Stacy Mitchell Gives Keynote Speech at the National Rural Grocery Summit: “Trustbusting Is Making a Comeback”

Date: 22 Jun 2022 | posted in: Retail | 0 Facebooktwitterredditmail

The National Rural Grocery Summit brings together store owners, community leaders, food suppliers, and academic researchers to strategize on how to sustain rural grocery stores and improve rural access to healthy foods. This year, ILSR Co-Director Stacy Mitchell gave a lively keynote address where she talked about how monopolistic corporations are squeezing independent businesses and farmers out of the market — and the resurging antimonopoly movement that is fighting to revive our antitrust laws.

In the 1930s, Mitchell explained, A&P dominated the grocery retail market. It used its market muscle to demand steep discounts and priced goods below cost, driving independent grocers out of the market and eliminating competition. In the 1940s, the government sued A&P for antitrust violations and for attempting to monopolize the grocery market. The subsequent ruling resulted in an end to a lot of these practices, but Congress and federal agencies have since saddled our economy by abandoning the enforcement of antitrust regulations under the assumption that “bigger is better.”

“But, the great news is that we are now in the midst of an antimonopoly comeback. There is an increasingly widespread recognition that America has a monopoly problem and that we need to do something about it,” Mitchell contended. There is a viable opportunity to resurrect our antitrust laws and “stand up for our liberty and democracy as Americans.”

Find out more about the National Rural Grocery Summit here.

Read the transcript of Stacy Mitchell’s speech below.

Stacy Mitchell: As we observe Juneteenth, it’s appropriate to take a moment and reflect on the idea of Liberty in all of its forms, the motivating logic behind all of the evils of slavery and the, and the basic humanity. It denied Black Americans was the deprivation of economic freedom, the denial of the right to pursue one’s life and livelihood free of coercion and domination. By the powerful. At the end of the civil war, there was this idea that the big plantations could be broken up and that small parcels of land could be given to formerly enslaved people. 40 acres and a mule was the idea, but it didn’t happen. Instead planters were allowed to maintain their control of land and the economic power that came with it. And soon African Americans across the south denied any economic agency of their own found themselves laboring in the system of sharecropping that did not look all that different from slavery. It’s a reminder that the exercise of economic power can be every bit as despotic as the power exercised by planters and by Kings as the great American statesmen and abolitionist, Frederick Douglas observed concentrated wealth has ever been the tool of the tyrant. The readiest means by which Liberty is overthrown
Stacy Mitchell: Today. We are contending with an extraordinary concentration of economic power, four big beef processing companies control 85% of all beef processing, which allows them to essentially dictate prices to ranchers chicken farmers, meanwhile, labor, and a contract growing system run by Tyson that resembles a form of indentured servitude. Over the last decade, we have lost one out of every three local community banks. Much of our financial power has been transferred to a handful of giant banks on wall street that do very little to fund our local economies and devote much of their resources actually to extracting wealth from the local level. Monopoly power is destroying in many ways, the productive capacity of our economy. It’s destroying. For example, our healthcare system, a few big hospital chains have been buying up independent community hospitals in recent years often simply to shut them down since 2013, more than a hundred rural communities have seen their local hospital close because of a merger
Stacy Mitchell: Concentration in pharmaceuticals. Meanwhile has sent the price of life or death drugs like insulin sky high. And meanwhile, when we look to the future and when we look to our online markets, we see that three companies, Amazon, Google, and Facebook have gained so much control that they essentially now control the arteries of our commerce and communication they’re gatekeepers. And if you wanna sell a product online or share information online, you have to go through their gate and they get to decide whether you get through and what price you have to pay to go through. One of the consequences. One of the many consequences of the, of Google and Facebook’s domination is that some 2000 counties in the us no longer have a local newspaper in part, because it’s a result of the fact that the vast majority of digital ad revenue generated by the content created by local news, uh, outlets in fact, is not going to those new news outlets. It’s going into the pocket of Google and Facebook.
Stacy Mitchell: America has a monopoly problem. As more control has concentrated into a few hands, small businesses and farmers are being squeezed out of the market workers, especially those in the most concentrated industries have seen their wages and working conditions deteriorate. Our democratic institutions have been corrupted by corporate lobbyists and perhaps worst of all, the fate of our community is the question of whether the places we love, the places where we live will sink or swim. Now rests on the arbitrary decisions made far away in unaccountable boardrooms. How did this come to pass? After all America has some of the strongest antitrust and anti monopoly laws in the books of any country in the world. Those laws are designed to block corporations from amassing too much market power and too much political power. The problem is that 40 years ago in a, in a series of events that I’ll, I’ll tell you a little bit more about later.
Stacy Mitchell: Policy makers decided to radically reinterpret those laws, the meaning of those laws, such that instead of being tools of antimonopoly, they essentially returned around and, and turned into tools, designed to consolidate wealth and power. Today. Fortunately, there is a growing consensus that this was a huge mistake, a huge mistake. This is the conclusion of a majority of Americans who tell pollsters that big business has too much power. It’s also the conclusion of a growing number of lawmakers on both the left and the right one of those converts is president Biden. Last year, Biden gave a landmark speech in which he said, we are now 40 years into the experiment of letting giant corporations accumulate more and more power. And what have we gotten for it? Less growth, weakened investment, fewer small businesses, too many Americans who feel left behind. He concluded. I believe the experiment has failed on the day.
Stacy Mitchell: He gave that speech Biden issued a wide ranging executive order that directs the antitrust agencies and all of the branches of government to use all of their tools available, to tackle the problem of concentrated economic power. He also appointed to the federal trade commission and the department of justice that the two agencies charged with enforcing our antitrust laws. Um, people who have long been leading the call for the ReSTOR restoration and reinvigoration of antimonopoly policy. Meanwhile, in Congress, there is a growing bipartisan support for a broad anti monopoly agenda. In fact, in the next few weeks, we may very well, uh, see the Senate and the house past two bills that would outlaw some of the most nakedly monopolistic practices of Amazon and the other tech giants.
Stacy Mitchell: I hope these efforts are just the beginning of a transformation of federal policy and with it, a revitalization of our local communities, our independent businesses and democracy itself, all of you in this room, all of the work that you do in your communities for many years have been, uh, facing a headwind in trying to revitalize local communities because all of these federal policies were, were, were blowing in the opposite direction. And what we’re working to do at my organization is shift that. And so that there’s a tailwind behind what it is that people, uh, working at the local level to revitalize their communities are doing. But whether or not this momentum that we’re seeing right now continues and gains traction is gonna depend a lot on what happens next and really whether, uh, people across the country like you get involved. And that’s really what I, I want to talk to you about today.
Stacy Mitchell: Um, I’m, I’m, I’m just incredibly grateful to be here, uh, at such an important conference and have a, have a chance to talk with you all. So with that as a, as a, as a rather long preamble, let me just, uh, rewind a bit and introduce myself, um, uh, and tell you a little bit about how I came to this work. Um, so my name is Stacy Mitchell. Um, I grew up in the great state of Maine and that’s where I, I, I currently live, um, I shop at Rosemont market, our neighborhood grocer, um, and I also helped, uh, uh, uh, co co-found, the Portland, uh, food co-op. Um, I spent about a decade of my life in St. Paul, um, and I have deep, a deep love of the Midwest. And so it’s really great to be back here, uh, in your neck of the woods.
Stacy Mitchell: And I run this organization called the Institute for local self-reliance, which is, uh, been around longer than, than I have. It’s a nearly 50 year old research and advocacy organization focused on building thriving, equitable communities. Uh, the organization’s headquartered in Minneapolis though, at this point, we’ve got staff all over the place, Washington, DC, Kansas city, New York, Texas, um, we’re staff of about 30. And, and we focus, as I said, on, on research and, and policy to strengthen local communities. When I started this work, um, many years ago, um, at, I started working at, at the organization as a researcher. And one of the questions I began to investigate early on was, uh, why are small, independent businesses, disappearing, independent retailers, family, farmers, community banks, um, about 40 years ago, independent businesses. Those with fewer than a hundred employees accounted for nearly half of GDP today, it’s down, uh, closer to about 20%.
Stacy Mitchell: So that the, the answer, the standard at conventional wisdom answer to this question of what’s happening to small business has been for a long time that well, larger corporations are more efficient, right? They outperform small businesses, they deliver better products and services have lower prices, and they generally benefit society more. And so they, they are taking over, but as I began to do research, I just kept finding in one area after another, that that explanation did not add up. It didn’t add up, take the case of independent pharmacies, local pharmacies in many, uh, parts of the country, uh, have been disappearing as big chains like Walgreens and Walmart, uh, increasingly dominate the prescription market. Um, one remarkable exception to that trend though is North Dakota where independent drug stores are numerous. And the reason for that is a rather curious law that in North Dakota passed back in 1963, that says that you cannot operate a pharmacy in the state of North Dakota, unless you’re a pharmacist.
Stacy Mitchell: So as a result, there are no chain pharmacies, no pharmacies inside Walmart stores in North Dakota, it’s all independent, locally owned pharmacies. So my organization thought, well, that’s interesting. That’s an interesting case study. What’s it like in North Dakota? Um, you know, given the conventional wisdom about the inferiority of small business, one could assume that North Dakota law, by keeping the chains out had meant higher prices, worse service, and so on. Well, as, as we found turns out that the state of North Dakota has among the lowest prescription drug prices in the country, and it appears, um, that there’s good reason to believe that residents of North Dakota are quite well served by local pharmacies. According to consumer reports, independent pharmacies have shorter wait times fewer out-of-stock drugs, they and patients who go there receive more one-on-one time with the pharmacist, uh, than they do at chain drug stores.
Stacy Mitchell: North Dakota residents also benefit from just an unparalleled level of access to pharmacies. Uh, the state has more pharmacies per capita than any other country. Uh, any other state in the country and pharmacies are remarkably prevalent, even in really remote regions. North Dakota’s rural communities are 50% more likely to have a local pharmacy in town than rural communities in neighboring South Dakota. And in the cities like Fargo and Bismarck, there are more competing pharmacies, more choices than you find in Sioux falls and rapid city right across the border in South Dakota. So all of this raises a really big question. If independent pharmacies are outperforming, why are they disappearing everywhere else? And the answer it turns out has to do with these corporations called pharmacy benefit managers, PBMs. They are the most powerful part of the healthcare industry that you have never heard of. Um, they manage prescription benefits, drug, drug benefits for health insurers. And so they decide which drugs are gonna be covered by your insurance. And when you go to a pharmacy, how much that pharmacy’s gonna get paid, uh, for, for providing that prescription to you, there are only three companies that control basically all of this market, three PBMs, all three of those PBMs own their own mail order, retail pharmacies. And one of those PBMs is also the nation’s largest retail pharmacy chain.
Stacy Mitchell: So I think you can begin to see what might be going on here, right? The PBMs, including CVS have systematically been cutting reimbursement rates to independent pharmacies, imposing various onerous terms on them, and then using their power to steer patients to CVS and their own pharmacies instead. Um, it is a, a, a very, uh, monopolistic kind of tactic, you know, in some cases, uh, CVS has done this and simply run local pharmacies out of business and left whole parts, whole regions without access to pharmacies, academics have now coined a new term for this pharmacy deserts. Um, and it it’s particularly afflicting rural areas and Black and Brown, uh, urban neighborhoods in, in cities. CVS is also, um, in some places, uh, instead of just leaving people without a pharmacy and expecting them to use mail order or drive long distances. CVS is also in a couple of states, slashed reimbursement rates, and then sent letters to local pharmacies offering to buy their pharmacy. Here’s an example of one. Um,
Stacy Mitchell: And as you, sorry, I can write down the quote. I’m gonna actually have to read it. I know what independent pharmacies are experiencing right now. The letter reads declining reimbursement rates, increasing costs, mounting challenge, uh, challenges like these make selling your store to CVS, an attractive and practical option. I mean, this is monopoly power at work. You know, we often think of monopoly means, uh, you know, just one, like one company controls everything, but that’s not actually the legal definition. It means when you have enough market power to dictate terms to other players to materially impact or block the ability of others to compete, it’s effectively a form of bullying. That’s what, what monopoly is until recently for years and years and years, the federal trade commission looked at this problem when they were presented with it. And they said, there’s nothing to see here, nothing at all to see here, this is not a problem.
Stacy Mitchell: They were very much focused, uh, at the federal trade commission on a set of economic theories that told them that when you vertically integrate companies and you put together a PBM and a retail pharmacy, and by the way, CVS also owns Aetna. One of the nation’s largest health insurers. You put that all together, it’s really efficient. It’s great. It’s a good thing. And they were so focused on that idea that they couldn’t see what was actually happening out in the real world. So in case you’re wondering, uh, PBMs are a bit of an issue for north Dakota’s pharmacies too. However, because North Dakota has this unique law, um, the, the PBM, the independent pharmacies in North Dakota have more leverage. They’re the only game in town. And so they are able to negotiate a little bit better with PBMs and not be taken quite so much advantage of, I found through our research, a variation of this same story is playing out in many sectors of our economy, small businesses deliver distinct benefits.
Stacy Mitchell: They often outperform their large competitors. They deliver really important benefits to their communities and ultimately our democracy. And they achieve these superior results, not in spite of their small scale, but actually because of it because they’re more connected to their customers and their communities, because they’re deeply expert at what they do. And they’re more nimble and more creative. The reality is that in a lot of cases, big companies have been gaining these dominant market shares, not by com competing on the merits, but rather by using their raw market power to rig the game. So let me just give you a very brief history, uh, of antitrust
Stacy Mitchell: Antimonopoly is, um, I think really important to note is, is really foundational to the whole American system of Liberty. It goes all the way back to the very beginning. Um, you, uh, may, uh, recall, uh, the Boston tea party. Um, one of the things we we miss about this event is that those ships holding all that tea that was dumped into the Boston Harbor were owned by the British east India company, the most powerful global corporation of its day. And at that time for various reasons, the British east India company was going under, they were in danger of bankruptcy. And so what they did is they went to the British parliament. Of course, they had a lobbyists, they had a lot of power in par parliament, and they got this exemption where they didn’t have to collect tax ONT. Um, and the idea was all the local tea merchants in the colonies they’d have to collect that tax.
Stacy Mitchell: And the British east India company would be able to undersell them cause they didn’t have to collect the tax and they would be able to put them out of business. And that’s how they would, they would resurrect their floundering, uh, floundering operation. Uh, but the colonists were having none of that. Absolutely none of that because they recognize that political Liberty and economic Liberty are tied together. And so when that tea went into the Harbor, it was not only a protest against parliament. It was also a protest against unaccountable economic power. So Americans have a long understood this idea that if you wanna safeguard democracy and Liberty, you need checks. Not only checks on each of the branches of government, but checks on economic power, private power. In the early days of the United States, those checks on private economic power were provided by state laws that said corporations were coopered at the state level.
Stacy Mitchell: And they were kept to their knitting and kept in check by by the states. But this approach began to fray in the 19th century because we started to have these entities, like the railroads who’d be headquartered in one state, but their power would reach across to other states, right? And so they could no longer really be contained by state laws. And this led to the need for national antitrust laws, an 1890 Congress enacted the Sherman antitrust act, which, which makes it illegal to attempt to monopolize a market. As the laws, chief author, Senator Sherman said at the time, if we will not endure a king as a political power, we should not endure king over the production transportation sale of the necessities of life. This was the law that, uh, Teddy Roosevelt would use to go after standard oil and ultimately break them up. Um, then in 1914, Congress came back to this issue cuz the, the, the Sherman law didn’t go far enough and they passed the Clayton antitrust act and even more comprehensive antitrust law that outlawed a host of anti-competitive tactics.
Stacy Mitchell: They also created the federal trade commission in that year. And the federal trade commission is an independent agency that was given wide authority by Congress to prevent unfair methods of competition for a variety of reasons that I won’t, I won’t get into including the, the arrival of world war I and, and a number of other things. These laws were not fully implemented either by president Wilson at the time or by the two presidents that immediately followed him. And so we get to the 1920s and, you know, we tend to think, now we tend to think about the go go twenties, you know, as like a roaring, you know, time, that was really actually only true for the wealthy, you know, the stock market was booming, uh, until it wasn’t. Um, and you know, in the wealthy were doing quite well, but for a lot of ordinary Americans, the 1920s was a tough decade.
Stacy Mitchell: Um, you had, uh, folks across, uh, small towns who were struggling because big grocery chains like A & P were coming in and displacing their local businesses. Farmers were often at the mercy of these, uh, far away, uh, New York banks who controlled whether they had the capital that they needed to, to, to, uh, plant their crop crops and succeed. And residents of, of big cities, uh, were struggling with high prices, you know, from, uh, big holding companies that had gained control of the electricity system and other like core utilities. Um, so the 1920s was, was a difficult time and it was, it was Franklin Roosevelt who actually came along in the 1930s and pointed out that all of those issues that I just named they’re all of those are various struggles or all have the same root problem. Monopoly Roosevelt believed that the concentration of economic power had helped bring about the great depression and was in fact impeding the country’s recovery at the democratic party’s national convention in 1936 R Roosevelt devoted much of his speech to the, to the problem that he described as quote, an industrial dictatorship, a small group of powerful corporations, Roosevelt declared had concentrated into their hands and almost complete control such that many Americans are no longer free and throughout the nation opportunity was limited by monopoly.
Stacy Mitchell: So central aim of the new deal from Roosevelt’s perspective was to secure economic freedom for the wage earner and the farmer and the small businessman and Roosevelt set up taking up these set about taking up these antitrust laws and really empowering, uh, uh, their enforcement. He, uh, over at the justice department, he hired, uh, this guy, Thurman Arnold, a very feisty, uh, small town mayor and lawyer from Wyoming to run the antitrust division, uh, under Arnold’s direction. Uh, he massively increased the staff and started bringing all of these antitrust cases against big business, 1936 Congress, um, added to the nation’s antitrust laws by passing the Robinson Patman act, which you heard a little bit about this morning. Uh, Patman is the, the guy you can see here in this photo, um, the Robinson Patman act bars. It was really specifically around the power of big retail chains, the law bars, big retail chains from using their leverage as major buyers of goods to rest discounts from suppliers, um, and, and, and cause suppliers to, to, to raise prices to small, independent competing retailers.
Stacy Mitchell: Uh, the law Outlaws Outlaws this and for it really recognizes that when, when a company uses simply its power rather than competing, when it simply uses its size to gain an unfair advantage, that that’s a problem. And so Robinson Patman act was designed to prevent big retailers from cornering the market. And for many years after its passage, the federal trade commission used it to keep big retailers in check. So this way of, of governing and thinking about the economy that Roosevelt initiated it, um, it was that really it persisted and predominated an American politics and policy for decades through the 1940s, fifties, sixties, antimonopoly was a core policy. It was implemented under both Democrats and Republicans. And the idea was, you know, in industries that necessitated a certain amount of scale like auto manufacturing, we wanna make sure we have at least a few big companies, but there are lots of industries in which policy makers said, you know, when it comes to retail farming banking, there’s good reason to have mostly local small businesses.
Stacy Mitchell: And that was essentially, uh, the way that many administrations, uh, approached this whole problem for decades. You know, throughout these years, antitrust and monopoly featured in nearly every state of the union address, Congress remained actively engaged. They passed a major new antitrust law in 1950 that bars, any merger that may lessen competition may lessen competition in the 1960s and into the 1970s. Congress continued with major investigations of monopoly power that spurred action by the antitrust agencies, all of this was very good for people and good for the American economy. It was part of what created an expansive middle class and a highly competitive and innovative economy. And I, I wanna note here that while in a number of ways, those new deal error policies excluded people of color excluded women from their full benefit. It’s really worth noting that in these years, the gap between Black and white earnings narrowed quite a bit, much more so than it’s been stagnant, uh, and wide in our times, but in these years, it narrowed. And by the 1970s, we actually had more Black-owned business in businesses in this country than we have today.
Stacy Mitchell: One of the great ways to see, I think, a little microcosm of how this worked in this period is the story of, of a P you know, back in the early thirties, a amp was this retailing giant 16,000 outlet chain, the nation’s fifth biggest corporation and amp got there in part by using its market power to squeeze suppliers and muscle, small grocers out of business, they would go to suppliers and demand big discounts, um, and, and cause those same suppliers to have to raise prices to their independent, uh, uh, independent, uh, grocers and, and amp would also go into towns and sell below cost. They would sell their stuff below cost until they drove out of business, the local competition, and they’d raise their prices in the 1940s. The government sued amp for Robinson Patman act violations, Sherman antitrust act for attempting to monopolize the grocery market.
Stacy Mitchell: Um, and the ruling that resulted put an end to a lot of these practices on the part of amp. And what I think is so interesting and instructive about this story is actually what happened next amp continued to operate. They operated for, for decades as a national grocer. They were significant national chain, but they were no longer able to dominate the market the way they once had. And the result is that in these years, the grocery sector was a, was a sector in which small groceries really flourished independent grocery stores in the mid 1950s, accounted for half of all grocery spending. And, and here’s a stat that I just think is extraordinary. There were a million people who worked in grocery stores in the mid 1950s and of them one out of every four owned or co-owned the store where they worked. This was an economy of widely dispersed power. This was a key foundation of the thriving middle class of that period.
Stacy Mitchell: So what happens, how do we get here? In some ways antitrust was, you know, a victim of its own success in the sense that for a variety of reasons, Americans sort of stopped paying attention in the sixties and seventies to the question of monopoly. It wasn’t really a problem anymore. And there were a lot of other things that they had to pay attention to in those years. And so you saw like reporting about monopoly and antitrust issues really disappeared from the pages of the local newspapers. Um, it just was not an issue that was talked about. This is a graph that sort of illustrates that you can see monopoly, uh, in the public discourse peaking in the forties, fifties, sixties, and then really steeply declining after about 1970. But while ordinary Americans have kind of lost the thread, if you will, and it stopped paying attention, there were a small group of law and economic scholars, um, who were paying a lot of attention.
Stacy Mitchell: Uh, this group of folks often associated with the uni university of Chicago, um, was led in particular by Robert Bo, who many of you may recall as the failed Supreme court nominee. Um, but his, uh, his most, uh, uh, sort of substantial impact that he’s had on, on, on American politics and policy was that he deeply opposed antitrust policy. He wrote a book called an, the antitrust paradox in 1978 and he and another, this group of economists and legal scholars really said about and said, you know what, uh, bigger is better. Uh, and the antitrust laws, despite what they’ve meant and what they say on their face are really not about any of these things like Liberty or democracy. They’re not even really about competition. The only thing that the antitrust laws should be about is enhancing efficiency and big businesses are highly efficient. They’re gonna lower consumer prices, and that’s the only thing that matters.
Stacy Mitchell: And that ideology, if you will, that way of seeing things, um, finally found some traction, uh, with the election of Ronald Reagan, um, under the influence of Bo and other Chicago school scholars, uh, Reagan’s justice department, systematically gutted our antitrust enforcement. They didn’t get rid of the laws. They knew they couldn’t do that. They couldn’t go to Congress and overturn the law. So laws are all still on the books, but what they did is that they used their power as enforcers to rewrite how those laws are interpreted with huge influence on the courts and everybody else. And essentially what they did is they turned those laws from being tools of antimonopoly into tools of consolidating the economy, cuz they basically said, uh, the goal here is efficiency and bigger is more efficient. Now it would’ve been hard. I think maybe as popular as Reagan was it would’ve still been pretty hard for him to get, get away with something that was essentially a coup had it not been the, for the fact that this thinking was also embraced by quite a lot, quite a number of liberals, um, who saw large corporations as good for growth and dismissed concerns about the political implications of their power bill Clinton in 1992, for the first time in more than a century, the democratic party’s platform included no references to monopoly power.
Stacy Mitchell: He then led a multi-year effort to overturn a series of laws from, from the new deal era that had constrained the size of banks that had protected the security of family, farmers and insured dispersed ownership of the news media and, and Barack Obama in many ways followed right along with this under his watch, we allowed Amazon Facebook and Google to really grow unpeated and assumed control of much of the infrastructure of commerce and communications. And just as amp was a good story of that era. Walmart is the story of inaction trusts, busting inaction. Um, you know, it’s no coincidence that Walmart really began to grow in the 1980s when these shifts came about used many of the same tactics that a and P had used, including pushing around suppliers to get discounts that weren’t deserved, uh, predatory pricing selling below cost until all the competition was gone today. Uh, Walmart has a kind of market power that a and P can only dream of it captures one out of every four grocery dollars nationally and really dominates an incredible number of metropolitan areas, micropolitan areas and of course, small towns. Um, and today we see dollar general and Amazon pursuing many of those, um, same, uh, same tricks and playbook.
Stacy Mitchell: But the great news is that we are now in the midst of an antimonopoly comeback, you know, long last there is an increasingly widespread recognition that America has a monopoly problem and that we need to do something about it. You know, the most, uh, uh, sort of damning evidence of late has been what’s happened to our supply chains. You know, we’ve had so much consolidation and yeah, there’ve been disruptions for COVID and so on, but when you only have a couple of companies that control all of Pacific ocean shipping, when you only have a couple of big meat Packers, you know, you have a little disruption here and there and suddenly you’ve got empty shelves and lack of production. We, we used to say that the economy doesn’t work for some people. Now, it just doesn’t work in a lot of cases, right? This is caused by concentrated power.
Stacy Mitchell: Antitrust is making a comeback and just, just in the, in the, in the Nick of time, uh, as I mentioned, Biden has appointed a couple of great people to the two, to the, a few great people, to the antitrust agencies, uh, Jonathan canter heads, the antitrust division he’s been calling for reform for a long time. Uh, Lena Khan is now chair of the federal trade commission. Um, one of the leading thinkers, uh, out to reform and resurrect anti monopoly policy. Uh, the commission is a, is a five member commission. And so just a couple of weeks ago, um, we got the fifth commissioner Alvera Bedoya who joined. Uh, and so we now have a full slate of full slate of votes on the FTC, which is pretty exciting. Um, Bedoya has very much, um, you know, embraced antitrust as something that’s really kitchen table issue for ordinary Americans.
Stacy Mitchell: And he talks a lot about the importance of groceries, of prescription drugs, of these everyday issues that affect our, our communities. So it’s really, uh, terrific now to have, uh, these folks on the commission. And in short order, we have had a series of things, uh, moving to change where things are going first off the federal trade commission, the department of justice said that they’re gonna revise the merger guidelines, which I know sounds incredibly technical, um, but is monumental it’s pivotal. Um, these are, these are, this is where bok and his allies. This is how they changed the laws was they wrote a set of merger policies and other policies, uh, that change the interpretation laws. We are now gonna rewrite those and we’re gonna bring them back. I think in line with what the law actually has said. They have also after ignoring for 20 years, the problem of PBMs, uh, the FTC has launched an inquiry, uh, into prescription that drug, uh, uh, these prescription managers and these drug middlemen, which is really great news for independent pharmacies. And they’ve launched an investigation into supply chain problems in the grocery sector and subpoenaed a bunch of information from Walmart, Amazon Kroger, big producers. This inquiry is the kind of thing that could, uh, lead us depending on what they find in the direction of resurrecting the Robinson Patman act, which would be incredible news for independent retailers of all kinds and really level the playing field in a big way. And we can expect that the FTC is gonna start filing anti monopoly cases may including, uh, one, uh, uh, focused on Amazon.
Stacy Mitchell: Congress has been in this game too. Um, a couple of years ago, the antitrust committee and the house, uh, led by David Cini. Who’s at the mic here, um, along with his ally in this work Congressman Ken buck, who’s a Republican from Colorado. You can see him in the background of the, of this picture, launched an investigation into the big tech companies, a 16 month investigation folks on the committee when they started out, did not agree that this was even a problem, but by the end of the investigation, they concluded that these companies have monopoly power and that they need to be not only regulated, but ultimately broken up. Uh, that’s what the report calls for. And we are now beginning to see some of the recommendations from that report come through as legislation, including this bill that I mentioned earlier, that would eliminate some of the worst practices of Amazon and Google in terms of monopolizing the markets.
Stacy Mitchell: We have the votes in the Senate and the house to pass this bill. What, what we’re working on right now is trying to get it to the floor. And so that’s up to Senator Schumer. He has the majority leader. He has told us he will give us a vote in the next few weeks. We have a limited window. Um, but we are waiting for him to actually call that vote, but we think we can pass this legislation. And it’s not just at the federal level. There’s really interesting antitrust legislation moving now in a number of states. The thing that I can’t underscore enough is that all these pro all this progress we’ve made in the last few years and getting these great people into these positions and, and getting some of this stuff really moving again has been owed to advocacy by small business owners and small business, uh, allies and advocates who have written up EDS who have done meetings with members of Congress who have testified in the case of Theresa Dickinson, a local pharmacist, uh, in, in, in open meetings before the FTC, um, hearing from people on the ground and not just economists has really given lawmakers and policy makers, new, new understanding of what is going on there and new motivation to act a sense of how urgent all of these issues are my organization together with the national grocers association and a number of other, uh, trade groups, um, founded, uh, about a year and a half ago, small business rising to help push these issues along.
Stacy Mitchell: We’d love to have you all get involved in that at least follow join the newsletter list, follow what we’re doing. The national groceries also helped bring together, um, another coalition main street, uh, competition coalition, which is focused specifically on the Robinson Patman act, another great place to get involved. And what I really, um, to close here today, what I really hope, um, from all of this is that, as I said at the beginning, that if we can shift some of these laws that have been working so hard against our local communities, we shift them in the other direction, begins to take all of the efforts that we’re all making at the local level and, and, and give it, give some tailwind to what we’re doing for things to really take off. I think about, um, people like Ben fer, who’s the pharmacist, uh, in the middle of, of this photo, Ben came a few years ago and opened an independent pharmacy in a, a remote, rural area of my home state of Maine that was underserved people in that region had to drive two hours to get a prescription drug, right.
Stacy Mitchell: And he came and opened this pharmacy’s beloved in the community, but PBMs are a real issue for him. Right. And you think about here’s someone who wants to be here and, and, and, and do this. Um, we should not be undercutting his chances of success by not paying attention to those issues. I think about, uh, the folks last year in, uh, north Tulsa, Oklahoma, uh, who, uh, opened the, the, the, uh, only grocery store. And that’s been in that neighborhood in a long time is locally owned grocery store. That’s a neighborhood that is, uh, inundated with dollar stores, family, dollar, dollar general, uh, it made it really hard to get a local grocery store going, and they have finally done it. And they opened Oasis market just owned by, by these two, uh, folks that you see here, you know, again, um, why should we be making these businesses face a headwind? Um, we need to really change our anti monopoly laws level, the playing field, um, you know, and really stand up for, for our Liberty and our democracy as Americans. Thank you.

 

 


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Follow Luke Gannon:
Luke Gannon

Luke Gannon is the Research and Communications Associate for the Independent Business team.

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Follow Stacy Mitchell:
Stacy Mitchell

Stacy Mitchell is co-director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and directs its Independent Business Initiative, which produces research and designs policy to counter concentrated corporate power and strengthen local economies.