Big corporate mergers are inevitable

I first noticed it when all the sitcoms ran episodes of families vacationing in Disney World. The rash of television families meeting Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck just seemed, well, Goofy.
It turned out that Disney had recently bought ABC, which explained why the creative content of their television shows came off like infomercials for timeshare condos in Orlando.
Now, hardly a week goes by that I don’t see another merger headline in the news. The Norwest building became a Wells Fargo building. The Village Voice bought City Pages. McDonald’s officials said Wednesday they are going to buy Boston Market.
On Tuesday the Federal Trade Commission approved the Exxon-Mobile merger, reuniting the two largest remnants of John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Company, which the federal government broke up in 1911.
Exxon-Mobile will be the largest company in the world, according to the New York Times.
But the more mergers and corporate buyouts I see, the more I realize large corporations have become so prevalent they are inescapable.
Case in point: Farm Aid. This summer, I stopped by the annual benefit concert to check in with the busload of Minnesota farmers that trekked out to northern Virginia for the concert.
The farmers, led largely by the Minnesotans, were a very rowdy group. They were up in arms about the merger between two agribusiness companies, Continental and Cargill.
The merger, they said, would drive small family farmers out of business. Small farms simply could not compete with the large companies that had “muscled their way to the dinner table and were going hog wild.”
Hundreds of farmers hooted and hollered in opposition to the Cargill-Continental merger and all large corporate buyouts.
One farmer and college student explained, “This is a fight for the little guy.”
Then Farm Aid organizers lined up singers like Willie Nelson, one of the concert’s founders, and DeAnna something, along with sponsors of the concert for a press conference to show their support for struggling farmers.
Lined up neatly in two rows of tables, the musicians and business people each sat behind a bright red Coca-Cola glass.
And when the cameras were rolling, the representative from Country Music Television, which televised the event, proudly explained how CMT would be better able to help Farm Aid with the new merger of CBS and Viacom. All of this took place at the Nissan Pavilion.
The picture was pure irony.
Even a group of farmers united to break apart big businesses relied on the very sources they detested to get their word out.
When confronted about the contradiction, farmers in the audience admitted that it wasn’t ideal, but also said any large-scale concert like Farm Aid had to rely on some big business involvement.
The concert did make some progress to stop agribusiness mergers, even if it promulgated CBS-Viacom in the process.
The farmers present threw their support behind a bill to ban some large scale agribusiness mergers for 18 months or until Congress passed legislation addressing the consolidation of agriculture. The bill also would have commissioned a study to examine the effects of the mergers in agriculture.
Later the Senate voted down that bill by a 27-71 vote.
However, both the Senate and the House approved a bill to allow mergers between banks, insurance companies and securities. President Clinton signed that legislation into law last month.
In one win for “the little guy,” the Justice Department decided that Microsoft is a monopoly, even as the company’s lobbyists pushed lawmakers to cut the Justice Department’s budget. A blatant move and, luckily, an unsuccessful one.
And it’s not only on the multimillion-dollar level. Last month, I tried to take my sister-in-law to my favorite coffee shop in Greenwich Village, only to find a Starbucks in its place.
Meanwhile, corporations keep getting bigger and bigger. Perhaps the scariest issue comes with the media mergers.
Journalists never want their newspapers’ corporate interests to affect their stories, but just such a situation was illustrated in the movie “The Insider.” The movie is based on a true story: CBS held onto an interview with a whistle-blower because they feared his claims would endanger a prospective merger.
And when media groups become part of the merger mania, who is left to tell the story of “the little guy?”
If the microcosm of the Nissan Pavilion holds true, we’ll be depending on the charities of the corporate strongholds we’re trying to fight.
Coralie Carlson welcomes comments at [email protected]