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Future Hindsight is a weekly podcastthat takes big ideas in civic life and democracy and turns them into action items for everyday citizens.

Nov 20, 2020

Monopolies are Anti-Democratic

A monopoly is a company that has the power to set the terms of interactions, from the pricing of consumer goods to interactions with suppliers and resolving disputes. The most insidious and anti-democratic example is private arbitration, a judicial system where the parties to the suit pay the judges. Large companies force employees and even customers to litigate all grievances through arbitration courts, making a mockery of justice and infringing upon our civil rights. In essence, monopolies exert a form of private governing power and control over citizens within our democracy.

US History of Trust-Busting

America has a long history of trust-busting, dating back to the late 19th century. At that time, thousands of antitrust leagues around the country verified that companies were not controlling large market shares. Anti-monopolism was once a vital facet of American political activism, and it could be again. US antitrust law still exists; it just isn't being enforced—and hasn't been since Reagan's administration. The Biden-Harris administration could start enforcing existing laws, which would create a sea-change in the antitrust landscape. We have the tools to break up monopolies, but we lack the political and organizational will-power.


Chickenization refers to the ways large poultry distributors subjugate independent chicken farmers who depend on them to bring their chickens to market. These regional monopolies exercise immense control over these farmers by forcing them to use their feed, abide by their coup house specifications, and accept the equivalent of poverty wages. They also require arbitration contracts, ban communication between farmers, and retaliate against farmers who break the rules. Other sectors of the economy are following suit: delivery apps control restaurants and ride-share apps control taxi drivers.

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Zephyr Teachout is an Associate Law Professor and has taught at Fordham Law School since 2009. In addition to Break ‘Em Up: Recovering Our Freedom from Big Ag, Big Tech, and Big Money, she published Corruption in America: From Benjamin Franklin’s Snuff Box to Citizens’ United and has written dozens of law review articles and essays.

Teachout was a death penalty defense lawyer at the Center for Death Penalty Litigation in North Carolina. She co-founded a non-profit dedicated to providing trial experience to new law school graduates. She is known for her pioneering work in internet organizing and was the Sunlight Foundation's first National Director.

She grew up in Vermont and received her BA from Yale in English and then graduated summa cum laude from Duke Law School, where she was the Editor-in-Chief of the Law Review. She also received an MA in Political Science from Duke. She clerked for Chief Judge Edward R. Becker of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals.

She ran unsuccessfully for New York State Attorney General in 2018, for Congress's 19th Congressional District in 2016, and for the Democratic nomination of the Governor of New York in 2014.

You can follow her on Twitter @ZephyrTeachout.

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