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Ian Winer is an investor, philosopher, humanitarian, writer and public speaker who connects people to the truth of market places and human behavior. Ian is the author of the book, Ubiquitous Relativity: My Truth is Not the Truth. A regular contributor to CNBC, Fox Business, The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, and Reuters, to name just a few, he is known for seeking connections through non consensus thinking and making it relatable to everyone.
Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown has a plan for helping American workers: prohibit “excessive” buybacks and require companies to offer each employee $1 for every $1 million spent on stock repurchases.
His plan fails for three big reasons:
1) It is a classic example of government overreach.
2) It is difficult to define which companies and employees are subject to this law.
3) It ignores basic economics.
Brown believes that too much money has been spent on corporate buybacks and not enough on the employees. He used the example of JPMorgan ChaseJPM, -0.18% to explain how his legislation works: the bank bought about $20 billion of its own stock in 2018, so each of its employees should get a dividend of $20,000.
“Wall Street’s obsession with accumulating wealth for the people who already have it is by their explicit design,” he said as he unveiled his proposal for a “worker dividend.”
But if we believe in capitalism, it is overreach for government to mandate how a company allocates capital. If the government can dictate that a company must pay a worker a dividend if it chooses to buy back its own stock, what else could the government mandate? We have minimum wage guarantees and other rights for workers to protect them. If the government now wants to dictate how corporations invest, this is a whole new paradigm.
Once that door opens, there is no closing it. Maybe the $1 “worker dividend” is only the start? What if it goes up to $2, $5, $10? Can the government tell a company what it needs to pay every employee regardless of performance? Why does the government assume every employee is equally deserving of the same dividend?
Brown’s other goal is to dissuade companies from buying back their own stock. But are corporate buybacks a bad thing? If the price of a company’s stock goes up because of a buyback, it benefits the shareholders and the employees who own stock. The way to curb buybacks is to give American corporations better options for investing, like a more skilled, healthier workforce.
Read Mark Hulbert: Here’s what you really need to know about stock buybacks
Then which companies are included? Clearly a lot of Americans work for foreign companies. Are they entitled to a worker’s dividend? Can we tell a company like Samsung or Toyota to pay their American employees a dividend if they buy back their stock? If not, this doesn’t seem very fair.
If foreign companies are excluded, do we hark back to the days of corporate inversions? Do companies move jobs overseas because this worker’s dividend only applies to their U.S. workforce?
Brown needs a refresher in economics. Companies are rational actors. If this bill becomes law, corporate margins will shrink and profits will erode. Companies will offset this margin hit by firing people, paying workers less or raising prices to offset the additional costs. None of those options help the American worker.
We as a nation are struggling with the clear and present danger of rising income inequality. A solution is needed quickly. A combination of spending cuts in areas like defense and spending increases in areas that actually help our workforce prepare for future jobs is a beginning.
The solution is not more government encroachment on corporate America. If this bill were to pass, it will only serve to hurt American workers in the long run.
Ian Winer has spent 22 years on Wall Street and previously ran the equities division at Wedbush Securities. He now is on the advisory boards of Drexel Hamilton, a brokerage and advisory firm, and of Bellator Asset Management.
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