Leapdragon 2016 - Aron Hsiao Was Here

market 101  §

I’m always startled by the extent to which people fail to understand economics.

I’m listening to talk radio and the host is complaining about record oil company profits while gas prices increase. Then he says that yes, he’s an investor in oil companies, so he wants high profits, but not if he has to pay more at the pump, and how can they possibly charge such high gas prices when they’re making record amounts of money, and blah, blah, blah…

This radio host, who fancies himself an ardent capitalist, is unclear on the concept. By investing in the marketplace, he has supported selective pressure on corporations to maximize their profits. As a society with a very high market investment penetration through stocks, mutual funds, retirement plans and so on, we collectively place huge pressures on corporations to maximize their profits and through market selection essentially breed corporations that are very good at extracting wealth from customers and returning that wealth to investors. People invest in, and thus reward and create, companies whose profits are higher quarter over quarter, whose stocks are more valuable quarter after quarter, whose dividends are larger payout after payout. To compound the effect, for the last two elections we have increasingly voted for deregulation and pro-market policy and policymakers as well. We have done our best to make the corporations wealthy because as their investors, we want to see that wealth turn up in our monthly statements.

But this profit — this wealth — is not “created” from nothing, it is extracted from consumers themselves — the customers who patronize said corporations. That is how the profits that investors watch so closely go higher, that is where the money that they make comes from. If you also happen to be a regular customer of such a corporation and still enter shareholder votes to maximize profit, invest in that sector with an eye toward profitability, and vote for politicians that seek to deregulate that economic sector, then you are merely charging yourself higher goods prices so that you can see higher market returns which you will be forced to spend a greater percentage of in order to afford increasingly expensive goods. In effect, you are moving cash from your left pocket to your right pocket and then complaining about it.

To make money in capitalism, the idea is to extract wealth from others, not to extract it from yourself. Of course, there are ethical problems with that notion as well, and the third world has in the last half-century (and over the last decade or two in particular) begun to engage the first world on a number of fronts on this point, tired of having wealth extracted from them as we sell “modernity” to them for a tidy profit for our investors… but to complain that you voted for deregulation and you ruthlessly invested in successful domestic commodity companies and now your commodity prices are too high, so thank god you’re getting more money now from your investments…

…is blind stupidity. You can’t pull yourself up by your own bootstraps, despite what popular euphemisms (that themselves betray a certain ignorance about American society) would tell you.