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Comment by fraidykluofficer-com on Comparative advantage and when to blow up your island · 2020-10-23T10:28:04.683Z · LW · GW

You still seem to be missing the key point: if you want to claim that industries tend toward concentration in general, citing particular concentrated industries isn't going to cut it.

 

Well... I gave you some examples in trillion-dollar industries and asked for counter-examples.

Many of your counter-examples -- car dealerships, spas, hair salons, etc -- are niche markets.

Few of them were multi-billion industries, and they provide more examples of consolidation.

Just google for "consolidation in restaurant industry" and you will find articles like "6 reasons for restaurants' massive consolidation wave", "Deals and consolidation dominate restaurant industry".

How about the small restaurants? According to "Food Delivery Consolidation: Good For Now, But Not For Long", platforms such as Uber Eats and GrubHub are taking 10% to 40% of gross transactions:

"With the rise in demand for their service, combined with the dire situation COVID-19 has created for most of the population, platforms such as Uber Eats and GrubHub are facing increased scrutiny over restaurant fees that can range from 10% to 40% of gross transactions, according to restaurant owners. (...)

In the future, retailers and customers can expect to pay even more in delivery fees, as the few delivery conglomerates monopolize the market and limit retailers’ ability to sustain a profitable business."

Comment by fraidykluofficer-com on Comparative advantage and when to blow up your island · 2020-10-22T12:19:20.815Z · LW · GW

 Electronics isn't.

 

Isn't it? Think of a subcategory.

I could go on and on.

 

Retail has a long tail.

Retail is a prime example of consolidation -- think of Walmart,  

Sales by the 20 largest food retailers totaled $515.3 billion in 2016, accounting for 66.6 percent of U.S. grocery store sales, up from 42.2 percent in 1996. Amazon acquired Whole Foods in the summer of 2017. (Source)

Fast forward to 2020, "Amazon and Walmart are like two elephants wrestling, and all the other retailers in the U.S. are the grass" (Source).

 

 

Telecoms is concentrated, though it's become less concentrated in recent decades.

Telecom is another classic example of consolidation.

A long antitrust case completed in 1984 led to the old AT&T being broken into seven regional Bell operating companies and the much smaller new AT&T.

Less than 30 years later, in 2009 the Department of Justice started to look into whether AT&T and Verizon were abusing the market power they had amassed in recent years.

Now... you don't have to take my word for it. Google for "consolidation in _____ industry" and you are going to see the phenomenon being repeated everywhere.

Or read "America’s monopoly problem, explained by your internet bill".

Comment by fraidykluofficer-com on Comparative advantage and when to blow up your island · 2020-10-21T11:32:58.060Z · LW · GW

Of course there have been particular cases where an industry consolidated during a particular period.

 

That period being... any moment in time.

 

You made a much stronger claim: that industries in general tend toward consolidation. Pointing to two or three examples where industries consolidated does not provide much evidence for such a claim.

 

I didn't point to "two or three examples", but eleven business sectors dominated by huge conglomerates.

 

On the other hand, pointing to examples where industries did not consolidate provides significant evidence against such a claim.

 

You responded with a single sector: services.

Even then, I gave a counter-example showing how big companies can drive small companies away.

And you see that happening all the time: Starbucks, McDonalds, etc.

The consolidation is a process, it didn't finish yet.

Comment by fraidykluofficer-com on Comparative advantage and when to blow up your island · 2020-10-20T14:46:14.918Z · LW · GW

Restaurants, car dealerships, spas and hair salons, construction, plumbers and electricians, doctors and lawyers.

 

What you are saying is that services can be provided by small companies.

Fair enough.

But we still can see consolidation there.

Starbucks uses a tactic known as ‘clustering’. They’ll build several cafes right in the same area to obliterate competition. This costs a lot of money, but they can afford it... They even use a strategy called ‘predatory real estate’. They pay more than market rate rents to keep competitors out of a location. 

 

 

Even in some of the sectors you list - like automotive manufacturing - we haven't seen much net consolidation. We haven't seen a lot of new entrants, but's it's not like the number of car manufacturers is rapidly decreasing either. It's at an equilibrium, and that equilibrium has a lot more than just one company - which is not something you'd see if economic forces generally favored consolidation.

The American automotive market consolidated from more than 250 manufacturers in 1909 to fewer than 50 by 1930. How many companies are there now?

One more example:

At the end of 1985 there were 18,000 banks in the United States. By 2007, this had been reduced to just 8,534, and since then has dropped further. Today, the ten largest U.S. financial institutions own more than 50% of total financial assets.

Comment by fraidykluofficer-com on Comparative advantage and when to blow up your island · 2020-10-19T17:20:45.261Z · LW · GW

There are many industries where companies do not tend to consolidate

 

Can you give me a few examples? I'll list a few important industries:

  • Automotive
  • Construction
  • Electronics
  • Financials
  • Healthcare
  • Insurance
  • Internet
  • Oil and gas
  • Pharmaceutical
  • Retail
  • Telecommunications

 

In each one of these, you'll find a bunch of big players.

For example:

  • Automotive
    • Volkswagen (Germany)
    • Toyota (Japan)
    • Daimler (Germany)
    • Ford (US)
    • Honda (Japan)
    • General Motors (US)
  • Internet
    • Google
    • Facebook
  • Retail
    • Walmart
    • Amazon
    • Costco

 

Even if you consider new entrants (such as Tesla) we are still talking about a few companies that dominate the industry.

Can you list any important sector where we don't see consolidation?

Comment by fraidykluofficer-com on Have the lockdowns been worth it? · 2020-10-16T16:22:03.445Z · LW · GW

By ‘lockdown’ we refer to the thing that the US, UK and China have been doing, and what Sweden didn’t.

 

You should also mention that the approach in the US is not uniform.

Although many states had blanket lockdowns, some were a patchwork of rules, with cities and counties mandating their own restrictions.

Also, a hard lockdown demonstrated to be very useful to flatten the curve in New York.

Comment by fraidykluofficer-com on Have the lockdowns been worth it? · 2020-10-16T16:14:53.190Z · LW · GW

The average number of life expectancy years lost for a death by COVID is estimated to be ~10 years so 50k COVID deaths ~= 500k QALYs lost. 

 

Where did this number come from?

The life expectancy of a 65 years old man is 19 years.

Source: Life Expectancy Calculator

Now, you must consider that Peru managed to reduce their death rate to ~0.1% with a lockdown. The situation is terrible but it could have been worse -- if they didn't act.

So: your analysis is minimizing the cost of a death and failing to take into account the reduction in the number of deaths thanks to the lockdown.

Comment by fraidykluofficer-com on Have the lockdowns been worth it? · 2020-10-16T15:59:16.260Z · LW · GW

Have the lockdowns been worth it?

 

Are you serious?

Just remember what happened to Italy -- or New York -- before they implemented the lockdown.

People were dying like flies, they had to park trucks to collect bodies from hospitals.

The answer is a resounding yes.

Comment by fraidykluofficer-com on Comparative advantage and when to blow up your island · 2020-10-16T15:49:21.339Z · LW · GW

What we see in reality is that companies tend to consolidate into bigger and bigger conglomerates.

It's easy to see why.

As small companies compete, you naturally get market leaders. As these companies get larger they become more efficient at producing goods and services. They invest in mass production techniques in order to produce goods more cheaply than their competitors. They buy raw materials at cheaper prices because they buy in bulk. They expand specialization amongst their workforce. The bigger they get, the easier it is to make money.

When two market leaders merge they achieve massive economies of scale. This forces others to merge in order to compete, leading to ever greater concentration. Monopolies often buy their rivals.

It's not a matter of being "evil", it's just a natural outcome of capitalism. If they don't, a competitors will.

Comment by fraidykluofficer-com on Comparative advantage and when to blow up your island · 2020-10-16T08:39:49.813Z · LW · GW

Let's say we have N players. The first consequence would be the existence of a unique price.

 

That's not true if one of the players has a monopoly.

A monopoly will extract as much as it can, delivering as little as possible.

It will be able to charge different prices from different customers. In a free and unregulated market, the monopoly can award you ("prime" customer!) or punish you -- it is the lawmaker, juror and executioner.

 

At this point, everyone will specialize in one good (banana or coconut) based on whether each one values banana/coconut more or less than the market does.

 

This scenario is not supported by reality.

What we see, in practice, is that free, unregulated market will create monopolies.

As small companies compete, you naturally get market leaders. As these companies get larger they become more efficient at producing goods and services. They invest in mass production techniques in order to produce goods more cheaply than their competitors. They buy raw materials at cheaper prices because they buy in bulk. They expand specialization amongst their workforce. The bigger they get, the easier it is to make money. Smaller companies cannot compete.

When two market leaders merge they achieve massive economies of scale. This forces others to merge in order to compete, leading to ever greater concentration. Monopolies often buy their rivals.

The only solution to this is to admit that we need regulation and laws.

There is no such thing as "free and unregulated" market. An unregulated market will not be free.

Comment by fraidykluofficer-com on Comparative advantage and when to blow up your island · 2020-09-25T12:57:01.965Z · LW · GW

Destroying your production capacity is a strategic mistake, and exposes you to blackmail in the future. A smart owner (or a smart centralized government) would not let that happen. If you want to give me free bananas, okay, I will take them; but I will still keep my banana plantation ready. 

 

The article clearly suggests that the inefficient farmer should stop working on coconuts and work full-time (8.5 hours a day) on bananas; so he wouldn't have time to keep the secondary plantation ready.

That's the recipe to become dependent from a stronger partner, something that the article suggests is a good strategy for both parties. But is it?

Let's not assume bad intentions from any side.

Everything goes well for a couple of years... but the efficient farmer realizes he is working only 2 hours a day, and decides to increase his production, working 4 hours per day. (Again -- let's not assume bad intentions; he just wants to expand his production)

Boom! He no longer needs to buy bananas.

What should the inefficient farmer do? Ideally he would reduce the banana production, but he can't produce coconuts overnight. He must sell bananas cheap to buy coconuts.

The bananas:coconut exchange rate jumps from 2:1 to 4:1. That means he must double his production, working 20+ hours per day, while the other farmer comfortably works 4 hours per day.

Of course, he can't do that for long and goes bankrupt before his coconut plantation is ready.

Please note that this doesn't even assume bad intentions from the efficient farmer; it's just a natural result from the free trade between unequal partners.

That's why, in the real world, countries must impose tariffs, quotas and other types of regulation.

 

And the other side of the same coin is that a smart owner -- or centralized government -- will try to expand their future production capacities

I agree with you -- and that's exactly what the efficient farmer did, in the present.

And because the inefficient farmer decided to focus solely on one industry, he couldn't keep the other.

(Something that the article suggests would be beneficial for both parties.)

 

That said, another question is whether subsidies are the best way to keep your production capacity, and what amount of subsidies is optimal. 

It's a sane strategy if you don't want to become dependent.

People can live without iPhones; but they can't live without food.

 

I would even challenge which types of products should we subsidize: if the goal is to prevent starving, we probably do not need to protect our meat production -- if the other countries keep giving us cheap meat, let them; and if they suddenly stop doing that (in the unlikely case that all meat-subsidizing countries would coordinate to do this in the same year), we may have a year or two of mostly vegetarian diet, but no one is going to die.

 

You are underestimating the time and effort to re-create an entire industry, once it is destroyed...

We are talking about decades!

 

In other words, although some protection of production capacity is strategically important, it doesn't necessarily follow that the farming subsidies, as we know them now, are anywhere near the optimal solution.

 

Do you think it would be a smart strategy, for the developed countries, to become dependent?

I don't think so.

Subsidies may not be the "optimal" solution -- but is good enough to protect their interests.

(And, of course, it is not very good for the developing countries.)

Comment by fraidykluofficer-com on Covid 9/17: It’s Worse · 2020-09-23T12:14:39.595Z · LW · GW

Last week we learned there is plausibly a simple, cheap and easy way out of this entire mess. All we have to do is take our Vitamin D.

 

Please read this article: There's Only Weak Evidence For Vitamin-D As a COVID-19 Preventative, But Scientists Are Trying to Learn More

tldr;

Taking vitamin D supplements can help, if you are deficient, but it is not a cure.

There is no "simple, cheap and easy way out of this entire mess".

Excerpt:

To protect himself from COVID-19, Dr. Anthony Fauci has long said he’s skipping hugs and handshakes, wearing a mask, and staying off of planes. Last week, he acknowledged adding another step to protect his health: taking supplements of vitamin-D.

“If you are deficient in Vitamin-D, that does have an impact on your susceptibility to infection,” Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in an interview posted on Instagram last week. “So I would not mind recommending—and I do it myself—taking vitamin-D supplements.”

However, while spurious claims that vitamin-D can prevent or treat COVID-19 have proliferated online, including some recommending potentially dangerous doses, it’s important to point out that Fauci wasn’t talking about vitamin-D helping with COVID-19 in particular. Instead, he was speaking more broadly about vitamin-D’s importance in caring for our immune system. (...)

How should people think about their vitamin-D intake during the pandemic? For starters, don’t view it as a silver bullet protecting you from COVID-19—there’s simply not enough scientific evidence for that. But if you’re one of the many Americans with insufficient vitamin-D levels, it may be a good idea to increase your intake—if not to protect yourself from the virus directly, then at least to improve your health more broadly.

Comment by fraidykluofficer-com on Comparative advantage and when to blow up your island · 2020-09-16T07:16:53.269Z · LW · GW

The author discusses impossibly perverse behaviors such as blowing up one's island, but forgets to mention the most common anti-competitive practices such as dumping and product tying.

For example, the other guy would price coconuts and bananas well below the Zone of Possible Agreement (dumping), and you would be so glad to buy everything from them -- destroying your industry and increasing his comparative advantage.

Of course, he is not altruist, so, when you are completely dependent, he will raise his prices above the ZOPA -- and you have no option because it would cost you a lot (time and effort) to rebuild your industry and regain your comparative advantage.

If you try to produce bananas, he drops the price of bananas, making profit from coconuts; if you try to produce coconuts, he drops the price of coconuts, making profit from bananas.

When you start to recover one industry (say, coconuts) he could force you to buy coconuts if you want to buy bananas (tying).

And if you ever managed to rebuild both industries, all he had to do was to bring his prices below ZOPA -- and you would have to decide if you still believe in free and unregulated markets, or avoid the same mistake, imposing tariffs and regulation.

---

You can observe this kind of imbalance in the real world: developing countries export iron for $100 per metric ton ($0.05/pound) and buy high value-added products (phones, tablets, computers) for $500/unit.

Developed countries use the profit they make from high value-added products and services to subsidize their farmers, pushing the price down. For instance, wheat costs $188.75/ton ($0.10 per pound).

Without subsidies, the farming industry would be decimated from rich countries, and prices would go up. Of course, there is no such thing as "free market".

Markets need regulation to prevent anticompetitive behavior.