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Monday, November 07, 2011

The Concentration of Economic Power

I am going to have to plead not guilty to the charge that "mainstream and left-wing economists" should be criticized "for their lack of attention to monopoly power." I've also wondered many times why this issue doesn't get more attention and, more importantly, why the increasing concentration of power doesn't draw more action from regulators:

Who Rules the Global Economy?, by Nancy Folbre, Commentary, NY Times: ...Three Swiss experts on complex network analysis have recently examined the architecture of international ownership, analyzing a large database of transnational corporations. They concluded that a large portion of control resides with a relatively small core of financial institutions, with about 147 tightly knit companies controlling about 40 percent of the total wealth in the network. ... An article in the British magazine New Scientist describes the research as evidence of a global financial oligarchy. ...

A recent article in the socialist journal Monthly Review, by John Bellamy Foster, Robert W. McChesney and R. Jamil Janna, criticizes both mainstream and left-wing economists for their lack of attention to monopoly power.

Focusing on the United States, they note that the percentage of manufacturing industries in which the largest four companies account for at least 50 percent of shipping value has increased to almost 40 percent, up from about 25 percent in 1987.

Even more striking is the increase in retail consolidation, largely reflecting a “Wal-Mart effect.” In 1992, the top four companies accounted for about 47 percent of all general merchandise sales. By 2007, their share had reached 73.2 percent.

Banking, however, takes the cake. Citing my fellow Economix blogger Simon Johnson, the Monthly Review article notes that in 1995, the six largest bank-holding companies (JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley) had assets equal to 17 percent of gross domestic product in the United States. By the third quarter of 2010, this had risen to 64 percent. ...

Public concerns about economic concentration are stoked by hard times. Congress authorized a full-scale investigation of the topic back in days of the Great Depression. Seems like the time has come for a fully international update.

    Posted by on Monday, November 7, 2011 at 11:07 AM in Economics, Market Failure, Regulation | Permalink  Comments (61)


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