The corporate world is experiencing a surge in the urge to merge.
Control of market after market—from cable TV to chickens, and from banking to washing machines—has been seized by fewer than a handful of enormous corporations. Rather than compete, they collude to set prices, cut quality, shrink service, and squeeze out would-be competitors.
There was a time, not that long ago, when monopolies, duopolies, and oligopolies were not only frowned upon by our public officials and watchdog agencies, but aggressively challenged and busted up. In recent years, however, corporate giants feel free to get ever-gianter by gobbling up their competitors, knowing that the watchdogs will barely bark, much less bite.
Now that the Supreme Court has legalized bribery in the form of corporate campaign donations, our so-called “public” officials, including Congress critters, governors, judges, and even Presidents, have become tail-wagging accomplices to the amalgamation of corporate power.
The Bush-Cheney regime was infamous for cheerleading this consolidation, allowing the merger of AT&T and Verizon to capture the lion’s share of wireless phone subscribers. But this is not just a Republican phenomenon. Under Obama, federal regulators have genially waved through American Airlines’ takeover of US Airways, and United’s consumption of Continental, effectively leaving air travelers to the brutish mercy of one or two bullies in every major airport—with no service at all in smaller cities.
Now come dominant health care giants like Aetna and Anthem, as well as Walgreens and Rite Aid, demanding to merge into behemoths that would control the availability of health insurance and essential medicines to millions of Americans.
Ironically, the very lawmakers, corporate lobbyists, and pundits who push and praise these mergers are also the noisiest preachers of the virtue of competitive markets, small business, and consumer choice.
They claim to be champions of the people’s will, even though the clear will of the vast majority of Americans is to stop the merger mania and anti-consumer monopolization that corporate America and its political servants are hanging around our necks. That’s not just ironic, it’s cynical, hypocritical, and disgusting.
Even our brewskis are falling to monopolists. The Belgian conglomerate, Anheuser-Busch InBev, is set to swallow the South American-owned conglomerate, SABMiller. The merger, they gloat, will be the first “truly global brewer.” Indeed, it will control a third of all beer sales in the world and a whopping 70 percent of all U.S. sales.
The monopolizers assert there’s no antitrust problem because hundreds of small breweries are popping up all over America and the world, thus creating wide-open competition. The winner, says the Anheuser-Busch behemoth with a wink and a crooked smile, will be the one that gets the most customers.
How free-enterprise-y! And fallacious. The “winner” will be the one with the key to the marketplace gate: the beer wholesalers who distribute beers from various breweries to retailers. These wholesalers can simply refuse to distribute the brews of smaller “competitors.”
We should treat the word “free” in “free enterprise” not as an adjective but as a verb—as in, let’s “free up” the enterprise of small businesspeople by stopping giant monopolists from locking them out of the marketplace.