Editor’s note: Head over to The Nation to read this article in full.
It’s an age-old question, a cliché so apt it never gets old: What is to be done?
After nearly four decades of lax antitrust policy, during which a handful of corporations have been allowed to gobble up market share like a horde of deranged amoebas, the consequences of unfettered monopoly have become painfully apparent. Competition has fizzled, replaced by pockets of extreme concentration. The number of new businesses has plunged. Wages have stagnated. Inequality has spiked. And extreme wealth—alongside its evil twin, extreme power—has pooled in fewer and fewer hands.
Mercifully, smart minds have been busy mulling smart solutions, brainstorming ways to begin reining in today’s mega-monopolies. Here are six suggestions.
1. Hold field hearings on the impact of concentrated economic power
Many Americans feel the consequences of monopoly in their daily lives. Nurses in Michigan saw their income depressed by an estimated 20 percent as a result of alleged collusion among dominant hospitals seeking to keep labor costs low. Dairy farmers in the Southeast contend they have been denied a fair price for their milk by two dominant firms that control the processing and distribution of milk. Independent pharmacists say that CVS Health, which manages prescription benefits on behalf of many insurers, has been abusing that power to reduce reimbursement rates for local pharmacists, with an eye to putting them out of business. Air travelers in the United States continue to pay inflated ticket prices, even as the cost of jet fuel, a major expense for the airlines, has fallen by more than half since 2014.
It’s no wonder that about two-thirds of Americans believe the economic system “unfairly favors powerful interests.”
That sentiment should prompt members of Congress to organize regional field hearings to investigate the real-world impacts of concentrated economic power and engage citizens in a conversation about what to do about it.
For inspiration, they might draw on hearings held in the late 1930s by what newspapers at the time often referred to as the “Monopoly Committee.” Officially named the Temporary National Economic Committee, it had been established jointly by Congress and the Roosevelt administration to investigate the causes and effects of concentration. The committee heard testimony from 552 people over a three-year period, and its findings laid the groundwork for stepped up antitrust enforcement for years to come.
2. Bring daylight to the nation’s antitrust agencies
Both the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)—the two agencies that share the task of enforcing US antitrust laws—regularly close investigations and approve mergers without offering any explanation to the public….