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Government Politics

Richard Stallman's Solution To 'Too Big To Fail' 649

lcam writes "A Richard Stallman opinion piece appears at Reuters addressing the 'Too big to fail' view that has recently caused large corporations to be bailed out by taxpayer dollars. His solution is elegant: 'We tax a company’s gross income, with a tax rate that increases as the company gets bigger. Companies would be able to reduce their tax rates by splitting themselves up.' However, it could use some refining. For example, his measure would create a required minimum 'Return on Investment' scale that corporations need to follow to be viable, and these types of metrics are very industry specific. Another issue is that many large corporations stay in business because they don't take unnecessary risk. Companies like Intel, Lockheed, Walmart are very large and have a very low chance of failure, yet Stallman would have them split up as a result of the excessive risks that banks and insurance companies were seen to have taken. It also has the potential to cause problems with the global market; some multinationals may find it better to simply 'move out' to a country that doesn't compromise their business models. How can this idea be made better?"
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Richard Stallman's Solution To 'Too Big To Fail'

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  • by aaronfaby ( 741318 ) on Monday February 04, 2013 @04:37PM (#42788793)
    How about we just don't bail them out?
  • please stallman (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 04, 2013 @04:40PM (#42788847)

    Ugh, this read like a computer law proposal from an old senator-- This, is completely out of his areas of understanding.

  • Sherman Act (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 04, 2013 @04:42PM (#42788877)

    Or one can simply use the current Sherman Act (in US) as it is currently written. The tools for trust busting are already there, there's simply no will to use them.

    The greatest enemy to capitalism are the capitalists and the tendency for consolidation. If you want to keep capitalism healthy simply make sure there are plenty of capitalists.

  • by h4rr4r ( 612664 ) on Monday February 04, 2013 @04:43PM (#42788889)

    The banks should have been broken up as part of the bailouts. No need for any complicated new tax codes.

  • by YodasEvilTwin ( 2014446 ) on Monday February 04, 2013 @04:43PM (#42788895) Homepage
    The point is that you need to bail them out, because otherwise a recession becomes a depression or whole sectors of the economy will be destroyed. That's what "too big to fail" means.
  • by YodasEvilTwin ( 2014446 ) on Monday February 04, 2013 @04:44PM (#42788909) Homepage
    It's a suggestion, not a claim. You don't take a grain of salt with a suggestion, you evaluate it on its merits. What are your problems with this one?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 04, 2013 @04:46PM (#42788937)

    How about judging the idea on its merits, instead of the ad hominem technique?

  • by sumdumass ( 711423 ) on Monday February 04, 2013 @04:47PM (#42788943) Journal

    How about propping up depressions to only appear as recessions doesn't make it not one to those in the lower half of the economy. If the current system is failing, propping it up to save grace for the wealthy doesn't appear to be a smart idea.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 04, 2013 @04:47PM (#42788955)

    It's called evolution. Those that can and need to live on evolve. Those that can't die off. Just like life.

    We can't keep supporting old economies and old industries that need to change into something else. Yeah, it's hurts like hell and a generation pays the price for awhile, but at least we grow and move into the future instead of supporting the past.

  • by gewalker ( 57809 ) <Gary.Walker@Ast r a D i g i t a l .com> on Monday February 04, 2013 @04:49PM (#42788965)

    Brilliant absolutely brilliant. Too bad the guys that wrote the Constitution didn't think of that. Oh wait -- they did. Bailing out corporations (or individuals) was not among the enumerated powers granted to the federal government. Probably half or more of the federal budget is likewise unconstitutional (not that almost anyone in Congress or the Courts care)

  • by Hatta ( 162192 ) on Monday February 04, 2013 @04:49PM (#42788975) Journal

    Bail them out, save the economy, but jail the executives responsible. If your firm destabilizes the economy you go directly to jail.

  • by aaronfaby ( 741318 ) on Monday February 04, 2013 @04:51PM (#42788995)
    No you don't. That's Keynesian nonsense. Corporations that are poorly managed need to go bankrupt and the burden should not be placed on the tax payers. Yes, some people will lose their jobs. That's called life, sometimes it happens. The worst thing you can do is paper over it just to make everyone happy. Another company that is better managed will move in to fill the void, they always do. Now that executives of major corporations know they can rely on Uncle Sam to bail them out for making big mistakes (and they won't even go to jail if they commit massive fraud like the banking scandals of the last decade), there is no incentive for them to not take big gambles and otherwise behave more recklessly than they would if there were actual consequences.
  • by darkeye ( 199616 ) on Monday February 04, 2013 @04:52PM (#42789027) Homepage

    RMS's idea predates the latest bank bailout era with many many years. his idea was not inspired by 'too big to fail' at all. his idea is simple a mechanism to make sure there are fewer big companies - and only in cases where a larger size is indeed increasingly profitable, so that it's still worth to have the larger organization which has to pay more taxes because of its size.

    RMS's experience is simply that 'large entities' don't behave in a 'good' manner, and thus there is a clear advantage to society of having fewer of them.

  • by rmdingler ( 1955220 ) on Monday February 04, 2013 @04:57PM (#42789077) Journal
    You can say what you will about the War on Drugs. If I decide to parley some jars of loose change into the highly lucrative cocaine distribution market, I stand to make a market-torching return on my initial investment. The reason I pass on this incredible business opportunity is because in the event I become indicted, there's a very real chance the unborn grandchildren will be grown & gone before I come up for release. As long as white collar mega-crime is punishable by a maximum 50 lashes from a wet noodle, there is no negative incentive to modify their collective behavior.
  • RMS' idea sounds kind of neat, but it suffers from a fatal problem: All that happens when you force crazy high taxes onto big companies is that they leave the US. This is exactly what's happening in France right now, with their recent tax reforms.

    The correct solution, as others have already pointed out, is to simply let these companies fail. Funnily, the "experts" who said "if we let Citibank/MorganStanley/etc fail society will turn into a Mad Maxian nightmare where we'll all be forced into cannibalism" are the exact same people who would have lost a lot of money without a bailout.

  • by Cigarra ( 652458 ) on Monday February 04, 2013 @05:01PM (#42789111)
    Uhm, no. The point is that if they fail, it will be more than just "some people will lose their jobs", because other companies would be dragged in the fall, and the entire economy would suffer.

    Now I'm not even agreeing with the reasoning, but you didn't quite seem to even grasp it.
  • by Intrepid imaginaut ( 1970940 ) on Monday February 04, 2013 @05:04PM (#42789137)

    Except in the case of banks, they have all your money, so if they fail, all your money is gone. Reserves are meant to ensure that a reasonable ratio of funds are kept in case of emergencies, but due to the removal of regulations those dwindled to very little, among other things. Personally I'd target the banks and never mind the rest of the corporations, everything else descends from them. Split up their responsibilities so one single entity isn't shuffling funds from pensions to derivatives, make various kinds of banks rather than just one "bank".

    Yes it will reduce the bulk of funds available for any one activity (like mortgages), but that's the price you pay for security; also it might inspire growth due entirely to creative activity rather than hype. There are a lot of other options for growth as well, but if you want to ensure this never happens again, return Glass-Steagall. Simple as that.

    Stallman's idea is pretty good but it has a lot of gotchas as he mentions himself, not least of which is finding a definition of 'size' that quicksilver accountancy and shell company structures won't slide around immediately.

  • by tlhIngan ( 30335 ) <slashdot&worf,net> on Monday February 04, 2013 @05:08PM (#42789193)

    Corporations that are poorly managed need to go bankrupt and the burden should not be placed on the tax payers. Yes, some people will lose their jobs. That's called life, sometimes it happens

    You missed another important market - some people lose their life savings. Now, the US does not have a particularly strong social security net, so a lot of people rely on investment funded savings and investment funded retirement plans.

    The problem is that these people now have to choose between food, utilities (heat/electricity/water), or a roof over their heads.

    Plus, a lot of people would suddenly be in a lot more difficult positions. So you've saved the requisite amount of money to live on for 6 months in case you get laid off. So let's say you get laid off. No problem, you have a cushion of money to live on. But no, you got laid off AND your bank failed (WaMu, anyone?). Now you have no income and no money. If you were dilligent, you may have socked away money elsewhere but now you only have half the money and the real risk that they could fold too.

    Yes, companies should fail. However, when you're "too big to fail" it means vital corners of the economy are interdependent. When a small business fails - OK, some people left without jobs. When a large presumably infallible company fails, it ripples throughout the economy.

    If Apple failed - you'd have maybe half a million people out of work, and many more who have lost a significant chunk of their savings and pensions.

    Ditto Microsoft.

    But say Google failed - now you'll have ripples through the entire online economy - practically overnight there would be no more advertising (Google and all Google-owned companies like DoubleClick), and sites that relied on it would be in trouble. We saw a ripple of it a few years ago when online ad rates tanked and paywalls cropped up.

    In an ideal world, businesses failing would be a neat, clean, simple affair. These days, most companies are horrendously intertwined with many other companies (two competitors may have a very incestuous relationship, for example - think beyond love/hate Apple/Google), so it becomes a very messy affair.

  • by markhahn ( 122033 ) on Monday February 04, 2013 @05:14PM (#42789263)

    he wants corporations to be enslaved.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 04, 2013 @05:14PM (#42789269)

    The wealthy won't be hurt at all. They made a killing on the current crisis.

  • by RazorSharp ( 1418697 ) on Monday February 04, 2013 @05:20PM (#42789349)

    Bail them out, save the economy, but jail the executives responsible. If your firm destabilizes the economy you go directly to jail.

    Good idea. There aren't enough people in U.S. prisons.

    On a serious note: Using the threat of imprisonment seems to be a poor deterrent for crime. The U.S. has a larger prison population than any country in the world yet we have the most crime among any first world nation. Putting people in prison is like sending them to crime school: They're now for the most part unemployable, they have to spend months/years surviving the prison lifestyle, and any fallback money they had before landing in prison was probably sucked away from legal fees and fines imposed by the court.

    So now imagine this situation: You have a Harvard grad who was once the executive of a fortune 500 company. All his material possessions have been stripped away from him and the only things he has left are his mind (which is sharper than the average criminal's) and an intimate knowledge of American criminal culture. Do you really think that this person is rehabilitated? That he's learned his lesson and he'll go get a job at Taco Bell and live the rest of his life as a wage slave?

    No. What you've done is create a new type of criminal. One who's educated, who's proven to have few moral concerns, and now has nothing to lose. The 'throw them in jail' solution is a short-sighted one. Look to the war on drugs as a prime example. Unnecessarily throwing people in jail begets more crime in the long run. If you want to recommend excessive and inhumane punishments for what basically amounts to negligence and fraud, why not just recommend execution and free society of these people forever?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 04, 2013 @05:24PM (#42789383)

    If the current system is failing, propping it up to save grace for the wealthy doesn't appear to be a smart idea.

    If Congress had not acted to bail out the various banking institutions during the crisis, about half of wage earning American's would have suddenly discovered that:
    - they did not get paid
    - they cannot access their bank account
    - they cannot withdraw any money from their bank account
    - they cannot use their debit card
    - they cannot use their charge card

    because the banks that back their various forms of payment, deposit, etc, had gone out of business or been forced to suspend access because of a run on the bank.

    How long can you go without a paycheck, debit card, or credit card?

  • Simplest Solution (Score:5, Insightful)

    by CanHasDIY ( 1672858 ) on Monday February 04, 2013 @05:24PM (#42789395) Homepage Journal

    Simplest solution: reinstate Glass-Steagal, and stick to that shit this time.

    Next simplest solution: make "Bail-out" == Nationalization. if we taxpayers are footing the bill, we have every right to own that motherfucker.

    Yea, it really is that easy.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 04, 2013 @05:35PM (#42789567)

    Sorry, but that doesn't cut it. There was never any bank 'too big to fail' in the sense that their assets would not cover their deposits. TBTF simply meant that bond holders (e.g. owners) of the bank would have lost their investment. For some pension funds and other investment vehicles that could have caused significant havoc but it would not have caused a worse recession then happened. Many, many people lost their jobs anyway and money was spent to prop up banks that made incredibly risky investment decisions. Rather then support the banks with Trillions the government could have let them fail, depositors (e.g. you, me & the next shmo) would not have lost our money deposited in those banks & your mortgage would still be payable to the company that purchased the assets of the failed bank.

    The government could then have used those Trillions of dollars they gave to the banks directly to the people in one form of support or another. As it is the government increased the deficit by increasing support payments to people (unemployment etc.) AND paid for rich people not to lose their standard of living...the latter is in no way appropriate, in a capitalist economy it is right & proper to let any company fail & for the 'rich' to become poor due to their bad decisions. Only by letting the market do it's job would companies stop engaging in high risk behavior. Since it's clear the government is going to run huge deficits (e.g. 'social programs') anyway at such times those social programs should be directed at those people who MIGHT lose their job, even the rich people can go on unemployment, welfare or social security if they so need but in no way should 'social programs' extend to companies, that's not capitalism that is communism (e.g. see China).

  • Re:please stallman (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bondsbw ( 888959 ) on Monday February 04, 2013 @05:37PM (#42789607)

    Interesting, since the issues facing our elected leaders are almost always outside of their area of expertise.

  • by Archangel Michael ( 180766 ) on Monday February 04, 2013 @05:38PM (#42789611) Journal

    False. These banks took unnecessary risks and should fail, and the shareholders would be on the hook for the "non-payments". Too big to fail means too many hands in too many pies that we can't extracate who did what and to whom.

    Fuck-em. Let them fail. bail out the deposits, make sure you get what you can from the loans outstanding and fail the bank and fuck the shareholders. I guarantee you that those people running FAILED banks will never work again(except at McDonalds), and those propsing the same kind of "banking" will never get promoted again.

    And we should be able to raid the trust funds of all ill-got gains of the criminals who run and ruin these firms, including all the Operating Officers and Board of Directors.

  • by jimmy_dean ( 463322 ) <james DOT hodapp AT gmail DOT com> on Monday February 04, 2013 @05:38PM (#42789615) Homepage

    That's what they wanted you to think, but really, can you prove that? That's a huge conjecture. And even if it was true, I don't like the current state of the economy nor all of the power the government has usurped from productive citizens. All the government did was to make the hangover temporarily go away by drinking more alcohol. You don't cure a hangover that way. You endure the pain, and you don't get wasted in the future.

  • by Hatta ( 162192 ) on Monday February 04, 2013 @05:40PM (#42789643) Journal

    What you've done is create a new type of criminal. One who's educated, who's proven to have few moral concerns, and now has nothing to lose.

    We already have that kind of criminal, they're called bankers, and they control our economy. They will do less damage in jail than they will wielding hundreds of billions of dollars.

    If you want to recommend excessive and inhumane punishments for what basically amounts to negligence and fraud

    Bullshit. The 2008 financial crisis destroyed 100X more wealth than was stolen in all the property crime that year. Let me say that again. The total sum of all property crime in 2008 was less than 1% of the losses in the financial crisis. And these financial losses have real human costs as well. When you destroy a mans livelihood you are responsible for the pain that causes. When your negligance and fraud are excessive and inhumane, you should expect excessive and inhumane punishments. Execution would be just fine by me.

  • by Petron ( 1771156 ) on Monday February 04, 2013 @05:42PM (#42789687)

    Can you cite a case where a business went under and their competitors did as well... Unless the competitors were also doing poorly.

    If GM went under, Ford and Chrysler would be higher in demand as they pick up the slack. If Johnson Controls (makers of car batteries) lost money due to GM going under, they will also have higher demand from GM and Chrysler... Plus they still provide batteries for existing cars. (in other words, the company should diversify, not provide products for only one business).

    I use to support the "Safety Net" idea, but now... I don't. Safety Nets remove risk. Risk helps us avoid bad decisions. If a bank is told to make loans to people who are high-risk, The bank will protest. They know it's a bad idea. But if the government adds a safety net, say a promise to bail out bad loans... Why wouldn't the bank make the loan? If the loan works out: they get paid. If the loan fails: they get paid. Win-Win for the bank. Housing demand goes up, Home prices go up. Bank loans go up. You want to talk about making the economy suffer... it was just a matter of time before the bubble burst. And anybody who warned about the loans and tried to stop the bubble bursting was dismissed as "Hating the poor" or "Playing chicken little politics". *sigh*

  • by LordLimecat ( 1103839 ) on Monday February 04, 2013 @05:46PM (#42789733)

    One would think that all that would happen, is their remaining inventory would be sold off, and the remaining competitors would buy it up. Business would continue, and food would remain in stores.

  • by YoungHack ( 36385 ) on Monday February 04, 2013 @05:51PM (#42789819)

    Bank deposits are not guaranteed by the government. Bank deposits up to a limit are guaranteed. My deposits are guaranteed. So are yours probably. But my employer is big. The amount of money required to make single payroll is more than is guaranteed under the limits.

    So my money is secure and your money is secure. But at the end of the month, suddenly my employer can't make payroll because a bank failed. Perhaps yours can't either. That's a big deal.

  • by squiggleslash ( 241428 ) on Monday February 04, 2013 @05:56PM (#42789919) Homepage Journal

    If people make bad investments then only they should suffer the consequences.

    That's great in cloud cookoo Libertarand land, but in the real world, we live in a connected world. Things affect me that happen way out of my sphere of responsibility.

    If I'm on a desert island, yeah, I'm responsible for most of what goes wrong (weather, etc, excepting.) But here?

    - I can make a bad decision, and destroy my means of support.
    - My boss can make a bad decision, and destroy my means of support.
    - My employer as a whole can make a bad decision, and destroy my means of support.
    - My employer's bank can make a bad decision, and destroy my means of support.
    - The bank used by a major customer of my employer can make a bad decision, and destroy my means of support.
    - The bank used by 10% of the customers of my employer can make a bad decision, and destroy my means of support

    We try to regulate banks and businesses so that doesn't happen. Likewise we also regulate driving. Just because you drank the beer doesn't mean it'll be you that's hit by your SUV.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 04, 2013 @06:00PM (#42789955)

    Can you cite a case where a business went under and their competitors did as well


  • by RazorSharp ( 1418697 ) on Monday February 04, 2013 @06:00PM (#42789963)

    That may deter you from personally getting involved in the cocaine trade, but it certainly hasn't deterred others. If you already had a criminal record, if you weren't very intelligent, or if you were socially ostracized for some other reason, it may not seem like a bad risk. Furthermore, here's where your analogy really doesn't work: the reason cocaine is such a profitable product is because of its illegality. If cocaine was legal there would be razor-thin profit margins and it would be dirt cheap.

    It's not really comparable to financial markets. The main reasons for white collar crime are that 1) oftentimes it's dubious whether they're committing crimes -- many of the actions taken may be considered immoral, but the actors don't bother to consider whether they are legal 2) we have a system in place that encourages such behavior 3) a lack of transparency when it comes to the books.

    People in China commit far fewer crimes than Americans do. There are far more negative incentives. But does any sane American want to live in China?

    One thing people overlook about Anthony Burgess' A Clockwork Orange, as they're distracted by the sex and violence and funny words, is the moral. To paraphrase, one should do good because it's good, not because they're compelled to. Prison sentences in the United States are much more harsh than in European countries, yet European countries have much less crime.

    Your suggestion reminds me of child support. All the poor losers out there who go to prison because they didn't pay child support and then can't get a job to pay their child support when they get out of prison because they have a record. So then they turn to real crime or they just go back to prison for not paying child support. Brilliant system there.

    As the Burgess' paraphrase indicates, I'm no fan of inflicting behavioral reinforcement on human beings, but if you do choose to go that route, isn't it Psychology 101 where you learn that positive reinforcement is much more effective than negative reinforcement?

  • by dgatwood ( 11270 ) on Monday February 04, 2013 @06:02PM (#42789987) Homepage Journal

    I would argue that there should be a limited safety net for individuals, simply because a basic sense of humanity requires it, and because people don't always have a great deal of choice in the matter when it comes to deciding where they want to work; they work for whoever was hiring when they lost their last job. Any risk they might take by taking a job pales compared with the risk of being unable to pay the bills, so a lack of a safety net doesn't help them avoid bad decisions in any useful or practical way.

    There should be no safety net for businesses, because businesses are not individuals; they do not have feelings; they do not need to be fed; they do not need roofs over their heads. If the safety net for individuals is sufficient, the individuals that work for failed businesses should be able to land on their feet. If it isn't, then the problem is the broken safety net for individuals.

    Of course, there's still the question of whether eliminating the social security safety net would discourage poor investing choices, but again, I think that where individuals are concerned, the answer is "no", if only because most individuals cannot possibly be expected to have the depth of understanding required to recognize toxic assets and other such problems.

  • by The Dancing Panda ( 1321121 ) on Monday February 04, 2013 @06:10PM (#42790107)
    The car one is pretty easy to explain.

    GM, Ford, and Chrysler all share US manufacturers for smaller parts of their cars. Ford did not take bailout money, but did argue for the other companies to be bailed out. Why? Because the smaller companies that they all share would suddenly have 2/3's of their customers cut out from under them, all at once. because economies of scale no longer work for the suppliers, parts prices go up severely and immediately. Demand for Ford cars may shift upwards, and increased production could be an outcome eventually, but the immediate price increases make Ford increase their prices, effectively pricing themselves out of their own market because their competitors failed too quickly. This leaves most of the state of Michigan completely devastated.

    I'm not against the companies failing. In fact I would applaud it, because GMs and Chryslers have sucked so hard for so long. But it works out better for everyone if it's a more gradual process. This is the same case for the banks. Bad banks need to fail by customers moving their money out of them, so as to keep the least amount of innocent bystanders affected.
  • by tlhIngan ( 30335 ) <slashdot&worf,net> on Monday February 04, 2013 @06:52PM (#42790739)

    I don't know how you guys did it but in the UK we bought the banks. We own them now. When we sell them off we will get back what we paid for them, perhaps even a bit of profit. The bailout wasn't free money, we expect a return. Of course we still had to borrow that cash so it is costing us in interest payments, but the idea that we just gave away hundreds of billions is nonsense. As an added bonus we could lean on those banks to reduce bonus payments and act responsibly. The previous administration made a start but unfortunately the current government won't carry on the policy.

    Actually, the US did that too - they actually curbed a whole bunch of spending and executive pay and all that. A lot of the more solvent "banks" actually repaid their loans earlier than due because when you're owned by the government, it's not a good thing to a bank executive.

    Thing is, being onthe taxpayer's dole isn't flowers and ponies - all of a sudden the remuneration packages can get reviewed, bonus packages get axed, and even worse, regulators and auditors can come sniffing around the books.

    That's why the banks repaid their loans quickly - last thing they want is government auditors opening books and seeing "what went wrong" and then enacting new rules against the shenanigans they played.

  • by Solandri ( 704621 ) on Monday February 04, 2013 @07:11PM (#42791031)
    Just go back to the old system. Banks cannot be investment brokerages. Investment brokerages cannot be banks. Then the only risk banks can take is in making loans. They shouldn't be trying to make money gambling in the stock market using depositors' money as their nest egg. They should be making money via interest they earn by making smart loans with depositors' money.
  • by bondsbw ( 888959 ) on Monday February 04, 2013 @07:34PM (#42791315)

    It was cheaper in the short term. In the long term, the government indicated that it is acceptable for very large companies to continue to make unwise decisions that could create new recessions in the future.

  • by BoberFett ( 127537 ) on Monday February 04, 2013 @07:48PM (#42791485)

    Not only that, but I seem to recall reading stories about how some of the megabanks used their bailout money to buy up smaller, more responsible, better managed banks to improve their balance sheets. Now we have even fewer, larger banks. Some help that was.

  • by SylvesterTheCat ( 321686 ) on Monday February 04, 2013 @08:31PM (#42791933)

    here, here.

    I would also add that the government should not be forcing (coercing) banks to make mortgages that are riskier than they would otherwise make.

The only function of economic forecasting is to make astrology look respectable. -- John Kenneth Galbraith