Every thinking American, and certainly every progressive should read this. Hell, even some of you vapid wingnuts should read it. You might even realize that things aren’t quite what you were told they were.
Barry Lynn is the author of “Cornered: The New Monopoly Capitalism and the Economics of Destruction,” and much of this article is a simplified glimpse of just some of what he covers in it. It gets to the heart of what his larger work does: that monopolies are a gruesome monster under our national bed, and we’re doing nothing to slay the beast.
Get your friends and family to read it too. Perhaps if enough of us grasp just what a beast has taken hold of us, perhaps we can figure out how to break free of it and reverse some of the damage it’s done.
But while the mystery of what killed the great American jobs machine has yielded no shortage of debatable answers, one of the more compelling potential explanations has been conspicuously absent from the national conversation: monopolization.
But at least the plethora of different brands vying for your attention on the store shelves suggests a healthy, competitive marketplace, right? Well, let’s take a closer look.
In the health aisle, the vast array of toothpaste options on display is mostly the work of two companies: Colgate-Palmolive and Procter & Gamble, which split nearly 70 percent of the U.S. market and control even such seemingly independent brands as Tom’s of Maine. And in many stores the competition between most brands is mostly choreographed anyway. Under a system known as “category management,” retailers like Wal-Mart and their largest suppliers openly cooperate in determining everything from price to product placement.
Over in the cold case we find an even greater array of beer options, designed to satisfy almost any taste. We can choose among the old standbys like Budweiser, Coors, and Miller Lite. Or from a cornucopia of smaller brands, imports and specialty brews like Stella Artois, Redbridge, Rolling Rock, Beck’s, Blue Moon, and Stone Mill Pale Ale. But all these brands—indeed more than 80 percent of all beers in America—are controlled by two companies, Anheuser-Busch Inbev and MillerCoors.
Another way that monopolization can inhibit the creation of new jobs is the practice of entrenched corporations using their power to buy up, and sometimes stash away, new technologies, rather than building them themselves.
Beginning in Reagan’s first term, antitrust enforcement all but ended. Throughout the 1980s, the opponents of antitrust sometimes buttressed their arguments by stoking fears about the supposed dangers posed to American manufacturers by their Japanese rivals. But for the most part such arguments proved unnecessary, as the government had already largely retired from the field, leaving corporations largely to their own devices. By the time Reagan left office, laissez faire had become conventional wisdom.
There is so much more in this brief work. You will come away knowing a lot more than you knew going in about just how successful radical conservatism has been at changing all of our rules, and breaking most of what had been working in America for rather well. Then the Chicago school and Ronald Reagan broke it.