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 (

[2]       Lehmann, C., May 2016, “In the grip of greed,” In These Times (

[3]       Weissman, R., 4/11/16, “Americans agree: It’s corporate power that’s in our way,” Common Dreams (

[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 (


My last post described the efforts of the big food and agricultural corporations to block the labeling of food that contains genetically modified ingredients. Here are some other examples of the effects of the monopolistic power of large corporations, which is allowed and abetted by crony capitalism. (See my Crony Capitalism = Monopoly Power post for more information.)

Americans pay more for Internet service than do residents of any other developed country and typically get lower speed service. This is largely because for 80% of us our internet service provider (ISP) has a monopoly, i.e., we have no alternative choice for our ISP. This lack of competition allows ISPs to charge monopoly prices for low quality service.

Internet service in the U.S. costs three-and-a-half times more than it does in France, for example, where the typical customer can choose among seven providers. [1] In the U.S., there are just four giant telecom corporations: AT&T (includes DirecTV and U-verse services), Comcast, Charter Communications (includes Time Warner and Bright House), and Dish. They serve focused geographic areas that limit the competition among them and with the next three providers (Verizon, Cox, and Cablevision) who are roughly a third the size of the smallest of the four giants.

The giant U.S. telecom corporations have succeeded in getting 21 states to pass laws barring municipalities from creating or expanding their own, public Internet access, which typically provides cheaper and higher speed service than the commercial providers. In February, 2015, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted 3 to 2 overrule the state laws that were preventing Chattanooga, Tennessee, and Wilson, North Carolina, from expanding their municipal networks. This occurred soon after the White House’s release of a report on Community-Based Broadband Solutions that explains why escaping from the monopoly power of commercial ISPs is so important. It noted that America’s internet service is too slow, too expensive, and too unreliable to support a 21st century economy, especially in rural areas. [2] Hopefully, the FCC ruling and the White House report will lead to more competition and better service in the ISP business, but you can bet that the big, corporate ISPs will keep fighting in the states, in Congress, at the FCC, and in the courts to maintain their monopolistic power.

Due to limited competition in the airline business, prices are rising despite falling costs. Domestic airfares rose 2.5% over the past year, and are now at their highest levels since the government began tracking them in 1995. Meanwhile fuel prices, the largest single cost for the airlines, have plummeted. This can happen only because there are just four major airlines in the U.S. now (i.e., American, Delta, United, and Southwest) and many airports are served by only one or two. Ten years ago, there were nine major airlines, but the lack of enforcement of anti-trust laws have allowed mergers that have reduced competition. [3]

Similarly, food prices have been rising faster than inflation, while crop prices are now at a six-year low. Here again, the giant corporations that process food have the market power to raise prices due to limited competition. Four food companies control 82% of beef packing, 85% of soybean processing, 63% of pork packing, and 53% of chicken processing.

Because our big banks and financial corporations face limited competition, the interest rates we pay on home mortgages, college loans, and credit cards are higher than they would be if there were more competition. As recently as 2000, America’s six largest banks (JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, and Morgan Stanley) held just 25% of all U.S. banking assets; they now hold 44%. We need to break up these giant financial corporations to increase competition and to protect our economy from the risks that led to the 2008 financial collapse.

Finally, health insurance is costing us more each year, and co-payments and deductibles are rising, because insurers are consolidating into bigger and bigger corporations. There are now only three major health insurers (i.e., Aetna, Anthem, and UnitedHealth) and due to the lack of competition, they have the power to raise prices. They say that mergers make their companies more efficient, but they really just give them more power to charge more and increase profits. This is borne out by the fact that their stock prices are skyrocketing and Standard & Poor’s index of health insurers’ stock prices recently hit its highest level in more than twenty years.

These over-priced goods and services produce a hidden upward redistribution of income from consumers to large corporations and their executives and big shareholders. These monopolistic corporations dominate our telecommunications, banking, air travel, food, health insurance, and other industries. [4] Crony capitalism has allowed the mergers and acquisitions that have built these giant corporations and produces the weak regulation that allows them to wield extensive power in the market place.

As long as the big corporations, their top executives, and wealthy shareholders have the political power to do so, they’ll keep redistributing as much of the nation’s income as they can upward to themselves. We, the American voters, need to assert our political power and stop monopolistic market practices and collusion, break up the giant corporate monopolies, and put an end to the rigging of the American economy.

In this election year, I encourage you to examine candidates’ positions on these issues and vote for candidates who support strengthening enforcement of anti-trust (i.e., anti-monopoly) laws, increasing market place competition, and reducing the power of corporations in our economy and elections.

I’ll share more examples of how and where corporate power and crony capitalism are rigging our economy in subsequent posts.

[1]       Reich, R., 11/1/15, “The Rigging of the American Market” (

[2]       Estes, A.C., 1/14/15, “Obama’s plan to loosen Comcast’s stranglehold on your Internet,” Gizmodo (

[3]       Reich, R., 11/1/15, see above

[4]       Reich, R., 11/1/15, see above


I apologize for the hiatus in my blogging. My professional life has been very busy; I’m teaching two college courses right now. And nothing has slowed down in my personal life, so I haven’t found the time to keep blogging.

As I’m sure you know, it isn’t for the lack of material. With the automatic budget cuts (the sequester) quickly approaching and partisan politics unabated in Washington, there’s plenty I’d like to be blogging about.

Hopefully, in March I’ll be able to return to at least a weekly blog post. I’m looking forward to it; I hope you are as well.