Over the last two decades, Americans have witnessed the most extreme consolidation of economic power in our country in more than a century. Today’s immense companies pose many of the same problems as their Plutocratic Era predecessors. They destroy jobs, slow innovation, degrade safety, harm our environment, endanger our national security, force us to pay more for less, and threaten the liberties and properties of the entrepreneurs and workers who form the core of America’s middle class.
But today’s goliaths also pose entirely new dangers. Some are political. These immensely powerful corporations and banks increasingly blur the lines between what is public and what private. Other dangers are structural. The wholesale consolidation of recent years, by rendering even many small companies “Too Big to Fail,” has greatly increased the likelihood of catastrophic industrial and financial crashes.
The Markets, Enterprise, and Resiliency Initiative of the New America Foundation (MERI) promotes greater awareness of the political and economic dangers of extreme consolidation, identifies the changes in policy and law that cleared the way for such consolidation, and fosters discussions of potential courses of actions to reestablish America’s political economy on a more stable and fair foundation. The Initiative does so foremost by integrating the thinking of real entrepreneurs, engineers, venture capitalists, innovators, business managers, community-oriented bankers, and other citizens into a policy environment that in recent years has been entirely dominated by the interests of absentee financiers and the analyses of academic economists.
The ultimate aim of the Initiative is to promote the idea that real resilience in the real world––be it economic, social, political, or environmental––requires that we structure our political economy around a vision of competition that prevents any small group of citizens from consolidating power over any political institution, industrial or financial system, resource, or idea. We do so with a profound appreciation of the nature and purpose of the extreme industrial and financial interdependence that has been forged among nations. We do so also with a clear understanding of the role competition plays in generating information vital to our well being.
The Initiative’s work is organized into three main project areas:
Open and Stable Markets. Markets are one of the basic political institutions in our society. Citizens erect markets to guarantee the open exchange of ideas and goods, to ensure a steady and robust supply of vital products at reasonable prices, and to regulate competition among individuals in ways that protect the interests of every member of society. Over the last generation, however, many of our most important open markets in America were replaced by private corporations that direct, from the top down, how we exchange goods and services and ideas with one another. Similarly, we have seen the markets for our energy and food thrown into chaos by extreme speculation. The unprecedented and artificial instability in the prices of energy and grain, in turn, have wreaked havoc on family finances, business plans, government budgets, and environmental projects in America and around the world. The Initiative promotes a wide ranging process of research and discussion to identify ways to keep our markets for goods and services open, fair, and stable.
Resilient Systems. In recent years we have repeatedly witnessed a striking and terrifying new phenomenon––the crash of entire industrial and banking systems due to the loss of access to a single city, a single factory, or a single bank. These crashes are the result of many factors, all of which derive from changes in competition policy over the last generation. The Initiative designs and oversees research into the causes and potential solutions to these crises, convenes leading business managers, scientists, engineers, bankers, policymakers, military experts, and scholars in political economics to discuss these issues, and works with news media and to broaden and deepen the public’s understanding of them.
Enterprise and Innovation. Small business has long been a prime source of new jobs and new ideas in America. At the same time, American citizens have long regarded the opportunity to own small business as one of our most important liberties. Yet over the last generation, many basic business activities in America––in services, retailing, light manufacturing, farming, and elsewhere––have been all but closed off to the individual entrepreneur. The Initiative examines the effects of such consolidation on innovation, communities, the environment, and the political and economic well-being of individual families and citizens.