EXPERT WITNESS: Law, economics, and our future generations

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By John F. Sase, Ph.D.
Gerard J. Senick, general editor
Julie Gale Sase, copyeditor

“The market is a human creation, not a fact of nature, and only humans can save it from what it [has] become.”
—Robert B. Reich, Ph.D., former U.S. Secretary of Labor and Current Professor of Public Policy at UC Berkley, from his Saving Capitalism, for the Many Not the Few (Knopf Doubleday, 2015).

Law and Economics join one another at the hip. Economics depends upon our creation and enforcement of laws. Much of the field of Law focuses upon matters involving economic status, decisions, and growth. What we consider as good in both the fields of Law and Economics depends upon the viewpoint of the observer. In turn, viewpoint varies with experience and with the age of the observer. Over time, groups such as the Pew Research Center (pewresearch.org) and others have defined and measured our population by generational groups that more recently have included Baby-Boomers, Generation X, Millennials, and Generation Z. Observers from the Pew Research Center expect that Millennials (born 1981-1997) will outnumber Baby-Boomers (born 1946-1964) by 2019 (79.41 million to 75.52 million). We also may note that the annual birthrate for Generation Z (born 1998 -) appears to exceed that of even Millennials. (Note: we may want to consider naming future generations by using the MS Excel spreadsheet approach, such as Generation AA, Generation AB, etc.) Researchers continue to explore how these sub-population age-boundaries and sizes have important implications in business and government.

I (Dr. Sase) have sought out the viewpoints of some younger Millennials and older Zs who are undergraduate and graduate students in Southeast Michigan. These students have some background in Economics. In conducting my research, I hoped to get a grasp on what this age group thinks and feels in respect to the economics and the laws that support our economy in the world. With the hope of getting honest, intelligent responses, I asked these students to respond anonymously about what needs to be done in order to develop a sustainable economy with sufficient affluence for all in Southeast Michigan. However, let us look at some background material before we proceed with the responses from the younger generation.

Happy Days?


In his video lecture “How to Hold Corporations Accountable” (https://youtu.be/SxWWoGO1Y4A), the author of our opening quote, Robert B. Reich, Ph.D., cites the famous statement by Charles E. Wilson, President and CEO of GM from 1941 to 1953. Wilson said, “What is good for our country is good for General Motors and vice versa.”

During the 1950s, many Americans believed that large corporations had a duty to their employees, customers, and communities as well as their shareholders. What was good for each contingency individually was good for all—or so the belief went. Following the end of World War II, manufacturers in Europe and Asia began to rebuild their industries. The U.S. economy dominated global markets and reached a peak in the late 1950s. Following this time, the American “folk wisdom” got shifted and eroded following the demise of the Post-War, “Happy Days” economy. This was due greatly to the growth of imports of motor vehicles, electronics, and other goods that were produced abroad. At first, the erosion of U.S. domination of the global market started slowly. It continued to escalate throughout the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Vietnam War, the rise of OPEC, and the Carter Administration.

During the Reagan-Bush years of the 1980s, the prevalent folk wisdom of the 1950s eroded in the face of corporate buyouts, shutdowns, and the disposal of physical and intellectual property of the target companies. The goal of major companies turned towards the unconstrained maximization of both corporate profits and returns to shareholders. In “Saving Capitalism,” Reich states that the question of whether or not the free market is more effective than government control is irrelevant. He writes that “free market is a myth” and calls for an activist government to tax the affluent more, to invest heavily in education and opportunities, and to support the needy.

During the past four decades, corporate profits have emerged as the larger share of our national economy since the era preceding the passage of the Sherman and Clayton Anti-Trust Acts. This recent growth has countered the economic share left for workers as it has deteriorated to a new low. Meanwhile, shareholders of multiple large corporations have taken the lion’s share and the resultant control of the U.S. economy as the balanced approach of the older folk wisdom has given way to “koyaanisqatsi” (a Hopi word that means “life out of balance”).

Many of us remember the premiere of the movie “Koyaanisqatsi,” produced and directed by Godfrey Reggio as the first film of the Qatsi trilogy that was released through American Zoetrope in 1982; the other two titles in the trilogy include “Powaqqatsi” (1988) and “Naqoyqatsi” (2002) www.koyaanisqatsi.org/films/koyaanisqatsi.php). The first film of the trilogy provides an apocalyptic vision of the collision of two different worlds—urban life and technology versus the environment. In the last four decades, we have experienced a greater degree of disbalance than we have witnessed since the ages of the Robber Barons and the Great Depression. Today, we need to return our focus to “istaqsinaayok” (a Hopi word meaning “life back in balance”) and away from continuing “koyaanisqatsi.”

The Roots of Economic “Koyaanisqatsi”


A natural division exists between short-term stockholders and long-term stockholders. Short-term shareholders focus on quarterly changes and base their strategies upon quarterly profit-changes. Higher quarterly profits generally result in an expectation of a higher dividend paid. In turn, increased dividends reflect in a higher bid-price per share of stock at a given level of risk. Contrastingly, long-term stockholders tend to embrace growth and stability throughout decades or even over generations. Growth and stability translate into a continuance of employment and other contributions to a local economy as well as sustainable earnings for shareholders. In turn, this stewardship approach supports a series of major and minor firms in the supply chain in a balanced manner.
In the earlier years of the Mid-Twentieth Century, holders of large blocks of stock voted based upon long-term interests. This approach to ownership preferred a Constrained Profit-Maximization, one subject to the constraints of long-term growth and stability for the many members of very large extended families that have continued to survive over many centuries by practicing a more modest approach to managing income and wealth. For better or worse, combinations of small but significant blocks of stock had been able to maintain a 51% majority voting-control in many businesses. Today, we still have trusts assembled by a previous generation by combining blocks of closely held shares. In many instances, professional trust-managers have assumed the voting control. The question that we must ask is whether or not these fund managers have continued to honor the will and wishes of the parties who bestowed these holdings to groups of a younger generation through generation-skipping (aka dynasty) trusts. This practice remains a question for teams of attorneys and economists to address.

What Millennials and Generation Zs Think and Feel

The respondents noted that the Southeast Michigan region and auto companies have a mutually supportive relationship through the incentivized pursuit of skillsets at places of higher learning and training centers. More widely, the regional labor pool that contains STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) and blue-collar expertise leads a cluster of industries toward environmentally aware production, efficient mass transit, renewable energy solutions, and regional diversification.

In this process, the students posited that corporations need to focus on personal and community impacts that extend beyond the pockets of their own board members and the interests of just a few companies. These corporations need to remain accountable to their communities as well as to a broader range of stakeholders. Companies need to reduce the mass production of goods that have a low degree of quality and durability in order to build a more sustainable economy. Though the production of more expensive goods of higher quality appears contradictory to current manufacturing trends, the worker would have the incentive to purchase the products that s/he make, thus increasing his/her real wealth. There appears to be a widespread belief that increasing worker-shares in his/her companies is more important than producing unnecessary products.

Companies have grown more tech-based and footloose. They can move to cities, states, and countries that stand ready and willing to negotiate contracts. Furthermore, respondents feel that many of their generations will not understand the power that comes from being members of a labor union or one of a mass of faceless shareholders of mega-corporations.

In order to ensure legitimate corporate operations, society needs to develop ways of balancing the control of shareholders. Therefore, many Millennials+ feel that non-affiliates need to monitor the stock dividends that are distributed. Furthermore, shareholders need to separate their interests from wider business and political influences.

In building a sustainable economy, many respondents feel the need to abandon trust in companies with wild schemes. Giving more wealth and power to ever-enlarging corporations hinders true economic growth while allowing only a small percent of the most affluent to control our economy. Therefore, many of the Millennials+ consulted assert that we need to foster a culture in which we build new products based on ideas that stem from past knowledge accumulated and skills developed. This is counter to the often-used method of clinging to fossilizing industries that crush local labor when companies move to locations promising lower costs of production when a product seems headed toward obsolescence. This change in production trends requires foresight.

Millennials+ recognize that individuals in the generation that founded these companies around 1900 created trusts that contain their holdings; it was important for them to do this before they passed away.

Their purpose for establishing specific plans of succession would allow factories to remain open in in this region, to help our economy to grow, and to maintain low unemployment throughout future generations. Rather than manipulating existing companies by way of mysterious trusts, Millennials+ sense that we need to build a culture of affluence that blends sufficient opportunity, fair government, responsive management, and a knowledge of development traditions. A review of history for both successful and doomed civilizations can show us what we need to implement and what we need to avoid.

Though past actions of stock transfers may comply with Federal Laws, the respondents feel that the establishment and transfer of these trusts to legal holders who possess no actual decision-making power exposes companies, communities, and other shareholders to potential manipulation of assets by a few. Some feel that these old trusts should be divided among outside parties with little or no influence within the company in order to avoid corruption. Furthermore, some Millennials+ assert that mega-corporations have a social responsibility to help to enable the economy to grow by providing job opportunities along with relevant training and education to currently unskilled workers.

Millennials+ appear to understand the need for our entire society to outline development strategies in order to create sustainable economic goals of equality, equity, and greater transparency. Also, the students feel that we need to implement structural reforms regularly in order to ensure that our government and institutions remain stable and trustworthy.

There is the sense that traditional dowager estates of the past do not represent an effort toward sustainability. A sustainable economy requires using available resources in order to gain the greatest advantage in both the present and the future. Profits generated by dormant estates need to be reinvested in order to support educational needs and further diversified in order to ensure equitable benefits in both the present and the future.

The belief exists that we need to empower each Metropolitan Detroit resident to participate in his/her regional economy. In addition, the respondents suggest further diversification beyond heavy-metal (auto) manufacturing. The demand for and supply of highly specialized, highly paid employees in pharmaceutical and technology-based industries continues to increase. All of the residents of a region need to invest in high-school, vocational, and community-college education in order to ensure a higher GDP per capita through this diversification.

The respondents feel that we need to develop better human-focused stewardship of our economic resources. The severity of social and environmental impacts has grown more important than accounting profitability. In addition, the holding power of agglomerated-financial entities over our future lives have been growing exponentially through self-perpetuating legal conglomerates. The opinion resounds that ownership control should go to human beings with a real voice and a stake in the biological future of the Earth. We need diversification in order to sustain employment and economic growth. Companies need to look inward more deeply in order to understand how employment choices affect their communities in the long run.

The respondents suggest that money set aside from the earnings of the trusts passed through foundations could be invested in Detroit-based companies and organizations in order to allow them to remain open. They noted that those in power could fund new redevelopment projects for the city, could help start-up companies evolve, and could bring back jobs. Trusts could be portioned out over time in order to redevelop Detroit as an economic hub. Many newer businesses in Detroit are start-ups by the younger generation. Diversifying investment into smaller, newer companies run by this younger generation can change the economic culture of the city. The younger generation should be able to obtain investment capital for their endeavors.



Takeaway

What can we draw from the Millennial and Generation Z respondents? They presented solid and workable ideas that may give us hope for the future. Because of what they hope to accomplish in their lifetimes, we can help them to achieve their goals by passing on our knowledge of Law and Economics in a manner that responds to their needs. It is up to Baby-Boomers and Generation Xers to know and to understand our own legal and economic history in order to help the younger ones avoid making the same mistakes that we and our predecessors have made. We need to remain open to their suggestions and help to implement them. What all of us can do right now is to focus on preserving our democratic republic. How can attorneys facilitate this preservation? Over the past half-century, the percentage of U.S. Senators holding Law degrees in the 114th Congress had dropped to 54%, while the percentage of Members of the House holding the same has fallen to 36%. It can’t be because there are too few lawyers graduating from Law School, can it? Something to think about ...


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Dr. John F. Sase teaches Economics at Wayne State University and has practiced Forensic and Investigative Economics for twenty years. He earned a combined M.A. in Economics and an MBA at the University of Detroit, followed by a Ph.D. in Economics from Wayne State University. He is a graduate of the University of Detroit Jesuit High School (www.saseassociates.com).

Gerard J. Senick is a freelance writer, editor, and musician. He earned his degree in English at the University of Detroit and was a supervisory editor at Gale Research Company (now Cengage) for over twenty years. Currently, he edits books for publication (www.senick-editing.com).

Julie G. Sase is a copyeditor, parent coach, and empath. She earned her degree in English at Marygrove College and her graduate certificate in Parent Coaching from Seattle Pacific University. Ms. Sase coaches clients, writes articles, and edits copy (royaloakparentcoaching.com).

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