20 March 2007

Pseudo-choices for dogs

A hitherto obscure Canadian company, Menu Foods, has recalled some of its cat and dog food because it might be contaminated. But, as Oligopoly Watch points out:

the interesting thing for us is the list of brands produced by Menu Foods. The company makes 42 different brands of cat food and 61 brands of dog food … [and] each of the brands has a large number of flavor varieties. The list of brands is breathtaking. Some are store brands for all the US's major and minor supermarket chains. … [O]thers are lesser-known general varieties…. Still others are so-called "nutritional" pet foods, premium high-cost brands….Pseudo-variety describes the way in which a highly concentrated industry using similar methods can produce a dazzling array of "choices" at every price point and quality level.
Oligopoly Watch reminds us how and how much, industries become concentrated. The relevance from my viewpoint is not so much that such concentration is necessarily a bad thing, but that it occurs because government is systematically biased in favour of big business, at the expense not only of small business but of ordinary people too. It is government that subsidises, whether directly indirectly by such means as import barriers or military contracts, its cronies in big business, and it is government that creates a regulatory environment that imposes higher costs on small than big firms. The petfood moguls might tell you that it’s ‘the market’ that made them so successful; so too might other large agribusiness corporates, the oil companies, and the car manufacturers or aircraft makers. But that’s misleading: the market they refer to is the market as mediated by government. And that’s quite a different thing.

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