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End This Monopoly Now!
October 29, 2012 Education

A canard of the uninformed left is that capitalism leads to monopoly – which of course requires either the elimination of capitalism or the heavily regulation of it by … a … monopoly with guns. And never mind the actual history of anti-trust, which originates in the “Progressive” movement and is now manifest in the Crony Capitalism that rots our political-economic system right to its very core.

I’ve rarely seen people who make these claims actually show any evidence that capitalism is prone to producing monopoly. The reason of course is that such evidence would be extremely hard to find. I typically hear the name Carnegie or Rockefeller invoked, or some story about meat packing in Chicago. But no evidence that any of those firms would even qualify as a monopolist in any meaningful sense of the word.

Furthermore, I rarely see monopoly-pushers show evidence on the persistence of firms in the capitalist marketplace. What would be even better would be for monopoly pushers to compare the evidence on firm persistence in capitalistic organizations as compared to socialist-ic ones. But it is well known that the vast majority of the leading firms in “capitalist” America from even 50 years ago are either no longer in their once dominant position or that the cease to exist entirely. And even if one was to find evidence that particular industries were prone to “excessive concentration” (whatever that means) it is almost entirely the case that consumers are still benefiting and that the threat of innovation has made it hard for any single firm to remain dominant for very long.

But contrast that to another set of institutions, in fact a set of institutions that are cherished than religious organizations. What are they? Institutions of higher education. Compare a list of the Top 100 Universities from the 1960s to a list of the Top 100 Universities today and compare the turnover in that list as compared to the turnover in the list of modern corporations. Indeed, not only would you find the case of higher education to be much more “monopolistic” than the case of corporations writ large, the institutions themselves (and their supporters) use their monopolistic tendency as an advertising tool. “We’ve been the leader in XYZ for 100 years!” “In the Top 20 Best Colleges for 50 Years in a Row!” And so on. What’s more, is that if you look for actual evidence of monopoly pricing around the U.S. economy, you certainly are not going to see it at the “big monopolies” like Walmart or Home Depot. Nope, not at all. I suppose you can sit and wait for Walmart to lower their prices some more, and then kill all their competition and then jack up their prices by 5x the rate of inflation, you go ahead and wait for that … and you keep doing that when the sticker price (not net price of course) of college increases atĀ doubleĀ the rate of inflation for 40 years now. You keep talking about evil capitalist corporations when the typical net cost of attending a college has taken up twice as much of a median family’s income today than it did 40 years ago. You keep talking about evil capitalist monopolies as the quality of the goods rolling off their assembly lines reaches heretofore unthinkable levels, meanwhile the universities still stuff 300 students in a stuffy classroom that can only be offered a couple of times a week. You keep talking about evil capitalist monopolies ruining American democracy while the Harvards, Princetons, Amhersts, etc. of the world keep their enrollments capped (if they grow, it is by a tiny, tiny fraction each year).

Keep it up. And the whole while, keep defending continued subsides for staff, faculty and students of those institutions of higher learning so that more and more people who walk in their graduations can learn about how to condemn the capitalist monopolies that never seem to emerge or persist. How would folks feel if we instituted proposals to higher education that are offered up for “solving” the capitalist monopoly problem? Let’s nationalize all of higher education! Let’s create the National Interstate Higher Education Commerce Commission to set fair tuition prices. I am getting all tingly thinking about the possibilities.

"1" Comment
  1. Just finally got back to reading this post. Great points.

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