Considering the freewheeling surge of monopoly systems -- beyond big business grabs to geo-political hegemony and government intrusions, plus technology, resource and media dominance -- why isn't this historic escalation on more political radars? What burgeoning powerhouse isn't getting too big for its britches, too big to fail, too big even to derail? By "monopoly systems," I identify autocratic, controlling enterprises run by non-transparent super-elites. If I were prone to conspiracy thinking, I'd posit that some secret oligarchic club has hypnotized our savviest gadflies from framing all the convergences. The rich get richer because the big are getting bigger.
Perhaps that's because we focus more on symptoms than causes. To understand global phenomenons -- not just growing income equality, booming billionaires and record stock prices, but also climate change and international tensions -- study the first step in world's industrial production line: mastery of resources, like oil, land, water and raw minerals. Despite the middle-class collapse, and huge disruptive fiascos, where are significant corporate bankruptcies since '08? Not BP, despite forking over up to $80 billion in fines and penalties. Not News Corp., despite its self-mortifying, criminal media scandal. Not banksters paying record criminal penalties.
Thus with hegemony: with only small fry competition in the Americas, the USA early on established supremacy. Then, riding the Monroe Doctrine, we went on an imperial buying spree, absorbing the southwest with a trumped up Mexican invasion. Yes, 10K Yankee soldiers invaded Mexico City as manifest destiny anointed California, Arizona, New Mexico and Nevada the next American prizes. Bingo, the Gold Rush, setting off torrential exploitation to this day for every mineable western treasure. For two centuries, "drill, baby, drill" was the non-controversial order of western business.
The Reigns of Power
On tap China rapidly wakes up to consolidate massive regional power, scooping up key global resources (oil, copper, coal, and everything moveable) to fuel its industrial, military and surveillance prowess. Asia will never be the same as tensions with Japan and Taiwan increase (one empire up, others down). Likewise, one ex-heavyweight contender makes a comeback as the Russian empire flexes what's left of its economic and diplomatic muscle. South of our borders Brazil and Argentina expand as economic powerhouses, and South America will never be the same. Watch out for India, bouncing off a weak spell, but uplifted with a new growth-friendly election. This batting order sets up the next century.
In business, monopoly has gone global: we don't live only in an age of corporatism but international corporatism where overseas profits trump domestic ones. One lead harbinger certainly is News Corp, spanning Australia through North America and Europe. Apple's mammoth asset base keeps over a hundred billion dollars offshore, enough to fund a new nation; to avoid domestic taxation, this giant won't repatriate profits to its home base. Google, Facebook and the like are gobbling up whatever will sustain their planetary, informational footprint. And those bailed-out banks are bigger and better than ever, eager to capitalize "explosive" overseas growth.
Yet, a paltry few of our politicians push hard for federal reform, talk forced break-ups, or insist Dodd-Frank be finished. Aside from Senators Warren, Brown and Sanders, where is 1) any critical mass that confronts the '08 debacle (and derivative residuals), let alone battles entrenched resistance; or 2) tasks an international agency to keep over-reach within bounds? Once, evoking the term, "monopoly," engaged trust-busting reformers like Teddy Roosevelt, decimating the Robber Barons' octopi as enemies to individual liberty. Today, new myths distort rogue individualism, typified by billionaire monopolists who "do it my way" -- starting with inherited wealth, then squeezing workers, crushing competitors, avoiding taxes and cashing out to the highest bidder. Success, the one-man show.
Once upon a time, heavy-duty monopoly was viewed as the nemesis to the spirit of democracy. Then Main Street understood economics shouldn't be a zero sum game in which winners feast on losers. How did millions miss the prescient message from Monopoly, the legendary board game? Play ends when all the bankrupt losers are driven into submission, leaving a gloating tycoon on top. I recall long games wherein we honed our greed and predation skills, worshiping cash and ownership of key properties. Some got over that obsession, some didn't.
Monopoly: Curses and Blessings
Strangely enough, democratic republics are no more immune from producing systemic monopolies than we are auto exhaust: oversized military complexes, state and local police, all-controlling super-agencies (NSA anyone? secret black sites?), national power grids, public school systems, regional utilities, even our terrifyingly endless War Against Terrorism. Does not the overbearing Supreme Court, remaking America in its own image, leverage its legal monopoly of five, with unappealable, decidedly unpopular judgments?
Clearly for wing-nuts, Obamacare is the latest WMD monopoly, but how misguided: obtuse Tea Partiers can't tell an insurance monopoly (with pricing leverage) from a real "government takeover." Yet side by side reside Social Security plus Medicare, the utterly humane monopoly that older folks glorify for saving them from the agony of untreated diseases. Do I misremember that famous call to arms, "Give me a health care monopoly or give me insurance death panels"? Speaking of monolithic successes, let's not slight interstate highway, tunnel and bridge systems (those still standing), without which life, commerce, movement and vacations would stop cold.
Consider, alas, also our daily bread (donuts and burgers), gasoline delivery (drillers, shippers, and stations) or fuel oil, or discount clothing makers that keep nakedness at bay. Or those few critical computer chip and circuit board makers whose devices run, well, practically everything these days. Without invisible micro-co-ordination (whether airline tickets, car efficiency, or traffic lights), only joggers and bike riders would ever escape the neighborhood. And they depend on distant suppliers for shoes and specialty parts.
Capitalism, or Monopolism?
Really, how many manufacturers actually make essentials: bandaids or paper towels, aluminum foil, frozen peas or lubricating oil? What about TV screens or brake pads bats or soap suds? Procter and Gamble, the world's biggest consumer products company, sells dozens of brands (from Pampers to Prilosec, Dash to Duracell), racking up $90 billion in annual sales. Real money. Is there real competition to expanding Google or Netflix, or the media giants? Do we practice capitalism or late-stage, global monopolism?
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