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Big business is large-scale, corporate-controlled, financial or business activities. As a term, it is typically used to describe activities that run from "huge transactions" to the more general "doing big things." The concept first arose in a symbolic sense after 1880 in connection with the combination movement that began in American business at that time. United States corporations that fall into the category of "big business" include ExxonMobil, Wal-Mart, Apple, Google, Microsoft, General Electric, General Motors, Citigroup and Goldman Sachs. The largest German corporations include Daimler AG, Deutsche Telekom, Siemens and Deutsche Bank. Among the largest companies in the United Kingdom are HSBC, Barclays and BP.
The Industrial Revolution of the late 18th and 19th centuries led to the formation of many manufacturing businesses, some of which eventually grew to a size that might be termed as "big business." The first business sectors that reached this size class (i.e. large concentrations of assets and earnings within individual corporations) were railroads and steel, along with several large merchant banks that financed the rapid growth (e.g. J.P. Morgan & Co.). The latter half of the 19th century saw more technological advances and corporate growth in additional sectors, such as petroleum, machinery, chemicals, and electrical equipment. (See Second Industrial Revolution.)
Early 20th century
Post-World War II
The relatively stable period of rebuilding after World War II led to new technologies (some of which were spin-offs from the war years) and new businesses.
Miniaturization and integrated circuits, together with an expansion of radio and television technologies, provided fertile ground for business development. Electronics businesses include JVC, Sony (Masaru Ibuka and Akio Morita), and Texas Instruments (Cecil H. Green, J. Erik Jonsson, Eugene McDermott, and Patrick E. Haggerty).
Criticism of big business
The social consequences of the concentration of economic power in the hands of those persons controlling "big business" has been a constant concern both of economists and of politicians since the end of the 19th century. Various attempts have been made to investigate the effects of "bigness" upon labor, consumers and investors, as well as upon prices and competition. "Big business" has been accused of a wide variety of misdeeds that range from the exploitation of the working class to the corruption of politicians and the fomenting of war.
Influence over government
Corporate concentration can lead to influence over government in areas such as tax policy, trade policy, environmental policy, foreign policy, and labor policy through lobbying. In 2005 the majority of Americans believed that big business has "too much power in Washington".
Human rights and working conditions
Hitler's order offered German capitalists, badly hit by the great recession, the prospects of huge profits. German workers did, admittedly, enjoy full employment, but, as William Schirer has said, this was at the cost of being reduced to serfdom and poverty wages. It was not long before these conditions became the lot of the whole of occupied Europe.
- Big labor
- Big Chocolate
- Big government
- Big Oil
- Big science
- Big Tobacco
- Big Media
- Corporate republic
- Evil corporation
- Small business
This article is originally based on material from Dictionary of American History by James Truslow Adams, New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1940