Our world is structured by concentrated corporate power

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Our world is structured by concentrated corporate power

Goliath: The 100-Year War Between… by Matt Stoller, Simon & Schuster, US $29.99, Pp 584, October 2019, ISBN 978-1501183089

Our world has drastically changed in the last 100 year. The technological developments in the last 50 years have been unprecedented. Fifty years ago — even forty years ago — we mostly shopped at a local store. We rarely went out of town to make purchases. Today, we shop in chain stores that exist not only every American town but also in most other countries. In many cases, we shop on our computers or smartphones. You probably have a phone made by one of two companies and bank at one of the four or five giant banks. You connect with friends with either Facebook, WhatsApp or Instagram. In Goliath, Matt Stoller says that data about your thoughts go into a database owned by Google, what you buy into Amazon or Walmart, and what you owe into Experian or Equifax. He argues that this goes far beyond consumer goods. We live in a world that is structured by concentrated corporate power.

The concentration of power is playing havoc with our health as well. Matt Stoller says that our increasingly concentrated and corrupted medical system is literally killing us. Due to medical errors and other forms of harmful care, contact with the American healthcare system is now the third leading cause of death in the United States. That is 10 percent of all US deaths. This too can be traced, in part, to monopolization. Because of a wave of mergers, 40 percent of hospital stays occur in markets where one entity controls all hospitals and these hospitals, like all monopolies, no longer have a strong incentive to deliver quality care at a reasonable price. Instead, they sometimes over-treat and kill their patients.

Matt Stoller says that monopolization opens back doors for bad actors to undermine our democracies. Facebook, for instance, accidentally allowed Russian meddling in elections across the West. But that is just the most high-profile problem. The problem is deeper. Three voting machine companies — down from eight in 2002 — control 92 percent of voting machines in the United States. Concentration in the industry leads to lower security standards and more easily hackable elections. This is not just the American phenomenon; it is a global issue. The open internet has been subverted to allow meddling in elections worldwide and induce ethnic conflict. The greatest communications platform ever created is producing a new generation of Nazis. We very often hear fears of autocratic forms of politics and the potential end of democracy itself. The title of the book written by Madeleine Albright — Fascism: A Warning — is quite

Matt Stoller argues that a revolution of ideas took place in the 1970s that stole from us not just our liberties but even the words that helped us describe our world. Words like “liberty” and markets” and competition” and citizen” have been perverted, taken by technocrats who hide the levers of power from most of us. We attack or praise capitalism, or socialism, or the free market. All of this misses the point. The fight is about whether monopolists run our world, or whether the people do. This fight is hidden from us by the revolution of the 1970s. Goliath is the story of this revolution, why it happened, and just what the revolutionaries were overthrowing.

Goliath is a very timely and much-needed addition to the existing scholarly literature on how corporate America is helping the gulf between the rich and the poor widen. Matt Stoller recounts the story of how technological advancements have undone our political achievements since the 1970s. It is packed with new insights and perspectives on how the new technologies have helped monopoly capitalism to become ever stronger. Goliath is a troubling story of the corporate world which is weakening democracy in the United States and beyond. We must stand up and be counted in the struggle against corporate greed. Goliath is a meticulously researched, powerfully argued and beautifully written book. Every thinking American must read it.

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