Quotulatiousness

October 7, 2017

Why We Should Privatize the Postal Service

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Business, Government, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

ReasonTV
Published on 6 Oct 2017

What’s the best way to make the Post Office faster and cheaper? Pull the government’s tendrils out of it and let it loose in the private sector.

October 2, 2017

Is it becoming time to let the NFL’s “chips fall where they may”?

Filed under: Business, Football, Law, Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

The modern NFL as we know it enjoys a legal privilege through an act of Congress, allowing the league to negotiate TV rights as a single organization and sharing the revenue equally among all the constituent teams. In City Journal, Steven Malanga recounts the history of how that privilege was granted:

Many sports fans know that Major League Baseball has a unique exemption from the nation’s antitrust laws, thanks to a 1922 Supreme Court decision, which perplexingly ruled that baseball teams do not engage in interstate commerce. Less well understood, however, is that the National Football League retains its own federal exemption through legislation that has allowed the league’s teams to cooperate on television contracts — a gift from Washington that has been crucial to the development of the modern NFL. Over the years, the exemption has proved controversial, though bipartisan calls to revoke or narrow it have never gained much traction. The exemption deserves a fresh look with the players’ extreme politicization of the league, in which they have been aided and abetted by the owners, who have allowed and even taken part in unprecedented partisan posturing — broadcast to the nation via Congress-approved TV deals.

According to NFL mythology, the league’s success is the result of the vision of its mid-1950s and 1960s leadership, including the marketing savvy of former commissioner Pete Rozelle. But the real cornerstone of the NFL’s rise was successful Washington lobbying by league leadership, after a court ruled in 1961 that NFL teams could not negotiate broadcasting rights as a group, because such power would violate antitrust laws against monopolization. Rozelle got a New York congressman, Emanuel Cellar, who chaired the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Anti-Trust and Monopoly, to introduce what’s become known as the Sports Broadcasting Act of 1961, which provided limited antitrust exemption, allowing teams to pool their efforts for the sake of negotiating TV deals. When President Kennedy signed the legislation, it permitted a $4.65 million broadcast deal that the NFL had crafted with CBS for the rights to televise football games. The price of broadcasting packages quickly accelerated, especially after the merger of the NFL and the old AFL, and the antitrust exemption allowed for such singular NFL successes as Monday Night Football, introduced in 1970.

Though the act also applies to professional baseball, hockey, and basketball teams, its significance to the NFL came to outweigh the benefits to other leagues, because pro football—with many fewer games per season—exclusively and collectively sells all its TV rights through monopoly pooling, then distributes the revenues to teams equally. Without this exemption, each team would have to negotiate its television contracts individually, which would be fine for powerful teams like the Dallas Cowboys that could probably arrange to have all their games broadcast nationally, but less advantageous for weak teams such as the Cleveland Browns, which might struggle even for local coverage.

[…] The majority of companies in America would not, and do not, allow demonstrations at work by individual employees on political issues unrelated to their employment — just the sort of demonstrations begun last year by former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, and carried on through this weekend by more than 200 players. That the owners have tolerated and lately even encouraged such protests over an issue — charges of police brutality — that divides many Americans is a business risk that they seem willing to take. But the league’s use of its platform — created by its federal antitrust exemption — to broadcast its message across the country is more than a simple business matter. It represents an improper use of resources made available to the NFL by special federal legislation. It’s past time to revoke the Sports Broadcasting Act — and let the “chips fall where they may.”

September 15, 2017

Will Google’s quasi-monopoly last as long as AOL’s did?

Filed under: Business, Liberty, Politics, Technology, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

In the big picture, I’m concerned with Google’s current market power and their ability to quash online freedom of speech almost at will (if not directly, through pressure on other companies to co-operate, or else: “Nice little business you’ve got here, Mr. Forbes. It’d be a shame if something happened to its Google search results…”). Google is huge and has fingers in an unimaginable number of pies, but it is still subject to market forces, as was an earlier behemoth of the online world:

The film [You’ve Got Mail] was released in 1998. Amazon was founded in 1994 and had its IPO in 1997. It was about to crush big discount bookstores — does anyone still remember the other big chain, Borders? — and nobody had a clue. There isn’t a single mention in the film of Amazon or online sales.

But the Internet is mentioned. It’s right there in the title of the movie. You’ve Got Mail, for those who are old enough to remember, was a tagline for America Online, the largest Internet service provider in the dial-up era of the 1990s. For millennials, let me explain: we had to connect our computers to a phone line, and an internal modem would place a phone call to a local data center from which it could download information at impossibly slow speeds. […]

AOL is there in the film’s title, because that’s how our protagonists are communicating: by trading e-mails on their dial-up AOL connections.

AOL’s high point was its merger with Time Warner in 2000. It was all downhill, rapidly, from there. Dial-up was quickly surpassed by broadband, and as the Web developed, nobody needed a “Web portal” any more. Again, for younger readers, let me explain. When you managed to get to this exciting new thing called the World Wide Web, how did you know what sites to go to or how to access information? Before the Google search, before Facebook, before Twitter, you went to a Web portal, a launching off point that gathered links and directed you to various sources for news, entertainment, shopping, etc. These Web portals had a huge amount of influence — until they didn’t.

Now here’s the fun part. At the same time nobody was paying much attention to Amazon because Barnes and Noble was going to crush all competitors and control the book business, there was widespread panic about the unstoppable monopoly power of AOL.

AOL was going to gain a monopoly because of its death grip on instant messaging. The “computer editor” for The Guardian worried that this was putting AOL “on its way to world domination.” The AOL-Time Warner deal raised “concerns that its merger would create a media powerhouse that would level competitors, dominate the Internet, and control consumer choice.”

A Wired podcast talked about fears of a Sun-AOL monopoly, but they didn’t call that sort of thing a “podcast” yet because the iPod hadn’t been invented. The audio clip was an MP3 file, and they suggested you listen to it on a Sonique MP3 player from Lycos. The Sonique stopped being produced about a year later. Lycos was a major Web portal, and according to Wikipedia, it was “the most visited online destination in the world in 1999.” It was bought by a multinational conglomerate for $12.5 billion at the peak of the dot-com bubble.

Whatever is left of Lycos was last sold for $36 million in 2010, though that deal seems to have collapsed in acrimony later on. Sic transit gloria mundi.

September 12, 2017

Google doesn’t mind flexing its muscles now and again

Filed under: Business, Liberty, Politics — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Yet another instance of Google proving that someone erased the word “Don’t” from their company motto*:

Dear Editors,

You might be interested to learn, that your websites have been almost blacklisted by Google. “Almost blacklisted” means that Google search artificially downranks results from your websites to such extent that you lose 55% – 75% of possible visitors traffic from Google. This sitution [sic] is probably aggravated by secondary effects, because many users and webmasters see Google ranking as a signal of trust.

This result is reported in my paper published in WUWT. The findings are consistent with multiple prior results, showing Google left/liberal bias, and pro-Hillary skew of Google search in the elections.

I write to all of them to give you opportunity to discuss this matter among yourselves. Even if Google owes nothing to your publications, it certainly owes good faith to the users of its search.

* For all I know, Google’s original motto may already have gone down the memory hole: “Don’t be evil“.

September 2, 2017

“Nice little business you’ve got here, Mr. Forbes. It’d be a shame if something happened to its Google search results…”

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

At Gizmodo, Kashmir Hill recounts the tale of what happens when Google decides to suppress media coverage it doesn’t like:

Six years ago, I was pressured to unpublish a critical piece about Google’s monopolistic practices after the company got upset about it. In my case, the post stayed unpublished.

I was working for Forbes at the time, and was new to my job. In addition to writing and reporting, I helped run social media there, so I got pulled into a meeting with Google salespeople about Google’s then-new social network, Plus.

The Google salespeople were encouraging Forbes to add Plus’s “+1″ social buttons to articles on the site, alongside the Facebook Like button and the Reddit share button. They said it was important to do because the Plus recommendations would be a factor in search results — a crucial source of traffic to publishers.

This sounded like a news story to me. Google’s dominance in search and news give it tremendous power over publishers. By tying search results to the use of Plus, Google was using that muscle to force people to promote its social network.

I asked the Google people if I understood correctly: If a publisher didn’t put a +1 button on the page, its search results would suffer? The answer was yes.

After the meeting, I approached Google’s public relations team as a reporter, told them I’d been in the meeting, and asked if I understood correctly. The press office confirmed it, though they preferred to say the Plus button “influences the ranking.” They didn’t deny what their sales people told me: If you don’t feature the +1 button, your stories will be harder to find with Google.

With that, I published a story headlined, “Stick Google Plus Buttons On Your Pages, Or Your Search Traffic Suffers,” that included bits of conversation from the meeting.

    The Google guys explained how the new recommendation system will be a factor in search. “Universally, or just among Google Plus friends?” I asked. ‘Universal’ was the answer. “So if Forbes doesn’t put +1 buttons on its pages, it will suffer in search rankings?” I asked. Google guy says he wouldn’t phrase it that way, but basically yes.

(An internet marketing group scraped the story after it was published and a version can still be found here.)

This article reminded me that I was still showing a “Google+” share button on my postings … it’s still available for all three of you that still use that service, but it’s now in the “More” group instead.

August 12, 2017

End supply management in one swell foop!

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Business, Cancon, Economics, Government — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 03:00

As always, Colby Cosh can express my thought far more eloquently than I can myself:

Mad Max tried to sugar-coat it as much as possible. They rejected that option with great vigour. Now let’s just burn the whole thing down … before Trump forces us to.

July 12, 2017

The real newspaper problem is not Facebook and Google … it’s their monopolistic heritage

Filed under: Business, History, Law, Media, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Tim Worstall argues against allowing US newspapers to have an anti-trust exemption to fight Facebook and Google:

The first thing to note is the influence of geography and transport. By definition a newspaper needs to arrive daily — in physical format least — meaning that there’s a useful radius around a printing plant which can be served. What then happened is exactly what is happening with Google and Facebook, network effects come into play. Each urban area effectively became the monopoly of just the one newspaper. Sure, there were more than that in New York City for example, SF supported two majors later than many other places. But even in such large and rich places we did really only ever end up with one “serious” newspaper.

The network effects stem from the revenue sources. Roughly speaking, you understand, one third came from subscription revenues, one third from display advertising and one third from classifieds. Classifieds are a classic case of said network effects. Everyone advertises where they know everyone reads. Everyone reads the ads where they know everyone advertises those used baby bassinets. Whoever can get ahead in the collection of either then almost always wins the race. Classifieds are also hugely, vastly, profitable.

The way that American newspapers are sold, on subscriptions with a local paper boy, also contains elements of such network effects.

The effect of this economic structure was that each major urban area really had the one monopolist newspaper. This is where that famed “objectivity” comes from too. If there’s going to be the one newspaper then it’s going to try to make sure there’s no room for another by steadily occupying the middle ground on anything and everything. This is just the Hotelling problem all over again. Swing too viciously left or right (on any issue, political, social, whatever) and there might be room for someone to sneak in from the borderlands. Thus the very milquetoast indeed political views at most of these newspapers.

[…]

And that, I insist, is what is really happening to US newspapers. Most certainly, their problems stem from the internet. for the internet broke that monopoly imposed by economic geography and all else stems from that. They got fat and happy within those monopolistic areas and their pain is coming from the adjustments necessary to deal with that. The likely outcome I would expect to be many fewer first line newspapers staffed by many fewer people in much the way that the UK market has worked for near a century now. I would also expect to see them using political stance as a differentiator just as in Britain.

July 6, 2017

Words & Numbers: Let Amazon Play Monopoly

Filed under: Business, Economics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on 5 Jul 2017

Amazon’s offer to buy Whole Foods for $13.7 billion sounds pretty great to both parties, but it seems that isn’t good enough. The proposal has a lot of people worried about Amazon becoming an indestructible monopoly, and the government is all too happy to step in and settle the issue. But this concern ignores consumers’ own preferences as well as business and entrepreneurial history. This week in Words and Numbers, Antony Davies and James R. Harrigan discuss the probable future of the Amazon-Whole Foods merger, what it could mean for us, and what it could mean for another once-equally feared corporation: Wal-Mart.

April 17, 2017

QotD: The dubious “value add” of the LCBO

Filed under: Business, Cancon, Government, Quotations — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

The liquor board’s cocktail recipe of the month, offered on its website, is for “gin and lemonade,” which you make with a shot of gin and some lemonade. The gin is cherry, so there’s that. Its three recommended beers of the month are themed for the hockey playoffs. They are — I am not kidding — Molson Canadian in a bottle, Molson Canadian in a can, and Molson Canadian in a larger can. The value the LCBO’s adding that a private retailer couldn’t is not obvious.

David Reevely, “LCBO union uses government’s rhetoric against it in brewing labour battle”, National Post, 2017-04-06.

April 6, 2017

QotD: The “real” “synergies” of corporate mergers

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

There can be a few factors behind consolidation. For example, massive economies of scale. Or … well, I’m afraid this is a bit delicate, but I can’t let it go unmentioned: Industries consolidate to reduce the number of players in the market, giving the remaining players more pricing power. Antitrust regulators tend to put on their big frowny face if companies cite the latter reason, so the public statements made by companies in consolidating industries tend to focus on more superficially attractive reasons like cost savings and “broader industry reach,” or more ethereally vague words like “synergies.”

True to form, Anthem is claiming that nearly $2 billion in synergy savings will be realized by the merged entities. This is probably true, to some extent. But you should keep in mind that mergers are themselves extremely costly. And I don’t just mean the fabulous fees that investment bankers and consultants collect to facilitate them. Joining two entities into one is really difficult: Corporate cultures clash, turf wars damage morale and profits, IT systems never do work right together, key employees leave, customers are alienated. So in general, these sorts of statements should be taken, not just with a grain of salt, but while sitting next to a salt lick with a big bag of Mr. Salty Pretzels and some cocktail peanuts to wash the whole thing down.

Megan McArdle, “No Wonder Insurers Want to Merge”, Bloomberg View, 2015-07-24.

February 17, 2017

Industrial policy example – Kingston, Ontario

Filed under: Business, Cancon, Germany, Government, Railways — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

David Warren remembers when the government tampered with the free market to “save an industry” in Kingston:

Once upon a time, many years ago, I scrapped into one of these “no-brainer” political deals. The remains of the locomotive manufacturing business in Kingston, Ontario — whose century-old products I had glimpsed, still on the rails in India — were now on the block. A monster German corporation was offering to buy them, for the very purpose of competing, in Canada, with a (hugely subsidized, monopolist) Canadian corporation. The government stepped in, to “save” a Canadian industry, retroactively change the ground rules, and kick in more subsidies so that the Canadian monopolists, based in Montreal, could take over instead. This was accompanied by nationalist rhetoric, and Kingston was thrilled. Critics like me were unofficially deflected with bigoted anti-German blather held over from the last World War.

But I knew exactly what was going to happen. The local works, which would have been expanded by the foreign owner, were soon closed by the new Canadian owner, after studies had been commissioned to “prove” it was uneconomic. The latter’s last possible domestic competitor was thus snuffed out. The locals, whose lives had been for generations part of a proud Kingston enterprise, had been suckered. The politicians had told them it was little Canada versus big Germany. In reality, it was pretty little Kingston versus big ugly Montreal.

That is how the world works, with politics, so that whenever I hear of a big new national no-brainer scheme, my first thought is, which innocents are getting mooshed today?

September 18, 2016

When you’re a monopoly, what’s your attitude to customers? “Sod the proles!”

Filed under: Business, Cancon, Wine — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Rick VanSickle vents about the LCBO’s amazingly tone-deaf marketing:

Sorry, LCBO, but I don’t get you. Such a lame-o release on the birthday of our great country July 1, with paltry few Canadian wines released to celebrate our big day, and presumably a few folks out there looking to party with local wines, and then suddenly in the middle of September, you drop the big one.

What up with that? I mean, the Sept. 17 issue of the Vintages mag, with pages and pages of features on Ontario wines and the biggest selection of local wines of the year — am I missing something? Is this some sort of key date for us in Ontario and Canada?

I want to be there during your obviously very detailed board meetings to listen in on the thinking behind your planning. When you get to, say, July 1, does anyone go: “Hey, that’s Canada Day, let’s flood the aisles with great Canadian wine. It’s what the people want, the people who pay for our largesse, the people we work for.” Well, no, of course not, that’s ridiculous.

Instead, as they count down the calendar, they go: “OK, what do we have for the week of Sept. 17? Why, there’s absolutely nothing going on, so let’s make it the biggest Ontario wine release of the year! Yes, perfect!”

Of course, what does it matter anyway? It’s not like the guy down the street is doing any better because there is no guy down the street. It’s the beauty of a monopoly — guilt-free decisions because there is no wrong decision if you are the only game in town.

For example (stay with me here, we’ll get to the wine), if the government decided it was going to force a shoe-store monopoly on its populace and came to the conclusion at a big swanky retreat where such decisions are made (pure speculation) that it would be so cool to put out a big display of Converse runners at all their stores on the first day of winter. No winter boots, no mukluks, just running shoes and sandals. Wouldn’t that be hilarious? lol.

It’s funny but not really funny. We just accept that it’s wrong and carry on like a monopoly is beyond reproach, beyond accountability.

For the record, the Canada Day Vintages release featured a cover story called: South Side Story: Wines of Southern France with 12 pages of spectacular photography and enticing bottles of French wine proudly displayed with glowing reviews and effusive praise for all.

March 19, 2016

The Monopoly Markup

Filed under: Economics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 18 Mar 2015

Ever wonder why pharmaceuticals are so expensive? In this video, we show how low elasticity of demand results in monopoly markups. This is especially the case with goods that involve the “you can’t take it with you” effect (for example, people with serious medical conditions are relatively insensitive to the price of life-saving drugs) and the “other people’s money” effect (if third parties pay for the medicine, people are less sensitive to price).

January 15, 2016

The Costs and Benefits of Monopoly

Filed under: Economics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on 18 Mar 2015

In this video, we explore the costs and benefits of monopolies. We cover how monopolies and patents breed deadweight loss, market inefficiencies, and corruption. But we also look at what would happen if we eliminated patents for industries with high R&D costs, such as the pharmaceutical industry. Eliminating patents in this case may result in less innovation and, specifically, fewer new drugs being created. We also consider some of the tradeoffs of patents and look at alternative ways to reward research and development such as patent buyouts and using prizes to foster innovation.

December 16, 2015

To lower healthcare costs, increase the competition

Filed under: Business, Economics, Health, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

At Mother Jones, Kevin Drum links to an article that explicitly shows the cost of having monopoly providers in healthcare:

Regular readers of this blog should know that when it comes to the price of hospital care, it’s competition that matters, not insurance companies. In areas with only a single hospital, insurance companies have no leverage and have to accept whatever price the hospital charges. If there are lots of hospitals, they have to compete with each other to earn the insurance company’s business.

But in case you’re still skeptical, a team of researchers has analyzed a huge database of health care claims in the US to check this out. They found enormous regional variation in hospital costs for the same procedure, and one of the biggest drivers of this variation was competition:

Market power and hospital price

    Hospital market structure stands out as one of the most important factors associated with higher prices, even after controlling for costs and clinical quality. We find that hospitals located in monopoly markets have prices that are about 15.3 percent higher than hospitals located in markets with four or more providers. This result is robust across multiple measures of market structure and is consistent in states where the HCCI data contributors (and/or Blue Cross Blue Shield insurers) have high and low coverage rates.

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