimate the median performance of firms within a given industry. The difference between this estimate and the actual profits firms made is the surplus profit....
Market power begets political power, which begets further market power....
Throughout history, Blankenburg notes, economists and political theorists, from Adam Smith to John Maynard Keynes, have raised concerns that capitalism has a tendency to be captured by rentiers. The UNCTAD report echoes these historical concerns. “Rentier capitalism means that there isn’t just a few annoying rentiers in some countries that a bit of government intervention can rein in or neutralize,” says Blankenburg. “It is becoming an endemic part of capitalism, a new normal—at least for powerful corporations.”
The authors offer several remedies to tackle the rise of market power, among them tougher antitrust enforcement, the revision of existing trade agreements (and avoidance of signing new ones), and labor market interventions that focus on reducing inequality. “A good start,” they write, “would be to recognize that both knowledge and competition are first and foremost global public goods, and that their manipulation for private profit should be effectively regulated.”
ProMarket — The blog of the Stigler Center at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business
UN Study Warns: Growing Economic Concentration Leads to “Rentier Capitalism”
Asher Schechter

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