And then there were none

From the editor –


January 24, 2024

The La Conner drugstore closed Monday, as reported in the Weekly News, a victim of the ongoing corporatization of the American economy, where small companies are forced out because – in ways too many people don’t see or care to understand – the books are cooked and the game is rigged.

Small businesses in small towns closing is not a new story, of course. That has always been the American way, the thug-like pressure to get big or get out, or, more commonly, as Judy Booth writes this week on so-called pharmacy benefit managers, the pressure big companies and industry players exert, putting their thumbs on the scale with rules and structures that slowly choke the life out of the little guy. That is Aaron Syring’s story. He has given up on both his La Conner and Island drug stores.

Buying and selling – and economics – employ made up rules of exchange between people, of course. Human constructs are not like gravity, which is immutable, not artificial. The speed of light is 186,000 miles per second per second. As the bumper sticker says, it is not just a good idea, it’s the law. But the market that some speak reverently about is exactly as real as Santa Claus. Those who believe most fervently in the market are those with the most to gain by having others believe it is real.

This state’s attorney general, Bob Ferguson, does not believe that a merger between Kroger and Albertson’s, two of the nation’s largest supermarket conglomerates, is a good idea. Kroger owns QFC and Fred Meyer. Albertsons owns Safeway and Haggen. Last week the state of Washington filed a lawsuit in King County Superior Court to block the merger.

Ferguson is challenging the Kroger company line that “Kroger will not close any stores, distribution centers or manufacturing facilities or lay off any frontline associates as a result of the merger.” That’s on the official merger website.

Syring told Booth “many” of his employees would be picked up by Rite Aid. That remains to be seen. The employees say only one, a pharmacist, has been offered a job.

In her letter in today’s issue, Eileen Engelstad cites her willingness to pay higher prices “to ensure a local pharmacy,” “refusing mail-order offers of ‘convenience’ and ‘better prices.’” Mail order is the very tactic Booth emphasizes that big pharmacies use to drive out independents.

Engelstad shops based on compassion, not price. She is pushing against Adam Smith’s invisible hand. The Encyclopedia Britannica defines that hand as “mechanisms through which beneficial social and economic outcomes may arise from the accumulated self-interested actions of individuals, none of whom intends to bring about such outcomes.”

It does not take a business of any size long to get beyond the “accumulated self-interested actions of individuals.” When grocery stores or supermarket chains expand inexorably – like a cancer – they employ legions of accountants, attorneys and consultants who work toward the common good of their client, their owners. The status and the strength of an “industry” nationwide is different than the operating of a store on the edge of a small town that doesn’t even have a traffic light.

It is a different playing field when the bank, the drugstore, the hardware store, the lumber yard you – or your parents – could walk to shop at is now at an interstate intersection miles away Your town is not the same. Your life is not the same. And the culture of the community is inextricably changed.

Big businesses also abandon little towns merely because they can, as Key Bank did here in 2019. Then-mayor Ramon Hayes, level headed and without a socialist bone in his body, voiced his opinion that a “town bank” might be an option.

Everyone has to obey gravity. As for the market, it follows its own golden rule: those that have the gold makes the rules.

Count on it.


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