Tuesday, November 14, 2006

From the Local Press:
There's been a few articles of interest published in the Winnipeg Free Press recently. For instance:
A. The Nov. 12th 'Books' supplement of same contains a review of two books entitled 'Management Under Fire:in pair of business biographies'. The first book reviewed 'Always Fresh:the untold story of Tim Horton's by the man who created the empire' isn't very interesting. It's a basic "final revenge" tell all by Ron Joyce, the man who built up the Tim Horton's empire later to sell it to an American firm. Tim's keeps on disguising itself as a Canadian icon, however. Interesting only to those who like a little dirt in their coffee.
The second book reviewed, however, tells a much more important tale. It's a review of 'Magna Cum Laude:how Frank Stronach became Canada's best paid man' by Wayne Lilley. It tells the story of managerial control over and against the interests of the shareholders of the Magna trio of corporations and how Stronach exercises his control despite owning about 0.7% (yes) of the shares in his corporations. The basic tricks are holding companies and "super-shares" that contain multiple votes instead of the usual 1 share/1 vote. This becomes a self-perpetuating scheme as the directors are chosen at Stronach's will and depend upon his benevolence to stay at the Board.
I find this interesting because I have long argued that our society should be described as "managerial" rather than "capitalist". The control that managers exercise over corporations vis-a-vis the nominal owners is one point of evidence for this view. Examples abound in the day to day news and Enron and Conrad Black's fallen empire are merely two of the many.
B.Meanwhile under the "hunting the sly fox" sort of heading the 'Perspectives' section of the FP on the same day contains the standard left versus right debate on the future of the Canadian Wheat Board. The view from the right is pretty standard. It tries to compare American spot prices with Canadian prices and finds the latter lower. It fails to take into account the methods of farm subsidy widely used in the USA, which have the effect of artificially inflating prices there vis-a-vis Canada. They also make a fatal assumption that the grain market is an example of perfect free competition rather than the "monopolistic competition" that it actually is. Throwing Canadian grain into this market would more likely have a depressing effect on American prices rather than an elevating one on Canadian ones.
The view from the left takes a different tack. The authors Murray Fulton and Richard Gray, both professors of agricultural economics at the University of Saskatchewan, point out how the Conservative government plan for a new CWBII, a supposedly voluntary agency is deliberately set up to produce failure. This new CWB would lack the strategic assets to compete with the existing oligopoly in the grain handling business, it would lose its skilled staff to the grain monopolies once it was apparent that restructuring was under way, it would no longer offer the farmer a cost free alternative for marketing as shares would have to be purchased. All this means that the plan, let's call it "plot" of the federal Conservatives is to eliminate rather than reform the CWB. A more detailed paper outlining the arguments of these economists should be available shortly at www.kis.usask.ca .

1 comment:

Larry Gambone said...

Even the fact that votes are based on shares alone has lead to this sort of "managerialism". It is quite common for someone who owns only 10% of the shares to control the company, esp. if the remaining shares are widely disbursed. But it seems to have gotten far worse as you point out with Stronach and his .7% shares, sdupershares and the lot. Funny thing though, this could be straightened out by a social democratic government passing a shareholder democracy law which would require that all corporations be run on the principle, one shareholder = one vote, no matter how many shares. This would effectively turn them into coops. Since the corporation is a creature of the state, there is no reason why such a law cannot be passed. THat it hasn't shows the wimpyness of our social democrats.