Monday, October 28, 2002

previous entry | main | next entry | TrackBack (0)

Crush monopoly power

Whenever I lecture about multinational corporations in world politics, I ask my students to name the most powerful global corporation. I get the standard responses -- GM, GE, Exxon, Microsoft. Nope. In my book, it's DeBeers. GM, GE, and Exxon aren't monopolies and therefore must obey market dictates despite their considerable size. Microsoft approaches monopoly status, but they exist in a market with constant technological innovations that threaten to upset their profitability. DeBeers, in contrast, has global monopoly power over a sector that's not changing anytime soon. Moreover, they invented the concept of a diamond engagement ring. Any entity that can convince adults that it is proper to sacrifice roughly one-sixth of their annual income to purchase a sparkly bauble has forms of "soft power" that nations can only dream of [But they didn't sucker you, right?--ed. Er.... well.... oh look, a typo eight entries below this one!].

Andrew Tobias (link via Brad Delong) suggests a way to break DeBeers' corporate power -- instead of a diamond ring, propose with cubic zirconia and deposit the difference into an IRA.

Will it work? No chance, for reasons that Thorstein Veblen has written about at length. But I applaud Tobias' valiant effort at redressing the balance of power between a heartless global monopoly and lovestruck couples everywhere.

UPDATE: Bill Sjostrom cites an even better explanation for the persistence of the diamond engagement ring. Law journals and song lyrics are involved.

posted by Dan on 10.28.02 at 02:18 PM