By Remington Gregg, Public Citizen
This month, Apple became the first publicly-traded American company to reach $1 trillion in market value. It is now one of the most powerful companies in the world both in revenue and in the share of the market that it holds. In 2017, Apple took home 79% of the global profit share for smartphones. What does this milestone mean for American consumers?
Megacompany monopolization is not unique to Apple, or even the tech industry. Five banks control half of all assets in the American financial system. Thirty publicly traded companies collect half of the profits produced by all publicly traded companies in the market. According to Business Insider, the difference between how much it costs American companies to make products and how much they make selling products—a mechanism that experts use to measure how much power companies have in the marketplace—is at the highest level since 1950.
When companies consolidate, it makes it harder for plucky startups to gain a foothold as a competitor. As a result, consumers have fewer options, which can drive prices up and innovation down.
Apple has spent decades fostering a consumer-invested ecosystem where users become so familiar and comfortable with its products that it’s difficult to switch another company. This ecosystem is so strong that other companies struggle to create similar systems, effectively allowing Apple to monopolize the market. However, Apple is not the only tech titan set to monopolize the market. Only about 1% of smartphone consumers use an operating system that is not made by Apple or Google.
In industries where corporate consolidation is rampant, such as the tech field, workers’ share of the overall pie is shrinking because these merged companies are focused on efficiency and need fewer workers to perform the necessary jobs, which means fewer people employed in quality, high paying jobs. This leads to an overall decline of the share of the nation’s wealth that goes to workers. In addition, while Apple’s valuation soared to new heights this week, it is aggressively outsourcing its workforce out of the country, taking advantage of poorly-paid workers in other countries and robbing Americans of good jobs.
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis long ago warned against the “curse of bigness” in corporate power. During the Progressive Era of the 1910s and 1920s, American trustbusters sought to rein-in excessive corporate power by enacting bold laws such as the Clayton and Sherman Act, and the Federal Trade Commission Act, which created the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), to protect competition. However federal antitrust enforcement, the Department of Justice and the FTC, have not used their enforcement powers robustly to curb excessive concentration. Market commentators may argue that stopping companies like Apple, Google, and Amazon from driving out their competitors from the marketplace is impossible. But they are wrong. Congress can fix our antitrust laws to stop companies from growing so big that they stamp out all competition, and Public Citizen will continue to advocate for strong antitrust laws and enforcement that protects consumers against corporate monopolies.