Milton Friedman on the social responsibility of business

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Who among the top 1% and top 0.1% increased their share of income most between 1979 and 2005?

The members of the top 1% whose income increased the most between 1979 and 2005 were real estate professionals followed by financial professionals – see figure 1.

Figure 1: increase in share of national income (including capital gains) received by top 1% for each primary taxpayer occupation in top 1% between 1979 and 2005

image

Source: Jon Bakija, Adam Cole and Bradley T. Heim “Jobs and Income Growth of Top Earners and the Causes of Changing Income Inequality:  Evidence from U.S. Tax Return Data”.

Figure 2 shows that the fastest-growing shares among the top 1% as in figure 1 are not necessarily the largest occupational group are those income earners. Moreover, their fortunes seem largely unrelated to each other.

Figure 2: Percentage of national income (including capital gains) received by top 1%, and each primary taxpayer occupation in top 1%
image

Source: Jon Bakija, Adam Cole and Bradley T. Heim “Jobs and Income Growth of Top Earners and the Causes of Changing Income Inequality:  Evidence from U.S. Tax Return Data”.

The next members of the top 1% in terms of income growth were rather respectable group:professionals and scientists and arts, media and sports. The latter,arts, media and sports get a complete pass on their membership of the top 1% despite their great success in increasing their incomes since 1979 at the expense apparently on the bottom 99% if the Twitter Left is to be believed.

Figure 3: increase in share of national income (including capital gains) received by top 0.1% for each primary taxpayer occupation in top 0.1%between 1979 and 2005

image

Source: Jon Bakija, Adam Cole and Bradley T. Heim “Jobs and Income Growth of Top Earners and the Causes of Changing Income Inequality:  Evidence from U.S. Tax Return Data”.

Arts, media and sports superstars are one of the fastest-growing members of the top 0.1% – see figure 3. Again, the arts, media and sports superstars get a complete pass on their membership of the top 0.1% from the Twitter Left. Most of the other occupations in the top 0.1% don’t strike me as anything other than working rich – see figure 3 and figure 4.

As with the top 1%, the top 0.1% of income earners are a mixed bag of occupations – see figure 4. Their fortunes are unrelated to each other terms of the forces driving there are increased incomes.

Figure 4: Percentage of national income (including capital gains) received by top 0.1%, and each primary taxpayer occupation in top 0.1%
image

Source: Jon Bakija, Adam Cole and Bradley T. Heim “Jobs and Income Growth of Top Earners and the Causes of Changing Income Inequality:  Evidence from U.S. Tax Return Data”.

The Rise and Rise of the Super Working Rich

The rise of the rentiers is nothing new. What is new is the degree of financial globalization and liberalization that has supercharged the fortunes of the super-wealthy even beyond robber baron levels. But it’s no mystery how to reverse this. It’s a matter of setting better rules for markets and taxing earners at the top a bit more.

In the course of a deranged rant against the entrepreneurs in society, the Atlantic collected an excellent set of information suggesting that the working rich have replaced rentiers as the super-rich. Rentiers are the idle rich.  A rentier is a person or entity receiving income derived from patents, copyrights, interest, etc.

In The Evolution of Top Incomes: A Historical and International Perspective (NBER Working Paper No. 11955), Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez concluded that:

While top income shares have remained fairly stable in Continental European countries or Japan over the past three decades, they have increased enormously in the United States and other English speaking countries.

This rise in top income shares is not due to the revival of top capital incomes, but rather to the very large increases in top wages (especially top executive compensation). As a consequence, top executives (the “working rich”) have replaced top capital owners at the top of the income hierarchy over the course of the twentieth century…

The Twitter Left claim that the surge in top compensation in the United States is attributable to an increased ability of top executives to set their own pay and to extract rents at the expense of shareholders. Obviously, from the chart below the pay the top 0.1% goes up and down with the share market. Top  wages do not seem to have any independent power to dupe shareholders into overpaying them in bad times.

Xavier Gabaix and Augustin Landier found back in 2008 that what a major company’s CEO earns is directly proportional to the size of the firm that they are responsible for running. Executive compensation closely track the evolution of average firm value. During 2007 – 2009, firm value decreased by 17%, and CEO pay by 28%. During 2009-2011, firm value increased by 19% and CEO pay by 22%.

Xavier Gabaix and Augustin Landier also found that compensation for executives has risen with the market capitalization. From 1980 to 2003, the average value of the top 500 companies rose by a factor of six. Two commonly used indexes of chief executive compensation show close to a proportional six-fold matching increase.

Better executive decisions create more economic value. If the number of big companies is greater than the number of good chief executives, competitive bidding will push up executive pay to reflect the value of the talent that is available.

What happens to share prices when there is a surprise CEO resignation? Up or down? Apple went up and down in billions on news of Steve Jobs’ health.

When Hewlett Packard’s CEO Mark Hurd resigned unexpectedly, the value of HP stock dropped by about $10 billion! This makes his $30 million in annual compensation a bargain for shareholders. The fall in share price represents the difference between what the market expected from Hurd as Hewlett Packard’s CEO and what the market expects from his successor. Was Hurd under-paid?

There is an easy way to test for whether top executives cheat public shareholders. Compare the pay of large private companies, and public companies with a large or a few share holders, with public companies with diffuse share holdings. Private equity typically also pay its top executives very well, even though the capacity to dupe public shareholders are not a factor.

The burst of takeovers and leverage buyouts in the 1980s were very much driven by opportunities to profit from reducing corporate slack and downsizing flabby corporate headquarters of large publicly listed companies.

The response of the Left over Left of the day was support regulation to stop these mergers and takeovers rather than applauding them as giving lazy capitalists their comeuppance. This regulation undermined the market the corporate control rather than strengthened it as Michael Jensen explains:

This political activity is another example of special interests using the democratic political system to change the rules of the game to benefit themselves at the expense of society as a whole.

In this case, the special interests are top-level corporate managers and other groups who stand to lose from competition in the market for corporate control. The result will be a significant weakening of the corporation as an organizational form and a reduction in efficiency.

Central to the hypothesis of the Twitter Left of CEOs overpaying themselves is there is free cash within the business they pocket in pay rises, fringe benefits and lavished corporate headquarters rather than pay out in dividends or invest in profitable investments.

The interests and incentives of managers and shareholders frequently conflict over the optimal size of the firm and the payment of free cash to shareholders. What to pay the top executives is a minor manifestation of this common entrepreneurial difference of opinion the future of the business.

These conflicts in entrepreneurial judgements are severe in firms with large free cash flows–more cash than profitable investment opportunities. Jensen defines free cash flow as follows:

Free cash flow is cash flow in excess of that required to fund all of a firm’s projects that have positive net present values when discounted at the relevant cost of capital. Such free cash flow must be paid out to shareholders if the firm is to be efficient and to maximize value for shareholders.

Payment of cash to shareholders reduces the resources under managers’ control, thereby reducing managers’ power and potentially subjecting them to the monitoring by the capital markets that occurs when a firm must obtain new capital. Financing projects internally avoids this monitoring and the possibility that funds will be unavailable or available only at high explicit prices.

Michael Jensen developed a theory of mergers and takeovers based on free cash flows that explains:

  1. the benefits of debt in reducing agency costs of free cash flows,
  2. how debt can substitute for dividends,
  3. why diversification programs are more likely to generate losses than takeovers or expansion in the same line of business or liquidation-motivated takeovers,
  4. why bidders and some targets tend to perform abnormally well prior to takeover.

Michael Jensen noted that free cash flows allowed firms’ managers to finance projects earning low returns which, therefore, might not be funded by the equity or bond markets. Examining the US oil industry,  which had earned substantial free cash flows in the 1970s and the early 1980s, he wrote that:

[the] 1984 cash flows of the ten largest oil companies were $48.5 billion, 28 percent of the total cash flows of the top 200 firms in Dun’s Business Month survey.

Consistent with the agency costs of free cash flow, management did not pay out the excess resources to shareholders. Instead, the industry continued to spend heavily on [exploration and development] activity even though average returns were below the cost of capital.

Jensen also noted a negative correlation between exploration announcements and the market valuation of these firms—the opposite effect to research announcements in other industries. Not surprisingly, after a successful corporate takeover, there is major changes to realise the untapped benefits they saw in the company that the incumbent management were not seizing capturing:

Corporate control transactions and the restructurings that often accompany them can be wrenching events in the lives of those linked to the involved organizations: the managers, employees, suppliers, customers and residents of surrounding communities.

Restructurings usually involve major organizational change (such as shifts in corporate strategy) to meet new competition or market conditions, increased use of debt, and a flurry of recontracting with managers, employees, suppliers and customers.

All modern theories of the focus in part or in full on reducing opportunistic behaviour, cheating and fraud in employment and commercial relationships. The market the corporate control, and mergers and takeovers realise large benefits from displacing underperforming manager teams. Premiums in hostile takeover offers historically exceed 30 percent on average. Acquiring-firm shareholders on average earn about 4 percent in hostile takeovers and roughly zero in mergers.

In terms of corporate control, Eugene Fama divides firms into two types:  the managerial firm, and the entrepreneurial firm.

The entrepreneurial firms are owned and managed by the same people (Fama and Jensen 1983b). Mediocre personnel policies and sub-standard staff retention practices within entrepreneurial firms are disciplined by these errors in judgement by owner-managers feeding straight back into the returns on the capital that these owner-managers themselves invested. Owner-managers can learn quickly and can act faster in response the discovery of errors in judgement. The drawback of entrepreneurial firms is not every investor wants to be hands-on even if they had the skills and nor do they want to risk being undiversified.

The owners of a managerial firm advance, withdraw, and redeploy capital, carry the residual investment risks of ownership and have the ultimate decision making rights over the fate of the firm (Klein 1999; Foss and Lien 2010; Fama 1980; Fama and Jensen 1983a, 1983b; Jensen and Meckling 1976).

Owners of a managerial firm, by definition, will delegate control to expert managerial employees appointed by boards of directors elected by the shareholders (Fama and Jensen 1983a, 1983b). The owners of a managerial firm will incur costs in observing with considerable imprecision the actual efforts, due diligence, true motives and entrepreneurial shrewdness of the managers and directors they hired (Jensen and Meckling 1976; Fama and Jensen 1983b).

Owners need to uncover whether a substandard performance is due to mismanagement, high costs, paying the employees too much or paying too little, excessive staff turnover, inferior products, or random factors beyond the control of their managers (Jensen and Meckling 1976; Fama and Jensen 1983b, 1985).

Many of the shareholders in managerial firms have too small a stake to gain from monitoring managerial effort, employee performance, capital budgets, the control of costs and the stinginess or generosity of wage and employment policies (Manne 1965; Fama 1980; Fama and Jensen 1983a, 1983b; Williamson 1985; Jensen and Meckling 1976). This lack of interest by small and diversified investors does not undo the status of the firm as a competitive investment nor introduce slack in the monitoring of payments to top executives.

Large firms are run by managers hired by diversified owners because this outcome is the most profitable form of organisation to raise capital and then find the managerial talent to put this pool of capital to its most profitable uses (Fama and Jensen 1983a, 1983b, 1985; Demsetz and Lehn 1985; Alchian and Woodward 1987, 1988).

More active investors will hesitate to invest in large managerial firms whose governance structures tolerate excessive corporate waste and do not address managerial slack and  and overpaid executives. Financial entrepreneurs will win risk-free profits from being alert and being first to buy or sell shares in the better or worse governed firms that come to their notice.

The risks to dividends and capital because of manifestations of corporate waste, reduced employee effort, and managerial slack and aggrandisement in large managerial firms are risks that are well known to investors (Jensen and Meckling 1976; Fama and Jenson 1983b). Corporate waste and managerial slack also increase the chances of a decline in sales and even business failure because of product market competition (Fama 1980; Fama and Jensen 1983b).

Investors will expect an offsetting risk premium before they buy shares in more ill-governed managerial firms. This is because without this top-up on dividends, they can invest in plenty of other options that foretell a higher risk-adjusted rate of return. The discovery of monitoring or incentive systems that induce managers to act in the best interest of shareholders are entrepreneurial opportunities for pure profit (Fama and Jensen 1983b, 1985; Alchian and Woodward 1987, 1988; Demsetz 1983, 1986; Demsetz and Lehn 1985; Demsetz and Villalonga 2001).

Investors will not entrust their funds to who are virtual strangers unless they expect to profit from a specialisation and a division of labour between asset management and managerial talent and in capital supply and residual risk bearing (Fama 1980; Fama and Jensen 1983a, 1983b; Demsetz and Lehn 1985). There are other investment formats that offer more predictable, more certain rate of returns.

Competition from other firms will force the evolution of devices within the firms that survive for the efficient monitoring the performance of the entire team of employees and of individual members of those teams as well as managers (Fama 1980, Fama and Jensen 1983a, 1983b; Demsetz and Lehn 1985). These management controls must proxy as cost-effectively as they can having an owner-manager on the spot to balance the risks and rewards of innovating.

The reward for forming a well-disciplined managerial firm despite the drawbacks of diffuse ownership is the ability to raise large amounts in equity capital from investors seeking diversification and limited liability (Demsetz 1967; Jensen and Meckling 1976; Fama 1980; Fama and Jensen 1983b; Demsetz and Lehn 1985). Portfolio investors may know little about each other and only so much about the firm because diversification and limited liability makes this knowledge less important (Demsetz 1967; Jensen and Meckling 1976; Alchian and Woodward 1987, 1988).

It is unwise to suppose that portfolio investors will keep relinquishing control over part of their capital to virtual strangers who do not manage the resources entrusted to them in the best interests of the shareholders (Demsetz 1967; Williamson 1985; Fama 1980, 1983b; Alchian and Woodward 1987, 1988).

Managerial firms who are not alert enough to develop cost effective solutions to incentive conflicts and misalignments will not grow to displace rival forms of corporate organisation and methods of raising equity capital and loans, allocating legal liability, diversifying risk, organising production, replacing less able management teams, and monitoring and rewarding employees (Fama and Jensen 1983a, 1983b; Fama 1980; Alchian 1950).

Entrepreneurs will win profits from creating corporate governance structures that can credibly assure current and future investors that their interests are protected and their shares are likely to prosper (Fama 1980; Fama and Jensen 1983a, 1983b, 1985; Demsetz 1986; Demsetz and Lehn 1985). Corporate governance is the set of control devices that are developed in response to conflicts of interest in a firm (Fama and Jensen 1983b).

At bottom, the private sector is highly successful designing forms of organisation that allow large sums of money, billions of dollars to be raised in the capital market and entrusted to management teams.

via The Rise and Rise of the Super-Rich – The Atlantic and How the Richest 400 People in America Got So Rich – The Atlantic.

I, Pencil versus Global Disinvestment Day in fossil fuels

I, Pencil is a 1958 classic economics polemic by Leonard Read explaining about how nobody knows how even the most basic items in a consumer society are made and more importantly, they don’t need to know.

The relevance of I, Pencil to environmental activists on Global Disinvestment Day is they pretend to know enough about the vast number of products made by the many companies within the average share portfolio to be out of work out whether these companies are investing in fossil fuels so they can sell their shares in them.

I, Pencil made the point that people simply don’t know how the most basic products are made, much less who made them, and with what. Even if they did know, this information would become rapidly out of date. The marvel of the market is the remarkably small amount of information that people need to go about their business. Prices summarise much of what people need to know.

The whole point of the separation of ownership and control in modern corporations such as those listed on share markets is shareholders simply have no chance of monitoring the day to day affairs of companies in which they invest.

Many shareholders have too small a stake to gain from monitoring managerial effort, employee performance, capital budgets, the control of costs and investment policies (Manne 1965; Fama 1980; Fama and Jensen 1983a, 1983b; Williamson 1985; Jensen and Meckling 1976). This lack of interest by small and diversified investors does not undo the status of the firm as a competitive investment.

Day-to-day management and risk bearing are split into separate tasks with various governance structures developed to ensure that the professional management teams serve the interests of the owners who invested in the company, along with their many other investments that compete for their attention. Large firms are run by managers hired by diversified owners because this outcome is the most profitable form of organisation to raise capital and then find the managerial talent to put this pool of capital to its most profitable uses (Fama and Jensen 1983a, 1983b, 1985; Demsetz and Lehn 1985; Alchian and Woodward 1987, 1988).

Firms who are not alert enough to develop cost effective solutions to incentive conflicts and misalignments will not grow to displace rival forms of corporate organisation and methods of raising equity capital and loans, allocating legal liability, diversifying risk, organising production, replacing less able management teams, and monitoring and rewarding employees (Fama and Jensen 1983a, 1983b; Fama 1980; Alchian 1950).

Indeed, our friends on the Left do go on about the power of boards of directors to set their own exorbitant salaries because shareholders lack of control them because they know so little about what they do.

That is, according to our friends on the Green Left, shareholders are not supposed to know enough about company performance and operations to work out if the salaries of top executives are justified. Top executive pay is always published in annual reports of companies.

Activist shareholders concerned about fossil fuel use nonetheless will be able to work out what the companies in their share portfolios are investing in and whether these investments are in fossil fuels. Details of these investments are much less public than the pay of top executives.

This continuous monitoring of corporate investment policies and associated buying and selling of shares will make investing in small parcels of shares in smaller companies listed on the share market rather expensive. Diversified share portfolios in index linked funds can have hundreds of companies in them. Some of these companies receive next to no media coverage that will simplify the cost to activist shareholders of monitoring their investments in fossil fuels.

The separation of ownership from control

Eugene Fama divides firms into two types:  the managerial firm,  and the entrepreneurial firm.

The owners of a managerial firm advance, withdraw, and redeploy capital, carry the residual investment risks of ownership and have the ultimate decision making rights over the fate of the firm (Klein 1999; Foss and Lien 2010; Fama 1980; Fama and Jensen 1983a, 1983b; Jensen and Meckling 1976).

Owners of a managerial firm, by definition, will delegate control to expert managerial employees appointed by boards of directors elected by the shareholders (Fama and Jensen 1983a, 1983b). The owners of a managerial firm will incur costs in observing with considerable imprecision the actual efforts, due diligence, true motives and entrepreneurial shrewdness of the managers and directors they hired (Jensen and Meckling 1976; Fama and Jensen 1983b).

Owners need to uncover whether a substandard performance is due to mismanagement, high costs, paying the employees too much or paying too little, excessive staff turnover, inferior products, or random factors beyond the control of their managers (Jensen and Meckling 1976; Fama and Jensen 1983b, 1985). Any paucity in knowledge slows the reactions of owners in correcting managerial errors including slip-ups in the recruitment and the retention of experienced older employees.

The entrepreneurial firms are owned and managed by the same people (Fama and Jensen 1983b). Mediocre personnel policies and sub-standard staff retention practices within entrepreneurial firms are disciplined by these errors in judgement by owner-managers feeding straight back into the returns on the capital that these owner-managers themselves invested. Owner-managers can learn quickly and can act faster in response the discovery of errors in judgement. The drawback of entrepreneurial firms is not every investor wants to be hands-on even if they had the skills and nor do they want to risk being undiversified.

Many of the shareholders in managerial firms have too small a stake to gain from monitoring managerial effort, employee performance, capital budgets, the control of costs and the stinginess or generosity of wage and employment policies (Manne 1965; Fama 1980; Fama and Jensen 1983a, 1983b; Williamson 1985; Jensen and Meckling 1976). This lack of interest by small and diversified investors does not undo the status of the firm as a competitive investment.

Large firms are run by managers hired by diversified owners because this outcome is the most profitable form of organisation to raise capital and then find the managerial talent to put this pool of capital to its most profitable uses (Fama and Jensen 1983a, 1983b, 1985; Demsetz and Lehn 1985; Alchian and Woodward 1987, 1988).

More active investors will hesitate to invest in large managerial firms whose governance structures tolerate excessive corporate waste and do not address managerial slack and error. Financial entrepreneurs will win risk-free profits from being alert and being first to buy or sell shares in the better or worse governed firms that come to their notice.

The risks to dividends and capital because of manifestations of corporate waste, reduced employee effort, and managerial slack and aggrandisement in large managerial firms are risks that are well known to investors (Jensen and Meckling 1976; Fama and Jenson 1983b). Corporate waste and managerial slack also increase the chances of a decline in sales and even business failure because of product market competition (Fama 1980; Fama and Jensen 1983b). Investors will expect an offsetting risk premium before they buy shares in more ill-governed managerial firms. This is because without this top-up on dividends, they can invest in plenty of other options that foretell a higher risk-adjusted rate of return.

The discovery of monitoring or incentive systems that induce managers to act in the best interest of shareholders are entrepreneurial opportunities for pure profit (Fama and Jensen 1983b, 1985; Alchian and Woodward 1987, 1988; Demsetz 1983, 1986; Demsetz and Lehn 1985; Demsetz and Villalonga 2001). Investors will not entrust their funds to who are virtual strangers unless they expect to profit from a specialisation and a division of labour between asset management and managerial talent and in capital supply and residual risk bearing (Fama 1980; Fama and Jensen 1983a, 1983b; Demsetz and Lehn 1985). There are other investment formats that offer more predictable, more certain rate of returns.

Competition from other firms will force the evolution of devices within the firms that survive for the efficient monitoring the performance of the entire team of employees and of individual members of those teams as well as managers (Fama 1980, Fama and Jensen 1983a, 1983b; Demsetz and Lehn 1985). These management controls must proxy as cost-effectively as they can having an owner-manager on the spot to balance the risks and rewards of innovating.

The reward for forming a well-disciplined managerial firm despite the drawbacks of diffuse ownership is the ability to raise large amounts in equity capital from investors seeking diversification and limited liability (Demsetz 1967; Jensen and Meckling 1976; Fama 1980; Fama and Jensen 1983b; Demsetz and Lehn 1985).Portfolio investors may know little about each other and only so much about the firm because diversification and limited liability makes this knowledge less important (Demsetz 1967; Jensen and Meckling 1976; Alchian and Woodward 1987, 1988).

It is still unwise to still suppose that portfolio investors will keep relinquishing control over part of their capital to virtual strangers who do not manage the resources entrusted to them in the best interests of the shareholders (Demsetz 1967; Williamson 1985; Fama 1980, 1983b; Alchian and Woodward 1987, 1988).

Managerial firms who are not alert enough to develop cost effective solutions to incentive conflicts and misalignments will not grow to displace rival forms of corporate organisation and methods of raising equity capital and loans, allocating legal liability, diversifying risk, organising production, replacing less able management teams, and monitoring and rewarding employees (Fama and Jensen 1983a, 1983b; Fama 1980; Alchian 1950).

Entrepreneurs win profits from creating corporate governance structures that can credibly assure current and future investors that their interests are protected and their shares are likely to prosper (Fama 1980; Fama and Jensen 1983a, 1983b, 1985; Demsetz 1986; Demsetz and Lehn 1985). Corporate governance is the set of control devices that are developed in response to conflicts of interest in a firm (Fama and Jensen 1983b).

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