Monopolies and Choice

When is it a “monopoly,” and when do we need “choice”? I ask not because I think any person or group should have a corner on any market, nor do I think people should be deprived of choice.  I wonder about how things get framed, and then how people support – or don’t – things that are in their interest.

The Canadian Wheat Board is at risk of being dismantled by the current federal government.  It has been called a “monopoly.”  But is it?  Farmers sell their grain to the board at a set price – so those who produce at a large-scale and can manage to sell for a lower per-bushel amount, simply because of the volume they produce, would, otherwise, have an advantage over the smaller producer.  In this sense, it is not at all a monopoly, but an organization that sets standards that go beyond grain-pricing: it puts value on smaller farming ventures, it puts value on the environment (because industrial farming invariably means more pesticides and herbicides, and bigger tractors that burn more oil, and potential for more soil erosion – in short, large-scale farming is bound to not be as connected to the land as smaller-scale farming operations).

The National Farmer’s Union says that the dismantling of the Canadian Wheat Board is in line with trade agreements, and if it goes, it won’t ever be possible to reinstate it.  And what do trade agreements do for us?  Recently, I heard a definition of trade agreements that explained them as a “race to the bottom” – basically, the idea is to lower standards, reduce [what some call] “barriers” to trade, and make it possible to truck more and more consumer commodities around the world with less and less controls in place.

And for those who argue “choice” in the matter of the Wheat Board… why don’t we argue the same about other such institutions where they’re in place for the betterment of life for the broader population, not the select few?  Why don’t we say that accessible health care should dismantled?  Why don’t we say that there should be more “choice” for education programs, so those who can afford better ones get the ones they pay for?

When we’re talking about programs and institutions that are developed for the common good, we are not talking about consumer goods – where buying a Pepsi instead of a Coca-Cola becomes the “choice.”  Let’s be clear on what the agendas, and longer-term effects, are when we make these kinds of statements and then decisions!


Posted on October 24, 2011, in Tyler's occasional web log. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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