Polycentric Wanderings

Keith's random and sundry thoughts on the challenges of working together.

Category: Uncategorized

When Taxpayer Subsidy Harms Rural Consumer Access & Choice

Rural America cannot catch a break. While there’s numerous examples of Rural America being treated as a collective Sacrifice Zone, let’s focus on the hollowing out of consumer access and choice for the benefit of narrowly-defined shareholder interest.

Fortune 500 companies have made it a strategy to saturate rural markets as part of a larger growth strategy (Walmart is poster child). Big money invests in these firms, and these firms “disrupt” incumbent enterprise. All too often, the incumbents are independents who are fixtures of the local economy. While locally-owned incumbent businesses are not always angels or competent (the same holds with major corporations), there does exist a body of rural sociology literature finding that such enterprise offers an enhanced local economic multiplier, even increasing civic capacity. These are important players in an era of government ineptitude at state and federal levels. Unfortunately, some of the biggest global economic players are actively destroying locally-owned incumbents, defending themselves as champions of the consumer.

There is good reason to question these motives.

Take for example the recent announcement by Verizon to boot thousands of rural consumers from their plans. Verizon has been gobbling up regional mobile markets, pushing out non-national players, again under the banner of abundant consumer choice (the recent ad campaign is “Verizon Unlimited for All – Now w/ More Unlimited Choices”). What many aren’t aware of is that Verizon has also received signifiant government subsidy to penetrate rural markets in the name of public safety. In states such as Illinois, Verizon is the government’s preferred mobile provider across the state, specifically for emergency disaster preparation infrastructure. The unspoken understanding is that Verizon, through generous state subsidy, will also piggyback rural mobile services.

Despite Verizon’s extreme profitability propped up on the backs rural taxpayers, Verizon has decided to take a narrow look at its balance sheet, deeming thousands of rural Americans as “unprofitable” and “subsidized” by other Verizon subscribers.

The irony here is that Verizon may -at least should– be opening a debate on the role of corporate subsidy and public benefit, particularly to hard-hit Rural America. It would appear that Verizon is the one being subsidized by the same rural people who are now being denied mobile services. If governments had worked to shore up regional providers, perhaps rural mobile service would have been enhanced. Instead, public officials have thrown their own citizens to the wolves of Wall Street.



Video abstract – ‘Food Co-ops and the Paradox of Exclusivity’

Excellent analyses and commentary on the paradox of exclusivity in the supposedly open-membership co-operative institutional model.


Forthcoming in Antipode 47(3) in 2015, and available online now, Andrew Zitcer’s ‘Food Co-ops and the Paradox of Exclusivity‘ is a great contribution to the journal’s growing stock of papers on cooperatives, ethical consumption, alternative food movements, and diverse economies.*

Consumer food cooperatives constitute a vital part of the alternative food movement in the United States, alongside farmers’ markets, community-supported agriculture, and community gardens, among other initiatives. Like these efforts, food co-ops seek to counter the dominance of industrial agriculture and the decimation of local economies. Yet food co-ops wrestle with a “paradox of exclusivity”, whereby some practices and people are inadvertently left out in order to create conditions for a strong identification among others with particular ways of being and doing. ‘Food Co-ops and the Paradox of Exclusivity‘ explores the paradox of exclusivity through an in-depth study of two food co-ops in Philadelphia, PA…

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Acknowledging the Fragility of Democratic Institutions (and embracing the challenge)

“What Happened to the Berkeley Co-op” is a fantastic complement to Lin Ostrom’s “Governing the Commons,” particularly complementing Chapter 5 on institutional failure.  Ralph Nader’s comment in the prologue points at the tension -and dare I say the danger- of using deep participatory democratic processes as the primary guidepost for turnaround:

“A cooperative has to wrestle with the paradoxes of its principles when it is in economic difficulties. There are calls, not for centralization,” [as we might see in governmental or nonprofit bodies] “but for greater democratic control and participation by the members to save or revive the cooperatives. There are demands by competing factions…” “If there is too much member voice and rights, the community, that is the cooperative, becomes subordinated, anemic and paralyzed.”

These two books point to the need to create structure and channels to keep the chatter laser focused (lest they become white noise), so as to process the diversity of voices into productive outcomes. Democracy is not the problem! But democracy without a vision, planning, and structure is not a solution either (and is pure naïveté), and may pave the way for a tyranny by the few.

Berk Co-op Gov The Com

Glenn Greenwald on Privacy

The ever-brillian Glenn Greenwald on the obvious virtues of respect and support for individual privacy.

Naomi Klein’s Latest (Or the Ironic, Stagnant Ideas of “This Changes Everything”)

A recent interview with prominent activist Naomi Klein featured on On Point with Tom Ashbrook (podcast it, please!) left a surprisingly bad taste in my mouth. I’ve been excited about Klein’s latest book having long been an admirer of her work. But after listening to the interview, I found Klein to be devoid of any real vision outside of the standard left-of-center perspectives that have proven inadequate and obsolete.

A few of my critiques…

-Klein continues a stereotypical exoticizing of center-left Scandinavian governments (Naomi, Norway’s surplus is built on OIL wealth…).

-Klein has no clear definition of capitalism. She seems to be for Germany’s solar economy (which is propped up on shoddy foundations; she’s blind to that) which would seem to be capitalist by her “definition.”  Plus, she doesn’t seem to see the aforementioned Scandinavian systems as capitalist, which is strange considering the Norwegian oil surplus is built upon international oil sales.

-Klein also seems to want to apply a one-size-fits-all model to the problem. Her solution? State socialism. It’s pretty obvious that’s her end game, but she doesn’t go as far as to call it that.

-Klein says the problem is out of touch government and corporate power. Her solution? MORE GOVERNMENT. …and here I thought government was the problem.

-Klein’s worst offense is in “speaking truth to power.” She claims rightfully that the current economic system is irrational. She then proceeds to state how her vision is better for the wealthy and they must come around. Wow… just wow… it’s this entire crock that fits into this empirically false narrative of “if we tell the truth and provide reason, reason will overcome.” …really? How’s that worked for humanity? I think Socrates might have something to say to Klein about this.

Also, there is an emphasis on creating jobs. I reject the notion that jobs are taken as a necessity for society. Can we not create a vision beyond jobs as a primary policy outcome?

We need more institutional diversity, and new policy ideas.  Klein clearly falls short of this.


Love this. I went to a Starbucks. Two major marketing pushes on their “green” products. Yet look at their trash bins. No recycle bins either. Staff told me they dump AT LEAST 12 trash bags a day, most of it recyclable. Good reason why people continue to be cynical of the motives of big business.