Real News Network presented a two part interview with Gar Alperovitz, professor of political economy at the University of Maryland, on why and where public provision of services might be preferable to private sector solutions. Alperovitz pointed out how the growth expectations for public companies are at odds with resource conservation and how their rampant short-termism stunts investment. Some economists have recently taken a systematic look at the latter problem. From a 2011 post:
Andrew Haldane and Richard Davies of the Bank of England have released a very useful new paper on short-termism in the investment arena. They contend that this problem real and getting worse. This may at first blush seem to be mere official confirmation of most people’s gut instinct. However, the authors take the critical step of developing some estimates of the severity of the phenomenon, since past efforts to do so are surprisingly scarce.
A short-term perspective is tantamount to applying an overly high discount rate to an investment project or similarly, requiring an excessively rapid payback. In corporate capital budgeting settings, the distortions are pronounced:
Most recently, in 2011 PriceWaterhouseCoopers conducted a survey of FTSE-100 and 250 executives, the majority of which chose a low return option sooner (£250,000 tomorrow) rather than a high return later (£450,000 in 3 years). This suggested annual discount rates of over 20%. Recently, Matthew Rose, CEO of Burlington Northern Santa Fe (America’s second biggest rail company), expressed frustration at the focus on quarterly earnings when locomotives lasted for 20 years and tracks for 30 to 40 years. Echoes, here, of “quarterly capitalism”.
The Real News Network discussions start from more basic premises. For a longer form treatment of major, successful long term investments by the government, see Felix Rohatyn’s Bold Endeavors.