When does big get too big? When your antlers grew so huge that you can’t get through the trees or hold your head up and you go extinct like the great Irish elk. Or when a political entity becomes so spread out that it becomes ungovernable, such as the Greek, Roman, and British Empires (among others: don’t forget Napoleon and Hitler). Or when a company grows so voracious and unwieldy that it breaks up or implodes, witness the old Bell system, Enron, General Motors, and AIG, for instance.
Most of the world’s giant corporations today are banks and oil companies. But Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp is not exactly small potatoes. Next only to the Walt Disney Corporation, it is the largest media organization on the planet. It is also a public corporation, but managed to escape the kind of shareholder scrutiny that might have prevented the recent meltdown.
Rupert Murdoch, the media baron of all media barons, claimed before the British Parliament that the scandal-ridden News of the World, the most successful English-language newspaper in the world, represented only 1% of his imperial holdings. But it takes only a single straw to break a bactrian back, so the saying goes.
Size does matter, even in the computer age. Small, as E. F. Schumacher famously said, is beautiful. The opposite may also be true, as we watch the reach of the ambitious and powerful exceed their grasp. It doesn’t take much for big — really, really big — to become morally, spiritually, and even legally ugly. Google and Walmart, please take note!