Monday, December 25, 2017

Is A Battle To The Death Shaping Up Between Monopoly And Democracy?


Last summer, the Washington Monthly ran a piece by Martin Longman, The Anti-Monopoly Message Finally Breaks Through about issues related to monopolies, corporate consolidation, and antitrust enforcement. It’s almost half a year since Longman’s piece was published and the anti-monopoly message is about to get its first test as a campaign issue. Progressives congressional candidates like Austin Frerick (IA-03), Kaniela Ing (HI-01), Lillian Salerno (TX-32), Jess King (PA-16) and Derrick Crowe (TX-21) are talking with voters in their districts about it and testing the salience of something that could be explosive in the 2018 midterms and the 2020 presidential cycle.

Ro Khanna (D-CA), one of the founding members of the House Anti-Trust caucus— along with Keith Ellison (D-MN), David Cicilline (D-RI), Mark Pocan (D-WI) and Rick Nolan (D-MN)— explained yesterday that "Antitrust is about giving small communities across America the freedom to define their own economic destiny. It’s about standing up for an individuals right to earn a living as a small business owner and a citizens voice against large institutions. It’s about standing up for the little guy against the big machine. So it’s about time that Democrats stand up against the concentration of power and talk about the values that helped define American democracy."

Mark Pocan is co-chair of the House Anti-Trust Caucus. Yesterday he pointed out something that every American should be able to understand quite viscerally: "As the U.S. enters a second Gilded Age, Americans are once again suffering under the weight of monopolies and corporations. Earlier this year, we watched as an airline dragged a man off a plane, yet Americans still booked tickets with that airline because of a lack of competition and a lack choice. From rolling back executive orders that protect consumers and workers, to enacting a billionaires’ first tax plan, President Trump has abandoned his promise to fight for the hardworking men and women of this country. Corporations have consolidated far too much power and under the Trump Administration, it’s only getting worse. We need to do more to ensure that the economy is working for employees and consumers, not just executives and shareholders."

Even the party establishment has taken notice on some level. Pelosi and Schumer used the issues part of their largely ignored Better Deal rollout promising to “fight to allow regulators to break up big companies if they’re hurting consumers and to make it harder for companies to merge if it reduces competition,” and emphasized that they intend to start “cracking down on the monopolies and big corporate mergers that harm consumers, workers and competition.” They’re calling for “a 21st century ‘Trust Buster’ to stop abusive corporate conduct and the exploitation of market power where it already exists.” For people forever claiming there are “no differences” between the 2 parties, Pelosi and especially Schumer seem like odd ducks to be carrying a message that hurts the bottom line of the corporations that are underwritten, and continue to underwrite, their rise to power within the Democratic Party… but at least they’re not discouraging the anti-trust reforms from pushing the boundaries.

The general public has become increasingly aware of the harm the telecomm industry is doing consumers as the pace of paid off Republican administrations. Journalists and activists, wrote Longman, “showed how strong antitrust enforcement beginning in the latter New Deal years set the stage for four decades of strong economic growth. They explained how monopolized markets threaten unions; how growing monopoly power has warped the airline and hospital sectors; and how U.S. entrepreneurship, once thought to be America’s great competitive advantage, has in fact been in decline due to consolidation [and] demonstrated how consolidation is driving the growing regional inequality of America, with half a dozen big metro areas, mostly on the coasts, gobbling up all the income growth and corporate headquarters while  smaller metro areas sink into relative decline despite their best efforts to compete.”
Trump’s shocking strength in rural and small-town America won him an Electoral College victory, indicating a level of stress in those communities not sufficiently recognized by the Democratic party leadership. And new post-election polling came out that validates what we’ve been saying, which is not only that these issues are of concern to the American people and that they understand them better than they are often given credit for, but that there is real political potential here. In a memo from Geoff Garin of Hart Associates Polling, some of these numbers were spelled out:
As Senate and House Democrats begin to roll out their new Better Deal Economic Agenda, a review of recent public opinion polling shows that the central themes and frames that are at the heart of this agenda match closely with the experiences, values, and priorities of American voters today. Moreover, the Democratic policies related to curbing excessive corporate power that are being highlighted in the first day of the rollout have real resonance with voters and are strongly supported by a significant majority of Americans.

For example, fully 79% of voters in Senate battleground states agree that, “the rules of the economy today are rigged against average Americans, and America’s working families need a better deal.” Eighty-five percent (85%) of those who voted for Hillary Clinton agree with this statement, but so do 74% of those who voted for Donald Trump (43% of whom strongly agree). Indeed, more voters in the battleground states agree with this critique of the economy than a critique that says “the problem with the economy today is a big government that spends too much, taxes too much, and puts too many burdens on businesses.”
What’s remarkable about these numbers is that the Republicans have been hammering on excessive government spending, regulation and taxation for decades and yet the American people largely reject that in favor of a rigged system explanation for their economic problems that neither party has been hitting with any consistency or sustained broad focus. To be sure, we’ve heard some rhetoric from candidates like John Edwards, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, and Bernie Sanders emphasized the rigged nature of the economy while focusing more on banks and billionaires than antitrust and antimonopoly policies. The message Sanders sent is possibly still fresh, but you can see that it has resonance:
Similarly, a large majority of battleground state voters respond favorably to a statement of the premise and direction that define the Better Deal Economic Agenda, transcending partisanship even when the statement is explicitly described as coming from Democrats:

”Too many families in America today feel that the rules of the economy are rigged against them. Special interests have a strangle-hold on Washington—from the super-rich spending unlimited amounts of secret money to influence our elections, to the huge loopholes in our tax code that help corporations avoid paying taxes. The basic bargain that hard-working men and women can keep a good job, make a decent living, and provide for their families is no longer attainable for too many people. But it does not have to be this way. If the government goes back to putting working families first, ahead of special interests, we can achieve a better deal for the American people that will raise their pay, lower their expenses, and prepare them for the future.”

In the red states of Indiana, Montana, Missouri, North Dakota, and West Virginia, 73% express a favorable reaction to this statement of Democratic economic thinking, as do a similar proportion of voters in the purple states of Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. Support for this Democratic approach withstands Republican criticisms that it would lead to bigger government, higher taxes, and more interference with free enterprise—a contention that only three in 10 voters find to be convincing.
On the specific issue of too much corporate consolidation, you may be surprised to see how strongly it polls:
National polling also shows the breadth of concern about excessive corporate power and its impacts. By two to one (67% to 33%), for example, Americans believe it is a bigger problem that “huge corporations and billionaires are using their political power to reduce competition, keep wages low, and get special tax breaks” than that “government is imposing too many job-killing regulations on businesses and taxing people too much.” Indeed, 86% of voters agree that, “our economy is increasingly dominated by a small number of very large corporations,” and most voters believe this leads to consequences that often affect them personally. Fifty-seven percent (57%) say it is true that President Trump and Republicans, “are driving up prices for consumers by allowing a few huge corporations to dominate our government and economy.”
We often get pushback from liberal-minded people that Trump voters are out of reach, motivated more by fear and hatred than economic self-interest, and too unsophisticated to respond to wonkish talk about antitrust enforcement. But these polling results indicate that they understand and that they figured out the problem with corporate dominance of the marketplace long before Pelosi and Schumer did.

Whether the strength of our arguments finally broke through or the polling numbers were too clear to be ignored, the Democratic leadership has finally gotten our message. And that is vindication enough for us, at least for now.
The power of monopolies have utterly perverted the function of government and bought off Congress. Trump’s Tax Scam is the most perfect example across the board. And how about this report from the Financial Times— a maker of a treatment for a certain kind of blindness is considering becoming the first drug company to charge $1 million for its medicine. If they succeed, there will be no reasons for others in the pharmaceutical sector to follow. In this particular case, the message is simply be in debt forever or go blind. Unless Ryan and Trump succeed in destroying Medicare, the government had a powerful interest in preventing this from happening.
When Spark Therapeutics secured regulatory approval for the first gene therapy this week, it put the company on track to break a second record— as the maker of the most expensive medicine in the US. Spark will not formally announce the price of Luxturna, a gene therapy for a rare type of inherited blindness, until January, but the company has signalled it thinks the one-off treatment is worth more than $1m per patient.

“When we do the health economic modelling, we believe the value of a therapy like this is in excess of $1 million,” says Jeff Marrazzo, Spark chief executive.

If Spark does attempt to launch Luxturna at $1 million or more in the US, it will do so against a difficult political backdrop, where high drug prices have come under repeated attack from politicians and campaigners. Most of the opprobrium has been directed at companies that impose steep price increases on older drugs— a tactic made infamous by disgraced biotech entrepreneur Martin Shkreli.

But companies making innovative products have also been targeted. Gilead Sciences, for instance, was attacked for its hepatitis C cure, which initially cost roughly $1,000 a pill. The biotech group has also been censured for charging $373,000 per patient for another of its products, a recently launched personalised cell therapy for blood cancer.

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At 11:56 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's not a battle. Democracy surrendered without a fight back in '81 when Clinton et al formed the DLC and voters didn't immediately form a true left party and slay the treasonous democrat assholes.

At 12:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rather than continuously point out the opportunities a true opposition party could exploit, the many failings of the DINO-Whig Party Leaders mentioned in this post should be the focus. Until they are replaced with candidates whose focus is on improving the lot of the average voter, all of this boiler plate gets rusty from misuse.

So when do we hear about those challenging the existing leaders over their posts? Until we do, I have no incentive to care if the DINO-Whig Party ever improves, and will continue to look for an alternative to replace them (since the American political leaders have ensured that only two parties can ever square off against each other).

At 1:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

12:11, we are kindreds, for sure.

I continue to remind those here who insist on the 'lesser evilism' meme that their approach hasn't, won't and cannot work. I figure a reminder might hit home every once in a while if someone hasn't a total EEG flatline.

CLEARLY, we need an alternative that is NOT the democraps if there will ever be a true progressive renaissance in this U-shithole-of-A. Or even for a stagnation of the influx of evil.


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