Paul Mattick 1956

Review of Monopoly in America

Source: Western Socialist, Boston, USA, January-February 1956;
Transcribed: by Adam Buick.

Monopoly in America: the Government As Promoter. By Walter Adams and Horace M. Gray. The Macmillan Co., New York, 1955, 221 pp. $3.50.

This latest addition of the enormous literature on monopoly and competition brings the story up to date without adding anything essential to the problem and its “solution” save the warning that monopoly will lead to totalitarianism unless stopped by government intervention. Like most authors in this field, Adams and Gray see nothing wrong with capitalism but condemn alleged violations of “proper” capitalist practices. In their view, monopoly is bad because with competition it destroys our democratic way of life and the economic freedom associated with it. They only deal with that aspect of monopoly which controls markets and production to the detriment of small enterprise which had not succeeded in securing its competitive position by monopolistic practices. They fail to see that competition implies monopoly, and monopoly competition; and, of course, they favor the capitalist monopoly over the means of production as against property-less workers so as to secure the economic freedom of exploitation. In short, they like to have a capitalist system which is such in one respect but not in another, and which suspends the capitalist development trend in the interest of small business.

In distinction to other “trust-busters,” however, Adams and Gray do not stress the element of “restriction” in monopoly; its alleged “sabotage” of “economic progress.” After all, the American economy expanded despite monopolistic rule. They merely complain that too much of the socially-created profit flows to big enterprise at the expense of small business and the “consumer” generally. And it is the government, they point out, which strengthens monopoly by tax and spending programs favoring big business. Why it should favor anything else is hard to see, in view of the fact that government is the government of big business.

However, Adams and Gray wish to see this situation altered; people must be made aware of the danger of monopoly and to this end they devote their book. This implies of course, that they have to demolish arguments in favor of monopoly and big business. Adams and Gray deal mainly with one argument, namely, that technological development requires large enterprise and thus necessitates monopoly. They point out that technology is not a material force beyond human control determining the character of the economy, but is “one of many interrelated forces which, operating in conjunction and unidirectionally, have made economic concentration possible, not necessary, or inevitable.” Yet, this controversy about the meaning of technology is quite beside the point, for capital concentration, though incorporating technological development, is a matter of capital accumulation under conditions of capitalist competition. One cannot ask for competition and capital expansion without getting the concentration and centralization of capital. The argument was brought into the discussion in the first place to distract from the real problem of capital formation. To disprove it, leaves the problem where it was before the argument was raised.

Though illogical and contradictory in its suggestion to use the power of government to revive “public confidence in old-fashioned competition,” in face of the recognition that “the nature of existing technology, economic organization and social demand precludes general reliance on free competition,” the book is worth reading nevertheless, if only because of its description of the ways and means that unite business and government. Examples given are taken from current occurrences associated with the defense procurement and surplus-disposal programs, from tax and amortization incentives supporting big business, and from the privitization policies of the atomic energy program now in progress.