Corporate buybacks: Have you heard about this trillion dollar Ponzi scheme?

Few know about the trillion dollar crime that stole pay raises while weakening our economy. The “lootocrats” and their courtiers are taking us for a ride.

Illustration by Julia Suits, author of The Extraordinary Catalog of Peculiar Inventions, and The New Yorker cartoonist.

1. A scheme that was till recently a crime now consumes trillions of dollars. That’s one of many market maladies Rana Foroohar publicizes in her book Makers and Takers: How Wall Street Destroyed Main Street.


2. Share buybacks were illegal “market manipulation” until 1982. They now divert $0.5-0.8 trillion annually from investments, R&D, wages, etc. A slow “corporate suicide” (over $7 trillion extracted by “lootocrats”).

3. Reagan’s SEC chief John Shad (an ex-Wall St boss) legalized buybacks. But Clinton-era folks (Robert Rubin, Larry Summers, etc) accelerated the fox-guarding-chickens games.

4. The justification? Chicago School shareholder value maximization theory (aka “The World’s Dumbest Idea”). And general free market fundamentalism that presumes markets allocate efficiently.

5. Foroohar counters the Chicago catechism with empirical evidence. And markets-know-best folks must face the many facts Foroohar marshalls to falsify their fig-leaf faith. For instance:

6. Only ~15% of flows to Wall St get to real businesses (the rest on games “not unlike a Ponzi scheme”).

7. "Privately owned firms invest more than twice as much… as public firms.” And drug companies spend more on shareholder maximization than on R&D.

8. 80% of our CEOs would “pass up making an investment that would fuel a decade's worth of innovation” to hit a quarterly target (foreign firms think in “decades rather than quarters”).

9. Walmart did ~$8.3 billion in buybacks in 2016, ~$3,600 per worker. Welfare for Walmart workers cost taxpayers ~$6 billion.

10. Total S&P 500 2016 buybacks = $536 billion ~$22,000 per worker.

11. Any fraction of that recently criminal misuse of money going to workers would benefit us all. They tend to spend more of their gains (generating growth) than the rich (tend to prefer Wall St’s Ponzi-ing).

12. Or that $½ trillion could be spent on “real” economy equipment, etc (as it was till 1982).

13. Business schools literally teach “greed is good,” which encourages short-term exploitation.

14. Bankers now manipulate commodities markets (Goldman Sachs caused food riots in 22 countries).

15. Always ask—what do business leaders serve? What are they loyal to? What would they not harm?

16. To trust those who aren’t loyal to anything beyond their own gain is foolish.

17. Unless business leaders are loyal enough to their companies, customers, employees, communities, nations, to not harm them, the whole market system is at risk (+see Good vs Bad Rich).

18. Buyback shenanigan fixes aren’t difficult. Let’s reban them. Or mandate X% must go to workers.

19. But deeper business leadership diseases will be harder to cure (e.g. the dysfunctional 3-way dance: greedy executives cherry-pick from backseat-driving reality-denying economists to shape policy-maker ideas).

20. If we don’t stop these economy-sapping schemes, the “lootocrats” and their courtiers will continue to take us for a ride.

21. “The 1% grabbed 82% of all wealth created in 2017.”

 

Illustration by Julia Suits, author of The Extraordinary Catalog of Peculiar Inventions, and The New Yorker cartoonist.

Yug, age 7, and Alia, age 10, both entered Let Grow's "Independence Challenge" essay contest.

Photos: Courtesy of Let Grow
Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
  • The coronavirus pandemic may have a silver lining: It shows how insanely resourceful kids really are.
  • Let Grow, a non-profit promoting independence as a critical part of childhood, ran an "Independence Challenge" essay contest for kids. Here are a few of the amazing essays that came in.
  • Download Let Grow's free Independence Kit with ideas for kids.
Keep reading Show less

Four philosophers who realized they were completely wrong about things

Philosophers like to present their works as if everything before it was wrong. Sometimes, they even say they have ended the need for more philosophy. So, what happens when somebody realizes they were mistaken?

Sartre and Wittgenstein realize they were mistaken. (Getty Images)
Culture & Religion

Sometimes philosophers are wrong and admitting that you could be wrong is a big part of being a real philosopher. While most philosophers make minor adjustments to their arguments to correct for mistakes, others make large shifts in their thinking. Here, we have four philosophers who went back on what they said earlier in often radical ways. 

Keep reading Show less

Is there a limit to optimism when it comes to climate change?

Or is doubt a self-fulfilling prophecy?

David McNew/Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs

'We're doomed': a common refrain in casual conversation about climate change.

Keep reading Show less

What should schools teach? Now is the moment to ask.

The future of learning will be different, and now is the time to lay the groundwork.

What should schools teach? Now is the moment to ask. | Caroline ...
Future of Learning
  • The coronavirus pandemic has left many at an interesting crossroads in terms of mapping out the future of their respective fields and industries. For schools, that may mean a total shift not only in how educators teach, but what they teach.
  • One important strategy moving forward, thought leader Caroline Hill says, is to push back against the idea that getting ahead is more important than getting along. "The opportunity that education has in this moment to really push students and think about what is the right way to live, how do we do it and how do we do it in a way that doesn't hurt or rob the dignity of other people?"
  • Hill also argues that now is the time for bigger swings and for removing the barriers that limit education. The online space is boundary free and provides educators with new opportunities to connect with students around the world.

Keep reading Show less
Scroll down to load more…