In early 1956, the U.S. Justice Department of the Eisenhower administration began thinking about the unthinkable: breaking up General Motors.
Public opinion in the 1950s was leery of concentrated corporate power. GM, U.S. Steel Corp., AT&T Corp. and others dominated America.
Stanley Barns, an assistant attorney general in charge of antitrust, saw GM's 50 percent share of the market as a threat to the industry. His staff labored for years to prepare an antitrust case against the automaker.
But in the end, it was the market — not government regulation — that defanged GM. Toyota Motor Corp., Honda Motor Co. and other Asian automakers relentlessly chipped away at GM's dominance.
In the first half of this year, GM's U.S. market share was 21.3 percent. Its bonds are rated as junk. It has lost more than $12 billion in the past two years. And Toyota is now the world's largest automaker.
You might say that the government didn't have to dilute GM's power. GM did it all by itself.