HIGHTOWER: The Urge to Merge

While Al Gore, George Bush, and most other presidential pretenders keep mouthing platitudes about "economic prosperity," a handful of voracious corporations are completely remaking the economic landscape for all of us . . . and it's not a pretty sight.I'm talking about the urge to merge -- for one corporation to devour another. It gets little political or media attention, but in the 1990s, every year has set a new record for these takeovers. There was a trillion-and-a-half dollars worth of them last year, and '99 will be even bigger. The result is an incredible elimination of competition in industry after industry.Look at oil. In the blink of an eye, Exxon took over Mobil, British Petroleum has grabbed Sohio, Amoco, and ARCO; and Royal Dutch Shell has absorbed Texaco and is now reaching for Chevron, which itself took over Gulf. That's 10 major oil companies that are suddenly only three. Thousands of jobs have been lost, independent gas stations have been squeezed out, and consumer choice eliminated.Check health care. MetLife, Prudential, New York Life, Travelers, and John Hancock are among the HMO competitors that are gone, gulped down whole by the likes of Aetna, Cigna, and Unitedhealth Group, which are now the Big Three. Aetna, which is notorious for squeezing the care out of health care, rules in cities like New York, Atlanta, Philadelphia, and Orlando.Have you flown lately? There are essentially only six national airlines now, and moves are afoot to shrink them to three: American-US Air, Delta-United, and Northwest-Continental, giving this trio 98 percent of the take-offs and landing spots in all of America's busiest airports.This is Jim Hightower saying . . . This awesome massing of power is by far the biggest and most threatening development to America's workers, consumers, farmers, and small business. Yet not a political peep from either party. And they wonder why people aren't voting.

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