Unbridled capitalism has turned the abundance of choice into a lack of variety. When Henry Ford held the monopoly on ‘horseless buggies’ and as he adopted the assembly line in its infancy, he was quoted famously as saying that “Any customer can have any car painted any colour they want, as long as that colour is black!” Thus began the way of life we know today.
Despite this beginning of mass production taking shape, we were still a country of independence and unique subcultures. When I was a kid, my family would drive across the country to Wisconsin and back to California in our black Ford Galaxy 500. To my parents, three younger sisters and me, every gas station, food joint and motel was unique. Each state was different from the next. Soda pops were regional, as were toppings on national classics like burgers and hot dogs. Service stations reflected their locations with souvenirs, such as the Jackalope – native to Wyoming. We knew when we crossed a state line simply by looking around us.
“As a child, we frequently drove from the Bay Area north to Grass Valleyalong Hwy 49. Auburn was a treat to stop in because of the rich gold-mining history displayed all throughout the town. My grandparents took us to a local café and candy shop. I was in my early twenties when I took my first solo trip along that drive. In just a few short years, the local SPD grocery chain had grown and now resembled every other chain store in the strip malls that now populated the once desolate highway. Ruby’s Gifts had moved and was no longer the charming store it once had been. The same fast-foods were now as readily available on every corner here as back home in suburbia. The lusciously quiet tree-lined drive was overrun with the very places I longed to escape from.” *
Thanks to the likes of Sam Walton and James Cash Penney, big box businesses have taken over the same routes, highways and countrysides that are laid out before my wife and I as we make the long trek on a cross-country roadtrip back home to Wisconsin. Where I once saw sloppy diners, roadside motels that had us peeking out the windows for Norman Bates, and “last chance stops” – now on our drive we see the bright, familiar lights of Walmart, Best Buy, fast food chains, Shells and Chevrons. In the entire state of Nebraska the only pizza we could find was the cardboard served at Pizza Hut.
We hear it all the time from Libertarians and Republicans: “No control or restrictions for the rich and big businesses! The free market gives us abundance and choice!” The problem with this is it gives advantages to people and entities that already have the edge. Big money wipes out unique products with cookie-cutter economies on an epic scale. Everything is a tired blur of a handful of logos from coast to coast. Few sights to see – even the truck stops have all been taken over by McDonald’s and Subway – gone are the all-night greasy spoons with grizzled old haulers hunched over their bowl of chili with a cracked, worn coffee cup glued to their dirty hands.
“If half the employed population spent $50 at local, independent businesses, it would generate more than $42.6 billion dollars nationwide. For every $100 spent in locally owned stores, $68 returns to the community through taxes, payroll and other expenditures. If you spend that same amount at a national chain, only $43 stays local. Spend it online and none of it stays at home.” – The 3/50 Project.
While Americans have fought against socialism, we have in fact, through our capitalist greed, ended up with nothing more than the variety of a communist government store.
– Roger Ingalls
* featuring guest blogger Kymberlie Ingalls, www.WriterOfTheStorm.com
photes by jackalope.org and shadetreemechanic.com