Dengler Domain: Wealth

Sean Dengler.

“Kids these days do not remember a time before the internet.” “They do not know what it is like to not have a device in their pocket which connects them with the world.” “Kids are too addicted to YouTube.” These are paraphrased quotes I have heard from time to time to describe the younger generations and their connection to the internet. While I am on the young side, I remember a time before the internet was the internet. A time spent listening to an awful dial up internet sound and hoping it works. Then I could wait another 45 minutes for a three-minute YouTube video to load. Fun times.

What I do not remember is life before Walmart and Target. This was a time when a few companies did not dominate the grocery and consumer goods industries. As I read “Barons: Money, Power, and the Corruption of America’s Food Industry” by Austin Frerick, he described a time in American life where most small towns or at least the small-town next door would have a grocery store, meat locker, and other various consumer goods stores like a Ben Franklin. Every town square had different stores where when people made the trip into town, they could buy what they needed at the various stores. This helped the entrepreneurship, resiliency, and longevity of the local businesses and smaller communities.

The founders of Walmart figured out it was an innovative idea to make a one stop shop for all these items. This works well for the consumer because they do not have to drive to different stores or towns to find a specific item. When you can buy a wolf in front of a moon t-shirt, iPhone, and peanut butter in one place, you must take advantage of it. This benefit cannot be understated, but the externality of this benefit hurts the smaller communities.

Besides the downward pressure on the resiliency and longevity of the local businesses and smaller communities, companies like Walmart can drive their competitors out of business while extracting the wealth out of these smaller communities. I don’t remember life before the one-stop-shop Walmart. I vaguely remember a tiny grocery store in Clutier. Stores like this and others across small towns have closed as Walmart has sucked up the wealth of these small towns. Before this issue arose, wealth was spread between different business owners in town or regionally. The wealth was more likely to stay in the community. Unfortunately, when organizations like Walmart, Target, or Amazon, assume increased market share, the wealth leaves these small communities as businesses close and ends up in the shareholders’ pocketbooks or not in the small communities supporting these larger businesses.

This leads to a more fragile and less resilient economic system when fewer and fewer companies control market share. Companies headquartered in faraway lands are not looking to reinvest in small communities nowhere near them. This is worrisome, not only for consumers, but for society at large. It can leave resentful people feeling left behind. Instead of pointing fingers at other problems to stoke their base, politicians should look to build resilient communities by promoting better competition where big companies cannot stifle smaller and new companies’ ideas, utilize antitrust enforcement, and other means to protect consumers and small communities. When it feels like there is a country between haves and have nots and it does not matter which party is in charge, one reason is because wealth is too concentrated. To distribute this wealth back to every community, small, locally owned businesses deserve a fair shot. Having a fair shot is always something I remember from my childhood.

Sean Dengler is a writer, comedian, farmer, and host of the Pandaring Talk podcast who grew up on a farm between Traer and Dysart. You can reach him at sean.h.dengler@gmail.com.