Big Firms Can Benefit Consumers

(p. A15) Mr. Wu writes with elegance, conviction, knowledge–and certitude. But he goes over the top in his effort to slay the dragon of the so-called Chicago School of antitrust analysis, which finds its clearest expression in the late Robert Bork’s influential 1978 book, “The Antitrust Paradox.” Bork and the Chicago School insist that “consumer welfare” should be the sole standard for antitrust law. Nothing else matters.
. . .
The deeper source of philosophical disagreement, however, lies in Mr. Wu’s self-proclaimed “neo-Brandeisian” attack on Bork’s underlying worldview. First, Mr. Wu claims that Bork’s consumer-welfare theory shows too little solicitude toward the small businessman, who can be steamrolled by larger businesses with greater economic power. Second, Mr. Wu claims that Bork’s thesis ignores the perverse influence that dominant firms exercise on the overall political system.
Against both challenges, Bork’s position holds up reasonably well. As to the first, the protection of the small businessman comes at a high price. It forces consumers to do business with small firms that may well have a local geographical monopoly, which would be undercut by a larger firm offering better goods at lower prices.
. . .
Similarly, both Brandeis and Mr. Wu have an oversimplified vision of political markets, for economic dominance need not translate into political dominance. Companies like Google and Facebook today enjoy dominant positions with their search engines or social-media platforms, but they face massive political opposition, not only from regulatory authorities but also from skilled political operatives–activist groups, litigation centers, unions, trade associations–who can make their lives a public-relations nightmare.
. . .
Finally, Mr. Wu’s Brandeis fixation blinds him to the distinctive features of modern antitrust litigation, which must contend with often complicated economic arrangements and effects. When American Express tried to prevent its merchants from steering their customers to credit-card companies that charge lower fees to retailers, it was hit with an antitrust lawsuit. But the Supreme Court this year upheld the policy, claiming that it didn’t result in an abuse of market power but was pro-competitive because of indirect effects that improved the benefits to Amex card holders. With his over-concern with bigness per se, Brandeis had nothing to say about these novel issues, and neither, alas, does Mr. Wu.

For the full review, see:
Richard A. Epstein. “BOOKSHELF; Revisiting the Gilded Age; Are Google, Facebook, Apple and Amazon akin to the dominant “trusts” of the late 19th century–and thus deserving of antitrust action?” The Wall Street Journal (Monday, Dec. 3, 2018): A15.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the review has the date Dec. 2, 2018, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; ‘The Curse of Bigness’ Review: Revisiting the Gilded Age; Are Google, Facebook, Apple and Amazon akin to the dominant “trusts” of the late 19th century–and thus deserving of antitrust action?”)

The book under review, is:
Wu, Tim. The Curse of Bigness: Antitrust in the New Gilded Age. New York: Columbia Global Reports, 2018.

The Bork book mentioned in the review, is:
Bork, Robert H. The Antitrust Paradox: A Policy at War with Itself. New York: The Free Press, 1993 [first published 1978].

Regulations to Keep Herds Small May Destroy Reindeer Herding

(p. A6) Jovsset Ante Sara, a boyish-looking 26-year-old, knows his section of the tundra as if it were a city grid, every hill and valley familiar, the land acquired over generations through the meticulous work of his ancestors.
He can tell his reindeer from any others by their unique earmark. And he and his family need them to live and preserve their claim to the land as well as their traditions.
That’s why, Mr. Sara says, he has refused to abide by Norwegian laws, passed more than a decade ago, that limit the size of reindeer herds. The measure was taken, the government says, to prevent overgrazing.
Mr. Sara’s herd was capped at 75. So every year, if the herd grows, he must pare it down. At least, those are the rules. He has refused to cull his 350 to 400 reindeer, and took the government to court.
. . .
For decades, the Norwegian government has designated reindeer herding as an exclusively Sami activity, providing herding licenses tied to ancestral lands.
The regulations limiting herd sizes were passed in 2007, forcing Sami to eliminate 30 percent of their reindeer at the time.
Mr. Sara said the limits have been devastating. If he obeyed the limit, he said, he would make only $4,700 to $6,000 a year.
“Clearly it’s not possible to make a living as the job has become quite expensive, requiring snowmobiles and all the equipment that goes along with that,” he said.
The law also states that any herders who are no longer profitable can lose their license. But that is not all Mr. Sara said he would lose.
“I would lose everything my ancestors worked their entire lives to create for us today,” he said. “I will lose the land.”

For the full story, see:
Nadia Shira Cohen. “The Hinterlands Where Reindeer Are a Way of Life.” The New York Times (Monday, Dec. 17, 2018): A6.
(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed date, added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date Dec. 16, 2018, and has the title “NORWAY DISPATCH; Where Reindeer Are a Way of Life.”)

Low Interest Rates Increased Zombie Firms After Economic Crisis of 2008

ZombieFirmsIncreaseGraph2018-10-03.png

Source of graph: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. A1) Italian clothing maker and retailer Stefanel SpA became famous for its knitted coats and cardigans.

Many economists, investors and bankers know Stefanel as something starkly different: a zombie company. It has posted an annual loss for nine of the last 10 years and restructured its bank debt at least six times, including several grace periods when Stefanel only had to pay interest on what it owed.
After booming during Italy’s post-World War II expansion, Stefanel and its lumbering factories were overwhelmed by Spanish fast-fashion giant Zara and then battered by the economic slowdown that hit Italy in 2008.
Stefanel is still alive but staggering. So are hundreds of other chronically unprofitable, highly indebted companies being kept afloat with new infusions from lenders and shareholders, especially in Southern Europe.
Economists and central bankers say zombies undercut prices charged by healthier competitors, create artificial barriers to entry and prevent the flushing out of (p. A10) weak companies and bad loans that typically happens after downturns.
Now that the European economy is in growth mode, those zombies and their related debt problems could become a drag on the entire continent.
“The zombification of the corporate sector and banks [is] a risk for future living standards,” Klaas Knot, a European Central Bank governor and the head of the Dutch central bank, said in an interview.
. . .
In some ways, zombie firms are an unintended side effect of years of easy money from the ECB, which rolled out aggressive stimulus policies, including negative interest rates, to support lending and growth. Those policies have been sharply criticized in some richer eurozone countries for making it easier for banks to keep struggling corporate borrowers alive.

For the full story, see:
Eric Sylvers and Tom Fairless. “Zombie Companies Haunt Europe’s Economic Recovery.” The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, November 16, 2017): A1 & A10.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the article has the date Nov. 15, 2017, and the title “A Specter Is Haunting Europe’s Recovery: Zombie Companies.”)

Wrecking Ball for Bureaucracy That “Is Killing the Country”

(p. B4) America’s big tech companies are facing some of their toughest political challenges as they flirt with or surpass trillion-dollar valuations. Before lawmakers try to rein them in, Reid Hoffman argues government officials better be careful what they wish for.
Mr. Hoffman was chief operating officer of PayPal while it was still a small payments startup before he co-founded the professional social-network LinkedIn.
. . .
WSJ: You’re vociferously opposed to President Trump and even commissioned an anti-Trump card game. Does Silicon Valley have a problem with liberal bias?
Mr. Hoffman: I do think that there is a reflexive bias to liberalism that causes discomfort. I think you have that kind of left bias within the Silicon Valley culture, too, which is, “I’m so convinced that’s idiotic, I’m not listening to anything about it.” And that’s the problem. The problem is not actively listening. But that’s human. It’s not only here. Part of the reason [for strong negative reactions] to Trump is the flat-out lies.
WSJ: When you talk politics with Peter Thiel, PayPal’s co-founder and a well-known Trump supporter, what are those conversations like?
Mr. Hoffman: He’s a friend of mine, but we’ve disagreed about politics since we were college undergraduates. One thing we argue about is how much does Trump lie? I’ve been trying to advance him the case that there’s always been some lying around politicians, but Trump is one or two orders of magnitude worse than ever before. He says Obama is a bigger liar than Trump–based on, for example, the claim that under Obamacare you’d be able to spend as much time with your primary doctor as you did before Obamacare.
Peter thinks that the bureaucracy is killing the country and that you need a wrecking ball to shake it up, and maybe Trump is the only wrecking ball you get. His pro-Trump arguments are that someone needed to stand up to China. Trump at least is, [while] everyone else gave it lip service.

For the full interview, see:
Rolfe Winkler, interviewer. “A Silicon Valley Warning.” The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, Sept. 27, 2018): B4.
(Note: ellipsis added; bolded and bracketed words in original.)
(Note: the online version of the interview has the date Sept. 26, 2018, and the title “LinkedIn’s Co-Founder Warns of Perils in Regulating Big Tech.” The last question and answer quoted above, is included in the online, but not the print, version of the interview.)

AMD Chips Leapfrog Intel Chips

(p. B2) A.M.D.’s shares are easily the best performing among the chip makers in the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index.
That is quite a reversal.
. . .
For years, A.M.D. produced processors whose main attraction was price. When Lisa Su took over as chief executive of the company in 2014, she sought to change that. But in the semiconductor industry, new products take years to develop, and so the efforts have only recently borne fruit.
The company’s Ryzen chips, used in high-performance enterprise and gaming computers, outperform Intel’s flagship processors. Many computer makers, including Acer, Asus, Dell, HP, Huawei, Lenovo and Samsung, have begun using them in their devices.

For the full story, see:

Jamie Condliffe. “Chip Maker, Once Lagging, Outpaces Its Competitors.” The New York Times (Saturday, Aug. 25, 2018): B2.

(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date Aug. 24, 2018, and has the title “Why A.M.D.’s Stock Is Outperforming Intel’s.”)

For Job Creation, Firm Youth and Fast Growth Matter More than Small Size

(p. C3) Economist David Birch of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology claimed in the late 1970s–inaccurately, as it turned out–that small businesses were the jobs engine of the economy, which allowed advocates to argue that aid to small businesses was a driver of economic growth. This narrative was reinforced by the wave of startups in the tech sector in the 1980s and 1990s. By 2000, all new businesses, no matter how technologically primitive or undercapitalized, were being called startups. A new biotech company was a startup, but so was a new three-person lawn-mowing business. Only child-labor laws prevented lemonade stands from being classified as startups, too.
A 2010 study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research showed, however, that it is the age of a firm, not its size, that matters for job creation. Just as children grow faster than adults, young firms grow faster than mature ones.
. . .
Government at every level can certainly do more to eliminate unnecessary regulations and to streamline those regulations that serve crucial public ends. But such reforms should benefit all businesses, regardless of size.
. . .
Beyond the injustice of it, small-business favoritism reverberates throughout the economy, slowing growth in two ways. First, subsidies and other size-based industrial policies slow productivity growth by enabling less efficient small firms to gain more market share than would otherwise be the case. Second, discriminatory policies provide an incentive for small firms to remain small. Why add five more workers when doing so would subject you to a host of new regulations and restrict your access to government handouts?

For the full commentary, see:
Robert D. Atkinson and Michael Lind. “Stop Propping Up Small Business.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, April 7, 2018): C3.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date April 6, 2018.)

The commentary quoted above, is based on:
Atkinson,‎ Robert D., and Michael Lind. Big Is Beautiful: Debunking the Myth of Small Business. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2018.

The published version of the 2010 National Bureau of Economic Research working paper, mentioned above, is:
Haltiwanger, John C., Ron S. Jarmin, and Javier Miranda. “Who Creates Jobs? Small Vs. Large Vs. Young.” Review of Economics and Statistics 95, no. 2 (May 2013): 347-61.

China Will Fail to Corner the Lithium Market

(p. B12) Since emerging as an industrial superpower in the 2000s, China has repeatedly tried to lock up essential resources like iron ore and so-called rare earths. The latest example is lithium, a key battery element: . . . .
. . .
The reality is more mundane.
. . .
. . . it will take just $13 billion in investment to satisfy annual lithium consumption as of 2030, against more $100 billion for nickel and copper.
Even if only a relatively small amount of mining capital spending migrates from mainstays like iron ore into lithium over the next decade, supply probably won’t be a huge problem.

For the full story, see:
Nathaniel Taplin. “China Won’t Be Able to Dominate Lithium Mining Forever.” The Wall Street Journal (Friday, May 18, 2018): B12.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date May 17, 2018, and has the title “China Won’t Dominate Lithium Forever.” The last sentence quoted above appeared in the online, but not in the print, version of the article.)