Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Debunking “monopoly capital”.

Refocusing on the essence of creating wealth and value for all.

One cannot legitimately apply the word “monopoly” to generic concepts such as “capital”. I’ve been guilty myself, and it’s nothing more than sloppy thinking or emotive spin if it is aimed at the multi-dimensional accumulation and deployment of money. That has many forms: governments, central banks, financial services and banks, institutional investors, holding companies, multi-nationals and very large companies. If “monopoly” means being a protected sole supplier, that certainly cannot apply to the above, apart perhaps from the first two. Ownership is even more widely dispersed than control.

The real issue is the increasing concentration of capital control in fewer hands, with most behaving in the same way and to the extent of exacerbating inequality, exclusion and social discord under the pretext of an academic hallucinogen that capital is scarce. (See article here). This has been covered many times. Enough to be confident with the generalisation that in rent seeking and chasing capital gains, many players have diverted efforts away from funding the production of goods and services, or value creation. This has virtually closed the taps of “trickle down” and advancing inclusive economic growth. It has spawned another fanciful folly – that monetary machinations and policies can generate prosperity.

Small wonder then that most believe that if you control capital, you control everything, including the destiny of a country. That reflects a basic misunderstanding of wealth creation itself: that it is about printing money; or the outcome of a lucky strike at a hedge fund casino; cooked in a financial advisor’s brew; or that it is solely embodied in profit. And then we miss the majesty of economics: that wealth is created by usefulness to others and concretised in legitimate commercial transaction.   

We do not need scare tactics and deflections of “radical economic transformation” to reboot our economy. As I wrote in my previous article, a giant leap can be achieved by radical government transformation. But capital concentration certainly also has to be addressed to promote inclusive growth. That’s being interrogated on a global scale, including global finance, fickle capital mobility and tax evasion. It would be wise to tap those experiences before rushing to controls and prescriptions with a giant meat cleaver in the hands of a predator slashing at some personified spook.

In retelling the untold story of the ancient and still benevolent design of the wealth creation process, I have extrapolated a Contribution Account© or Inclusivity Statement© for the mining industry, based on the PWC 2016 survey. I have had to make some assumptions regarding personal income tax and depreciation, and roughly rounded the figures to make indexing to R100 easier. None detract from the essential conclusions. 

Outside supplies
Wealth created
Owners’ dividend
R  4

Mining is volatile but the picture has not changed all that much since the decline in commodity prices. In addition, in my own experience over many years with many companies, as well as the national statistics, the principles can be applied at a national average. The conclusion is quite simple: in most cases owners as a group receive the least cash benefit from an enterprise.

In the above example, 2/3rds of the revenue goes to outside suppliers – creating multiple opportunities for others. Then, for every R4 investors receive in cash, workers (including management) get R53, and the state receives R22. There’s always some ambivalence around “reinvestment” which technically belongs to the owners, but it has a contributory nature in ensuring sustainability.

What is the thinking behind the proposed mining charter in trying to mess with that model? What possesses organised labour to be oblivious to the delicate balance of wealth distribution and its impact on wealth creation? What tempts policy makers, sometimes with the blessing of organised commerce, to hamstring it with invasive transformation surgery and prescriptions? And wherefrom the populist business bashing rhetoric?

By their very nature, private enterprises are the most inclusive of all collectives. They can be made even more so if the participants decide by themselves and for themselves how wealth creation should be distributed. They have more power to do so than they may believe, and where not, should be demanding it.

That’s not to say that within the model itself there are no legitimate concerns about its make-up and behaviour – including pay disparities, people development and empowerment, and demographic representation. But if those concerns threaten the viability, flexibility and sustainability of the model, it will destroy wealth creation itself. Then prosperity and jobs evaporate. It also goes some way in explaining why capital finds more attractive suitors than investment in productive capacity.

But that’s not the whole truth. Business too has failed to subscribe fully to the wisdom of ages that contribution creates reward. It defines and motivates itself by maximum reward, adding insult to injury by narrowing that focus to one stakeholder, the shareholder. In that it has invited a considerable degree of constraining prescriptions; business bashing and declining sympathy of common folk who, at one time or another have experienced the blinkered business view as customer neglect or exploitation. The damage has been substantial – in reputation, unrealistic expectations and flexibility.

But that can be turned around quickly and effortlessly by adopting the principles of a common purpose in service to customers and a common fate in sharing the fortunes that befall it. On the contribution side, the disastrous monster of the 80’s – the agency model, which encouraged executives to “think like owners” and rewarded them excessively for doing so – can be converted into “think like customers”. That supports income or turnover in most non primary producers. If you add a further discipline of prudence in outside purchases, you have created the most powerful dynamic of increasing wealth, and therefore rewards for all. You can see this dynamic work in the first three lines of the above table: increase revenue by 10%; decrease outside costs by 10%, and wealth creation jumps by 50%!

But the real problem lies in wealth distribution. Obsession with reward turns the model on its head, and invites all kinds of external and powerful prescriptions from government, organised labour and capital.  It then becomes inflexible and often parasitic.  There are two simple conditions for optimal wealth distribution – meet the legitimate expectations of all of the stakeholders and ensure continued contribution. (See graphic example here). These can be managed and indeed, in my experience, are quite malleable if the decisions are left to the stakeholders themselves. Emphasis on wealth creation before distribution, and making the latter as flexible and sustainable as possible, is the most promising inclusive solution to job creation and retention.

At the very least, it will detract from the misguided notion that owning or controlling capital creates wealth.

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