New Monopolies: They're Coming for the Market and Your Mind
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
These companies will soon dictate what you buy and for how much. Get to know them with this OZY original series.
By Charu Sudan Kasturi
Once they dominate an industry, they decide what we can buy, how much it’ll cost and what choices we have — or don’t have. From Amazon and Walmart to Google and Coca-Cola, monopolies are a part of our everyday lives, shaping our decisions in ways we often don’t even realize. Now there’s a fresh set of monopolies preparing to take over markets and minds. Let OZY give you a glimpse of what they’ll mean to your world before they actually take it over.
New Monopolies, our latest original series, gets you up close with the companies and individuals you may not know yet — but whose innovations and commodities might soon be all you see around you. The series introduces you to the unlikely industries — from knowledge to death — that are witnessing rare monopolization. And we bring you the surprising ways in which the monopolies of the 21st century are bending centuries-old rules of economics.
As recently as 2010, there were three times as many American companies as Chinese firms in the Fortune 500 list of the world’s biggest businesses. Today, they have almost equal representation in that roll call of giants, many of them monopolies. But while you know the biggest American companies — such as Walmart, ExxonMobil and Berkshire Hathaway — well, you’ve likely never even heard of the Chinese behemoths emerging as monopolies in sectors as diverse as utilities, oil and banking, and promising to rule these industries for decades to come. Many of them are state-owned.
Mark Rifkin knows what it is to challenge the Goliaths of the world. A lawyer who represents players suing the NCAA for wages, Rifkin is now preparing for his biggest fight yet. He’s the lead counsel in a case that is headed to the Supreme Court and challenging the legality of the App Store under anti-monopoly regulations.
In the face of widespread popular protests, backed by several liberal legislators, the giant retailer stepped back, at least for the moment. This could be the story of Amazon in New York City in 2018. But this is a story from nearly a century ago: when Americans first rallied against a massive retail chain that was threatening the local economy. The company? Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company (better known as A&P), which in the 1930s ran more stores than any other chain store company had or has since.
Monopolies invariably become less productive, because they have little competition and incentive: That’s been traditional economic theory for more than a century. But recent research shows that in the increasingly data-driven economy of today, monopolies are in fact becoming more productive as they gain a larger and larger share of the market. Companies that have access to the most data can best refine their algorithms to stay the most productive.
America’s death industry is in the midst of a churn with more and more people opting for cremations instead of traditional funerals. But while disruptions in most industries throw up new players that hurt the traditional biggies, they’re leading to unprecedented monopolization of the U.S. death industry. In 2014, the two largest casket and coffin manufacturers — Hillenbrand and Mathews — together held 58 percent of the market. Today they corner 82 percent of it
Problem with your credit card? Have you lost it? Don’t worry. You can skip the nervous moments and sweaty palms as you call the helpline to block the card. With Nubank’s cards, you control them entirely through an app. Its innovations have turned Brazil’s Nubank into the world’s largest fintech company outside China. The man at its helm? Medellin, Colombia-born David Velez. The company became Brazil’s third unicorn in 2018. It received $180 million in funding from Tencent last October, and in March this year, it began its international expansion, launching in Mexico.
Historically, universities, industry and governments have been the three pillars that have individually and collaboratively driven basic research across fields. But industry, in particular, is increasingly moving away from that role, instead focusing on market-oriented innovations alone. Instead, universities are developing a monopoly in the space. And experts worry that the firewall that’s emerging between what universities and industry do could hurt research going forward.
- Charu Sudan Kasturi, OZY Author Contact Charu Sudan Kasturi