Fighting Monopoly Power How States and Cities Can Beat Back Corporate Control and Build Thriving Communities

Editors: Stacy Mitchell and Susan R. Holmberg
Lead Researcher: Zach Freed

July 2020

Across the country, local and state officials and citizens are struggling to overcome a set of deep and challenging problems, which have been further revealed, and exacerbated, by Covid. These include stark inequality, persistent poverty, disappearing small businesses, racial oppression, failing family farms, fraying community institutions, and entire cities and towns that have been marginalized and left behind.

There are many drivers of these trends. But there is one phenomenon in particular that has profoundly shaped all of these dynamics, and every single sector of our economy — the consolidation of corporate power.

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Banking
  3. Broadband
  4. Electricity
  5. Food and Farming
  6. Pharmacy
  7. Small Business
  8. State Attorneys General
  9. Waste


Concentration has reached extreme levels. Most industries are dominated by a handful of corporations. As we detail in this report, concentrated economic power has reconfigured multiple sectors in ways that have both weakened the broader U.S. economy, by stifling investment and innovation, and harmed working people and communities. This centralization of power in private hands is threatening Americans’ fundamental right to liberty and equality.

Too often policymakers try to alleviate symptoms. This guide calls for dealing with the root problem. Concentration didn’t happen by accident; it’s not the result of inevitable forces. As each section of this guide details, it’s a product of deliberate policy choices. While some of the changes needed are federal, especially antitrust and financial reform, states and cities have potent tools and, as we show, some are using them. During the last Gilded Age, local leaders were the first to take action against monopoly power. This is a guide to the policies that state and local policymakers should enact to rekindle that fight against corporate concentration.

Each chapter offers an in-depth look at a crucial sector, describing exactly how corporate control has risen and manifested in the sector and its consequences, and enumerating the specific actions and policies states and cities can take.

Throughout this guide, we show how some places have sidestepped the tide of consolidation in one area or another, how they’re better off as a result, and how other cities and states can adopt their approach. For example, North Dakota’s public bank, which cities like Oakland and Philadelphia are looking to emulate, has enabled local banks to thrive, vastly expanding the capital available to local businesses and families. Cleveland has used a number of purchasing policies to shift 39 percent of its procurement budget to local and small, or local and Black and brown- or female-owned businesses. Wilson, North Carolina, freed its residents from the monopoly grip of Charter Spectrum by building a city-owned broadband network that has supercharged economic development, while connecting low-income families to fast, affordable Internet. Ohio and Kentucky are regulating pharmacy benefit managers, such as CVS Health, to ensure that these powerful middlemen can’t use predatory tactics to run locally owned pharmacies out of business and overcharge Medicaid. San Jose, Calif., broke a landfill monopoly and used the dramatic savings generated by increased competition to radically restructure its solid waste system to emphasize recycling.

Finally, a note before you jump in: There’s no need to read this guide in order. Each chapter stands alone, so feel free to move around. If you’re looking for broader background on America’s monopoly problem, start with the Introduction.

Authors and Acknowledgements

This report includes contributions by John Farrell, Zach Freed, Susan R. Holmberg, Ron Knox, Christopher Mitchell, Stacy Mitchell, David Morris, and Neil Seldman. It was edited by Stacy Mitchell and Susan Holmberg, with research support from Zach Freed.

The editors and authors want to thank reviewers for their insightful comments and suggestions: Claire Kelloway, Ben Lilliston, Patty Lovera, Brenda Platt, Mike Townsley, and Arthur Wilmarth. Special thanks also go to ILSR staff for contributing to the research, production, and outreach of this report: Michelle Andrews, Jessica Del Fiacco, Marie Donahue, Zach Freed, Katie Kienbaum, Virgil McDill, Kennedy Smith, Virginia Streeter, and Charlie Thaxton.

About ILSR

The Institute for Local Self-Reliance builds local power to fight corporate control. We are a national research and advocacy organization that partners with allies across the country to build an American economy driven by local priorities and accountable to people and the planet. Whether it’s fighting back against the outsize power of monopolies like Amazon, ensuring high-quality locally-driven broadband service for all, or advocating to keep local renewable energy in the community that produced it, ILSR advocates for solutions that harness the power of citizens and communities. Read more about us here.