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The Monopolization of America

By       Message Robert B. Reich       (Page 1 of 4 pages)     Permalink    (# of views)   2 comments

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From Robert Reich Blog

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The Biggest Economic Problem You're Hearing Almost Nothing About

Not long ago I visited some farmers in Missouri whose profits are disappearing. Why? Monsanto alone owns the key genetic traits to more than 90 percent of the soybeans planted by farmers in the United States, and 80 percent of the corn. Which means Monsanto can charge farmers much higher prices.

Farmers are getting squeezed from the other side, too, because the food processors they sell their produce to are also consolidating into mega companies that have so much market power they can cut the prices they pay to farmers.

This doesn't mean lower food prices to you. It means more profits to the monopolists.

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Monopolies All Around

America used to have antitrust laws that stopped corporations from monopolizing markets, and often broke up the biggest culprits. No longer. It's a hidden upward redistribution of money and power from the majority of Americans to corporate executives and wealthy shareholders.

You may think you have lots of choices, but take a closer look:

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1. The four largest food companies control 82 percent of beef packing, 85 percent of soybean processing, 63 percent of pork packing, and 53 percent of chicken processing.

2. There are many brands of toothpaste, but 70 percent of all of it comes from just two companies.

3. You may think you have your choice of sunglasses, but they're almost all from one company: Luxottica -- which also owns nearly all the eyeglass retail outlets.

4. Practically every plastic hanger in America is now made by one company, Mainetti.

5. What brand of cat food should you buy? Looks like lots of brands but behind them are basically just two companies.

6. What about your pharmaceuticals? Yes, you can get low-cost generic versions. But drug companies are in effect paying the makers of generic drugs to delay cheaper versions. Such "pay for delay" agreements are illegal in other advanced economies, but antitrust enforcement hasn't laid a finger on them in America. They cost you and me an estimated $3.5 billion a year.

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7. You think your health insurance will cover the costs? Health insurers are consolidating, too. Which is one reason your health insurance premiums, copayments, and deductibles are soaring.

8. You think you have a lot of options for booking discount airline tickets and hotels online? Think again. You have only two. Expedia merged with Orbitz, so that's one company. And then there's Priceline.

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Robert Reich, former U.S. Secretary of Labor and Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley, has a new film, "Inequality for All," to be released September 27. He blogs at www.robertreich.org.

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