Monopoly: Good Board Game, Bad Politics

My wife manages a store for the country’s largest grocery chain.

Kroger raked in over $90 billion in sales during fiscal year 2012. The company employees some 339,000 people and runs more than 3,000 stores, either directly or through its subsidiaries.

Now imagine for a moment Kroger was granted a total monopoly on grocery sales in the United States.

How would you feel about that?

I’d be pretty pleased; I’m not gonna lie. A Kroger monopoly would probably bode well for the Maharrey wallet.

But most Americans would throw an apoplectic fit.

We intuitively distrust monopolies.

Rightfully so.

We understand that without any competition, Kroger would have no incentive to hold prices down. The company could charge whatever prices pleased management. And it would. The Maharrey pocketbook would fatten at your expense.

What about Customer service? Who cares? Not like you could go shop someplace else. With no competitive incentive to provide good customer service, why bother? Just get them in and out. If the shopper has to deal with rude cashiers or long lines, oh well. Too bad.

And selection? Nope. You’ll buy what Kroger decides you’ll buy. The lack of competition eliminates the need for the company to supply the customers’ wishes and desires. Selection would certainly shrink and the quality level would degrade with a Kroger monopoly.

The customer thrives in highly competitive markets. And the customer becomes an afterthought when a monopoly dominates the market. Customers control companies in a competitive market. Monopoly corporations control the customer.

We all know this. That’s why almost everybody who isn’t part of one opposes monopolies.

So here’s a question: why do so many Americans support a government monopoly centered in Washington D.C.?

What makes a government different? Why should we trust one centralized authority to serve the people efficiently, effectively and compassionately?

We shouldn’t.

Yet we constantly find Americans on both sides of the political aisle pushing D.C. to do this or that. From education to healthcare, from economic policy to consumer protection, everybody wants the monopoly government in D.C. to do its bidding.

Laziness likely has a lot to do with it. Why try to promote an agenda in 50 or more separate jurisdictions when you can just get Washington cram it down everybody’s throat? But in the midst of all of our advocacy, we forget the basic truth: even with all of its promises and good intentions, monopolizing rarely ends well for the average Joe and Jane.

Again, we all understand this intuitively when it comes to corporate monopoly. If we would just apply the same logic to government monopoly…

But I see some hope. A recent poll released by the Pew Research Center indicates that maybe, just maybe, Americans really do get it, at least on some level. While many may still rush to use centralized power to advance their agenda, their overall satisfaction with the D.C. monopoly is in the basement. And satisfaction with the smaller, decentralized state and local governments is on the rise.

According to the latest Pew research, 63 percent of Americans have a favorable opinion of their local government, and 57 percent express a favorable view of their state government. That represents a five-point uptick in state government favorability from last year.

Meanwhile, the D.C. numbers wallow in the tank.

By contrast, just 28 percent rate the federal government in Washington favorably. That is down five points from a year ago and the lowest percentage ever in a Pew Research Center survey.

Interestingly, dissatisfaction with the federal government among Democrats plummeted 10 points from 51 percent to 41 percent, even with Barack Obama winning reelection.

Not exactly a ringing endorsement for Washington D.C. centralized power monopolies.

Here’s the takeaway: the federal government sucks, and we all know it.

OK, in all honesty, state and local governments suck too, just slightly less.

But more to the point, we can better exercise control over state and local politicians. Our opinions matter more to them, and they react to our prodding. Activism has impact in the corridors of our state capitols and our town halls. When we call 202, we might as well let the staffer put the phone down and so we can talk to the marble floor. It’s the same net-effect.

On top of that, decentralizing power to the state and local levels means governments must operate in a more competitive atmosphere. Instead of one-sized-fits all policies imposed by D.C., the system devolves into 50-plus laboratories of ideas.

So, how about a little anti-trust action for D.C.?

Here at the Tenth Amendment Center, we call it nullification.

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