19 November 2020

Sausage Dressing for One Platter

…no Turkey Day large gatherings, no immense quantities of leftovers. But there will be Turkey Awards. Can you gobblegobble guess who's getting gobblegob carved up?

  • One of the biggest casualties of the delayed "transition" will be enforcement of existing law. This isn't precisely unique to the current fiasco, but it's worse this time: Every time there's a change in administration — even within the party, as in 1988–89 — federal enforcement of existing law relating to Big Business essentially stops between about a week after Election Day and mid-February. One simply will not see major actions finding unfair labor practices, or banking improprieties, or insurance improprieties…

    …or antitrust violations, especially regarding proposed nonvertical mergers. Like this one. Interestingly, I've seen nonlinkable reports indicating that the CEO of NewsCorp claims that a Bertelsmann purchase would implicate antitrust law but maintaining silence concerning his own company. The real problem here — as it is with virtually every merger since about 1917 — is in the market definition. In this particular instance, the magician's assistant (or "volunteer from the audience") is distracting attention: Everyone who is in favor of the merger is pointing at Amazon as a major market participant.

    Wrong. This would even matter if, and only if, "general trade publishing" is the exclusive market definition (and defining even that will be really interesting — does it include porn? religious-oriented fiction and nonfiction, and for the latter remember that there are major-player imprints owned by all of the candidates?). But it isn't and never has been. The more-profitable non-trade segments of these dead-tree behemoths are already vastly overconcentrated. For example, the HHI for precollege textbooks — admittedly based on third-party estimates, because nobody admits to these things in any verifiable or public way — is between 1800 and 1850 at the conglomerate level under the current structure, and would jump to at least 2350 after any merger among "Big Five" commercial publishers. Since under the DoJ's own unforgiveably lax merger guidelines an HHI exceeding 1600 is suspect and 2000 is presumptively anticompetitive and oligopolistic (if one goes back to the original academic material, 2500 is an outright monopoly justifiable only for natural monopolies), that's a Problem… in the one part of publishing that is most resistant to e-books.

    I will no doubt have more to say as this story develops. This is just one example of how market definition matters. I would call on the FTC and DoJ to preemptively do something — even just say something — but…

  • …this is under a petulant child who fires people for doing the jobs they were hired to do. At least when "doing that job" makes clear that more than one vote — the Orange One's — actually counts. Well, ok, the votes of dead dinosaurs count, too… as long as they're converted to dead presidents first. As dead presidents, they have free speech rights denied to, say, black ex-felons in Florida who have completed their custodial and supervisory sentences but can't get an accurate appraisal from the state regarding any fines, restitution, etc.
  • One suspects that a certain bow-tie-wearing Justice would have been in even deeper trouble with this Administration than either Krebs or Mueller. Especially since he would have been shooting at someone who really does think of himself as "king."

    Sadly, the efforts by Stevens and his allies did little to deal with the old-white-man problem in Chicago politics and law practice. And if you're under the illusion that politics are divorced from daily law practice, you've never appeared in Cook County courts — especially, but not only, the so-called Chancery, where minority debtors on secured and dubious loans go to lose. To have all of their equity stripped away and flipped for the profit of Other Peoples' Money (and the white men running the trusts and hedge funds investing it).

  • What the other sausages on this platter indicate is that grasp of higher mathematics is not necessary to predict the future: Always bet on the three things that made America great (graft, corruption, and nepotism), even when there isn't an "America" yet. Some people think they can be more precise, but as (a) a lab-rat biochemist, (b) a former officer of the United States who witnessed Stuff while being a uniformed part of the furniture, and (c) a cynic since age three, I'll gently point out that applying advanced math and analysis to politically manipulated data is unlikely to lead to results that are precise, accurate, and distinct from reasonably aware observation. (Example: Go ahead. Look at the academic work underlying the HHI. Then look at the data and data sources, and ponder for a moment just how closely the probability that the data was manipulated for political purposes before it was ever plugged into the analysis approaches 1. But don't even mention the timing, mechanics, politics, and interests wound up in the dissolution of the Bretton Woods Agreement, or you'll be thrown off a cliff by the first econometrist you meet and your corpse will be defiled by every investment banker who encounters it.)