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Sunday, September 18, 2016

A Giant (Firm) Problem

At The Economist:

A giant problem: Disruption may be the buzzword in boardrooms, but the most striking feature of business today is not the overturning of the established order. It is the entrenchment of a group of superstar companies at the heart of the global economy. Some of these are old firms, like GE, that have reinvented themselves. Some are emerging-market champions, like Samsung, which have seized the opportunities provided by globalisation. The elite of the elite are high-tech wizards—Google, Apple, Facebook and the rest—that have conjured up corporate empires from bits and bytes.
As our special report this week makes clear, the superstars are admirable in many ways. They churn out products that improve consumers’ lives, from smarter smartphones to sharper televisions. They provide Americans and Europeans with an estimated $280 billion-worth of “free” services—such as search or directions—a year. But they have two big faults. They are squashing competition, and they are using the darker arts of management to stay ahead. Neither is easy to solve. But failing to do so risks a backlash which will be bad for everyone. ...

Skipping to the conclusion:

The rise of the giants is a reversal of recent history. In the 1980s big companies were on the retreat, as Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan took a wrecking ball to state-protected behemoths such as AT&T and British Leyland. But there are some worrying similarities to a much earlier era. In 1860-1917 the global economy was reshaped by the rise of giant new industries (steel and oil) and revolutionary new technologies (electricity and the combustion engine). These disruptions led to brief bursts of competition followed by prolonged periods of oligopoly. The business titans of that age reinforced their positions by driving their competitors out of business and cultivating close relations with politicians. The backlash that followed helped to destroy the liberal order in much of Europe.
So, by all means celebrate the astonishing achievements of today’s superstar companies. But also watch them. The world needs a healthy dose of competition to keep today’s giants on their toes and to give those in their shadow a chance to grow.

    Posted by on Sunday, September 18, 2016 at 11:00 AM in Economics, Market Failure | Permalink  Comments (38)


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