Taken, not earned
How monopolists drive the world’s power and wealth divide
The world’s wealthiest billionaires have a common secret hiding in plain sight: they are monopolists. Much of their wealth and income was taken, not earned.
This report focuses on how a handful of individuals and their companies have built positions of market and strategic dominance where they’ve become too big to fail, too big to trust, and ‘too big to care’. They have accumulated so much monopoly power that they make decisions that deeply affect the lives of all of us.
Our new data reveals how some of the world’s richest billionaires have
accumulated wealth through industries so dominant and influential that they can leverage their power to suck wealth out of our societies. We look at the serious damage this power inflicts on the public and the planet and examine the 20 richest firms in the world – many of which are owned or controlled by the top 20 billionaires.
Monopoly power and wealth divide
What our main research exposes is that these firms are able to set sale prices in the markets they dominate significantly higher than the bottom 50% of firms. For the five years to 2022, we find that for the top 20 companies, the average “markups” – meaning the difference between the selling price of goods or services and their cost – has risen to around 50 per cent. This is double the 25 per cent average markup for the bottom 50 per cent of firms studied. This indicates they are using their monopoly power in these markets to hike prices and keep them high, ripping consumers off in the process just because they can.
In effect, we are paying a private tax to billionaires – at a time when millions of ordinary people across the world are suffering amid the cost of living crisis, deepening the extreme inequality gap. These monopolies also use their dominant market position to squeeze out smaller firms, harming the business environment and overall economic prosperity.
The report goes on to show how far monopoly power extends across the world economy, the tricks that the monopolists use, the resulting harms, the hidden ‘system of monopoly’ that protects their power, how this power is reinforced by extensive lobbying capacity, and what we can do about monopoly.
Monopoly power undermines democracy, manipulates people in insidious ways, and fundamentally alters how we communicate with each other.
Regulators are charged with challenging monopolies. Yet, they are either lulled into a false assumption that monopolies automatically benefit consumers or prey on businesses with excessive market power, influence and lobbying capacity. New research reveals that the European Commission only prevented 0.7 per cent of mergers between 2005 and 2023, illustrating these impacts.
Laws, such as competition policy, can be used to challenge harmful monopoly power by breaking dominant firms up or by enforcing tighter merger controls. The Balanced Economy Project, SOMO, Global Justice Now, and LobbyControl are also calling on governments to use public interest regulation, such as treating dominant firms that provide a public good or essential service as public utilities or bringing them into public ownership; rewriting international trade, investment, and finance regimes to curb excess concentrations of corporate power and associated harms; and, restricting corporate monopolies’ lobbying influence by strengthening conflict of interest rules and by enhancing the transparency of political institutions.
It is well within the reach of governments to reclaim, break, and redistribute monopoly power for the benefit of society and future generations.
We all have a role to play in holding governments accountable when they fail to rein in the dangerous power of monopolies.
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