The Company Picnic | The Nation


The Company Picnic

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But look at what's happening. Exxon and Mobil rejoined in 1998. Earlier, two other massive splinters, Sohio and Amoco, were brought back together when they were purchased by British Petroleum. In other words, the most famous antitrust action of all time--the demolition of Rockefeller's trust--is being rapidly reversed.

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Robert Sherrill
Robert Sherrill, a frequent and longtime contributor to The Nation, was formerly a reporter for the Washington Post. He...

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Roy Cohn was one of the most loathsome characters in American history, so why did he have so many influential friends?

While Justice and the FTC have stood by, addled and overwhelmed, there have been record numbers of mergers and acquisitions every year since 1994, topping out last year at a value of $2.5 trillion. Drug companies, banks, high-tech companies, railroads, paper and utility companies, corporations of every brand, seemed eager to tie the knot. Among these were some dangerous concentrations. It seems hardly likely, for instance, that real competition exists among the prime military contractors. A wave of mergers beginning in 1985 left only four: Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Raytheon and Northrop Grumman. These three now represent about two-thirds of all military product sales. (Lockheed, a veritable octopus, has swallowed twenty-six other military contractors since 1990.)

Similar domination exists in the tobacco industry, where three companies--Philip Morris, R.J. Reynolds and Brown & Williamson--have more than 90 percent of sales sewed up. But they can't compare to Microsoft, which alone controls 90 percent of the world's personal computer operating systems; or Boeing, which, after it bought McDonnell Douglas in 1996, became the only--yes, only--manufacturer of commercial jets in the United States.

Not surprisingly, the biggest mergers are done by those that pour the most money into Washington lobbies, which means the pharmaceutical/health, insurance, oil and telecommunications industries.

Some mergers are done by corporations that simply give the government the finger and dare the regulators to do something about it, as when Citicorp and Travelers merged last year, in clear violation of the Glass-Steagall Act, which for more than sixty years has forbidden banks and insurance companies from owning each other.

As for enforcement of antitrust laws to prevent price-fixing, well, occasionally a big corporation is caught rigging prices and is fined. This happened a few years back, for instance, to Archer Daniels Midland, the planet's largest grain dealer, and it pleaded guilty to rigging prices on two of its products. The $100 million fine was a mere pittance to ADM, which had earned nearly twice that much from the rigged prices; and anyway, it has annual revenues of more than $13 billion from its agricultural products (much of it heavily subsidized by taxpayers).

Even so, Dwayne Andreas, ADM's longtime chairman, complained bitterly, and you can understand why, because Justice and the FTC let most corporations rig the "free" market at will. On that point, Andreas supplies perhaps the most candid appraisal ever heard from a capitalist: "There isn't one grain of anything in the world that is sold in a free market. Not one! The only place you see a free market is in the speeches of politicians. People who are not from the Midwest do not understand that this is a socialist country."

Well, you know what he means by socialism. And when it comes to the coziness between big business and government, he's right. Mokhiber and Weissman have put together a useful survey of some of the disgusting corporate practices that are tolerated by our politicians--who get 80 percent of their campaign contributions from business interests. But the field is so very broad that Corporate Predators just touches the edges. Readers who want to know more about how people are being robbed should turn to other books of the same genre, such as Jim Hightower's There's Nothing in the Middle of the Road but Yellow Stripes and Dead Armadillos, William Greider's Who Will Tell the People, Molly Ivins's You Got to Dance With Them What Brung You, Ken Silverstein's Washington on $10 Million a Day and Steve Brouwer's Sharing the Pie.

The first three books on that list are published by corporate-owned giants HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster and Random House, respectively. More and more, though, populists find a voice only through feisty little houses like the one that did Corporate Predators, Common Courage Press. Be grateful to them.

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