There’s a reason your purchases are getting more expensive – and mediocre

From necessities to lifestyle splurges, a handful of major corporations set the prices we pay and the salaries we earn.

Photo: Lucas Favre

The United States has long relied on capitalism to fuel its economy, and capitalism, in turn, depends on competition for a healthy market. But as the U.S. government has turned a blind eye to monopolistic tendencies the last few decades and companies have increasingly acquired large market shares for their products, America’s capitalistic ideals have gone by the wayside to benefit large corporations, their shareholders and few others, according to New York Times columnist David Leonhardt.

In an environment where union-busting seems more popular than monopoly-busting, the think tank Open Markets Institute has published a report on some of the industries where a few companies control an entire product or service. From domestic airlines to coffin and casket manufacturing to smartphone operating systems, the findings are dramatic.

Because a select few corporate parents dictate the economy in this country, they can drive up prices, pull down wages and perpetuate other practices that make the lives of average Americans more stressful.

“Due to extreme concentrations of wealth and political power, our country is experiencing severe economic inequality, stagnant household income, the collapse of business formation and innovation, and historic levels of political polarization,” the Open Markets report reads.

Here’s a look at some of the industries that have been taken over by corporate giants.

Domestic airlines

Four firms control 73% of this $140.6 billion industry: American, Delta, United Continental, and Southwest. Perhaps that’s why planes keep getting more crowded and uncomfortable and one-time givens such as carry-ons have now become “add-ons” to the price of a ticket.

Social networking

As the parent company to youth favorites such as Instagram and WhatsApp, Facebook controls an astounding 72% of the market for social networking sites. LinkedIn controls another 11% and Twitter 6% of a $25.6 billion industry.

Baby formula and diapers

The largest four firms that sell baby formula control 89% of the market, and the largest two firms for diaper manufacturing control 64% of the market.

Cell phone providers and smartphone operating systems

The four largest cell phone providers — AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and Sprint — control 98% of the industry’s market, with AT&T and Verizon far outpacing their competitors. Meanwhile, there are only two major firms in smartphone operating systems; Google and Apple together control 99 percent of the industry.

Pharmacies and drug stores

We now romanticize a time when kids would pop over to their local pharmacy for a root beer float. That culture barely exists anymore: Major chains Walgreens and CVS control 61% of the market for a $270.6 billion industry.

Washer and dryer manufacturing

Three firms control 100% of the industry’s market.

Candy

Two recognizable names — Hershey and Mars — control 60% of the candy market.

Coffin and casket manufacturing

Even death can be monopolized, and two firms control 76% of the coffin and casket manufacturing market.

From necessities to lifestyle splurges, our economy is monopolized by a handful of major corporations that set the prices we pay and the salaries we earn. But not all is lost! We’re the ones with buying power, and we can elect politicians who believe in stricter regulations for corporations. The choice is in our hands; we just have to learn to wield our power.

Alexandra Villarreal|is a reporter for Ladders and can be reached at avillarreal@theladders.com.