Market concentration and its harmful effects on the economy is well documented. But important decision makers (and opinion makers), especially in the US, remain unconvinced by the growing evidence. Or is it a matter of them being captured?
The latest comes in the form of the decision last week by a US Federal Court judge allowing the $85 bn merger of AT&T and Time Warner. The former provides phone, internet, video and data services (or distributes content), while the latter owns television channels across news, entertainment, and sports (produces content), and together they "can count as customers practically every household in America". The Judge ruled against a very weak challenge by the US Justice Department that the combination of a major producer and distributor of content could substantially lessen competition in media industry. The Steven Pearlstein in Washington Post has very nicely described the judgement as a "hatchet job" involving selective and biased evidence by a "judicial scoundrel"!
Be that as it may, here are three latest graphs that highlight the growing market concentration.
David Leonhardt has two graphs on economy-wide business concentration in the US from Business Bureau's Business Dynamics Statistics. The first captures the rising share of businesses with more than 10000 workers and the declining share of those with less than 20 workers.
And companies with more than 10000 workers employ more people than those with less than 50 workers.
His documentation of the changes in the past quarter century are stunning,
In the late 1980s, small companies were still a lot bigger, combined, than big companies. In 1989, firms with fewer than 50 workers employed about one-third of American workers — accounting for millions more jobs than companies with at least 10,000 employees... The share of Americans working for small companies fell to 27.4 percent in 2014, the most recent year for which data exists, down from 32.4 in 1989. And big companies have grown by almost an identical amount. Today, companies with at least 10,000 workers employ more people than companies with fewer than 50 workers.
The third graphic covers a forthcoming IMF study on business concentration in developed and developing economies using data for publicly listed companies in 74 countries. It captures a measure of market concentration, average mark ups (or how much a company charges for its products compared with how much it costs to produce an additional unit of this product, expressed as a ratio).
The rise since the early nineties in the developed economies is capitalism gone berserk! Markups have increased by 43 percent since the eighties in those countries.
Ananth has a nice post on the irony of how the elites and decision-makers, even at places like the IMF, continue to pay lip-service to the evidence that their own research department comes up with.