Commentary

Democrats need to become anti-monopolists again | Opinion

We cannot address our economic, societal dysfunction without fighting back at the corporate overlords who have hijacked our democracy

Corporations are raking it in, while people are left behind (Getty Images).

Corporations are raking it in, while people are left behind (Getty Images).

By Justin Stofferahn

Inflation has skyrocketed, real wages are declining for many people, and baby formula is nowhere to be found. With polling consistently finding rising prices as the top concern of voters, these interlocking economic crises are likely to have a major impact on November’s elections, with a bleak outlook for Democrats currently.

It would seem obvious then that party leaders would attack the root cause of price hikes and our fragile supply chains — the corporate monopolies that are increasingly dominating American life. Unfortunately, the antimonopoly spirit that once animated Minnesota populists is still struggling to re-emerge.

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The Minnesota DFL recently held its state convention in Rochester, and amidst the candidate endorsements and speeches, party leaders had the opportunity to make changes to the DFL’s ongoing platform and approve its 2022 “Action Agenda.” While these documents are mostly symbolic, they serve as an important gauge for what thought leaders and party activists are considering and have passion and energy for, with battles over pipelines and mining serving as a couple of examples.

Yet despite finding ourselves in a Second Gilded Age — with rampant corporate concentration and record mergers — neither the Action Agenda nor the party platform make any mention of monopoly power. This is particularly striking given Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s leading role in shaping antitrust reforms in Congress that would help reign in Big Tech.

If the DFL wants to address skyrocketing pricesfragile supply chainsdeindustrializationeconomic inequitiesstagnant wagesthe decline of small businesses, rising healthcare and housing costs, or extremism (just to name a few) it requires recognizing our monopoly crisis.

Antimonopoly is no silver bullet, but we cannot address our economic and societal dysfunction without fighting back at the corporate overlords who have hijacked our democracy.

Policymakers have been caught mostly flatfooted by the supply chain snarls and shortages that have defined the past couple years, but prominent antimonopolists have been sounding the alarm about these issues for years.

While pundits and pollsters debate messaging around these crises, too little focus is given to preventing them in the first place. These are not the inevitable consequences of capitalism. Rather, it is the very predictable result of four decades of bipartisan consensus that the structure of markets and economic power is not a political issue, or really an issue at all.

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Curbing monopoly power is also not simply a job for federal policymakers. This past legislative session three bills were introduced that would update and overhaul Minnesota’s antitrust laws. Furthermore, antitrust is just one piece of antimonopoly policy. Banning noncompete agreements, guaranteeing the right to repair, outlawing price gouging, ensuring privacy from Big Tech and ending corporate tax subsidies are just some of the ways state and local government can reclaim economic power from the few.

This was once baked into the DNA of the DFL. Minnesota was home to the nation’s first Anti-Monopolist Party, which was an outgrowth of the Grange Movement that helped birth the Farmer-Labor Party — the F and L in DFL. Meanwhile DFL luminary Hubert Humphrey was a staunch defender of the New Deal’s antimonopoly provisions that restructured and decentralized economic power in the postwar era. Today’s challenges demand that DFLers rekindle this populist legacy and create an army of antimonopolists equipped with the tools for decentralizing economic power.

This does not mean DFLers should hit the campaign trail talking about antitrust law or the intricacies of the Robinson-Patman Act. This is not campaign advice, it is governing advice, but with obvious political consequences. The failure to take on the monopolists that have broken the economy and fractured society will doom DFLers to the boom-and-bust cycle of electoral victory and defeat that has defined the past decade or so, as angry voters confront the next predictable monopoly-driven crisis with calls to throw the bums out.

The 1900 Democratic Party platform includes this passage, “We pledge the Democratic party to an unceasing warfare in nation, State and city against private monopoly in every form.”

That is the commitment and thinking the DFL needs, from city councils to the White House.

Public affairs professional Justin Stofferahn is a member of the Minnesota Main Street Alliance leadership team. He wrote this piece for the Minnesota Reformer, a sibling site of the Pennsylvania Capital-Star, where it first appeared.

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