- 1) The issue
- a) Subsidies and Liberalism
- b) Nature of subsidies
- c) Cases of subsidy misuse
- d) Even if a subsidy is successful, there are disadvantages.
- 2) The proposal
- a) Obstacles?
- b) Possible modalities
- 3) Other interests of the mechanism
- a) Advantage of the system in the event of a crisis
- 4) Conclusion
1) The issue
Subsidies to Business is the Money to give all to some. Is it conceivable to give subsidies? Why are they given? Are they effective? Are they moral? In the past, many of these questions, legitimate, have already been asked about them. But what are the questions that the Community (in the sense of a Citizens’ Assembly) could ask itself at present about this support coming from the collective really, in fine, only given to the shareholders of the supported companies? And above all, and this is the main issue that will be studied in this article, what are the new modern forms, seen from the point of view of COOPERACTIVE ASSETS, that subsidies can, must, take? But, before that, let us begin to take up the criticisms made of the current forms of subsidy before proposing a necessary change in subsidy.
Digression on the country chosen to illustrate the point
It is the situation in France that will be chosen to have references with a real situation. And so that the reader, even if he or she does not use French as a language or culture, can verify for himself or herself certain assertions and points of analysis raised.
a) Subsidies and Liberalism
Indeed, according to the Ultra-Liberal Economic Doxa, subsidies to companies pose, in principle, 2 main problems:
- Consistency of Doctrine.
- Because the Marketplace is omniscient and all-powerful, such a case should never arise. Since businesses are by nature not only rational, but rational as well. They shouldn’t need a boost. They should make no mistakes. And they should never get into trouble. So there is no reason for a company to use public money. Let us remember, moreover, as mentioned above, that Public money, whether it is that of the State, of regions, of departments, of agglomerations of municipalities or communes, is always Citizens’ money and therefore Community money. We will come back to this crucial point later.
- Fairness between companies.
- Why favour one company over another? Giving a subsidy to one over the other is an imbalance. And why in addition help, or even reward, a Company that is less efficient than others in its sector?
Certainly, in the case of an Economy that is not entirely liberal or free (and even in an economy that claims to be entirely liberal like the USA), where the support of Companies in difficulty can be conceived by the State or other levels of the Public Power, the supporters of this same Ultra-Liberal Doxa will then have other grievances to formulate:
- Supporting lame ducks with no economic value (the social issue is of no importance to Doxa supporters)
- Artificial market-distorting perfusion
- Obstacle to competition
- A brake on the arrival of salutary spur from abroad that will provide better products cheaper than local products.
- And probably many other arguments, the list is not complete …
Nevertheless, it happens that some States (including the USA) or other Public entities give subsidies to Companies. This is the case in all countries of the world. And indeed not only in France with an example (sorry, in French) here in Quebec. Such examples are daily and the purpose of this article is not to list them and be exhaustive. Once the existence of subsidies has been established, let’s look at their deep nature.
b) Nature of subsidies
Subsidies are COMMON money, belonging to the Community as a whole, given, without compensation, to a few private individuals.
Everything else, all possible justifications on the usefulness, the need, the relevance of the subsidy are only second to this fundamental truth, subsidies are Money of the Community, of the Collective, of the Citizens transferred to individuals who are not accountable for the use or misuse of it.
Subsidies are free checks given to the shareholders of the companies.
We’ll see why further down.
After this digression, which is not mandatory :-), let’s now move on to the misappropriation of subsidies. Once again, the aim is not to be exhaustive in the list of possible diversions, and even less to provide a complete history, by country, of all the problems that have arisen by and at the time of grant allocation. Nevertheless, the broad typologies of problems can be brushed off.
c) Cases of subsidy misuse
- The shareholders are leaving with the cash!
- This is the most eloquent and not necessarily caricaturist case.
- The fund, the cash, being made up, in whole or in part, of the subsidy. Thus sometimes not a single cent of the subsidy is spent and the shareholders leave without remorse (and without leaving any address either).
- Repayment of undue and risen debts on all sides.
- This is the classic case where the money received is used to pay invoices from suppliers that are in fact more or less phony structures where the shareholders of the Company are directly present, or via straw men or holding companies whose cloudiness is greater than that of the Tarentula’s Nebula, which receives the original subsidy. The money is thus transferred, in full legal accounting conformity of the Company receiving the subsidy, to others. In the end, there is indeed an undue transfer.
- Examples of this type of payout are the payment of Royalties for the use of a name, a logo; the purchase of “advice”, the purchase of non-existent advertising space, and of course any type of purchase of services or goods that are overcharged in relation to their real value. In fraud, the imagination of the actors is boundless. On the other hand, to create real collective wealth, there is a little less ease 🙁
- Transfer to other companies.
- In this case, we are more in the business of bailing out other structures or subsidiaries where the subsidy is used to bail out other companies that are controlled, directly or indirectly (see above), by the same shareholders as the company receiving the subsidy.
- Undue Inflation of Dividends and Shareholder Bonuses.
- If in the subsidy request a machine tool purchase is valued at 1 million dollars and that in fact there is a rebate from the manufacturer or a deferred repayment (who is going to see it? who is going to control it? who is going to sanction it?) of part of the sum initially planned, the amount of the difference can, potentially, go entirely into the pocket of the shareholders.
- Executive bonuses.
- For the same reasons as mentioned above, the subsidies can be found in bonuses received by the managers of the assisted company.
- Can be used to invest in other equipment
- The subsidy can also be used to purchase equipment belonging to companies that are still within the shareholders of the assisted company.
- For example, the company that has the subsidy may use it to pay for a lease of a new machine tool that belongs to another company that leases it to a third party (often the actual machine tool manufacturer). All this of course with a consequent profit for the structure which rents to the subsidized company. This allows it to eventually own the machine (lease-purchase reimbursed to the manufacturer) and to be able to resell it on the second-hand market with a financial flow that will only go to this second company. In reality, however, it is the subsidy of the first company that has allowed this financial windfall.
- Is used to prepare the Company’s move to other countries.
- Unfortunately, the news and social stories in newspapers around the world are full of these examples where shareholders and managers move the company, without warning, overnight or on weekends. Or even better, leave everything as it is, leaving everything in the lurch.
- Is used to leverage a bigger scam.
- The subsidies obtained may in fact serve as a guarantee for the company to apply for loans or overdrafts that it would not otherwise have had. The subsidy serves as a kind of guarantee to the local banks, which get entangled in this temporary deposit of money. After a while, the entire subsidy is transferred to other accounts by the predatory firm. The predatory enterprise often also scrapes off the maximum overdraft allowed and goes off without warning or without having to or being able to repay the money received, granted or lent.
- Is used to reward an industry that has dubious practices towards its customers (example of the cruise industry according to JORDAN WEISSMANN). Or just a company like which happened at the Wells Fargo Bank. (point added 24th of March 2020)
In short, the possibilities for misappropriation are limitless. And the cases are very numerous. Too many. However, the downside of subsidies does not stop there. Because even if the subsidy is successful, some problems remain.
d) Even if a subsidy is successful, there are disadvantages.
First and foremost, it must be established that the preservation, survival, and continuation of a company’s activities is always a plus for the community. Whether it is economic, financial, and of course, above all, and this must be repeated and repeated again and again, on the Human level.
Any SME-sized business is already an Ecosystem in itself. Like a pond in the countryside, its preservation is beneficial in many ways.
And sometimes it only appears to us when the company disappears.
If the subsidy helps to maintain this Ecosystem, so much the better. But even if the subsidy is a success, average or brilliant, some questions arise on 3 levels:
1) SOCIAL Who really benefits from success? Who benefits most? Are the long-term benefits for the main shareholder or the largest shareholders not very unbalanced in relation to the company’s stakeholders, the employees? Is the continuity of a salaried activity, with a supervised income and no high bonuses, on the same level as the short-, medium- and long-term receipt of dividends? Is it equivalent to the possibility of enrichment through the sale of shares that have appreciated in price, whether on listed or unlisted markets? Is it equivalent to the transfer of wealth that the heirs of shareholders will be able to receive through the transfer of shares? Is it equivalent to the possibility of exchanging one’s shares in a merger – acquisition – takeover bid on another company under profitable conditions? Asking and listing the questions clearly indicates that the support received is not equivalent depending on the status of the actor in the subsidized company. Equality or perfect equity between actors is not necessarily possible, useful, necessary and relevant. But the size of the gap between the impacts of the subsidy according to the actors is problematic. Which brings us to the second point.
2) EFFICIENCY? If we are in the context of a subsidy to avoid disaster, going off the road, economic and social crash, at the end, what is the relevance of giving subsidies to the management team that has put the company in difficulty? If the boat has been badly handled and mishandled, whose fault is it? The sailors or the captain? Why pay common resources (public money) to a team that has not demonstrated its competence? Since the same causes produce the same effects, there is a good chance that the subsidy will not be enough to get the company out of its rut. Leaving the same management in place will lead to the same types of problems coming back and reappearing. Applications for support and distress grants are signals of management problems. There is one, or even more, fundamental problem that money alone will not be enough to correct. Bad strategy, bad products, bad positioning, bad after-sales service, bad commercial policy etc … The roots of the problems are innumerable and fill the management books of companies. Thus the obtaining of a significant subsidy (the threshold or the levels being fixed by the representative bodies of the Community) should lead to the question of the accompaniment of the management team (which is sometimes one and the same person) and its training. This should even lead in exchange to a possible change in the decision-making process by the other players in the company. Whether it is more power for the managers or the whole staff. For those who are looking for a sporting metaphor for this problem of paying subsidies to a management team that created or did not see, did not know, did not want, was not able to anticipate problems, it is the equivalent of keeping a club coach who follows one defeat after another throughout the season. However, as with any rule, there are exceptions. When a company is in enormous difficulty because of a default in payment, whether organised or not, by one of its main, or sole, customers, or because of a serious global, financial or health crisis@preview, the subsidy makes sense. This is one of the cases where no one in the company is in a position to take responsibility for the problem. And that the public subsidy is indeed useful. Even if this does not mean that its functioning has to be changed (see below). Some grumblers of principle might argue that even in the case of a payment default by a customer, the responsibility of the management is at stake. After all, finding out about the payment capacities of its customers, calibrating deliveries according to payments, or even using possibilities such as factoring are more than enough to avoid disasters. But unfortunately this is not the case! This is only a theoretical view that does not meet the requirements of practice. There is nothing worse for a company than not getting paid. And what is more, it is unfair. The use of the concepts of COOPERACTIVE ASSETS would moreover make it possible to solve this type of payment incident problem. But this is another subject that will be addressed in due course. Another point on this point of exception is that obtaining tax credit refunds does not fall within the same framework as subsidies. It is the art of opportunity and adaptation. There is no individual approach by the company to benefit from financing. It is the use of a right, an opportunity that is potentially offered to all companies in the same sector. Thus, the use of the CICE@preview by companies cannot be considered as a grant application [which does not mean that it is a good thing either 🙂 ]. Finally, it may be objected that it is possible to apply for a subsidy before problems or disasters occur. But in this case, we are in two situations. a) If it is preventive and strategic investment, as every good management team should do, there are the Banks for that. There is no reason why some companies should receive money for free (because this is also the reality of a subsidy, it is the money of the community given for free while others should borrow and reimburse, with interest, this money). Free for some, paying for others. This is neither moral nor fair. b) And if for structural (financial surface of the country) or factual reasons (current economic crisis) there are no banks ready to lend, we still remain in financing from one type of partner, the State and the Community. It is therefore necessary to have counterparts. It is this point that is addressed in the third level.
3) GLOBAL SOLIDARITY. This is, in our view, the basic question that will give rise to the proposal in response to that very question. In exchange for the help received, the grant, what does the company and those who have been helped really give? It is well understood that, potentially, without falling into the problems listed above on the possibilities of diversion of subsidies, these are, overall, beneficial for the company and its actors (even if there is not equity in what is received. See above). But what about the donor? What about the structure that transfers the energy (money)? The one that takes from the whole Community to give to a few in particular? Wouldn’t it be fair that it receives something?
After all, if it is a question of giving money for free, why not give it to any person or group of individuals who would like to start a new business? Why not give the money to the new creators rather than keep an old company in trouble? Of course, we saw above that the economic ecosystems of small and medium-sized businesses are important and difficult to replace. But if support for new start-ups is more fruitful in the long run for the number and quality and importance of the ecosystems present throughout the Community, why then persist in supporting the old one which has failed or is in difficulty? Why are the Community’s values of living together not exalted and promoted in this support (subsidies)? These Values of Living Together are to give and receive – then to give back and receive. Subsidies were already posing problems of equity and efficiency. We can see that they raise in addition to the problems of lack of respect for the values of Community life. And this is crucial for the vigour, development and improvement of living together. And for the construction of a Civilization. It is therefore necessary to remedy this with a proposal.
2) The proposal
Here’s a direct summary:
No subsidy may be allocated by a Community WITHOUT a counterpart in ownership shares in the supported Company.
For the core of the principle is this. No subsidy should be made by a Community (in the sense used in COOPERACTIVE ASSET, i.e. legal representation of the citizens of a geographical area such as a town hall, general council, regional council, the State, etc.) to the extent that the Community is not the legal representative of the citizens of that area. ) without taking a stake in the Capital or shares of the supported enterprise. And this participation can be fully commensurate with the capital injected via the subsidy. Because that is what it is all about. The subsidy is like the contribution of new capital to the company. It is the equivalent of the arrival of new investors. Except that these new investors are in fact everyone, it is the Community.
And just as the arrival of new investors leads to a redistribution of a company’s share capital, the arrival of a subsidy corresponds to a proportional entry of the Community into the ownership of the supported company. Once again, it should be remembered that there is no obligation on private firms to apply for subsidies! One can very well manage one’s business and not need a subsidy. Alternatively, you can call on private markets, banks and other investors.
Yes, but no! The obstacles don’t really exist. Of course, the vast majority of companies are not listed on the Stock Exchange@preview, nor on the second market@preview, the new market or even the Xth market@preview that may exist. And managing instantaneously the ownership of shares and Capital is not currently possible in companies. But let’s remember that since 1492 and the discovery of the Americas by Christophe COLOMB, the Middle Ages are over! It is therefore time to move on to modernity. What an absolute incongruity not to use the extraordinary potential (certainly, to be framed) of the Digital Age to avoid changing and enriching our economic and social reality. Yet it is as if the benefits of the digital age were to be limited to use by individuals, but any attempt to use them for the benefit of the Community as a whole were impossible. Or even a refusal to consider such a possibility, whether voluntary or created. Thus the establishment of this means of control is not only necessary, but possible. All the more so as it meets a wish of the Ultra-Liberal Doxa, the volatile fluidity of the markets. With a flexible and digital interface, this search for the absence of a brake on market actions would be a plus. Anything that is traded without friction facilitates economic strength and responsiveness. These are not obstacles, but rather supports and accelerators of change to be implemented. And initially, the implementation of this immediacy or ease of access to shares can only be implemented for voluntary companies. Or even better, only for companies wishing to be helped and receive subsidies. The logic of the approach is then reinforced. It is the companies which apply to the Community which accept the conditions and impacts.
b) Possible modalities
Once the main principles have been established and, above all, the spirit of the proposal (giving back to the Community, in whole or in part, what that same Community has given), we can now turn to the variations in the arrangements for setting up such a mechanism. Let us remember once again that the proposals are universal and are not limited to a single country, let alone France. Even if, at first, such a proposal may sometimes appear incongruous, fanciful or impossible to a few people in certain countries. Thus the application of the principle may (must) vary from country to country. In the modularity of implementation, there are two main points to be addressed. The proportionality of the acquisition of shares and the dissolution of the Community’s shares.
1) Proportionality between the contribution and the shares. As noted above, the principle and values proposed are simple. What is given by the Community in fresh money and given back in return for shares or capital by the supported company. On the basis of this statement, an example can be given of a grant of $100,000 to a company that has a share capital@preview of $1,000,000. The subsidy is for 10% of the capital, so the counterpart must technically be 10% of the capital. It is up to the previous and historical shareholders to make room for them. It should be remembered that, of course, in the context of this operation, their percentage share (let’s say 10% of the capital) will be reduced proportionally (in this case from 10% to 9%) but what counts is the valuation of their new proportion. And in accounting terms, because of the capital contribution by the Community, this proportion will be mechanically increased by 10%. The value of existing shareholders’ shares will therefore be preserved. And even improved, because the injection of liquidity coming with the subsidy, the supported company increases in value compared to the situation before the subsidy.
Now, within the framework of the possible arrangements for setting up the scheme, is it absolutely necessary to have a total equivalence between the amount paid and the equity investment? If 5% of the equivalent of the capital is paid out via the subsidy, does the Community necessarily have to have 5% of the shares? Each answer and decision on this equivalence is the responsibility of the Community providing the subsidy. It may decide to have 100% or 90% or 75% or 50% or less equivalence. It is the choice of each Community to decide on this rate. All the more so as it may vary over time or according to the type of sector in which the assisted firm operates. It is not for the author of the article to give recommendations on the ideal rate. Just know that a full equivalence does not shock him, nor do lower equivalence rates. However, the proposed system should not be perverted by a rate that is too low. An equivalence of conversion of subsidies into shares of less than 10% of the contribution made by the Community would not be in keeping with the spirit and the stakes of the system. Let us now move on to the other sensitive point of the modularity of the system’s implementation.
2) Dissolution of Community shares? Another possible modularity of the scheme is the introduction of a gradual dissolution of the capital received by the Community. There are three possible scenarios.
a) Firstly, completely prohibit this dissolution of ownership of shares in the company over time 🙂 For there is no reason why what is given at a given moment M should disappear a little later. After all, do the capital investments made at the time of the creation of a company diminish over time? Do they dissolve themselves? Are the shareholders’ shares automatically (an interesting concept to explore …) gradually decreasing over time? No. So why would it be different for the capital equivalent of subsidies?
b) The other possible approach is to consider that, despite everything, yes, it is possible that the Community’s capital share may dissolve itself over time. And that each “historical” shareholder could recover, in proportion to the dissolved share, a new percentage of ownership. However, even if the numerical system (see above) for the “liquidity” of the shareholding has been put in place and there is no longer or no practical obstacle to returning to the prior ownership of the company before receiving the grant, this possibility is not very fruitful for the Community and is still in the spirit of the old system. It is not favoured by the author of the article, but as mentioned above, it is up to each Community to decide.
c) The transfer in time of the shares held by the Community to the actors of the enterprise. By actors, we mean all the participants, the employees, working in the company. The idea of this modularity is to replace and eventually transfer the participation held by the Community as a whole by a participation held by the members of the undertaking. Of course, other complementary forms of modularity can be introduced in this option. It is possible to be fair in the distribution of shares (each employee receives the same percentage share), to make it depend on the time spent in the company by the person concerned, on the complexity of his task, on the arduousness of his task, etc… Speed (5 years, 10, 20 …) and intensity (progressive, all of a sudden) are also parameters of the modularity of the system.
3) Other interests of the mechanism
We have seen above that the interests of the proposal include respect for the values and virtues of a humane society@preview, in the sense of civilisation. But there are many other advantages to such a measure. By transforming the subsidy into capital, this is what happens when the Communities acquire a holding in a company:
- A controlling interest in future company decisions. This avoids :
- Either new mistakes [which still limits the breakage to the level of future subsidies that would have to be paid in the long run to keep the lame duck alive]
- Either the relocation to other territories of the company’s head office
- Either the reduction in scope, investment in the plant or production site supported by the Community.
- Activation, too fast or inappropriate of a job reduction plan
- Participation in a strategic activity for the Community
- In order to keep the know-how and thus the jobs in the Community
- In order not to be under foreign influence
- A capital revaluation
- The arrival of new money allows the company to apply for additional loans or overdrafts to get out of business or redevelop its activities. The presence of the Community will allow a possible better control, if not complete avoidance, of the phenomenon described earlier in the article concerning loans granted by banks to subsidised companies run by crooks or swindlers.
- A new attractiveness for investors.
- The entry into the Community’s capital of the company makes it possible to reassure potential private investors who, seeing the support provided, may decide to enter, at last, into the capital of the company.
But there is an undeniable and very powerful advantage to the implementation of the subsidy-to-participation converter.
- Last but not least, the receipt of dividends for the Community.
- The Community’s entry into the company’s capital potentially allows the Community to benefit from future dividends once the company is profitable again.
- Depending on the business being supported and its ability to recover or grow, the amounts of these dividends can be very significant. Sometimes they can even, on their own, “pay back” the Community’s investment in a few years.
- The Community may decide to sell part or all of its shares on different financial markets or to other investors, with potentially huge profits.
- The dividends received enable the Community to support other companies, whether through subsidies for existing companies or through equity investments for start-ups. In this way, we have the benefit of a virtuous circle.
a) Advantage of the system in the event of a crisis
Another of the advantages of setting up such a system is the ease with which public authorities can, in the event of a very serious crisis, such as the 1973 oil crisis@preview, the speculative financial crisis in 2008@preview or a health crisis such as the COVID-19@preview in progress when this article is being finalised, steer support to companies as quickly and effectively as possible.
Indeed, the participation is more flexible and faster than the setting up of Nationalizations (reflections on March 19th on the necessity@preview of their implementation) which are always long and difficult to set up. All the more so as this Nationalisation mechanism would not be supported by the digitisation of the services needed to be carried out as would be the case with the mechanism for converting public aid into company shares.
Thus a Government that wants to act quickly to support its companies, may decide to take 10% of the shares of each company automatically. With, through the digitization of services, an immediate financial payment (it is up to each country to see where the funding comes from) in return for its participation. All this potentially at the speed of the electrons circulating on the networks and in the computer servers. As a reaction speed, it is difficult to be faster 🙂
This list of advantages is probably not exhaustive, but it gives a good idea of the complementary potential of this type of mechanism which, for all the reasons mentioned above, should be deployed as quickly as possible in as many countries as possible.
And if the philosophy of the proposal had to be summed up in a single sentence, in one word as in a hundred, it would be:
Subsidy = Participation = Retribution for all!
Links added after the initial publication of the article: – Another (zero-interest loans) approaches business support during the VIDOC-19 health crisis by Andrew Ross Sorkin, editorialist at the New York Times.
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Last updated: December 02, 2019
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