Every facet of American life revolves around profiteering like it’s mandated by God, where giant companies exist in highly consolidated markets in attempt to swallow them whole. As if it were not enough to ruthlessly push out competitors and erect high barriers to entry for startups and small businesses, these corporations also write laws, set wages, create demand for their own products, and trigger the inflated costs of goods. But their single unifying goal is to become the de facto puppet masters of the economy–avoiding regulation and buying off officials of the very agencies that are supposed to enforce the rules. They control nearly every single part of the supply chain in the name of sound economics while destroying the planet and obstructing democratic participation in society. I’m convinced that before too long, there will be one ultimate corporation controlling everything from tech to pharmaceuticals to book publishing if federal authorities continue to ignore the cancer of monopolies by refusing apply the very anti-monopoly laws created to prevent their conquest.
For now there still exists but a small handful of large corporations that dominate their respective industries. This phenomena is now painfully accepted as commonplace that you can characterize each industry with a qualifier that most accurately communicates our situation—“big.” Big Tech, Big Pharma., Big Beer, and Big Ag. David Dayen’s book Monopolized: Life in the Age of Corporate Power, which is great and appropriately available for purchase from the world’s two largest booksellers.
Unless you can buy a remote plot of land somewhere with the know-how to become fully self-sustainable–growing your own food, processing the cotton for your clothes, sourcing all other resources needed to sustain life–to keep a reasonable quality of life, you’re forced to participate in capitalism. You may use Facebook to connect with friends (or Instagram–owned by Facebook), you may be using websites that rely on Amazon’s Web Services (AWS) or using Amazon.com as an alternative for the goods at the lowest prices. You may be one of the millions of people who have a bank account at one of the four largest banks, or you may even be buying groceries from one of the two biggest supermarket chains in existence. In this way, the popular notion that “there is no ethical consumption under capitalism” aptly strikes at the soul of the problem: you have no choice but to exist under monopolistic rule and buy things to live—where the largest companies and agribusinesses have immense economic power that they then use to establish allyship with Congress. This suffocates economic activity as largest firms absorb startups at breakneck rates and eviscerate small businesses in rural communities.
As Dayen notes in his book, this ends up stifling innovation and preventing higher quality goods because competition is almost entirely non-existent, which eliminates any incentive to create better products and compete for workers. Similarly, since there are fewer companies competition with one another, and with their massive political influence, they also have incredible power to determine low industry wages and prevent the movement of labor from one franchise to another through no poach agreements and other exploitative collusion practices. All of these legal arrangements leave giant corporations without any sort of threat of being replaced, and as a result they can price however they want and face little penalty for violating laws meant to protect workers.
Boycotting is not enough. The problems of monopolies are far too entrenched and deep to fix with disconnected, uncoordinated individual responses. The spectre of monopoly ruling every part of our lives is a deep, systemic issue that require massive overhaul in the legislature and in truly safeguarding society from corruption. There needs to be a robust enforcement of anti-monopoly laws put in place to combat the economic might of private corporations and substantially weaken monopolistic power in heavily concentrated markets–especially the monopolies that control our entire food system. There needs to be bans on mergers and of exploitative labor practices. The list goes on.
We can feel the very real costs of monopolistic tyranny every day in paying for goods and in our ability to fight back through voting and activism. Allowing large corporations to continue raking in record-breaking profits while people continue to starve and remain homeless, especially during a global pandemic, is incompatible with a properly functioning, healthy society.