THE BLOG

"Too Big" Is Hollowing the Middle Class, Killing the American Dream

01/09/2013 01:33 pm ET | Updated Mar 11, 2013

There are different varieties of "too big"-- banks, businesses, stores, billionaires, global trade deals-- and they are all hollowing out the middle class and destroying the American dream.

I sat down for dinner last night with, Stu, an old friend from kindergarten. We've known each other for over 55 years. This is a guy who has worked for himself as an entrepreneur all his life, literally since he was a teenager, buying a home, raising a family. Now he's looking for a job.

He's been in retail, wholesale, sales, manufacturing. For the past few years he has been selling products to small businesses-- dollar stores, variety stores, mom-and-pop shops. The problem is, he tells me, they're disappearing. it's harder and harder to make it, harder to compete with chain store dollar stores and big box stores like Walmart, Target and Kmart, and drug chains like CVS and Rite Aid.

My friend Stu, owner proprietor of Gallery Greetings. Photo by Rob Kall

The people he's done business with in recent years are often immigrants-- Chinese, Indian, Pakistani, Mexican-- family businesses. They've been family businesses because retail stores have been so hard to make viable and competitive in the big box and chain store environment that it takes a family, sharing the burden, working without pay, to make it possible to keep a store afloat. Or at least it did... Now even those stores are dying. There are not enough small stores for my old friend Stu to do business with. He's looking for a job with a big company that operates chain stores, or a property management company (who do you think bought up all those foreclosed homes?)

I think this is another symptom of "too big" syndrome. We don't just have banks that are too big to fail. We have retailer giants that are hollowing out the middle class-- wiping out small businesses, killing the dreams of entrepreneurs and replacing them with minimum wage and part time job opportunities.

"Too big" syndrome is ruining the planet, assaulting the middle class and putting the American dream out of reach of the ninety-nine percent.

Billionaires are corrupting Congress and state legislatures, leading to regulations and deregulations that expose the middle class -- the 99 percent -- to much greater risks and harder lives. Too big to fail banks and investment operations have devastated our economy and routinely distort and disrupt supply and pricing of basic commodities like food, oil, fertilizers. And mega-retailers are also devastating the middle class and the putting the American dream out of reach.

There is a simple answer. Create laws that set limits. Nature has all kinds of limits: You don't see people who are twelve feet tall or trees that are five thousand feet tall because biology doesn't support what would be freaks. And Americans are very accustomed to limits. We have term limits for elected officials. We have height limits for fences, Size limits for residential lots -- bigger and smaller. We have limits on rent price increases and interest rates.

It is time we put limits that make "too big" obsolete-- that outlaw "too big"-- banks, billionaires, chain stores, box stores. These are all relatively new phenomena that there is no reason to accept as necessary or better. We can do without them. We should do without them. We can replace chain retailers with local businesses. We can replace giant banks with local banks that work together and cooperate to take advantage of opportunities of scale. And we can and should do without giant box stores. We can replace them with hundreds of thousands of small businesses. We know that small businesses create more and better paying jobs. We need to take steps to create an environment that supports them and discourages the chains and box stores that suppress and kill small businesses. We can do that. We can even come up with ways to help/persuade the big chain and box store companies to change their business model to small stores that give serious equity to employees. And as Thom Hartmann and I have written about before, we need to outlaw billionaires.

"Too big" syndrome is a major threat to the future of the middle class and the American dream. We need to put all the ways that "too big" syndrome manifests itself on the table -- and then outlaw all of them. You can assume that getting this conversation into high gear will start off with the paid defenders... and the dupes who have been propagandized into thinking that "too big" syndrome is part of the American way -- to attack this idea -- to call it socialist, communist, idiotic, crazy.

The truth is there is a burgeoning bottom up movement, even a collection of bottom-up movements aimed at making our world more localized -- described by terms like sustainable, re-localization, transition towns. These provide concrete alternatives to "too big" syndrome. This can be done. It must be done if the U.S.'s middle class is to survive. Failure to respond, to outlaw "too big" will lead to a nation of one percenters who are very wealthy and 99 percenters who subsist on minimum wage and inadequate "entitlement" bones that legislators have thrown to them to keep them quiet -- legislators loyal to the "too big."

I called my friend Stu to make sure he was okay with mentioning his name in the article. He OK'ed it and said I nailed it. He also had an interesting suggestion: New home builders are sometimes required, when they build a big development, to include affordable HUD or HUD-type housing. Stu's idea is that every big box store and mall should provide low-rent store spaces and community centers -- "community commerce centers" that maintain diversity so every mall doesn't look like the same collection of franchise operations.

That could be more doable than you think, but may not be so easy, for reasons you wouldn't expect. Two years ago, Henry, a fellow re-localization activist and I met with the manager of one of the largest malls in the county. We proposed that they provide free space for a local farmers' market. The property manager was actually very receptive. But the local farmers weren't. They didn't have the people resources to make it viable. To me, this is a sign that things are really far along in killing some of the old ways. We need to figure out how to help turn things around and make things like this work. It's worth it.

You can reach Stu at gallerygreetings@yahoo.com.

This article was originally published at Opednews.com