CORRUPT CORPORATE BEHAVIOR IS EXTENSIVE

A new investigative report finds that large U.S. corporations frequently engage in illegal price fixing and other anti-competitive practices that violate antitrust laws. Since 2000, large corporations have paid almost $100 billion in fines and settlements for more than 2,000 cases of illegal price-fixing. Examining a wider range of illegal corporate activity, 557,000 civil and criminal cases have been prosecuted by over 400 government agencies with total penalties of $917 billion. Despite the billions of dollars paid in penalties, new corporate violations of the law are identified on a regular basis and many large corporations are repeat offenders. This strongly suggests that big corporations see these fines and settlements as a cost of doing business and are happy to break the law time after time and simply pay the penalties.

(Note: If you find my posts too much to read on occasion, please just read the bolded portions. They present the key points I’m making.)

SPECIAL NOTE: I’ve created a new website for my blog that’s more user-friendly. The Latest Posts are presented chronologically here: https://www.policyforthepeople.org/blog. The new home page, where posts are presented by topics, is here: https://www.policyforthepeople.org/. If you like the new format, please click on the Subscribe Today button and subscribe. Any comments on the new site, or the posts themselves of course, are most welcome. The old site will continue to be available.

An investigative report, Conspiring against competition: Illegal corporate price-fixing in the U.S. economy,” from the Corporate Research Project of Good Jobs First, finds that since 2000, large corporations have paid over $96 billion in fines and settlements on 2,033 cases of illegal price-fixing. Price-fixing steals money from consumers and artificially increases inflation. [1]

Of the 2,033 documented cases, 357 were initiated by the U.S. Department of Justice or other federal agencies, 269 were initiated by state attorneys general, and 1,407 were class action lawsuits initiated by individuals. Cases that were settled out of court are not included in these numbers or the report as public records of them are hard if not impossible to find. (NOTE: Corporations have been working for years to significantly limit the number of class action lawsuits by requiring employees and customers to sign mandatory arbitration agreements in employment contracts and user agreements. These agreements require the use of arbitration to settle a dispute, prohibiting the filing of a lawsuit. The Biden administration is working to limit the use of mandatory arbitration agreements and to restore employees’ and customers’ rights to file lawsuits.)

Capitalism is supposedly an economic system where vigorous competition, coupled with the supply of and demand for goods and services, determines fair prices. This report documents that large corporations frequently avoid competition by colluding with one another to fix prices and control markets to unfairly increase prices and their profits.

The high degree of market concentration in the U.S. (i.e., where one or a few large corporations dominate a market) make it much easier for collusion and price fixing to occur. In the financial services and pharmaceutical sectors of the economy just about every major corporation (or a subsidiary) has been a defendant in one or more price-fixing cases. Nine of the top ten corporations in terms of financial penalties are banks, credit card companies, or other financial firms. Since 2000, the financial sector as a whole has paid $33 billion in fines and settlements, much of this for schemes to rig interest rates that determine the rates paid by consumers on loans and credit card balances. The pharmaceutical industry was the second most penalized sector at $11 billion, primarily for efforts by brand name drug manufacturers to illegally prevent the introductions of lower-priced, generic versions of their drugs. However, price-fixing collusion has occurred in a wide range of sectors from food retailing to auto parts to chemicals to electronic components.

Over the last 22 years, nineteen corporations (or their subsidiaries) have paid over $1 billion each in penalties for price-fixing and other violations of fair competition laws. At the top of the list are Visa ($6.2 billion), Deutsche Bank ($3.8 billion), Barclays Bank ($3.2 billion), MasterCard ($3.2 billion), and Citigroup bank and financial services ($2.7 billion). Price-fixing scandals continue to emerge on a regular basis, so this appears to be fairly common corporate behavior in the U.S.

Good Jobs First maintains a Violation Tracker website that tracks each corporations’ violations of the law, including laws on banking, finance, consumer protection, false claims, the environment, worker protection, discrimination, price-fixing, fair competition, and government contracting. It aggregates for each corporation the number of cases and the dollars in penalties imposed by federal agencies, state attorneys general, selected state and local regulatory agencies, and selected types of class action lawsuits brought by individuals. In all, the website has recorded 557,000 civil and criminal cases prosecuted by more than 400 agencies with total penalties of $917 billion.

Including all of the types of violations that are in the Violation Tracker database, most corporations had multiple violations including, for example, Walmart (497 cases, $5.5 billion in penalties), Home Depot (290 cases, $220 million), Wells Fargo Bank (236 cases, $25.9 billion), Verizon (219 cases, $2.3 billion), and Citigroup (170 cases, $26.7 billion). I urge you to visit the Violation Tracker website and select a corporation or a few from the pull-down list to see the shocking extent of corporate law-breaking.

Despite the billions of dollars corporations have paid in penalties, new corporate violations of the law are identified on a regular basis and many large corporations are repeat or frequent offenders, sometimes repeating the same offense multiple times. This strongly suggests that big corporations see these fines and settlements as a cost of doing business and are happy to break the law time after time and simply pay the penalties.

Larger penalties would probably reduce recidivism somewhat. To really change big corporations’ behavior on price fixing and other illegal anti-competitive behaviors, aggressive steps to reduce market concentration and power will be required. Vigorous enforcement of antitrust laws is needed and, where monopolistic market power exists, breaking up big corporations will probably be necessary to achieve a lasting, long-term remedy. Reducing market concentration, monopolistic power, and simply the size and power of huge multi-national corporations will not only create the real competition that capitalism promises, it will also reduce corporations’ threats to democracy and the growth of economic inequality.

The ultimate and definitely effective penalty would be to revoke a corporation’s charter to do business, putting it out of business. This has rarely been done and, to my knowledge, has never been done for a corporation of any significant size.

[1]      Stancil, K., 4/19/23, “‘Illegal corporate price-fixing’ is rampant in the US economy: Report,” Common Dreams (https://www.commondreams.org/news/corporate-price-fixing-us-economy)

Advertisement

Comments and discussion are encouraged

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s