McGovern on Monopoly
To his credit, Senator McGovern is the first serious Presidential contender in decades to associate himself with the historic concern over monopoly in our economy. Last September he co-sponsored a bill with Senator Fred Harris (S. 2614) to break up giant corporations in monopolized markets. McGovern stated in January that “the accumulation of corporate power is among the most critical issues to be addressed in 1972— I am therefore preparing a detailed series of recommendations to deal with economic concentration.”
During the Wisconsin primary campaign in March, his speeches condemned both ITT and the “shared monopolies” which control more than 60 percent of all industrial assets. In April he dramatically released figures from a secret Federal Trade Commission study which showed that 100 firms had overcharged consumers by more than $15 billion annually. These data led him to urge that the Price Commission freeze requests for price hikes by these firms and that “the Administration undertake a serious effort to deconcentrate these monopolized industries.”
To the consumer, the impact of collusive or monopolizing corporations is very real.
Monopoly market control and political influence add billions of dollars to the price of gasoline, home fuel oil, automobiles, milk, bread, pharmaceuticals and other necessities. Beyond sustaining price inflation, such monopoly power blocks innovation that would increase efficiency and, often, safety and pollution control.
The popular awareness of the serious erosions from such corporate power is growing. In 1959, 53 percent of those surveyed by the Opinion Research Corporation thought that “There’s too much power concentrated in the hands of a few large companies for the good of the nation.” By 1969 a similar poll showed 61 percent believing that way. Today, after a number of publicized disclosures, such as the ITT episode, widely read books, such as America, Inc., and numerous Congressional hearings, public concern is no doubt even higher.
There are other indications of changing opinion in the most unlikely places. The car-buff magazine, Car and Driver, long an apologist for the auto companies, contains a statement in its current issue calling for the breakup of the big three auto companies. One top economist in the Nixon Administration’s Antitrust Division wrote in an internal memorandum: “In terms of winning votes, a big automotive case [against General Motors] might be worth a hundred merger cases. Conceivably, it would make Nixon into another Teddy Roosevelt.” Needless to say, the Nixon Administration has not been strong in its antitrust policy; rather, it has pursued a policy of weak enforcement and vast direct and indirect subsidies. It plans even more programs to shield these companies from competition and small business.
Thus, the background for a strong McGovern effort in the anti-monopoly area is most favorable. In addition, two of his friends in the Senate, Philip Hart and John Tunney, will introduce very soon their own legislation to strengthen anti-monopoly action and enforcement. Yet, where are McGovern’s “detailed series of recommendations to deal with economic concentration,” which he promised earlier this year?
Why has he been so silent or reticent on this subject in recent weeks? Why has he begun to waffle on his other programs to curb the excesses and unjust privileges of the corporate world? As the Senator draws closer to political power, will he too become a routine politician?