Zaibatsu to Monopoly: The Rise of the Modern Megacorp

Mickey Mouse: Delightful mascot, or terrifying neo-future monster?

Griffin Sonnemann-Creed, Columnist

With the rapid advancement of technology and business in the western world, one might think that humanity is set on a path to greatness. Already, many agree that we are living in one of the most innovative and peaceful eras in history. However, behind this bright facade is the possibility of a far dirtier and grimmer future.

Megacorporations. The term, first used in 1977, denotes a corporation which has become so massive, so powerful, that it can throw off the metaphorical shackles of law and morality. Megacorps are often seen in sci-fi and cyberpunk-esque futures, where they dominate humanity through the use of propaganda, technology, and an immobile consumerist culture. This domination is often seen especially among the lower-class–it is not uncommon to see portrayals of ramshackle homes, neon bars, and criminals, kept down by the same corporations they are forced to worship.

The rise of the globalized corporation so commonly seen in these futures started far earlier than many expect– in 1600, with the founding of the British and Dutch East India Company. The company is regarded as one of the first true megacorporations, with their trade of goods around the world like spices and Chinese goods. However, they also concealed a darker market– one of opium and slaves. Despite both companies closing in the early 1800s, their legacy lives on. Other corporations have taken their place, but their main purpose remains. While no East India companies exist anymore, there are others who have risen in their stead– the familiar names of Disney, Apple, and Amazon, being three of the prime examples.

These three companies are already becoming more and more like the prophetic cyberpunk stories of the 1980’s. In media such as “Blade Runner,” “RUINER, and “Ghost in the Shell,” corporations such as Tyrell or Heaven control much of the world’s media or manufacturing, effectively owning a monopoly on almost everything. This allows them to act as effective supranational organizations built on corruption and poverty. In particular, Tyrell itself (of “Blade Runner”) is literally built on a throne of lies, creating androids with false memories.

In comparison, the companies in real life, while not at that stage yet, are getting closer and closer to it. For example, in late 2017, Apple attempted to circumvent tax laws in Ireland through misleading wording and loopholes. Amazon has already released the Amazon Key, which allows employees to enter willing consumers’ homes to deliver their packages– allowing unscrupulous employees to enter your house and take as they please, and for the company itself to establish itself in your own private home. Finally, according to CNBC, Disney’s potential acquisition of 21st Century Fox would allow for a business beyond any ever seen before– with Disney controlling almost 40 percent of the entire world’s media.

Even outside of the U.S and Europe, these corporations are growing stronger. Through investment in regions with massive, cheap workforces like Africa, Southeast Asia, and Mexico, megacorporations and manufacturing giants are gaining economic and cultural footholds in developing countries already.

Is this future of corporate overlords and sci-fi spending likely to happen? Nobody knows for sure. With the way the U.S. is heading, it might not be long before government-sanctioned business returns in a blaze of propaganda and merchandise. But, perhaps other governments and countries will put a stop to this before they become too powerful. In the end, it’s a good idea to keep an eye on them– just be careful about what you say. You don’t know if they’re listening in.