The Economist: Too much of a good thing — Profits are too high. America needs a giant dose of competition
Profits are too high. America needs a giant dose of competition
Mar 26th 2016 | From the print edition
AMERICA’S airlines used to be famous for two things: terrible service and worse finances. Today flyers still endure hidden fees, late flights, bruised knees, clapped-out fittings and sub-par food. The profit bit of the picture, though, has changed a lot. Last year America’s airlines made $24 billion—more than Alphabet, the parent company of Google. Even as the price of fuel, one of airlines’ main expenses, collapsed alongside the oil price, little of that benefit was passed on to consumers through lower prices, with revenues remaining fairly flat. After a bout of consolidation in the past decade the industry is dominated by four firms with tight financial discipline and many shareholders in common. And the return on capital is similar to that seen in Silicon Valley.
What is true of the airline industry is increasingly true of America’s economy as a whole. Profits have risen in most rich countries over the past ten years but the increase has been biggest for American firms. Coupled with an increasing concentration of ownership, this means the fruits of economic growth are being hoarded. This is probably part of the reason that two-thirds of Americans, including a majority of Republicans, have come to believe that the economy “unfairly favours powerful interests”, according to polling by Pew, a research outfit. It means that when Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, the Democratic contenders for president, say that the economy is “rigged”, they have a point. MORE