Ernest Hemingway once wrote that one goes bankrupt in two ways: gradually, then suddenly.

The same can be said of any kind of consolidation in any industry, a process underway in various industries in the U.S. right now. We’re at a peculiar moment in our history where these consolidations are causing bipartisan, cross-ideological outrage while being ignored by both sides of the ideological divide – and by the mainstream media itself. 

Let’s take one particular example. If you’re of a certain age, you may recall that when you went out to run a series of errands – say, refill a prescription, pick up meat and general groceries – you had to stop at three different stores to do it. First, you stopped by a pharmacy, then you went to a deli, then to your local grocery store. Along the way, you might have stopped by a video rental store to pick up that evening’s entertainment, or popped in at your local bookstore to buy a book or a magazine. Never mind buying alcohol – if you wanted to do that, you would have had to swing by a state liquor store.  

Today, all of that can be done at your local large grocery store chain – or online. While that’s more convenient, to be sure, and often more affordable, it also cuts down on the number of community interactions we all have every day. It leaves more downtown storefronts empty, all over the country, in small and medium-sized towns alike.

Yes, you may know your local pharmacist in the grocery store well, and they may give you advice, but is there a soda fountain there where you sit and talk to your friends and neighbors? No, there isn’t. Not only is that missing, these aren’t independent businesses; they’re part of larger stores owned by much larger corporations. That means they have certain standards to meet: many of them good, to be sure, others not so much. 

This consolidation of industry is part of the reason that many voters on both the left and the right feel alienated from mainstream society today. It’s also a huge part of the reason that politicians on both sides make attacking large institutions a mainstay of their politics, whether Donald Trump on the right or Bernie Sanders on the left.


They all recognize that this consolidation of enterprise into larger and larger institutions makes everything less and less responsive to their constituents, the customers, than it used to be in the days when everyone ran their own stores. They also recognize that it makes it that much easier for these large companies to push their own political agendas.

There’s another problem. On both sides of the ideological spectrum, politicians have their cherished large institutions that serve as allies; they want to preserve and protect those. That makes it hard for either side to really address the problem in a reasonable way. For the right, it’s institutional religion; for the left, it’s the big labor movement.  

It might be easy to presume that large corporations support the right. While that’s often been true, it’s less an immutable fact of life these days. Today, both sides see their ideology as being under attack by America’s largest corporations, and though that may have a certain degree of truth, it also is frequently used to distract voters from real problems facing us.

Right here in Maine, a rural, small-town state, we’ve seen mergers and consolidations abound: Our utility companies are owned by huge multinationals; our minor league baseball team was sold to a national corporation. Even if the customer experiences were to remain the same, something is lost when local ownership ends. 

This doesn’t mean that we ought to fight all mergers or consolidation by business: sometimes the process works out fine. It just means that we ought to be aware that they’re occurring. It’s on us as consumers – and as voters – to ensure that they’re really the result of natural market forces at work, conducted on a level playing field and with full transparency, since each of them moves management further away from us.  

If we aren’t being vigilant, we risk losing something precious before we even notice that it’s gone.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at:
Twitter: @jimfossel

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