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Goliath: The 100-Year War Between Monopoly Power and Democracy

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A startling look at how concentrated financial power and consumerism transformed American politics, resulting in the emergence of populism and authoritarianism, the fall of the Democratic Party—while also providing the steps needed to create a new democracy.

Americans once had a coherent and clear understanding of political tyranny, one crafted by Thomas Jefferson and updated for the industrial age by Louis Brandeis. A concentration of power, whether in the hands of a military dictator or a JP Morgan, was understood as autocratic and dangerous to individual liberty and democracy. This idea stretched back to the country’s founding. In the 1930s, people observed that the Great Depression was caused by financial concentration in the hands of a few whose misuse of their power induced a financial collapse. They drew on this tradition to craft the New Deal.

In Goliath , Matt Stoller explains how authoritarianism and populism have returned to American politics for the first time in eighty years, as the outcome of the 2016 election shook our faith in democratic institutions. It has brought to the fore dangerous forces that many modern Americans never even knew existed. Today’s bitter recriminations and panic represent more than just fear of the future, they reflect a basic confusion about what is happening and the historical backstory that brought us to this moment.

The true effects of populism, a shrinking middle class, and concentrated financial wealth are only just beginning to manifest themselves under the current administrations. The lessons of Stoller’s study will only grow more relevant as time passes. Building upon his viral article in The Atlantic , “How the Democrats Killed Their Populist Soul,” Stoller illustrates in rich detail how we arrived at this tenuous moment, and the steps we must take to create a new democracy.

608 pages, Hardcover

First published January 1, 2019

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Matt Stoller

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 131 reviews
Profile Image for Mehrsa.
2,234 reviews3,649 followers
October 19, 2019
This is a "big idea book" (and a big book in general) that traces one thread through American history. This thread is monopoly power. When you tell history myopically like this, you revise history and miss a lot, but that's ok because the point is to just follow one story . So I think there is a lot of missed context in this story and some facts that just aren't right. Still, I think it's a worthwhile read.

To Stoller, there are good guys and bad guys in this story. The good guys: Wright Patman (the best of them all--the forgotten hero), Wilson, Brandeis, and a few others. There are lots of bad guys: The watergate babies, Teddy Roosevelt (unserious), Berle (cozy with monopolists), Galbraith (elite), Ralph Nader (who is apparently uninformed), and basically every modern democrat. This I thought was a bit of a reach. The consumer protection movement was not a cop-out to the monopoly movement. Berle and Galbraith were hardly indicative of what was wrong during those specific eras. Stoller rightly drags the Chicago and Harvard Anti-trust schools, but his venom for the left is what makes this book different than the standard accounts. But if you see the world as those whose mission was to oppose monopoly and that those who don't care, then the split between good and bad is easy to draw. It's sort of "great man" politics and its shadow "bad man" politics across the board. I tend to think people rise or fall depending on the political moment.

Stoller tries to "complicate" the good guys a few times, but I don't think he believes it. Wright Patman was a segregationist, but Stoller said it was because he had to be to get his seat. Wilson was a white supremacist and led to the Klan's resurgence. Sure, these two were good progressives, but they were also somewhat racist. Stoller is not sure about the left's embrace of civil rights in the 60s and sees the post-Nixon watergate babies as not sufficiently obsessed with economic power. He may be right, but the dems pre-Nixon were basically all southern segregationists. But the story of the left is much more complicated than the anti-monopolists and the neoliberals. What about people like Johnson (the only president post FDR) who is complicated on that front. What about Proxmire on the banking committee? Not a watergate baby, but no Wright Patman.

Stoller is a brilliant thinker and his perspective is really important. I hope that this book gets the serious scholarly attention it deserves and I hope other historians come and correct some of the oversights in this account.
Profile Image for Michael Perkins.
Author 6 books375 followers
April 19, 2022
2021: the state of American monopolies....



This is a long, detailed book. If you don't have time to read it, this article should be enough.



Why Democrats Keep Losing Rural Counties Like Mine



"Though most members didn’t know it, the Democratic Congress of 1975 had just taken the single biggest step toward the destruction of the independent business enterprise—and the small producer and small retailer—in the history of America."

"White southern retailers and pharmacists had been independent of concentrated power since the 1930s. To them, the New Deal meant fair trade laws that protected their livelihood from the chain store “menace.” White independent merchants often supported the Democratic Party even when disagreeing on racial segregation, unions, or other policies."

"As this new Boomer class in Congress was buttressed by attacks on fair trade, and similar laws fell apart, so did the Democratic organizing base in the South. Walmart spread, first in the rural South, and then into the Midwest, the Rocky Mountains, and Rust Belt cities, paralleling the Republican conquest of the same territory. The Republicans became rooted in a far more right-wing base in the South, and the Democrats began moving away from their long support for the small businessperson and small farmer."

A parallel crisis for the rural poor....

Profile Image for David Dayen.
Author 5 books186 followers
June 20, 2019
You're going to want to get this book for understanding a century of history of American political economy. We're in sort of a strange time right now where aggregate economic statistics do not correspond to daily life, where regional inequality along with income and wealth inequality has spiraled out of control, where there's an implicit sense of wrongness about the way our society is structured. And there are antecedents to other times in America, when robber barons and financiers and private controllers placed their own organizations on top of our lives. Stoller has studied this history, he has very definite, bright-line thoughts about it, and he makes a compelling case that our political leadership has lost its way, led astray by a pernicious view of how the economy is supposed to work. This book will provoke, maybe even anger, because it expresses uncomfortable and even hidden thoughts. At its best it will teach that we've been here before, we've had other ages of monopoly, and we've found a way out, together.
Profile Image for Athan Tolis.
312 reviews599 followers
November 22, 2019
This five-star book is the definitive 500-page history of the rise and the fall (and the potential for re-birth) of the populist movement in America.

As a society, Stoller argues, we are called today to face down one more time the biggest modern enemy of the American people: monopoly power. His main goal is to address a single part of this puzzle; to set us straight on the historical record:

“You are here and let me tell you how you ended up here,” he says. His clear intention is that

(i) if we know the history of how we conquered monopoly once
(ii) if we understand that this is one and the same as the people’s struggle

then we will have a clear path past the modern-era monopolists and the bought-and-paid-for politicians who do their bidding from both sides of the aisle.

The book starts in medias res, with the funeral of Senator Wright Patman, populist anti-monopoly crusader, in March of 1976. A poignant historical event, because it marked the end of an era, a fifty-year golden age when America was comfortable restricting monopoly without having to make any excuses.

Stoller’s perspective of the struggle is best understood by considering the four-way dilemma voters faced in the 1912 election, when Americans were called to decide the fate of the main scourge of their times: the trusts. Eugene Debs, a socialist, simply proposed that they be nationalized. Republican incumbent, and laissez-faire proponent, Taft did not find there was any problem whatsoever with the legacy of Carnegie, Frick, the Rockefellers or the Morgans. Woodrow Wilson, the eventual winner, ran on the premise that behemoths should be broken up via very aggressive antitrust legislation. And independent candidate, former Republican President and original populist Theodore Roosevelt, finally, proposed a more nuanced view: he recognized that, provided they did not challenge the government’s powers, large companies were often necessary, but ought to be reined in via regulation.

The question was not answered by the election, the author argues, because Wilson decided to enter WWI, in the process sticking Eugene Debs in jail, reneging on his promises to break up monopolies and forging a tight alliance between big money, big business and government, of the kind that probably would have come out of another Roosevelt administration.

When the war ended, bringing about a very sharp correction in arable land prices, agricultural products, commodities and industrials, the opposition party that picked up the pieces was very much in hock to the moneyed interests of the trusts and personified in Andrew Mellon, the industrialist and Morgan associate who, among other assets, owned the absolute US monopoly in aluminium (Alcoa) and “under whom three presidents served.” His era ended, famously, with the Great Depression, and not before fully demonstrating to all Americans the perils of allowing market power to evolve into absolute power.

With particular relish, Stoller recounts how, over three terms in government, FDR next took the reins and put in place the plan, the process and the people to turn the country around. Starring roles are reserved for Wright Patman, who personally pursued Andrew Mellon, for Ferdinand Pecora, Henry Morgenthau and Robert Jackson’s pursuit of the monopolist Goliath in general and for Marriner Eccles’ firm hand at the Fed, with the eventual outcome that (p. 140) “every part of the economy began growing again, except Wall St.” On the legal front, not only was the Sherman Act back to being applied according to its original purpose, but the Robinson-Patman act of 1936 made both predatory pricing and price discrimination illegal. In other words, a large corporation could no longer lawfully discount to drive new competitors out of business, while a railroad could no longer charge a big shipper a lower price than a small shipper for the same freight. And the Glass-Steagall Act separated carved the corporate financiers and traders out of the banks. The New Deal itself Stoller does not really go into, you can find about that in other books, I suppose.

The legacy of the New Deal was a period that celebrated the small businessman, when vertical integration was verboten every bit as much as market share, when corporate leaders were genuinely afraid of the FTC, the ICC, the SEC, and the Senate Banking Committee, when Presidents Truman and Eisenhower alike celebrated small business and when the notorious “Military Industrial Complex” itself was composed of scores of fierce competitors.

What happened right next is described with 100% historical accuracy, but perhaps with inadequate sympathy for the position the liberals found themselves in who led the agenda, inadvertently cracking the door open for the unfettered, unapologetic capitalists to sneak back in.

The heart of the intellectual leaders of the Kennedy administration was in the right place (and Stoller does have praise for the anti-McCarthyist stance of John Kenneth Galbraith) but they could not help but keep an eye on the seeming progress of the Soviet Union and conclude that there were growth-related merits to the statist approach.

Not unlike today’s experts singing the praises of the Chinese approach to growth, but in a way turbocharged by the Soviet’s successes with their space program, mainstream economists of the era, Galbraith and Hofstadter included, came to believe that if growth was your thing, the state was your friend. The standard university textbook in economics, Paul Samuelson’s “Economics,” openly predicted the coming economic dominance of the Soviet Union.

On the other hand, there was very little denying that we in the West had it good. When Nikita Khrushchev visited a US supermarket, he thought it was some sort of western version of the Potemkin village, that’s how stark the difference was between East and West. So I, for one, have great sympathy for the argument made by Galbraith and the Kennedy “liberals” he stood for, saying that we in the West lived in a world of “Affluence.”

From there, of course, it was a small, but very wrong, step to say that since we lived in a world of affluence, our problem was not to protect affluent citizens from colluding businesses. Rather, it was to get the state itself to coordinate these businesses so we would could keep the Soviets in our rear-view mirror.

And since the main premise had to be that we were doing things right and since we were indeed taking a dirigiste approach and since FDR had gifted us powerful unions, it was only natural that a theory of “countervailing power” that would contain excess would arise. Little did they know that, a short fifty years later, monopoly apologists like Peter Thiel would use a very similar argument to tell us every Microsoft will find its Google and all is for the best in this best of all possible worlds.

Suddenly, the defenders of the plain people were no longer in the ramparts to protect them. Significantly, in abandoning their populist principles, the representatives of the liberal side were not only elitist and statist, they became convenient villains, bogeymen for an angry movement that made some intellectually powerful points!

Enter Friedrich Hayek. Hayek correctly identified that the Soviets and those in the free world who were content to “cover” them were making a grave error: people work better when they are free to make mistakes. Away from the centers of power in DC and away from the ivory towers of the Ivy League, a movement came about that started its life very much on the margins, but, centered around Chicago developed a hard core of convictions.

Stoller credits a single man, Hayek’s prophet Aaron Director, with picking up where Hayek left off and
1. establishing on the economic firmament the eventual giants of the Chicago School such as George Stigler and Milton Friedman
2. creating out of thin air the field of “Law and Economics,” that gave us Ronald Coase, Gary Becker, Robert Bork and (Judge) Richard Posner

Contrary to conventional wisdom (except perhaps for Bork, whose name I first even came across in college during the “block Bork” campaign), Stoller is highly contemptuous of these men.

The field of “Law and Economics” he dismisses as pure bogus. As a onetime student of Keith Hylton, I must say I remember very fondly all the relevant teachings and I remember equally clearly how far out of their way my teachers always went to explain that in the real world it actually wasn’t enough to establish who had the right to pollute, for example, because markets are incomplete. This was never presented to me as anything more than a stylized way to look at the world. And as an avid former reader of the Becker-Posner blog, I must say I really miss it now Professor Becker is no longer with us. Even the early, hyper-combative writings of these authors need to be understood in the context of the sixties and seventies, when to be heard they had to scream.

On the other hand, that is not to say that Stoller’s got it wrong. The essence he’s got 100% right. These academics’ ideas were eventually hijacked by malevolent actors who sought intellectual justification for what amounts to a restoration of market power and monopoly, all in the name of freedom.

Not that anybody would listen to Milton Friedman when the going was good, of course. But come the Vietnam War, the fall in American competitiveness versus a re-building Europe, the end of the Gold Standard, the ensuing oil embargo (that Stoller conventionally attributes to the Arab-Israeli conflict) and the stagflation of the seventies, it was to his theories that everybody turned for the economy (rather than, say, Minksy’s or Olson’s) and to Bork’s for antitrust. If the old order was not delivering, that’s what was on the chop.

With no doubt, that was a tragedy, because Bork’s lifetime was dedicated to proving there’s nothing wrong with market power or even monopoly, so long as the consumer is not left worse off. Even the definition for what leaves the consumer worse off was defined hyper-narrowly as “low price.” Bork, described here as an ardent climber, earned tenure at Yale, from where he cultivated none other than Goldwater. Even though Goldwater was trounced at the polls, Bork now had enjoyed enough time near the halls of power that he could be ready to pounce.

Stoller pauses his account of how antitrust was defeated to introduce two more important components of the story: the emerging conglomerates and the re-emerging banks that enabled them. While lending inside the US was constrained by laws passed as part of the New Deal, American banks could carry on lending to foreigners. The “public face” of this new development, a young Walter Wriston, made his name lending to a young Greek shipowner by the name of Aristotle Onassis, with the profits from this one account probably all he needed to ascend to the top of the world’s biggest bank, Citibank.

Emboldened by their international profitability, US banks found a loophole that allowed them to lend in more than one state: they lent money to large conglomerates. The conglomerates were the big fashion of the late sixties American stock market. With vertical and horizontal integration stymied by still-enforced, strong anti-monopoly laws, conglomerates borrowed from the banks to buy completely disconnected businesses that were unwise enough to maintain a neat, unlevered balance sheet, lever them up and distribute large dividends to their own shareholders. As early as January, 1969, incidentally, Wriston tried (but failed) to drive through the Glass-Steagall act, by attempting to merge Chubb Corporation under his Citigroup. (The world would have to wait 30 more years for that)

And that’s for example, how, enabled by the money center banks themselves, a 29-year-old upstart, Saul Steinberg, almost succeeded in buying Chemical Bank in February of 1969. He failed, but other, less outrageous operators succeeded. Most egregiously so, Penn Central, the country’s biggest railway operator, a proper “train wreck” oof a conglomerate that used debt to buy every company it could get its hands on and almost brought down the American economy itself when its debts finally caught up with it.

The agitators for the plain man come in for criticism next, with Stoller painting Ralph Nader as nothing more than a useful idiot for the establishment, a man who deflected the ire of the people away from the re-emerging nexus of banks and corporations toward their regulators. In expending all their energy to defend the rights of the consumer, rather than the citizen, the author’s claims, “Nader’s raiders” actually paved the way for Bork to sound entirely reasonable when in his “Antitrust Paradox” he took the side of corporations that could deliver lower prices, with little regard to the fact that this achievement may have been enabled through market power, predatory pricing or discriminatory pricing.

The watershed moment when populism in AmerAmerica died was when the “Watergate Babies” swept into DC in 1974. In their zeal to upend all existing institutions, to defeat stagnation, and “oriented by the politics of affluence rather than the memory of Mellon, they ignored antimonopolist elders and did not fully understand the danger of concentrated financial power.” (p. 330, actually discussing a 1970 article written in the Washington Monthly about the aftermath of Penn Central)

The 49 seats Democrats picked up in the House were filled by anti-war youths who teamed up with some more senior liberals to strike a blow against the seniority system and overthrew committee chairmen whom they viewed as too conservative and/or too old.

With the old guard, tainted by not having ended the Vietnam War, in the defensive, the Watergate Babies chucked out the baby with the bathwater, Stoller persuasively argues. Inflation being on the rampage, moreover, there was strong support for any measures that could hold prices down, hard-won fights against market power be damned.

From that moment onward, the Democratic Party has become a party of identity politics rather than a defendant of the poor. Bork had no problem single-handedly changing American antitrust.

From there, the book carves a straight line to Michael Milken and Bob Rubin, from Bob Rubin to Clinton’s deregulatory bonanza, the tech bust of 2000, the housing / banking meltdown of 2008 and today’s cocktail of Trump, private equity and FANGS, with stops tto take in the pyrrhic victories of the IBM trial and the Microsoft trial.

Nobody is spared, including Saint Jimmy Carter, to say nothing of Barack Obama, or Reagan.

You and I may disagree about the detail but Stoller has accomplished a Herculean task here: first he succeeds in defining populism in America as the struggle against market power; next in writing the definitive history of American populism in the 20th century.
Profile Image for Wick Welker.
Author 6 books382 followers
May 19, 2021
America has created and recreated itself over and over again. We must do it again.

The sweeping history from the last 100 years of monopolisitc powers versus the average American person is presented in Goliath, told with great detail, great accuracy and with both temperance and passion. Scarcely do I read a book that so thoroughly demonstrates current problems through history, and from that history, provides a roadmap out of the current concentration of power in which we live.

Stoller starts this history with a question: why would a bunch of well-meaning technocrats in the form of the Obama administration bail out the very banks that caused a financial crash? Given the chance, why would they decide to do the exact opposite of the New Deal era and double down on the very system that created the crisis? The answer to this question requires delving back 100 years and tacking us back to Teddy Roosevelt.

Roosevelt branded himself as anti-monoplistic but actually oversaw monopoly formation and presided over it. Wilson, his successor, was actually anti-monopolistic. Wilson passed the first laws that benefited the workers: 8-hour work day, child-labor laws. He created the Federal Trade Commision (FTC) and he passed the Clayton act which stopped large mergers from happening. The next in line, Harding, took quite a different approach. While Harding may not have had as a direct effect on monopolization his Secretary of Treasury, Andrew Mellon, sure did.

Andrew Mellon played a BIG role in monopolization. He was a former private banker who likely bribed Harding for the role the Secretary of Treasury. He would serve as Secretary of Treasury for THREE MORE PRESIDENTS. Mellon owned enormous monopolies, including ownership in over 70 companies. He own Alcoa, an aluminum company that had 100% of the aluminum market. Mellon was in fact good friends with Mussolini, a man he admired for being anti-communist and who fused together government and business. Where Mussolini used murder and dictatorship for his mergers, Mellon had to actually appeal to voters. Mellon was impeached by Congressman Wright Patman. Patman serves as a key figure in this book. He is lauded by the author as being one of the most anti-monopolistic watchdogs in American history.

The depression happened as the markets collapsed and then a wave of bank defaults soared through Europe and the United States which stopped lending and seized funds. Unemployment went from 2% to 25$. FDR won over Hoover in a landslide. A reckoning occurred during this time for the monopolists. The famous Pecora hearings was aimed at rutting out the monopolists, including Mellon, and acted as a referendum on the disaster of a financial system that was imposed. New Deal policies then dramatically decreased the unemployment rate and increased housing in forms of HOLC and FHA (which had racist policies, a topic for another book, The Color of Law). The New Deal clearly elevated the economic rights of the average American and created a stable foundation on which the Civil Rights were then built. With the decentralization of banking and other Keynesian moves, monopoly power was greatly weakened in the New Deal eras.

Changes in the zeitgeist started to occur in the 1960s and really culminated in the 1970s. On the left, you had the emergence of economic technocrats like Galbraith who preached the "countervailing forces" in which monopolies were perfectly sound because the market will naturally create forces that will oppose monopolies; this was a highly influential idea to baby boomer liberals. And then of course on the right you have the Chicago School of Economics finding fertile scientific ground disseminating their neoliberal ideas throughout the courts and politics (in the form of Scalia and Goldwater). The Chicago schooled fundamentally changed rhetoric and language redefining freedom as unfettered business. "Monopoly" began to refer to union and government control and that corporations were a protector of this newly branded freedom. A fetishising of meritocracy occurred on both the left and the right which helped to create a victimization of businesses. It's no wonder that Friedman could insinuate that a business unable to discriminate based on race was an infringement of freedom. Galbraith and Chicago school loathed one another but their philosophies were in sync: wealth and power needed to be concentrated into educated technocrats.

Despite Goldwater's presidential failure, the winds were already changing. The business round table (with the Powell Memo as their manifesto) sought to inject business into politics. Riston created CDs which formed a parallel banking system which then held the Fed hostage to do anything because it would induce a bank run. Jimmy Carter was actually going to fire all the air traffic controllers anyway before Reagan actually did it, a move that supposedly heralded in the return of neoliberalism. Nader was around and close with the philosophies of Patman and Brandeis but seemed more concerned with consumer protection. The Consumer Good Pricing Act screwed over small business and helped predatory pricing of which the liberal bought in. Democracy was beginning to be seen as inefficient by both sides of the political party and a HUGE wave of mergers took over in the 19080s. The politics of affluence reigned.

Reagan put four neoliberal judges on the court including Scalia. Junk bonds changed corporate structure. Leveraged By-outs became normalized and completely finacialized the system, further concentrating the wealth. The opposing democrats at this time where anti-populist themselves. Bill Clinton won on a populist movement but with no mention of anti-trust. Clinton deeply entrenched more of Reagan's principles. He coddled corporate interests and attacked banking restrictions by repealing Glass-Steagall and signing NAFTA, an agreement that helped corporations find cheaper labor elsewhere. Hillary sat on the board of Wal-Mart... Clinton appointed pro-monopoly judges Briar and RBG, both of whom signed a Scalia opinion that posited that the possession of monopolization was not illegal and it produced economic growth. Section 230 occurred in the 90s, opening up for the wave of tech giants.

Bush did even less than Clinton about monopoly power, ushering in more powerful monopolies and basically running a war profiteering outfit full on contractors upon sub-contractors. When Lehman bros filed bankruptcy in 2007, it spurred a bank run. There were 5-7 TRILLION dollars in unpaid mortgages just flapping in the wind. The cultured had changed so much that there was no anti-populist outcry from the Democrat party when Obama bailed out the banks. This is because the Democratic party has become the corporate, technocratic wonk party full of professional elites. Finance has become sacrosanct to all. The Democratic Party has become the party of Mellonism.

It's no wonder we have the largest tech companies running every part of our lives. In 2016, Google and Facebook took 60% of all online ad revenue in America which is the largest source of advertising money. Google has 90% of the search and ad market and can track users across 80% of websites. Facebook has 70% of social network trafficking. 2/3 of American get their news on social media. Amazon is the epitome of monopolization, operating on the very dominant market that it owns. America is now a news desert. The fallout from the tech monopolization is unspeakable and beyond the scope of this review.

What we learn is that the Obama-era bailouts where an attempt to STOP New Deal regulations, not to stop a depression. The liberal technocrats had been indoctrinated by liberal-corporate thinking of Galbraith which was copied and pasted once again from Clinton policy. The Democrat party ceased to be the part of the people circa 1980s with the resounding election of Reagan. The two parties have become two sides of the same neoliberal coin. When Obama bailed out the banks, there was no established democratic outcry, because the populist movement doesn't exist anymore. Neither party can be trusted to put the power back into the hands of the people.

And that is what populism is. Populism is average people knowing exactly what is good for them. Populism is rejecting the concentration of wealth and power. Populism is decrying plutocracy, oligarchy, monopoly and the corporate infiltration into governance. Populism is not perfect because average people are not perfect, but it at least wrestles power away from the liberal elite, the corporate elite and conservative-corporate fascism.

What should we do? LEARN. Don't fall back into elitism and technocracy, steer clear of corporate fascism. We have created and recreated ourselves many times over and we MUST do it again. The question is not if commerce is good, it's who will control the commerce and the power of this country. America is a battle and a struggle for justice. WE chose who wins.
Profile Image for Daniel.
634 reviews83 followers
January 12, 2020
Hamilton (tycoon lover) vs Jefferson (99% lover).

This is an epic book spanning over a century of monopolies (Goliaths). So big companies not only squeeze consumers and not invest and only pay shareholders, they also pay academics whose theories support their behaviour. The anti-monopolists had lost and there was no academic support by the ‘plain people’. That’s why inequality is worsening, middle class jobs are disappearing, pay for most people is dropping, and populism is rising.

1. Sherman Act: collusion of competitors was illegal but merged Goliath with monopoly power was not. So mergers were encouraged.
2. Railroad companies competed ruinously, undercharging causing bankruptcies and Labor unrest. J P Morgan bought them all. Railroad networks formed a natural monopoly. Then he formed US Steel.
3. Teddy Roosevelt took on mine owners and J P Morgan, to show him who was boss, but later busted other businesses but not Morgan again, and Morgan reciprocated by supporting his campaign. He believed in central government control of Goliaths. After his terms Roosevelt went to an Africa safari sponsored by Steel barons.
4. Then Taft broke up Standard Oil but ‘gutted’ the Sherman Act by letting judges decide what is ‘unreasonable’.
5. Wilson won and finally broke J P Morgan. He set up the Fed, Federal Trade Commision, protects the workers’ right. The First World War let big business grow and power concentrate. Then hyperinflation and massive unemployment happened, caused the Fed to raise interest rates. Then Europe recovered and sent products causing price deflation.
6. Then Harding became president and appointed Andrew Mellon as Treasury secretary. Mellon created interlocking industries where Mellon men sat on the boards of each other’s companies. Violence against workers was used, unions were crushed, political financial contribution made. Once Treasury Secretary, he cut taxes and used his Bureau of Internal Revenue to control Congress. Businesses merged under Mellon. During the Great Depression, Mellon used his power to take control of solvent banks rather than saving the failing banks.
7. Hoover was unable to do anything for the Great Depression for he believed that it was only about confidence, not the banking system. Wright Patman was a people’s Senator who fought the rich and anti-monopolist. And he went after Mellon, who fought back with character assassination. But finally the Barco confession where Mellon asked for preferential oil deal for his company in return for loans changed public opinion, and Mellon was exiled to England. Still Hoover would not relent on payment to the veterans (The Bonus) by printing money. So the veterans marched to Washington, and Hoover sent the Army on them!
8. Then FDR won. Ferdinand Pecora went after respected Wall Street crooks successfully. Their strategies are always the same: holding companies, tax avoidance, insider trading, corporate control with borrowing and bribery of government officials. FDR encourages investigations. Congress passed the a Security Act and set up the SEC. Robert Jackson finally managed to get Mellon to pay back taxes. Mellon donates his art to the National Gallery. The old corrupt financial system was finally broken. Then he went after his company Alcoa that controls 100% of aluminium.
9. Still the country was in recession and Bankers wanted a balanced Budget. Marriner Eccles then stood up to them and declared that there are no natural business cycles; government can spend or save as it sees fit. He recommended a deficit Budget, government helping to prevent foreclosure, rescue of bankrupt states, farm support, and cancellation of Allies’ debts. So this was the New Deal.
10. Alcoa even delayed American war production by keeping supply Low to maintain high price. Thurman Arnold let the press run wild with Alcoa aiding the Nazis by restricting American warplane production, and Alcoa with the other monopolies quickly changed. In the end Alcoa was forced to share its patents free with competitors. So monopolies in Germany and Japan encouraged totalitarian ultranationalistic governments, that is, fascists and would lead to war.
11. A&P used cut throat prices to drive competitors out of business, and then use its monopoly power to force suppliers to sell cheaply on them and give them kickbacks. This was later deemed illegal.
12. Thus the postwar period was a golden period for workers as mergers were restricted and banks regulated by Regulation Q.
13. Truman and Eisenhower went after the monopolies and appointed Bicks to helm the antitrust division.
14. IBM was forced to license its punch card business, promoting the development of computers.
15. Frederick Hayek was anti-Nazi anti- central control, founded the Free Market Study to promote neoliberalism. He was supported by rich businessmen. Harold Luhnow set up the Volker fund to support him and Aaron Director. That fund groomed 5 Nobel prize winners. But John Galbraith, a leftist, looms large. But the Chicago School worked relentlessly, inventing new neoliberal economic theories. They ‘proved’ monopolies had higher profits because they were more efficient and better managed. They argued that anti-trust disadvantaged the monopolies’ freedom to compete!
16. Robert Bork went to Yale and started to argue against anti-trust law. Donald Turner his disciple later became head of the anti- trust division and he didn’t do much.
17. Post war, fear of communism provided the Big Rich to launch attacks on organised Labor and anti-monopolists. Economists were also targets so used jargons to avoid political problems.
18. Next public euphoria gave rise to mutual funds, and conglomerates. Conglomerates used their high stock price to buy companies with real assets, as cash generating vehicles for stockholders, but also sometimes selling their key assets. Walter Wriston at Citibank led the Banks that also wanted a piece of the action but was defeated by the tenacious Wright Patman in the Bank Holding Company Act. Nonetheless, the Money market was created so that commercial banks can get funds easily, bypassing bank regulations. Then the big crash of Penn Central came, and government bailed out the ‘top big to fail’ banks. So banks lend anyhow.
19. During the Nixon time, the Chicago school was ascendant. The anti-trust school did not however have any intellectual power behind it. So it started to lose. Then Ralph Nader spoke up for consumers but ignored small businesses and proposed tearing down of the whole system. Then Milton Friedman attacked social security. So the 2 sides pushed deregulation.
20. Post Nixon, young senators were elected, the Watergate babies. Patman was deemed too old and voted out. Then the Fair Trade law was repealed, because it prevented predatory pricing and differential pricing. From the consumers’ point of view those were bad. However they protect small businesses from monopolies. So repealing then benefited consumers in the short run, but once monopolies established their market share, they would charge whatever they liked. Anyhow, the Consumer Goods Pricing Act freed up price differentiation. Chain stores then grew, squeezing small retailers. When manufacturers set prices, stores compete with service. When stores set prices, customer service disappeared.
21. The last win under Lyndon Johnson was the anti trust case against IBM, which also used to supply punch cards to Nazi Germany. IBM was forced to unbundle its software and hardware package, spurring the development of personal computers.
22. Summer camps for law professors and judges to attend Chicago school economic teaching happened. Milton Friedman won the Nobel prize and Rafi al libertarianism was ascendant.
23. Paul Volcker used high interest rates to kill inflation but the economy suffered as well. Carter and Reagan pushed for deregulation in the airlines, transport, bankruptcy. They crushed the unions, and cut taxes to the rich and cut benefits to the poor.
24. Throughout this time companies that were ‘too big to fail’ were bailed out, whereas smaller ones were not during financial crises. So every company wanted to attain that status. So mergers became popular.
25. By now both Democrats and Republicans were firmly on the same page, agreeing with the Chicago School. There were just no other schools of thoughts any more.
26. Jack Welch became CEO of GE, and sold many companies and merged with others, ‘to better fight Japanese product invasion’. It became a financial holding company. GM followed suit.
27. William Baxter during the Reagan era broke up AT&T, which was opposed by the whole Chicago school. The original fear was that it would cut R&D. However it increased R&D instead, fearing competition. But this would be the last of the anti-trust action.
28. Next came corporate raiders led by Michael Milken. They would raise funds from selling junk bonds and borrowing from Savings and Loan banks to buy a portion of a company with little debt but own assets. They would then borrow against the company they bought, pay themselves lots of money, and then either let the company disappear or restructure the debt. They also did insider trading. They forced well managed companies to pile on debt and cut spending, and to become big. Eventually it collapsed and Milken went to jail.
29. Meanwhile, the New Democrats has lost touch of small businesses in favour of supporting big businesses. Clinton put forth Chicago school ideas into policy, repealed the Glass-Steagall Act, allowed mergers, appoint pro-monopoly judges, protect internet companies from wrongdoings that happened at their platforms, and deregulate derivative trading. the jobless recovery happened.
30. Obama has exactly the same ideology as Clinton. Under him, monopolies prospered. Big banks were bailed out, homeowners wrecked. Bankers who created the mess were not prosecuted. Financial institutions were not broken up. Nonetheless, Bill Gates was sufficient worried that he did not crush other internet companies.
31. Now we have a super concentrated world. Big tech companies control our media and so newspapers have disappeared. Amazon controls 50% of retail so small shops and even chain retailers and Malls have closed. It also competes on its own platform, having all the precious data of its competitors. Merchants are encouraged to use its logistic services to be put in the ‘Buy box’.
32. So now our government is reduced to servitude and has to beg the monopolists to pay the workers a bit more. But there are signs that governments are finally fighting back: Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders are after the big corporations.
Profile Image for Jayesh .
179 reviews104 followers
December 14, 2019
First half (third?) is another look at American history during the Depression years (albeit better done in Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke the World). Overall an interesting read about the history of rise and fall and rise of monopoly power in the US.

In a way it reminded me of Chomsky's Manufacturing Consent and Understanding Power. Yes every claim seemingly has a citation. As SSC noted in his review of Manufacturing Consent:

When they try to prove something, by golly, it stays proved.

Yet it seems very clear while reading that something is missing. The arguments are all completely one-sided, with no attempts to justify any of the core assumptions. As if the author is being rigorous and dishonest at the same time. Moreover, while I know that focusing on individuals makes for a good narrative, the book misses explanations of the bigger trends those individuals were responding to. I do agree with the author that a lot more could be done with anti-trust than had been done recently, the author fails to acknowledge that there might be real trade-offs to be made.
93 reviews
January 7, 2020
This is a very thought-provoking book, but is also a one-sided argument that pre-supposes many of the core claims.

I enjoyed looking at American political history through the prism of anti-trust (you can read about the same time period ten times through different lenses, and learn something new each time). It was particularly interesting to follow the evolution of political philosophies, and of party platforms, over time. There’s still a lot I’d like to understand about New Deal thinking and the Chicago School of small government / free trade.

There’s a lot of discourse today about resource management in government (e.g. taxation and welfare). There’s much less activity around regulatory management (e.g. structuring commerce). I think the author is right that there’s a lot more the government could be doing to intelligently regulate, as opposed to simply focusing on re-distribution.

Unfortunately, it become clear early on in the book that the author has no interest in justifying his core tenets - big businesses are bad, small businesses such as farmers / grocers are good, Wright Patman is one of the most noble politicians ever, anyone against New-Deal-era anti-trust law is trying to tear down democracy. The implied assumptions on right vs. wrong are never intelligently justified. Since this is a book on political thinking instead of economics, that makes sense - but there is a lot of emotional language and editorializing that need to be taken with a grain of salt.

Overall - the book was good, and a good exercise in critical thinking. I’m still not totally sure on where the balance lies between growth/efficiency/innovation and fairness/equity, but agree that there’s probably a lot more we could be doing on anti-trust than we do today. It would be nice to have a book that makes that argument honestly.
Profile Image for John.
414 reviews400 followers
February 16, 2021
This book is something of a re-situating / re-telling of American political history since the 1910s from the point of view of understanding the control over everyday people and their lives (and the resistance to their wishes) brought by monopolies and trusts. For me, at least, It read a bit as one of those "what they didn't tell you in your American History class" books. In this book, the great heroes are people like Wright Patman (who was first elected during the Depression; you may know him as the first person to hold hearings about Watergate) and Marriner Eccles. They were ardent anti-monopolists and worked to protect and preserve a fair playing field for small businesses. After reading it, I went to a couple of recent center-left mainstream histories, namely These Truths: A History of the United States and These United States: A Nation in the Making, 1890 to the Present to see what emphasis they put on monopolies and anti-trust: Not much. Lepore has one mention of Patman, and neither book mentions Eccles. In those other books you'll see just a sprinkling of mentions of monopolization, and very little differentiation between the styles of monopoly power. In any case, Patman and Eccles were among the most prominent anti-monopolists, and it was eye-popping to see how they acted against concentrations of power. I expect the next round of mainstream history books to take into account what Stoller is showing.

Basically, in Stoller's telling, there has been a war going on amongst politicians, lawyers, and economists about the worth of monopolies. I'm not an historian, but I think there are two big interventions here: (1) Monopolies as opposed to what? For Stoller, it's democracy itself, because monopolies and trusts implicitly and explicitly make decisions, or close off decisions, for us. I think almost anyone reading this will be swayed by evidence showing that concentrations of power are profoundly anti-democratic. That might sound obvious, but it takes us to point (2): It turns out that in Stoller's telling, especially in the 1950s and more recently, there are really two kinds of pro-monopolists: Left wing ones and right wing ones. This results is a pretty amazing retelling of American intellectual history. On the left, people like John Kenneth Galbraith and Richard Hofstadter come out as pro-monopolists (or at least anti-anti-trusters) on technocratic grounds: Stoller shows that in large part they believed bigger was better because big organizations can be more "efficient" (and there's an implicit condescension of ordinary people, and especially small shop owners, who are implied to be stupid and selfish and inefficient -- for Stoller, this is the great problem of the post-1960s Democratic Party: not being able to understand ordinary people and siding implicitly with bigness in its various forms). On the right, the monopolists are the whole Chicago School of law and economics, starting with Hayek and reaching its theoretical conclusion with Robert Bork (the book is so relentless on its topic that it barely mentions the story of Bork's failed nomination to the Supreme Court). There's that famous saying attributed to Richard Nixon that "We are all Keynesians now" -- well in this book, Stoller suggests that by the 1990s, many politicians, left and right, take for granted a whole story about the benefits of a business climate allowing for vast concentrations of power; and thus "we would all be Chicago School now," many of us without knowing it. You can take it for granted here that the Republicans are just awful in their craven support of bigness, but Stoller really takes the sledgehammer out for pretty much all of the prominent post-WW2 Democrats for supporting monopoly in various ways: Stevenson, Kennedy, McGovern, the so-called "Watergate babies" (because they were too young to really understand what Wright Patman was talking about and thought he was a relic from the past), Clinton (of course), all the way up to Obama. And then the anti-monopolists? Again, there is a switching of seats in this book: Josh Hawley gets mentioned towards the end as a representative of a new version of conservative anti-monopoly, which should get more depth when Hawley's forthcoming book on tech power comes out.

Another way to look at this book is as a retelling of the different ideas about power you get from Hamilton and Jefferson -- with Hamilton here absolutely being the representative of the dark side.

Anyway, if you wonder what's wrong with America, this book's for you.
Profile Image for Andrew Figueiredo.
304 reviews8 followers
June 6, 2020
One of the best books I've read this year. Stoller weaves together a compelling narrative of how Washington lost its way on challenging corporate concentration. All along, he pays special attention to Texas Congressman Wright Patman, a relatively unknown name who shaped the approach to concentrated power for years. If Patman, along with Brandeis, Robert Jackson, and FDR, are the heroes, the book is also filled with those who undermined real antimonopoly enforcement, pointing to the incredible amount of research Stoller undertook.

His strong suit, evident if you subscribe to the newsletter, is tying together the societal, economic, and political trends that influence policy. It's not just an economic history, but really the story of the 20th century. Stoller packages it readably, even if some explanations on financialization might be simplified a tad for laypeople. He points to a rift that marked the country from early on--the Hamiltonian-Jeffersonian divide on bigness. Indeed, you can trace this threat through history and he does so effectively. It defines the Wilsonian-Bull Moose divide. And the Hoover-FDR differential.

The New Deal was a high-water mark for the antimonopolist perspective in some ways. While the NIRA and other planning bodies did embody bigness, there were also many reforms undertaken to protect small businesses and market structures from the corrosive impacts of excessive concentration. The saga of Andrew Mellon isn't even talked about, but it ushered in a legal understanding of monopoly itself as problematic in certain realms. Then the A&P suits and Alcoa fights embodied an era of increasing government action against monopolies. In Alcoa, Stoller discusses how the government played an active role in creating competition where there previously was a monopoly. This vision might be instructive for future progressive politics.

But simultaneously, and especially moving into the 1960s, corporations and certain scholars (Aaron Director) began to grow the Chicago School, which Stoller provides a wonderful deconstruction of. With scientific narratives, Jeffersonian rhetoric, and corporate cash infusions, it was only a matter of time before this trend cemented itself in academia. By the 1970s, the pro-bigness perspective united right-wing corporatists and left-wing consumer advocates. You began to see an obliteration of fair trade laws, the creep of financialization, and the tying together of nonenforcement trends that define our current market. It's easy to see the concentration in our daily lives.

To his credit, Stoller doesn't stop at the oft-discussed understanding of monopolies as sellers, casting a broader net and looking at trends like price-discrimination and leveraged buyouts. This contributes to an understanding of how our system has diverted attention away from concentrated power, and the aftereffects it's had on the average American.

Goliath made me think more about my own political orientation. I've always seen a place for tripartite bargaining, but I'm also skeptical of bigness (in government and corporations alike). It's a point of tension in my own ideology between the Jeffersonianism and Hamiltonianism. What I do know is that I love Stoller's vision of an America where people can once again be in control of their fortunes and production. I agree with him that this is a way to save capitalism from its own excesses. Indeed, this mentality stems from a deep tradition with exponents on the left and right. Maybe Goliath can lead a revitalization of these ideas.

29 reviews1 follower
January 4, 2020
This was overall a pretty good book, and I debated whether to go for 3 or 4 stars. I end up going with 3 because Stoller's insistence on seeing EVERYTHING through the lens of monopoly is pretty tiring, especially when he claims vaguely related sweeping historical stem from monopoly power in some tangential way. It really undermines his better researched parts when he does this (quite frequently), and it overall makes his book less cohesive. I really enjoy that this is a solid political economy book, of which there aren't many that are this clearly written, but often times it feels less sophisticated than vulgar marxism

The Good:
- Excellent description of the bankruptcy 1920s capitalism (I though "Mellonism" was a great moniker)
- The whole Mellon tax trial is hilarious
- I really liked how Stoller sneers at economists obsessed with super complex mathematical models, accurately pointing out that they're assuming a false air of objectivity and trying to depoliticize gravely political policies. power and politics is more important to economics than math often
- The best part was some of the creative strategies New Dealers used to break up monopolies. Beyond anti-trust cases, the government financing of competitors to Alcoa during WWII was really interesting, and a policy we can/should look into today

The Bad:
- This book is realllly missing a clear view of how labor relations fit into this political economy framework. If concentrated capital is the enemy, the power (or lack thereof) of labor is extremely important in figuring out how to deal with monopoly. Stoller is clearly vaguely sympathetic to labor unions (despite sometimes throwing jabs at "Big Labor"), but he backgrounds a lot of the key work that labor put in enshrining the New Deal consensus. It wasn't just a shift in ideas, but a shift in organization. I get that Stoller festishizes the small business owner, but even at the height of anti-trust there were still far more laborers in 20th c America than there were owners of small property: do they count as Stoller's "citizens"? They seem completely ignored
- wayyyyy too much conflation of left socialism and right pro-monopoly sentiment. I sort of see where Stoller is going with this, but he never really clearly justifies his absurd claims that socialists and Robert Bork are the same when it comes to the political economy. Both do call for a degree of centralization, but how socialists want to organize the economy is vastly different than how the Chicago Schoolers do. It is a pretty interesting question of how so many proto-radicals on the new left became neoliberals or neocons, but Stoller badly bungles the history of it.
- Not the worst, but I wish there had been a clearer explanation of the interplay between monopoly and fascism. Besides (accurately) noting that most American monopolists in the 20s/30s were fascist-sympathetic, Stoller doesn't really articulate the link between fascism and monopoly besides saying "Nazi Germany had concentrated industries" over and over. I'm very open to this line of argument and think it has real potential, but Stoller unfortunately is never able to explain it clearly despite devoting quite a bit of time to it

Profile Image for Dave Oakley.
31 reviews5 followers
April 8, 2021
more like 3.5. the history was good but the last ~25 or so years didn't seem to get the level of detail that one would assume they deserve based on the core argument that monopoly power is a fundamental threat to democracy.
Profile Image for James.
616 reviews15 followers
February 16, 2021
This is probably 3.5 stars, but I have a lot of affection for the work Stoller continues to do on monopolization and corporate power, and it's so well-researched and so willing to be contrarian about things in U.S. history like the supposed liberalism of Jimmy Carter and the total removal of Mellon from history books (I know, I taught AP U.S. History for 4 years and he never made it into any of the materials) that I bumped it up.

I'd bump it down for the repetitive nature of the arguments and the strangely weak case that he makes for JK Galbraith's influence. He mentions Affluence over and over, but the parts he cites from it just don't really explain why Watergate Baby Dems became so weak on monopoly power. He sort of mentions it, but a much more convincing reason for me is simply that they became overeducated. Too many of them stayed overlong in college to avoid Vietnam, or didn't get a job in the early 70's and decided to just stay in school because it was so easy to do back then and high skill jobs were scarcer (since there were so many more low- or medium-skill jobs) and they just sat in their universities getting high off their own supply rather than actually going out in the world like the New Deal Dems and doing things.

I only say this because Millennials do this too, but when the 25% of them who go to college and then stay in college too long come out, they're not into libertarianism and the Internet like the Watergate Babies, they're into intersectionality and Marx, and just like the technocrats, they are...not great for our national discourse.

And none of this is an argument against intellectualism, which I deeply treasure: only an argument against intellectualism as practiced on college campuses, where it curdles and becomes useless as an agent of real social change. It doesn't surprise me at all that Stoller is so smart and so convincing, because he's an intellectual dilettante, not an academic.
Profile Image for Nathan.
28 reviews1 follower
June 29, 2019
Goliath is a fascinating meld of known and forgotten American history, set forth by a guide with strong and clear opinions as to how we arrived at here from there. While both political parties in the United States have largely coalesced around a free-trade, pro-monopoly theory of economic organization, Goliath sternly reminds readers that this modern Washington consensus is at odds with the base, fundamental political values that have shaped the American experiment. At the moment, political commentary focuses on the sharp divides between the left and right in this country, but through Goliath, Matt Stoller sets forth a compelling case for dramatic policy objectives that are likely to find similar levels of broad support among both conservatives and liberals.
Profile Image for Eileen Breseman.
726 reviews3 followers
August 7, 2020
Detailed, thorough and very long history of the 20th c. monopolists, their dismantling, breakup and bridling by legislation, followed by the return starting in the 1970s as the old guard changed to baby boomer congressmen/women. Like a domino trick, piece by piece the New Deal restrictions are removed and now we are at a place where monopolies are stronger than ever, and looking to control our lives. Fascinating and horrifying, like climate change, we are at a tipping point on action.
Profile Image for Charlie Quimby.
Author 2 books35 followers
January 5, 2020
An important book for the case it makes against the concentration of economic power in America (5), though a bit less (4) for compelling writing.

Definitely worth reading before the 2020 election if you are trying to differentiate among competing candidates. And essential if you’re concerned about a country run by private equity, Amazon, Walmart, Google and Facebook.
Profile Image for B.
230 reviews3 followers
September 1, 2020
One of the best books I have read this year, and the best on the topic of anti-trust. Coming on the heels of another book on the same topic (and from another fellow from Open Markets Institute!), the difference in quality could not be greater.

Although one senses Stoller’s sympathies and his nostalgia for the New Deal as a “populist” (in the old sense of the word), he does an excellent job in portraying the main economic currents and characters that are part of the clash between pro and anti-monopoly powers that take place in the last 130 years of the US history. His story takes place mainly among 3 groups; the new dealers and those who uphold the view that the market should be regulated and monopolies should be seen with suspicion, and restrained (“the good guys”, i.e. Patman, Pecora, Wilson, Brandeis, FDR and to a lesser extent Warren perhaps), those who believe in unbridled gang-ho capitalism led by the “scientific” Chicago school of economics, libertarians, and the liberal left thinkers (“the bad guys”, certainly too many to name i.e. Carnegie, Frick, the Rockefellers or the Morgans of the 19th century along with Teddy Roosevelt, then the “thought-leaders” Berle, Bork, Coase, Director, Stigler, Friedman, Hofstadter, Galbraith, and thereafter pretty much every politicians on both sides of the aisle after the 80s including Clinton, and Obama), and those who are somewhat clueless as to what’s going on or those who do more harm than good for the economy despite having good intentions (“the ugly”, i.e. the Watergate babies, consumer protectionists led by Nader).

Anyway you cut it, this book is a great compilation of facts and affirmation of the ‘history repeats itself’ mantra, at least when it comes to what happens again and again in unregulated markets throughout history – first with the robber barons, and then with the merger mania waves of the 70s, ending with the final stroke where tech giants came to dominate most aspects of the “consumer”. The only “pause” in monopolies’ overall domination seems to have come sometime in the 1930s when the Robinson-Patman act of 1936 (taking cue from Sherman and Clayton Acts) made both predatory pricing and price discrimination illegal until mid-1970s when deregulation started dismantling the new deal policies at an increasing pace, ending with a crescendo: the repeal of the Glass-Steagall.

The book also does a great job in exploring the birth of the ‘shop till you drop’ consumerism, the glorification of middleman culture, and the mushrooming of shopping malls, essentially turning citizens into hopeless ‘consumer units.’

The only downside of the book is that it is a bit unbalanced in its treatment of the subject: too detailed up until 2000, then a mere 20-30 pages. Oh, and just like every other book that gets published these days… the optimistic tone that suggests that the “informed citizens” could take back their lives simply by mobilizing through grassroot activities and save themselves from the clutches of the monopolies (I guess otherwise the book could be a bit too dark, so had to throw in that ray of hope, eh?)
98 reviews1 follower
January 22, 2022
I was lucky to have been recommended by my son Bora, Matt Soller’s Goliath as a ‘must read’.

It turned out to be one of the best books I have read through the years.

Soller’s Goliath is a surgically performed historical analysis of the 100-year war between monopoly power and democracy. It is an unapologetic disclosure of the sinisterly schemed and blatantly pursued agenda by the super-rich and privileged, which is to wrest total power ultimately over the rest of the society. It is a self-repetitive agenda, starting with the utilization of their economic might in reducing the political and economic weight of all public institutions to insignificance, and then go back to clear the way for wielding even greater might to monopolize political power ultimately. Once this is achieved, they will be the de facto government (to replace the de jure) and govern us though the administrative tentacles of monopolistic entities and the corporations too big to fail that they own and control.

Bizarre? It is indeed. Yet, the book is also a wake-up call for those who may eventually let all this happen by casting away their hopes in democracy and for listening to the voices of despair raised by those who have come to believe that the formal mechanisms of voting do not matter. He calls out to us, the people, inviting us to adopt populism, by which he means the old school populism, the belief that citizens educated and responsible know what is best for them. He urges us to keep stick to our faith in the permanence of the struggle against aristocracy as in 1776, freeing ourselves from the Slave Power as in 1866 and again in 1912, and against the robber barons and fascists during the World War II.
21 January 2022
444 reviews8 followers
January 12, 2020
Not quite a five because it's tedious in parts & lacks evidence of a balanced coverage yet it is detailed & important. The strongest lesson I learned from undergraduate economics is monopoly, "illegal combinations in restraint of trade" = BAD! Since the days of Teddy Roosevelt, American politicians, jurists & economists have been equivocating with that maxim & the result is exactly the kind of corporate state with unacceptable levels of inequality that we face today. What is interesting about this book is that names are named: the only serious "good guy" is congressman Wright Patman, a longtime monopoly slayer, Ralph Nader shows up as a guy who made a few serious & costly mistakes, & there's is - as one might expect - a rogue's gallery of bad guys. Some names are members of the economics and law movement, Aaron Director, Robert Bork, Richard Posner, Antonin Scalia & William Rehnquist. Presidents Carter, Reagan, Bush (x 2), Clinton & Obama get their share of blame too. Not sure this is a "must read" but it comes close!
Profile Image for Glenda.
649 reviews42 followers
March 29, 2020
More that a stark look at 21st Century monopolies (Google, Facebook, Amazon), “Goliath” travels the history of monopolies in the U.S. back to Alexander Hamilton. If there’s a hero who tried to protect democracy against monopolistic power in our history it’s Wright Patman, but both Democrat’s and republicans worked to destroy antitrust protections with the Chicago School of economic thought embraced by both unleashing the beasts that now have a chokehold on our products and services. Key players historically working against antitrust protections include Andrew Melin and Robert Bork. As an eighth grader I learned about the antitrust case against Standard Oil and the breaking up of Rockefeller’s monopoly. I’ve often wondered why those protections aren’t employed now. We need a new era of antitrust protections, and this book explains in revelatory detail why. Strongly recommend.
Profile Image for Alec Monnie.
11 reviews
July 28, 2021
Goliath is fantastic. Stoller hyper-fixates on the topic of antimonopoly for essentially the entire book. This can lead to somewhat distorted/myopic overviews of some of the officials that he mentions. It threw me off a bit to read invective critiques of Teddy Roosevelt for his willingness to collaborate with big business to consolidate his own power, followed by praise for Richard Nixon for not completely departing from the New Deal methods of trust busting. Both of these are fair takes, but clearly don’t tell the whole story about either Roosevelt or Nixon. But after all, this is a book explicitly and solely about corporate power and its influence over our institutions; Stoller does not claim to be writing a comprehensive overview of American economic history. For those reasons, I can understand why people would not sympathize with Stoller’s arguments, but he provides truly valuable and unique perspectives in Goliath that reshaped the ways I think about some of the most important people and policies in U.S. history.
Profile Image for Bryan Cebulski.
Author 4 books40 followers
June 21, 2021
Fantastic. A monumental achievement in economic history and a crucial text for understanding the construction of the United States in the 20th century. I'm just glad Stoller is always writing online and guesting on podcasts because, despite how important this book is, there is just far too much in it to ever hope to absorb in a single reading. And even a single reading is still a huge task.

Loved reading about presidents through the lens of their stances on monopoly power and antitrust laws. A lot of surprising twists in finding who I agreed with and whose were shockingly bad.
Profile Image for Mlg.
1,172 reviews10 followers
June 11, 2020
If it hadn’t been a choice of my book club, I never would have picked up this book. It’s a weighty history of the anti monopoly movement in the US, that is sure to teach you something new. The author seems to have given up on the Republicans to ever do the right thing, but also has some criticism of Democrats who were also complicit. There is so much blame to go around whether it’s for the Chicago School Economists, or the tech giants of today. The author makes a convincing case for monopolies concentrating too much power in the hands of those who do little to improve the lot of their countrymen.
Profile Image for Sara Ann.
102 reviews1 follower
June 3, 2021
great history of antitrust / monopoly regulation! good to help understand current antitrust landscape, but skims over some parts of history in order to go in depth on parts that fit the author's argument. counter-argument could have been portrayed or argued better, also i doubt matt stoller has ever set foot on a family farm.
Profile Image for Paul Szydlowski.
270 reviews5 followers
February 11, 2022
The books Wldland, To Make Men Free and this one have run together in my mind, but all tell a tale of economic elites manipulating our system of government to enhance and perpetuate their power. This one focused more on economics than the other two, but in a way this book proved Calvin Coolidge right when he said the business of government is business. Especially when it serves business's purposes.
Profile Image for Frank Ruscica.
8 reviews3 followers
October 29, 2019
Re: Goliath is a must-read

Summary (details follow)

Goliath shows that large financial-asset-management firms (i.e., large institutional investors) can be expected to pursue high ROI by $UPPORTING companies that have credible strategies for becoming a monopolist, and/or for leveraging their monopoly. Re: "can be expected": Goliath shows that past protections against monopoly have been rolled back, starting in the 1970s.

2019 book Crisis of Conscience: Whistleblowing in an Age of Fraud shows that strategies of said kinds can be expected to often include HUGE fraud (i.e., fraud that is LUCRATIVE even if penalties are incurred via lawsuits, government regulators, etc.). Re: "can be expected": CoC shows that HUGE fraud (HF) has been lucrative since the 1990s.

2018 book Collusion: How Central Bankers Rigged the World shows that, since the financial crisis of 2008, A LOT of $UPPORTING of said kind could've derived from central-bankers' "money-printing" (i.e., from "quantitative easing" that by 2017 had made $13.5 trillion available to commercial banks (which are a type of institutional investor)).

All told, it's exceedingly likely that 1) massive $UPPORT for monopoly(-profits)-via-HF has been provided in recent decades, 2) this $UPPORT is ongoing.

Implication of the above: The U.S. economy has been and is generating many lucrative opportunities for people who can 1) design/implement (parts of) HFs, 2) be relied upon to not suffer a crisis of conscience.

Put differently, the U.S. economy:

1) has been generating many lucrative opportunities for the ~2.3% of psychopaths (Ps) who have an IQ ≥ 130, and for the ~13.7% of Ps whose IQ is 115-129 (psychopathy and intelligence are uncorrelated)

2) is doing for (entrepreneurial) Ps interested in HF what Silicon Valley has been doing for (entrepreneurial) "Aspies" interested in IT

1 & 2 are HUGELY problematic, most of all because:

All ~77 million Ps alive today are IMPERILED (keywords: psychopathy is ~70% heritable; via molecular genetics, identifiers of said ~70% are coming soon; police want universal genetic databases; "indefinite detention" of Ps could/should ensue by 2034, according to a leading psychopathy researcher who's tenured at the University of Pennsylvania (i.e., Ps who haven't committed a crime could be imprisoned); ongoing build-out of "human-capital" markets (e.g., customized-education, gametes); BURGEONING sciences of human reproduction; "superstar-biased" technological change; almost certainly: 1) each P would be unable to reproduce via gaining access to (top-)quality gametes, unless s/he coerced, 2) each P with superstar-level ability would suffer very costly career damage/loss, unless s/he coerced)

It's likely that a growing number of Ps are 1) aware that Ps are IMPERILED, 2) resisting (e.g., organizing; coercing; equipping to coerce-via-terrorizing; partnering with known groups of violent extremists).

$UPPORT for monopoly(-profits)-via-HF . . .

-- End of Summary --

Precedent for DANGEROUS Ps being $UPPORTED by (would-be) monopolists and other large firms (e.g., financial-asset-managers that aggregate and invest the savings of many Americans)

From Goliath:

Hitler was using industrial power and cartel arrangements to make unwitting allies of American monopolists . . .

Re: central bankers have been ALLIES of Ps since the financial crisis of 2008 (if not unwitting allies, bleep)

From Investopedia.com:

There are generally six types of institutional investors: endowment funds, commercial banks [my emphasis] . . .

From Collusion: How Central Bankers Rigged the World:

By mid-2017, the total assets held by the G3 central banks—the US Fed, the European Central Bank (ECB), and the Bank of Japan (BOJ)—through conjured-money QE programs had hit more than $13.5 trillion. The figure was equivalent to 17 percent of currency-adjusted global GDP.

To garner support for their multi-trillion-dollar QE strategies, the G3 central bank leaders peddled the notion that they were helping the general economy. That couldn’t have been further from the truth. There was no direct channel, no law, no requirement to divert the Fed's cheap money into helping real people. This was because borrowing and subsequent investing in the real economy required funds from private banks, and not from central banks directly. That’s how the monetary system was set up. And private banks were under no obligation to do anything with this cheap money they didn’t want to do.

. . . Wall Street used its easy access to cheap money to . . . buy back their own shares, thus effectively manipulating their own stock—in broad daylight and with explicit approval from the Fed.

From a 2011 article in U.K. newspaper The Independent:

My companion, a senior UK investment banker and I, are discussing the most successful banking types we know and what makes them tick. I argue that they often conform to the characteristics displayed by social psychopaths. To my surprise, my friend agrees.

He then makes an astonishing confession: "At one major investment bank for which I worked, we used psychometric testing to recruit social psychopaths because their characteristics exactly suited them to senior corporate finance roles."

Precedent for Ps having a large war chest

From 2019 book Appeasement: Chamberlain, Hitler, Churchill, and the Road to War :

Of course, the overwhelming responsibility for the Second World War rests with Adolf Hitler. Only he and his most fanatical henchmen desired it [my emphasis]. Only he willed the series of events that led to it. Yet while Hitler was uniquely responsible for the tragedy, the question remains: How was he allowed to inflict such misery? How was it that a country defeated in 1918, reduced in size, restricted in arms and surrounded by potential foes, was allowed to rise in twenty short years to a position where she was able to mount a challenge for global supremacy and almost achieve her objective?

Re: Hitler and said henchmen believed they were IMPERILED

From 2008 book The Wages of Destruction: The Making and Breaking of the Nazi Economy :

Since 1938 Hitler had seen himself as locked in a global confrontation with world Jewry.

. . . For Hitler, a war of conquest was not one policy option amongst others. Either the German race struggled for Lebensraum [i.e., territory] or its racial enemies would condemn it to extinction.

Many details re: the above

See my review of Crisis of Conscience and, via a link in the review, my 150-page pdf. From the review:

Re: CoC is a MUST-read: See my 150-page pdf [1] for details re:

1) my threat analysis (outgrowth of my Amazon-/Microsoft-/VC-praised work; keywords re: threat: ~77 million psychopaths are IMPERILED; threat is previewed below; links to said praise are on page 2 of the pdf)

2) the "Age of Fraud" anatomized in CoC makes said threat MUCH worse (e.g., makes the worst-case outcome much more likely)

3) CoC HELPS to explain my variant of whistleblower experience (keywords: Cassandra; career damage; makes said worst-case outcome more likely; portends (many) more worst-case outcomes)

[1] SlideShare has been owned by LinkedIn since 2012.

Excerpt from the pdf:

My Amazon-/Microsoft-/VC-praised work + your Rolodex + 20% finders' fee I'm offering to pay + ~5 degrees of separation* between you and the person I need to partner with + . . . = you own ~4% of the Amazon of AI and customized-education (e.g., CE for AI)

* ~6 total, 1 between you and me
Profile Image for Fraser Kinnear.
774 reviews39 followers
January 11, 2020
My favorite history books are the ones that totally surprise me, and provide a sprawling but consistent perspective on a story I thought I knew. Goliath tells the history of the cycles of influence monopoly power has had on the US over the past hundred years.

Stoller is a great story teller, personifying an abstract market concept with generations heroes and villains, to applaud and denounce. And channeling the underdog story he chose for his title, even the ranks of his selected heroes are eclipsed by the parade of villains.

The heroes include: Presidents Wilson, FDR, and Truman, Louis Brandeis, Woodrow Wilson, Robert Alan Bicks, Wright Patman, and Frederick Hayek.

By contrast, Stoller's many enemies include: Teddy Roosevelt, Andrew Mellon, Charles Mitchell, Richard Hofstadter, John Kenneth Galbraith, Aaron Director, Robert Bork, Barry Goldwater, Ralph Nader, the "Watergate Babies", Michael Milken, and every president after Gerald Ford.

What's most delightfully contrarian about the above list is how diverse the villains are across the political spectrum. There's an exciting mix of the corrupt a-political (Andrew Mellon, Charles Mitchell, Michael Milken), unintentionally destructive blinkered academic (Hofstadter & Galbraith), misdirected progressives (Ralph Nader, The Watergate Babies, Carter, Clinton, Obama) and the conspiratorial policy formers (Aaron Director).

Beyond personalities, Stoller anchors his story to events for us to cheer or despair.

On the positive side of the ledger are: The Sherman Act, The Bonus Army, FDR's election, the creation of Federal Deposit Insurance, the Pecora Investigation, breaking up Alcoa's monopoly, the Homestead Act, the GI Bill programs, the early FCC, Regulation Q, the Bank Merger Act of 1966, the Bank Holding Company Act amendments of 1970, IBM's antitrust results.

And on the negative side: Director's usurpation of the Chicago School to pro-monopoly policies; various financial innovations like the Eurodollar market, the CD market, junk bonds; relaxing of regulations such as to the Savings & Loan industry, the corporate merger wave allowed under Clinton, Obama's reneging on his commitment to Donna Edwards to allow homeowners to write off mortgage debt following the 2008 financial crisis, the repeal of Fair Trade laws through the Consumer Goods Pricing Act of 1975, the moral hazard from bailing out Nelson and Herbert Hunt's rattling of the commodities markets in the 1970's, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan's various deregulations, and on and on and on and on.

Stoller does not really make an economic case for the net cost of monopoly power, and I think is asking for the perceived effects to speak for him. My neoliberal priors were that the same forces that appear to have attenuated a lot of wealth development at the bottom of our economy and concentrated wealth into the top have likewise also kept similarly wealth-destroying inflation down since Reagan. Nor does Stoller give any time to account for the dramatic GDP growth under Reagan and Clinton that perhaps justify our national approval of those times.

In any case, this book does feel like it's addressing one of the core questions of our time today, and is what Trump, Sanders, and Warren all appear to sometimes be addressing, in their own ways. It makes for an interesting lens through which to see our contemporary politics, and I hope Stoller's polemic continues to gain momentum this electoral cycle, if only so I can hear more voices weigh in.
2 reviews
August 18, 2020
Although I enjoyed much of the book (90% of it is “history,” or at least Stoller’s retelling of it, and it could be captivating at parts) the “conclusion” was bizarre: No actual policy proposals, just vague platitudes about how concentration is bad, particularly with respect to Google, Amazon, and Facebook, with no prescription on how to correct it. It reads like a “call to arms” to an audience that doesn’t quite know exactly what it is fighting for. Regardless, glad I read it. 3/5, would recommend.
Profile Image for David.
312 reviews5 followers
December 22, 2019
A wonderfully in-depth history of the relationship between big business and American government from the 1890s to the present. Stoller dives deep into the Populist movement and how monopolistic power (such as from Mellon, Morgan, Rockerfeller, Carnegie, etc) influenced government in years past and influences government today. The most surprising fact for me was that aluminum was once more rare than gold (so much so that Napoleon would use silver and gold place settings for his usual guests, but brought out his prized aluminum wares for his most valued guests). That an element could be wholly owned by one company (Alcoa) was mindblowing to me.

Stoller's Conclusion chapter is almost a pleading to the return of American Populism, which I frowned at a bit, but at least he wasn't as heavy-handed as Upton Sinclair when he published The Jungle or Oil!

Several parts of this book echoed what I'd read about Rockerfeller in Chernow's Titan and Noam Chomsky's Manufacturing Consent (which I'm currently re-reading).

Senator Wright Patman, who I'd never heard of before, was a key figure in the anti-monopolistic policies of the early 20th Century, and is given many pages here. He also touches on Teddy Roosevelt and his trust-busting (but still big business friendly) stances, FDR's New Deal, Taft's pro-monopoly tendencies, and Reagan's Trickle Down Economics.

For those who would say this book is biased, I'd like to make clear that Stoller reveals big business coddling on both sides of the aisle, most surprisingly about Wal-Mart and Clinton. For example, less than 15% of all Mal-Mart products were imported from outside the US in the years leading up to NAFTA, and 80% in the years since (and now mostly from China). Interestingly, he also mentions Elizabeth Warren's role in anti-monopoly policy.

Highly recommended, especially since it's very recently written and absolutely timely, and extremely valuable to understand the history of large corporations in relation to dictating American policy.
Profile Image for Alexis.
681 reviews60 followers
November 13, 2020
This is a tricky book for me to review, as I fundamentally agree with Stoller about the evil of corporate monopolies, but his historical interpretation does not sit well with me.

Stoller chooses to interpret anti-monopolism as an oversimplified battle between populists and elitists. In his telling, elitists, on the left as well as the right, are the enemy. He contrasts antimonopolists with planners, with elitists. And this leads him to gloss over those aspects of populism which are not in keeping with his telling, to idealize the New Deal era and the 1950s. He paints a glossy picture of Jeffersonian democracy, of small business and family farms. The heroes are plucky New Dealers and fans of Roosevelt and Brandeis; the enemies are not just right wingers, but establishment figures like Richard Hofstadter and John Kenneth Galbraith. I'm familiar with Hofstadter's writings, and I don't think Stoller represents them completely fairly. Stoller's telling often lacks complexity--the ways in which both populism and elitist technocracy can be a double edged sword.

There's a lot I enjoyed--there's a clear historical case that antimonopoly action is effective and that the US government has retreated from its duty. But Stoller doesn't do the best job of placing it in historical perspective.
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