47 Comments
Apr 8, 2022Liked by Matt Stoller, Todd Mentch

Here is what I submitted.

I'm writing in support of your effort to draft new merger guidelines that will uphold the law, promote fair competition, and address the realities of today’s economy.

My family and I are typical middle class individuals and I cannot imagine a life where I could be even more controlled by mergers and monopolistic economics than I am now. It is not good for me and it is not good for our society. There is no such thing as a free market. Let me give you a litany of how controlled I am.

My ability to communicate with friends, family and associates is controlled by several giant telecomm companies who offer little difference and yet fight only to steal me away from my current provider and then make it harder to switch again. I have access to a tiny pool of communications devices with identical plans and limited ability for third party service on my device.

I have access to a very small number of internet service providers and soon (hear my words) they will merge together with the giant telecomms to further control communications and internet access.

I have access to cable and streaming news and entertainment but both cable TV and streaming services are consolidating with mandatory purchase bundles that force me to pay for services I do not want.

My automobile is increasingly impossible for independent mechanics to service.

Banks continue to consolidate, limiting access to services and customer service. There is little difference between large banks and inter-bank standards require even small banks to fall into line.

(I am a former market farmer). Farms, both foods and commodities, continue to consolidate, limiting my access to varieties of foodstuffs because consolidating food retailers demand product standards and conformity. Large growers and sellers have control over “Organic” definitions and associated complex compliance requirements for their own benefit. Small truly organic growers struggle to be certified being overwhelmed with paperwork that is easily prepared by dedicated employees in corporate farms. Agriculture, of all types, now demands access to vast sums of capital for entry. This is especially true of “greenhouse” growing of all types. All of this continues to force small and innovative growers out of the market.

Large credit card companies continue to corral retailers into more and more credit card use so that my ability to pay for purchases with cash or check is being curtailed with obvious control issues on the horizon … not to mention the decline in confidence in US currency.

I could go on but let me mention one more issue that leads to the most important point that I wish to make. I am a former senior IT administrator. The vast majority of the web services that commerce and society depend on are controlled by two corporations … Amazon and Microsoft. National security, our economic and social security, is so dependent on these services that they cannot ever fail. They are beyond the definition of “too big to fail”. But it is precisely because they are too big to fail that they pose one of the greatest targets to our enemies and thus associated threats to this country, and maybe the world, that we have ever seen. Yet we do nothing. Standard Oil and Bell Telephone were minor monopolistic problems compared to Amazon and Microsoft Web Services.

Resilience and sustainability demand many small players, some of whom can fail without damaging our society. A corollary is that if we indeed learn by failing then we must have systems that are not too big to fail so that we can continue to learn and grow.

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I do wish your letter could have been open to sign by anyone :) - I would have gladly signed :)

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Sounds like an attempt at "one world gov't" control? Our media is the worst at all of this too. Another reason guys like Stoler are needed. I haven't seen where anyone really owns him, besides the group he works with. Seems they let him speak honestly. Hope this continues.

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I would disagree. I see rather global “corporate” control since governments are largely controlled by corporations.

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Paul, I concur! Much better clarification global "corporate" And by my readings the corporate boards have been infiltrated with, in my mind, complete morons with no real skin in the game.

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Apr 8, 2022Liked by Matt Stoller

Here is what I wrote:

The unstoppable merger and acquisition wave that has taken place over the past 40 years has been devastating to me personally and tens of millions of others like me. I rely on minimum wage jobs to pay the bills. As monopolies grew bigger and more powerful over the years, job options, pay, and quality of work has radically deteriorated. Pride and personal fulfillment in work has likewise affected the mental health and sense of purpose of so many Americans. These retail monopolies dictate what work you do, what pay you get, and what benefits you receive because we are replaceable and fireable. If we don't like working for Walmart, we can go to Target, or McDonald's, or some Amazon Warehouse where pay and benefits and safety are virtually identical. It has gotten so bad that sometimes it is actually cheaper to be unemployed than be employed at all, which helps explain our current "worker shortage." The reason people aren't having kids or buying homes is we just plain don't have enough money to do things we could do forty years ago. In short, low-skilled people like me need to at least have a CHANCE at living the American dream and not be forced to take a one-way ticket to the American nightmare. This is completely unacceptable and cruel. Breaking up the rampant monopolies in retail (among many others) that are choking the working class would be a good place to start.

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Excellent essay! Says it all.

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Apr 8, 2022Liked by Todd Mentch

This was my comment;

I'm writing in support of your effort to draft new merger guidelines that will uphold the law, promote fair competition, and address the realities of today’s economy.

I write from a standpoint of experience in the energy and utility industry, which has a long history of monopolists and market power. I have seen firsthand how utility monopolies have damaged the growth of a dynamic renewable energy industry by slowing down new projects and how clearly and obviously utilities with market power can gouge their customers in places like ERCOT (Texas), while facing no accountability, since their customers are without competition or recourse. I've seen monopolies fight tooth and nail to keep their guaranteed rates of return on projects that are supposed to be competitively bid on, meanwhile buying all their competitors.

And that's merely the tip of the iceberg for the destructive experience American workers and consumers have seen in the last 40 years. Our once robust infrastructure has been hollowed out by monopolists taking profits, tech companies stop innovation in its tracks by buying competitors, and healthcare has become a bureaucratic nightmare simply to participate in. We've seen agri-business destroy family farms, airline mergers destroy the quality of air travel, and telecoms limit access to quality broadband internet.

These companies simply put, hate competition, hate markets, and resent the idea of limitations. We demand to be allowed to participate in markets again, You have an opportunity to write merger guidelines that will strengthen the economy and protect American consumers and small businesses. Please take bold and decisive action to do so.

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Apr 8, 2022Liked by Todd Mentch

I'm writing in support of your effort to draft new merger guidelines that will uphold the law, promote fair competition, and address the realities of today’s economy.  

Concentrated corporate power is destroying the profession of pharmacy. Having worked in pharmacies for over 20 years, I have observed the working conditions of pharmacy staff, and the patient experience at the pharmacy, rapidly and significantly deteriorate. Small independently owned pharmacies are forced out of business, and working conditions at large chain pharmacies are so terrible that it has spawned a labor movement called #PizzaIsNotWorking.

After spending many years trying to understand why my chosen profession felt like it was dying, I now know that it is due to oligopolies and subsequent anti-competitive business practices in both the suppliers (called drug wholesalers) and purchasers (called pharmacy benefit managers or PBMs) of pharmacies. 95% of the drug wholesaler market is controlled by just three companies. Over 80% of the PBM market is controlled by just three companies, and each has vertically integrated with an insurance company. Each of these oligopolized markets were created through mergers that should never have been allowed. Currently all six of the mentioned companies are in the Fortune 20.

Pharmacies are crushed by concentrated market power on both sides of their supply chain. This results in:

Decreased patient safety due to lack of staffing

Price discrimination for patients purchasing prescription drugs

Lack of patient options in choosing a pharmacy

Terrible circumstances for pharmacy owners and pharmacy staff

Please investigate and address the oligopolies in the drug wholesaler and PBM markets that are killing the pharmacy profession in the name of financialization, arbitrage, and profiteering.

Going forward, you have an opportunity to write merger guidelines that will strengthen the economy and protect American consumers and small businesses. Please take bold and decisive action to do so.

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Apr 8, 2022Liked by Todd Mentch

Hi Matt- nicely written. The issue is that all the economic incentives are in place for combinations of business. Large businesses have better attorneys and accountants than government and can always get around regulation. I am no fan of the current "double taxation" model our government employs, but it strikes me as the best way to disincentivize combination would just be to apply the "progressive" income tax to business. The bigger you get, the more you pay.

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author

Double taxation applies 100% to middle / upper middle class taxpayers. Large multinationals avoid any taxation much of the time

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Again- I am no fan of double taxation, but if government must tax corporations, it should do it on a progressive scale if they want to discourage monopolies!

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Apr 8, 2022Liked by Matt Stoller

Done, and thanks for providing the opportunity. Your webpage for comments is well constructed and easy to use.

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Here's what I wrote (it's kind of long, apologies):

I'm writing in support of your effort to draft new merger guidelines that will bring back the teeth to our anti-trust legislation, and help foster some semblance of true competition to our economy.

I have a lot of thoughts about this, and a lot of (personal) negative experiences I could relate around being hurt as both a consumer and a small businessperson due to monopolies in tech, in basic services, and in areas like healthcare and insurance.

In particular, I feel the complete lack of accountability over media and giant tech companies (as well as newer blockchain industries, such as bitcoin and NFTs) is a huge and growing danger to our economy and our civilization frankly, particularly given what has been happening in recent elections and the firehose of propaganda and mis- and disinformation with which we're constantly being bombarded. The number of local television stations owned by Sinclair Media alone, an obvious propaganda tool of the radical far right, is totally unacceptable. The fact that NewsMax and OAN, and yes, Fox News are allowed to spew Russian and other anti-American propaganda, pretty much nonstop, is also completely unacceptable. The fact that they are enabled in this by cable companies (which are also primarily monopolies) and by our own government (WHY is Fox News broadcast on military bases? WHO thinks this is a good idea?) only compounds the problem.

The current anti-trust suit against Amazon also shows some of the games being played by online shopping monopolies, where suppliers are often bilked to keep the illusion of "low prices," since most suppliers have no choice but to sell their products there.

More globally, however, as someone with a background in political history, I have an increasingly urgent and overwhelming concern about the ongoing stability and health of our nation, not to mention our ability to remain a democracy in any meaningful sense of the word, with this increasing gap between the rich and poor. The resulting loss of the stabilizing force of a robust and healthy middle class is incredibly concerning to me.

Without a middle class, we are destined to fall into instability, which will bring either some form of autocracy, or a rapid decline of our country as any kind of relevant world power... most likely both. Large income gaps historically have brought to this and other countries the following things, almost without exception: severe economic crashes, terrorism, riots, crime, and other forms of domestic radicalism and violence. They've often resulted in autocracy in some form and war. Not to mention increased inequality and poor treatment of women and minority groups.

Personally, I don't want to live in a country like that. I love America, and it will always be my home, but I'll leave before I live in a place stripped of any humanity or compassion or decency.... and sadly, it all starts with this instability born of massive concentrations of wealth at the very top.

Corporate monopolies extract wealth and power from working people, independent businesses, entrepreneurs, ordinary investors, consumers, and entire communities. And decades of unregulated mergers have led to more inequality, less innovation, lower productivity and lower wages for Americans.

You have an opportunity to write merger guidelines that will strengthen the economy and protect American consumers and small businesses. Please take bold and decisive action to do so.

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Matt, if Phil Gramm is going after you, you know you're on the right track! Keep up the great work. Working people need you to talk for them. Or as one of your readers said, the fixers, the people who make stuff, and grow our food people. Thank you.

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Great piece but that Laura Ingraham example made me lol a bit. Another newsletter mentioned that same instance in a far different context--she was targeting/threatening Apple and Disney for their pro LGBTQ actions as of late, definitely not for her anti-monopoly stance.

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Here's what I submitted:

I’m a regular American–a wife, mother, and data scientist by profession. When I heard that you were interested in collecting the American experience with excessive corporate power made possible by relaxed M&A guidelines, I reflected on my own experience. Here are a few recent experiences I’ve had with excessive corporate power:

Pharmaceuticals

I take a drug called Humira, which is manufactured by AbbVie. I’m reliant on it to keep me healthy and able to care for my family. The out-of-pocket cost for a month’s worth of Humira is about $6,000, which means that I MUST have health insurance to cover those costs. Humira isn’t a new drug, though, AbbVie’s original patent for the drug expired in 2016 but the company has been able to build a patent thicket making it very challenging to create a biosimilar. One company, Amgen, was able to work its way through the patent thicket and create a biosimilar but AbbVie and Amgen came to a settlement to allow Amgen to sell its biosimilar just in the European market for the time being. Why does AbbVie get to decide who their competitors are and when they have competition? Before Humira’s competition entered the UK market, the National Health Service was spending $487 million per year on Humira. After just a year of allowing competition from biosimilars, the NHS announced that it had already saved $135 million, or 30%. Large companies should not be allowed to regulate which drugs are available to US consumers and dictate prices beyond the limits of their initial patents.

Source: https://www.acutecondition.com/p/how-abbvie-usurped-government-regulators?s=r

Internet

A few years ago I lived in a mid-sized city in Texas and the neighborhood I lived in had exactly one choice of internet provider: SuddenLink. They were awful. Their “free installation” actually cost $60. After about a year of using their service, our internet just stopped working. It was terribly inconvenient considering I work remotely and am reliant on the internet to do my job. We had to pay them $60 to come look and see why it wasn’t working. They kind of fixed it, but it stopped working again and we had to pay another $60 to have someone else come out and try again. No competition means terrible service.

Airlines

This summer my family is having a reunion in Texas. Historically we’ve been able to get cheap flights on Frontier airlines flying direct from Salt Lake to Dallas. Since Frontier and Spirit airlines merged, however, there are no longer direct flights from Salt Lake to Dallas. That left us to choose between the three airlines that are left that fly direct from SLC to DFW: Southwest, Delta, or American. There were 24 major airlines in 1980 and because of mergers, there are now basically 4 major airlines. (Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=znbd33TNeV4 at 5:10). Direct flight options are becoming slimmer and slimmer thanks to mergers.

I believe that we’ve allowed too much corporate consolidation in the last 40 years. By allowing these and many other companies to balloon in size, we’ve handed them not only economic power, but also political power–they can disproportionately influence government decisions that should be made by the American people. I support efforts to revise the merger and acquisition guidelines in a way that will light the fire of competition in our country to not only restore choice and price competition, but also to shift power from these corporations back to the American people.

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Here is what I submitted:

I support your efforts to go back to following U.S. Antitrust laws.

I'm an entrepreneur. I have started a number of businesses over the years. I sold two of them successfully and two of them were destroyed by the government's Covid lockdowns.

Small businesses being acquired by established large companies can be a good thing; it provides an exit for founders and investors, which is an incentive that is needed.

But very large companies rolling up entire industries is not a good thing. The general population does not benefit, only those who create monopolies benefit. This is not in the best interest of all of us everyday Americans.

I am hopeful that your current efforts on our behalf will be successful.

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Here's what I wrote

I'm writing in support of your effort to draft new merger guidelines that will uphold the law, promote fair competition, and address the realities of today’s economy.

I currenly live in Southern NJ and recently bought a house. I know everyone talks about the tech monopolies such as (Facebook, Google, Amazon, Apple, and Microsoft) though I do think that what needs to be addressed sooner rather than later are the food monopolies. Currently there are about 10 or 11 food companies that control food and food prices have gone up about 10% due to record profits. We need to break up the food companies and investigate the oil industry for collusion.

I strongly support new merger guidlines that will put an end for oligarchs to use America as a playground for billionaires. If any oligarch violates and exploits Americans, then they need to be put in jail and also using authority to buy up that company or industry.

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Done.

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One additional quibble in this debate: The "law" of supply and demand does not exist. It's a figment of Alfred Marshall's fevered imagination as of 1890 (that's when he published it). Students of reality, rather than Marshall's economics, have tried in vain to locate such a "law." (See Steve Keen's "Debunking Economics" for the longer version). It doesn't exist, and labor is particularly problematic to explain in its terms. Gosh, I wonder why labor's share of the economy continues to decline! Such "laws" are bad theology, not observations of nature.

Imagine transporting a doctor from 1890 to the present. He might still believe bleeding patients would cure them, and would certainly be astonished at the present state of medical science. Not so economists.

“Leading active members of today’s economics profession… have formed themselves into a kind of Politburo for correct economic thinking. As a general rule—as one might generally expect from a gentleman’s club—this has placed them on the wrong side of every important policy issue, and not just recently but for decades. They predict disaster where none occurs. They deny the possibility of events that then happen. … They oppose the most basic, decent and sensible reforms, while offering placebos instead. They are always surprised when something untoward (like a recession) actually occurs. And when finally they sense that some position cannot be sustained, they do not reexamine their ideas. They do not consider the possibility of a flaw in logic or theory. Rather, they simply change the subject. No one loses face, in this club, for having been wrong. No one is disinvited from presenting papers at later annual meetings. And still less is anyone from the outside invited in.” - from James K. Galbraith’s "Who are these economists anyway?"

From such extraordinarily bad foundations come such assumptions as the ones currently guiding the Federal Reserve. They have announced they believe raising interest rates will cure COVID and unblock the port of Long beach. I couldn't make such things up. Antitrust is another area where bad theology leads to awful conclusions, immiserating the population.

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Hey, here's my post. A little melodramatic perhaps, but hey – I feel strongly about it.

I'm writing in support of your effort to draft new merger guidelines.

I hardly need tell you to what extent the entire medical industry is now controlled by a small number of inhuman corporate entities – I use the word "inhuman" in its literal sense, since these companies are responsible for life and death, and lack all trace of of the conscience or compassion that should surely be part of the equation.

People often talk about mergers and consolidation as an abstract concept, but I know first-hand that people are sickening and dying on a daily basis because the companies responsible for their insurance, medications, and primary care are so consolidated that they no longer have to perform their functions with any degree of effectiveness – and the companies that do care are rapidly disappearing because they cannot compete.

The US is already viewed with horrified pity due to its lack of a functioning health care system – and the consolidation among hospitals, pharmaceutical and insurance companies, and pharmacies making it even worse. Until this trend is reversed, people will continue to die unnecessarily – because they can't afford insulin or a hospital visit, for example, or because they live in rural areas and can't get their medication before it goes bad. The US government is the only entity with the power to stop it, and I pray that you succeed.

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While I am for merger guidelines, I will believe it when I see it. I don't expect good things to come out of any Biden appointees. From what I observe large -> larger corporate entities benefit the power of the Federal government. And large Federal government benefits corporate entities.

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uncertainty matters! We are due for a major partisan realignment and afterwards, it cd become more feasible to enforce antitrust regulations.

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