Robert Higgs on Big Business and Competition

An interesting passage that I wanted to make a note of for future reference, and figured I might as well throw it up here in case anyone finds it of interest. From Neither Liberty Nor Safety (an excellent, and short, book; well worth reading even if you’ve read Crisis and Leviathan), pp. 89-90:

The large manufacturing and commercial companies that developed during the last quarter of the nineteenth century heightened the public’s fears and compounded the political reaction. Trusts, in the strictly legal sense, were not the problem. Nor, despite the orthodox claim to the contrary, was the problem large corporate business as such. For political economy, the important development was not that some firms became very big; rather, it was they did (a great deal of) business in many states – sometimes, and increasingly, in many countries. Hence, the giant corporations, which in many cases had been made large in order to exploit new technologies and organizational structures that offered economies of scale and scope, came increasingly into competition with the multitude of established firms serving previously fragmented local and regional markets. Received wisdom notwithstanding, the rise of Big Business produced not monopoly, but rather, certainly in the emergent phase, greatly heightened competition. Countless cozy little markets – places where local suppliers acted pretty much as Adam Smith warned they would – experienced the invasion of “alien” competitors. The octopus arms of big out-of-state corporations reached out to grasp a share of the local markets by offering consumers better products or lower prices. As the national market became more integrated, more and more firms found themselves blown by what Joseph Schumpeter called the gale of creative destruction. The great merger movement at the turn of the century capped this accelerating development by expanding the number of large firms and significantly augmenting their market shares.

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