6 Secret Monopolies You Didn't Know Run the World
The American revolutionaries gave their lives for a future in which each man would have the freedom to make his own choices. That dream has come true in the form of supermarket aisles that contain 50 different cereals with the word "oat" in their name, five marshmallow based cereals with a monster theme and 12 different varieties of Cheerios alone.
God Bless America.
What would you say if I told you that dream was a lie? That all these brands you think you're picking and choosing between are all sock puppets on the many tentacles of a few, lesser known companies?
I don't know what you would say, but we're about to find out.
Luxottica Makes All Your Sunglasses
Remember back when you watched The Matrix for the first time and ran down to the store to buy sunglasses and a trench coat? There were so many sunglass brands to choose from: Oakley, Ray-Ban, Revo, Vogue, DKNY, and if you must have only the best, $500 designer glasses from Prada and BVLGARI (which has that V-instead-of-a-U thing, so you know it's classy like ancient Rome).
Which was famous for its sunglasses.
The thing is, all of those are made by one manufacturer -- Luxottica. Starting off as a tiny Italian glasses company, Luxottica caught the 1980s fever (see Wall Street) and started buying every glasses-related company it could get its hands on, as well as talking pretty much every fashion designer into letting them make their sunglasses line.
Well, at least you get to pick between stores, right? If the people at the LensCrafters are being dicks while selling you different glasses all made by Luxottica, you can show them what you think of that by taking your business across the mall to the Pearle Vision. Or maybe the Sears or Target optical departments. Except that they are also all owned by Luxottica. Just for the sake of argument let's say that you're not a squinty-eyed nerd, so you pass by the prescription shops and go right to the Sunglass Hut. You guessed it. Luxottica.
That has got to be really heavy.
This is of course why they can charge you $200 for a piece of plastic with two hinges -- because most of the "competition" isn't actually competing with them. They are them. It also means that if anyone came up with a mind control chip you could put into glasses, they could have the whole world enslaved within months.
Keep Earth free! Get your glasses from Costco!
Menu Foods: The Shadow Behind Your Cat Food
If you are a cat or dog, you will remember the infamous pet food recall of 2007, where thousands of your kind died due to melamine contamination. For a time it seemed like no brand was safe. Word spread through the cat community to turn up their noses at food even more than usual.
How could so many brands (about 150) happen to get contaminated at the same time? Well, because most of them were made by the same company. If you buy wet pet food labeled Eukanuba, Iams, Nutro, Hy-Vee, Triumph or Priority, it all comes from the same factory. One Canadian company, Menu Foods, makes all those brands. They just slap different labels on it because they know that we as a breed like the illusion of choice. When they're tapped out of weird syllable combinations to slap on the outside of the food, they presumably send the rest off to be turned into fast food and school lunch.
Look at that and tell me I'm exaggerating.
Even worse, Menu Foods and other companies, like Purina, all get one particular pet food ingredient (wheat gluten) from the same place -- a tiny Nevada company called Chemnutra or as they're known to neighbors, some white guy and his Chinese wife. This couple shipped in 800 tons of suspiciously cheap wheat gluten from China and doled it out to every big pet food maker you've ever heard of. They didn't bother to check whether it was poisonous or not, figuring they'd find out sooner or later when, you know, someone's cat ate it and died. Or a few hundred cats.
"It's so cold ..."
So that's how one sloppily run mom-and-pop importer managed to put poisoned pet food into every supermarket in America. But don't worry, at least Menu Foods isn't around anymore. They were bought out by Simmons Pet Food, another huge behind-the-scenes pet food maker, a couple months ago, creating an even bigger company making food for an even larger portion of the pet food section at your local grocery store. That means more product passing through the same factory, and less competition, which means less of a reason for them to care if one of the ingredients that gets used in all of their products happens to be made out of poison.
And ChemNutra? They paid a $35K fine, saw no jail time and changed their name to EOS Direct which continues to import nutritional ingredients, including stuff that gets put in energy drinks. If Red Bull starts to literally give you wings, you'll know who to blame.
When You Eat Corn, You Are Eating Monsanto (TM)
Like an omnipresent starchy deity, corn is everywhere. Savvy consumers know that it doesn't just stop at corn on the cob. Word has gotten out that corn syrup turns up in almost every candy and soda, and is as addictive as crack. But how about Febreze? Hand sanitizers? Ethanol car fuel? That's all corn, too. Making rubber tires? You'll need corn starch. Spark plugs? Corn. Drywall? Corn. You can't build a car or a house without corn.
Whoever controls the corn controls ... maybe not the universe, but a lot of money. And the king of American corn is Monsanto, a biotech company. Unlike evil movie biotech companies -- with their dubious business models of inventing mutants or viruses that kill everyone -- Monsanto built their empire on a pretty boring one two punch: weed killer and seeds.
Bit higher profit margin than clones.
The weed killer, Roundup, is the biggest selling herbicide in the world. The seeds are genetically engineered corn seeds that are immune to Roundup. If you want to grow corn and kill weeds that hurt the corn, Monsanto has the best product on the market by a mile. That's why 80 percent of all corn planted in the U.S. goes into the ground with Monsanto's trademark on it.
Yes, we live in a world where people release Corn 2.
But plants will be plants, and make more seeds, so the farmers don't have to keep buying Monsanto seeds year after year, right? Don't be silly. Monsanto's not going to let their money run away like that. Their first plan was to incorporate something called a "Terminator" (otherwise known as the "let's just stop pretending we're not evil") gene that automatically sterilizes the plant so it can't make any more seeds. Then farmers have to buy new seeds every time they plant, just like nature intended.
People objected to this quite a bit for some reason, forcing Monsanto to back down and instead just make farmers sign a contract saying that they won't use the seeds the plants make ... or else. So instead of screwing farmers with a terminator gene, they're just asking the farmers to agree to screw themselves.
So the next time you're deciding between a Coke or a Pepsi (or between a Firestone or a Goodyear), know that whichever way you go, you're buying Monsanto. You're welcome!
Whether You're a Mac or a PC, You're Probably a Quanta
Start any Mac vs. PC debate and sooner or later someone will bring up how Macs' "highest quality components" make the choice equivalent to "Porsche vs. Camry." Of course, Apple likes to play up this perception, invoking the picture of PCs made sloppily in sweatshops while Macs are put together in sparkling white labs by Apple store employees.
How Mac fans picture Apple factories.
Not only are the laptops you're arguing about both put together in Taiwan, but very likely even by the same company. Taiwan's Quanta Computer makes 33 percent of all laptops in the world, including Dells, HPs, Sonys, Toshibas and yes, Macs.
In fact, if you're reading this on a laptop, there's a 90 percent chance it was manufactured by one of seven giant companies you've never heard of, all located in Taiwan. None of the brands you know and love actually makes computers. Fortunately, Taiwan is a pretty laid back country where almost nothing ever goes wrong.
These are ordinary Taiwan parliamentary sessions. We're not kidding.
America can't even officially recognize Taiwan as a country or China will go ballistic, possibly literally. China claims to own Taiwan, and has only been persuaded not to make a move so far due to strategically timed visits by U.S. aircraft carriers and tricky diplomacy. Every time some Taiwan official gets drunk and says, "Come on, China, we've pretty obviously been independent for decades, let's stop pretending," everything gets rough and we have to send aircraft carriers again until China calms down.
Even if China's cagey enough not to actually attack Taiwan, most of these Taiwan laptop-makers have factories in China, so if these countries even stop speaking to each other for a bit, we'd be out of laptops, and all our big computer companies couldn't do a thing about it except twiddle their thumbs and look embarrassed.
Max Martin Has a Monopoly on Annoying Songs
If you've ever complained that all pop music these days sounds alike, you may have a point, considering how many songs were written by the same guy. His name is Max Martin, and you probably hate him without knowing it. I could be wrong, perhaps you are a big fan of the Backstreet Boys' "I Want It That Way," or N'Sync's "It's Gonna Be Me," or Britney Spears' "Oops! I Did It Again," or Kelly Clarkson's "Since U Been Gone," or Katy Perry's "I Kissed A Girl," or Celine Dion's "That's The Way It Is".
In which case you probably look like this.
I'm not a music fanatic so I'm not going to take sides on this. Let's just say there's one segment of the population that loves those kinds of songs, one segment that hates them and a really big segment (people on the Internet who want other Internet people to think they're cool) that feel obligated to say they hate them. I'm not going to judge. The point is you've never heard his name before, and you couldn't escape his sparkly brand of tween pop music if you wanted to.
Seriously, take a look at that list. Not only does he write (and produce) all the most popular songs for cool kids to hate, but he's also written for Usher, Def Leppard, a Swedish metal band, a Finnish cello metal band (??) and everyone who ever finished above third place on American Idol apparently.
Yes, I said cello metal.
Even if you hate him, you have to admire his single-minded dedication to annoying you.
InBev: The Imported Beer Barons
If you've traveled abroad, you've probably heard American beer made fun of. Canadian will deride Budweiser, Michelob or Natural Light while sipping a Labatt with polite superiority. Beer snobs from more cultured countries might point you toward superior Belgian beers like Leffe and Hoegaarden, before making fun of American beers.
Well, as you've probably guessed, every beer you've ever bought in a store was probably made by the beer empire of InBev, along with Stella Artois, Alexander Keith's, Bass, Beck's, Boddington's, Lowenbrau, Rolling Rock, St. Pauli Girl and Spaten. Those are just the brands they own outright. They also have majority stakes in companies like Grupo Modelo, which makes most of the beers in Mexico -- Corona, Modelo, Pacifico.
So, make fun of Budweiser all you want, odds are you're probably still paying them.
I personally don't have that problem because I only drink craft beers, because apparently I hate money. If you, too, want to get rid of your money as fast as you can, I would also suggest buying craft beers. I guess they taste pretty good too.
I vouch for this beer both being really good and helping you get rid of your useless $9 really fast.