Thursday, August 4, 2011

Who rules America?

An Investment Manager's View on the Top 1% contains a bunch of interesting factoids, mostly on what separates the working rich, the bottom half of the top 1% from the more elite fractions of the wealth distribution.

Since the majority of those in this group actually earned their money from professions and smaller businesses, they generally don't participate in the benefits big money enjoys. Those in the 99th to 99.5th percentile lack access to power.
...the American dream of striking it rich is merely a well-marketed fantasy that keeps the bottom 99.5% hoping for better and prevents social and political instability. The odds of getting into that top 0.5% are very slim and the door is kept firmly shut by those within it.
The picture is clear; entry into the top 0.5% and, particularly, the top 0.1% is usually the result of some association with the financial industry and its creations. I find it questionable as to whether the majority in this group actually adds value or simply diverts value from the US economy and business into its pockets and the pockets of the uber-wealthy who hire them. They are, of course, doing nothing illegal.
Wall Street created the investment products that produced gross economic imbalances and the 2008 credit crisis. It wasn't the hard-working 99.5%. Average people could only destroy themselves financially, not the economic system. There's plenty of blame to go around, but the collapse was primarily due to the failure of complex mortgage derivatives, CDS credit swaps, cheap Fed money, lax regulation, compromised ratings agencies, government involvement in the mortgage market, the end of the Glass-Steagall Act in 1999, and insufficient bank capital. Only Wall Street could put the economy at risk and it had an excellent reason to do so: profit. It made huge profits in the build-up to the credit crisis and huge profits when it sold itself as "too big to fail" and received massive government and Federal Reserve bailouts. Most of the serious economic damage the U.S. is struggling with today was done by the top 0.1% and they benefited greatly from it.

This comes from a blog called Who rules America? in support of a book of same name, by G. William Domhoff, a sociologist at UC Santa Cruz. Interestingly, the link was posted on Hacker News. A comment referenced the theory of control-fraud, developed by William K. Black, author of The Best Way to Rob a Bank is to Own One.

White-collar criminology findings falsify several neo-classical economic theories. This paper discusses the predictive failures of the efficient markets hypothesis, the efficient contracts hypothesis and the law & economics theory of corporate law. The paper argues that neo-classical economists' reliance on these flawed models leads them to recommend policies that optimize a criminogenic environment for control fraud.

...which just goes to prove the point that you can't separate economics from politics. Susceptibility to corruption is a huge factor in the success or failure of economic systems, or more accurately systems of political economy.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Making the patent system even worse

The economist explains the state of the US patent system like this:

At a time when our future affluence depends so heavily on innovation, we have drifted toward a patent regime that not only fails to fulfill its justifying function, to incentivise innovation, but actively impedes innovation. We rarely directly confront the effects of this immense waste of resources and brainpower and the attendant retardation of the pace of discovery, but it affect us all the same. It makes us all poorer and helps keep us stuck in the great stagnation.

Congress is in the process of passing a "first-to-file system". It's hard to see this as anything but a gift to big corporations. Writing in Foreign Policy, Clyde Prestowitz calls the Americans Invent act, "...a bill likely to cut the heart out of our innovative, entrepreneurial culture...". Even the pro-patent group American Innovators for patent reform says,

American Innovators for Patent Reform is opposed to the America Invents Act and we urge the House of Representatives to draft an entirely new law that truly addresses what needs to be reformed. The America Invents Act was crafted by lobbyists for the large corporations that are notorious infringers of patents!


Canada made the switch to first-to-file in 1989, and a 2009 study from researchers at Canada’s McGill University’s Department of Economics found that the change “failed to stimulate Canadian R&D efforts” and “skewed the ownership structure of patented inventions towards large corporations, away from independent inventors and small businesses.

It looks like the US patent system is about to become even more screwed up.

Nice work as usual, congress.

BTW, Mimi & Eunice is a work of genius

More links

A political economy

A recent piece in the Economist ( A new anthology of essays reconsiders Thomas Piketty’s “Capital” , May 20, 2107) ends with these words: &q...