Thursday, July 14, 2016

Monopolies Versus the Value in Use Option

In "The Costs of Monopoly: A New View", James Schmitz Jr. of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis writes:
Imagine what types of substitutes a monopoly might try to weaken or eliminate. It would not go after those with broad political support. Rather, it would target those with little support, those purchased by politically disadvantaged low-income segments of the population.
Consequently, some of the damage from monopoly is actually hidden from the middle class, even though it often affects them just the same, since lower income levels end up competing with them for (purposely) limited services and housing. The article is worth reading in its entirety, and Schmitz does a good job of explaining how monopolies are productivity killers. However, it is no easy task to challenge monopolies, entrenched as they are at multiple levels.

At issue is not really a matter of "breaking up" monopolies, but reexamining the marketplace conditions they impose on all involved. How do monopolies impact the trajectory of long term government obligations and future growth potential? Much of the economic damage imposed by monopolies, is due to the ways they define the scope and character of today's environments. Citizens are not only limited in their choices of housing and building components (no price saving mass production of yet) but also in terms of the services that individuals are able to offer one another.

Indeed, central banking has become a part of this restrictive scenario as well. Given today's volatile political climate, I have to swat away my skepticism when I hear "All lives matter". If monetary representation is no longer adequate for the full range of nominal income, how can that possibly be true? Central bankers are becoming less inclined to provide full economic representation, as the alternative marketplace conditions needed for lower income levels to participate, are still being regulated out of existence. 

By far the most common monopolist restriction is a citizen's right to produce - a right which was once taken for granted in the U.S. Indeed, our country's founders worried about potential losses in this regard, as they were hashing out the messy details of constitution making. Yet many of today losses added up slowly. They can be difficult to notice when the loss occurs, because citizens have had plenty of means for economic engagement, during most periods. And more is at stake than diminished output or economic stagnation. How so? Frugality and resourcefulness are no longer enough to make the difference, between success and failure.

Resourcefulness and frugality were still celebrated qualities, as recently as the Great Depression. It's a sign of my age, but I am still shocked when I observe the ways in which people "prove" to their peers how they don't have to be careful in this regard. Apparently this is a social signal, one that associates success with an income which makes such attributes an unnecessary throwback to an earlier era.

Throwback or no, an equilibrium corporate structure could still create economic environments in which personal resourcefulness and frugality would count for something. In the past, formal environments for value in use options certainly would not have been necessary. However, too many possibilities in this regard have been gradually undermined, in general equilibrium conditions - possibilities which once included shared productivity as a part of marriage. Hence an alternative equilibrium scenario, would also include resource use elements which go beyond the standard pricing of normal economic exchange.

Consider what is at stake, when of value in use options are lost. As David Ricardo noted in "Principles of Political Economy":
Utility is not the measure of exchangeable value, although it is absolutely essential to it.
For lower income levels, value in use options for time value and asset formation would serve as stepping stones for incremental progress, and as safe harbor during life's inevitable setbacks. These additional means would make it possible for those with small wages and income, to not only reciprocate with others on economic terms, but take part in the mutual security that every society seeks to build.

It can be difficult to discern value in use production and consumption options, in part because there is no clear line between economic wants and needs. Just the same, the difference between the two is invariably felt at a personal level, in times of uncertainty. All that is needed during most periods of life, is a simple fallback position, by which one can bounce back and once again thrive. The value in use option during such times in life, would be valuable indeed.

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