… then I don’t know what is. Monsanto’s U.S. market share is 90% in soybean and 80% in corn seed sales (Dan Mitchell, Fortune). In the same article, Larry Robbins of the Glenview Capital hedge fund goes further and says Monsanto has “perpetual local monopolies.” They tie farmers to contracts for life.
The Monsanto case is a perfect illustration of at least three shortcomings identified in Philip Kotler’s book Confronting Capitalism: too much money in politics (Chapter 10), weak consumer protections (Chapter 12), and environmental harm (Chapter 6). Most people think Monsanto’s monopolies are harmful to the economy, society and the environment. According to Harris Interactive, Monsanto has a horrible reputation with the general public. For a farmer’s perspective on Monsanto’s intimidation tactics, watch Seeding Fear (a video supported by Neil Young). For research on the harmful effects of GMO seeds, read this study from Agricultural Sciences.
Who is charged with preventing U.S. monopolies or breaking them up? The Federal Trade Commission and the Antitrust Division of the U.S. Department of Justice. Let’s first look at the FTC. How is it that the FTC can go after Google or Microsoft but not Monsanto? Isn’t farmer intimidation anticompetitive? Of course it is. The FTC is an independent agency of the U.S. government. Most citizens do not know what this means. In my view, “independent federal agency” is an oxymoron: how can a federal agency be independent? The FTC is not directly accountable to any federal branch of government. This is no way to run a ship. Can you name even one business with a quality control department that does not ultimately report to the CEO? Of course not. As every CEO knows, a poorly designed organization doesn’t perform well. The FTC’s reporting structure is highly ambiguous. So it is not held accountable for fulfilling one of its most important missions: protect the general welfare from monopolies.
Then there is the Antitrust Division of the USDOJ. Why hasn’t Monsanto’s high market share triggered an investigation? Because the Supreme Court has embraced a pro-business orientation for decades. Citizens United is a perfect example, which is the Court’s 2010 decision allowing unfettered political spending by non-profits. This decision was then extended to corporations despite 80% of the voting public in opposition. Rarely are voters so unified. For example, only four presidents have won more than 60% of the popular vote. Currently the judicial branch favors corporations over common citizens. We must fix this problem. At its core, the judicial branch has far too much latitude to set its own course, rather than passionately and consistently serve the public interest.
As for food safety regulation, who is charged with that? The Food and Drug Administration. But there is a revolving door between the FDA and Monsanto. This severely dampens the FDA’s independence, objectivity and effectiveness in serving the general welfare. Even though the FDA clearly reports within the Executive branch, its mission is subverted by prior or future big salaries at Monsanto. Simply put, revolving doors between corporations and public offices are unethical.
To fix the Monsanto monopoly problem, the FTC, FDA and the DOJ must do their jobs well. We need to end the oxymoronic concept of “independent federal agency.” Put the FTC inside the Department of Commerce and charge its director with opening an immediate investigation into Monsanto and restraint of trade. Second, make the revolving door illegal between the federal government and corporations. Pass clear legislation and hold the FBI accountable for enforcement, not only within the FTC and the FDA, but across all federal departments. Third, charge the director of the FDA with opening a science-based investigation into the health risks associated with GMO seeds, and fire the director if the agency’s findings are not consistent with global scientific research findings.
Fourth, and with far more difficulty, we must make the judicial branch more accountable to the people. Due to a long string of highly conservative appointments, the Supreme Court has favored corporations and the wealthy few. Perhaps a few pages from the Franklin Delano Roosevelt playbook would help. Remember, the Supreme Court nullified the highly popular New Deal with a rapid string of decisions in 1935 and 1936. It was reinstated in 1937 only after FDR threatened to unleash his devious court-packing plan. This dramatic and wholly unique chapter in U.S. history tells me two things. First, we need a viable impeachment process for justices who consistently fail to serve the general welfare. Second, we need a credible threat of unpopular decision reversal through a modernized, streamlined Amendment process.