Goodbye, Corporate Feudalism

I don’t generally consider myself to be a political type, yet I can’t help but feel encouraged about the conversation I see shaping up among the Democratic Party’s presidential candidates.  Many are outlining a plan to revitalize rural America by breaking up agricultural monopolies and restoring competition in that sector.

Finally, someone (Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar, and John Delaney) is acknowledging the damage done to rural America from industrialized farming practices and hyper-consolidation in agribusiness. Independent farmers, the backbone of our rural economy, are finding that their profits are rapidly disappearing. This is because big monopolies now control the cost of everything involved in the entire food production process. This process begins when a farmer plants a seed and ends when a shopper plucks an item off the grocery store shelf. Farmers are getting strangled from both the buy and sell sides of transactions. The inputs monopolies control the prices of the products the farmers buy to grow or raise food: seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, machinery, etc. On the sell side, the processor/distribution monopolies control the prices paid to farmers for their crops/livestock. These monopolies make it increasingly difficult for farmers and ranchers to run profitable businesses; they drive up the price of food for shoppers.

Is that too long and complicated? Then how about this, in two simple words: corporate feudalism. A difference between now and centuries ago is that the overlords aren’t the aristocracy; it’s the corporations.

I felt another glimmer of hope that turned to excitement after I read the best summary on corporate feudalism that I have ever read, written recently by the Open Markets Institute.  It’s titled “Food and Power: Addressing Monopolization in America’s Food System”. They propose suggestions about how to solve this problem on pages 12-16, take a look! We can mobilize as a society to support these policy changes and transformation can occur. Check it out here:

It will take a lot more than breaking up agricultural monopolies to restore economic vitality to rural America. It took fifty years for those monopolies to develop and it may take that many years to undo them. Still, dissolving them is a step in the right direction. The coming tsunami of job loss due to automation, robotics, artificial intelligence and software are enormous headwinds. So I approach the subject of breathing life into rural America with cautious enthusiasm. 

This upcoming election season presents a fabulous opportunity for discussion and debate. I hope Republican candidates will also join this conversation to weigh in on the issue of hyper-consolidation in the agricultural sector (and other sectors, too). I look forward to lively dialogue and bright lights shining in dark and dreary corners.