Review of “Lor’s, Inc. v. Broadway-Hale Stores, Inc.(1959)"

With the progress on economics, we could find a lot of judgments, or even the law itself, were based on some erroneous and misguided legal and economic concepts, such as predatory pricing, competition, market definition, cost concept, etc.

Take “Lor’s, Inc. v. Broadway-Hale Stores, Inc. 359 U.S. 207, 79 S. Ct. 705, 3 L.Ed.2d 741 (1959)” as an example.

In this case, the plaintiff, which was an independent electronic products retail store, claimed that manufacturers and distributors of many well-know brands as GE, RCA, Emerson, etc. refused to sell or sold their products at so-called “discriminatory price.” The reason was the manufacturers or distributors of these well-known brands sold their products to the chained stores in lower prices than to them.

The Supreme Court held this common commercial behavior as a violation of Sherman Act. Obviously, the court just showed their lack of cost concept.

All the meaningful costs shall be “opportunity costs.” Thus the costs between selling products to chained stores and to an independent retail store are tremendously different. The factors, like predictable constant purchase, reliable payments, and the vast amount of quantity, make the manufacturers or distributors less cost to sell their products to chained stores. There are some costs existing in setting up and maintaining a transaction channel between two parties. Sometimes the costs are absorbed by the seller, sometimes are paid by the buyers. However, it does exist. There is no such thing as a free lunch.

Since the difference of cost structures, discriminatory pricing would be very popular in most businesses.

Formosa Plastic Corporation, a Taiwan company and the largest manufacturer of PVC resins in the world, made their revenue more than 5 billion US dolor last year. They require a substantial deposit and highest purchasing quota to any new customer. The amount of PVC that is exceeded the quota won’t be sold even the buyer is voluntary to pay more.

I also had a similar experience. The company, which I worked for, refused to sell products to a new customer who wanted to buy more than ten machines at one time in the first several deals unless they were willing to pay cash before we deliver.

Because there are some uncertain risks that cost us too much to do business with an unfamiliar new customer. We didn’t know whether the credit of the new customer was good. We didn’t know what the real purpose they had. To sell our products or to try reverse-engineering? That’s a question to us. I believe the situation would be similar to Formosa Plastic Corporation and other companies around the world.

It is the concern of cost, not of “anti-competition,” causes a businessman much prefer to sell his goods to a customer he knows in lower prices or larger volumes, especially in B2B relationships.

This common commercial phenomenon can be explained perfectly by the correct cost concept. Unfortunately, the court in Lor’s case was unable to distinguish the costs on economics form the costs on accounting. No wonder the court came out a decision that sounded so surreal to normal businessmen.

The judges, scholars, and people who believe in the function of antitrust laws are just unable to see the real world clearer.

Why the unemployment still climbs at recovery?

Gary S. Becker, a Nobel Prize laureate, wrote an article — Productivity, Unemployment, and the End of the Recession— on September 9th.

He talked about his op-ed piece for the Wall Street Journal (“We’re Not Head for a Depression”) in which he possessed an optimism about the future economy of the United States. Otherwise, he also brought out an interesting point.

Dr. Becker supposes that most pessimism comes from erroneous interpretation of the unemployment.

Some people argue about the decline of unemployment is not satisfying; and some argue that the real unemployment is getting severe. Some other people even claim that we should include the underemployment.

Actually, no matter what number you apply, the growth of unemployment would not turn around so fast.

The reason that Becker expressed is the “productivity per person.”

The total domestic productivity is actually accumulated by countless individual productivity. Dr. Becker noticed that the productivity per person continues growing, no matter how severe the economy is. Therefore, when facing a decrease in total domestic output, say, a recession or a depression, the increasing individual productivity will cause more people lose their jobs (or make them turn to part-time ones). It’s just a simple arithmetic question.

Unless the number of total domestic output passes the prior highest record, we would hardly notice the improvement of the job market.

Conclusively, the economists who only focus on the statistics of unemployment may just make a mistake in the economics logic.

Dr. Becker’s viewpoint is not only interesting but persuasive.

Nonetheless, I wrote an article about the law growth of wages in Taiwan and the U.S. through the “Comparative advantages theorem.” See, “開放大陸勞工來台會降低台灣人薪資水平?.”Considering the social-welfare regulations, unions, and the minimum-wage limitation, the wages in the U.S. and Europe are more difficult to be adjusted in the downturn. This may be why their unemployment situation has been severer than Asian countries.

I have no idea of which factor matterring more. But it’s a question worthy of thinking.

為何景氣復甦,失業率仍然會攀升?

諾貝爾經濟學獎得主Gary S. Becker 在9月9日寫了這篇文章「Productivity, Unemployment, and the End of the Recession」。裡頭除了談到他在去年底於華爾街日報投稿的「我們才不會走向蕭條(We’re Not Head for a Depression)」一文中,對美國經濟的樂觀預測維持不變之外,還提出了一個相當有趣的論點,值得記一下。

Becker提到目前許多對美國經濟依然感到悲觀的看法,多半不脫對於美國失業率的解讀。

有些人看到失業率數字下降得並不令人滿意;有人則認為政府的失業率數字不可靠,實際情況是失業率仍在微幅上升;更有人主張要把做part time工作的人也算成失業才行。

Becker則提出一個論點,解釋為何經濟復甦時,失業率可能會繼續攀升。

其關鍵點在於「生產力」。

一國的產出,其實是由無數個人的生產所累積而成。而每人每單位時間的產出,我們稱之為個人生產力。

Becker觀察到即便在去年,景氣跌到谷底之時,其實美國的個人生產力仍然是在上升的。換句話說,每個在工作崗位上的勞工生產的效率還是一年勝過一年。

(這個數字,也是過去我在文章或回覆網友強調過的,證明資本主義讓我們生活更好的一個事實)

但是所謂的不景氣,或是衰退,某方面可以看成是總產出(output)大幅衰退的現象。那麼根據簡單的數學運算,總產出下降,但個人生產力卻上升,這即意味著 — 失業率要上升!

換言之,即便總產出開始回穩或緩步上升,但只要個人生產力還大過於先前,則我們會看到失業率仍居高不下,直到總產出追過先前數字才會有所改善。

因此,一些總體經濟學家抓著失業率未下跌這事,來反推說經濟情況仍不佳,很可能是犯了經濟學思維上的錯誤了。

Becker的論點相當有趣,我覺得也具有某種程度的說服力。

但過去我曾經寫過一篇文章(開放大陸勞工來台會降低台灣人薪資水平?),從「比較優勢定律」來解釋為何美國、台灣等國家近年來薪資成長有限。

如果加進社會福利與工會、最低工資限制等侷限條件來看,新興市場的廉價勞力也會造成先進國家的失業率上升(因為工資調整的剛性很強)。

換言之,是比較優勢定律所著重的點,影響歐美失業率更甚?亦或Becker所提的「個人生產力上升」?

我沒有答案,但我相信值得大家好好想想。

About Conspiracy

Many people imagine that businessmen could set in a room and come to a conspiracy decision to raise the prices up then increase their profits.

However, it’s really only an imagination.

It’s always not easy to form a cartel or collusive group in any business. There are some obstacles must be overcome with a critical tactic.

I wrote them down as following:

1. To form a cartel or a collusive group, the first problem the founder must face is that it’s hard to figure out who are all the possible competitors?
For example, if medical doctors successfully raise their treatment fee as high as they want, then people would turn to get medical advices from their druggists, god, or themselves.
This phenomenon did happen in Taiwan in 1950’s.

2.The second natural obstacle to form a collusive group is that each competitor has their own unique cost curve. And this fact will cause them has different motives to choose to get in or to get out the group.
This critical fact will still impact how successful a collusive group can be after its formation.

3.The third is the difference between the single-quality products and multiple-quality products.
There are only few products in the world can be classified as single-quality products, such as pure gold, silver, aluminum, or other chemical elements.
Even a diamond, usually has four major qualities to form a price. They are size, color, tarnish, and cutting. A consumer see only one price, however, it’s formed by the combination of four measured elements.
The more complexity of a product, the more rent value could be created by differentiating the product. That’s why most business always emphasize how different their products are from other competitors’. That’s also why we have so many brands. It is the most common phenomenon in the real world.
This would not only make people to apply unique way to maximize their interest, but also form different cost structures to every supplier.

That is one reason why we can find very few successful cartels in the real world.

4.Once a collusive group was formed, the member who has a highest marginal cost will has the strongest incentive to violate their agreement.
Because with fixed-price or fixed-quality rule, the biggest beneficiary would be the one who enjoys the lowest marginal and average cost. On the contrary, the one with higher marginal or average cost would eventually figure out that he can maximize his interest by breaching the rule.

5. How to enforce the agreement will be a huge challenge to the one who tries to maintain the collusive group.
There are two major costs to enforce an agreement successfully. One is to detect who violates the rule; and the other one is effective punishment.

OPEC, the most famous cartel in the world, is constantly unable to enforce their decisions completely for decades. (If they could, there will not be as much fluctuation in oil prices as observed.)

M&A might be an effective way to achieve this goal, however, it still cannot prevent the group from potential or new competitors which might be formed by the company seller or your employees. Even there are some contractual ways to deal with these problems, they don’t work as well as lawyers’ imagination.

According to commercial history, the most effective method is to introduce legal power or authorization to prevent possible breaches of members and new entrants, like a license system.

Conclusively, the fundamental problem of most collusive behaviors is not what a cartel intends to do, but the authorization makes them able to achieve their intentions.

Therefore, in the cases we read such as “FTC v. Indiana Federation of Dentists,” Federal Trade Commission v. Superior Court Trial Lawyers Association,” I think Sherman Act and judges both tried to find out the right answer in a wrong place.

On the other hand, there are some superficially collusive behaviors without legal power or authorization, mostly are caused by information cost of measurement or property maintenance cost, for example, “Broadcast Music, Inc. v. Columbia Broadcasting System, Inc.” and “Fashion Originators’ Guild of America v. FTC case.” The courts apparently had different degree of awareness of social cost in these two cases.

Somehow, in “Klor’s, Inc. v. Broadway-Hale Stores, Inc. (1959),” the Federal Supreme Court showed distinguished lack of cost concept. I will talk about it in the next article.

蠢官員的蠢作為

Dell標錯價一案,沒想到當大家以為逐漸風平浪靜之時,卻又跑出愚蠢的台北縣市消保官,硬生生地對Dell開罰100萬。

消保官斬釘截鐵地咬定,Dell沒有處理問題的誠意。

但消保官卻無法說明,或者無法給出定義,究竟「如何才算有展現誠意」?

事實上,消保官說不清、講不白的還更多,更讓人為他們的無知愚蠢感到羞愧:

1.先從法律面談:「北市消保官必須證明,消費者究竟損失了什麼?」

這是整個行政處分最詭異的地方。

我們攤開整部「消費者保護法」,從頭到尾所規範者,主要集中在兩大部分:

(1)企業經營者設計、生產、製造商品或提供服務可能對消費者產生的生命、身體、健康、財產之侵害。

(2)資訊揭露義務與契約上權利義務分擔是否符合平等互惠原則

我們再看看消費者保護法中,能讓行政機關消保官開罰上百萬的二個法條:

第 36 條
直轄市或縣 (市) 政府對於企業經營者提供之商品或服務,經第三十三條之調查,認為確有損害消費者生命、身體、健康或財產,或確有損害之虞者,應命其限期改善、回收或銷燬,必要時並得命企業經營者立即停止該商品之設計、生產、製造、加工、輸入、經銷或服務之提供,或採取其他必要措施。

第 37 條
直轄市或縣 (市) 政府於企業經營者提供之商品或服務,對消費者已發生重大損害或有發生重大損害之虞,而情況危急時,除為前條之處置外,應即在大眾傳播媒體公告企業經營者之名稱、地址、商品、服務、或為其他必要之處置。

Dell拒絕出貨,有卻有損害消費者生命、身體、健康或財產?或可能造成這樣的損害?或者已經發生重大損害?或可能發生重大損害?

消保官證明了嗎?沒有!我們沒看到消保官提出任何這方面法律上必要的說明。

我們只看到北市消保官在媒體上氣呼呼地大吼:「戴爾毫無誠意!」可是有沒有誠意,根本就不是個法律問題,更不應該成為法律上行政處分或舉措的依據。受過專業法律訓練的消保官,跟台灣的不少司法官一樣可悲;論理除了訴諸八股的道德情感之外,就沒料了。
繼續閱讀 “蠢官員的蠢作為”

關於戴爾標錯價事件的再討論

先前一篇刊出後,有網友留言表示不同意見,更多的是e-mail給我。

我列舉其中一個,因為具有代表性的觀念錯誤(我是針對內容而言。我並不認識來信的朋友,所以並非對人)。

系統自動發出->是需要人去設計的
也就是沒人去寫這段程式碼機器是無法有所謂自動的行為
系統會發出這樣的信 相信業者的預設立場是願意交易的 才會去設計
不然等人工確認後再給資料(消費者寄送個資信用卡號及DELL匯款帳號等)即可
但是訂型化契約的保留等等敘述說白了是一道給業者犯錯時避責的自設防火牆
也因此 他才能短時間內連續出錯 就如您之前那篇PCHOME所述
要避免這種錯誤並絕無可能 甚至要設計這種機制沒有任何技術上的困難
(個人本身也是屬於IT產業也寫程式和系統的)
再者 那麼明顯的價格錯誤 如果大家都看的出來 DELL卻沒看出來還安心上網
這種內控不會太匪夷所思?? 那麼個人可能推論為是仗著 保留這樣的文字
來放心的犯錯
至於美國 說實在 如果美國可以養這麼多怪獸企業和銀行
甚至讓消費者習慣標價錯誤為常態的方式 個人真的難以茍同
企業的能力原本就高於個人 如果能如此簡單逃避責任
那麼讓犯錯如此理所當然 而且最好是債大不愁的處理方式 看來應該是在美國經營大企業的不死仙丹
而且在美國看來還真的有效 然後把美國經驗搬來台灣再玩一次

分幾點討論:

1.再看以下討論之前,請先把這篇文章看過。

許多網友談到戴爾事件問題,最常丟出來的大帽子就是「貪得無厭的大企業」與「剝削消費者」這兩個錯得離譜的觀念。

而這兩點我在上述文章中已經講得清楚:

1)哪個人做生意不是出於為了賺錢這目的?為什麼企業規模就會影響你的邏輯判斷?Dell貪得無厭,那夜市賣臭豆腐的又怎麼說?
再者,貪婪哪裡不好?你如何證明貪婪不好?
事實上持此論點者,多半連基本的「倫理學」訓練都不夠,只是純粹直觀地、情感上反對別人看似貪婪的行為。但卻離真相有十萬八千里遠。

2)企業賣產品與服務給消費者,消費者自願掏錢購買。
這中間到底是誰被剝削了?哪來的剝削?剝削的定義又是什麼?
如果說剝削的定義是「收了不合理的價錢」,那請問「合理的價格」又該怎麼決定?由誰來決定?
況且,Dell事件中照此定義,應該是「消費者剝削了Dell」!

2.Dell企業的規模在法律上與經濟學上的處理,根本不是重點。
許多網友的討論都放在這邊,其實都是搞不清楚狀況。

今天假如因為Dell企業規模大,就得套用不一樣的法理原則的話,那麼假若今天用錯誤價格下定螢幕的是GE這類比Dell更大上數倍的企業或國家政府時,持這種論點的網友又該如何解釋?

這時候此類網友的「剝削定義」又該如何運作?又是誰剝削誰了?

可惜的是,消基會的蠢律師跟許多台灣法官,都忘了憲法第7條:「中華民國人民,無分男女、宗教、種族、階級、黨派,在法律上一律平等。」

繼續閱讀 “關於戴爾標錯價事件的再討論”

關於戴爾電腦標錯價事件的短評

有些讀者留言或寫信問我有關這件事的看法。

而也有細心的讀者發現過去我曾經就PC Home網站標錯價事件發表了一點法律上跟我個人經濟上的淺見 —
網購標錯價,可以拒絕出貨?—從不良網購商PCHome事件談起()()

而為何說淺見?是因為從我現在的角度看,我當時的想法根本就是一團糟。

有讀者轉載到別的網站之後,認同我當時的想法。我必須說:「Sorry, but I just changed my mind!」

最近剛搬到加州,又連續飛了費城跟匹茲堡,行程有點忙碌。因此我簡短地說一下我現在的想法。

1.法律上,我還是維持PCHome兩篇文章的基本見解。就法論法,網友真的要發動起來去告,會贏會輸還在未定之天。當然我個人偏向解釋成「要約的引誘」。

畢竟網路標價跟面對面的議價是兩回事。而我指的「面對面」,是指雙方都知道彼此的議價方式,無論是透過電話、e-mail、即時通訊或傳真。

因此,有人認為法律上Dell佔得住腳,我認為要看。因為法律操作起來,不完全是那份「免責條款聲明」就真的能躲掉責任。
這裡操作空間是存在的,當然要看雙方律師跟法官要怎麼玩。不過基本法律上思考這類問題,首先不可避免的就是網路標價究竟屬於「要約」亦或「要約的引誘」這個爭議。

任何一方在這個爭議上佔上風,我認為大概就可以問鼎。

另一方面,該網站談到的「比例原則」。台灣法律上不是這樣解釋也不是這樣用的。
繼續閱讀 “關於戴爾電腦標錯價事件的短評”

通貨緊縮與停滯性通澎是不會同時發生的–淺談台灣經濟近況

之前就已寫過一篇文章,談到通貨膨脹或緊縮,都是純粹的貨幣現象,而非物價現象。

通貨膨脹指的是流通在市場上的貨幣數量變多了;反之,通貨緊縮就是變少了。

而貨幣變多了,可能會造成市場上物價上漲的現象,因為量尺單位刻度變小了。但不能反過來,說看到物價上漲,就說是通貨膨脹。

同理,看到物價下跌,也不能直指「通貨緊縮」。

這樣的觀念很簡單,但是卻有不少人,乃至於檯面上的經濟學家,依然搞不清楚物價指數跟通貨膨脹緊縮之間的關係。

因此,有網友抱持下面似是而非的錯誤說法,也就不在意料之外了:

以經濟學的定義來看,台灣不但是以陷入通縮,而且跟日本一樣都已陷入「停滯性膨脹」了!!

民眾在股市賺了錢(假設真有的話),卻仍不敢多消費,顯示民眾對未來經濟的信心不足!事實上近幾個月台灣的經濟數據確實都很難看,幾乎都是全亞洲甚至全世界數一數二糟的,要怎麼讓民眾相信經濟已經轉好??對前景沒信心,自然不敢亂花錢,政府若連這些問題癥結都搞不清楚的話,也難怪會一在政策錯誤了!

以上言論最鬼扯的,就是台灣又通縮、又停滯性通澎。
繼續閱讀 “通貨緊縮與停滯性通澎是不會同時發生的–淺談台灣經濟近況”

兩個大蕭條

The Great Depression,大蕭條,從1929年起,直至1939年結束。

傳統的歷史教科書,包含美國跟台灣的,多半寫道:1929年紐約股市大崩盤之後,甫上任的胡佛總統(Herbert C. Hoover)減稅、大幅刪減政府開支,試圖以此來力挽經濟之狂瀾,但事情卻越來越糟糕。

直到小羅斯福總統(Franklin D. Roosevelt)上台,採行凱因斯主義,大力地增加政府開支、引進干預,透過「新政(New Deal)」,才終於拯救美國經濟。

相信以上的故事,大家都耳熟能詳。

可惜,事實並非如此。

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為何政府不能經營好企業?

這是Wall Street Journal上一篇相當簡單又不錯的文章:「Why Government Can’t Run a Business?」,而副標題下得更好,直接了當地把答案說白了:

「Politicians need headlines. Executives need profits.」
政客要的是頭條;商人要的是金條!

裡頭舉了一些歷史,其實也等於回答了前一篇文章留言裡,我不斷質疑某位網友的:

「……政府援助的錢要用什麼形式給窮人?直接發錢?那麼窮人很可能拿去賭博、喝酒、吃檳榔,而繼續買劣質奶粉。
直接發奶粉?那是要用哪一家廠商的奶粉?會不會有圖利的問題?會不會引誘廠商去行賄?
國營牧場與奶粉廠,又會不會出現與民爭利的問題?國營的產品品質,又如何保證?
當你試圖引進政府干預時,你是否想到你引發的問題,遠遠大過政府不干預?
最後還是要回到原點再問一次,你怎麼知道你干預的方式,可以達到你想要的目的?……」

該文舉出:1913年,美國政府認為美國的民間鋼鐵公司賣給政府用來製作戰艦的鋼鐵材料過貴,因此美國聯邦政府決定自己蓋煉鋼廠。政府自己評估認為這樣可以節省3成的採購費用。
結果,三年後第一次世界大戰結束之時,這個煉鋼廠不但建廠費用遠超出一開始預算數百萬美元,且每單位生產成本還是民間公司的售價的2倍!
更糗的是,戰爭打完了,工廠也被關閉了。前後也不過就生產過那麼一批。

民間公司會做出這麼浪費的蠢事嗎?

該文也舉出,美國官營的UnitedHealthcare,不但與民間的醫療保險業者爭利,本身更充滿無數的浪費、貪污醜聞。這樣的機構,將復健醫療鞋補助給節肢病患,也就不足為奇了。

作者舉了幾個原因,說明為何政府無法做好自由市場裡,民間業者原本可以做得很好的事業。我借用該文的大綱如下,抒發我自身意見。原文請上WSJ閱讀。

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