Antitrust Incompetence from the FTC, as Albertson’s/Safeway Divestiture Goes Awry

By David Dayen, a lapsed blogger. Follow him on Twitter @ddayen

Over the past several months, I’ve come to the conclusion that so many problems in our politics and our economy results from our tolerance of monopoly capitalism. I did a super-long story for The American Prospect laying this out, and how we need a revival of antitrust policy at the grassroots level.

In the course of researching this, I learned quite a bit about the informal, curious bifurcation of antitrust enforcement. You have the Antitrust Division of the Justice Department, a high-profile, cabinet-level agency with at least some susceptibility to political pressure; just witness how desperately they’re trying to prove that they’ve utterly transformed their focus on prosecuting corporate crime. And then you have the Federal Trade Commission, introduced under the Clayton Act, with similar responsibilities on antitrust policy. The main difference is that FTC, which like DoJ can bring settlements or oppose mergers in federal court, can also pursue an administrative hearing.

What industries get oversight from what agency has little formal rationale. The FTC does health care and food distribution. The DoJ Antitrust Division handles airlines and intellectual property. In talking to experts, it appears that they take the industries they’ve always taken, after building up a level of expertise over the decades. But otherwise, it’s two agencies sharing the same basic function. And I’d argue FTC is less accountable by virtue of its obscurity.

So here’s a depressing case study that suggests maybe we should just relieve the FTC of its duties.

At the beginning of the year, Albertson’s and Safeway grocery stores merged, shrinking an already concentrated market. The fact that Albertson’s operated stores under the names Market Street, Amigos, United Supermarkets, Jewel-Osco, ACME, Shaw’s, and Star Market, and Safeway under the names Thumb, Randall’s, Pak ’n Save, The Market, Vons, Pavilions, and Genuardi’s – all brands they took over in recent years – speaks to the concentration.

Instead of blocking the merger in the name of competition, the FTC required the newly merged company to sell 168 stores to prevent “anticompetitive” local markets in Arizona, California, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Texas, Washington, and Wyoming. After that condition, the merger went through. Problem solved, right?

Well, no. Albertson’s sold most of these stores, 146 of them, to a small chain called Haggen out of Washington state, which only had 18 stores at the time. I hadn’t heard of Haggen before until they moved into an Albertson’s down the block from me in Santa Monica. But within nine months, Haggen filed for bankruptcy, having taken on too much growth way too fast and struggling to find customers. The company clearly rushed into a hasty purchase and had no idea to serve markets outside of their core. In fact, they’re going to liquidate the core stores now too.

It’s part of the FTC’s job to ensure that the buyer of the divestiture actually has the ability to keep the lights on for more than nine months. This Q&A between the Santa Clarita Valley Signal and Deborah Feinstein, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Competition, is quite amazing:

SCVBJ: So does the FTC ever look at buyers before agreeing to the settlement?

Feinstein: Absolutely. We do a significant vetting process before recommending that the Commission accept a settlement. The Commission felt comfortable here that Haggen would be an acceptable buyer.

SCVBJ: What aspects might the vetting process entail?

Feinstein: In this case we would have brought Haggen in and looked at their business plan, their finances, their management plan, their future plans to invest in stores, plans for stores that aren’t performing as well, their distribution capabilities, marketing plans, their pro forma, etc. We do our due diligence before we recommend to the Commission that they accept the consent for public comment.

Dave here. If the FTC didn’t catch in their “significant vetting process” that Haggen might have problems increasing their staff five-fold and running logistics and management in seven states, what kind of expertise do they really have?

And then watch the evasiveness here:

SCVBJ: If a deal starts to falter badly what are the options?

Feinstein: When a settlement is agreed to, as part of the normal process, we appoint a monitor to help ensure the agreement is conducted according the settlement terms. If we see a problem we can’t order the merging parties to take a specific action, but, we can tell them we’ll withdraw the consent agreement unless they do something differently. But, we don’t have authority over Haggen’s to require that they conduct their business in a particular way. They are not part of the consent agreement.

SCVBJ: So how did the Haggen deal fall apart so quickly?

Feinstein: We’re not in position to answer. We’re aware of the concerns about whether Haggen was prepared to take over these stores, but we can’t comment at this time.

SCVBJ: Is the FTC investigating the issue?

Feinstein: The FTC will neither confirm nor deny that it has a pending investigation.

SCVBJ: Why isn’t the FTC able to comment?

Feinstein: Our investigations are non-public by law.

I should cut in at this point and mention that Feinstein is a serial user of the revolving door, having gone back and forth between the FTC and corporate law firm Arnold & Porter, where she became a partner and “specialized in representing clients before the FTC and DOJ.”

So here’s the punchline. Haggen had to liquidate its holdings in the bankruptcy. And guess who bought a big chunk of its stores?

Albertsons submitted the winning bids for 33 Haggen grocery stores that were put on the auction block this week as part of a bankruptcy proceeding.

According to documents filed Friday with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Albertsons — which only a year ago owned a number of the stores it is now trying to buy back — submitted successful bids for 33 of 55 Haggen stores in Oregon, Washington, California, Nevada and Arizona.

So 60 percent of the stores sold in this batch went right back into the hands of the conglomerate who was forced to divest them nine months earlier. Albertson’s appears to have made a sweetheart deal, too: Haggen bought the 146 stores for $1.4 billion, and sold these 55 stores, a little over a third, for just $47 million. Great work, FTC!

This little festival of incompetence ought to lead to some accountability, but I doubt any will arrive. Deborah Feinstein has plenty more to answer for here. And the whole philosophy of thinking that conditions like divestiture are enough to wave through significant market concentration needs a reboot. In my American Prospect piece I cite some research showing that the conditions-based remedies by the FTC and DoJ are worse than useless:

John Kwoka, an economics professor at Northeastern University, collected retrospective data on 46 closely studied mergers, and found that 38 of them resulted in higher prices, with an overall average increase of 7.29 percent. In cases where the Justice Department imposed some sort of condition for accepting a merger, like divestiture of some product lines or bans on retaliation against rivals, the price increases were even higher, ranging from 7.68 percent to 16.01 percent. By this analysis, consumers don’t benefit at all from merger activity, as market power overwhelms whatever efficiency gains.

The Albertson’s mess is only the most extreme example of this. The next Administration needs to take this stuff much more seriously.

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This entry was posted in Free markets and their discontents, Regulations and regulators, Ridiculously obvious scams on by .

About David Dayen

David is a contributing writer to He has been writing about politics since 2004. He spent three years writing for the FireDogLake News Desk; he’s also written for The New Republic, The American Prospect, The Guardian (UK), The Huffington Post, The Washington Monthly, Alternet, Democracy Journal and Pacific Standard, as well as multiple well-trafficked progressive blogs and websites. His has been a guest on MSNBC, CNN, Aljazeera, Russia Today, NPR, Pacifica Radio and Air America Radio. He has contributed to two anthology books, one about the Wisconsin labor uprising and another on the fight against the Stop Online Piracy Act in Congress. Prior to writing about politics he worked for two decades as a television producer and editor. You can follow him on Twitter at @ddayen.


  1. tegnost

    Thanks Dave, this one stinks to high heaven…haggen had a wegmans dream…pretty good for a regional grocer but my gut feeling all along is shell game to rinse off the properties for our “bettors” [sic intended]

  2. allan

    “What industries get oversight from what agency has little formal rationale. The FTC does health care and food distribution.”

    Oops – you’re leaving something out:

    Officials at the Federal Trade Commission concluded in 2012 that Google Inc. used anticompetitive tactics and abused its monopoly power in ways that harmed Internet users and rivals, a far harsher analysis of Google’s business than was previously known. …

    The 160-page critique, which was supposed to remain private but was inadvertently disclosed in an open-records request, concluded that Google’s “conduct has resulted—and will result—in real harm to consumers and to innovation in the online search and advertising markets.”

    The findings stand in contrast to the conclusion of the FTC’s commissioners, who voted unanimously in early 2013 to end the investigation after Google agreed to some voluntary changes to its practices.

    It is unusual for the commissioners to not take staff recommendations. But in this case, they were wrestling with competing recommendations, including a separate report from the agency’s economic bureau that didn’t favor legal action.

    Then-Chairman Jon Leibowitz said in a written statement at the time that Google’s voluntary changes deliver “more relief for American consumers faster than any other option.”

    Jon Leibowitz, a/k/a Mr. Ruth Marcus, then proceeded through the revolving door:

    In June of 2013, Leibowitz joined the Washington D.C. Office of the law firm Davis, Polk & Wardell LLC.[33] Leibowitz is also founding Co-Chair of the “21st Century Privacy Coalition,” a coalition of telecommunications companies and trade associations[34] focused on relaxing federal privacy laws.[35]

    The Albertson’s situation is not the result of FTC incompetence.

  3. John Zelnicker

    Thanks for this, Dave.

    It has been my opinion for several years that the concentration of so many businesses is just as big of a problem as the TBTF banks. In my original economics studies in the late ’60’s – early ’70’s preventing monopolies was seen as a necessary condition for maintaining a vibrant and competitive economy. But, of course, that doesn’t fit into the neo-liberal paradigm as it reduces the opportunities for rent extraction.

    IIRC, the breakup of AT&T was the last big anti-trust action and look what has happened to the “baby bells” that resulted.

    1. JTMcPhee

      One observation by an acquaintance interested in business practices and Jewish ethical thought is that the “gonifs” with their conscience-free entrepreneurial instincts and tricks will always be way ahead of the “freiers” trying to play nice… Hardly a new insight… “Freier” is a great illuminating Yiddish word and concept. Our Israelite “allies” refer to the nation formerly known as “Ameriça” as “Uncle Freoer,” roughly and inadequately rendered as “Uncle Sucker.” Freier has been bañned from the official dictionaries, but here’s what it means:

      The Eleventh Commandment: Thou shalt not be a Freier,

  4. Chauncey Gardiner

    Both the original divestiture and subsequent repurchase of stores under this deal smell to high heaven! I believe the fact that Haggen’s was a small, independent chain was also a factor, and that they were quite possibly targeted in part for this reason.

    On behalf of both consumers and Haggen’s employees, I would very much like to see a federal investigation that plumbs the depths of this matter.

    1. divadab

      I might agree except Haggens itself is no longer a family-owned company as they sold out to a VC firm several years ago. Certainly local management feels gamed in this – they are suing Safeway/Albertsons, alleging predatory pricing against the stores they bought, unsaleable inventory, misrepresentation, and so on (Safeway is counter-suing). But I really think they bit off more than they could chew and this bankruptcy is the result. However, I also wonder about the VC’s role in all this.

      The sad thing for the local communities in the Northwest is that Haggens is a good community member – they sponsor many local events, and give very generously to the food bank. It seems its been taken over and killed by an outside predator and the local community will be the loser.

  5. Brian

    Haggen appeared out of nowhere in our little burg. They were to purchase 2 of the Albertson stores. In our location, there are 8 markets. We had one company fail, -2 stores. We had Haggen fail, and lost another, perhaps 2.
    So we are left with 5 while they build a new megacomplex. Running out of options for food here. 3 markets sit vacant, yet the population goes up.
    Planned to fail appears to be the goal of someone in the transaction. We end up with more big boxes than markets as well. Again, the goal?

  6. Bottom Gun

    I would be sympathetic, but let’s think this through. Abolish the FTC and all of antitrust enforcement goes into the hands of…the Department of Justice. Which has really taken after large, politically connected corporations like a bunch of young lions, right? If you think anyone with a fully developed backbone walks the halls at DOJ, go back and take a look at the video of Lanny Breuer from a couple of years ago. In a truly just world Breuer would have a “C” branded on his face, like back in the days when General Sherman knew how to restore order and authority. And this is the leadership!

    There’s got to be another way than dropping real responsibility into the hands of the gutless slugs at Main Justice. Thanks, but no thanks.

    1. Will

      If nothing’s going to get done, I believe it’s way better to have no regulatory apparatus than one doing nothing. Beyond the saved public expenses (salaries, buildings, etc), it’s way easier to convince neighbors that no anti-trust work is happening when there’s no one with the job to do it. As it stands, many folks I know presume that an agency is fulfilling its stated duty (with some amount of corruption) unless someone outlines exactly how they’re not. Furthermore, people are more open to ‘tweaks’ like tougher regulations which are trivial improvements compared to revolving-door-type structural problems, especially since most folks can’t imagine an alternative to the current regulatory system.

  7. tegnost

    The burlington store seemed like a family owned thing and I too worry for their employees. Mt Vernon and similar rural areas are stuck with the costco/safeway as a choice. Mt. Vernon has a decent coop but they don’t carry the large inventory of a genuine grocery, in that I mean coops tend to have boutique choices when sometimes, particularly when heading to the islands one needs a store that has a comprehensive selection. I would have loved to be a fly on the wall listening to the investment bankers promising haggen the moon

    1. knowbuddhau

      Hey, neighbor! I shop at the Skagit Valley Food Co-op, too. Used to live in Friday Harbor. Was really glad when Haggen came to Oak Harbor. Love their focus on local producers. Really hoping the store stays. If you see a bearded white guy with a Whidbey Beer Works hat in the co-op, say hi.

      Isn’t Haggen suing Albertsons over this? Haven’t seen anything about it in local headlines lately.

  8. tegnost

    Probably overcommenting but familiar with the stores…Last thing, if you’re the boss of an 18 store chain you know your managers, they come to your house on thanksgiving and stuff like that, this encompasses the american tragedy

    1. divadab

      yup. And Haggens is Union so these jobs lost/transitioned are all well-paid.

      They got gamed. I sort of think the VC’s got gamed all the way to the bank…..

      1. tegnost

        yes thanks learned a lot from this thread, now I wonder all told between all the layoffs from divest to now how many were union jobs or at least paid well and in what form their replacements will be, i.e. an albertsons that became a haggens canned a bunch of employees for albertsons, now they get the store back, what is the status of the employees (not optimistic)

        1. divadab

          Well I’ve seen all employees terminated and then interviewed for their old jobs (at lower wages) a couple of times in retail – I don’t think Haggens did this but I think employees might no be so lucky the second time around.

  9. cnchal

    . . . Albertson’s appears to have made a sweetheart deal, too: Haggen bought the 146 stores for $1.4 billion, and sold these 55 stores, a little over a third, for just $47 million.

    Who are the bag holders? Pension funds perhaps?

    On a slight variation of this topic.

    Bernie Sanders: The business of Wall Street is fraud and greed. Can’t say it enough.

  10. Peter Pan

    My small town has gone from five supermarkets to two supermarkets because of this disruptive scheme imposed by the FTC. One supermarket (Albertson’s) serves the North end of town and one supermarket (Fred Meyer) serves the South end of town. Since Fred Meyer is much easier to get to and has lower prices than Albertson’s, that’s where nearly the entire town shops for food. (There’s also a Target store at the North end of town but it suffers ease of access, higher prices than Albertson’s and poor selection, so I don’t consider it a viable supermarket).

    Consequently, going to Fred Meyer it seems that every day is Black Friday. It is completely overwhelmed by shoppers. It’s a total madhouse.

    I hope Haggen employees litigate in shotgun fashion with the hope of finding deep pockets among many litigants, including the FTC.

  11. Chauncey Gardiner

    Seems to have been quite a flurry of related transactions over the past year. This Wall Street Journal article from July mentioned that Safeway was sold in January to Albertson’s, which is in turn owned by private-equity firm Cerberus Capital Management L.P.

    The article stated that Safeway Inc. would pay a group of hedge funds about 26% more than other shareholders received when the grocery chain was sold to private-equity-backed Albertson’s earlier this year for $7.6 billion. The WSJ writer characterized the preferential shareholder treatment as “a big win for hedge funds that challenge deals in court”.

    Reading wikipedia’s summary, Cerberus Capital Management LP appears to be both quite “well connected”, and aptly named from Greek mythology.

    1. TheCatSaid

      PE rears its ugly head. Why am I not surprised? We know who made out like bandits in these deals: the bandits.

  12. Katniss Everdeen

    Just curious.

    Where does a local 18 store grocery chain get $1.4 BILLION to buy 146 more stores, which instantly increases its size a little more than 8X?

    And $1.4 BILLION is $1,400 million. Having sold roughly a third of the stores back for $47 million, there are still $1,353 million in Albertson’s pocket for which someone is holding the bag.

    If you value the remaining 2/3 of the “collateral” the same as the resold 1/3, you get $94 million, leaving $1,259 million in Albertson’s pocket and an only slightly less heavy bag being held by someone.

    It’s only a hunch, but there may be more going on here than “mere” antitrust “incompetence.”

    1. Katniss Everdeen

      Read Chauncey Gardiner (above) after I posted.

      I thought this smelled like “private equity.”

  13. NeqNeq

    Nice job. I wish more was being said about the level of firm concentration across all sectors. Especially concerning (to me) is the way brands are spun as being competitors, even when those brands are owned by a single entity.

    For those in the WA state area effected by this: Is Fred Meyer still around and in the grocery business? When I lived in the Seattle area, Freddy’s was where most of the poors (like me) shopped. My impression is that Albertson’s also caters to the “price conscious” consumers, so all this hubub might be a boon for Freddy’s?

    1. tegnost

      Freddies mega merged with QFC (kroger I think), Albertsons has always been the last choice in a market with multiple better options. Also in green lake and down by childrens hospital albertsons had some extremely valuable property they cashed out on with good timing so maybe groceries isn’t their main focus…

  14. barrisj

    The Haggen chain was bought out by Florida-based private-equity firm Comvest a few years ago, essentially turning a profitable locally-owned grocery business into an “in-play” investment for bigger and better future returns to investors. What has shaken out from all the bankruptcy and legal folderol is that the entire “expansion” from 19 to 165 stores was a complete dodge, as absolutely NO preparative work was done during the “rebranding”, virtually guaranteeing that the “new” markets were primed for failure…many shut their doors after only a few months, throwing loads of long-time employees out of work (some were absorbed by existing Safeway or Albertson’s stores). Seattle and Bellingham media business writers have opined that It seems more and more obvious that the ploy by Comvest was simply to secure desirable real estate property in well-placed suburban, rural and urban sites, do a “flip”, cash out, and Bob’s yer uncle. The real crusher is that after “promising” to retain the “core” (original Haggen markets) stores, these now are on the block, completing a Bain Capital-type gutting of a true local and community asset. And, yes, where IS indeed the FTC whilst all these machinations are working through the bankruptcy process? You may well ask.

    1. Milton

      That is the crux of this matter and was surprised when DD didn’t bring it up. I ran a parcel query in San Diego County and found that most of the stores acquired were owned by Haggen OPCO LLCs totaling over $700m in the county alone. Now hedges aren’t in it to run a successful grocery buisiness, they’re in it for the assets and that’s a lot of liquidation they can do in this one county.

      1. TheCatSaid

        Thx for adding this piece of info, and also barrisj for the info about the land assets being core.

    2. alex morfesis

      John Caple who handled Haggen from Comvest did in fact work for BAIN previously…Comvest is typically male dominated with only six fembots in the machina…mostly in administrative back office work…not much deal making

      usual portfolio of death spiral funding…furniture rental to homes and credit card advances to business…

      nothing in the corp history suggested they could handle this…sounds like someone asked them to take a fall in return for a (wink…nod) burger to be paid for tuesday…

      1. divadab

        yup – a local franchise, well established in communities, enemies and friends, good place to work, now worthless collateral damage (no pun intended!) for predatory greedsters. Never made anything in their lives, only know how to destroy. Fucking pathological way to organize your society.

    3. LizinOregon

      Here in our little hamlet in southern Oregon they did some sprucing up of the very old Safeway but when it re-opened there was very little inventory which led me to believe their story that Albertson’s had cheated them on the inventory transfer. Then things seemed to settle down, though the parking lot was always quite empty. We missed the first round of store closings when they first filed the lawsuit but it is now closing at the end of the month. The news this weekend that Albertson’s bought the property stunned many here. If it re-opens as Safeway as announced it will be totally bizarre.

      To find out this is a battle of rapacious giants does not surprise me at all. Nor does the impotence of the FTC. I think fondly of the Microsoft prosecution as the end of the anti-trust enforcement era.

  15. Jess

    “festival of incompetence”. Love that turn of phrase, even though the whole affair seems more planned out than just incompetence.

  16. rto

    We had in Santa Barbara, I think, three stores taken over by Haggen.

    They started by laying off longtime employees of Albertson’s as if they just knew current staffing was excessive. There wasn’t much love here for Albertson’s, but at least they were kept stocked and ran reasonably well. When Haggen started laying off the developmentally disabled baggers and assistants there was a revolt. A significant number of former customers boycotted the stores and it went predictably downhill from there.

    I lay fault with the vulture capitalists who hatched this crazy leveraged scheme although Haggen’s owners must’ve been pretty gullible to fall for it. I imagine managing 18 stores is very different from 164.

    We now have three giant cavities that were formerly anchor tenants. They’re bound to be picked up by someone, but its effect is very disruptive to the community.

    1. ian

      There is a Haggens a block from my house in Orange Co. They recently put the building up for auction – the usual suspects (including Ralphs, Gelsons, etc..) came and looked, but no one bid. In 5 days, they will close their doors.
      Please, Lord, not another “Halloween Store” or “Crown Books” (not the original one).

  17. geoff

    Shouldn’t this article more properly be titled “Regulatory Capture at the FTC…”, particularly given Ms. Feinstein’s revolving door career path? Feature not bug and so forth?

  18. Maggie

    I’m also in Santa Barbara. This has created a huge mess for the middle class shoppers who are actually the vast majority of the population in SB despite the glitzy PR campaign of the Real
    Estate and Tourism industries here. The prices on the very first day of Haggens were significantly higher than the previous Vons and Albertson’s prices. We already have a few high end health food stores and supermarkets and there was no need for others.

    1. divadab

      Haggens is a premium brand in its home market. Looks like they misjudged your market. Sort of like the whole deal….

    1. cnchal

      When you look at these numbers, where one entity seems to have overpaid by a factor of 10, that’s a really elegant fraud. Where were the due diligence experts on the losing side? Whose money was lost?

      Bernie Sanders: The business of Wall Street is greed and fraud Can’t say it enough.

  19. PQS

    Thank you so much for this article. I’ve looked in vain for the details on this whole debacle in the local papers, (Seattle area) but have found very little to go on. We had a longtime, newly remodeled and expanded Safeway that abruptly turned into a Haggen’s and now nine months later is “liquidating” the whole store.

    I tell the clerks at the Fred Meyer it all sounds like Wall Street to me. Wall Street greed and larceny. Meanwhile, people at the Safeway/Haggens are or will be out of work. I’ve heard from them that Haggen’s was sold to some investment firm several years ago and the original family is now out of it, as one commenter upthread indicated. I would bet they wouldn’t have done this. This was all just to turn and burn and make a quick buck for some (probably already rich) spreadsheet jockey in NYC.

    Yet somehow I’m not surprised the vultures have come calling – after all, during the GEM they orchestrated, pretty much the only stores really unscathed were the groceries because people have to eat. How long before they come calling for our children’s shoes?


  20. Sluggeaux

    Great reporting and comments, but I have to take exception to the description of the conduct of Ms.Feinstein as “incompetent.” She seems to be highly competent at taking care of the interests of her once and future clients just outside the revolving door. The legal profession is allowed to self-regulate, and has abandoned any serious regulation of conflicts of interest. Of course, we lawyers can compartmentalize our personal financial interests perfectly — we’re the new American clergy, after all!

  21. sierra7

    This is going to do untold damage to the pension funds held for the employees of the stores closed and for the general employed retail clerk retirees.
    As a former (31) years with Safeway it makes me sick to see what has happened to the industry over the 20 years I’ve been retired.
    The industry never made “top dollar” in wages but compromised for health benefits and other “soft” contract languages. The one condition we always stuck too as part of organized labor is/was, “equal pay for equal work”…we were on the forefront.
    Never had much use for Albertson’s as a “viable” operation; too high prices, poor front end service, etc., etc. But, they like Safeway (SF in particular) had/have very pricey property to trade and deal with or that is very tempting for any plundering financial firm.
    As others have stated, “….this deal stinks to high heaven”.

  22. Oregoncharles

    Antitrust law makes little sense, mainly because it’s explicitly political. It depends on bureaucratic, hence ultimately political, judgement. So if the president doesn’t even believe in antitrust*, you get no enforcement. Furthermore, it depends on the ability of companies to tie up actions in court. Documenting the incompetence or corruption of the “enforcers” merely proves this point.

    (*Starting with Reagan. This is very strange (snicker) for those who claim to worship “the market,” since as a matter of fundamentals, you don’t have markets if you have monopolies.)

    On the Other Hand, businesses respond very well to financial incentives (much better than individuals, who have multiple motives). That’s why taxes are such an effective means of social engineering. So I propose an anti-trust measure consisting largely of taxation:

    Corporate and business tax rates would depend on the size of the company. They would be not just graduated, as they now are to some degree, but hyperbolic: a “hockey stick” shape, starting rather low, increasing very gradually to a certain point, then accelerating and quickly becoming prohibitive. Businesses would “grow’ by selling off pieces. I suppose the rate would be determined by the gross of the business (including foreign portions), but the tax would be levied on the net.

    A corollary action would be to forbid mergers and acquisitions short of bankruptcy, as determined by a court, and dissolution. Since functioning markets depend on the participants being relatively small, no public interest is served by letting them get bigger, especially in gulps.

    And yes, this would depend on corporations actually paying taxes in a consistent manner.

    Radical, I know, but we need something completely new – and who knows, might have the chance to try it after civilization gets where it’s going. (Yes, I’ve been reading the Archdruid again. I note that his “Retrotopia” doesn’t allow corporations at all, which I would agree with.)

    This is something I’ve thought about for a long time; I’m posting it here because NC seems like a good place to get a constructive critique.

    1. tegnost

      sounds like a good way to “atomize” the behemoth corps while retaining the benefits of incorporation to smaller entities so i’m in

    2. Jerry

      What about the claim that some businesses are better if they are large? Auto companies, telephones, pipelines, airlines, for examples.

      Otherwise I like your idea. We don’t need giant hardware stores or hotel chains or banks or TV networks or or landlord chains or grocery stores.

  23. Senator-Elect

    This is sick. It defies common sense.

    These kinds of stories remind of the reports out of the Soviet Union of nonsensical industrial production (e.g. all left shoes) showing that communism was doomed to fail. Now we see them here, in late capitalism.

    Our system no longer meets our needs. It has to collapse at some point, right?

  24. jfleni

    This is just a musical chairs game among a clutch of clueless plutocrats playing “clutch-butt”, with each other, with the FTC as referee.

    Far, far better to get the employees together, find the easy financing to sell them the assets, and run the whole thing as a coop. Better for customers, employees, and even for “Dogpatch-DC”!

  25. Oguk

    Really appreciate this article – just the right length with a link to a longer form piece (for when I have more time).
    Real communities suffer from corporate hanky-panky. I drove through Vermont recently, and every time I got off 89 it looks like a wasteland for local businesses. We have a Jo-An Crafts store (best place for a lot of hard to find items for around the house, kids projects etc.) near us that got a makeover recently, and I suspected some kind of merger/private equity deal is behind it, but I haven’t had time to investigate, and don’t really know where to start.

    1. Linda I.

      On December 23, 2010, Jo-Ann Stores announced plans to sell out to private equity firm Leonard Green for $1.6 billion.

  26. Susan Helf

    The misbehavior of the FTC is just a small part of the story. Most of the federal agencies have been captured by the corporations. The only effective constraint on corporate monopoly and other bad behavior is coming from the handful of activist state attorneys general who are using state law to go after corporations.

  27. Mitch Ritter

    Anti-competitive Cartel Crony Capitalism viewed through a macro-economic macroscope and connecting the dots to failed E-CON policy outcomes via rigged global markets the world-over is what got Israeli Accountant General Yaron Zelekha hounded out of government within a year or two of being appointed to the job by his buddy Bibi.

    Most of the corporate-captured Hebrew press not to mention the English press bought up by Las Vegas-Macau Casino King Sheldon Adelson helped do the hounding. Zelekha took his on-the-job observations and macro-economic work to the sanctuary of academics and gave a series of lectures titled OLIGARCHY 101 at Technion, the business school at Kiryat Ono and assorted tavernas & pubs around Haifa (after a guest teaching stint at Cornell where I gather he did not draw upon his brief sojourn as Accountant General). Back in 2007 when he got 86’d from his government job the terms OLIGARCH, OLIGARCHY and OLIGOPOLY were consigned to history classes or the few remaining Political Economy courses. Any attempt to use them in contemporary Anglo journalism was deemed off-the-reservation and ideologically biased. Google the term now and one finds the academic world and even the business press is routinely using the terms to describe current international trade deals that are negotiated in secret and not even reported on in news media. MBA mills on the same campuses as those academic E-CON courses, NOT SO MUCH. See how many citations under those terms you’ll find on any publication or syllabus coming out of UCLA’s MILKEN SCHOOL OF BUSINESS LAW (& ETHICS?) or NORTHWESTERN’s PRITZKER BUSINESS SCHOOL.

    See for instance whether you can find any TRADE DEAL SCOREBOARD on Obama’s 2012 KORUS, FTA (Free Trade Agreement) anywhere except for a startling review in FORBES and in the bi-partisan non-profit

    The lead-off lecture at Technion complete with very funny Q&A with the students afterward got posted to YOU TUBE, regrettably, without English subtitles, and has at last check approached a quarter of a million views. Not easy for any “lecture” to pull that many eyeballs in a language like Hebrew that is not considered an international business language.

    Even with that English language gloss you’ll find about as much journalistic interest in seeking out Yaron Zelekha for his views on OLIGARCHY 101 as we’ve all seen in the herd stampede of accredited journalists seeking to broadcast or publish TRADE DEAL SCOREBOARDS a la ECONOMYINCRISIS DOT ORG’s 2014 review of the outcomes thus far of Obama’s “first pivot to the Pacific” and secretly negotiated 2012 Asian trade deal, KORUS, FTA. Now if only naked capitalism analysts and contributors could acquire a press pass and get to ask a question of Bait & Switch Obama in front of a live mic. Might be as instructive as when Amy Goodman of DEMOCRACY NOW got to surprise then President Bill Clinton who was out campaigning to have Big Labor sign their own suicide pact by backing NAFTA!

    (C) Mitch Ritter
    Lay-Low Studios, Ore-Wa
    Nike-Town, Intel-Land, LLC
    Pheudal Phiephdom of Phil, Ka-Ching
    In Perpetuity Throughout the Universe

  28. Mike Rhea

    This is why I’m worried about a certain pending drugstore merger.At least Albertsons sold off its previous NorCal division to Save Mart nearly a decade ago…

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