The Modern Monopolist in Our Midst

The "free" in free markets is not an adjective, it's a verb -- we must diligently work to free the market of conniving monopolists who try to lock it down and rule like autocrats.

A century ago, Robber Barons like Rockefeller and Carnegie used their riches to put a chokehold on commerce, buying off governments and media while crushing competitors, workers, and entire communities. The monopolist is a brute, and that's why the Populists and finally the Democrats and even trust-busting Republicans like Teddy Roosevelt responded to grassroots demands to free the market, using such tools as anti-monopoly laws, labor reforms, and small business protection.

But monopoly continues to rear its ugly head. Today, there's a new brute on the block, exerting more power over America's economy than the Robber Barons could dream of. It is Wal-Mart. Behind the aw-shucks, smiley-faced demeanor portrayed in its ads, this giant is now not merely the largest corporation in the world, but the dominating economic power in our country, able to use its brute financial clout to monopolize practically any market it bulls into.

Its monopoly exists because, first, it has grabbed a chokehold on the retail supply chain, and can dictate its price to the thousands of manufacturers that put products in its stores, even compelling these companies to lower their wages or to move their manufacturing to China. Second, Wal-Mart doesn't play fair in the local market. When it moves into your community, it can drop its prices and lose money for months without affecting its overall profits, for it has thousands of stores. Your local hardware, grocery, pharmacy, and others can't do that, so they are crushed -- not by Wal-Mart's work ethic or efficiency, but by its brute monopoly force.

The bottom line is that Wal-Mart shrinks our economy, destroys middle-class wages, changes the face of our communities, and erodes America's values of fairness, justice, and opportunity. It's time to free the market again.

Enjoy this piece?

… then let us make a small request. AlterNet’s journalists work tirelessly to counter the traditional corporate media narrative. We’re here seven days a week, 365 days a year. And we’re proud to say that we’ve been bringing you the real, unfiltered news for 20 years—longer than any other progressive news site on the Internet.

It’s through the generosity of our supporters that we’re able to share with you all the underreported news you need to know. Independent journalism is increasingly imperiled; ads alone can’t pay our bills. AlterNet counts on readers like you to support our coverage. Did you enjoy content from David Cay Johnston, Common Dreams, Raw Story and Robert Reich? Opinion from Salon and Jim Hightower? Analysis by The Conversation? Then join the hundreds of readers who have supported AlterNet this year.

Every reader contribution, whatever the amount, makes a tremendous difference. Help ensure AlterNet remains independent long into the future. Support progressive journalism with a one-time contribution to AlterNet, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you. Click here to donate by check.