Quotulatiousness

October 22, 2014

“Will the American fashion industry ever tolerate another de la Renta?”

Filed under: Business, Media, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 06:57

I don’t follow fashion at all, so it hadn’t occurred to me that the recent death of Oscar de la Renta would be much more than a footnote, but Virginia Postrel would disagree:

When fashion designer Oscar de la Renta died Monday, he left neatly resolved two issues that might have otherwise marred his legacy.

The first was the question of who would succeed him. Many a fashion house has been thrown into chaos by the death of its founder. But last week, Oscar de la Renta LLC, the privately held company headed by de la Renta’s stepson-in-law Alex Bolen, said it was appointing Peter Copping, the former artistic director of Nina Ricci, as its creative director. There will be no messy crisis this time.

The second was a matter of state. De la Renta had dressed every first lady since Jacqueline Kennedy — except Michelle Obama. To have the stylish first lady shun the dean of American fashion was tantamount to a public feud. Two weeks ago, the conflict ended when Mrs. Obama wore an Oscar de la Renta dress to a White House cocktail party filled with fashion insiders. Her appearance in the crisply tailored black cocktail dress embellished with silver and blue flowers — a quintessential de la Renta balance of precise lines with ornamentation and color — preserved the designer’s White House legacy.

The clean resolution of these two issues shortly before de la Renta’s passing befits the grace of his life’s work.

But a cultural question remains: Will the American fashion industry ever tolerate another de la Renta? His brand will continue, but the classic elegance for which he was known is as old-fashioned as it is beloved. It defies the prestige accorded to innovators who “move fashion forward” rather than simply creating fresh collections. Michelle Obama wouldn’t have won all those plaudits as a fashion leader if she’d worn his dresses and followed his rules. She would have merely been another tastefully attired Hillary Clinton or Laura Bush.

October 19, 2014

Brace yourselves for Beer Store price hikes

Filed under: Business, Cancon, Government — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 12:38

In the Toronto Star, Rob Ferguson details the provincial government’s new-hatched plans to pry more money out of consumers (by way of the Beer Store monopoly):

Premier Kathleen Wynne says she won’t shrink from a battle with The Beer Store as her government thirsts for a bigger cut of sales despite brewers’ warnings it would mean higher prices for suds lovers.

The comments came Saturday as Wynne commented in detail for the first time on recommendations from a blue-ribbon panel on squeezing more money from publicly owned agencies and the distribution system for beer, wine and spirits.

“They’ve laid out some challenging ideas for us and I’m absolutely willing take those on,” Wynne said of the panel headed by TD Bank chair Ed Clark.

“Will it be easy, will it be a path that is without any challenges? No it won’t be but that’s not a problem from my perspective. That’s exactly why it needs to be taken on,” she added after a 22-minute speech to party members in this border city for a strategy session and victory party after winning a majority in the June 12 election.

Clark’s recommendations Friday were a timely distraction for Wynne with the legislature starting its fall session Monday and her Liberals under fire for a bailout of the mostly vacant MaRS office tower across from Queen’s Park, with taxpayers on the hook for hefty interest payments.

The government already taxes beer at 44%. I guess they think that’s too little.

October 15, 2014

The pay gap issue, again

Filed under: Business, Economics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:28

There’s been a lot of moaning on about inequality recently — some are even predicting it will be the big issue in next year’s Canadian federal election — but the eye-popping figures being tossed around (CEOs being paid hundreds of times the average wage) are very much a case of statistical cherry-picking:

Before retiring to their districts for the fall, the House Democratic Caucus rallied behind the CEO/Employee Pay Fairness Act, which would prevent a public company from deducting executive compensation over $1 million unless it also gives rank-and-file employees raises that keep pace with the cost of living and labor productivity.

Meanwhile, the AFL-CIO and its aligned think tanks have made hay of the huge difference between the pay of CEOs and employees. One of the most widely cited measures of the “gap” comes from the AFL-CIO’s Executive Paywatch website.

  • The nation’s largest federation of unions laments that “corporate CEOs have been taking a greater share of the economic pie” while wages have stagnated for the rest of us.
  • As proof, it points to a 331-to-1 gap in compensation between America’s chief executives and the pay of the average worker.

That’s a sizable number. But don’t grab the pitchforks just yet, says Mark J. Perry, economic professor at the University of Michigan-Flint and resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, and Michael Saltsman, research director at the Employment Policies Institute.

The AFL-CIO calculated a pay gap based on a very small sample — 350 CEOs from the S&P 500. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 248,760 chief executives in the U.S. in 2013.

  • The BLS reports that the average annual salary for these chief executives is $178,400, which we can compare to the $35,239-per-year salary the AFL-CIO uses for the average American worker.
  • That shrinks the executive pay gap from 331-to-1 down to a far less newsworthy number of roughly five-to-one.

October 11, 2014

QotD: The economies (and dis-economies) of scale

Filed under: Business, Economics — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

We are the heirs of the Industrial Revolution, and, of course, the Industrial Revolution was all about economies of scale. Its efficiencies and advances were made possible by banding people together in larger and larger amalgamations, and we invented all sorts of institutions — from corporations to municipal governments — to do just that.

This process continues to this day. In its heyday, General Motors employed about 500,000 people; Wal-Mart employs more than twice that now. We continue to urbanize, depopulating the Great Plains and repopulating downtowns. Our most successful industry — the technology company — is driven by unprecedented economies of scale that allow a handful of programmers to make squintillions selling some software applications to half the world’s population.

This has left us, I think, with a cultural tendency to assume that everything is subject to economies of scale. You find this as much on the left as the right, about everything from government programs to corporations. People just take it as naturally given that making a company or an institution or a program bigger will drive cost efficiencies that allow them to get bigger still.

Of course, this often is the case. Facebook is better off with 2 billion customers than 1 billion, and a program that provides health insurance to everyone over the age of 65 has lower per-user overhead than a program that provides health insurance to 200 homeless drug users in Atlanta. I’m not trying to suggest that economies of scale don’t exist, only that not every successful model enjoys them. In fact, many successful models enjoy diseconomies of scale: After a certain point, the bigger you get, the worse you do.

Megan McArdle, “In-N-Out Doesn’t Want to Be McDonald’s”, Bloomberg View, 2014-10-02.

October 10, 2014

Cory Doctorow – “Information doesn’t want to be free, people want to be free”

Filed under: Business, Liberty, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:10

Cory Doctorow’s latest book, Information Doesn’t Want to Be Free, briefly reviewed by Ian Steadman in New Statesman:

“Information wants to be free” is a rallying cry for many of those who fight against legal restrictions on the internet. The phrase was coined by the tech writer Stewart Brand in 1984 and referred to the way the web reduces many of the costs of producing and disseminating data to near zero. “Free” in this phrase has also come to mean “freedom”, because the internet makes it easy to avoid censorship.

Doctorow is challenging both interpretations – not because he doesn’t agree with them but because he thinks a crucial premise has been lost. “Information doesn’t want to be free,” he writes, “people want to be free.”

The first two-thirds of the book discusses ways in which artists are penalised by the internet’s present regulatory system. He criticises digital rights management (DRM) technology, which limits the platforms digital files can play on; not only does it mean we don’t “own” the files we pay for, but when a company that supports a file goes bust, the culture locked up in their DRM can be lost for ever. Doctorow describes this as “a library burning in slow motion”.

Many companies such as Apple sell devices that block you from downloading non-approved apps. “That is sold to creators as an anti-piracy measure,” Doctorow tells me when we speak on the phone. “But the most practical application has been to allow Apple to exert market power that it would never have had in any other world.”

This links to the final third of the book, which explores how systems for protecting copyrighted material can also be used for censorship.

October 9, 2014

The lightbulb cartel of 1924 and the birth of “planned obsolescence”

Filed under: Business, Technology — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:03

Markus Krajewski writes about the formation of a multinational industrial cartel shortly after the First World War that helped create the very concept of “planned obsolescence” for (no) fun and (their) profit:

On 23 December 1924, a group of leading international businessmen gathered in Geneva for a meeting that would alter the world for decades to come. Present were top representatives from all the major lightbulb manufacturers, including Germany’s Osram, the Netherlands’ Philips, France’s Compagnie des Lampes, and the United States’ General Electric. As revelers hung Christmas lights elsewhere in the city, the group founded the Phoebus cartel, a supervisory body that would carve up the worldwide incandescent lightbulb market, with each national and regional zone assigned its own manufacturers and production quotas. It was the first cartel in history to enjoy a truly global reach.

The cartel’s grip on the lightbulb market lasted only into the 1930s. Its far more enduring legacy was to engineer a shorter life span for the incandescent lightbulb. By early 1925, this became codified at 1,000 hours for a pear-shaped household bulb, a marked reduction from the 1,500 to 2,000 hours that had previously been common. Cartel members rationalized this approach as a trade-off: Their lightbulbs were of a higher quality, more efficient, and brighter burning than other bulbs. They also cost a lot more. Indeed, all evidence points to the cartel’s being motivated by profits and increased sales, not by what was best for the consumer. In carefully crafting a lightbulb with a relatively short life span, the cartel thus hatched the industrial strategy now known as planned obsolescence.

[...]

How exactly did the cartel pull off this engineering feat? It wasn’t just a matter of making an inferior or sloppy product; anybody could have done that. But to create one that reliably failed after an agreed-upon 1,000 hours took some doing over a number of years. The household lightbulb in 1924 was already technologically sophisticated: The light yield was considerable; the burning time was easily 2,500 hours or more. By striving for something less, the cartel would systematically reverse decades of progress.

The details of this effort have been very slow to emerge. Some facts came to light in the 1940s, when the U.S. government investigated GE and a number of its business partners for anticompetitive practices. Others were uncovered more recently, when I and the German journalist Helmut Höge delved into the corporate archives of Osram in Berlin. Jointly founded in 1920 by three German companies, Osram remains one of the world’s leading makers of all kinds of lighting, including state-of-the-art LEDs. In the archives, we found meticulous correspondence between the cartel’s factories and laboratories, which were researching how to modify the filament and other measures to shorten the life span of their bulbs.

The cartel took its business of shortening the lifetime of bulbs every bit as seriously as earlier researchers had approached their job of lengthening it. Each factory bound by the cartel agreement—and there were hundreds, including GE’s numerous licensees throughout the world—had to regularly send samples of its bulbs to a central testing laboratory in Switzerland. There, the bulbs were thoroughly vetted against cartel standards. If any factory submitted bulbs lasting longer or shorter than the regulated life span for its type, the factory was obliged to pay a fine.

Companies were also fined for exceeding their sales quotas, which were constantly being adjusted. In 1927, for example, Tokyo Electric noted in a memo to the cartel that after shortening the lives of its vacuum and gas-filled lightbulbs, sales had jumped fivefold. “But if the increase in our business resulting from such endeavors directly mean[s] a heavy penalty, it must be a thing out of reason and shall quite discourage us,” the memo stated.

The great Adam Smith, of course, saw this coming in 1776: “People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.” Some things never change.

October 8, 2014

Megan McArdle – It’s time for that talk

Filed under: Business, Economics — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:50

I don’t know how I missed this when it was published last week…

All right, boys and girls, it’s time to have some real talk about efficiency wages.

I know, you’re older now. You’re starting to notice things that you never noticed before. Like the differences between Costco and Wal-Mart, differences that suddenly seem so … intriguing. Exciting. You suddenly want to explore those feelings, maybe post a few GIFs to Facebook. You hear other kids talking, and suddenly you wonder about this whole new world of labor relations that you never even knew existed.

I want you to know that what you’re feeling is completely normal. Efficiency wages — that’s the scientific term, and we’re going to use scientific terms, not that dirty talk about scabs and exploiters that you hear in the locker room — are very exciting. It’s only natural that you want to explore. Now, stop tittering. I said “explore,” not “exploit.”

But you need to explore safely. You can’t just plunge straight into advocating a $15-an-hour minimum wage; you need to know all the facts so you can make sound, educated decisions about your labor-policy activism. So let’s talk about efficiency wages and how they work.

When an employer loves his workers … OK, never mind. Straight to the real talk.

As they used to say, “read the whole thing“.

October 6, 2014

Winners and losers when Wal-Mart (and Amazon) came along

Filed under: Business, Economics — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 18:33

William Shughart refutes the “dark side of Amazon” meme by pointing out what it was like before Amazon and Wal-Mart:

Before the advent of Wal-Mart, rural America was a retail desert. Small shops, limited product availability and, yes, “hometown service”. But the prices of most items were high because the only alternative to shopping locally was to drive to the nearest city or order through the Sears or JC Penney catalog and depend on timely delivery by the US mail in, it was to be hoped, an undamaged package. The downside of local retail shops (limited options and high prices) fell most heavily on low-income households, which may not have had an automobile or could not afford to take time off work to shop at larger urban retailers or even at local merchants, which typically closed at 5 p.m. Wal-Mart solved both problems in one fell swoop.

Sure, local retailers suffered losses of business and some were forced into bankruptcy, but consumers (the only group whose welfare matters in a free market economy) won big-time. Amazon has generated benefits for consumers many times larger than Sam Walton ever dreamt of.

But what about the jobs that disappeared in local retail outlets as Amazon and Wal-Mart drove costs (and prices) down by inventing markedly more efficient distribution networks and negotiating lower prices with manufacturers and other suppliers on behalf of millions of consumers with little bargaining power of their own? An economic system’s chief purpose is to create prosperity (wealth), not jobs. Creating jobs — at the point of a gun, as Josef Stalin proved, or as FDR did by drafting millions of men to shoulder arms against the Axis powers — is easy; creating wealth is not. Prosperity materializes only if existing resources (land, labor and capital) can be utilized more efficiently, squeezing out “waste” and redundancy so that resources can be released from current employments and redirected by alert entrepreneurs to the production of new products that consumers may not even know they want (an iPhone ten years ago, for example) until they become available.

Hightower bemoans the working conditions in Amazon’s warehouses, a few of which literally become sweatshops during hot summer months. I am willing to bet, however, that if the people employed in one of Amazon’s “dehumanizing hives” (his phrase) were asked whether they wanted to quit their jobs, not one hand would be raised, especially so in an economy with an unemployment rate still hovering around six percent and a rate of underemployment twice that figure.

Pollsters are finding it even harder to get people to talk to them

Filed under: Business, Politics — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 18:06

In Mother Jones Kevin Drum discusses the plight of the poor poll organizations who have seen yet another drop in their telephone response rates. A recent report said that the average response rate for polling companies this year is 11.8%, and that’s a 1.9% drop from 2012. It probably explains why the polls seem less accurate every election.

I assume the problem here is twofold. First, there are too many polls. A few decades ago it might have seemed like a big deal to get a call from a Gallup pollster. Sort of like being a Nielsen family. Today it’s not. Polls are now conducted so frequently, and the public has become so generally media savvy, that it’s just sort of a nuisance.

More generally, there are just too many spam phone calls. The Do Not Call Registry was a great idea, but there are (a) too many loopholes, including for pollsters, and (b) too many spammers who don’t give a damn. When the registry first went on line, my level of spam phone calls dropped dramatically. Since then, however, it’s gradually increased and is now nearly as bad as it ever was. I won’t even pick up the phone anymore if Caller ID suggests it’s a commercial call of some variety.

We’ve been seriously talking about dropping our land line: fewer than one call in ten is from anyone we know or do business with. Most of them are (real or fake) surveys, “Microsoft” scam calls, and “You’ve won a cruise!” spam. WestJet seems to think I’ve flown with them and keeps calling me to say “Thank you for flying WestJet” (the harassing phone calls make it exceedingly unlikely that I’d voluntarily do any business with them if I have a choice in the matter). My favourites are the “This is a very important call about your current credit card.” Those ones we hang up within three syllables on average.

October 4, 2014

The “Herod Clause” to get free Wi-Fi

Filed under: Britain, Business, Humour, Law, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:48

I missed this earlier in the week (and it smells “hoax-y”, but it’s too good to check):

A handful of Londoners in some of the capital’s busiest districts unwittingly agreed to give up their eldest child, during an experiment exploring the dangers of public Wi-Fi use.

The experiment, which was backed by European law enforcement agency Europol, involved a group of security researchers setting up a Wi-Fi hotspot in June.

When people connected to the hotspot, the terms and conditions they were asked to sign up to included a “Herod clause” promising free Wi-Fi but only if “the recipient agreed to assign their first born child to us for the duration of eternity”. Six people signed up.

F-Secure, the security firm that sponsored the experiment, has confirmed that it won’t be enforcing the clause.

“We have yet to enforce our rights under the terms and conditions but, as this is an experiment, we will be returning the children to their parents,” wrote the Finnish company in its report.

“Our legal advisor Mark Deem points out that — while terms and conditions are legally binding — it is contrary to public policy to sell children in return for free services, so the clause would not be enforceable in a court of law.”

Ultimately, the research, organised by the Cyber Security Research Institute, sought to highlight public unawareness of serious security issues concomitant with Wi-Fi usage.

October 3, 2014

QotD: Marketing

Filed under: Business, Media, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

Among those currently imagining our possible futures, one of the most persuasive is the novelist William Gibson, who, having evolved quite a bit past the man who wrote Neuromancer in 1984, can hardly be said to be imagining futures at all, with his most recent novels constituting, in his words, “speculative fiction of the very recent past,” more oriented toward social situations than technological situations. With the possible exception of David Foster Wallace, no novelist of whom I am aware has ever written with such freshness and imagination on the subject of advertising and marketing, which is a big part of what Wallace called “the texture of the world I live in.” Nor has any novelist quite so precisely identified what is sinister in our world of ubiquitous sales pitches: that something whose entire purpose is to be at the center of our attention still manages to be somehow covert. The marketing mentality is an invasive species; earnest young people now speak entirely seriously about their “personal brands” at the same time they complain about the commodification of this or that. Gibson understands the strangeness of our times, and my own mental shorthand for the odd little details one sometimes encounters, particularly in urban life, when one identifies something that is entirely ordinary and yet feels as if it were not in its right time and place, is “Feeling like I’m living in a William Gibson novel.”

Kevin D. Williamson, “Futures Trading: We are no longer thinking about the future because we believe we are there”, National Review, 2014-10-01.

October 1, 2014

The CRTC tries bully boy tactics to stay vaguely relevant in the 21st century

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Business, Cancon, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:08

Richard Anderson perfectly captures the scene as the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) attempts to browbeat Netflix into “voluntary” compliance with its (possibly extra-legal) demands:

Caudilho Jean-Pierre Blais of the CRTC actually ordered Netflix to hand over their confidential information. Acting as if he was a judge in a criminal trial instead of a busybody interfering with a successful business that is violating no one’s rights. It’s questionable as to whether the CRTC even has the legal power to make such a request. Netflix is not a broadcaster in any traditional sense of the word. The story behind the story is that a Trudeau-era regulatory framework is running smack up against the modern world.

With technology speeding past the CRTC Mandarins they are confronted with three options: 1) Acquiesce and watch as time turns them into a medieval guild during the industrial revolution. 2) Lobby the government to explicitly expand their powers over the internet. 3) Say to hell with the rule of law and see what they can get away with.

Option 1 ain’t happening because too many cushy jobs are at stake. Option 2 ain’t happening because the Tories may not understand capitalism but they don’t actively hate it. This leave us with option 3. As you can tell it is by far and away the worst option. This isn’t just a bad for consumers story it’s a bad for freedom story as well.

At the moment much of the media is focused on the pick and pay cable model debate. But the debate is little more than a statist three card monte trick, the government’s crude attempt to legislate business into behaving like what they think a free market should look like. The future, however, is being decided in the Netflix case.

September 30, 2014

French restaurant food quality is declining – send in the regulators!

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Business, Europe — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:07

Tim Harford on the recent French government attempt to “fix” the declining quality of food served in restaurants:

“Each time I visit the city the food gets worse and worse.” Tyler Cowen, economics professor, foodie and author of An Economist Gets Lunch, despairs of Paris. Cowen isn’t the only person to lament the state of French cuisine. This may be why — in a quintessentially French move — the nation’s government has introduced a new law in an attempt to improve standards.

The quixotic law in question is public decree No. 2014-797, more popularly known as the “fait maison” rule, in which restaurants may use a new saucepan-with-a-roof-and-chimney logo on the menu beside any dish that is made on the premises. More accurately, the restaurants must use the saucepan-with-a-roof symbol to denote house-made dishes, but the definition of house-made is rather whimsical, thanks to French legislators.

The entire affair seems unlikely to improve French cuisine but it does provide a nice lesson in practical economics: regulation is a superficially appealing answer to life’s problems but often fails to provide real solutions.

[...]

A third problem is that the regulation may produce unintended consequences. Consider a chef who offers a fresh fruit crumble alongside a selection of factory-made cakes and puddings. By law, he or she must display the fait maison logo beside the crumble, implicitly damning all his or her other dishes. Such chefs might decide to offer no house-made dishes at all, rather than bring unwelcome questions to the forefront of their customers’ minds.

Policymaking is flawed and crude while the world is subtle and unpredictable. That is why regulations are often rigged from the start, are only peripherally related to the real matter of concern and have a tendency to backfire.

September 20, 2014

Can you trust Apple’s new commitment to your privacy?

Filed under: Business, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 12:32

David Akin posted a list of questions posed by John Gilmore, challenging the Apple iOS8 cryptography promises:

Gilmore considered what Apple said and considered how Apple creates its software — a closed, secret, proprietary method — and what coders like him know about the code that Apple says protects our privacy — pretty much nothing — and then wrote the following for distribution on Dave Farber‘s Interesting People listserv. I’m pretty sure neither Farber nor Gilmore will begrudge me reproducing it.

    And why do we believe [Apple]?

    • Because we can read the source code and the protocol descriptions ourselves, and determine just how secure they are?
    • Because they’re a big company and big companies never lie?
    • Because they’ve implemented it in proprietary binary software, and proprietary crypto is always stronger than the company claims it to be?
    • Because they can’t covertly send your device updated software that would change all these promises, for a targeted individual, or on a mass basis?
    • Because you will never agree to upgrade the software on your device, ever, no matter how often they send you updates?
    • Because this first release of their encryption software has no security bugs, so you will never need to upgrade it to retain your privacy?
    • Because if a future update INSERTS privacy or security bugs, we will surely be able to distinguish these updates from future updates that FIX privacy or security bugs?
    • Because if they change their mind and decide to lessen our privacy for their convenience, or by secret government edict, they will be sure to let us know?
    • Because they have worked hard for years to prevent you from upgrading the software that runs on their devices so that YOU can choose it and control it instead of them?
    • Because the US export control bureacracy would never try to stop Apple from selling secure mass market proprietary encryption products across the border?
    • Because the countries that wouldn’t let Blackberry sell phones that communicate securely with your own corporate servers, will of course let Apple sell whatever high security non-tappable devices it wants to?
    • Because we’re apple fanboys and the company can do no wrong?
    • Because they want to help the terrorists win?
    • Because NSA made them mad once, therefore they are on the side of the public against NSA?
    • Because it’s always better to wiretap people after you convince them that they are perfectly secure, so they’ll spill all their best secrets?

    There must be some other reason, I’m just having trouble thinking of it.

Corporate inversions

Filed under: Business, Economics — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:56

The most recent corporate inversion that hit the news — Burger King and Tim Hortons — may or may not work out, but it’s generally a sensible economic strategy that can yield strong results for the shareholders. In the most recent issue of The Freeman, Stewart Dompe and Adam C. Smith talk about why inversions are an example of competitive governance in action:

Populist themes like “economic patriotism” may appeal to voters, but such arguments are nonsensical: Firms are ultimately responsible to their shareholders. As Judge Learned Hand wrote, “Any one may so arrange his affairs that his taxes shall be as low as possible; he is not bound to choose that pattern which will best pay the Treasury; there is not even a patriotic duty to increase one’s taxes.”

If anything, firms have a moral responsibility to minimize their taxable liabilities. The legal structure of a firm establishes the relationship between shareholders, who own the capital, and managers that make operating decisions. Executives have a fiduciary responsibility to pay the lowest tax possible because they are the stewards of their shareholders’ wealth. There is no functional difference between an executive who spends millions of dollars on a lavish party and an executive who gives that money to Washington instead—except that the former is probably a lot more fun to be around.

Think about tax compliance like a rent check owed to one’s landlord, with the added complication that it’s very difficult to move. Suppose a tenant is currently renting multiple apartments at one location, but decides the rent is just too damn high. Since the tenant can’t relocate entirely, suppose she moves some of her stuff out of one of the apartments into a storage unit across town, thus saving significantly on her rent. Would this be seen as unethical in that the tenant is attempting to avoid her fiduciary obligation to the landlord? Of course not. She is simply trying to reduce the costs of residing in a particular location.

In the same vein, minimizing the firm’s tax burden means minimizing part of the firm’s operating costs. Just as a resource manager can identify a more cost-efficient way to produce goods and services, so can a tax lawyer identify a more cost-efficient way of maintaining tax compliance. A business has no moral obligation to always use the same suppliers, be they suppliers of production inputs or corporate charters. The law is the law and firms have the option of changing how they are structured and located in order to minimize their taxable liabilities. If they use loopholes, so be it: Loopholes are by definition legal. Firms only have the obligation to pay the tax mandated by the law.

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