Social ethicist and theologian Reinhold Niebuhr warned us in the mid-20th century that a “free market” economy leads ultimately to monopolies controlled by corporate lords, not to some Adam Smith utopia.
A truly free market is too risky. Monopolies ensure large profits for some and feed human avarice. Niebuhr claimed that despite corporate America’s cries for a free market, in reality the great corporations want a segment of the market controlled.
We are seeing this prophecy fulfilled today.
William Greider, in The Nation, chronicled how this movement toward monopoly is being played out globally in the market arena of food goods. He discussed how this movement adversely impacts American farmers and ranchers.
Greider showed how vertical integration of the beef, poultry and hog markets allows fewer than a dozen huge corporations to exercise monopolistic control of much of the world’s food supply. In this way, they ensure for themselves enormous profits.
At the same time, they draw upon internationally grown grain stocks to keep the price of American-produced grain at a level below production costs for many of our farmers. Thus, the probability of reducing our farmers and ranchers to serfdom presents itself. This likelihood raises grave concerns about rural communities and rural churches. It also threatens the stability of our nation’s food supply.
Agriculturalists and urban dwellers should unite around this issue, according to Greider; the former because of the current threat, the latter because of long-term consequences.
I would add that it is an issue for Christians wherever they might live.
Gary Farley is retired director of the Rural Church Program of the Southern Baptist Convention.