Or take the right to vote. In principle, it is a great privilege. In practice, as recent history has repeatedly shown, the right to vote, by itself, is no guarantee of liberty. Therefore, if you wish to avoid dictatorship by referendum, break up modern society’s merely functional collectives into self-governing, voluntarily co-operating groups, capable of functioning outside the bureaucratic systems of Big Business and Big Government.
-Aldous Huxley, in Brave New World Revisited (1958)
Until recent years, the struggle between the forces of “centralization” and “decentralization” was more of a full on slaughter-fest than an actually battle or war. As Americans sat there blissfully asleep for decades, every facet of our lives has been carefully consolidated into the hands of a smaller and smaller group of corporations, and hence individual executives. This trend is undeniable in everything from food, banking, media and everything in between.
Myself and many others saw the financial crisis of 2008 as a gigantic wakeup call. The disasters caused by powerful financial institutions and the greedy people that ran them should have been used as a rallying cry to break these institutions up. To recognize the dangers of too much power in one particular place. This is especially important in something as crucial as banking. However, as we are all painfully aware, this is not what happened. Rather, the institutions were bailed out, the industry consolidated even more than it was before, and the perpetrators of the crisis emerged from it even more wealthy and powerful.
My personal focus on this website has been to expose the unique dangers presented by centralization in the financial industry and the monetary system. However, many others are dedicated to the equally important and disturbing trends in other industries. Consumer goods is one of these areas, and a very telling diagram went around late last year showing how 10 companies basically control everything you buy. Take a look below:
Dangerous consolidation of the media is a trend that has also been discussed by many people on many occasions, and many of us by now have heard the stat that in the U.S. just six media giants control 90% of all TV, news, radio and film. Now that Comcast is set to buy Time Warner, the situation is about to get that much worse. The International Business Times made some poignant points:
“No one woke up this morning wishing their cable company was bigger or had more control over what they could watch or download,” Aaron said. “But that — along with higher bills — is the reality they’ll face tomorrow unless the Department of Justice and the FCC do their jobs and block this merger. Stopping this kind of deal is exactly why we have antitrust laws.”
In December, the Wall Street Journal speculated about a possible merger between the two companies, quoting an FCC official who told the paper that such a deal would face “a number of hurdles.” Chief among them is the 33 percent market share of pay-TV subscribers the new conglomerate would control. That percentage exceeds the cap of 30 percent formerly imposed by the FCC.
Perhaps an even greater hurdle is the resulting influence Comcast-TWC would have over Internet services. The merger, according to Gigaom’s Om Malik, could potentially make Comcast the largest broadband provider outside of China. Such muscle would give the company greater influence in key negotiations with content creators, particularly since it already owns NBCUniversal. It’s no wonder the deal is sparking fear among media diversity advocates. While pay-TV providers will trumpet their need for negotiating power amid rising retransmission fees — particularly for sports networks — cable bills have only gone up as media consolidation has proliferated over the last two decades. Speculating about a rumored TWC sale last month, Susan Crawford of Bloomberg.com said bluntly that it will “cost us all.”
Many people write about the struggle between “liberty” and “tyranny,” including myself, but these may not be the most effective terms to use in order to explain the troubling situation we face to a wider audience. Unfortunately, when people hear the words “liberty” the knee-jerk reaction for many is to associate it with right-wing “conspiracy theorists.” Of course, it is “conspiracy fact” that a small handful of corporations and the executives that run them control more and more of our daily lives. In other words, the forces of “tyranny” use “centralization” as their primary weapon of choice in order to control us. Those of us who long for “freedom” and “liberty” must use “decentralization” as our primary tool to fight back and win.
I have no doubt that the we in the decentralization camp are on the right side of history, and I have become more and more confident of this fact with each passing day. Every year since the financial crisis I have witnessed more and more powerful tools for decentralization that the status quo simply will not be able to control. From 3D-printing to crypto-currencies, from crowd-funding to social media, it is clear to me the status quo must adapt or die. While the Comcast/Time Warner merger is a serious threat, I think it ultimately represents just another last gasp of a dying paradigm.
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