"In our post-everything culture, obey has become a four-letter word. Obeying is for wimps. Obeying is for people who didn’t do well enough on their SATs to write their own rules." Heather Choate Davis
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. Yet airlines now make juicy profits. Scheduled passenger airlines reported an after-tax net profit of $15.5bn in 2017, up from $14bn in 2016.
What is true of the airline industry is increasingly true of America’s economy. 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 monopolised.
If you don’t like how an airline is treating you, in some cases you can choose to fly with someone else next time.
United, for example, dominates many of the country’s largest airports. In Houston, United has around a 60 percent market share, in Newark 51 percent, in Washington Dulles 43 percent, in San Francisco 38 percent and in Chicago 31 percent. This situation is even more skewed for other airlines. For example, Delta has an 80 percent market share in Atlanta. For many routes, you simply have no choice.
Capitalism is a game where competitors play by rules on which everyone agrees. The government is the referee, and just as you need a referee and a set of agreed rules for a good basketball game, you need rules to promote competition in the economy.
Left to their own devices, firms will use any available means to crush their rivals. Today, the state, as referee, has not enforced rules that would increase competition, and through regulatory capture has created rules that limit competition.
Even when economic growth has been decent, as it is now, most of the bounty has flowed to the top. Median weekly earnings have grown a miserly 0.1 percent a year since 1979. The typical American family today has a lower net worth than the typical family did 20 years ago. Life expectancy, shockingly, has fallen this decade.