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THE DEMISE OF THE SHERMAN ANTI-TRUST ACT(PART II)

November 9, 2017

THE DEMISE OF THE SHERMAN ANTI-TRUST ACT (PART II)

Some two weeks ago I promised my followers a Part II to the demise of the titled act but am tardy in producing it what with intervening disasters in New York and Texas and an election which has national consequences. With my apologies for the delay, following is Part II of the essay.

I inferentially suggested to my followers that I would discuss in Part II some of the unbelievable tactics used by the first Gilded Age captains of industry and commerce and how we are in a second Gilded Age today, how the Sherman Anti-Trust Act is all but dead from lack of enforcement, and the price we pay for such failure to contain monopolies and their anti-competitive practices, including excessive prices charged by such large corporations or combinations who gain market power via political power such monopolists buy with campaign contributions, hordes of lawyers and lobbyists etc.

Surprisingly (by today’s standards since the Republican Party has sold its soul to big business monopolists), the reformers in the first Gilded Age were Republicans, though there was widespread bipartisan support for an anti-trust act. John Sherman, a Republican senator from Ohio, introduced his namesake anti-trust bill and it passed the Senate with only one dissenting vote and passed the House with no dissenting votes, rendering it veto-proof. It was signed into law by then President Benjamin Harrison on July 2, 1890.

There was genuine concern on both sides of the aisle in that day and age that combinations of concentrated economic power possessed by corporations leading to restraint of trade, anti-competitive practices and excessive pricing posed a threat to government itself, as well there should have been and today as well. Following are some quotes from those on the battlefield of the first Gilded Age per Reich in his book, Saving Capitalism. Teddy Roosevelt, in castigating these “malefactors of great wealth” who were “equally careless of working men, whom they oppress, and of the State, whose existence they imperil,” sued the Harrimans under the Act and later recounted that the lawsuit “served notice on everybody that it was going to be the Government, and not the Harrimans, who govern these United States.”

Henry Demarest Lloyd in his 1894 book, Wealth Against Commonwealth, noted that “Liberty produces wealth, and wealth destroys liberty. The flames of the new economic evolution run around us, and we turn to find that competition has killed competition, that corporations are grown greater than the State. . . and that the naked issue of our time is with property becoming master, instead of servant.”

Mary Lease, populist reformer of that day, charged that “Wall Street owns the country. It is no longer a government of the people, by the people and for the people, but a government of Wall Street, by Wall Street and for Wall Street.” Sound familiar? It should. Look around. Taft broke up the Rockefeller Standard Oil empire in 1911 and Ma Bell was broken up as late as 1984 under terms of the Act, but how many breakups have you seen lately? Try zero; the Act is not enforced. What you see instead are mergers and acquisitions by big corporations with barely a dissent from the deliberately underfunded anti-trust division of the AG’s office, an AG currently under investigation himself, among other members of Trump’s cabinet filled with generals, Wall Streeters and ideologues, hence the onset of a second Gilded Age, one our democracy may not survive as the rich and corporate class is on the verge of literally owning America and its people as proof of the old adage that “He that’s got the gold makes the rules.”

So who were these bad guys and companies who brought on the Sherman Anti-Trust Act to contain their lust for power and money with their monopolistic practices and excessive pricing? Among others, they were the robber barons Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller and Cornelius Vanderbilt per Reich, “whose steel mills, oil rigs and refineries, and railroads laid the foundations of America’s industrial might,” but “they also squeezed out rivals who threatened their dominant positions and they ran roughshod over democracy. They ran their own slates for office and brazenly bribed public officials, even sending lackeys with sacks of money to be placed on the desks of pliant legislators.” “What do I care about the law,” Vanderbilt infamously growled? “Hain’t I got the power?”

Seventeen years before the enactment of Sherman, in 1873, the Chief Justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court warned the graduating class of the University of Wisconsin that “The question will arise, and arise in your day, though perhaps not fully in mine, ‘Which shall rule – wealth or man; which shall lead – money or intellect; who shall fill public stations – educated and patriotic free men, or the feudal serfs of corporate capital?’” We have our answer, Mr. Chief Justice. We are well into being owned lock, stock and barrel by corporate power, money and political influence, and are approaching economic and political serfdom and political irrelevancy, collective victims of Big Money.

Present robber barons in our second Gilded Age seek the same unlimited power over America and its economy and its people that the first robber barons sought, but they don’t send in aides with sacks of money anymore for deposit on the desks of those in Congress – now they send in “campaign contributions” (aka bribes) via PACs, some even through tax free shell organizations so that they can take such “contributions” as deductions from their taxes while you and I indirectly contribute by having to make up for such shortfall with our own taxes. Result? You and I are helping today’s robber barons finance our feudal future.

So what’s the difference in not having a law and having one that isn’t enforced? There is no difference, so perhaps we should agitate for repeal of the Sherman Act in order to remove the pretense that we have the protection of an anti-trust act and make the demise of Sherman official. That would make the robber barons’ lawyers and lobbyists unhappy since kicking a dead statutory horse makes for good fees, but with the effects of Dodd-Frank and tax cuts for the coddled rich still extant, they could find other things to do, and, after all, their fees are deductible from the incomes of our latter day robber barons which you and I help share with our taxes, so today’s robber barons get a break while the rest of us get the shaft.

So is the process rigged? Does the sun come up in the east? Of course!    GERALD      E

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