Corporate concentration of income and wealth are core features of capitalism. From its earliest chroniclers and cheerleaders like Adam Smith, the drive for corporations to get ever larger and in the doing drive their competitors out of the market was noted and warned against. In the US, the late 19th and early 20th centuries saw the rise of significant popular resistance to the monopolists of the time and the passage of anti-trust legislation. This led to the breaking up of numerous large monopolies and the development of ongoing policies to prevent the creation of new ones. During the post WWII period anti-trust protections have been substantially abandoned. As the chart below demonstrates there has been substantial increase in concentration in many industries.
John Oliver on Corporate Consolidation
On September 24, 2017 John Oliver did a wonderful 15 minute piece on corporate consolidation. It is thorough and predictably amusing.
A Note about the Term “Monopoly”
Economists have long acknowledged that the literal meaning of monopoly, a company having exclusive control over a commodity or service, is not a useful representation of how capitalist economies actually work. In practice when a small number of firms, say 3 or 4, control roughly 50% or more of a market, they can and do act to control prices, restrain trade, and force weaker competitors out of the market. As John Oliver notes we can experience this by simply booking an airline flight. Southwest, Delta, United, and American control 69% of the domestic market. This concentration is amplified by the hub and spoke system that assures that in many localities there is no choice but a single provider of air services. This is precisely why we need to reinvigorate the existing anti-trust laws and protect consumers from the gouging and abuse we now experience every time we fly.