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Global Monopolies Swell: Where's the Backlash?

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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?

Think you're this self-reliant, self-made champion in charge of your life, just because you work the TV remote (made in Asia)? Most Americans depend wholly on virtual or real monopolies that deliver consumer goods. Except for militant survivalists, who survives a week without buying manufactured goodies? How desperate we'd get without production food, let alone no tissue paper. Soon enough, hunger would drive us to those mysterious lumps at the back of the freezer ("what is that stuff"?).

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Educated at Rutgers College (BA) and UC Berkeley (Ph.D, English) Becker left university teaching (Northwestern, U. Chicago) for business, founding and heading SOTA Industries, high end audio company from '80 to '92. From '92-02 he did marketing (more...)
 

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Really well said. Bigness, monopolism, centralizat... by Rob Kall on Wednesday, May 28, 2014 at 11:50:13 AM
Thanks, Rob, for the much appreciated assessment. ... by Robert S. Becker on Wednesday, May 28, 2014 at 12:38:33 PM
The only possible answer for me, unfortunately qui... by BFalcon on Wednesday, May 28, 2014 at 3:09:27 PM
I am trying hard to present a compelling viewpoint... by Robert S. Becker on Wednesday, May 28, 2014 at 5:12:14 PM
If the giants are toppled or shaken badly, and peo... by Charles Roll on Thursday, May 29, 2014 at 2:02:35 PM
Thanks for the facile comment that barely approach... by Robert S. Becker on Thursday, May 29, 2014 at 2:15:14 PM
Ah ha! You reject my comment, which means that you... by Charles Roll on Thursday, May 29, 2014 at 3:35:07 PM
How about a slow, slow displacement by 1.) luxury ... by Pal Palsimon on Wednesday, Jun 11, 2014 at 5:32:59 AM
Part of the problem, as the best-selling book by T... by Scott Baker on Thursday, May 29, 2014 at 2:46:03 AM
Excellent presentation of the foundation of the 's... by Charles Roll on Thursday, May 29, 2014 at 2:21:51 PM
Joel Salatin, the prolific libertarian farmer/auth... by Richmond Shreve on Tuesday, Jun 10, 2014 at 9:16:06 PM
To the extent that it is all true, it makes fools ... by Jim Arnold on Tuesday, Jun 10, 2014 at 11:46:55 PM
Yes, I read about Salatin in Michael Pollan's "The... by Scott Baker on Tuesday, Jun 10, 2014 at 11:51:00 PM
Yes, many organic farmers I know aren't necessaril... by Robert S. Becker on Wednesday, Jun 11, 2014 at 9:36:14 AM
There is a lot of activism happening: Slow Food (s... by Richmond Shreve on Wednesday, Jun 11, 2014 at 3:45:13 PM
Yes. I agree. A worker-owned agriculture is part o... by Pal Palsimon on Wednesday, Jun 11, 2014 at 5:38:42 AM
Great article here from one of my favorite authors... by Pal Palsimon on Wednesday, May 28, 2014 at 3:30:43 PM
Wow, great double dose of praise and thanks very m... by Robert S. Becker on Wednesday, May 28, 2014 at 5:28:38 PM
What Robert Becker describes is the rapid increase... by Edward Dodson on Wednesday, May 28, 2014 at 3:33:02 PM
I think it's more than traditional property owners... by Robert S. Becker on Wednesday, May 28, 2014 at 5:33:20 PM
Such efficiency should have produced more leisure ... by Pal Palsimon on Wednesday, Jun 11, 2014 at 6:12:36 AM
Your comment about capturing land rent for governm... by Pal Palsimon on Friday, May 30, 2014 at 2:11:54 AM
I'm a retired landlord. Real estate ownership is j... by Richmond Shreve on Tuesday, Jun 10, 2014 at 9:52:58 PM
You are to be congratulated for your good fortune,... by Jim Arnold on Tuesday, Jun 10, 2014 at 11:42:10 PM
To add to what Jim Arnold said too, we Georgists l... by Scott Baker on Tuesday, Jun 10, 2014 at 11:59:48 PM
But isn't there a genuine skill-set in picking whi... by Robert S. Becker on Wednesday, Jun 11, 2014 at 9:44:59 AM
Cass Sunstein points out that those who own land o... by Richmond Shreve on Wednesday, Jun 11, 2014 at 4:13:32 PM
I am not the economic expert here, so this is more... by Pal Palsimon on Wednesday, Jun 11, 2014 at 5:24:38 PM
Yes, this is essentially the Georgist position too... by Scott Baker on Thursday, Jun 12, 2014 at 2:19:27 AM
As always I am very impressed with these ideas com... by Pal Palsimon on Thursday, Jun 12, 2014 at 3:14:12 AM
Actually, most of what you describe is what we Geo... by Scott Baker on Thursday, Jun 12, 2014 at 2:38:13 AM
I did a quicklink to a useful chart about this a w... by Scott Baker on Wednesday, May 28, 2014 at 5:31:11 PM
Yes, I know that and never implied very few corpor... by Robert S. Becker on Wednesday, May 28, 2014 at 5:41:52 PM
Sorry, I mis-stated that a bit. I meant to say th... by Scott Baker on Thursday, May 29, 2014 at 3:15:36 AM
What, you are too reliable and evidence-driven to ... by Robert S. Becker on Thursday, May 29, 2014 at 10:43:31 AM
I think you beg the question in talking of "monoli... by Jim Arnold on Wednesday, May 28, 2014 at 7:14:42 PM
No question that a private monopoly isn't by natur... by Robert S. Becker on Wednesday, May 28, 2014 at 9:53:26 PM
...And yet, Amazon has raised their free shipping ... by Scott Baker on Thursday, May 29, 2014 at 3:20:08 AM
I don't see how any online retailer, however monol... by Robert S. Becker on Thursday, May 29, 2014 at 10:33:41 AM
Wow. This is why I read this site.And by the way..... by Susan Lee Schwartz on Wednesday, May 28, 2014 at 8:30:00 PM
Right, sometime monopolies are not self-evident bu... by Robert S. Becker on Thursday, May 29, 2014 at 12:14:38 AM
Great Article. Robert has identified the downside... by Derryl Hermanutz on Wednesday, May 28, 2014 at 11:06:14 PM
Thanks. Wonderfully informative and generous comm... by Robert S. Becker on Thursday, May 29, 2014 at 12:26:06 AM
Capitalists and imperialists built "global".Agree ... by Robert S. Becker on Thursday, May 29, 2014 at 10:14:39 AM
I would address just one point you made and I quot... by Pal Palsimon on Friday, May 30, 2014 at 2:25:11 AM
The effort to reform McCarran-Fergusson Act peaked... by Charles Roll on Thursday, May 29, 2014 at 1:26:12 AM
Thanks, right on both counts. Glad some folks pro... by Robert S. Becker on Thursday, May 29, 2014 at 1:36:38 AM
There's something to what you are saying about the... by Charles Roll on Thursday, May 29, 2014 at 3:49:40 PM
My "one-time" referred to the one time I read that... by Robert S. Becker on Thursday, May 29, 2014 at 4:13:13 PM
Great comment thread. Robert, you're mostly right ... by Rob Kall on Thursday, May 29, 2014 at 7:50:50 AM
I question whether on major commodities (raw mater... by Robert S. Becker on Thursday, May 29, 2014 at 10:26:01 AM
How? You set up relationships that enable cooperat... by Rob Kall on Thursday, May 29, 2014 at 2:40:15 PM
Of course, decentralized co-ops, where the workers... by Robert S. Becker on Thursday, May 29, 2014 at 4:01:11 PM
You said, "Neither the sense of community nor enli... by Rob Kall on Thursday, May 29, 2014 at 9:46:13 PM
I agree and must change my language (intended abou... by Robert S. Becker on Friday, May 30, 2014 at 12:22:13 AM
RB has yet to figure out that in this post-modern ... by Charles Roll on Thursday, May 29, 2014 at 4:06:59 PM
Right, every one, everywhere, no exceptions. That... by Robert S. Becker on Thursday, May 29, 2014 at 4:21:26 PM
You're right ... and I sincerely apologize! What h... by Charles Roll on Friday, May 30, 2014 at 2:19:07 PM
Misdeeds, intentional or not, are easily washed aw... by Robert S. Becker on Friday, May 30, 2014 at 3:33:33 PM
Thank you for fine and kind words. My hope is alwa... by Charles Roll on Monday, Jun 2, 2014 at 11:54:21 AM
duplicate. see below. ... by Robert S. Becker on Thursday, May 29, 2014 at 4:41:51 PM
Extraordinary and smart and comprehensive is Lawre... by Robert S. Becker on Thursday, May 29, 2014 at 4:43:59 PM
Well said. Clearly CEOs now feel no responsibility... by Simon Leigh on Thursday, May 29, 2014 at 4:24:32 PM
Your' probably right that nobody likes to be restr... by Rob Kall on Thursday, May 29, 2014 at 5:29:16 PM
Regardless if it is big or small, corruption in e... by Michael Sacco on Friday, May 30, 2014 at 6:04:03 PM
Thanks for the personal addition which adds to my ... by Robert S. Becker on Friday, May 30, 2014 at 6:37:23 PM
Delayed response, -extremely busy times at employm... by Michael Sacco on Saturday, Jun 14, 2014 at 1:20:24 PM
Bob Becker, who sees everything terrible as it is,... by Pal Palsimon on Wednesday, Jun 11, 2014 at 5:29:55 AM
Let's not get carried away. Yes, I can be an opti... by Robert S. Becker on Wednesday, Jun 11, 2014 at 9:50:47 AM
Propagate, propagate, propagate your own beliefs. ... by Pal Palsimon on Wednesday, Jun 11, 2014 at 4:50:20 PM