Merger mania: worst. Mania. Ever.

Author:Hightower, Jim
Position:VOX POPULIST - Column

The corporate world is experiencing a surge in the urge to merge.

Control of market after market--from cable TV to chickens, and from banking to washing machines--has been seized by fewer than a handful of enormous corporations. Rather than compete, they collude to set prices, cut quality, shrink service, and squeeze out would-be competitors.

There was a time, not that long ago, when monopolies, duopolies, and oligopolies were not only frowned upon by our public officials and watchdog agencies, but aggressively challenged and busted up. In recent years, however, corporate giants feel free to get ever-gianter by gobbling up their competitors, knowing that the watchdogs will barely bark, much less bite.

Now that the Supreme Court has legalized bribery in the form of corporate campaign donations, our so-called "public" officials, including Congress critters, governors, judges, and even Presidents, have become tail-wagging accomplices to the amalgamation of corporate power.

The Bush-Cheney regime was infamous for cheerleading this consolidation, allowing the merger of AT&T and Verizon to capture the lion's share of wireless phone subscribers. But this is not just a Republican phenomenon. Under Obama, federal regulators have genially waved through American Airlines' takeover of US Airways, and United's consumption of Continental, effectively leaving air travelers to the brutish mercy of one or two bullies in every major airport--with no service at all in smaller cities.

Now come dominant health care giants like Aetna and Anthem, as well as Walgreens and Rite Aid, demanding to merge into behemoths that would control the availability of health insurance and essential medicines to millions of Americans.

Ironically, the very lawmakers, corporate lobbyists, and pundits who push and praise these mergers are also the noisiest preachers of the virtue of competitive markets, small business, and consumer choice.

They claim to be champions of the people's...

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