Oh Yes, American Industries Are Much More Concentrated Than They Used to Be

Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.

Tyler Cowen is skeptical that there are very many sectors of the US economy that have become more concentrated:

Or ask yourself a simple question — in how many sectors of the American economy do I, as a consumer, feel that concentration has gone up and real choice has gone down? Hospitals, yes. Cable TV? Sort of, but keep in mind that program quality and choice wasn’t available at all not too long ago. What else? There are Dollar Stores, Wal-Mart, Amazon, eBay, and used goods on the internet. Government schools. Hospitals. Government. Did I mention government?

This is very un-Tylerlike. Off the top of my head, here are a dozen more:

  1. Airlines
  2. National accounting firms
  3. Telephone companies
  4. Search engines
  5. Household appliances
  6. Drugstores
  7. Health insurance companies
  8. Banks
  9. Hardware stores
  10. Bookstores
  11. Beer
  12. Supermarkets

Note that high concentrations don’t necessarily mean less consumer choice. Amazon has wiped out nearly the entire bookstore industry, but my choice of books from Amazon alone is probably better than my choice from all my local bookstores combined two decades ago. The problem with highly concentrated industries is that they have too much pricing power; they inhibit innovation; and they wield too much influence over policymaking. Consumer choice is a red herring, and the sooner we focus our attention on other aspects of oligopoly the better off we’ll be.

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest