Et tu, Elizabeth?

One of my senators (whom I admire and support, BTW) has joined the chorus blaming the rise in food prices on greedy corporations. In her opening remarks at a recent Senate hearing, Elizabeth Warren pointed to corporate consolidation as the main reason food companies have gotten away with keeping prices higher even after the supply chain disruptions of Covid-19 have settled down.

I’m happy/sad about this, as I am about a lot of things in food system discussions these days. On the one hand, it’s great, and kind of amazing, to hear politicians talking seriously about anti-monopoly enforcement.

But Warren makes the same flawed assumption as a lot of other smart people when she tells us that breaking up Big Food will automatically lead to lower food prices. Weird as it feels to be in agreement with Kroger on this, they’re making the stronger case: corporate consolidation is what brings us lower food prices, and the only players who can afford to keep them low in a sector with excruciatingly slim profit margins are those who can operate at the largest of scales. As more giants push into the grocery business (Walmart, Target, Amazon), the legacy supermarket chains can only compete by continuing to expand too. And they may indeed be making record profits right now, but that’s relative to those inherently-thin norms.

Like so many who have tried to tackle food system issues, Warren is trusting market logic (healthy competition produces benefits for consumers) to solve a problem caused by letting market logic run your food system in the first place. I get that this slots into her fight-for-the-middle-class template, but this is going after the wrong villain.

1 month ago

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *