The Rise and Fall of the Word ‘Monopoly’ in American Life.

“For several decades, the term was a fixture of newspaper headlines and campaign speeches. Then something changed.” This article was published in The Atlantic magazine. Although it covers a very significant and under-reported topic, it also misses some truly key points and context. The author starts her history lesson in the 1920’s, the very first significant period of high levels of corporate concentration and inequality. But this is forty years too late to fully understand how our nation got into this mess to begin with. Up until the 1880’s, corporations were brought into legal existence as subordinate entities by state legislatures, via the writing of a unique corporate charter. Corporations were required by law to each serve one specific social need and to cause no harm. Business corporations were prohibited from owning or merging with other corporations. They were prohibited from keeping trade secrets, and their financial records were considered public information. Their owners and stockholders were held personally liable for all harms and debts. They were prohibited from owning land except what was necessary for them to fulfill their corporate charters. Their existence was finite – normally just ten to thirty years. All of this changed suddenly when the New Jersey state legislature tossed aside more than a century of corporate subordination laws in order to lure large corporations to recharter in that state, which they did in droves. Delaware quickly followed suit. And this long history of business corporations as tools of a sovereign people was washed down the drain. To not include this significant context in the author’s otherwise outstanding essay is to not give readers the deeper analysis they need to understand that we once defined rather than regulated business corporations and could revoke their charters at any time and for any reason. We need to know our history for us to figure out the most sensible solution to resubordinate these now out-of-control “legal fictions”. Here’s the published article…..

If “monopoly” sounds like a word from another era, that’s because, until recently, it was. Throughout the middle of the 20th century, the term was frequently used in newspaper headlines, campaign speeches, and State of the Union addresses delivered by Republican and Democratic presidents alike. Breaking up too-powerful companies was a bipartisan goal and on the minds of many voters. But, starting in the 1970s, the word retreated from the public consciousness. Not coincidentally, at the same time, the enforcement of anti-monopoly policy grew increasingly toothless.The story of why the word and the movement dropped off the map in tandem carries lessons about how an economic policy’s effectiveness can be its own undoing, and about how people are thinking about corporate power today. Because monopoly is back. As concentration has soared to levels not seen in decades, economists are talking about monopoly again; recent scholarship has linked consolidation with rising inequality and other economic ills. Politicians on both the left and right are talking about it, too—the announcement last week that Amazon is planning to buy Whole Foods has refocused some politicians’ attention on the subject.

Sentiments were similar back in the 1920s, the last period of high levels of corporate concentration and inequality. Isolated protests against big business erupted periodically then as they do now. People who lived in small towns fought the grocery giant A&P’s displacement of local retailers; farmers rallied against the control Wall Street banks had over the agricultural industry; and residents of big cities protested the high prices charged by holding companies that had gained control of the electricity supply.

It was Franklin Roosevelt who helped define these scattered struggles as being about the same root problem: monopoly. At the Democratic Party’s national convention in 1936, Roosevelt devoted much of his speech to the problem of “industrial dictatorship.” A small group of powerful corporations and banks, Roosevelt declared, “had concentrated into their own hands an almost complete control,” such that many Americans were “no longer free” and throughout the nation, “opportunity was limited by monopoly.” MORE…