Nothing Free about Free Enterprise

Written by BG Howard

August 10, 2022

Our government was established upon basic principles conducive to every individual, supposedly, having the rights and freedoms to participate in “Free Enterprise.” Defined by Daniel Webster as “an economic system based on predominantly private (individual or corporate) investment in and ownership of the means of production, distribution, and exchange of goods and wealth.” One would think the idea incorporates essential elements that made this country the great nation it has become. That is, within itself, a genuinely novel concept fostering hopes among individuals who would otherwise be left to the mercy of a heavy-handed administration.

In truth, what has resulted is an entrepreneurial-minded society driven strictly by the bottom line. As opposed to larger companies being willing to settle for a proportionate share of the available financial consumer pie, they set out to drive any competitors out of business. Their ability to purchase goods in larger quantities allows negotiation of lower prices which results in less operational costs. This formula creates a foundation upon which the larger retailer can construct a plan to supersede every establishment within the immediate area; essentially resulting with other businesses being put out of business.

It would seem, then, that we have simply resolved to endure the unscrupulous activities of under-handed, loosely regulated behemoths in every respective industry as they contend to secure the largest piece of society’s discretionary income pie.

My viewing the Travel Channel’s “Mysteries at the Museum” recently left me with an entirely different perspective on the idea of exactly what free enterprise entails. The report was of a huge conspiracy set upon by three major American entities in the 1930’s to include an automobile manufacturer, a tire producer, and an oil company. By design the plan ultimately resulted with these three enterprises controlling a significant share of the U.S. transportation market. As well, what transpired did result with the electric street car’s being eventually phased out. The electric street car was the country’s predominant mode of transportation, especially in the more densely populated cities but had rather hindered the mass evolution of the automobile industry.

Fast-forward three quarters of a century and we have a number of similar situations that have come and gone since the reported period in the mid to late 1930’s. Of particular interest on the modern front is the fact recent news reports confirmed six hundred and fifty smaller stores operating throughout the country in the shadows of a huge worldwide retailer are slated for closure.

Consequently, since the mega-retailer opened in “small town USA” all across the country long-standing local stores were simply forced to close their doors after many years of service to their respective hometown communities. In some cases, it’s reported that after the closing of this larger retail store there won’t be a pharmacy available to some consumers within a distance of ten miles. Where does that leave the people of those neighborhoods after faithfully supporting the “low price leader” to the extent virtually every competitor has folded?

With the relatively recent addition of this same mega-retailer in my home town, there have been consequences as well. For many years a Western Auto location had operated at E. Highway 341 which subsequently went out of business. Other local retailers have suffered a financial blow facilitated by the incursion of their larger competitor as well.

So, what we essentially see in this “free enterprise” society are the unfortunate casualties of big business’ open assault on the ever feeble mom and pop establishments. Of course, the supply of additional jobs to the immediate geographical area is a welcomed plus but there has to be some way to find a “happy medium” wherein the negative impact upon existing businesses with the opening of a large retail establishment isn’t as significant.

Perhaps there is a means by which the various Chambers of Commerce in proposed areas can work together with the new company’s administrators in the interest of preserving the integrity of local communities. Of course, the appeal of saving money in any economy strikes a chord with every civilized individual.

In reality, I obviously don’t have answers to all dilemmas that plague society and can’t begin to propose solutions to the obstacle of neighborhood stores needing to survive in the presence of large retail chains. Common sense suggests, however, if there is a mutual desire to find amicable resolve it is at least possible. Perhaps I may sound like the hopeless optimist and it might simply not be feasible to have opposing forces come to terms on such a sensitive issue. It’s truly unfortunate that in a free enterprise society those with the least sustainable resources, consumers, are the ones who end up paying most. I could be wrong but it is something to consider.

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