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Declining worker power vs. rising monopoly power: explaining recent macro trends (voxeu.org)
409 points by hhs 30 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 453 comments



In almost all USA industries, there is increasing amount of consolidation. The top 4 companies' in almost any industry has a larger share of the total market: https://www.economist.com/briefing/2016/03/26/too-much-of-a-...

Some consolidation is natural, but a huge part is caused by mergers and acquisitions (M&A) fulled by Private Equity. The M&A benefits the shareholders of participating companies at the expense of consumers, employees, and other companies.


Monopolization almost certainly is occurring. The left usually cites weak antitrust enforcement. The right usually cites regulatory barriers that make it expensive to compete without economies of scale. I actually think both sides are at least partially correct.

However what almost everyone overlooks is the demographic transition. The US, along with every other developed economy, is significantly older today than it was 40 years ago. And the fact of the matter is that an older work force almost certainly leads to an economy with larger, older firms.

Most entrepreneurial activity is disproportionately carried out by younger people. Young workers are much more likely to work for small, young, growing firms. That makes sense because they have longer horizons and can take more risks. Older workers, who have higher fixed expenses and are closer to retirement, prefer the stability of a stable, large company with low employee turnover.

Macroeconomists who have attempted to quantify this impact, generally find that the average firm age in an economy linearly increases with the average worker's age.[1] Since older firms, tend to be larger, slower growing, and less competitive, it's not wonder we've seen an increase in monopolization.

[1] https://www.nber.org/papers/w25382


> The left usually cites weak antitrust enforcement.

Personally for a left view I would add cash/capital accumulation. It's kind of the same thing happening for individuals with wealth and real estate. Regulation is failing to bring the balance between the revenues of capital (which are exponential unregulated) vs the revenues of work. At one point you can't even compete anymore if you start from scratch. Competitors with billions in cash can pretty much "kill" any new business they want.


> Since older firms, tend to be larger, slower growing, and less competitive, it's not wonder we've seen an increase in monopolization.

This is self-contradictory.


how is this contradictory?

Firms that are monopolistic are less competitive, larger, and slower growing. Reducing monopolistic tendencies increases capital growth, competition, and reduces average firm size. This is well understood economics.

Monopolies arent' some hypercompetitive ultra capitalist battlespace, they're fat and happy, and the most impactful teams they employ are lobbyists and policy folks in DC. Look at like, comcast and what they did with the FCC.


Those attributes stem from them being a monopoly, they don't create it in the first place. He's questioning the implication that being less competitive and slower growing would allow you to obtain more of a monopoly.


The large, lumbering not-yet-a-monopoly has no method to increasing market share other than buying smaller competitors; thus leading to monopolization.


Not if you consider that older larger firms can use their position to artificially suppress competition.


The government is the tool used to suppress competition.

This is why the solution of making the government ever more powerful isn't going to work.


The government directed Facebook to suppress Snap?

https://techcrunch.com/2019/10/04/snap-ceo-isnt-expecting-mu...


Think about your local ISP. They usually have a local monopoly because they use the government to make competition illegal.


Yes, regulatory capture is a problem, but it's somewhat ludicrous to make a blanket statement like "government is the tool used to suppress competition". It's one tool in the toolbox, perhaps a significant one, but hardly the only one.


Health care is another example. The government empowers the AMA to strictly control the number of seats in medical school, thereby restricting the supply of doctors and competition.

Licensing, permits, etc, are all ways to limit and prevent competition.


I could ask any surfer on the beach right now and even they'd be able to identify that you've now entered a kind of argumentation where, if government is at all involved, government is the problem, no matter how it's involved.

"The AMA strictly controls the number of seats, and the government has a medical licensing process, therefore the AMA's actions are the government's fault."

Nope.


Before dismissing this out of hand, see "Competition and Monopoly in Medical Care" by Frech.

https://www.amazon.com/Competition-Monopoly-Medical-Care-Fre...

Plenty of evidence and cites.


Again, I do not deny that governments have been used as a tool for monopolies to form, but it is dubious that they are the only tool used by bad actors, nor is regulatory capture the only method for anticompetitive behavior.


I did not say "only".


You didn't, but your phrasing certainly implied it. "The government is the tool used to suppress competition" is a very stark statement. Next time, say "a" or "one of the" tools.


A simple alternative ingredient could be that firing (read "punishing") employees on a small scale has a large chilling effect. Relaxing labor laws/job security may have a much larger long term effect. If I ask for a raise, will I get fired first either way?


You need government to build an ISP in the first place. No private company would be able to negotiate with that many land owners to build out fiber on a large scale.

And once a company does build a network, absent government regulation requiring them to let other companies use it, the existing infrastructure is an enormous barrier to entry.


> No private company would be able to negotiate with that many land owners to build out fiber on a large scale.

Before the government stepped in to anoint winners and losers in the phone business, companies sprang up everywhere and strung their own wires.


Telephone lines were almost always built following existing public roads or private railroads (that were built with government assistance and government land grants) even in the early days.

There is no history of a successful, large scale infrastructure project built without government assistance. Either directly or due to the fact that much of it was built on government land.

(unless maybe you consider some case where private infrastructure was built in one large area controlled by a small group of owners, but that's basically just a government by another name and doesn't apply to modern America.)


An awful lot of railroads were built without government assistance. Of course, it was easier to build them if one got government financing.

Even so, a railroad is private property and they can choose to allow or not someone stringing wires along it.


railroads were given the go-ahead by the federal government back when they were built, because the federal government granted the land to both sides of the rails to the rail builders (if they built it).

It's hard to argue that the railroad builders were not given "assistance" (the granting of land).


It goes way beyond government financing. The government gave them the damn land.


Could you give an example of this?


When Google tried to lay fiber in various municipalities, they failed because those municipalities would not permit it.


Those were all local municipalities, responsive to their electorate - if the surfers in a community wanted Google fiber huts, they could elect councils who would allow them.

I think it's reasonable that people should have local control over their city environs, even if it means a multinational like Google can't come in and build new infrastructure. It's not a "will of the people, unless Google wants to build fiber huts everywhere" kind of society. Maybe they should just go surfing instead.


>Those were all local municipalities, responsive to their electorate - if the surfers in a community wanted Google fiber huts, they could elect councils who would allow them

This is an idealistic line of thinking, but as a practical matter, is completely untrue. Essentially 0% of America understand their county commissioners' stance on ISP competition, myself included. No one campaigns on those things.

It's a lot like saying that electorates are responsible for police violence because sheriffs are elected officials after all.


Not doing your civic duty is not illegal, but the residents has to take ultimate responsibility for failing to do their civic duties.


Representation is an outdated system that was great in de pony express days.


> The government is the tool used to suppress competition.

Oh? Network effects don't exist? Economies of scale don't exist? Dumping doesn't exist? Branding doesn't exist? The only kind of moat in existence is regulatory capture?

Regulatory capture is real, but it's one of many tools that suppress competition. I can think of one single solitary competitive analysis I've been party to where we decided it was the largest factor.

If only fixing anticompetitive markets were as easy as "drowning the government in a bathtub" we'd have solved this problem ages ago.


> only

I didn't say "only".


You didn't call the government "a tool" used to suppress competition, you called it "the tool" used to suppress competition.


"the tool" meaning it was the first tool they reached for, not the only tool.

For example, if I said "Star Wars" was "the movie" to see in 1977, I obviously did not mean it was the only movie.

If I meant it was the only tool, I would have written "the only tool".

If you need to insert the words "only", "always", "never", "100%" into my words in order to argue, you should reconsider the strength of your argument.


Nah, I heard what you said and you said what you meant.

Even so, I'm happy to engage with your new argument: that regulatory capture is the first tool companies reach for to unfairly suppress competition. That's still wrong. Regulatory capture is slow, unwieldy, and opportunistic. The first tool a company reaches for is typically either M&A or dumping.

When WhatsApp was getting popular, did Facebook respond by crafting legislation with a plausibly deniable dual purpose, cultivating connections with campaign contributions and a held-open revolving door, wait for a wave of public sentiment that could carry their law up the priority list, through congress, and onto the books, and then sit back and pray that the resulting wind blowing at their backs and in WhatsApp's face would tip the balance enough to keep them on the throne? No, of course not! Facebook bought WhatsApp. Where there were two competitors, a free market exchange happened, and then there was one competitor. See also: banks. Yeah, they need FTC approval, but the free-er the M&A market, the easier it is for competitors to just merge together, and the more anti-competitive the result.

As for dumping, you'll often hear people blame legislation for the big ISP monopolies we have. Certainly there are no shortage of legislative failures in this space, yet it's not illegal to start an ISP. If you set out to create an ISP of your own, you'll probably be able to find a municipality willing to deal with you. The actual trouble will appear when you start selling your service. Your first few customers will gladly switch in order to take advantage of the better deal you're offering, but once the regional ISP monopoly notices the churn, suddenly you'll find that all of your prospective customers recently received a promotional discount from the monopoly and are no longer interested in your service. Then you go out of business, and customer rates go back up. It wasn't a law that kept you out of the market, it was the fact that your competitor had a larger war chest.

In both cases, more market freedom = less competition. Certainly, regulatory capture also exists and is also a problem, and in that case more market freedom = more competition. In some cases, it's even more complicated: economies of scale create genuine value by amortizing costs across volume, but they also create an anticompetitve moat. They have good aspects and bad aspects that are inextricably linked and inseparable from each other.

Still, focusing exclusively on regulatory capture will lead you to misdiagnose most markets. The cure will appear obvious, but where your diagnosis is incorrect, it won't work.


Government has funds, land, resources and tons of attention. A competent business man should be able to forge large numbers of jobs out of this. If done on sufficient scale elaborate services and infrastructure can be build that gives corporations a huge advantage. These jobs can remove people from the labor pool and create a kind of cabin in the woods "exit" strategy that will eventually drive up wages and the value of training/education.


The situation is far more nuanced. If you said instead "The government can be a tool used to suppress competition," I think most would agree with you.

The distinction is that there are plenty of other tools companies can use to suppress competition, and Government also can be used as a tool to encourage competition.

A strict black and white view point that more government = less competition is absurd.


> A strict black and white view point that more government = less competition is absurd.

Yes, and fortunately I didn't say otherwise.


Large businesses use government as a tool to suppress competition, sure.

Take away the government's power to suppress competition, and they'd still have and use many other tools.

Attacking the government is a distraction that's quick, easy, and wrong, like blaming surfers for the tsunami washing over the city.


> The US, along with every other developed economy, is significantly older today than it was 40 years ago.

Looking only at average age doesn't give a full picture, how does this square with the Millenials recently becoming the largest generational cohort? By your logic shouldn't there be a massive wave of young growing companies.


Millenials aren't that young. The oldest ones are hitting their 40s.


> The US, along with every other developed economy, is significantly older today than it was 40 years ago. As employees are squeezed out of profit, life gets more expensive and it gets harder to have kids.


Watching Super Size Me 2 you realize that the same thing happened to the chicken industry. It’s frightening. It’s like we have a democracy (so far) and under that a lot of smaller authoritarian organizations that are hard to notice or dismantle. Some of the farmers were basically slaves, in huge debts to these companies way of running things. Unbelievable.


Corporate governance is authoritarian. Period.


And its growing ever more unavoidable in daily life for anyone trying to live.

Pretty much everyone is becoming subject to these authoritarian regimes (corporate structures) as they invade and carve away at our democracy through financial influence, regulatory capture, etc.


This should be actively fought every step of the way. We don't have to allow any corporation to do anything, they belong to the people who believe and give them power. Everything can be taken away, and everything can be burned.


I've been playing with the idea of equity cash lately.

Something where the more money you've spent at a place, the more say you have in how it is run.

Not really sure of what way that could be done, but the premise feels right so far.


See this post.. https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=23414911

haha literally like tangentially above yours...


Is there a way a startup could set up this business model, or would it necessarily require all the tax and legal implications of a publicly traded company?


This is how cooperative supermarkets work - they're consumer co-ops.


Like REI?


HOAs too. As if municipal codes and such aren’t enough for people.


I've heard HOAs called "4th level of government"

(fed / state / local / HOA)


The real Fourth Estate!


The more powerful the government is, the more it can be corrupted.


But that's an extra hoop. Without joining together in governance, what stops corporations from exercising their power on individuals directly?


And what keeps corporations from becoming governments unto themselves?


The libertarian argument generally goes that competition will keep them all in check, but history has shown again and again how it doesn't work in the general case.

If you want to see what small government/strong corporate control is like, look back a century in American history. Corporations controlled much more of American life than they do even now, and the 20th century regulatory state is all very much a direct response to all that.

Lot less time to go surfing back then, too.


There's a way down the middle.

Unions.

Say a group of people unionized and formed a collective coop org.

Workers would get paid fairly who were employed by the co-op and would be members of the union.

The union would create it's own credit union and financial instruments and be a mesh of a CU and old style savings/loan.

The CU/Bank aspect would also invest in real estate (section 8 housing mostly and other but try to keep rents down wherever it has rentals and keep rent competition in check).

$$ brought in would be pooled, and as we grew to a certain size we'd launch our own health insurance company. All $$ from investments/real estate/etc would go towards the health care, premiums would basically be collective medical costs - income from investments / members of union, and members could choose to pay more for members w/ more financial burden.

Eventually we could start other businesses and encourage our union to ONLY use those businesses that we own as a co-op. ISPs, Amazon-clone, Google alternative, etc...

Eventually we gain $$ and power to start building or buying hospitals of our own. We also invest in our own generics drug company and maybe even a research company to design new drugs. Everything we do we deliver at cost or close medical wise. When we have surplus at the end of the year members vote whether we should diversify it into more investments, pay out dividends to all union members, or apply it to the medical fund, etc....

Eventually we could expand beyond our co-op and offer to be the 'benefit plan' for states' medicaid/medicare, as well as employer plans. The goal being have better quality and lower costs for employers, states, and members.

Eventually we get state $$ on top of union dues to cover the $$ needed for our m4a plan. If we're constantly in the green, we could start looking at a UBI plan.

The concept is a marriage of capitalism, unions, socialism, libertarianism. It's based on the concept of dual power. Eventually you get enough power that you weaken the healthcare lobbies (by taking their business) so that the $$ and political will to thwart you isn't there because they can no longer enrich politicians because they're cash on hand keeps dwindling, eventually we'd have more $ to lobby with than they would.


Digging this plan. It's an idealistic vision that actually has a roadmap for how to put these ideas into practice.


Oh, I am all in favor of unions, and you're absolutely right. It's a tragedy, yet an unsurprising one, that business co-opted government to restrain union power the way it did.

In fact, in the "small government" vein, I'd suggest repealing Taft-Hartley immediately. The biggest immediate benefit to repealing that would be that unions could once again freely conduct wildcat strikes.

But that's not what libertarians generally think about when they think "small government," they think of ending social programs -- at least, in every conversation I've ever had with them. I've never had a one-on-one conversation with a libertarian (and I've had quite a few, thanks extended family) who thinks unions are a good thing or a way to balance corporate power.


Big difference though between 'libertarian party' and libertarian socialism. I'd support M4A, I've just given up hope through gov't sanctioned socialism, so let's find a new path through unions and combining forces of the many, creating some huge collective. W/ the internet it doesn't need to be local anymore.... it'd kind of be like those religious health share programs, but no religion needed.


> The libertarian argument generally goes that competition will keep them all in check

The libertarian argument is that the proper role of government is to protect people from force or fraud being used against them.


In true libertarian form, this is a platitude and a non-sequitur. Maybe you should go surfing instead, the waves follow the NAP.


This is an argument a lot of non-authoritarian socialists make: democracy only governs the few hours when people are not sleeping or at work, so a deeper, fuller democracy would include running workplaces democratically as well. Whether by employee-elected boards, cooperatives, democratically run unions (a necessary distinction), or some other form of collective control, that the consent of the governed is a question for all situations in which people find decisions about their lives being made.


Democracy is not an efficient way of running a business. Look at the multi-trillion dollar deficit as an example. Workers are incentivized to choose themselves over the health of the company or the customer.

Also, people overwhelmingly would rather exchange their stake in the company for the equivalent value in cash. It's only when the company's valuation skyrockets when they retroactively declare this to be unfair.


>Democracy is not an efficient way of running a business

Have any data to back that up? Comparing a democratically run corporation to the US government is a non sequitur. Outside VC there is no business model that will allow you to run at a loss for decades. So it's a scenario that's not even possible hypothetically.

Somewhat anecdotal but there is a Worker Co-op in Spain, Mondragon, that's been a very competitive corporation for over 50 years. It can clearly work long term and it leads to better outcomes for employees and the communities they work in.


Part of this is that VCs as you describe. It doesn't matter if a democratic social media company is more sustainable than Facebook when Facebook receives a half a billion dollars in VC funding to patch up its problems.

Anecdotally, I hear that Ford's biggest problem right now is the union's resistance in adopting the Toyota production system. If I were a factory worker, I wouldn't want to change the way I do things just so the shareholders get richer. That's a perfectly reasonable attitude to have, but it does place Ford at a disadvantage to car makers without unions like Tesla and Toyota.


For that business it might not be a good formula but public education seems to be the biggest thing missing. I've talked with employees who could very very easily run the show themselves if they simply got organized and made a [much smaller] bid on the contract their employer was bidding on. They also know their managers share in the huge profits, drink coffee all day and never show their face(!) If the people doing the work ask for anything there will be a huge deliberate delay or it won't be done as a reminder not to ask for things. Do it again and you will get punished. They are on a first name basis with employees working far away because of the sheer amount of improvisation. If you need widgets you will have to get them from someone.

The employees all know they could run the business but they cant picture themselves doing it. Their arguments are "It's to complicated" but struggle and fail to explain how. It might still not be a good idea but that they draw a blank is the ultimate hurdle for now.


what if all workers were shareholders and the 'union' was a subsection of the company like an autonomous entity w/in the company that still had some voice but that ultimately was ALSO about their bottom line so that their shares go up as do the shares of all other employees?


I often hear people complain about others making money in the stock market, so I suggest they invest in stocks, too. They respond saying it's too risky.


>They respond saying it's too risky

Well it literally is. If they are talking about Wall St. bankers they have no way to replicate the results of those people. Wall Street can make poorly thought out multi-trillion dollar bets on housing bonds and when they go bust they get bailed out and still get their Christmas Bonuses. There is no similar mechanism to protect a non-institutional investor from similar levels of risk.


There are plenty of stocks besides mortgage derivatives, and plenty of ordinary people making money off of stocks.

If you want to sit on the sidelines because it's too risky for you, that's fine. But don't then complain that others make money on stocks.

You, and anyone else, can buy FAANG stocks, index funds, or whatever.


The problem is you need capital to begin with, and the median American barely has enough on hand to cover an emergency, nevermind build significant investments.

Many of us might be fortunate to have well paid jobs, and the ability and capital to invest, but it's understandable how someone could view the ability of those with capital to generate further capital without any labour to be unfair.


The median American buys new cars, so they could by a used car and invest the difference.

I've known many people who didn't have any cash on hand, yet lived high on the hog with expensive clothes, new cars, and nice houses. They didn't have any cash on hand because they spent it as fast as possible.


I thought index funds have become the mainstream investment vehicle of the last ten years.


Index funds do not monotonically increase, either.


> Workers are incentivized to choose themselves over the health of the company or the customer.

And maybe that is how it should be? Maybe life shouldn't be about the most efficient way to run a business.


If Earth was government by one big country, you'd have solid point, but most Americans would prefer that the next trillion dollar companies not all be based in India and China.

Also, what's best for the workers isn't necessarily what is best for society. Globalization is anti-worker, but it helps the consumer with cheaper prices, the company with extra profits, and developing countries afford what developed countries take for granted like antibiotics.


The parent comment is making a universal statement, and so it would hypothetically apply to companies everywhere, including in India and China. Perhaps then there would be a world without trillion dollar companies, or maybe the workers can figure out a way. The Mondragon Corporation is a tens-of-billions-dollar workers cooperative [0], for instance.

This line of discussion is also making the assumption that what's best of workers and what's best for companies are necessarily in conflict, which is rather silly given that if a company goes under, the workers themselves are in trouble. There is at least one example I can point to where a workers union forced management to recognize the need to be more economically competitive. [1] Also, it makes the assumption that management and/or shareholders necessarily know best for a company's future, and there is no shortage of evidence to the contrary, some even recent. [2]

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mondragon_Corporation

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=13986889

[2] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=23380445

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21887425


> The parent comment is making a universal statement, and so it would hypothetically apply to companies everywhere

I don't find much value in hypotheicals. Even the far right Ben Shapiro admitted he would support UBI if automation makes most jobs obsolete.

There are smart workers and dumb shareholders, but at the end of the day, people respond to incentives. Audi workers would never agree to convert their factory to EV had Tesla not already proven that EVs are something consumers actually want. This isn't a bad thing, but it comes with a cost. Tesla was able to ramp up production as fast as it did because they didn't need to run every decision past a union.


> I don't find much value in hypotheicals.

Your opinion doesn't change the fact that your response was invalid. You are responding to a normative, idealistic statement about universal values with your own slightly more concrete hypothetical. A misapplied exercise in practicality.

> Audi workers would never agree to convert their factory to EV had Tesla not already proven that EVs are something consumers actually want.

That seems like a hypothetical without basis. One doubts that General Motors assembly line workers were the ones who killed the EV1.

> Tesla was able to ramp up production as fast as it did because they didn't need to run every decision past a union.

There are some smart CEOs and there are dumb ones. Who's to say that the incentives given to traditional management schemes are truly correct? Businesses fail all the time. Startups, in particular, fail all of the time, and there are no shortage of egregious examples of boneheaded management decisions, or of shortsighted shareholders. Pointing to a Tesla and Musk, or to an Apple and Jobs, is simply survivorship bias.


> You are responding to a normative, idealistic statement about universal values with your own slightly more concrete hypothetical.

What's your point? I obviously don't think the purpose of life is to maximize shareholder value. I'm merely illustrating where I find such idealism falls apart. I could be more specific, but I'm not trying to write a book.

You don't need to be a Nobel economist to know how people respond to incentives. An average family person doesn't want to risk their time, money, and health on helping to pivot Audi to a company that makes bleeding edge EVs. A company that is truly revolutionary has to focus as much energy as possible on delivering or some other company is going to do it first. That's why most successful startups are very cult-like. This comes at a cost to the worker and leads to scam companies like Theranos, but the alternative is that you're left behind.


> An average family person doesn't want to risk their time, money, and health on helping to pivot Audi to a company that makes bleeding edge EVs.

That article is from 2017. EVs were already more or less an accepted mainstream technology, even though certainly not the majority of the automotive market yet. You're making it sound like it's as difficult as it was for Tesla back in 2003- the union was simply demanding Audi management to respond to the needs of the market and expand its product line, for the betterment of the company and to protect their livelihoods by staying competitive. Audi building EVs does not require, as far as I know, a pivot.

Theranos is also a good example to mention. Perhaps if it was a worker-owned co-op or a union there, some sort of countervailing force against both managerial and investor incompetence, that fiasco could have been averted. Perhaps with a system in place to provide support against those powerful forces, and someone sympathetic to listen to whistleblowers, Ian Gibbons would still be alive.

It's all well and good to lionize Randian revolutionary lone geniuses, but the creative destruction they tend to wreak in their wake tends to fall upon a lot of the little people. And worse off, these geniuses at world-changing companies are few and far between, and far outnumbered by copycats and wannabes who cause more damage through imitation. We have checks and balances in our societal governance; why not likewise in our corporate governance?


I keep [half] joking to my managers that they should spend a few days on the work floor doing those jobs they argue so easy about. Not doing so makes it impossible to prioritize their own tasks properly. There is some child like joy in picking tasks by what they feel like doing.


This. Why should life be run the way business's are run, we have been co-opted by the business model and all it's sociopathic tendencies.


As we've seen in recent cases, corporate management has become incentivized to choose the interests of the investors over the health of the company or the customer or their workers, making short-term decisions that look good in quarterly reports.


It seems that all the forms of collective control you listed are perfectly legal. If the majority of workers prefer workplaces like that then those places will thrive.

What you are implying though, is that the government forces all workplaces to conform to your desired control scheme. So fuller democracy equals government limiting choice, as long as it is your desired choice.


That's a bit like saying "Here we are in 1650 under an absolute monarchy. The people are the majority, they could topple our illegitimate hereditary government and make it a democracy, but they haven't done it yet because they certainly prefer things this way".


Not at all. If the people tried to topple the monarchy, they would be actively in conflict with the military. I am pretty sure you can start a co-op without risking conflict with the military.

Can you tell me the exact things the government is preventing people from doing in this case?


Another metaphor: "Linux is open and free, it can be a major desktop OS if everyone just switched to it, but because they haven't they obviously don't care for it."


Not to go off on a tangent but what you said is true, most people don't care about Linux...or Windows, or MacOS. They have a general apathy to whatever desktop OS they use, with a slight bias to whatever they used last. People just want to use the applications they want and need.

Perhaps the same statement would apply to workplace control. Most people have a general apathy to their workplace governance and only care about their pay and benefits.

I really don't know how you make people care about things, but compelling a change that people are free to make today by government force is last on my list of things to try.


My overall point is that there are many examples of the dominant players in a market being inferior in certain ways compared to more obscure choices, and there are different reasons for it. Cooperatives and alternative corporate governance models are simply less well-known, not unlike the average consumer hasn't even heard of Linux. They don't know the benefits involved in these alternate models. You can extend to many other categories where there are superior, but obscurer, alternatives that come with trade-offs.

There's also situations where dominant players make it difficult for smaller competitors to survive. In a loose analogy, Microsoft's monopolistic strategies in the '90s can be compared to the past decades' weakening of laws protecting unions.

Strengthening unions, or rather reversing the weakening of unions in this country, doesn't really require oppressive government force. That's in line with the misconception that considers America's sickly unions- who are an absolute paper tiger at this point in history- to have any considerable strength.

https://psmag.com/economics/what-caused-the-decline-of-union...


Are you saying Windows is inferior to Linux on the desktop?


In terms of not crashing, fewer security issues, no telemetry, or having to pay money for it, sure. Point is it's an alternative that could potentially serve the needs of some users better than Windows does, but will likely never be considered by them just because it's almost unknown to the general public. I'm sure better examples exist.


That's great and all, but people don't really care - they want to run the applications that they want to use. They want it to support their hardware.

OSX and Windows work because the make it easy for end users to use them; and run the applications/games they want to play.


Sure, but the point is that it's possible for a market to be dominated by a brand- or, in our original discussion, by a way of thinking or governing- that might be inferior to a lesser known choice.

There are a good number of hackers who would consider Linux superior to the dominant OS's, which is why I made that arbitrary comparison.


>I really don't know how you make people care about things

To follow your tangent, I actually did a little bit of not terribly formal research on this at one point (maybe about 15 years ago now), calling up a variety of people in different volunteer organizations and asking them about their background and motivation for their volunteer work.

Generally, the anecdotes I gathered all roughly corresponded with their volunteer work tying in in some way with other facets of their lives.

For example, a man who had received books in prison from a volunteer organization joined that organization after he got out because he believed in the value of what they were doing. A mom volunteered on an organization that arranged activities for kids, which hers participated in. That sort of thing.

My takeaway was not terribly revolutionary: you can't -make- someone care about things, but their circumstances will increase the chance that they will care about related things.


I don't know - there are cooperatives - it is not like you need to risk your life to work at one. Somehow they are not that popular. There are also partnerships - which are kind of close to cooperatives, when they employ only the partners and for example outsource office cleaning and stuff. In some industries they do pretty well - for example in law.

Why cooperatives do poorly? Maybe people usually are not very good at governance, that's understandable, you can have trade-offs - slightly worse pay for better working conditions, or better dignity. Does it work like this?


>Why cooperatives do poorly?

I don't think you have evidence to back this up. The reality is that cooperatives are very rare, so 99% of people don't even have to option to work for one. It's probably not even clear to the vast majority of workers that such a thing is even possible. This says nothing of the extreme aversion to anything even remotely resembling collectivism in the US.


Education


Maybe they're less popular because they're less well-known, their benefits and downsides are as well, and so they're less likely to be considered by people incorporating a new business? Or maybe they're less advantageous to the founders so that's why they're simply not pursued?


> Why cooperatives do poorly?

I have seen economist claim that cooperatives tend to be pretty inflexible. Slack was a communication tool for what is now a failed gaming company. If the company was owned by game developers, artists, and story writers, how many of them would have voted to sack themselves and pursue a chat application?


Is that what actually happened? Or did some early Slack employees pivot? Regardless, they would've been a minority of the workforce.


cooperatives dont necessarily "do worse" but they do face unique challenges compared to non-coops, the biggest being raising capital

https://www.co-oplaw.org/finances-tax/financing/


In my limitied view, this seems to be one of the biggest obstacles. I'm heartened to see new cooperative investment funds coming online, like Evergreen Cooperatives (http://www.evgoh.com) and accelerators, like Start.coop (very new)


it really is needed, i hope they do well, and thanks for the links ^^


>If the majority of workers prefer workplaces like that then those places will thrive

The majority of workers have probably never even heard of worker coops and those that have probably imagine it to be related to socialism and therefore un-American.

>So fuller democracy equals government limiting choice, as long as it is your desired choice

So more democracy actually == more authoritarian. Astounding logic.


So people are dumb, they just need to listen to me.

That is the lazy way. If people are uniformed, we need to do more to inform them. People have power to choose where they work and where they spend their time and money. No one needs to come in and force Amazon into becoming a co-op. If top talent wants to work for co-ops and consumer prefer to get their good from co-ops, Amazon will adapt or die.


There is literally no one advocating for existing corporations to be converted into co-ops. People are saying there should be more co-ops in general, but that can be promoted by creating an environment that's more friendly and attractive to founding co-ops. Or educating people to promote the concept, which is largely unknown to the public. Bringing up the possibility of government force in the discussion is cheap scaremongering. It's like screaming "communism!" in a practical discussion about tax policy.

Though the concept of Amazon becoming a co-op is interesting. One wonders if a majority of Amazon employees organized and wanted that, if there would be even any legal avenue for them to do that. They probably wouldn't have enough shares to make that change from within.


The 4-Hour Life problem.


This comes up a lot, nobody is literally chained to their desks. Democracy in the workplace comes from voting with your feet and taking another job at another company. It's not perfect, particularly for lower income people, but it's also not slavery and generally the arc of worker rights is improving through time.

You could make a case that some of the current anger in the united states is because COVID's destruction of the economy has removed that freedom to switch jobs (as the jobs have gone) demonstrating how important it is.


> It's not perfect, particularly for lower income people...

I don't think many minimum-wage retail or service workers can just "vote with their feet" and easily get another job, especially if you don't consider major changes in location and hours to be a non-starter.

For folks with kids, or who depend on public transit to get to work, "up and moving" isn't really an option. If you're one missed paycheck away from eviction, bankruptcy, or arrest due to missed fines or court fees then you can't play "hardball" with your employer.

Saying the arc of history improves overall cruelly glosses over the reality today for millions of Americans.


voting with your feet is almost certainly going to land you what is basically an equally shitty job when you have no leverage.


> Saying the arc of history improves overall cruelly glosses over the reality today for millions of Americans.

No it doesn't. Medical understanding and technology has gotten way better over the centuries, and people still die of things that could have been handled. Acknowledging progress doesn't imply perfection, but progress.


It is far beyond imperfect.

Let’s say I work at Kroger. I don’t like the way I’m treated, so I quit.

Now the remaining grocery stores I can work for owned by Albertsons or Amazon. What kind of choice is that?

Pick any other industry and you’re likely to find similar problems.

It would be really interesting to see what mandatory democratic corporate governance might look like.

Or, perhaps, fixing union regulations so that unions don’t have a bunch of downsides for the employee or other regulatory issues that seem to have directly led to their decline.


You’re not limited to grocery stores.

The fundamental problem is that there’s less demand for unskilled US labor than there are unskilled US laborers looking for work. Fix that, and most of the issues people are worried about go away.

That likely has to be solved at the federal or international government level.


>Democracy in the workplace comes from voting with your feet and taking another job at another company.

Democracy is about voice, not exit.


I don't think, "we've mostly gotten rid of actual leg irons" is the paen to worker's rights you think it is. To the extent slavery was outlawed, that happened 150 years ago. In many ways, things have gotten worse for the average worker since that era. (If you don't believe me, read Lincoln himself. [1])

Fair conditions grow out of equal power. But a fundamental problem with managerialist capitalism is an imbalance of power that will never be solved with vote-with-your-feet slogans. You have one job. A CEO has tens, hundreds, thousands of employees. It's always easier for a boss to fuck you over than it is for you to push back. Individual action is not enough to fix that.

[1] Foner's "The Firey Trial" is a good look at Lincoln's ideas, including what he has to say about labor. https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0044XV6G6/


Personally, I'd love it if everyone could easily vote with their feet. I think there's more overlap between certain libertarian and socialist visions of the economy than most people realize. In our current system, there's a lot of factors that prevent people from voting with their feet: healthcare, location, switching costs, and availability of jobs being chief among them, but also newer phenomena like non-compete contracts.


Non-compete contracts tend to be unenforceable.


They tend to be unenforceable in California, they certainly aren't unenforceable in other states.


Yeah, they are unenforceable in other states, and in all of them if they are determined to be unreasonable in court.

https://www.legalnature.com/guides/are-non-compete-agreement...


>Yeah, they are unenforceable in other states

Yes there are other states that have similar limits, and many other states that don't.

>and in all of them if they are determined to be unreasonable in court

That's a tautology. A court can refuse to enforce any contract for many reasons. The problem is that what may be considered unreasonable in California might not be in Georgia.

It's also not super helpful for someone who can't afford a lawyer to fight it. Or for someone who can't find another job because companies don't want to deal with the hassle.


Courts tend to take a dim view of well-monied people bullying the not-monied in courts. Larger companies are well aware of this, so are their employees, and the companies get sued constantly by those employees, and the companies usually settle because it's cheaper.

I personally know of many, many cases of this.


>Courts tend to take a dim view of well-monied people bullying the not-monied in courts

Even if this is true in theory, it's so completely untrue from a practical perspective that it's pointless to debate.


Don't worry, it isn't true in theory either. Courts don't give a shit about that sort of high-minded honorableness.

Why, the existence of anti-SLAPP laws comes directly out of courts not caring how they're weaponized by well-monied people bullying not-monied people. That's literally the point of anti-SLAPP laws.

GP's claim makes no sense with even the dimmest awareness of the court system.


> it's so completely untrue from a practical perspective

Poor people successfully sue businesses ALL THE TIME.

Besides, just last week a friend of mine told me that the former boss of one of his employees threatened a lawsuit over a non-compete agreement. He simply told the former boss "see ya in court and you'll be paying my legal bill". That was the end of that.

Not only are most of these just bluster, it's not profitable to sue poor people, since poor people don't have money.


There's really no point in debating someone like you. No matter what I say you'll just quote some unverifiable anecdote and declare victory.

I'll leave you with some advice that helped me find my way out of libertarian ideology when I was younger.

Stop and think for a second. Why the "proper functions of government" just happen to line up exactly with the functions that directly benefit you.


There are fewer publicly traded companies and the ones that do exists are larger than ever.

From Bloomberg: ==About 3,600 firms were listed on U.S. stock exchanges at the end of 2017, down more than half from 1997.==

https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2018-04-09/where-...


This article also has some good statistics:

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/04/business/shrinking-stock-...


Consolidation and vertical integration in healthcare space has bee pretty frightening. Feels like ordinary folks don’t know.


What is PE fueled by? IMO, in large part by zero interest rate policies.


I think the cause and the effect is reversed. There is more money for investment now than ever before (due to an aging population, and increased inequality) which leads to both a low/zero interest rate, and lots of money for PE.

If it was an artificially low interest rate we'd see wage inflation, as opposed to just asset inflation.


Interest rates are artificial. IMHO they are currently way too low. I dont even think the absolute rate is what affects the economy, its rate of change in interest rates that causes change. Declining rates stimulate the economy while rising ones act as a brake. The absolute level of the rates determine where money flows and inversely affects the price of big things like housing and cars. Low rates lead to inequality and hardship. These are just thoughts and observations, I would love to build a good mathematical model.


Nominal interest rates are artificial. Real interest rates (nominal rates - inflation) are not. If central banks set nominal interest rates too low you get inflation which negates the purchasing power of the borrowed money. That's what the grandparent poster was alluding to.

(The mathematical model - and the proof - for this is taught in most introductory macroeconomics courses. So is monetarism, which is the "declining rates = stimulus" that you mention.)

It's been a persistent question why the super-low nominal interest rates that central banks have set for the last decade haven't resulted in consumer inflation, and there's no consensus among experts for it. My personal theory is that it comes from the entry of China and other large developing nations into the world economy, which a.) has dramatically lowered the price of labor-intensive consumer manufacturing, offsetting much of the inflation caused by the large money supply and b.) changed the mix of savers in the world economy; Chinese people are much more in the habit of saving large fractions of their income than Americans are, which leads to a glut of savings, which lowers the real interest rate.


I think you're right that low interest rates boost wealth inequality due to rising asset prices, but they also reduce income equality because of the tight labor market.

And by artificially low I meant below the natural interest rate or NAIRU.


And tax policy, the specifics of which I am not qualified to explain. Someone else care to give their take?


It's just a natural product of capitalism[1]. When you can buy a chunk of a business and own that chunk of its profits, you can use those profits to buy a larger chunk of the business, repeat ad nauseum, until you have so much money that your needs for more profit aren't satisfied by any one business, but you have enough money to perform multi-business maneuvers. Higher interest rates might make some of these maneuvers less possible in the short term, but that would just delay the problem until the wealthiest capital-owners accumulate enough money that they can put forth more collateral to get better loans.

[1] By capitalism I mean private ownership specifically, not the usual HN definition of something something markets something something competition.


Actually M&A companies underperform in the stock market so it mostly benefits the executives doing the merge.


The SEC and FTC have failed us. Even 2008 was largely fueled by M&A so banks could lever even harder.


I find it very disappointing that the most reliably lucrative career arc for a programmer nowadays is to get hired by a tech giant and stay there as long as possible. And the second most is probably to go to work for a company that could get gobbled up by a tech giant.

I've made a career out of small startups, and I wouldn't trade it for a thing. On the other hand, if I'd gone to work for Amazon straight out of college, I'd probably have a boat by now.


And what kills me about this is it almost seems like the big tech companies are just grabbing up engineers to no purpose. When I hear stories about what people are actually doing at larger companies, it often seems somewhere between miniscule and just plain empty. And it's not like a lot of the people telling these stories don't understand that. But they're happy enough wasting a third of their day at that salary.


I'll just share an anecdotal experience:

Earlier this year (before COVID), I interviewed with Microsoft, as they were looking for people with security clearances to work on Azure services. I apparently passed at least one of the four interviews, as they made me an offer. However... the offer contained minimal details on what I would be working on or doing, just a vague description that it was an Azure infrastructure service team. The recruiter himself didn't have any information to answer my questions. If I were just coming out of college, I'd be fine with that level of unknown, but as someone with about ten years of experience and who knows what he likes to work on, I wasn't going to take the risk of ending up on a miserably boring project (again).


Thankfully we have modern Agile/Scrum with all its process and meetings to soak up that time and give us the feeling of business.


I appreciate you putting "modern" in there. We tried so hard to make it people over process. Getting things done over internal BS. Alas, that's not how it ended up for most people.


There was this cartoon about a guy graduating top of his class in a CS program and the hoopla of him being hired at a "Big Tech" firm. Then he discover that his role was basically to keep someone on a web page for a half second longer...


> But they're happy enough wasting a third of their day at that salary.

Who wouldn't be with those salary levels? You basically have the golden ticket in your hand.


I wouldn't be. I like getting things done.


I worked for a brilliant but ruthless businessman at one point in my career who very openly "stabled PhDs" (his words) in the field (RF engineering / DSP). He'd give them some research projects to play with for years on end just to keep them away from the competition.


I'd guess no one's really happy being bored all day. People get into a position where they feel like their life is settled, and unless they do something really horrible 'the good life' is all but guaranteed. Leaving something like that for uncertainty will calculate out to insanity for most people, because the value of 'the good life' is either very high or people under value their chances of success.


A big problem with filthy rich outfits is that they can simply afford to do this. My two highest-paying jobs were almost sinecures. The teams were massively overstaffed, and it could be quite difficult to find productive things to work on. I spent a lot of time simply waiting, which is to say killing time.

If your goal in life is to be rich, it's not bad, I guess. If you really love doing good tech, it's stultifying.


Are you a bot? Where do you find those stupid words? No wonder you're attracted to useless positions for status.


We've banned this account for breaking the site guidelines. If you don't want to be banned, you're welcome to email hn@ycombinator.com and give us reason to believe that you'll follow the rules in the future.

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html


Wow, this place has completely transformed then? More like pleb news nowadays I guess rather than hacker news. Shame.


You'd always have been banned for posting like that (edit: I mean https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=23423311).


Well yeah usually the more fun job pays less. That’s just basic economics. Life is all about trade offs.


There is nothing inherent in "basic economics" that postulates that fulfilling or fun jobs pay less.

I also find the idea of "basic economics" laughable given how impossible economics is in the first place. I mean, yes, if you assume spherical cows...


>There is nothing inherent in "basic economics" that postulates that fulfilling or fun jobs pay less.

Basic supply and demand. Fun jobs mean more people apply to the job. The employer can pick the cheapest employees. Employees can get an edge over their peers by lowering their salary expectations because they value the job more than the money.

I honestly don't even think that this is a bad trade off. There are lots of jobs where you get access to equipment that you could never afford even if you had a higher salary. Think of working at a company like SpaceX or doing research at a university.


> There is nothing inherent in "basic economics" that postulates that fulfilling or fun jobs pay less

It's called 'psychic income', and it is something that people will accept, to some extent, as a substitute for cash comp.

This is widely cited as the reason that teachers earn less than other professions, and why garbage collectors earn more. There are a lot of people who enjoy teaching, and not a lot who enjoy garbage collecting.

https://www.wipo.int/edocs/pubdocs/en/wipo_pub_econstat_wp_5...


>This is widely cited as the reason that teachers earn less than other professions, and why garbage collectors earn more.

Looks like the median pay for garbage collectors is $37,840[0] and for teachers it is $59,420[1]

[0]https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes537081.htm

[1]https://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/mobil...


Is there any required credentialing for for garbage collectors? Teachers need to have a bachelors degree and a teaching credential, in most cases.


That's true but the OP just destroyed the only supporting evidence you provided for your point. It might be that teacher's salaries would be below $37k if it didn't require credentialing, but that's not the case, so it's not evidence.


The OP did not destroy the supporting evidence.


How so? The only supporting evidence provided was garbage collectors make more than teachers. The OP posted a link showing that's not true.


I never said that teachers should make less than garbage collectors because they enjoy psychic income. These two jobs are not generally substitutable in the eyes of potential employees, since they are so different. Sorry if I gave the impression that any job that enjoys psychic income would pay less than any other job — certainly this is not true.

For example, college professors receive psychic income, but they make much more than garbage collectors. They make less than stock brokers, which is another career option available to people who can get PhDs, in general.


>Sorry if I gave the impression that any job that enjoys psychic income would pay less than any other job — certainly this is not true.

That's not the impression you gave. You gave the impression that garbage collectors make more than teachers.

>This is widely cited as the reason that teachers earn less than other professions, and why garbage collectors earn more

Teachers < other professions < garbage collectors

I get now that you meant to say was

Teachers < similar professions to teachers

Garbage collectors > similar professions to garbage collectors

I've heard many arguments that teacher make less than X profession, so the former wasn't an unreasonable interpretation given the phrasing.

Knowing what you meant to say. I don't think garbage collector pay is good supporting evidence for psychic income. Garbage collector pays well because it is a physically unpleasant job. What's an example of a substitute job that is similarly physically unpleasant that pays less because people find it fulfilling?


> There is nothing inherent in "basic economics" that postulates that fulfilling or fun jobs pay less.

It kinda is, isn't it? The fun, fulfilling job is one that everybody is happy to do. The boring, soul-devouring job is where you need to encourage people to do it by offering more money.


this seems like basic common sense. if you have two job offers for the same salary, but one sounds really fun and the other sounds really boring, wouldn't you pick the fun one? but at the same time unless you're already pretty wealthy, there's probably a dollar amount that would make you pick the boring one instead. iterate this choice over enough people, and the "fun factor" depresses wages.


Good economics is basically common sense on manifolds.


Cet. par., if doing a job involves less disutility for the worker, people will demand less pay to compensate, since pay demands will be at the breakeven net utility point. Basic economics.


Boss, I counted up my utils for the month, and it looks like I'm enjoying this new project. I have handily computed for you an appropriate rate at which to cut my pay. Basic economics demands it be so.


> On the other hand, if I'd gone to work for Amazon straight out of college, I'd probably have a boat by now.

Anyone who'd bought AMZN probably has a boat by now.


Depending on when you graduated from college, that may or may not have fallen into the big company or startup bucket.

The delayed liquidity of the extremely long startup adolescence in recent years ("startups" that are 10+ years old and where almost all of the big value growth is in the rear-view mirror) is, IMHO, a big part of this.


Was not the case for most careers out there? If you want a comfortable 9-5 job you generally join a giant and stay as long as possible.


that's not what he's saying. He's saying higher overall income, and it comes with lower risk than startups.


But that's also expected, isn't it? Startups are like playing the lottery, those that win will suddenly have much, much, much more than your average person that puts their money into savings instead. But a big part of those playing the lottery will never win, and on average those who just invest their money will be better off than those who play the lottery.


> Startups are like playing the lottery

Sure, what has changed over the last 10 or so years is that winning the startup lottery pays close to nothing incremental over working at a large company since most of the equity is now held by founders and late stage investors and most of the stock growth happens before a company goes public.


I think you're 100% right, but it feels to me like the odds have just shifted over time. Early on it was more like the stock market, then it was like a roulette table, and now it's like gas station scratch tickets.

I'm not saying you can't get rich off of gas station scratch tickets, but it's not the best option.


he's saying that the monopoly aspect earns more much's of money for more much's of people, and therefore it's much much more than the startup aspect is much more.

i.e. you can join a startup that is already successful (the winner has been picked, Amazon, Google, Uber, ...) and safely with less variance expect to gain more expected value than you'll on average get from trying to pick the next winner. If you say "but startups are win win" then I'll say "but he's saying monopolists are win win win"

Microsoft was already an OS monopoly by 1990, but after that is when it really started to make real money, and for a lot more people than had worked there in the 80's. Because monopolizing a niche industry is nothing compared to growing the monopoly to mainstream acceptance.

you don't have to agree with his assessment; I'm just trying to clarify that he is saying something, not just selecting a point on a gaussian.


When I hear tech giant, I think FAANG, but I'm not sure this is representative of the options most programmers have. It certainly isnt representative of the compensation at most large companies.


In addition, I think rank-and-file FAANG salaries, when discussed here, tend to get grossly exaggerated. I know lots of people working at these companies and none of them have a boat. Lots of them have roommates in cramped apartments in SF like other tech company employees. Are there some highly paid employees at top tech companies? Sure. Do most employees at these companies have vacation homes and private jets? Nope.


Emphasis on "reliably". I have two classmates who went the startup route and retired around 30 (and not on a beach in Thailand).

Why would anyone ever work for the big company if startups were both more potentially lucrative and more reliable?


Why is that disappointing?

That's the "pro" of going with an established company - having reliably high compensation.

The "pro" of going with a startup is the low chance of exceptional pay and the fulfilling work.


Was this ever not the case for the majority of software engineers?


I'm not a historian or anything, but I've seen it ebb and flow over the years. There have definitely been periods where the best opportunities were at small, innovative businesses.

I think we've reached a point in the industry where innovation has slowed enough to allow the biggest companies to catch up. Combined with the natural advantages that big companies have (monopoly, regulatory capture, etc.), it's just really hard to go toe-to-toe with them these days.


Trying to break the conditioning here but government should always tax in a way that it incentive WORK. The way things are Wealth is no longer being produced, so those who have it will be on top because income will never be enough to prop you up.

Therefore we should want a Growth market so that more wealth is produced and risk averse people will still be rich but more people will become as rich as them.

To resolve Inequality we can't just have the mindset of punish the rich for creating wealth. We need to grease up our economy so that everyone else can be rich as well.

Different mindset but this problem is super hard to solve and I don't think anyone has a decent solution for it.


I've long argued for massive estate taxes on the very rich that forces a partial reset on wealth and avoid medieval times when land ownership was just passed down generation to generation. It's the only fair and practical wealth tax I can think of. I have no problem at all with Bezos being filthy rich, however, I have a giant problem with his kids and all descendants being billionaires. A huge estate tax would also massively incentivize charitable giving as wealthy people donated money to avoid the government taking it all. I'm sure consumption would rise some also, but the more money you have the harder it gets to spend on consumption, hence many of today's problems. The point is, knowing it will mostly go to the government upon death, the extremely wealthy would be motivated to do stuff with the capital. I'm still baffled why no one has seriously floated this idea though.


The bigger problem with estate taxes (and btw estate taxes often imply death taxes in US law) that you may not see is how they effect smaller players. One of the things fueling corporate consolidation is asset liquidation upon death. If I start and own a small company that’s worth $10million, when I die, there is likely a strong desire to liquidate that company in order to allow for some inheritance to multiple people. This likely means selling the business to another player. If there’s an estate tax, then you must sell. My understanding is this has been a very real problem for farmers for many generations, and they have been the largest opponents for estate taxes.

I suspect the bigger problem isn’t the Bezos’s of the world consolidating money and power generationally, it’s the big corporations getting bigger, with corporate taxation disproportionately hurting the smaller players rather than the bigger players. We would have a much healthier economy if the incentive structures hurt companies more the bigger they get to discourage things like vertical integration. A company doesn’t have to pay taxes on the intermediary steps of production but might have to (sales or B&O tax) if they were to purchase the same goods from a third party. This tends to distort markets away from lots of smaller players to a few big players.


> My understanding is this has been a very real problem for farmers for many generations, and they have been the largest opponents for estate taxes.

Your understanding is a talking point created by the Republican party and has no real basis in reality.

https://www.factcheck.org/2017/09/death-tax-talking-point-wo... https://www.cbpp.org/blog/the-myth-that-the-estate-tax-threa... https://money.cnn.com/2017/10/10/news/economy/farmers-estate... https://www.chicagotribune.com/opinion/commentary/ct-perspec... https://www.tampabay.com/archive/2001/04/09/debunking-the-my...

I will also point out that estates benefit from step-up basis which avoids Capital Gains taxes on unrealized gains, which is hugely beneficial to most estates. This way of taxing is meant as a compromise to allow fairly large estates to pass tax exempt --currently up to $11MM if held by a single person, $22MM for a married couple-- while applying taxes to estates that all but guarantee that you could retire instantly collecting an income that puts you in the top 1% of household earnings in the US with highly favorable capital gains tax treatment. Also, the IRS will work with anyone that has a large illiquid estate and allow taxes to be paid over a decade after an initial grace period, with an appropriate interest rate.


Yeah, you may be right about the republican talking point with farmers. I have no direct anecdotes with farmers, and with the one friend I have in the agriculture world, the topic never came up. The main anecdotes I have are with people who have estates that were big enough to have to worry about what would happen to their businesses when they died, since they couldn't just pass on the business to their heir. This is a hard problem even without the threat of a government wanting their cut, since companies don't have a tendency to survive their founders leaving.

Also, make no mistake, I'm not trying to apologize for people who are already extremely wealthy, who have to deal with this problem. I would love to have the problem of what to do with a company big enough to need to sell it upon my death. I'm merely trying to point out, that estate taxes do have a consolidating effect that feeds mega corporations. What I don't know is if this effect is as big as I suspect it is, or if it's simply dwarfed by other factors, like the general desire to sell out for a big payday.


> The main anecdotes I have are with people who have estates that were big enough to have to worry about what would happen to their businesses when they died, since they couldn't just pass on the business to their heir.

I'm sorry, but this is just the same talking point reframed.

If you have a business that is large enough to be subject to estate taxes, you should have enough time and resources to talk to an estate attorney and learn how to move the assets into an appropriate corporate governance structure such that it is no longer a real issue.


Personally, I hate the idea of corporate income taxes - they're literally stupid. You can't tax corporations, you can only tax people. At the end of the day, it's always a person somewhere that is paying the tax, whether it's an employee, supplier, shareholder...and that person is already paying their own income taxes. Also, the tax code favors big companies at the expense of small ones, it's a system that can be gamed in a bunch of ways. I say get rid of it, it's dumb.

I would put some limits on estate tax rates at certain thresholds. Like, anything above $50 million, tax at 90%. And hey, the kids will still be rich, just not crazy billionaires. For private companies this gets tricky and for many companies they would be forced sellers, that's one of the big trade offs. Exempt farms if necessary?


Your argument is based on corporations existing within a closed system within the country. But you're ignoring the ability of money leaving the country without being taxed.


> Personally, I hate the idea of corporate income taxes - they're literally stupid. You can't tax corporations, you can only tax people.

but according to law, corporations are "people" arent they?


Why not just split the estate? A single person should not inherit more than 50% of the value of the estate.


In businesses, including farming, splitting it wholesale can kill the business while diluting control can paralyze it.


I think a large portion of people would not bother building an estate if it could not be passed on to teir children. Most people work hard and build businesses for the benifit of their family.


Puerto Rico has constraints like that. It is also the poorest part of the Union.


Sounds like the workers should own the company, not private individuals.


you do understand why private individuals own the company and not the workers themselves right? In order for any productive venture to start that are three components, raw materials, labor and capital. Workers only provide labor. Workers may be able to provide raw materials, but that's ridiculously prohibitive to become a worker.

Similarly, you are wishing that the workers must also provide capital, but again it requires workers to have savings. Now obviously I know you don't think of these things like that, you just have a wishful desire that somehow the profits are distributed to the workers and not to some random individual. But the truth is this is the precise reason why the prophets go to the individual who supplied the production process with their savings (just supplying them with savings isn't enough that would only allow you to earn the original money plus interest, but in order to benefit from the profits you must undertake the risk associated with the productive process).

By separating the people who work in a company and the people who undertake the risk associated with the productive venture, you benefit everyone.


>I'm still baffled why no one has seriously floated this idea though.

It's not even a fringe idea that government policy is dictated by the wealthy class. What incentive do they have to do this?

The only way that it will happen is by regular people making it policy, and our current system doesn't give us a voice on what happens.


Frankly, this wouldn't do much. Most familial wealth in america ends up getting lost. https://www.marketwatch.com/story/heres-why-90-of-rich-peopl....


Three things. First, this is only true of the past and doesn't saying anything about the future. Second, this "study" isn't weighted based on the size of the estate. Third, that 10% matters far more than you could imagine.


> First, this is only true of the past and doesn't saying anything about the future.

Well, I can say that about anything. Oh... the rate of return on capital is higher than the rate of return on labor? Well that's only true of the past, no study has studied the concrete data of what is going to happen in the future (Hint: it's because there is none).


There are tons of loop holes. In the end, if said legislation passes both floors the only ones got hit are the middle class people who don't have the knowledge and means to use those loopholes.


Estate taxes on the Federal level have never even come close to being applicable to middle-class estates.


I'm with you but substitute WORK for Value Creation. It's way to easy to "create jobs" which are essentially busy-work with 0 to negative productivity. In the coming decades, economic productivity will become more and more important as gains from elsewhere start to taper out.


Agreed. Value Creation is a better word. Idea world is to have everyone getting rid off the necessary of repetitive work (of course he can still do it if he wants) and everyone is motivated to create value, in one way or another, and people generally don't say things like "Hey because I build rockets/control banks I should have a much more lucrative life than the rest of you guys".

If we look at history, most of the stuffs that improve human civilization were indeed funded by "VC" of the time, but the core motive is not to earn profit, but to solve problems and satisfy personal interest. Now if you can remove VC from the picture, you pretty much get a society in which everyone is automatically doing things that are beneficial to the collective. Anyone who wants to just be super lazy will get bored easily and will start doing things sooner or later, especially when all of his friends are creating value.

Sounds familiar somehow.


Isn't "Value Creation" just another one of those buzzwords used to bamboozle investors? It's not that it doesn't exist, but it's so abstract & academic as to be impossible to measure.


> It's way to easy to "create jobs" which are essentially busy-work with 0 to negative productivity.

If firms have workers with negative productivity, aren't executives incentivized to fire them?

And if so, why are there negative-productivity workers?


Lots of executives aren't judged on their final contribution to the bottom line but the size of their 'empire' or project 'successes' they can point to.

There are also plenty of examples of work that is profitable to a company but that doesn't create value to consumers:

* Campaign Donations / Lobbying for favourable regulations.

* Softbank style monopoly creation (it's just moving investor money to consumers).

* Patent Trolls and lots of semi-patent trolling games. (Think Amazon buying Kiva)

* Misleading / Emotive advertising. (Which I'd argue is the majority of it.)

If you're hell bent on thinking markets are inherently fair you can contort yourself to show these things _can_ be productive but to think they're always productive?


> Lots of executives aren't judged on their final contribution to the bottom line but the size of their 'empire' or project 'successes' they can point to.

Who is incentivized to hold executives responsible for the bottom line, board members and shareholders?

> If you're hell bent on thinking markets are inherently fair you can contort yourself to show these things _can_ be productive but to think they're always productive?

I agree, insomuch that many 'profitable ventures' don't increase the aggregate material wealth of the country.


I can think of a number of reasons:

1. The firm has enough growth to cover it up (downturns can finally bring about layoffs here)

2. Measurement is difficult or not practiced at certain firms vs others

3. Subsidies or contracts from the government specifically cancel out negative productivity and so make it worth it

etc


Another word for negative productivity is overhead.

Many administrative, HR and IT workers are overhead, but still needed.


They are not negative productivity. Internally consumed product is still product.


Why should everyone have to work? We are 100% capable of creating a society where everyone's basic needs are met with the automation and technology we have today. The idea that a person is only worth something if they work needs to be deeply reexamined.


While I agree with the overall sentiment, the idea that we are capable of creating a society where all basic needs are met entirely through automation is a pretty damned bold assertion.


Fair. There's a lot we could do.


No, we aren't. Not even close.


Because of attitudes like this. There is enough money out there to solve many problems but it is hoarded by a certain amount of people and then a bunch of people go around saying, "better things aren't possible."


That's also not true, at all. If you think most jobs can be automated you clearly have no idea what an average job is.


Because if you cannot offer anything of value, someone else will offer that value on your behalf, making you an extraneous cost which anyone in their right mind would want to remove. And then you are but a slave to whomever you are useful to, meaning whoever controls you, and whoever has the power, and who grants you the means to get those basic needs. If someone is giving you bread for free, you can be sure it's because they don't want you to rebell. But then that is also your only value to them, which is a very dangerous proposal, because it means you're expendable, and that the guy giving you that bread might not want to continue such a fruitless endavour. That is why an economy must rely on the basis of voluntarily offering something of value. Because the alternative is literal enslavement.


> If someone is giving you bread for free, you can be sure it's because they don't want you to rebell.

There's no other reason you could think of to feed a hungry person?

> That is why an economy must rely on the basis of voluntarily offering something of value. Because the alternative is literal enslavement.

You don't see the irony in saying that a person must volunteer their value or be enslaved?


> There's no other reason you could think of to feed a hungry person?

Free individuals might give something out of benevolence. But a state institution is not a free individual. It can only represent the collective, and you cannot ensure that all individuals in such a collective would agree to such an exchange, or feel benevolent about it. As such, there is no such thing as a benevolent state. Instead, you can employ game theory on such entities, to the extent of making them look completely self-serving and even psychopatic, as proven by Nash.

This is why it is so important to curtail the development of big and monolithic bureaucratic organisations, and instead use such principles as those given by Montesquieu, to make natural powers compete for authority.

> You don't see the irony in saying that a person must volunteer their value or be enslaved?

Do you think the person giving you bread should be forced to give you that bread? Nay, it would be far better if there was some kind of mutual exchange. There is none to be had, when the exchange is merely giving out a resource for "free." Except we know that it's not for free, but in return for your good behaviour. Then the exchange isn't free, but depending on an exchange anyway, except you have little to no say in it. Then the one in power of that resource in turn also have absolute power over you. So there should be a way for you to gain that power for yourself, or in the least make sure the one giving you bread does not have monopoly in doing so, because it will inevitably devolve into abuse of power.


This seems to be a kind of mixing of two concepts. First, that "a state that is big enough to give you anything, is big enough to take it all away". And second, that being provided resources "for free" is a forced exchange because you don't have a say.

If the state was a dictatorship, then the point might apply. However, democratic states (to lesser or greater degrees) contain some measure of feedback; and that weakens both of the prongs.

Plainly speaking, a democratic state provides its people bread for free because that's what the people want. The state can't take it all away since it is responsible to the people, and the exchange isn't a one-sided forced deal because the people in the state's jurisdiction have collective power on the state itself.

If that power is the power of the ballot, then the mutual exchange could be seen through an adversarial lens to be "good behavior in return for free bread". But the consequence doesn't hold, as the state doesn't have absolute power over its people. The exchange is mutual because if either party reneges, so does the other party.

But the stronger that feedback is, the less the adversarial model works. Consider a community small enough to support a direct democracy along consensus lines. If the tech existed, such a community could create an automated bakery and then hand all of that bread to its members. Here the members govern themselves; there is no external power that arises out of the state and then unilaterally controls the people.

A larger state may be different, but that difference is a matter of degree. "The one in power of that resource" only has "absolute power over you" if you are not part of it.


This is not a concept, but an observation. What you're talking about already exists. It's the capitalist cooperative, where people voluntarily come together to pool capital in order to build some company that produces things or services that are of benefit to the collective owners and/or their customers.

However, while the price of membership in such a unit decreases with every new participant, the ownership is also diminished with each new owner, until effective control over the unit or process becomes very difficult. This will inevitably lead to frustration and feelings of powerlessness as needed change is slowed more and more.

As the saying goes, more votes, does not necessarily mean more democracy. It simply means that it becomes harder to get anything done. Meanwhile, bureacracies grow and rule uninterrupted under such conditions, since a vote every fourth year, and the meddling of one or two representatives, can only ever make small and incremental changes, instead of giving the organization the far-reaching and overarching reorganization that it actually needs in order to become fair and effective again; a thing that is usually contested and opposed by those making up the bureacracy of that organization in the first place.


Right, so the point that it is a matter of degree stands, and the point that you are not powerless in a state where you are part of the government also stands.

Given those points, it is not impossible to imagine a future state deciding to use some of its resources to constructing an automated production system. Its legitimacy is backed up in two ways: once, by the consent of the governed through the democratic process, and the other, by the positive externalities it grants to the people in common.

If the people of such a future state decides to create a common automation infrastructure, then they may also reach the conclusion that not everybody needs to work. The conclusion you reached in your initial post,

>Because if you cannot offer anything of value, someone else will offer that value on your behalf, making you an extraneous cost which anyone in their right mind would want to remove.

no longer holds, because even in the most selfish system, any bureaucrat who takes the time to "remove" you will have to face the consequences. And therefore, there can exist a state that does not demand everybody work.

To some extent, that already exists today. Welfare states protect (or are intended to protect) people who can't work. The people in a welfare state do not want to leave those who can't work to starvation, and so the state doesn't, either.

I do, of course, agree that states as they exist today are imperfect, sometimes grossly so. But I disagree that there is a necessary implication that everybody has to work. As long as the people have a say, and as long as the people do not only value labor, the state cannot simply rid itself of its unproductive constituents. If anyone "in their right mind" would remove people that are "extraneous costs", then the people are collectively insane - and they are coherently and strongly insane enough to check those who are not.


As automation advances it will be much more self reliant in terms of supply chains and production. It could be conceivable that a small town is completely self reliant, not needing to be an entity the size of a state to achieve it.


> Right, so the point that it is a matter of degree stands, and the point that you are not powerless in a state where you are part of the government also stands.

Not really. The more people who get to vote, the less individual control you get yourself over the outcome, and so the more powerless you become. More votes do not equate more democracy, only less individual power to influence your own future or leadership through the ballot, especially if your choices are limited. Unless you take a more direct action, and go into politics yourself, that is. But who has the time for that?

This is why people are rioting in the streets now, instead of patiently waiting until the voting booths open. It's because deciding between two candidates wouldn't resolve the matter in any meaningful way. Especially since there are no real candidates to vote for, that would make anything but token change for you. Nevermind an independent candidate, who just wouldn't gain any traction at all, or at least not under the American system.

Call me cynical, but representative democracy only works because it gives people the illusion that they have an individual say in politics, but they really don't. However the illusion keeps them blissfull enough to not want to rise up. If it actually mattered, I'm sure there wouldn't be a discussion on whether the Brexit vote should be respected (many wanted to disregard it entirely), or even that my own country of Norway perhaps shouldn't pursue relations with the EU, since a majority voted against membership. Yet here we are, with a de-facto membership of the EU through the EEA. Voting against it really worked. Yay... /sarcasm. So I can full well understand why some people think rioting is a better choice. I don't condone it, and I think there are better ways to protest, but I still understand it.

> even in the most selfish system, any bureaucrat who takes the time to "remove" you will have to face the consequences. And therefore, there can exist a state that does not demand everybody work.

Depends on the system in place. And it would be at the eternal scorn of those who have to work, but still pays the full cost of all those who don't. Because UBI isn't "free." And let's face it, such a machine wouldn't be "free" either, although it stands to reason that if it was made really big, then it would certainly be cost saving enough as to preclude all competition from all those who don't have the means to build such a machine themselves. As such, it would be clearly monopolistic.

In essence, it would be unfair to all those who would otherwise compete by baking bread of their own, because it would make bread-baking entirely unprofitable for everyone, just like slavery made low-end work unprofitable both in Rome and in pre-civil war USA. People somehow forget to mention that the war wasn't just about emancipation, but also because slavery gave slave owners such an unfair advantage that it put a lot of people out of honest work. Thus there would be something in it for every baker to throw a wrench into such a monopolistic machine.

If the only way to build such a machine, is to build it big, then it stands to reason that only big players can build it. So what makes you think they'd do it out of pure benevolence, without anything to gain from it? Surely, giving elites peace from the "rabble" might be a good enough reason? In fact, large swathes of the people would become complacent and dependent on the machine. So anyone who could gain control over it, would also stand to gain untold power for themselves and their group.

I think a fair few people would aspire to such power, and some might even be willing to murder for it. If you were somehow able to defend that coup, either diplomatically or by force, you would in effect gain dictatorial power over anyone it served. And nevermind democracy. You now have the power to decide what people vote, or no bread for you! And so, even if it was made with good intentions and for benevolent reasons, the machine may well come under the control of evil. Worst of all, if evil ever got control over it, many would come to their aid, simply to make sure they would continue to come first in the bread-line.

Now consider a crisis sweeping the world, say, destroying crops around the world; the guys who are getting stuff for free, would be the first to be cut out of the service of that machine. Only those who worked and saved would afford bread in such a time, as everyone would be made to pay. Except those who relied solely on the machine would starve, because they wouldn't have anything saved up to pay for bread. And so you'd have new upheavals.

The only way to alleviate such an extreme amount of power, would be to make sure there is competition for it, so that several machines were made to compete with each other to offer the best bread. And for that to be possible, you need people who also add value by working in various ways.

But without any incentives to do so, one might revert to letting the state do it. And then it would be in the interest of the state to keep that power to themselves, and prohibit anyone else from having it. Good luck saving it from the psychos and sociopaths that usually want to climb to those heights.

> If the people of such a future state decides to create a common automation infrastructure, then they may also reach the conclusion that not everybody needs to work.

If they provide no value, then they are also worthless and expendable. If their worth is only potential, then don't be surprised if they're treated like cattle by those owning or controlling that infrastructure.

> To some extent, that already exists today. Welfare states protect (or are intended to protect) people who can't work. The people in a welfare state do not want to leave those who can't work to starvation, and so the state doesn't, either.

Except it's an inherently unsustainable system unless most people in that country also contributes to it. We're now in a situation where more and more countries cannot afford the welfare states they once created. And now while the coffers are empty, and the jobs are drying up, people want UBI? Who's gonna pay for it? The only reason rich people would pay for it, is to insure safety for themselves. So in essence, they would pay for security against the masses. It's the same reason the patricians of Rome did it. Well, Ok, whatever you say, it did work for a time... For that reason. So that's at least something, I guess. But whatever that was, it wasn't freedom.

There is already solutions that lets people stop working, however: Income based on interest, dividends and rising asset values. This is when the value you add back to society has become intrinsic to the property that you own. But most people have neither the means nor the knowhow for how to get there. Perhaps this is what schools should focus on in the near future, then?


>If they provide no value, then they are also worthless and expendable.

This doesn't have to be the case, only the most nihilistic and privileged view of the world can produce such statements. People are not valuable because of their ability to produce capital, reducing things to these terms is a deficiency in both mental models and morality.


> It can only represent the collective, and you cannot ensure that all individuals in such a collective would agree to such an exchange, or feel benevolent about it. As such, there is no such thing as a benevolent state.

A state is only benevolent if every single citizen is benevolent? That seems like a pointless assertion.

In a democracy, in theory, the majority is what matters.


Ah, yes. The majority that forced Socrates to drink poison.


If democracy is majority dictatorship, then why do constitutions provide rights also to the minority?


Thankfully, it's because a lof of politicians have read Socrates, and taken his lesson to heart; that majority rule is indeed dictatorial, and so we should strive to also let the minorities be heard. That doesn't mean it is always fair, though. Sometimes it also leads to minorities gaining dictatorial rights when they shouldn't.


> There's no other reason you could think of to feed a hungry person?

It's not what you can think of that matters, it's what the people who control the state apparatus can think of.

The vast majority of human beings are capable of empathy. Such people are usually found towards the bottom to middle of most hierarchies, because their empathy makes it painful to fuck over all the other claimants and collateral damage that they need to crawl over to get to the top.

You could look at capitalism is a sociopath-containment vehicle. If there were no sociopaths, there would be no need for capitalism: people would produce what was needed and freely share it with the people who need it most. However, there are sociopaths, and throughout history they've usually just taken all the excess production, enjoyed it, and left the people who produced it destitute. It was a big innovation to be able to channel that selfishness and will to dominate other people into productive uses that make the rest of society more efficient.


> making you an extraneous cost which anyone in their right mind would want to remove

Wanting to remove people for being "extraneous costs" is not right-minded. It is extreme sociopathy.


You are completely correct, Sir. This is why we must avoid organizing our states in ways that create such dependencies at all cost, and instead strive to create states that create voluntary sharing of resources and values that are mutually beneficial. That is the only way progress can be made, and freedom can be insured.

On the other hand, if you were a baker, and someone told you that you must give your bread away for free to a third party, how would you feel about that? The only thing you would get in return, is not being punished by the one forcing you to work, and not killed by the masses for whom you provide your free bread. I don't know about you, but personally I'd hate to live under such a fascist regime.


Unless you consider the majority of human societies to have every existed extreme sociopathy. While I don't particularly support it, many societies throughout history exposed children with disabilities and many many more would execute or exile elements they deemed 'criminal'. Today, we still remove people for potentially being extraneous costs in abortion. It's legal, but it is the same motivation.

I mean, I personally think it's all sociopathic, but it's the normal state of 'the state'.


We will never automate "basic needs" unless we automate medicine.

We'll never automate medicine because everyone wants to live even longer.


I don't know about the should part, but I think everyone needs a reason to get out of bed in the morning, to know that they're contributing to their family and their society as a whole. Imagine how unpleasant it would ultimately be to be told that your needs would be well met, but you would no longer be allowed to carry out productive work.


I’ve been on paternity leave for 4 months out of 6 just playing with my kids. It’s awesome.

I would love to not work and just play with my kids.


Every time you could spend five more minutes playing with your kids, you should, in my opinion. That's pretty much the meaning of life.


Because the only way to increase the standard of living is to increase productivity. You cannot inflate your way to prosperity. It is a mathematical impossiblity.


no reexamination necessary, I'm drawn to emulate and recommend the humans that work hard toward long term goals. I like when Darwinism shows tangible progress against entropy rather than producing viruses that leech off of life.


What long term goal is slaving away at McDonalds or Wal-Mart accomplishing? All the people advancing society are being paid pittances compared to the true leeches (landlords and shareholders).

People should not be required to work to survive. People should be required to work to make the world a better place. Most people work bullshit jobs that do not advance anything but the wealth of the 1%.


> People should not be required to work to survive.

What does "be required" mean?


I think your point mirrors Scott Galloway's and Warren Buffet's philosophies. Why is sweat, regular labor, taxed much more than capital gains? Why do CEOs who are fantastically rich need lower taxation rates than the 100s of laborers their lifestyle relies upon? We tax sweat, we let riches run free.


I was always told the reason was to encourage investing, to increase the velocity of money. Interest income from parking your money in the bank is taxed as ordinary income; lower taxes on investment income (capital gains) helps make investing more attractive vs parking the money.

This may not make a lot of sense right now when interest rates are close to zero, but there was also a time when interest rates were 20%.


Capital gains -- gains from dividends or retained earnings -- are taxed at the corporate tax level before being distributed. I don't think we should retax them at all. I think dividends should be untaxed, and so should the retained earnings portion when selling a stock, but all capital gains attributed purely to increase in speculative valuation can be taxed more, sure. Just a small nitpick.


I think the exact opposite. Taxing capital gains and eliminating corporate taxes would incentivise value creation. Low tax dividends and capital gains benifit individuals without active participation in the value creation.


> Low tax dividends and capital gains benifit individuals without active participation in the value creation.

Presumably, actively working (like with a job) to generate wealth to invest in other enterprises is 'active participation in the value creation'. I mean, sure, if you want to introduce steep capital gains on invested capital that was inherited, or won, or whatever, that's fine.


>Presumably, actively working (like with a job) to generate wealth to invest in other enterprises is 'active participation in the value creation'.

This is my exact point. Working (like with a job) creates value. Investing money in a secondary market for stocks generates no value whatsoever. Perhaps it keeps some stock brokers emplayed


> Investing money in a secondary market for stocks generates no value whatsoever.

Great, then let's open the primary market (which does generate value) up to individual investors. Unfortunately, this value generating mechanism has been legislated away.


Im open to lessinging restrictings on accredited investors to allow more access. That said, it is worth pointing out that public investors do have access to primary market IPOs.

That said, I do think this is somewhat beside the point of how capital gains should be taxed. I think that stock appreciation profit should be taxed at least as high as personal income.


> I think that stock appreciation profit should be taxed at least as high as personal income.

I don't understand why... if I invest money I worked to earn, the profit from putting that money to use should be taxed three times: once while paying the employee the company hires to carry out business, twice after profit is calculated and corporate income tax taken, and then thrice when they tax me for the dividend. Surely twice is enough?

> That said, it is worth pointing out that public investors do have access to primary market IPOs.

Not quite, the have access to the resellers of the primary market IPO. The original buyers of the equity are the underwriters plus whoever registered during the road show -- and they must be accredited I believe.


>I don't understand why... if I invest money I worked to earn, the profit from putting that money to use should be taxed three times: once while paying the employee the company hires to carry out business, twice after profit is calculated and corporate income tax taken, and then thrice when they tax me for the dividend. Surely twice is enough?

My point is that if you are investing in a secondary market, you are not putting that money to use. It goes into the pocket of whoever sold you the stock and the company doesn't see a dime from the transaction.

If we must have taxes, I would rather have them not come from earned income (like a job), which takes labor and creates value. Income from the secondary market require no labor, and create no value.

If you believe rewarding and incentivizing value creation is more moral and socially desirable. Rewarding individuals for simply possessing assets is at best neutral.


Is this regardless of legal structure? The choice to incorporate as a corporation comes with a side effect of double taxation but the sole proprietorship doesn't...

Not sure where you're based, but do the recent economic events in the US change your tune here at all? Given 'too big to fail' how do you prevent organizations from retaining zero earnings and then asking for loans when liquidity dries up? Double taxation is an incentive against this behavior


I think we should go to a system where companies must pay out all profits to investors, who can choose whether to reinvest or not. Stop the 'too big to fail' mentality -- if companies want money, ask the investors, not the government.


You can't solve the problem in conventional ways because rich people as well as large funds and corporations control legislation. You can vote 100 tines and be guaranteed that the outcome won't be different in that perspective.

I'm not sure if ycombinators like the alternative way.

BTW I agree to your idea in general, just want to say that I'd substitute WORK with anything that benefits human being.


The underlying problem is that money buys policy. That's not how democracy is supposed to work.

But as long as that's true, you're going to get increasing disparities of both wealth and power - because you have a nice tight political and economic engine that cycles by turning one into the other, and back again.

Redefining value as "social value" - of some kind - won't change this on its own, because that process is just the on-ramp to the main cycle.

And unfortunately it's not the only on-ramp - it's just the most obvious one.


As long as the state, or whoever manage and control the state machine, utilize "money" to purchase man power (to get whatever tasks they need to accomplish or whatever goods they need to build), it's impossible to bar money from the system. It is part of the system.

Democracy has always been like this, or worse, when it is not judged by money, but by your ancestors. Capitalism smashes Feudalism by bringing power to a lot of people than the Feudal lords agreed with, and then it's pretty much "money buys everything" mode.


I'm with this argument. Capital gains should at least be taxed as much as earned income.


But then if you want to help people build wealth that don’t have it, you make it much harder.

I really feel like people need to look into land taxes a la Henry George: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_George

Taxing things like capital gains differently or implementing a generic wealth tax can actually hurt those we want to help to build wealth as well as incentivize things like expatriation of wealth. Can’t expatriate land.


Taxes are not punishment. Taxes exist because a certain amount of wealth is required to maintain a state.

I understand that the financial/business world has been trying to convince people otherwise since the mid 1970s, but they are still as wrong today as they were then.

Tax “fairness” is therefore simple. He who earns the most should pay the most.

You cannot expatriate dollars. The currency is issued by the state and the state can seize it. Chinese factory? Great, tariff on iPhones at the dock. Baseline tax = difference in currency value between country of origin and country of destination on that day. HQ in Ireland? Super, you owe the US the difference between the tax you paid there and the equivalent rate here. Don’t like it? No security sales in US markets. Sell bonds and stock somewhere else.

These aren’t hard problems.


> Taxes are not punishment. Taxes exist because a certain amount of wealth is required to maintain a state.

Who is saying taxes shouldn’t exist here? I’m advocating for a specific form of wealth tax. I clearly believe taxes are necessary. As for them not being a punishment, this is clearly a silly semantic argument focused on trying to frame this emotionally. People respond to incentives and change their behavior when faced with incentives. Taxes change incentives. If a tax disincentives a behavior, this behavior will be done less. Get your moral policing out of here.

> Tax “fairness” is therefore simple. He who earns the most should pay the most.

Why earnings? Why should we tax people’s labor? Your definition of fairness is yours, not everyone else’s.

> You cannot expatriate dollars.

Jesus Christ, yes you can. It’s like you’ve never heard of offshore banks. Where does an idea like this even come up? Go see China’s issues with people expatriating capital and their middling success at preventing it with capital controls.

How someone can speak like this and not see the value of a wealth tax in the form of a land tax blows my mind. By the way, concerned with massive disparities in wealth? That’s all from housing which is of course built on what? Land. https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/2015a_r...

Tax the shit out of land. The marginal value to a piece of land from the actions of its owner is minimal at best. People gaining wealth from land is the definition of rent seeking.


The point I’m getting at is taxes should be for raising revenue, period. The minute you step into trying to influence behavior via tax code, as the US has done, you are doing something wholly different from raising revenue.

> Jesus Christ, yes you can. It’s like you’ve never heard of offshore banks

I don’t think you appreciate how governments already monitor wire transfers, and how they are reversible within a certain timeframe if a legal authority chooses to intercept one.

Again, this is not a complex problem since the tools and authority already exist, it’s a political will problem, in that there are nearly zero elected officials willing to cross a billionaire.

> How someone can speak like this and not see the value of a wealth tax in the form of a land tax blows my mind.

Because I live in a state in the US without income taxes and with a high reliance on land taxes. It makes no difference, corporations bribe their way into temporary (as in decades) exclusions from land taxes, and individuals are left to pay what the chemical plant literally polluting their back yards is exempt from.

There is no logarithm or formula that fixes all of this. What fixes it is 10 years without parole at hard labor for any owner or officer of a business entity who gives anything of value to any employee of the state, whether that employee be elected, appointed, or hired. The same penalty will automatically be applied to the state official who has been paid.


Land taxes are actually better in those regards than income or capital gains taxes.

You can't hide land, and if you want the state to enforce your property rights, you can't alter your behavior in a way that lets you avoid paying the tax. That makes the land tax what economist call a "zero-deadweight" tax: it doesn't decrease economic activity or consumer wellbeing at all. There's also an economic theorem [1] that an LVT results in the optimal size of government: investment in public goods increases the value of land (and hence rent that can be charged for it), but also the tax on that land, so citizens have an incentive to vote in only those public works projects that increase rents more than their cost in taxes.

Whereas if you put a tariff on iPhones at the dock, Apple will pass that tariff along to consumers, prices will go up, and fewer people that want an iPhone will be able to afford one. The "HQ in Ireland" trick revolves around avoiding dollars at all: profits from a company's EUs operations are retained as Euros and then used to pay European employees or exchanged directly for RMBs to pay for Chinese goods.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_George_theorem


"Tax “fairness” is therefore simple. He who earns the most should pay the most." - I don't like the idea of tax fairness as what is fair to you may not be fair to other person. I would only concur with your second statement on the absolute value (numbers) and not on percentage basis.


Why not all? Tax land, capital gains, and wealth. Adjust brackets prudently.


Why should we disincentivize saving? It's clear why we should tax land, the value of land is not driven in almost any way by ownership of land so the returns to land are unjustly gained AND it's economically efficient to tax land as it's fixed in supply. However, taxing savings (capital gains, wealth) is unclear in value. What would, for example, be the benefit of shifting investment to consumption? In other news, I could be highly in favor of a consumption tax instead but again, that's very difficult to implement well.

A hefty estate tax is something I can get behind. It's definitely distortionary and has a huge amount of difficulty in implementation but I see almost no societal value to generational wealth.


I'm not advocating any specific plan and I find Georgism to be worth a new look and calls for a LVT to be compelling, I'm just saying that I think those who focus solely on it, some of whom advocate abolishing all taxes and only using an LVT, to be impractically utopian.

That said, I see no reason as to why we shouldn't at least experiment with other alternate tax regimen as well, and that may include tax savings at least for the highest earners. To echo others' statements, why shouldn't those at the absolute highest levels of savings endure a little redistribution? It wouldn't matter much to Bezos.


Should social security and medicare taxes apply to capital gains? Should these taxes apply beyond the current caps, which are a bit over $100k? If not, there would be very little impact since most investment income is earned by people who also have six figures of wage income. And if so, then we'd have to levy these 'taxes' (they're not quite taxes, to the extent that these are paid in exchange for later services/payments that the taxpayer receive) on all wage income.


Why do taxes besides social security and medicare have very little impact? Taxing capital gains like income would have a significant impact.

Federal income tax caps out 37% and california income tax caps out out 13%.


Because the amount you pay into social security and Medicare are quite large in terms of percent of income, if you make less than $100k. Of course, you later get paid SS or receive Medicare services, which makes it less clear that these items should be considered taxes.


Sorry, but I genuinely am missing the point you are making. I agree that SS and medicare are large taxes for those making less than 100K. Are you saying that this is a reason we should not increase capital gains and should instead increase SS and MC?


I was pointing out that you would have to increase CG rates by a lot if you wanted them to be higher than OI rates (and you count SS and Medicare in the OI tax rate).

If you do that, you would want to increase the rate on OI as well, otherwise people would play games because of the rate differential (take money out of a business as salary instead of CG, for example).

And lurking in the background you have the timing/inflation issue, which is that OI is taxed every year and CG is taxed in nominal terms upon sale. So you end up potentially paying lots of tax on nominal increases in value that are actually just inflation. The fact that CG is not inflation-adjusted is one of the rationale for having a lower CG rate.


Thanks for clarification. People already play tons of games substituting CG for OI, so so bringing them closer to parity could reduce this.

I hadn’t considered the inflation issue, which is interesting but seems solvable.


I completely agree with this in theory, we ought to just make capital gains be taxed at the same progressive tax brackets as income.

That being said, how do we prevent people from just selling small amounts of capital every year, so as to stay below bracket thresholds?


Why do we want to prevent people from doing that?


Because it defeats the purpose of a progressive capital gains tax?

If the concern is that someone is paying less in tax off $250,000 in capital gains when they realize their wealth than someone who is paid a wage of $250,000, the policy prescription (with which I agree), is to tax $250,000 capital gains like income, I.e. at the top marginal tax rate.

What happens if I liquidate $50,000 at a time over the course of 5 years, and continue to pay a net effective tax of around ~20%, which is what the long term capital gains tax is, today?


I guess that's a question of what the purpose actually is. If you only take out $50k, then you're living on $50k that year and you pay the same amount of tax as if you had worked a regular job for the same amount. If you want to live a more extravagant lifestyle, you take more out and are taxed more.

This could mean that they have $1 million of unrealized gains that year. You're not really able to tax unrealized gains most of the time because they could disappear or go negative. That would go untaxed until they sell, but it would eventually be taxed.

At the same time, they're not going to be able to enjoy their wealth only taking out a small amount every year, so I'm not entirely convinced that this behavior of living frugally to pay less tax is something we need to 'prevent'.


> You're not really able to tax unrealized gains most of the time because they could disappear or go negative

Very fair point.

> I'm not entirely convinced that this behavior of living frugally to pay less tax is something we need to 'prevent'.

I think I buy this argument. Another commenter had the suggestioin of dividing the actual realized gain by the number of years the asset was held and assess taxes as if the person made that quotient in income for each of those years. I can't think of anything wrong with this approach.


I don't think it makes sense to tax the appreciation of an asset over twenty years as if it were a single year of outsized income. if you want to treat it similarly to income, you should divide the realized gain by the number of years the asset was held and assess taxes as if the person made that quotient in income for each of those years (under the rules/brackets for each year, possibly with some adjustments for inflation). this would make it harder for average joe to estimate his tax liability when he sells, but it prevents the tax optimization you mentioned and is (imo) pretty fair.


That has not worked, capital has moved elsewhere to low tax domiciles.


> To resolve inequality we can't just have the mindset of punish the rich for creating wealth.

I would argue that millions (if not billions) are injected into corr^Wlobbying to make sure that we never fully have this mindset, indeed.

Meanwhile, the rich are way less taxed (proportionally) than the middle class, and in my opinion, that's a problem that stifle Western economies.


Let's not gloss over the hilarious assumption that wealth is fairly apportioned based on who "creates" it.


> Meanwhile, the rich are way less taxed (proportionally) than the middle class, and in my opinion, that's a problem that stifle Western economies.

Is this actually true? According to the IRS, in 2018 the top 10% of income earners paid 69.47% of total income tax collected.

Source: https://taxfoundation.org/summary-latest-federal-income-tax-...


Apparently, they own 69.4% of the wealth as well, so it would seem to be proportional.

That number feels wrong, given it's exactly the same as the tax one, but I couldn't find another source. https://www.statista.com/chart/amp/19635/wealth-distribution...


The 80's called. They want their 'trickle down' back.


It's impossible for everyone to be rich. This doesn't mean we should punish the rich for being rich, but you aren't going to reduce inequality by increasing the number of rich people - you need to increase the income of low and average earners compared to the rich.


It's not impossible, anyone and everyone can become rich, it's just that we don't have a common definition of rich.


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