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Tuesday, December 02, 2003

Supermarkets by Robert J. Morton
Robert J. Morton has written a 360,000 word book about human society entitled The Lost Inheritance. One of the topics associated with Chapter 10: The Capital Men is entitled "Supermarkets."

His thesis, in brief, is that unfettered capitalism results in continued concentration of the British (and world) grocery industry into the hands of a few very large proprietors. A few brief excerpts:

Once upon a time, the food and general household needs of the population of Britain were provided by thousands of small shops and street markets of various kinds. Gradually, a handful of them in different parts of the country took over the shops that were failing and those belonging to retiring proprietors. As a result, they became a little bit bigger than their peers. And they grew. Eventually they became very big businesses, dominating their communities....

With all the local shops put out of business and their competition thus eliminated, up creep the prices. So, this new branch launches into high profit. The high profits from this - now profitable - super-store are then, in turn, used to finance the initial losses for a further new super-store in yet another unconquered part of the country. This process is repeated until the whole country has been conquered....

Having taken possession of the nation's entire food market, this handful of powerful commercial leviathans have set their sights on other market sectors. Super markets now stock books, audio tapes and compact disc (CD) records. While shopping for the weekly food, it is the ideal situation in which to trap the shopper into an impulsive purchase of the latest popular book or song. But only the immediately popular titles which will shift stock quickly....

Of course, super-markets carry food and other products manufactured by specialist manufacturers. Some of these specialist manufacturers are very large and universally known companies who advertise through the mass media of television and papers to promote and maintain their high level of sales. But having put the small shops out of business, the super-markets are now the only retail outlets available for the specialist manufacturers. The super-markets are thus able to dictate whose products shall, and whose products shall not, be available to the public....

While portions of Morton's writings are observable in today's environment, his fatal flaw is that he does not take account of innovation and complacency. If Morton's thesis were correct, Sam Walton would have become a store manager at an
A&P, not the head of his own company that has (so far) trounced A&P and everyone else.

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