By Max Bibeau | United States
The American Dream, as outlined by the Founding Fathers in the Declaration of Independence, has long been the shining beacon of hope for citizens and foreigners alike, offering a chance to be successful on an even playing field. Unfortunately, that beacon has been dimming in recent decades, leading the World Economic Forum to bluntly mourn that the American Dream is broken.
As class mobility continues to fall and the economic gap between rich and poor only seems to expand, many Americans are starting to give up hope in American capitalism. This has led to mass calls for change among the general populace, with everyone desperately looking for solutions. Some, such as Vermont Senator and 2016 presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, propose that it is time to look towards “democratic socialism” in the United States. Others, such as Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, seem to be denying the problem completely, still claiming that “the circumstances of your birth do not determine the outcome of your life.”
As much as we might wish for Paul Ryan’s statement to be true, the facts stand against him. Since we are in grave need of a solution, and one does not appear to be coming anytime soon, we must ask how America can improve competition in modern capitalism. Luckily, it is not too late for capitalism to be saved and for America to recover, but the country needs to act fast. While there are many potential solutions, there are three primary ones which will specifically target major problems in the US economy. In order to address current problems in the economy, the United States should target inefficiencies in regulatory organizations like the FDA, foster blockchain development around the country, and crack down on state preference policies.
The problem of skyrocketing drug prices was first brought to the forefront of American politics in 2015 when the infamous Martin Shkreli increased prices on a lifesaving drug by over 4000%, from $18 a pill to $750 a pill, making the cost of treatment virtually impossible to cover. Unfortunately, this is not an isolated case, as the Center for American Progress describes how American pharmaceutical prices have “continued to skyrocket” in recent years, with manufacturers of Medicare-covered drugs raising prices 12% per year on average. Another study shockingly found that over the past 14 months, 20 different prescription drugs had their prices increased by 200% or more.
Price increases, especially of these unprecedented proportions, are a clear indicator of a lack of competition within the pharmaceutical industry, as confirmed by a Government Accountability Office study. To counteract price increases, the United States must directly tackle the sources of the problem: inefficiency and over-regulation, which leads to monopolistic markets. All of the prescription drugs that saw drastic price increases have one thing in common: they have little to no competition making the same substances. This is because of how unreasonably difficult and expensive it is to get a new drug approved for manufacturing by the FDA.
The Journal of Health quantifies just how expensive the process can be, totaling it at over $1.395 billion in out-of-pocket costs. That number skyrockets up to $2.870 billion when post-approval research and development costs are factored in. These astronomically high development costs make it extremely difficult for anybody looking to create a new drug to even get their business off the ground. High startup costs are one of the top reasons that new companies and drugs never find success, as it’s virtually impossible for new companies, even with perfect scientific viability, to raise nearly $3 billion in investments just to allow their drug to be widely sold.
Because of complex regulations and red tape encircling the pharmaceutical industry, it’s no surprise that the market is nearly devoid of competition. By removing excessive regulation on the industry and streamlining the FDA, new drugs could be approved faster and cheaper. This would dramatically lower startup costs for new businesses trying to develop drugs and would promote increased competition throughout the entire industry, making life-saving substances much more affordable.
Blockchain Growth and Development
The blockchain, developed and made popular by cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, is currently a buzzword in American Congress. Politicians are scrambling to implement the budding technology into their cities and states, and have even formed the Congressional Blockchain Caucus to craft policy surrounding it. Luckily, the potential benefits of the blockchain, especially when it comes to increasing competition, cannot be overstated. To quickly summarize a complex technology, the blockchain is a completely digital, decentralized ledger of information, constantly being confirmed and updated by computers around the world. This has plenty of business applications.
Specifically, since the National Bureau of Economic Research contends that the blockchain removes almost all need for trust in a transaction, small businesses will no longer have to compete with larger businesses when it comes to reputability. Trust, especially when it comes to internet retail, is one of the largest problems that businesses face, preventing up to 30% of internet users from utilizing online retail at all.
However, as the blockchain expands and becomes more widely used, retailers, especially small, newer businesses, will be granted the same level of trust as established companies. The Pew Research Center has found that many consumers soon “expect to see improved technology emerge that will allow people to have confidence in the organizations and individuals with whom they interact online,” specifically through the blockchain. Once the blockchain and cryptocurrency have become mainstream, the issue of trust will be eliminated from the equation, promoting widespread competition in online retail by allowing small retailers with no reputation to provide legitimate competition to retail giants.
While many are afraid to buy from anywhere other than Amazon due to the threat of scams, the blockchain will almost completely mitigate that problem, giving startups a chance, and opening up the online retail industry to everyone. To promote this, the government should focus on effectively regulating and investing in blockchain companies. These regulations would allow them to thrive and innovate in the near future, while still protecting the safety of consumers.
Ending State Preference Policies
While it is commonly agreed upon by economists that international protectionism damages all parties involved, what is criminally under-discussed when it comes to increasing domestic competition is state-by-state protectionism, more commonly known as preference policies. These policies are outlined by the Mercatus Center, which describes that preference policies, often enacted by state or local governments, give a significant advantage to companies residing in-state when bidding on government projects.
When a state government wishes to have a project completed, whether it be building military bases or providing a government building with computers, they allow companies to bid on the project. In theory, this practice would reduce costs as much as possible, as competition drives prices lower. Unfortunately, as the Mercatus Center furthers, even if an out-of-state company bids with a significantly cheaper offer, the more expensive in-state company will still almost always get the job. Aside from drastically raising the costs of government projects on taxpayers, in-state preference policies are almost identical to international protectionist policies, and have almost identical impacts, especially when it comes to decreasing competition.
Essentially, these programs enable companies to raise their prices due to the lack of competition from other states. Similar to international protectionism, these policies are put in place with the goal of stimulating domestic growth. However, this growth often comes at the cost of cheap prices and quality services. While it may appear that this would only discourage competition when it comes to government services, that is not quite true. Because most of these state and local policies are very strict, they only give preference to companies that have a state/local business license, pay all state/local taxes, and hire only state/local employees.
Since these policies are so rigid, and only apply to exclusively state or local businesses, it often discourages companies, especially those which rely on government business to remain profitable, from expanding outside of state borders, given that they know this will likely cost them their government business. This has much more broad impacts, affecting competition around the entire nation.
An Increase in Market Freedom
The United States, viewed as a pioneer of capitalism around the world, has found itself entrapped by red tape and ineffective policies, all of which are hindering one of the key benefits of capitalism: competition. However, while the United States does have some dire problems, they can be addressed.
First, the country needs to crack down on inefficient and ineffective regulations, specifically in the pharmaceutical industry. Second, the US should encourage and foster blockchain development by establishing fair regulations that don’t stifle the technology. Finally, the unfair problem of in-state preference policies must be addressed. While hope may be in short supply for capitalists in the United States, some common sense changes to economic policy would allow the beacon of the American Dream to shine brightly once again.
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