Confessions of a Monopolist

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Allan Davis’s very perceptive little excursion in libertarian power elite analysis today at LRC, “US vs. Them,” brought to mind a wonderful book lost down the Orwellian Memory Hole. The book is Confessions of a Monopolist, by Frederic C. Howe. Howe was a prominent 20th Century progressive reformer, both at the municipal and national levels. He was the author of many works but two particularly stand out: the aforementioned and his later rather jaded Confessions of a Reformer. For a brief time in the late 1970s, the first book was lauded and enjoyed a high reputation in certain libertarian circles due to a reprinted edition with an astute introduction by Antony C. Sutton. Check out the powerful opening paragraphs of the Preface and you will see why it remains as timely today as when written in 1906: 

This is the story of something for nothing—of making the other fellow pay. This making the other fellow pay, of getting something for nothing, explains the lust for franchises, mining rights, tariff privileges, railway control, tax evasions. All these things mean monopoly, and all monopoly is bottomed on legislation.

And monopoly laws are born in corruption. The commercialism of the press, of education, even of sweet charity, is part of the price we pay for the special privileges created by law. The desire of something for nothing, of making the other fellow pay, of monopoly in some form or other, is the cause of corruption. Monopoly and corruption are cause and effect. Together, they work in Congress, in our Commonwealths, in our municipalities. It is always so. It always has been so. Privilege gives birth to corruption, just as the poisonous sewer breeds disease. Equal chance, a fair field and no favors, the “square deal,” are never corrupt. They do not appear in legislative halls nor in Council Chambers. For these things mean labor for labor, value for value, something for something. This is why the little business man, the retail and wholesale dealer, the jobber, and the manufacturer are not the business men whose business corrupts politics.

No law can create labor value. But laws can unjustly distribute labor value; they can create privilege, and privilege despoils labor of its product. Laws pass on to monopoly the pennies, dimes and dollars of labor.

But monopoly does not end here. Even the sacrifice of our political institutions, even the shifting of taxes to the defenseless many, even the control of all life and industry by privilege, do not measure the whole cost of monopoly. These are but the palpable losses, the openly manifest ones. Monopoly palsies industry, trade, life itself. It encloses the land and the nation’s resources. It limits opportunity to work. It erects its barriers about our resources; not to use them, but to exact a monopoly price from those who do. Monopoly denies to man opportunity. It fences in millions of acres of soil, of coal and iron mines, and of city lots. It closes the door to competition and to labor. This is why America is not only the richest, but in some respects the most poverty marked of nations. This is why enterprise is strangled, and labor walks the streets looking for a job.

Here is the confession of a monopolist. It is the story of no one monopolist, but of all monopolists. It shows the rules of the game. The portrait presented is not the portrait of any one monopolist Senator; it is the composite of many, and the setting may be laid in any one of the Northern States. For the United States Senate is the refuge of monopoly. Its members no longer are representatives of the Commonwealths which name them, but of the big business interests whose directors, attorneys and agents they are.

Frederic C. Howe.

Cleveland, Ohio.

5:00 am on August 1, 2011