The economic consequences of pandemics, disasters and recessions during our lifetime will be far-reaching and profound. And as David Dayen explains in his disturbing polemic Monopolized: Life in the Age of Corporate Power, they’ll play out against the insidious trend toward concentrated corporate power.
Blending professional rigor with journalistic flair, Dayen, executive editor of the American Prospect, takes readers on a comprehensive tour of the American economy, revealing “the collections of monopolies encircling our every move.” As a consequence, “we toil in this age of monopoly, this age of plutocrats, this age of soaring inequality and broken democracy, this age of middle-class despair and sawed-off ladders to prosperity.”
To drive home that point, Dayen grounds his portrait in vivid illustrations of how a handful of companies have the power to profoundly affect people’s daily lives. One example is the story of Dave and Carolyn Horowitz, of Lenoir City, Tennessee, who, like millions of Americans living in rural areas, lack essential access to broadband internet because the six dominant companies who could provide it refuse to upgrade to high-speed service in areas of low population density.
Similar stories are repeated across the spectrum of commerce in the United States, from pharmaceutics to journalism to financial services. In each instance, Dayen argues, a small group of companies and individuals have skillfully exploited privileged positions to benefit themselves and harm Americans. He reserves special scorn for revered investor Warren Buffett (America’s “premier monopolist”) and the “greed-stuffed titans” of the private equity industry.
Dayen concludes with a glimmer of hope that some of the early successes of what’s been called the “New Brandeis” movement (named for the late Supreme Court justice, an avowed foe of monopolies in the early 20th century) will energize a consumer backlash against these concentrations of wealth and power. It’s a fight worth waging, but not one that will be easily won.