What’s Killing Capitalism In America?

Greg Satell
5 min readNov 7, 2020
image: Pixabay

There’s no doubt that capitalism in America is in bad shape. Higher market share concentration in industry is leading to higher profits for corporate giants, but also to higher prices and lower wages along with decreased innovation and productivity growth as well as a long-term decline in entrepreneurship.

You would think that the rise of progressive politicians like Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez would be responsible for the decline in the power of capitalism and the demise of free markets. However, a new book by NYU finance professor Thomas Philippon, called The Great Reversal, argues exactly the opposite.

In fact, he shows through meticulous research how capitalists themselves are killing capitalism. Through the charade of “pro-business” policies, industry leaders have been increasing regulation and limiting competition over the past 20 years. We need to right the ship and return to an embrace of free markets, entrepreneurship and innovation.

A Rise In Rent Seeking And Regulatory Capture

The goal of every business is to defy markets. Any firm at the mercy of supply and demand will find itself unable to make an economic profit — that is profit over and above its cost of capital. In other words, unless a firm can beat Adam’s Smith’s invisible hand, investors would essentially be better off putting their money in the bank.

That leaves entrepreneurs and managers with two viable strategies. The first is innovation. Firms can create new and better products that produce new value. The second, rent seeking, is associated with activities like lobbying and regulatory capture, which seeks to earn a profit without creating added value. In fact, rent seeking often makes industries less competitive.

There is abundant evidence that over the last 20 years, American firms have shifted from an innovation mindset to one that focuses more on rent seeking. First and foremost, has been the marked increase in lobbying expenditures, which since 1998 have more than doubled. Firms invest money for a reason, they expect a return.

It seems like they are getting their money’s worth. Corporate tax rates in the US have steadily decreased and are now among the lowest in the developed world…

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Greg Satell

Co-Founder: ChangeOS | Bestselling Author, Keynote Speaker, Wharton Lecturer, HBR Contributor, - Learn more at www.GregSatell.com