Saturday, July 12, 2008

What to do, what to do...

Despite the horseshit coming out of Washington, new evidence continues to arrive that shows the United States is beginning to spiral up to Latin American levels of hyperinflation. Today, the lesson comes in the form of our electric bills:

Utilities across the USA are raising power prices up to 29%, mostly to pay for soaring fuel costs, but also to build new plants and refurbish an aging power grid.

Even more dramatic rate increases are ahead. The mounting electric bills will further squeeze households struggling with spiraling gasoline prices.

"Consumers now face a tough reality on electricity," says Mark Cooper of Consumer Federation of America.

Rocco Sacramone, the owner and executive chef at Trattoria L'incontro, a well-regarded Italian restaurant in Queens asks:
"What are we going to do? We're going to pass it on to customers. What else can we do?" he said, adding that that hikes come at a particularly bad time. "My meat prices went up. My fish prices went up. Everything went up."

And that's everyone's answer, starting with the electric companies. Raise prices. Pass the costs along to the customer. And if you are a giant oil or utility company, tack on a whopping windfall profit to make you feel better.

Is it true that there is no other solution? Perhaps not for the struggling restaurateur in Queens, but for large companies making billions in profits?

Would it not be possible for them to take less profit?

Well, no and yes.

In today's political economy, it is not even possible for a company to decrease the rate of profit growth without dire consequences. This is because we have bought into the ideology of Shareholder Value, which posits that the purpose of a company is to enrich its shareholders. It's not like the old days when a family run business could ride out the hard times and emerge stronger. Today, a business must sell out everything for current share price, which is largely dependent on the rate of profit growth. This is what used to be known as a pyramid scheme.

Perhaps that's all fine and good for companies selling widgets, but it makes no good sense whatsoever for a company selling basic public services.

The alternative is government control or strict oversight of essential service providers. That's how it works in the most successful countries. That's how it worked in the United States when we were a successful country. And that's how it will work in the future after this pyramid scheme reaches its inevitable conclusion. The only realistic question is how much damage will be done before the economy is totally wrecked and we have to buy Euros from hustlers on street corners as soon as we get paid in or else we wake up the next day with another pile of worthless paper.