Be different

Adam Mastroianni reminds us that we live in the age of oligopolies.

A shrinking group of franchises own a bigger chunk of art, books, music, movies, television, video game, everything.

Before 2000, only about 25 percent of top-grossing movies were sequels, spinoffs, and remakes. Now it’s well over 75 percent. You can’t step into a major art gallery without seeing a blockbuster from a dead artist everyone has heard of. And everyone is queuing up to see.

Every market evolves (or if we prefer, devolves) to two major players. Then one. Until it crumbles or shatters thanks to antitrust legislation or shifting tastes.

Oligopolies are on the rise everywhere you look. A few people make more money. A few supermarkets sell the most goods. A few businesses produce more GDP. A few scientific papers get more of the citations. A few newspapers get more of the readers. A few websites get more of the traffic.

A few religions get more of the believers. A few cities get more of the people. A few parties get most of the votes.

Economists call it agglomeration. Psychologists put it down to choice overload. Choosing between two is a lot easier than choosing between twenty-two.

People choose the familiar, first movers can win near-permanent portions of market share, and big things tend to outcompete small things unless something stops them.

Oligopolies can fall as well as rise. Income inequality increased from 1910 to 1930 but then declined for forty years before beginning its most recent neoliberal ascent. The Fortune 500 share of the economy ticked downward during the 2001 and 2008 recessions. Cults exploded in the 60s and 70s and then receded again.

In an oligopoly, being different is a form of civil disobedience. We can’t pass antitrust legislation all by ourselves, and we don’t have the capacity to change policy.

But we can spend our attention, our time and our money where few others are spending theirs. We can be a big part of a small audience.

The arc of history doesn’t have to bend toward a few having most. We’re the ones who bend it.

Why not twist it towards the rule-breakers, the free thinkers.

The trouble makers.

The different.

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