Rebirth of monopolies shows the limits of progressivism




A blockquote from the medium reading:

More and more economic benefits have flowed into fewer and fewer hands, and I’m not just talking about personal inequality of income and wealth, [but rather] a rot of a few dominant established players in sector after sector. Four banks control about 60 percent of all assets. Four airlines control 80 percent of the routes. We have four cable and Internet companies, usually only one available in your area. Two companies sell 70% of the beer in America. One company makes 70% of the syringes. One company makes pretty much all the eyeglasses, and one company makes up all the plastic hangers. This week gun control activists contacted three rental car companies to demand they end their discount program for NRA members, and they all said they would be canceling it March 26. It seemed weirdly coincidental, until you realize the three companies — National, Enterprise, and Alamo — all have the same corporate parent. We have the illusion of choice, but the reality of a consolidated, captured economy, and this has had massive effects on innovation, entrepreneurship, wages, quality of service…and ultimately, on liberty and democracy…

You think student loans are a problem? The two largest student loan servicing companies, Great Lakes, and Nelnet, just merged and control a majority of all loan accounts, despite constantly denying borrowers the best options. Do you want to fight our affordable housing crisis? You should. Well the two largest Wall Street investors in single family rentals, Invitation Homes and Starwood Waypoint, just merged, creating the largest rental portfolio in the nation, with enough concentration in certain cities to move the market for prices. And taking all these homes off the market affects whether a first-time homebuyer can find a property to buy and outbid an all-cash financier.

The full article really is worth reading in full. The author concludes with:

The good news is that we don’t have to change a single word in the law in order to do that. We have the Sherman and Clayton Antitrust Acts, passed down to us from the last time we experienced a crisis of this magnitude in the 1890s, and they’re still on the books, ready to usher us out of this Second Gilded Age.

It is not clearly remembered today, but busting monopolies truly was the crowning achievement of the Progressive Movement. Monopolies had so much economic power that they controlled all levels of government, and it took truly heroic efforts to undo this. Think Bob LaFollette riding horse and buggy across the state, giving speeches standing atop his own wagon in most small towns in Wisconsin, in order to win his Senate seat. It took tremendous mobilization and organization to pass the antitrust acts, but, at long last, democracy was restored.

Yet 100 years later, we are in the exact same situation: our economic and political systems are both rigged in favor of a few monopolies. We will have to repeat the tremendous sacrifices of the Progressive Movement in order to repeat their successes.

Does anyone think that it was the dream of the Progressives that their work would be slowly but surely undone, that eventually all they accomplished would be dismantled and the problems the fought so hard to solve would come back with a vengeance? Of course not. But that’s what happened, because they left capitalism intact. The Progressives tried building a humane form of capitalism, and they ultimately failed. You cannot build a humane form of capitalism because capitalism endows too few people with too much power. And once all the anger dies down and the problems are made bearable, people move on with their lives. Once nobody is paying attention, the capitalists will start slowly chipping away at society’s progressive achievements. It might take 100 years for them to do undo, but do you really want humanity to have to fight the same pointless battles once per century? Do you want your grandchildren to suffer in the same way you did?


Open discussion on monopoly. Can Progressive achievements be made permanent, or will there always be powerful people biding their time, waiting to undo them?

  • The key idea is that capitalists own great amounts of wealth and can influence the political system with money. They can change the world by writing checks. But the rest of society needs decades of door-to-door organizing to change the world. So as soon as people feel they have won a victory, they go home, stop paying attention, and the capitalists immediately start undoing progressive achievements. To rebuild those achievements will require another few decades of painstaking organizing.
    • Anything we accomplish to make the world a better place is temporary as long as we live in a society where so few people have so much power.
    • We need to democratize monopolies so they work for the public good, rather than waiting in the shadows to exploit everyone as soon as they have the chance.