John Oliver: Corporations Are Breaking The Backbone Of The American Economy

Politicians often pander to entrepreneurs by saying small businesses are the backbone of the American economy, noted John Oliver on yesterday's episode of 'Last Week Tonight.' But that backbone is getting crushed like Batman's spine in 'The Dark Knight Rises' thanks to corporate consolidation — business deals in which small companies get gobbled up by larger corporations.

"All this merger activity has helped make certain sectors of our economy ridiculously consolidated," Oliver noted. "We're down to just 4 major airline choices [American Airlines, Delta, United, Southwest]...and airlines here are just the beginning. The rental car business is now 90 percent dominated by just 3 companies [Avis, Hertz, Enterprise], and the US beer industry is 70 percent controlled by just two companies [Anheuser-Busch InBev, Molson-Coors]." 

That's a huge problem because when a handful of companies dominate a massive industry, there's less incentive to compete with each other, to offer innovative solutions to problems with the industry, or even to improve customer care. One extreme example of corporate indifference involves United, the airline that made headlines last spring after literally dragging a passenger off a plane. But the backlash did nothing to hurt their financials because for certain routes in America, United is the only game in town. That's why Oliver suggested they use the slogan, "Shut up and get in."

And Oliver isn't immune to the machinations of mergers. "Full disclosure here, even our [HBO's] own parent company Time Warner is currently trying to merge with AT&T," he admitted during yesterday's episode. "Which makes this story a little dangerous for us to do. That is presuming that AT&T executives managed to get their shitty service working long enough for us to see it."

But we can do more than whine and pout while corporations gobble up every industry in America. Check out the full clip from yesterday's show for Oliver's call to action against corporate consolidation.


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