Monopolies Killed My Hometown

Welcome to Monopolies Killed My Hometown. In this episode I share the path that led me to identify that Monopolies and Corporate Consolidation is the root cause behind the decline in my hometown of Amherst, NS. I moved away in 1999 after graduating from High School. I moved back to Amherst in 2015. Amherst appeared similar to the Town I grew up in, but it felt different. What happened? Monopolies.

Show Notes

Welcome to Monopolies Killed My Hometown. In this episode I share the path that led me to identify that Monopolies and Corporate Consolidation is the root cause behind the decline in my hometown of Amherst, NS. I moved away in 1999 after graduating from High School. I moved back to Amherst in 2015. Amherst appeared similar to the Town I grew up in, but they felt different. What happened? Monopolies.

I founded the Center for Small Town Success to learn more about the impact of Monopolies on small towns. I want to bring power back to small towns, and to people , so they can have control over their future again.

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What is Monopolies Killed My Hometown?

Do you wonder why small towns, small businesses and people seem to be falling behind and you don’t know why? Feeling helpless about whether any of us can do anything to halt the decline of the places we love? Well, we know a secret. Our society fought the same battles about 100 years ago, and small towns won.

Join Andrew Cameron, the founder of the Center for Small Town Success and small business owner, every other week as he rediscovers our Canadian Anti-Monopoly tradition. The goal is to learn how we successfully fought back against Monopolies in the 1900s so we can restore power to small towns, small businesses and individuals today.

Listen to this podcast if you want to learn more about Canadian Competition Policy and to join the Anti-Monopoly movement. #freeboswell #cdnpoli

Andrew Cameron 0:00
Have you found a company, Main Street is struggling monopolies killed my hometown. My name is Andrew Cameron. I'm the founder of the Center for small town success. I'm a business owner, and I live in Amherst, Nova Scotia with my daughter, my wife and my two dogs. I've started this podcast because I want to talk about the impacts that monopolies and consolidated corporate power have had on my hometown. And I'm going to talk about my experiences and talk about hammers. But I ask you to please think about where you or your parents or maybe your grandparents grew up. Or if you grew up in the city, think about the neighborhood where you lived. And think about okay, what's what's that place like? Now? Do you see any of the same things that I've been seeing here as well, I want to go back and try to find our Canadian anti monopoly history. My theory is that we can find some of the solutions for today's problems in our history, and through our past stories. And there's not a lot of discussion or writings or research out there about the Canadian anti monopoly history. And I want to try to find some of that. But I think the impact on small towns and small businesses I think will be similar for people in the US or in the UK or in Europe or Australia. So the policy changes in the regulations will be different, but I think the impacts will still be very similar. I also want to find and investigate the policy changes in the rules changes we made that allowed for monopolies to come back. I think if we can figure out what we changed to let this happen, maybe we can change it again, to bring more power back to small towns and smaller businesses. Because ultimately, what I want is for people in small towns to have control over and feel hopeful about their lives in their futures. And so today's episode is about what led me down this path to identify the problems with monopolies and the impact that they're having on my hometown, and identify one of the changes that we made in the 1980s that allowed for this consolidation to happen again.

Unknown Speaker 2:35
Like I said, I grew up in Amherst, Nova Scotia, it's a small town on pretty much the border of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, and it sort of is the main center for Cumberland County. So Amherst has a population of about 10,000 people in our whole county is about 30,000 people or so. I come from a family of small business owners. You know, my mom ran a women's clothing store in the mall for 30 years. My dad's basically is a serial entrepreneur. My grandfather was a traveler, and he sold menswear all over the Maritimes, my great grandfather was a tailor and Amherst, like that's where I come from. That's my history. I graduated high school in Amherst in 1999. And I always joke that, you know, I graduated on Tuesday, I moved away on Friday, and really didn't move back until 2015 when we expanded our business back up here. And so when I moved back, it was the same town but it just something felt something felt off something kind of felt like it was missing. I always kind of joke it's like, you know, you see an old wrestler like you see Hulk Hogan trying to wrestle now and you go, Well, that is Hulk Hogan, but not really, you know, he just doesn't move the same, something's something's missing. And that was sort of the same feeling that I had, like when I came back to Amherst. When we were looking to move back, you know, we had a daughter and two dogs so trying to find an apartment or somewhere to rent was challenging for us. And we were struggling with it. We were struggling with this until one day I went onto Facebook and I saw this house for sale in the house was around the corner from where I grew up, like where I lived in high school. And I saw the price and so I said this is a great so I called a realtor that I know really well and said you know what's the deal with this house? And he went it's a great deal the roofs been replaced foundation looks good and everything I said excellent perfect. put in an offer. I'll be up next week to look at it. So we put in the offer countered it got accepted. I came up the next week did the inspection did walkthrough and said great. Let's finish this. Then a month later, my wife finally came up and actually saw the house. She was kinda kind of happy kind of not happy with basically buying a house sight unseen. But the moral of that story is the house was great. You know, it was perfect part of town for us to grow up in. But even that part of town like when I was growing up when I was a kid, that street probably had 10 or 15 Kids always running around out on their bikes playing in the park. That neighborhood didn't have that same feeling. And the same with even the neighborhood I grew up in, you know, on our street, which was just small streets. was always at least 15 kids. And come summertime, we'd always be out playing hide and go seek or we'd be playing, you know, a game we always loved was called Ghost in the graveyard. And so my mom or dad always joke, you know, you'd be outside and you tear somebody out ghost in the graveyard Run, Run Run and all of a sudden, this swarm of 15 kids would come running out from behind somebody's house and across the street

Unknown Speaker 5:27
in those kind of neighborhoods just didn't seem to be there. And these were sort of the uneasy feelings that kind of lingered with me that said, you know, something, this is the same time, but something is just sort of missing. And I didn't know what it was. And I didn't know why it wasn't the same. And what frustrated me sort of the most about that is I didn't even really know what questions to ask to start to find an answer to it. I just had that uneasy feeling that something was missing.

Unknown Speaker 6:00
So before I continue too much further into this podcast, there is something you know that I just want to be really clear of upfront. This podcast, everything I'm doing but center for small town success. This is not a make amorous great again, thing, right, this is not me being nostalgic, for nostalgic sake, or wanting to go back to something just because, right, like I grew up in Amherst, and I enjoyed it and had positive experiences here. But I am aware, and I know that, like Amherst and other small towns, you know, it wouldn't necessarily be the easiest place for people in you know, the LGBTQ community or for other visible minorities. And so for me, we can learn from the experiences that people had, and make our community more welcoming and more inclusive, moving forward. Because I want to see what, you know, people who would have been historically marginalized could actually add to our community, when they're given a fair shot. You know, when we've dealt with a lot of the systemic problems and issues that have been holding them back, holding back our small towns and our small communities, I think we can all add a lot to it. And I want the opportunities for everybody to add to our communities. Most importantly, my ultimate goal with this is I want our communities and people in our towns to have control over their communities and hope for their own future. Okay, so now that I kind of touched on that, wanna get back through that uneasiness, feeling, you know, in the concern that just something was missing, something wasn't quite right. And so most of the time, and that I mentioned that to people, or my concerns about Amherst, and just this general uneasiness, it was kind of greeted with like a shrug. And just well, you know, that is just the way it is. My wife and I lived in Japan for three and a half years. And we taught English there and they had a phrase, it's called Shogun i, and it's kind of like that, well, that's the way it is, you better accept it. And that was sort of the a lot of the feeling that I was getting from people was, well, this just the way it is small towns are dying. That's it. But I didn't like that. Like it didn't make sense to me why this was happening. And I couldn't figure out the problem. Even worse than that. I couldn't figure out the questions to ask. And so then march 2020, obviously COVID hit, and I had more time just sort of sit, think in to read. And so you know, our bookstore was closed locally. So he's ordering books online and toys on Amazon, and this always kind of entertains me is that I was on Amazon, ordering some books and all of a sudden it came up and they recommended a book to me called the myth of capitalism by Jonathan Tepper with Denise Hearn. And this book talks all about how so many industries are being rolled up and consolidated and the impact it has on other businesses. So for example, here's one passage from the book from the introduction. Since the early 1980s, market concentration has increased severely. As we'll document in this book, two corporations controlled 90% of the beer Americans drink for airlines completely dominate airline traffic, often enjoying local monopolies or duopoly in the regional hubs. Five banks control about half of the nation's banking assets. Many states have health insurance markets where the top two insurers have an 80 to 90% market share. When it comes to high speed internet access, almost all markets are local monopolies. Over 75% of households have no choice with only one provider. Four players control the entire US beef market and have carved up the country. After two mergers this year, three companies will control 70% of the world's pesticide market, and 80% of the US corn seed market. And so this book was written in 2019. So I think this is even just gotten worse over the last three years. When you get to such large companies, basically, you know, small businesses can't compete. It's just you can't compete with companies that are that large. And so this is a fantastic book I recommend to anybody. I actually enjoyed it so much. So as soon as I say Should I went back on in order to copy and send it to my dad and sent another copy to another friend. And I always just have copies around to give to people, right? When I read the book, it identified the problem. I said, that's the problem. But it still felt too abstract. I couldn't quite connect it to exactly what I was seeing happened in Amherst and how things were going, right. Like I couldn't make it concrete to what happened to my hometown yet. And so I drive around Amherst, and I'd be thinking about this, and I go, well, there was that business there. I wonder what happened it, you know, or there was that business there or, and I started thinking about this and watching it and, you know, starting to form a picture in my head, but it wasn't fully realized yet. But then one day, after playing hockey, I was talking to a business owner in town, probably 20 years older than me or so. And we were chatting. And at one point, I just said to him, yeah, but where is my business generation? And as soon as I said it, I said, That's the question. That's the one that if I start answering, maybe it'll give me the answer.

Unknown Speaker 11:03
It clarified that wasn't missing the actual businesses, I was missing the people behind the businesses and the value that they bring to the community, business leaders, and really any small town when they're creating jobs, to they're spending the profit locally. You know, they're shopping locally, but they also live here. They live in the community. You know, they a lot of times are involved in the local service groups, they sponsor local events. But most importantly, the success of their business depends on the success of the community. And I think that changes the calculation for so many businesses, right? Like, I think like my mom's store, when she was running that for her to be successful. Amherst needed to be successful. If Walmart moves into a town, and after a while the town struggling or just not doing that, well, it can pack up and leave, it's still going to be fine. So the relationships with communities between those two businesses are just different. And so I was thinking more about sort of the missing business leaders and missing business generation. And so a few weeks ago, I texted one of my friends, and I said, Hey, question for you. If I gave you 15 minutes, how many business leaders or business owners from when we were kids, do you think you could name and so he gets he gets about, you know, 25 to 30. And I said, you know, I bet I could get to about 40. left it at that. And then last week for my newsletter, I was writing about this, I'll put a link to this post down in the show notes. But I'm thinking about this. And I said, You know what, I'm going to try it. So I sat down, gave myself 15 minutes and said, How many business owners from when I was growing up? Can I name? And so my initial guess was I thought I could get to 40. I actually got to 72. And that isn't absolutely not an exhaustive list. Like I know, I forgot lots of people. And I'm sorry, I apologize if I did. I also said that that I had to remember their name. Like there were a lot of businesses around that I remember existing, but I can't remember who owned them. Or it was like, oh, yeah, you know, that guy's dad ran that business, but I couldn't remember anybody's names. So they didn't count. But still, I got to 72. I initially thought 40, but I got to 72. And then when I think about like, currently, sort of around my age, I can't come to 72 people who own and run businesses here. So the question came, what happened to them? For me carry on, I will make one comment though, that list of business owners that I came up with was very homogenous. You know, there wasn't a whole lot of women and there wasn't a whole lot of visible minorities on that list. I would like to see us moving forward in our community for that list to be much more diverse, because I think that diversity adds a lot to the community.

Unknown Speaker 13:40
So I started questioning what happened to most of these businesses, and one some of them closed, which is just part of the lifecycle of the businesses. Some are passed on to the next generation in the family, and a large portion of them are sold to larger companies are larger conglomerates. Right. So for example, the two paving companies in and around Amherst one was sold to the Miller group, and the other was sold to the municipal Group of Companies. Those are both two large conglomerates. The license plate manufacturing company was sold to another larger manufacturing company. The car dealerships are now mostly owned by auto groups. You know, the newspaper was first bought by trans continental media as they rolled up as many newspapers as they could in the Maritimes. You know, the radio station was purchased by the maritime broadcasting systems, you know, as they were purchasing a lot of smaller radio stations. So we had a lot of that happening in town. The thing is, like I don't regret or begrudge those business owners for selling the economic policies and the economic systems we created, have developed incentives, that the best thing for them to do was to sell to a larger company. So I don't begrudge their individual decision. I just want us to change the economic system and policies so that those incentives aren't there. The incentives are more to keep controlling, keep ownership locally, from their one end A story that I think a lot about, because I've been more involved in that is sort of the retail industry in Amherst. You know, like I said, my mom ran a clothing store in Amherst for 30 years. And I remember as a kid, there was the one to Linda motel just outside of town, I would end up having to go with her to see the travelers who would become through town with like their racks of clothes that they would drive to town setup for days, and people who owned local retail stores would come out, look at the catalogs, look at the samples and place their orders. It was the same people through every year that you know, my mom would develop friendships and relationships with and in these people would have been doing it for a long time. So they also knew like my grandfather, and they knew my dad, like there was a whole network of these travelers just going around. And there was enough business, enough stores for them to come to an area in setup for a week and do business. And we don't have that anymore. Travelers aren't on the road. There aren't this number of small, independent businesses, and we can debate whether that's good or bad, but they were always interesting. We'll put it that way. meeting those people was always an interesting experience. But even beyond that, in Amherst, like when I was growing up, we had two malls. One was anchored by Zellers and XAVC. And the other was anchored by Kmart and Sobeys. You know, in in between there was independent stores, there were some chain stores, but there were full malls and there's things happening at them all the time. Actually, kind of funny story that Zellers the initial one is where when I was I was probably nine, maybe 10. I'd saved up all my paper route money, and then I made my grandfather take me up there. So goodbye the original Gameboy, like the old black and white one. That was one of my main memories from that cellars. Back to the retail and amorous we also we had a gas station downtown. We had grocery stores downtown, like we still had somewhat of a vibrant retail space downtown but amorous also had a department store downtown. To Barker's actually originally opened in 1906. Sold McCain Mongolians in the 50s then changed his name to Dales in early 2000s. Then closed in 2016. We actually had a sort of a sustainable retail scene in Amherst while I was growing up but now it's gone we don't you know, right now the malls are basically empty one was turned into a strip mall. Dales is closed there's no gas station downtown, there's no grocery store downtown there's a small simply for life Runza like a small market but not alert or grocery store down this way. So retail really died off

Unknown Speaker 17:35
so remember the story I always heard or was always told about what happened to the amorous retail is, you know, we're 45 minutes away from Moncton New Brunswick and Moncton nails that larger center there's about 100,000 people in the area, and it's always been a bigger shopping center than Amherst. So the story I was always told and always heard was that, you know, in the early 90s, they finished twinning the highway to Moncton so it's much easier to drive and get to Moncton, some more people are going up that way, more chain stores started opening in Monkton, they were a bit cheaper and they had a bigger selection. So it was more people have more incentive to go up that way. You know, and so chain stores Walmart, Costco, staples, sport check marks, Canadian Tire, like you'll know all the names of them. And I was just accepted that story of then. Okay. All right. Well, that kind of makes sense. So after I read that other book, The Myth of capitalism was like, Okay, I gotta learn more about this. I gotta find out more about, you know, monopolies consolidation, what happened? And I bought another book. It's called Goliath, the 100 year war between monopoly power and democracy by Matt Stoller. You'll hear me talk about Matt a lot. He writes a newsletter, talking about monopolies, consolidations. And he works for in the US in an organization called the American economics Liberty project. And they do a lot of research on this too. And so this book, Goliath was about sort of the American history of, we'll say, anti trust, so their competition laws from the early 1900s through to today, and so in the introduction, he has a section. A 1911 Supreme Court decision allowed stores to sell below cost and drive their competitors out of business. Retailers with access to capital, known as chain stores could now destroy those who didn't. This legal change plus the spread of the automobile, which led Americans shop around more easily began replacing local retailers with chains, chain stores exploded, led by the Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company, known as the a&p, 1914 ANP at $31 million in revenue, and fewer than 500 stores. 10 years later, it had 440 million in 14,000 stores.

Unknown Speaker 19:43
So I read that section, and I just went Wait a minute. That's the exact same story. I've been told me what happened to retail in Amherst, right, chain stores were cheaper. It was easier to drive to Moncton, you know, Matt saying there was a policy change. I didn't know what policy changes were done, but I assumed there was a third one, the changes that were done in 19 No 11 basically allowed chain stores to proliferate, and independent stores to die off. So it stands to reason that those same three things happening in the 1990s would do the same. And so I read that and I went, now I see how this applies directly to Amherst, these policies, these things happened and killed off independent in local retail here. And so Matt's book was all about the American story in the American history. And it has a big influence on us in Canada. But I didn't know much about the Canadian history. And so I figured, okay, there has to be a policy change, or there was policy changes somewhere, I just didn't know what it was. There were many that happened really in the 80s. But the policy change that I'm going to focus on first is the changes to the Canadian Competition Act. And there's a review of that act actually going to happen this year. Let's talk just briefly about the Canadian Competition Act. I'm not an expert on this. There are experts out there. And hopefully we'll talk to them and learn more about it. But high level, the Canadian Competition Act was brought in in 1986. He had replaced the Combine investigation Act, which was first passed in 1910. And then modified many times over the next 76 years. And there was actually a previous act before the Combine investigation Act, which again, we'll get to at some point. So the changes to our Competition Act were born out of the thinking from the Chicago School of Economics. And these economists and thinkers and lawyers were the ones that really pushed for the major changes to the American antitrust rules and enforcement that we ultimately adopted and brought into our Competition Act. So the thinking they had was the competition laws should focus on efficiency and consumer welfare, not economic power, not protecting small towns or small businesses, from larger corporations or anti competitive business practices. Their focus was just efficiency and consumer welfare. And in context, what this meant was, consumer welfare was basically if prices didn't go up, consumers were better off, prices went up, consumers were not as well off. So these changes, basically led any merger, or any two companies wanted to merge, as long as they could show that their merger wouldn't increase prices for consumers, the merger was allowed to go through. So basically, they were focused really just on price. So with this change to focus on price, consumer welfare and efficiency, we allowed mergers to go through. And it didn't matter if the newly merged company could use profits from one line to underprice competitors in another business, to force him out of business didn't matter if they now were of large enough size to force suppliers to cut their prices and profits, we just stopped caring about that anymore. We only really focused on price. And as long as it wasn't expected to raise prices, we didn't worry about it. And how we determined if it was going to raise prices or not was basic economists came in and created models, and they made expectations of what they thought would happen, depending on this merger. And if the economists was hired by the merchant companies, they typically showed that the prices were not going to go up. So the other thing that happened in all of this is our competition policy switched from really a straightforward sort of democratic policy that regular people could understand and participate in to a very expert oriented technocratic policy that was reserved only for the experts. Right. And so these experts are the competition lawyers and the competition economists. They're not the regular people, even though you and I and we take amorous, for example, amorous fields in the pain of these mergers and these changes, this policy was not for us anymore. It was for experts. Only. These changes impacted all of us on a day to day life, in our jobs in our work in our communities, what I want to do is start bringing this policy back to for regular people and making it more accessible to other people as I start to learn more about it too. Amherst, my hometown has suffered immensely in the name of efficiency and consumer welfare. And I don't want to make this trade anymore. And you shouldn't either. And that's what this podcast is really about. It's looking back to find our Canadian anti monopoly history. So join me as I learn more about our history and think about how that has impacted my hometown. So to stay up to date, subscribe to this podcast and your favorite podcast app and let any of your other friends or people you know may be interested know about this podcast please? Help the Company Main Street is struggling. Monopolies killed my hometown

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