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Public Supermarkets

In the May 5 edition of the Wall Street Journal, I explore how groceries would be supplied were they governed by the same perverse institutions that govern the supply of K-12 schooling in the United States.  Here are my closing three paragraphs:

In the face of calls for supermarket choice, supermarket-workers unions would use their significant resources for lobbying—in favor of public-supermarkets’ monopoly power and against any suggestion that market forces are appropriate for delivering something as essential as groceries. Some indignant public-supermarket defenders would even rail against the insensitivity of referring to grocery shoppers as “customers,” on the grounds that the relationship between the public servants who supply life-giving groceries and the citizens who need those groceries is not so crass as to be discussed in terms of commerce.

Recognizing that the erosion of their monopoly would stop the gravy train that pays their members handsome salaries without requiring them to satisfy paying customers, unions would ensure that any grass-roots effort to introduce supermarket choice meets fierce political opposition.

In reality, of course, groceries and many other staples of daily life are distributed with extraordinary effectiveness by competitive markets responding to consumer choice. The same could be true of education—the unions’ self-serving protestations notwithstanding.

UPDATE: My colleague Walter Williams sent to me by e-mail the following note after reading my essay:

You might have mentioned there’d be no need to cater to the myriad of tastes by wastefully carrying 60,000 different items.

True dat.