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<HTML>
<HEAD>

<TITLE>C.5 Why does Big Business get a bigger slice of profits?</TITLE>
</HEAD>
<BODY>
<p>

<H1>C.5 Why does Big Business get a bigger slice of profits?</H1>
<p>
As described in the <a href="secC4.html">last section</a>, due to the nature of the capitalist market,
large firms soon come to dominate. Once a few large companies dominate a
particular market, they form an oligopoly from which a large number of
competitors have effectively been excluded, thus reducing competitive
pressures. In this situation there is a tendency for prices to rise above
what would be the "market" level, as the oligopolistic producers do not
face the potential of new capital entering "their" market (due to the
relatively high capital costs and other entry/movement barriers). This form 
of competition results in Big Business having an "unfair" slice of available
profits. As there is an <b>objective</b> level of profits existing in the
economy at any one time, oligopolistic profits are <i>"created at the
expense of individual capitals still caught up in competition."</i> [Paul
Mattick, <b>Economics, Politics, and the Age of Inflation</b>, p. 38]
<p>
As argued in section <a href="secC1.html">C.1</a>, the price of a commodity will tend towards
its production price (which is costs plus average profit). In a
developed capitalist economy it is not as simple as this -- there are
various "average" profits depending on what Michal Kalecki termed the
<b><i>"degree of monopoly"</i></b> within a market. This theory <i>"indicates that profits
arise from monopoly power, and hence profits accrue to firms with more
monopoly power. . . A rise in the degree of monopoly caused by the growth
of large firms would result in the shift of profits from small business
to big business."</i> [Malcolm C. Sawyer, <b>The Economics of Michal Kalecki</b>,
p. 36] Thus a market with a high "degree of monopoly" will have a higher
average profit level (or rate of return) than one which is more competitive.
<p>
The "degree of monopoly" reflects such factors as level of market
concentration and power, market share, extent of advertising, barriers
to entry/movement, collusion and so on. The higher these factors, the
higher the degree of monopoly and the higher the mark-up of prices over
costs (and so the share of profits in value added). Our approach to this
issue is similar to Kalecki's in many ways although we stress that the
degree of monopoly affects how profits are distributed <b>between</b> firms,
<b>not</b> how they are created in the first place (which come, as argued in
section <a href="secC2.html">C.2</a>, from the <i>"unpaid labour of the poor"</i> -- to use Kropotkin's words).
<p>
There is substantial evidence to support such a theory. J.S Bain
in <b>Barriers in New Competition</b> noted that in industries where the
level of seller concentration was very high and where entry barriers
were also substantial, profit rates were higher than average. Research
has tended to confirm Bain's findings. Keith Cowling summarises this
later evidence:
<p><blockquote>
<i>"[A]s far as the USA is concerned. . . there are grounds for believing
that a significant, but not very strong, relationship exists between
profitability and concentration. . . [along with] a significant
relationship between advertising and profitability [an important factor 
in a market's "degree of monopoly"]. . . [Moreover w]here the estimation 
is restricted to an appropriate cross-section [of industry] . . . both
concentration and advertising appeared significant [for the UK]. By
focusing on the impact of changes in concentration overtime . . . [we are]
able to circumvent the major problems posed by the lack of appropriate
estimates of price elasticities of demand . . . [to find] a significant
and positive concentration effect. . . It seems reasonable to conclude on
the basis of evidence for both the USA and UK that there is a significant
relationship between concentration and price-cost margins."</i> [<b>Monopoly
Capitalism</b>, pp. 109-110]
</blockquote><p>
We must note that the price-cost margin variable typically used in these
studies subtracts the wage and <b>salary</b> bill from the value added in
production. This would have a tendency to reduce the margin as it does
not take into account that most management salaries (particularly those
at the top of the hierarchy) are more akin to profits than costs (and
so should <b>not</b> be subtracted from value added). Also, as many markets
are regionalised (particularly in the USA) nation-wide analysis may
downplay the level of concentration existing in a given market.
<p>
This means that large firms can maintain their prices and profits above
"normal" (competitive) levels without the assistance of government simply
due to their size and market power (and let us not forget the important fact 
that Big Business rose during the period in which capitalism was closest
to "laissez faire" and the size and activity of the state was small). As 
much of mainstream economics is based on the idea of "perfect competition" 
(and the related concept that the free market is an efficient allocator of 
resources when it approximates this condition) it is clear that such a 
finding cuts to the heart of claims that capitalism is a system based upon 
equal opportunity, freedom and justice. The existence of Big Business and 
the impact it has on the rest of the economy and society at large exposes 
capitalist economics as a house built on sand (see sections 
<a href="secC4.html#secc42">C.4.2</a> and <a href="secC4.html#secc43">C.4.3</a>).
<p>
Another side effect of oligopoly is that the number of mergers will tend
to increase in the run up to a slump. Just as credit is expanded in an
attempt to hold off the crisis (see section <a href="secC8.html">C.8</a>), so firms will merge
in an attempt to increase their market power and so improve their profit
margins by increasing their mark-up over costs. As the rate of profit
levels off and falls, mergers are an attempt to raise profits by increasing
the degree of monopoly in the market/economy. However, this is a short term
solution and can only postpone, but stop, the crisis as its roots lie in
production, <b>not</b> the market (see section <a href="secC7.html">C.7</a>) -- there is only so much
surplus value around and the capital stock cannot be wished away. Once the
slump occurs, a period of cut-throat competition will start and then, slowly,
the process of concentration will start again (as weak firms go under,
successful firms increase their market share and capital stock and so on).
<p>
The development of oligopolies within capitalism thus causes a redistribution
of profits away from small capitalists to Big Business (i.e. small businesses
are squeezed by big ones due to the latter's market power and size). Moreover,
the existence of oligopoly can and does result in increased costs faced by 
Big Business being passed on in the form of price increases, which can force
other companies, in unrelated markets, to raise <b>their</b> prices in order to 
realise sufficient profits. Therefore, oligopoly has a tendency to create
price increases across the market as a whole and can thus be inflationary.
<p>
For these (and other) reasons many small businessmen and members of the
middle-class wind up hating Big Business (while trying to replace them!) and 
embracing ideologies which promise to wipe them out. Hence we see that both
ideologies of the "radical" middle-class -- Libertarianism and fascism --
attack Big Business, either as "the socialism of Big Business" targeted
by Libertarianism or the "International Plutocracy" by Fascism.
<p>
As Peter Sabatini notes in <b>Libertarianism: Bogus Anarchy</b>, <i>"[a]t the turn
of the century, local entrepreneurial (proprietorship/partnership) business
[in the USA] was overshadowed in short order by transnational corporate
capitalism. . . . The various strata comprising the capitalist class
responded differentially to these transpiring events as a function of
their respective position of benefit. Small business that remained as
such came to greatly resent the economic advantage corporate capitalism
secured to itself, and the sweeping changes the latter imposed on the
presumed ground rules of bourgeois competition. Nevertheless, because
capitalism is liberalism's raison d'etre, small business operators had
little choice but to blame the state for their financial woes, otherwise
they moved themselves to another ideological camp (anti-capitalism).
Hence, the enlarged state was imputed as the primary cause for
capitalism's 'aberration' into its monopoly form, and thus it became
the scapegoat for small business complaint."</i>
<p>
However, despite the complaints of small capitalists, the tendency of
markets to become dominated by a few big firms is an obvious side-effect
of capitalism itself. <i>"If the home of 'Big Business' was once the public
utilities and manufacturing it now seems to be equally comfortable
in any environment"</i> [M.A. Utton, <b>Op. Cit.</b>, p. 29]. This is because in
their drive to expand (which they must do in order to survive), capitalists
invest in new machinery and plants in order to reduce production costs 
and so increase profits (see section <a href="secC2.html">C.2</a> and related sections). Hence a
successful capitalist firm will grow in size over time and squeeze out
competitors.
<p>
<a name="secc51"><h2>C.5.1 Aren't the super-profits of Big Business due to its higher efficiency?</h2>
<p>
Obviously the analysis of Big Business profitability presented in section 
<a href="secC5.html">C.5</a>
is denied by supporters of capitalism. H. Demsetz of the pro-"free" market 
"Chicago School" of economists (which echoes the right-libertarian "Austrian"
position that whatever happens on a free market is for the best) argues that
<b>efficiency</b> (not degree of monopoly) is the cause of the super-profits
for Big Business. His argument is that if oligopolistic profits are due
to high levels of concentration, then the big firms in an industry will
not be able to stop smaller ones reaping the benefits of this in the form
of higher profits. So if concentration leads to high profits (due, mostly,
to collusion between the dominant firms) then smaller firms in the same
industry should benefit too.
<p>
However, his argument is flawed as it is not the case that oligopolies
practice overt collusion. The barriers to entry/mobility are such that
the dominant firms in a oligopolistic market do not have to compete by price
and their market power allows a mark-up over costs which market forces
cannot undermine. As their only possible competitors are similarly large
firms, collusion is not required as these firms have no interest in reducing
the mark-up they share and so they "compete" over market share by non-price
methods such as advertising (advertising, as well as being a barrier to
entry, reduces price competition and increases mark-up).
<p>
In his study, Demsetz notes that while there is a positive correlation
between profit rate and market concentration, smaller firms in the oligarchic
market are <b>not</b> more profitable than their counterparts in other markets
[see M.A. Utton, <b>The Political Economy of Big Business</b>, p. 98]. From
this Demsetz concludes that oligopoly is irrelevant and that the efficiency
of increased size is the source of excess profits. But this misses the
point -- smaller firms in concentrated industries will have a similar
profitability to firms of similar size in less concentrated markets,
<b>not</b> higher profitability. The existence of super profits across <b>all</b>
the firms in a given industry would attract firms to that market, so
reducing profits. However, because profitability is associated with the
large firms in the market the barriers of entry/movement associated with
Big Business stops this process happening. <b>If</b> small firms were as
profitable, then entry would be easier and so the "degree of monopoly"
would be low and we would see an influx of smaller firms.
<p>
While it is true that bigger firms may gain advantages associated with
economies of scale the question surely is, what stops the smaller firms
investing and increasing the size of their companies in order to reap
economies of scale within and between workplaces? What is stopping market
forces eroding super-profits by capital moving into the industry and
increasing the number of firms, and so increasing supply? If barriers
exist to stop this process occurring, then concentration, market power
and other barriers to entry/movement (not efficiency) is the issue.
Competition is a <b>process,</b> not a state, and this indicates that
"efficiency" is not the source of oligopolistic profits (indeed, what
creates the apparent "efficiency" of big firms is likely to be the
barriers to market forces which add to the mark-up!).
<p>
It seems likely that large firms gather "economies of scale" due to
the size of the firm, not plant, as well as from the level of concentration
within an industry. <i>"Considerable evidence indicates that economies of
scale [at plant level] . . . do not account for the high concentration
levels in U.S. industry"</i> [Richard B. Du Boff, <b>Accumulation and Power</b>,
p. 174] and, further, <i>"the explanation for the enormous growth in
aggregate concentration must be found in factors other than economies
of scale at plant level."</i> [M.A. Utton, <b>Op. Cit.</b>, p. 44] Co-ordination of
individual plants by the visible hand of management seems to be the key
to creating and maintaining dominant positions within a market. And, of
course, these structures are costly to create and maintain as well as
taking time to build up. Thus the size of the firm, with the economies of
scale <b>beyond</b> the workplace associated with the administrative co-ordination
by management hierarchies, also creates formidable barriers to entry/movement.
<p>
Another important factor influencing the profitability of Big Business
is the clout that market power provides. This comes in two main forms -
horizontal and vertical controls:
<p><blockquote>
<i>"Horizontal controls allow oligopolies to control necessary steps in an
economic process from material supplies to processing, manufacturing,
transportation and distribution. Oligopolies. . . [control] more of the
highest quality and most accessible supplies than they intend to market
immediately. . . competitors are left with lower quality or more expensive
supplies. . . [It is also] based on exclusive possession of technologies,
patents and franchises as well as on excess productive capacity [. . .]
<p>
"Vertical controls substitute administrative command for exchange between
steps of economic processes. The largest oligopolies procure materials
from their own subsidiaries, process and manufacture these in their own
refineries, mills and factories, transport their own goods and then market
these through their own distribution and sales network."</i> [Allan Engler,
<b>Apostles of Greed</b>, p. 51]
</blockquote><p>
Moreover, large firms reduce their costs due to their privileged access to
credit and resources. Both credit and advertising show economies of scale,
meaning that as the size of loans and advertising increase, costs go down.
In the case of finance, interest rates are usually cheaper for big firms
than small one and while <i>"firms of all sizes find most [about 70% 
between 1970 and 1984] of their 
investments without having to resort to [financial] markets or banks"</i> size
does have an impact on the <i>"importance of banks as a source of finance"</i>: 
<i>"Firms with assets under $100 million relied on banks for around 70% of
their long-term debt. . .  those with assets from $250 million to $1 billion,
41%; and those with over $1 billion in assets, 15%"</i> [Doug Henwood, <b>Wall
Street</b>, p. 75]. Also dominant firms can get better deals with independent
suppliers and distributors due to their market clout and their large
demand for goods/inputs, also reducing their costs.
<p>
This means that oligopolies are more "efficient" (i.e. have higher profits)
than smaller firms due to the benefits associated with their market power
rather than vice versa. Concentration (and firm size) leads to "economies
of scale" which smaller firms in the same market cannot gain access to.
Hence the claim that any positive association between concentration and
profit rates is simply recording the fact that the largest firms tend
to be most efficient, and hence more profitable, is wrong. In addition,
<i>"Demsetz's findings have been questioned by non-Chicago [school] critics"</i>
due to the inappropriateness of the evidence used as well as some of
his analysis techniques. Overall, <i>"the empirical work gives limited support"</i>
to this "free-market" explanation of oligopolistic profits and instead
suggest market power plays the key role. [William L. Baldwin, <b>Market Power,
Competition and Anti-Trust Policy</b>, p. 310, p. 315]
<p>
Unsurprisingly we find that the <i>"bigger the corporation in size of assets
or the larger its market share, the higher its rate of profit: these findings
confirm the advantages of market power. . . Furthermore, 'large firms in 
concentrated industries earn systematically higher profits than do all
other firms, about 30 percent more. . . on average,' and there is less
variation in profit rates too."</i> [Richard B. Du Boff, <b>Accumulation and
Power</b>, p. 175]
<p>
Thus, concentration, not efficiency, is the key to profitability, with those 
factors what create "efficiency" themselves being very effective barriers to 
entry which helps maintain the "degree of monopoly" (and so mark-up and profits 
for the dominant firms) in a market. Oligopolies have varying degrees of 
administrative efficiency and market power, all of which consolidate its
position -- <i>"[t]he barriers to entry posed by decreasing unit costs of 
production and distribution and by national organisations of managers,
buyers, salesmen, and service personnel made oligopoly advantages 
cumulative - and were as global in their implications as they were
national."</i> [<b>Ibid.</b>, p. 150]
<p> 
This recent research confirms Kropotkin's analysis of capitalism found in 
his classic work <b>Fields, Factories and Workshops</b> (first published in 1899). 
Kropotkin, after extensive investigation of the actual situation within the 
economy, argued that <i>"it is not the superiority of the <b>technical</b> organisation 
of the trade in a factory, nor the economies realised on the prime-mover, 
which militate against the small industry . . .  but the more advantageous  
conditions for <b>selling</b> the produce and for <b>buying</b> the raw produce  
which are at the disposal of big concerns."</i> Since the <i>"manufacture being  
a strictly private enterprise, its owners find it advantageous to have all the 
branches of a given industry under their own management: they thus  
cumulate the profits of the successful transformations of the raw  
material. . . [and soon] the owner finds his advantage in being able 
to hold the command of the market. But from a <b>technical</b> point of 
view the advantages of such an accumulation are trifling and often 
doubtful."</i> He sums up by stating that <i>"[t]his is why the 'concentration'  
so much spoken of is often nothing but an amalgamation of capitalists  
for the purpose of <b>dominating the market,</b> not for cheapening the  
technical process."</i> [<b>Fields, Factories and Workshops Tomorrow</b>,  
p. 147, p. 153 and p. 154] 
<p>
All this means is that the "degree of monopoly" within an industry helps
determine the distribution of profits within an economy, with some of the
surplus value "created" by other companies being realised by Big Business. 
Hence, the oligopolies reduce the pool of profits available to other companies
in more competitive markets by charging consumers higher prices than a
more competitive market would. As high capital costs reduce mobility within
and exclude most competitors from entering the oligopolistic market,
it means that only if the oligopolies raise their prices <b>too</b> high can
real competition become possible (i.e. profitable) again and so <i>"it should 
not be concluded that oligopolies can set prices as high as they like. If
prices are set too high, dominant firms from other industries would be
tempted to move in and gain a share of the exceptional returns. Small
producers -- using more expensive materials or out-dated technologies
-- would be able to increase their share of the market and make the
competitive rate of profit or better."</i> [Allan Engler, <b>Op. Cit.</b>, p. 53]
<p>
Big Business, therefore, receives a larger share of the available surplus
value in the economy, due to its size advantage and market power, not due
to "higher efficiency".
<p>
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