30 March 2007

The market? Don't make me laugh

Stacy Mitchell's new book, Big Box Swindle, offers a compelling case for why uncontrolled proliferation of corporate chains undermines communities, competitive markets, and democracy. Mitchell provides a fine balance by detailing the big picture with extensive research while driving home the impact of problems with stories of real people, businesses and communities.

An especially interesting chapter is “Uncle Sam's Invisible Hand,” which reveals how government policies have played an immense role in shaping the retail and other commercial development. Some of these policies, such as directly subsidizing politically-powerful corporations, may be familiar to our readers, but Mitchell unearths many cases of more subtle government favoritism or discrimination that make clear the growth of corporate chains has not resulted from market forces alone. Source

I haven’t read the book yet, but I’m glad it’s been written. Businesses and government talk about ‘the market’ as though it’s an accurate summation of individual’s preference, weighted perhaps disproportionately in favour of the wealthy. But it’s worse than that. The wealthiest of all are not individuals but large corporations, and they have many ways in which they can bias the market against small enterprises, the public, the natural environment and the social environment. In this, they and our governments, nominally democratic as they are, engage in mutual back-scratching. Governments help large corporates by, amongst other measures, imposing protectionist barriers to imports, and creating a regulatory environment that imposes disproportionately high costs on smaller businesses. Wal-Mart and other mega-retailers are not the only beneficiaries; agribusiness, military suppliers and the construction industry also leap to mind. But it’s the big box sellers who most readily claim that their success is due to ‘the market’. It’s not, unless the market they are talking about is for policies, regulations and the souls of our representatives in government.

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