It is with deepest regrets we announce that the market, age 92, passed away after a long illness. This was a terrible loss to livelihoods, rural communities and consumer choice. Survivors include a few farmers and ranchers, once symbols of free enterprise and economic freedom, who are now sharecroppers and serfs under the heel of concentrated and abusive economic power.
The market was reborn in 1921 with passage of the anti-monopoly Packers and Stockyards Act, but suffered from weak enforcement almost from the beginning. The last 30 years of no-rules-biggest-cheater-wins left us with only the illusion of a marketplace. Everything from poultry to potatoes, cauliflower to bucket-calves is now under the control of a few multinational corporations. Wealth has never been so concentrated in the hands of so few. Markets today are a fantasy – like drinking from an empty cup at a child’s tea party – purely pretend.
Anyone familiar with the days of the robber barons and the meat packing Jungle knew the end was near for competitive markets as they watched history repeat itself: “They were a gigantic combination of capital, which had crushed all opposition, and overthrown the laws of the land, and was preying upon the people.” Sinclair continued: “They own not merely the labor of society, they have bought the governments; and everywhere they use their raped and stolen power to entrench themselves in their privileges, to dig wider and deeper the channels through which the river of profits flows to them!”
More than 35 years ago, the market for poultry was stolen by vertical integration– unfair and abusive contracts forced farmers out of business or into debtor serfdom. Hog farmers saw their way of life slaughtered along with their pigs in 1998 when the big pork machine drove hog prices to eight cents per pound. Hog farmers either quit or went to work as low-paid labor in inhumane and environmentally destructive hog factories. Last to go, the cattle market was dealt a near fatal blow when the 2006 corporately controlled Supreme Court refused to hear the cattlemen’s case for fair markets. A flicker of hope returned during the 2010 antitrust hearings, but the big packers managed to gut the new rules of any intent to restore competition, ending all hope of a market revival.
We should have known something so essential to the lives and welfare of the masses shouldn’t be controlled by a handful of lawless companies cooperating to maximize their profit. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis warned in1941, “We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great concentrated wealth in the hands of a few. But we cannot have both.”
Please join us on August 9th in Kansas City for the Organization for Competitive Markets annual meeting. We will spend a little time discussing what brought the market to its untimely end and then begin developing plans for the birth of a new marketplace that serves all of society, not just a few.