MONOPOLY POWER AND HOW TO STOP IT

Monopolistic corporate power is a big problem in the US. Ever since the Reagan presidency in the 1980s, our government has effectively given up on enforcement of anti-trust (i.e., anti-monopoly) laws. Our anti-trust regulators have ignored evidence that the monopolistic power of huge corporations results in higher prices, lower wages, job losses, declining entrepreneurship, and increased inequality.

The regulators, the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Federal Trade Commission (FTC), rarely block mergers or acquisitions. Sometimes they require corporations to make changes meant to address the negative consequences of huge size and significant economic (and potentially political) power. However, the changes corporations promise to make are often not fully implemented or are ineffective in ameliorating negative consequences, especially in the long-term. [1]

The DOJ and FTC have been compromised by decades of appointments of officials who came through the revolving door from the corporate sector and don’t believe that corporate power is a problem. A similar situation exists with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Its lack of effective oversight of Wall Street and the financial industry led to the 2008 economic collapse, as well as a host of other harmful consequences.

When the regulatory agencies are staffed with people from the industries they are supposed to regulate, weak standards and lackadaisical enforcement (including a lack of criminal prosecution) tend to be the result. This aspect of crony capitalism is referred to as the “cognitive capture” of regulatory agencies by the industries they are supposed to regulate. It occurs when the regulators share the mindset of and empathize with those they are supposed to regulate. [2] As Senator Elizabeth has said, “Personnel is policy.”

Crony capitalism has led to concentrated corporate power in our economy, higher corporate profits and CEO pay, increased economic inequality, destruction of the middle class, corruption of our elections, and distortion of public policies. A few months ago, the Senate Judiciary Committee held its first hearing on anti-trust laws and efforts to rein in monopolistic power in more than three years. Recently, the Obama administration has gotten noticeably more aggressive about challenging merger deals, but only after years of inaction. These are baby steps in the right direction, but there is a long, long way to go given how bad the situation has grown over the past 35 years.

Americans strongly agree (83%) that “the rules of the economy matter and the top 1 percent have used their influence to … their advantage.” Two-thirds of the public believe that corporations pay too little in taxes and three-quarters want to close tax loopholes that let speculators pay lower taxes on their profits than working people pay on their earnings. Eighty-six percent believe corporations have too much political power and that increased enforcement of laws and regulations is needed. [3] Our elected officials need to stop favoring corporate interests and start sticking up for working Americans and our democracy.

As voters, we need to demand that our elected officials support vigorous enforcement of anti-trust laws and effective regulation of corporate America. The federal government needs to use its powers under the Sherman Anti-trust Act to stop corporate power from growing, given that it is harming our economy and our democracy. Our President needs to appoint strong, independent regulators. Congress and state legislatures need to pass laws and budgets that reflect the interests, values, and priorities of the people, not the corporations and wealthy elites.

The good news is that the current presidential campaign has brought the issue of corporate power into the spotlight. For the first time since 1988, the Democratic Party platform contains language calling for stronger enforcement of anti-trust laws and more market place competition in our economy. [4] A recent report from the White House calls for promoting competition in our economy through stronger enforcement of anti-trust laws and pro-consumer policies and regulations. [5]

In this election year, I encourage you to examine federal and state candidates’ positions on these issues and to vote for candidates who support:

  • Strengthening enforcement of anti-trust (i.e., anti-monopoly) laws in order to increase market place competition,
  • Improving the effectiveness of regulations, and
  • Reducing the power of corporations in our economy, our elections, and in policy making.

This is essential if our democracy is to be of, by, and for the people, instead of controlled by and run for the benefit of large corporations and their wealthy executives and investors.

[1]       Jamrisko, M., & McLaughlin, D., 7/18/16, “Democrats imitate trust-busting Teddy in own populist appeal,” Bloomberg (http://www.bloomberg.com/politics/articles/2016-07-18/democrats-imitate-trust-busting-teddy-in-own-populist-appeal?cmpid=GP.HP)

[2]       Lehmann, C., May 2016, “In the grip of greed,” In These Times (https://www.highbeam.com/doc/1P3-4034979561.html)

[3]       Weissman, R., 4/11/16, “Americans agree: It’s corporate power that’s in our way,” Common Dreams (http://www.commondreams.org/views/2016/04/11/americans-agree-its-corporate-power-thats-our-way)

[4]       Jamrisko, M., & McLaughlin, D., 7/18/16, see above

[5]       Council of Economic Advisers, April 2016, “Benefits of competition and indicators of market power,” The White House (https://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/page/files/20160414_cea_competition_issue_brief.pdf)

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