The United States - and for that matter the world - is going through the biggest wave of corporate mergers and acquisitions in history. In the process, the American economy is being drastically restructured. And there's more to come, the experts say.
Is that good or bad?
You aren't hearing any real debate about the merits of this extraordinary trend in the presidential campaign. Though mergers are affecting millions of Americans, the topic is not considered a vote-grabber.
Neither Vice President Al Gore nor Texas Governor George W. Bush have offered a detailed plan for dealing with the increased concentration of economic power.
So far, it appears that Mr. Gore is an adherent of the Clinton administration's relatively strong antitrust policy.
But Mr. Bush is more of a mystery. Will he follow the somewhat less-tough policy of his dad, former President Bush, or the laissez-faire policy under the Reagan administration?
Albert Foer, president of the American Antitrust Institute, a Washington think tank, wonders if Bush has "a strong but secretive attitude" on antitrust policy which might come out after the election. It would be revealed in his appointment of chiefs of the Justice Department's antitrust division and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the two antitrust watchdogs in the US.
[Joel Klein, head of the antitrust division, last Tuesday announced his resignation. He has been chief architect of the case against Microsoft Corp.]
Yet the impact of mergers on business competition is crucial.
"An enlightened antitrust policy is essential to the vitality of the innovative companies which provide the foundation for American prosperity," says Peter Morici, an economist at the University of Maryland's business school, in College Park.
"We have got a merger a day now," says Paul Juhasz, of Thomson Financial Securities Data, a Newark, N.J. firm that keeps track of the data.
That's an understatement. Thomson's own data show there have been 7,583 deals so far this year of companies valued at a total of $1.34 trillion. By year end, 2000 could break the 1998 $1.6 trillion record.
In the financial area alone, there have been $494 billion in takeovers and mergers this year.
"Sooner or later it is going to have to slow down or we are going to have one big company [on Wall Street]," says Mr. Juhasz.
In total, there have been $6.5 trillion worth of deals in the US since 1995, $12 trillion worldwide.