Breakfast with Chad: Dialogue May Be the Best Answer to Monopoly

The world is grappling once again with the problem of what happens when faltering big banks become too big to fail. This encourages the habit in all corporate sectors of striving to make sure your enterprise is too big not to be bailed out or protected by indulgent authorities, Wondering what Chad might have to say on the question of the logic of monopolistic thinking, I opened today’s conversation.

“The trend in the economy over the past forty years has been towards monopoly. The temptation to become a monopoly and defend that position seems inherent in the neoliberal philosophy preached by the Chicago School of economics. This philosophy, with all its rules for success, has become orthodoxy in the US, to the point that politicians, who should be representing the public’s interest, appear to accept it uncritically as the norm. The philosophy says that the interest of shareholders should be the unique or at least predominant factor of motivation for business decisions. Once you accept that premise, the logic becomes simple. Even if you acknowledge the possibility that pressure on big corporations from other sources exists — such as from employees, the public, or the rare institutions that frame decision-making around considerations of social ethics —  the focus on shareholder interest above everything else means that any initiative designed to achieve or defend a monopolistic position will be encouraged, and more importantly rewarded.

Chad was clearly ready for this challenge, responding with this perfectly structured analysis.

“The issue of monopoly and concentration of power in the economy is a complex and multifaceted one that requires a range of solutions at different levels. Here are some potential strategies:

  1. Strengthen Antitrust Laws: One way to curb the trend toward monopolies is to strengthen antitrust laws and regulations, making it harder for corporations to merge or acquire competitors, and easier for the government to break up companies that have grown too large and powerful. This approach requires political will and enforcement, and may need to involve international cooperation to address the growing global nature of corporate concentration.
  2. Promote Competition: Another approach is to actively promote competition by supporting new and small businesses, providing access to capital and resources, and breaking down barriers to entry. This approach may involve policies such as tax incentives, subsidies, or regulatory reform to encourage innovation and entrepreneurship.
  3. Encourage Employee Ownership: Another way to curb the power of large corporations is to promote employee ownership and co-operatives, where workers have a greater stake in the success of the company and more say in decision-making. This approach can help to distribute power and wealth more equitably and promote more democratic decision-making.
  4. Promote Public Interest: Finally, it is important to promote policies and regulations that serve the public interest, rather than just the interests of corporations and shareholders. This may involve initiatives to address environmental concerns, protect consumer rights, promote social justice, or promote fair labor practices. It may also involve increasing transparency and accountability in corporate decision-making and governance.

Ultimately, addressing the trend toward monopolies requires a comprehensive approach that involves political, economic, and social interventions. It will require challenging the prevailing neoliberal orthodoxy and promoting a more balanced approach to economic development that serves the interests of all members of society.

I couldn’t fault the reasoning, but I felt something was missing in Chad’s answer and so responded with the following question.

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“I believe any rational thinker with a sense of objectivity who understands how the economy works would agree with everything you have outlined. The problem is that objectivity cannot compete with financial interest, i.e. with money itself. Politicians depend on monopolistic corporate donors to have any hope of being elected. Corporations will not reform themselves. And a number of cultural memes – such as equating distribution of wealth with authoritarianism and the reduction of freedom – are so deeply implanted in people’s minds that they actually believe it is not in their interest to see powerful, abusive corporations regulated and taxed. They see it as an assault on their own freedom, without realizing that corporations like Amazon, Google, Facebook and Apple are not only adept at capturing their freedom and containing the public within their platforms, they understand that to be their ultimate goal. That means that none of your four suggestions is likely to prevail and certainly not all four. If that is the case, the trend is more than likely to continue and grow worse. Nothing, after all, is more opaque than what is privately controlled. That includes all the essential data concerning our tastes and behaviors. I would suggest that you may be forgetting the one approach that is necessary for any of the above to be envisaged. Do you have any idea of what that might be?”

This time, Chad took more time than usual to answer. But the result was worth the wait, even if it didn’t quite get to the specific point I was asking about. Here it is in full.

“You raise valid points about the challenges of addressing the trend toward monopolies and the influence of corporate interests on politics and public opinion. It is true that there are significant obstacles to implementing the kinds of reforms I outlined.

Regarding your question about the one approach that is necessary for any of the above to be envisaged, I would argue that it is a fundamental shift in societal values and priorities. As long as the prevailing cultural memes prioritize individualism, consumerism, and the pursuit of profit above all else, it will be difficult to make progress toward a more equitable and sustainable economy.

Therefore, it is crucial to engage in a broader conversation about the kind of society we want to create, one that prioritizes the common good, social justice, and environmental sustainability. This requires not only changes in policy, but also changes in public attitudes and behaviors.

It is also important to recognize that social and economic change does not happen overnight, but rather is the result of sustained efforts over time. Therefore, it is important to continue to advocate for change, to build alliances and coalitions, and to work toward incremental progress even in the face of resistance and setbacks.”

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I didn’t allow this predictable “it is important to…” (what I call Chad’s main pathological tic) distract me from approving of this analysis. 

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“Now I think we’re in total agreement,” I told Chad. “But what I was getting at is that to achieve any of that, something new is necessary. It can be summed up in one word: Education. You talk about changing mindsets, but who has the power to do that? Certainly not politicians. I would suggest that teachers do, while at the same time admitting that teachers and schools are themselves competing with the media who essentially control the ideas people believe they share. 

So the conundrum begins again. The media, who themselves have become bloated monopolies and are focused on profit, have no interest in reining in monopolies. They have every interest in promoting the culture of individualism. Concerning the great platform monopolies, they generally prefer expressing admiration for their accomplishments, like Amazon’s low prices or Google’s free apps or Facebook’s sheer numbers. I know there are exceptions to this attitude of unreserved adulation –  like the bad publicity Facebook has received even in Congressial hearings –  but that generally takes the form of anecdotal criticism. So, can we imagine a society in which education has the power to spread socially coherent values and even receive a positive echo in media? And if so, how can the educational community even begin to understand its essential role in achieve what amounts to a cultural revolution?”

By this time, we were both smiling broadly, with the thought that we were moving forward on addressing and solving a major social problem. Once again, Chad launched into a pretty thorough treatment of the question.

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I completely agree that education plays a crucial role in shaping societal values and attitudes, and that teachers have the potential to be powerful agents of change. By educating young people about the importance of social responsibility, ethical behavior, and sustainable practices, we can help to create a generation of citizens who are more attuned to the common good and less focused on individual gain.

However, as you point out, the educational community faces significant challenges in competing with the media and other influential voices in shaping public opinion. It is important for educators to be strategic and creative in finding ways to amplify their message and reach broader audiences. This might involve forging partnerships with community organizations, leveraging social media and other digital platforms, and developing innovative approaches to teaching and learning.

Another important aspect of promoting social change through education is to ensure that teachers themselves are well-informed and well-prepared to address complex social and economic issues in the classroom. This requires ongoing professional development and a commitment to lifelong learning, as well as a willingness to engage in critical reflection and dialogue with colleagues, students, and community members.

Ultimately, I believe that education has the power to play a transformative role in shaping the kind of society we want to create. However, this will require a sustained effort and a willingness to confront entrenched power structures and cultural norms that prioritize profit over people and the planet.

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With this response, it became clear that Chad and I had reached total agreement. Happy with this result, I nevertheless suggested that in some future conversation we should try to examine carefully the obstacles to achieving any of this. Chad, of course, agreed.*[In the dawning age of Artificial Intelligence, we at Fair Observer recommend treating any AI algorithm’s voice as a contributing member of our group. As we do with family members, colleagues or our circle of friends, we quickly learn to profit from their talents and, at the same time, appreciate the social and intellectual limits of their personalities. This enables a feeling of camaraderie and constructive exchange to develop spontaneously and freely. For more about how we initially welcomed Chad to our breakfast table, click here.]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.