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Big, Bad, GE

GE, I believe, is the only company that was among the 10 largest in the country in both 1900 and again today. The canard that “private market forces lead to concentration of industry, declines of wages and gouging of consumers” is so tired that I worry that bringing it up here will reinvigorate what is a pretty dead horse. But I teach 18 year olds who have just finished being told by the AP History teachers that anything sniffing of the word corporation or capitalism must be evil and reined in.

The amount of turnover among the largest and most “powerful” companies in America is rather astonishing. Over 86% of the Fortune 500 companies from 1959, for example, are no longer in the Fortune 500. But even in cases when companies seem to have taken a “monopolistic” position, it has been extremely rare to see that turn out as hurting consumers. Unless you call steadily expanding service, steadily decreasing prices, and steadily improving quality “exploitive.”

But let’s think about GE for a second. Someone might reasonably point to it as support for the canard. After all, 110 years later, here is big, bad, GE running the world. But think of what GE had to do to remain there. Did it just start up a few electric power plants, and sit happily on its monopoly position? The answer is obvious, while it still operates those power plants, those operations make up a negligible portion of its revenues. It was once one of the world’s largest computer companies. It is a financial services company. It is an environmental engineer. It now operates drilling companies, cable and television companies, health care device companies and more. I guess some folks would point to its expansion into all these fields and say, aha – they are monopolizing everything.

Well, they do seem to be increasing their market share in at least one place. Here is another take on that.

4 Responses to “Big, Bad, GE”

  1. Speedmaster says:

    Remember when it seemed like Sears, Walworth’s, etc. were unstoppable?

  2. CC says:

    Please, more faith wintercow. Some of your former students are becoming AP history teachers, like myself, and are trying to undo the stereotype.

  3. Rod says:

    Walmart is now a favorite target of the political left for its supposed ability to sell consumer products at lower prices than anyone else. Walmart is a “big box” retailer, so not only do they employ a non-union workforce, but they also despoil the landscape with their big box architecture.

    Ten years ago, our local municipalities joined together to form a “regional planning commission” that took over planning and zoning and went around the Pennsylvania Constitution’s and The Municipalities Planning code’s requirement that all municipalities must zone for such things as industrial and commercial development. The chairman of the commission was Jim Maza, a Democrat candidate for the state senate and a foe of property rights. At one point in a commission meeting he addressed the subject of whether our area needed a big-box store like Walmart after someone in the audience had complained that there was no place in the valley to buy a pair of socks or some underwear. Maza responded that if that resident wanted to buy socks, he could drive to Harleysville or King of Prussia. It was a Marie Antoinette moment. Let them buy socks in King of Prussia, like I do, at Brooks Brothers. He did not exactly say that, but I did quote him in an editorial that I headlined, “Let Them Buy Socks.” That little bit of political dirt stuck, and Maza went on to lose the state senate race to Rob Wonderling. Today, we have a Walmart.

    Incidentally, Walmart has not run all of our local businesses out of business. Meanwhile, consumers here don’t have to drive 30 miles to Brooks Brothers to buy socks.

  4. […] only one day after my post on GE, this comes across the desk: If Congress is looking for New Year’s […]

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