By Richard E. Noble
“Freedom of the press is guaranteed to those who own one.” A. J. Liebling (American Journalist)
Adam Smith, the modern day father of Economics, wrote a book in 1776 entitled The Wealth of Nations. In that famous book he spoke out against monopolization. In his time monopolies were chartered by the King. The British East India Tea Company was one such enterprise. It became so big that at one point it had its own army and was literally a nation unto itself.
Mr. Smith advocated free enterprise and entrepreneurship. He suggested that the economic world was guided by an invisible hand which promoted order and prosperity. He felt that the King and his government had no place in this economic world and that business would better meet the needs of the populous if it were left alone, Laissez fare.
The King’s continuous interference in business and trade was one of the main causes contributing to the American Revolution. “Give me liberty or give me death”, may have been the cry of the man in the street, but - let me sell my goods without interference from King George and his monopolistic government was the whispered breath of every colonial mercantilist and businessman - not to mention pirates like John Paul Jones, and smugglers like John Hancock.
There were many other famous anti-monopolists but the most famous and most controversial was a man named Karl Marx. In 1840 he published what he called, The Communist Manifesto. People have been fighting and dying over this little piece of literature ever since. He later published a book that is at least as famous as The Wealth of Nations. It was entitled, Das Capital. It was a barn burner in which Karl predicted the fall of Capitalism via the monopolization of industry.
Not too long after Karl, there was another anti-monopolist by the name of Henry George. Henry is not so famous today but he was quite a celebrity in his day. He ran against Teddy Roosevelt and Abram S. Hewitt in 1886 for the Governorship of New York, and he wrote a best seller. His Progress and Poverty, which was first self-published, became the intellectual rage of the day. In this book he championed what he considered to be the perfect economic system and the cure for poverty - forever. His notion was called the Single Tax Theory.
Just how this theory worked was exemplified in a game which was thought up by a housewife and teacher who became a Henry George disciple. The game that she invented was called Monopoly.
Originally this game had two sets of instructions. One exemplified the perils of monopolization, the other set of rules exemplified the Single Tax cure for the plague of monopolization. The rules exemplifying the cure have since been discarded and the game is played today by the rules which exemplify the failure of monopolization and the suggested reason for universal poverty.
The world did not heed the advice of the “wise men” and the game inventors, and by the Wilson administration an investigation by the Pujo Committee established that the vast majority of the capital and wealth of this nation, and very possibly the world, was in the hands or control of, less than a dozen men - J. P. Morgan, John D. Rockefeller Jr., Andrew Carnegie, Vanderbilt, Gould, Astor to name but a few. And in 1929 there came about what many around the world concluded to be the failure of Capitalism and the international monopolistic system.
Since the days of the Great Depression there have been many who have been warning about the returning roll of monopolization and the concentration of wealth and power into the hands of a few - economists like Thorstein Veblen and his Theory of the Leisure Class; more recently, John Kenneth Galbreith, and his the Affluent Society, and The New Industrial State and many, many others. But in the face of all criticism the monopolists continue to grow and prosper. They have broken the boundaries of individual nations and have gone international. We call them oligopolies, multi-nationals and conglomerates. They are not hiding; they are listed on everyone’s list of winning investment strategies. Today even companies thought to symbolize America, itself, have few ties to the American nation or its people. Companies like Coca-Cola, Wal Mart, GM, General Electric, McDonalds, Dupont, Dow Chemical, and even Ford Motor Company are all international business giants - many of them getting the majority of their income from their foreign investments.
There are those that think that this is all harmless. They argue that corporations have no dogmas, no ideologies, no prejudices, no theologies, no flags, no politics. They have only one line, and that line is the Bottom Line.
This all may be true; the future does not have to re-create the past. But when large organizations buy out even small town operations, one does begin to wonder what will happen to the Jimmy Stewart - red, white, and blue - small-town journalistic entrepreneur? What possible Bottom Line profits can be added to the coffers of conglomerates who purchase these small-town loosing operations in “Nowhere” America? If it is not money then what is left besides dogma and ideology - dare I say propaganda, heaven forbid? So whose afraid of Rupert Murdock or Time/Warner or Knight Ridder or Florida Freedom? Not John Milton or Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin or Thomas Paine or Jimmy Stewart - but those guys are all dead and Ted Turner is off somewhere raising buffalo.
What’s so bad about generic journalism - generic seems to be working all right in the grocery store and the pharmacy?
With our wars we like to cry; “Remember the Alamo”, or “Remember the Maine”. Maybe in our economics we need some crying too. How about: Remember the British and Dutch East India Tea Companies; or - Remember the A&P; or - Remember the Robber Barons; or Remember Teddy Roosevelt and his Trust Busters; or Remember Woodrow Wilson and the campaign of 1912, or how about - Monopolization without National Representation is Tyranny; not to mention Poverty.
Like the British East India Tea Company, the international business community is a nation unto itself. It will do what it is going to do and no one is going to stop it. Will it be a Wealth of Nations, or a cynical Das Capital?
But if free enterprise is behind all of this, that has got to be good ... right? We will have International economics - free from government intervention, free from Communism and Socialism, free from labor unions and pork-barrel national self-interest - a free world economic system where the pure theology of supply and demand and market interests will rule; where the only line will be the Bottom Line. This is going to be the greatest thing since the cotton gin, steam heat, or sliced bread.
I don’t know, individual nations can and have been held responsible by their people; corporations just seem to disappear into the small print and legal mumbo-jumbo. Who in the world is going to temper the might of the conglomerate?
They weren’t afraid or concerned about the monopolization of the news media in Italy when Mussolini did it; nor were they worried in Germany when Hitler did it. The Russians weren’t overly upset when Stalin went about the process, or Mao in China. But this is different; this is Free Enterprise who’s doing it today. There is no terrible government, national or global, to interfere. There can be no trust busters like Teddy Roosevelt or Harry Truman in a world economy. Who looks out for the people in a global economy? No fear of demagoguery or ochlocracy here. This could even be bigger than Big Brother of George Orwell fame.
Can a monopolized world be a free world? Can a monopolized press be a free press? This is truly going to take an invisible hand - the hand of God maybe.
“The basis of our government being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that (opinion) right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate for a moment to prefer the later. But I should mean that everyman should receive those papers and be capable of reading them.” Thomas Jefferson.