Dismembering the Octopus

Imagine that, just by changing the structure of corporate ownership and antitrust regulations, wages started growing again, prices for all sorts of goods fell and decent-paying jobs became available to able-bodied worker. The last forty years have seen a dramatic stagnation of living standards for the working classes of in wealthy countries. Yet even as economies have stagnated, stock markets have soared as corporations and the wealthy take an ever-larger share of the economic pie. The fundamental problem is that the antitrust laws that keep competition vibrant, channeling corporate greed towards the public good, have been unenforced. This has allowed a small group of powerful investors to coordinate much of the economy to serve the interests of the wealthy, while corporate consolidation has allowed all companies to hold down worker wages by creating artificial unemployment.

We propose simple, practical and yet radical solutions that would disrupt few of the benefits of corporate consolidation while eliminating the power of the wealthy to rig the economy in their favor. The institutional investors that control most public corporations would have to choose one company to invest in within each industry they invest, so they could not hold (for example) both United Airlines and American Airlines. This would force them to promote competition between the companies they hold and those held by other institutional investors. Antitrust prohibitions against mergers raising competition would be applied equally to cases where the merger gives the companies power to lower workers’ wages, where these prohibitions are currently applied only to mergers harming consumers from increased prices. Tech giants would no longer be able to buy up nascent disruptive rivals and would thus face fiercer competition. And, as we show in our chapter 4, all of this is possible without further legislation: all that is needed is for government antitrust enforcers or harmed groups of citizens to band together to defend their interests in court.