This article is a preview of the Spring 2019 issue of The American Prospect magazine. Subscribe here.
AN EXCLUSIVE OFFER FOR AMERICAN PROSPECT READERS, A ONCE-IN-A-LIFETIME OPPORTUNITY TO INVEST IN A GROUNDBREAKING NEW ENTERPRISE:
BUYBAX represents a radical break with the temporizing practices of most present-day American corporations, which still pay lip service to such hoary purposes as making, selling, or improving a product or a service—practices that require them to divert resources to such revenue sinkholes as research and development, production, marketing, employment, and the occasional cultivation of goodwill.
NOT SO BUYBAX!
The business plan of BUYBAX is elegantly simple:
WE WILL ISSUE STOCK—AND BUY IT BACK.
THAT’S IT. THAT’S ALL. SHARES OUT, SHARES IN, SHARES UP.
AND YOU SHARE IN THE WEALTH!
How, you may wonder, does this differ from the current practices of American big business? All right, we acknowledge that U.S. corporations spent more than $910 billion last year buying back their own shares, according to Goldman Sachs—an all-time high. And yes, as University of Massachusetts economist William Lazonick has documented, virtually all the profits (93 percent) of Fortune 500 corporations from 2007 to 2016 went to share buybacks and dividends.
Don’t get us wrong: That was a good thing! By buying back their shares, those corporations increased the value of their remaining shares, boosting their shareholders’ wealth while limiting the amount of funds misspent on production and the like.
It’s buybacks that keep the market humming—indeed, these days, it’s only buybacks that keep the market humming. The biggest buyer of shares isn’t you, the intrepid investor. It’s not mutual funds, pensions, endowments, and individuals, who Goldman estimates will be net sellers this year, to the tune of $400 billion worth of shares. What’s propping up the market is corporations buying back their own shares, to the happier tune, says Goldman, of $700 billion.
So how, exactly, is BUYBAX different?
Simple. We’re not heeding the siren song of making or selling a product or service which requires us to hire and, worse, pay employees, or engage independent contractors; or rent some plant, field, store, or office space; or be in any way productive. Not us! Not BUYBAX!
Best of all, you can be sure that no activist investor will ever knock on our door and threaten us with changing our business model. Why’s that? Because activist investors are all about taking the most money out of a business, and share buybacks are the best way of doing that! Smart guys, those activist investors!
So come with us—
BUYBAX—THE HIGHEST FORM OF AMERICAN CAPITALISM.
(Note: Proposals by certain members of the U.S. Senate—Tammy Baldwin (Wisconsin), Bernie Sanders (Vermont), and even the normally reliable Chuck Schumer (New York)—would seriously curtail the practice of buying back shares, condemning thereby all of us to grim and cheerless lives—conscripted, quite likely, to working with defective hand tools on collective farms. Such proposals must be strangled in their cribs!)