Let’s note from the top that what follows is rooted in reality but will be framed as an exploration of a hypothetical scenario that could redistribute wealth without resorting to socialism or new laws. It could be done via a specific use of existing antitrust and RICO laws.
Let’s further note that while huge businesses may seem to offer short term advantages, over time, the evidence reflects that they can become as or more oppressive as any overreaching governmental unit(s). That’s one of several reasons why antitrust laws exist.
What millions of Americans slam is ‘crony capitalism.’ Here on MHLivingNews and our professional sister site, we distinguish between crony, manipulative, or vulture capitalism and true free enterprise.
Free enterprise is exemplified by the local business owner. Not that every big business is automatically bad, but antitrust laws exist for sound economic reasons that protect workers and independent business people.
For example, Walmart or Amazon may seem like a great deal, right up to the point that they started putting thousands upon thousands of independent retailers out of business. More recently, even giant companies, like Sears have been bludgeoned by even larger behemoths.
That’s arguably part of a process that has indirectly cost the economy hundreds of thousands if not millions of jobs. Further, given that Walmart – which used to routinely proclaim “Made in the USA” on thousands of their products in the 1980s – today routinely features products made in China, Vietnam and other nations around the world. Rephrased, Walmart, Amazon, and others like them have contributed to the loss of manufacturing and production here in the U.S. in favor of ‘cheaper prices’ from overseas. That’s cost Americans higher paying jobs in fields such as manufacturing.
While we disagree with Senator Bernie Sanders on several points where he favors socialism, one claim that he makes that is arguably accurate is that Amazon and others often pay a wage so low that workers must turn to federal taxpayer funded assistance.
Or to take a page from President Donald J. Trump. Jobs lost to China not only cost America hundreds of billions annually, but it’s made worse because U.S. taxpayers pay or borrow more to defend our nation against the military and cyber threats caused by the still communist regime in Beijing, China.
Whatever one thinks of either Senator Sanders or President Trump, or those politicos mentioned further below, each has made important points worth pondering. Put differently, consider the claims of these leaders objectively, instead of based upon party label or mere emotion.
We editorially disagree with significant parts of the policy proposals of rising Democratic star Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC), but must note with interest this point recently made by her to an audience that reportedly included manufactured home community residents.
“Housing is one of the most complicated policy issues that we have, period,” Representative said, per Common Dreams. “Because you have everything from city council, from how things are zoned, to state rent laws, to federal tax breaks, and all of it comes together to make a picture that all too often enriches people who are already powerful and impoverishes people who are already vulnerable, and we cannot allow that to happen anymore.”
The principle AOC made are potent, even if her proposals to fix the problem would arguably make it worse.
That said, let’s focus on the freshman congresswoman’s claim that housing is complicated. She’s correct on that, and several points she made are similar to ones made by HUD Secretary Ben Carson. They each approach the solution in distinctive ways, but they begin with a similar factual point of departure.
Billionaires, Antitrust and Affordable Manufactured Homes
MHLivingNews laid out the evidence that mega-billionaire Warren Buffett, who is the Chairman of the Berkshire Hathaway conglomerate that owns Clayton Homes, 21st Mortgage Corporation and other brands in manufactured housing. That evidence arguably makes the case for a claim that Clayton Homes, 21st and Berkshire Hathaway violated antitrust laws. They did so in a manner that put thousands of American businesses – some which had successfully served the public for decades – out of business. That in turn harmed the interests of millions of Americans. See the ‘smoking gun’ evidence and arguments, linked here.
Prior to that, MHLivingNews reported on a tip provided by the Golden State Manufactured Homeowners League (GSMOL). GSMOL’s president pointed out that the activist group – Manufactured Housing Action or MHAction – was funded by the Tides nonprofit. That claim from GSMOL was doubled-checked and turned out to be accurate. By following the money trail backward from the Tides and MHAction, one can follow the money to Warren Buffett and another billionaire, George Soros.
For some time, our professionally focused sister-site has been peeling back the layers of the onion on the Manufactured Housing Institute (MHI). MHI is likewise backed by Warren Buffett led Berkshire Hathaway brands.
Rephrased, Buffett’s money is backing both sides of many fights over housing policy and manufactured housing specifically. Buffett’s done so in a way that oddly – in a Machiavellian sort of way – attacks his own companies as well as the industry at large. A prime, recent example of that is Last Week Tonight’s John Oliver video that was cited a white paper produced by MHAction.
Note that the Washington Post, owned by billionaire Jeff Bezos, spotlighted that same MHAction co-branded white paper a few weeks before John Oliver’s viral video. Buffett recently disclosed that Berkshire Hathaway is now the proud owner of approaching a billion dollars in Amazon stock, which is the firm founded by Jeff Bezos. Buffett declared on camera to being a fan of Bezos.
RICO, MHI and Berkshire Brands in Manufactured Housing
It is approaching a month since HUD Secretary Carson addressed a group of manufactured home professionals at an MHI meeting. Last year, as MHLivingNews previously reported, MHAction disrupted that event and Carson’s speech last year. That was reported by the Washington Post, and others.
This writer has personally advised MHI’s inside and outside attorneys, and top people at Clayton Homes, 21st, and MHI about our concerns, inviting them to respond. They have routinely declined in the last two years, even though prior to that, those same professionals and organizations routinely replied promptly. The most recent invitation to reply and correct any factual or logical errors went out earlier today. Hours later, nada. If they formally reply in the future, we’ll so advise our readers.
It is certainly understandable that Clayton and 21st, both of which used to sponsor our sister site, have stopped doing so when we began to question the practices of the trade organization – MHI – that they purportedly dominate.
But they didn’t just stop their ads, which we acknowledge as their right. MHI connected sources said that they fueled a de facto call to boycott our publications. That can have antitrust ramifications.
Perhaps more important to the general public is this. MHI has arguably misled federal officials in official document filings, and has misled their own members, misusing the mails and ‘wires’ (internet, phone, etc.). Someone in that mix apparently authorized threatening, unsigned letters to this writer. Those are all potential RICO issues, and may violate postal and other laws, per legal sources to MHLivingNews.
Let’s be clear. Thousands of people can be ‘doing their jobs’ at Clayton Homes, 21st Mortgage, MHI and other organizations in an honorable way that could be totally unaware of what their corporate leadership have allegedly done.
A relatively small group of people – for example – Warren Buffett, Kevin Clayton, Tim Williams/21st Mortgage President and prior MHI Chairman – could have hatched a plot to rig the manufactured home marketplace. So no vast conspiracy need exist, rather, even a handful of deviously shrewd individuals could have harmed thousands of businesses and millions of consumers.
Laws exist to deal with such claims. There is a need for justice for those harmed, and existing laws can accomplish that in a manner that comports with the principles of free enterprise and a constitutionally limited Republic.
Secretary Carson’s recent address made a point that MHLivingNews emphasized from him shortly after the HUD Secretary came on board in his new role. Namely, that homeowners have an average net worth of some $200,000 while the average rental household has a net worth of only $5,000.
Dr. Carson recently pointed to 2018 research by the Federal Housing Finance Administration (FHFA) that indicates what the National Association of Realtors’ Certified Business Economist (CBE) Scholastica ‘Gay’ Cororaton concluded in their 2018 published research. Namely, that manufactured homes can and do appreciate in value.
What that means is that manufactured homes are a wealth building option that is often less than the cost of rent. That could in time reduce costs for the federal, state, and local governments.
- There are about 111 million Americans who rent, says the Apartment List.
- There are some 22 million Americans who own and/or live in a pre-HUD Code mobile home or post-HUD Code manufactured home.
- Thousands of industry business owners were put out of business – many of which had fine reputations in their local markets.
Market manipulation that is evidenced by MHLivingNews, and third parties such as the Manufactured Housing Association for Regulatory Reform (MHARR) reflect MHI’s failures to deal with issues such as discriminatory zoning or the diversion of GSE lending away from manufactured homes, into a Clayton Homes backed more expensive ‘new class’ of manufactured homes.
The economic cost to these alleged market and political manipulations are staggering. I’ve added ‘political’ in passing, only to note that these billionaires use their money to influence elections too. We respect their right to do so, but we our view is that arguably ill-gotten gains ought not to be rewarded.
Let the Billionaires Pay, the Legally Proper Way?!
Fortunately, the people and organizations involved – men like Warren Buffett, Berkshire Hathaway, Jeff Bezos, Amazon and others have great wealth. Instead of Senator Elizabeth Warren proposing a wealth tax, that may or may not ever pass, why not use her legal arguments for utilizing antitrust laws to break up these corporate giants under existing law?
It isn’t just manufactured housing that has been manipulated in a monopsonic fashion. That is simply the focus of our publication. The New York Times carried an article on the Monopolization of America by David Leonhardt. Leonhardt made the brief but compelling historic and American way case for using antitrust laws to restore health to our Republic.
Breaking up the companies represented by the FAANG stocks — plus Berkshire Hathaway, and Microsoft – founded by Bill Gates, and who Warren Buffett sits on the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation board and is a mega-donor to –- has been argued by experts who’ve studied the matter to be good for the economy.
New York Stern Professor Scott Galloway’s comments below are focused on just 4 of those firms, but the principle can be aptly applied to all. He is but one of a growing chorus of voices that favor antitrust action.
RICO, Antitrust, and Millions of Americans
Once the complexities are sorted out that AOC referenced, a combination of RICO and antitrust action could result in hundreds of billions – perhaps trillions – of dollars in judgments. That could be so because the economic harm has spillover effects. Manufactured homes value have been obscured by the very people who are supposed to be promoting it to the nation. Secretary Carson and prior HUD Secretary Julian Castro both praised manufactured homes as an important part of the solution to the affordable housing crisis.
It’s a non-partisan or bipartisan issue.
Should such a legal endeavor be undertaken, it could come from both federal and civil angles. If so, some of that money should flow to the U.S. Treasury, for harm done to taxpayers. Other sums that may qualify for triple damages could in theory flow to renters and manufactured homeowners who have arguably been harmed.
There are other existing Federal laws should be enforced, which is what MHARR is pushing for with HUD.
A prudent application of existing laws could break up these monopolies. Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren and President Donald J. Trump (GOP) have both talked about antitrust action. The question is, who will actually act?
We’ve transparently said that we don’t believe in socialism and redistribution of wealth in the sense of government taking from someone what they honestly earned.
But we do believe that a case can be made that enforcing existing laws in an entirely ethical way could achieve a similar – indeed, a superior goal.
There are no guarantees in litigation, especially in massive litigation. Perhaps the average family may only get a few thousand dollars each, as may be the final outcome in the recently successful giant Monsanto class action case.
But hypothetically a huge victory or settlement, combined with the ability to buy a home, could put millions on the path to wealth creation instead of eternal rental dependency. Even if the award were far less, but the opportunities for every American grew by chopping down these FAANGBM giants, that too is worth the effort. Because as the broader economy would benefit, small businesses and more everyday Americans working at them would benefit. Small business typically creates more jobs than giants do. But in recent years, that’s being challenged, due to these forces of monopolistic consolidation.
A case like the above could be framed for just manufactured homeowners, which would up the potential settlement per person. Or such a case could be framed as impacting renters and manufactured home owners – which would lesson the settlement amount to the class members – to name but two of numerous possible options.
Often such litigation is handled by big law firms that work on contingency.
That’s a thumbnail view of a legal and moral argument for fixing what is ailing tens of millions of Americans. It is based upon evidence, reason, morality, and the law, not a socialistic money grab.
This is a concept that doesn’t require legislation. But it could well draw bipartisan support, which may prove useful as such a mammoth case is launched or advances. More on this in the days ahead. “We Provide, You Decide.” © ## (Lifestyle news, commentary, fact-checks, and analysis.)
L. A. ‘Tony’ Kovach is co-founder of MHLivingNews, MHProNews, and is a 25 plus year award-winning manufactured home industry professional. Kovach earned the Lottinville award in history at the University of Oklahoma.