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Corporate America Is an Anti-Social Black Plague: Negative Network Effects Run Amok.

Summary:
The anti-social carnage unleashed by Corporate America’s “lock-in” / negative network effects has no real limits. Here’s the U.S.economy in a nutshell: Corporate America is an anti-social Black Plague, gorging on cartel-monopoly profits reaped from negative network effects running amok, enriching the few at the expense of the many and concentrating political power in the hands of the most rapacious, anti-democratic corporate sociopaths. Let’s start with network effects: the conventional definition is “When a network effect is present, the value of a product or service increases according to the number of others using it.” So for example, when telephone service was only available to a few users, its value was limited. As more

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The anti-social carnage unleashed by Corporate America’s “lock-in” / negative network effects has no real limits.

Here’s the U.S.economy in a nutshell: Corporate America is an anti-social Black Plague, gorging on cartel-monopoly profits reaped from negative network effects running amok, enriching the few at the expense of the many and concentrating political power in the hands of the most rapacious, anti-democratic corporate sociopaths.

Let’s start with network effects: the conventional definition is “When a network effect is present, the value of a product or service increases according to the number of others using it.”

So for example, when telephone service was only available to a few users, its value was limited. As more people obtained telephone service, the value of the network increased to both its owners and to users, who could reach more people and conduct commerce more easily as a result of having telephone service.

In the conventional analysis, negative network effects occur from “congestion,” i.e. the network is adding new users so quickly that “more users make a product less valuable.”

But this superficial analysis misses the fatally anti-social consequences of corporate negative network effects, a dynamic described by analyst Simons Chase in this essay. Here is an excerpt:

Even the most imaginative and far-reaching narratives about non-obvious economic fragility and off balance sheet risks are mere rants without constructive ideas about causes and solutions.

Consider network effects, the popular economic construct applied to market concentration and increasing returns for strategies pursued by some leading tech companies. This dynamic economic agent is also known as demand side economies of scale.

W. Brian Arthur, the economist credited with first developing the theory, described the condition of increasing returns as a game of strategic positioning and building up a user base to the point where ‘lock in’ of dominant players occurs. Companies able to tap network effects have been rewarded with huge valuations and highly defensible businesses.

But what about negative network effects? What if the same dynamic applies to the U.S.’s pay-to-play political industry where the government promotes or approves of something through a policy, subsidy or financial guarantee due to private sector influence.

Benefits accrue only to the purchaser of the network effects, and consumers, induced by the false signal of large network size, ultimately suffer from asymmetric risk and experience what I’m calling a loss of intangible net worth for each additional member after the ‘bandwagon’ wares off.

If this were the case, then you would see companies experience rapid revenue growth (out of line with traditional asset leverage models), executives accumulating huge fortunes and political campaign coffers swelling.

But the most striking feature would be the anti-social outcomes, the ones not available without the instant critical mass of government-supported network effects, the ones that, at scale, monetize a society’s intangible net worth.

Some products tied to these metrics include: prescriptions drugs, junk food targeting children, mortgages, diplomas, and social media. The list of industries that are likely to have gained through the purchasing of network effects in D.C. maps closely to the decay that is visible in U.S. society.

The loss of intangible capital and other manifestations of non-obvious economic fragility (to use Simons’ apt phrase) is the subject of my latest book, Will You Be Richer or Poorer? Profit, Power and A.I. in a Traumatized World, in which I catalog the anti-social consequences of negative network effects and other forces eroding our nation’s intangible capital.

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Charles Hugh Smith
Charles Hugh Smith is an American writer and blogger. He is the chief writer for the site "Of Two Minds". Started in 2005, this site has been listed No. 7 in CNBC's top alternative financial sites. His commentary is featured on a number of sites including: Zerohedge.com., The American Conservative and Peak Prosperity. He graduated from the University of Hawaii, Manoa in Honolulu. Charles Hugh Smith currently resides in Berkeley, California and Hilo, Hawaii.

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