The Rise Of Economic Concentration: A History Of Monopolies And Anti-Monopoly Movements
If you want to learn about the history and problems of economic concentration, The Curse of Bigness is an excellent resource.
It takes a deep dive into how and why this phenomenon reemerged in industrialized countries in recent decades, and how it impacts our economic landscape today.
Through this book, you’ll gain an understanding of how industries become dominated by a shrinking number of larger corporations, how and why monopolies form and their counterintuitive advantages as well as their compelling downfalls.
You’ll also learn about important figures and movements that have helped shape our understanding of this phenomenon.
Ultimately, The Curse of Bigness is a must-read for anyone interested in understanding the current state – and potential future – of our economy.
The Gilded Age: A Time Of Economic Concentration And Monopoly Formation
The Curse of Bigness begins with a look at how economic concentration increased in the Gilded Age, a period of American history roughly between 1870s and 1900.
This era saw a tremendous concentration of power among a few large industrial organizations or “trusts” created by the merger and consolidation of companies within a given industry.
As these trusts gained more control in their respective industries, they eventually became monopolies.
Monopolists are companies that have almost total control within an industry.
During this period, US monopolies were established in many major industries such as steel, shipping, railroads, telecommunications, oil, cotton, tobacco, sugar and rubber.
The influence of these monopolies was far-reaching and led to the formation of some of the most famous entrepreneur names during this era — John D Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Company and Andrew Carnegie’s Carnegie Steel Company being two notable examples here — who made unprecedented levels of wealth (with estimated modern day fortunes worth over $300 billion).
However it was JP Morgan who outdid his peers as he achieved monopoly positions across multiple industries ranging from railroad trusts to telecom and even steel .
His most significant achievement was forming US Steel by uniting hundreds of steel companies before buying out the chief rival Carnegie Steel in 1901.
All in all, the Gilded Age not only witnessed unparalleled economic concentration but also ended with an age-old business enemy: the creation of monopolies.
The Trust Movement: Monopolies As The Evolutionary Step Of Capitalism In The Gilded Age
The advocates of monopolies in the Gilded Age argued that they were a superior form of economic organization.
They believed that competition was a source of chaos and had caused great economic disruption in the 1890s by leading to prices falling too low and too fast, bankrupting many companies.
Monopolies, on the other hand, offered stability and order in markets where they established themselves – by centralizing control in one large company it put an end to constant turbulence from competing smaller companies.
Furthermore, such organizations could reap the advantages of economies of scale from mass production – an example being assembly line cars which are cheaper to produce than neighborhood garage cars.
This vision for a more efficient and stable version of capitalism which monopolies brought about was seen as ushering in a new dawn for mankind.
Yet, there is also a dark side to this as we’ll explore next.
The Trust Movement: A Social Darwinist Justification For Capitalist Monopoly And Oppression
The Curse of Bigness discusses the trust movement, which argued that although monopolies were antithetical to competition, they could also be viewed as the natural culmination of competition.
This is due to less competent companies being eliminated as other companies with better capabilities gain larger portions of the market.
Eventually, only one company remains and creates a monopoly.
From a sociological perspective, this process is encouraged by social Darwinism.
This phenomenon maintains that entities are able to survive if they are able to efficiently adapt to their environment.
In terms of economics, this means that those who can best conform and respond to markets will ultimately outlive their competitors.
Because of these theories, advocates of monopolies often advocated for laissez-faire economics; for the government to remain uninvolved in the affairs of competitors with little or no intervention from outside forces.
This seems cruel, but it was backed up some social Darwinists advocating for eugenics programs – allowing only those deemed fit enough to advance economically and socially while those deemed unfit were discarded into poverty or even death.
Monopolists Use Their Size To Take Over Markets And Influence Politics
Monopolies can be extremely inefficient and harm everyone – workers, consumers, and potential competitors.
By becoming increasingly large and powerful, a company enjoys some advantages such as economies of scale and infrastructure control, which allows them to benefit from lower prices.
However, their size also brings about detriments such as diseconomies of scale, making the company complex and less agile when it comes to adapting to changes in the marketplace.
Furthermore, the power of a monopoly over those who depend on its goods or services means that they have more control over wages, working conditions, and consumer costs.
They can reduce wages without fear of competition coming into play.
For example, Rockefeller was able to convince railroads to provide him with discounted shipping rates while charging his competitors high rates that prevented any new companies entering the market.
Additionally, he was able to push out potential competition by pricing his products so cheaply that no other company could compete for long-term viability.
What’s worse is that these monopolistic companies also have political power due to their size and influence in every arena possible: economy, society, politics and culture alike.
Ultimately, monopolies create an unfair playing field with imbalances of power between employers and employees while reducing competition within industries that provide vital goods or services to citizens.
How Concentrated Industries Use Their Power To Influence Government And Negatively Affect The Marketplace
Companies that are large and dominate a non-competitive market can have an incredible sway over governments.
This ability is especially seen when it comes to monopolies or oligopolies, markets dominated by only a few companies.
Examples of this phenomenon include Rockefeller’s convincing the government to withhold permits for other pipeline builders, or the pharmaceutical industry spending millions to try and prevent Medicare from negotiating drug prices.
It’s easier for these companies to organize and present a unified front than it is for all different individuals in a nation.
Furthermore, if one company holds a monopoly then no organization is even necessary!
With their wealth and resources, these companies are able to easily influence governments in order to get what they want.
However, the government can push back against them but it takes assertive action on its part.
Through Civil Unrest And Increased Government Action, The Sherman Act Of 1890 Brought An End To Monopolies
The effects of economic concentration in the late 1800s and early 1900s were felt far and wide, leading to civil unrest and even calls for revolution.
This discontentment reached a boiling point with the passing of the Sherman Act of 1890, which made monopolies a felony.
Despite this law being passed, the US government initially resisted enforcing it until President Theodore Roosevelt took office in 1901.
He saw these giants as a threat to American democracy, and started filing antitrust lawsuits against companies such as JP Morgan’s Northern Securities Company and Standard Oil.
This began the effort by the US government to fight back against corporations that had secured too much power and influence.
Through Roosevelt’s administration through William Howard Taft’s administration, 45 antitrust lawsuits were filed against corporations.
These led to significant changes such as Standard Oil being broken into 34 separate companies – some of which still remain some of the most powerful companies in the US today – Exxon, Mobil and Chevron included.
Throughout the 20th century, this pushback continued until it became common practice for corporations not to become overly concentrated or dominant in order to avoid legal action from the US government that still stands strong today!
Trust-Busting, A Tool To Fight Fascism And Communism And Preserve Democracy
The US government has long viewed monopolies as a threat to democracy, stemming back to the 1980s and before.
So during the mid-twentieth century, they returned to their trust-busting ways with renewed vigor.
This was in part because of what they had seen with regard to other countries like fascist Italy and Nazi Germany that allowed unchecked economic concentration, along with a fear of communism when governments decided to take power away from the private actors that ran monopolies by nationalizing industries.
Congress passed The Anti-Merger Act (also known as the Celler-Kefauver Act) in 1950, which enabled them to prevent mergers that lead to monopolies before they had a chance to form.
They also continued pursuing landmark cases in order to fight back against monopolies into the 1970s, culminating in one of the biggest antitrust cases in history.
Meanwhile, one notable exception was during The Great Depression when Congress suspended antitrust laws, hoping this would help jumpstart the economy.
It’s no wonder why trust-busting and preventing monopoly development is still so important today; after all it’s crucial for preserving democracy and free markets across America!
The Breakup Of At&T: A Tale Of Dangers And Benefits Of Monopolies And Trust-Busting
In 1974 the US Justice Department initiated antitrust lawsuits against the telecommunications giant AT&T.
This led to a decade-long legal battle and finally in the early 1980s, the company was broken up into seven separate regional telephone companies under Presidential Nixon.
This case is considered to be the last monumental victory of trust-busting efforts in America, with legislation being introduced that enabled various competitors and innovations to flood the market, such as answering machines, modems, and mobile phone companies like T-Mobile and Sprint.
Through breaking up this monopoly power, it allowed for innovation to spark in many areas such as online service providers AOL and CompuServe, paving the way for what we now know as the internet.
The breakup of AT&T serves as grounds to indicate both the hazards of having a monopoly authority within an industry and how trust-busting can lead to multiple advancements by reappointing public power through governmental regulation.
Hereafter trust-busting endeavours have diminished significantly where economic centralization has now reemerged once more within society.
How Robert Bork’S Narrow Interpretation Of The Sherman Act Dismantled America’s Antitrust Laws
In the late twentieth century, trust-busting was seen as a relic of an earlier era, and it’s effects were greatly diminished.
This was largely due to the influence of Robert Bork who argued for a narrow interpretation of the Sherman Act.
He proposed that the act should only be used to break up monopolies if they raised consumer prices, meaning that proving the negative effects of keeping such corporations together was practically impossible.
To make matters worse, this interpretation began to permeate in legal circles and even reached the Supreme Court in 2004.
As a result, many saw monopolies and their pricing structures as an important part of competition and one that should not be regulated by antitrust law.
The legacy of Robert Bork from this era still affects trust-busting today.
Monopolies And Oligopolies Have Returned: Its Time To Re-Evaluate The Potential Solutions
By the end of the twentieth century, economic concentration was once again an issue in the US economy.
This can be seen in a number of ways – from the consolidation of major airline companies to the rise of monopolies such as Ticketmaster and LiveNation.
Drug prices skyrocketed due to monopoly pricing while cable bills increased up to $200 per month.
With only three remaining major regional cable companies, consumers were paying more for fewer options.
The most notorious example is the merger between AT&T, Verizon and DirecTV, creating a behemoth corporation that controlled cable offerings throughout much of the US.
It’s also worth noting that in the 2000s Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple emerged as some of the largest tech companies, acquiring competitors instead of facing them on their own terms.
Overall, economic concentration had returned full force by the end of the twentieth century.
Government Can Use Simple Rules To Take On Monopolies And Oligopolies
It’s no secret that economic concentration, especially in the form of monopolies and oligopolies, has been a major problem in the US for years.
But it’s important to remember that there are some simple steps the US government can take to combat this issue and return to trust-busting big corporations.
One thing the government can do is institute a “protection of competition test” instead of relying on a consumer welfare litmus test.
This would encourage and preserve competitive markets instead of narrowly focusing on prices.
They could also implement a law – similar to the UK’s market investigations – which initiates an investigation by the Federal Trade Commission when an industry is dominated by a single company for ten or more years.
The last step is actually breaking up some big companies if needed.
Contrary to popular belief, breaking them up doesn’t have to be chaotic – they’re already divided into subunits such as regional, functional or operational sections!
It would just involve separating those subunits if needed.
It’s time for the government to take serious steps towards fighting economic concentration and returning to trust-busting big businesses – these are just a few of them!
The Curse of Bigness is a book about the dangers of economic concentration and its troubling impact on society at large.
After tracing the history of trust-busting from the late nineteenth century to the late twentieth century, Roberta Philipson reckons that it’s time for governments to return to their old ways and break up monopolies and oligopolies before their power becomes too great.
Doing so will help preserve democracy and protect consumers from anti-competitive activities.
In short, breaking up big companies is in everyone’s best interests.