Book Review By Tom Nelson— Break ’Em Up (Zephyr Teachout)
Our country’s complete failure to enforce antitrust laws, to say nothing about strengthening existing law, is a major source of our economic woes. We talk a lot about taxing the rich — as we should. But what about addressing income equality and its attendant affects at the front end? Why not stop the ultra-rich from accumulating their wealth in the first place? This is what Zephyr Teachout, former congressional candidate, attorney and professor argues in her book, Break ’Em Up. Big Tech, Big Ag and Big Business are not a natural evolution of a free market. It is a deliberate consequence of our choice not to keep corporate America in check and allow them to consolidate market share at an unprecedented level. By not tending the shop, we have allowed corporations to raise prices, conduct mass layoffs, depress wages and bust-up unions. During the much-celebrated Nabisco strike, I posted one of my digital ads on Twitter and Facebook showing me tossing out Nabisco products in solidarity with the striking workers. Along with the Frito Lay strike earlier in the year, it reminded me just how pervasive monopolies are in everyday life. The food that I threw out (or recycled or donated) was like half a grocery store. Indeed, as Teachout notes in her introduction, four corporations control home internet, two dominate retail, five control defense contracting, one controls books and chillingly just three companies build voting machines.
My ad was partly inspired by Teachout’s treatise as well as my recent 72 county listening session tour, where I visited all of Wisconsin’s counties (I did it in 43 days). Corporate power and consolidation came up as much as any other issue. In several instances it undergirded others like a 23,000 head hog farm to be sited in rural and western Burnett County. The “farm” will ravage the countryside, pollute lakes and streams, drain aquifers and kill even more family farms. Currently, President Biden’s Build Back Better is hanging by its fingertips as corporate Democrats Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin give Mitch McConnell a big sloppy kiss. He licks his chops as those two try to torpedo the Democratic agenda.
On the bright side, President Biden is stocking his Federal Trade Commission and Justice Department with strong anti-monopoly and antitrust lawyers in Lina Khan and Jonathan Kanter. Hopefully they have a copy of Teachout’s book in their back pocket. It could serve as one heck of a blueprint. Wisconsin’s family farmers, Main Street shop owners and union workers are counting on them.