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Articles: Bigger is Better... Right?

Throughout history, size has mattered. The biggest armies generally won. Warriors were revered for their size and strength. Small people were turned into court jesters. Those with the most money ruled (and still do). Which does remind me of an old joke I learned in childhood: "Who is bigger? Mr. Bigger or Mr. Bigger's baby?"

"Mr. Bigger's baby is a little Bigger."

Anyway, I have to wonder if there comes a time in our society when we need to think about why things are the way they are, and whether it's the best for all of us. I think of things like slavery, women's right to vote, segregation (prejudice in all of its forms for that matter), aristocracy... all the things that people assumed at the time would be that way forever, but in fact, needed to change, and eventually did.

We have applied the "bigger is better" theory to business, I think ever since the stock market took control of our corporate culture. Bigger, or the hope to get bigger, has always been pretty much a requirement for getting on the stock market. Nowadays, very large privately owned companies are an anomaly. And once you're in the stock market, you better show growth in order to get your stock... bigger.

So there is an emphasis on growth: lots of acquisitions, reporting record sales and profits and so on... all with an end goal... of what? Bigger stock prices, and that's about it, other than more pay for CEOs and the like.

When I look at our American landscape of business, especially at retail, I see chains and more chains. We have hundreds of malls, all populated with largely the same stores; locally owned businesses in a mall are rare. Drive on any freeway and mostly what you'll see are chains and more chains. And of course our stores had to get bigger: our landscape is littered with gigantic stores that largely trumpet the same selling point: "We're huge!"

The system is so geared to 'Bigger is Better' that no one is stepping back and asking what this accomplishes. From my point of view, it's accomplishing a lot of negative things. For one, the disparity between the ultra-rich and the masses in America is growing. Wikipedia reports that "Data from the United States Department of Commerce and Internal Revenue Service indicate that income inequality has been increasing since the 1970s, whereas it had been declining during the mid 20th century. As of 2006, the United States had one of the highest levels of income inequality, as measured through the Gini index, among high income countries, comparable to that of some middle income countries such as Russia or Turkey, being one of only few developed countries where inequality has increased since 1980."

The other negative accomplishments include the idea that the American public has been trained to prefer "expected mediocrity," as opposed to the idea of taking a chance of encountering excellence with a small, locally owned enterprise.

We also had the wonderful "too big to fail" concept when the economy tanked, necessitating the US Government to step in and spend our tax dollars to keep them afloat.

As consumers, we also get to enjoy the "benefits" of listening to endless phone trees, automated messages, disinterested customer service personnel, and an increase in the difficulty of finding someone within the gigantic enterprise who will take responsibility for making a tough decision outside policy.

So I'm still wondering... what's the benefit of "Bigger is Better" to the majority of the American people?

I truly don't think the stock market was invented in order to create the landscape we see today. But it has become so ingrained in our cultural psyche that few consumers stop to consider what they're doing when they support the Bigger is Better culture. However, the American public has the power, and always has had the power, to create a change. It's this simple: very few of these mega-corporations can survive without consumers throwing their dollars into their coffers. If everyone chose a local hamburger joint (if you can find one) instead of McDonalds or Burger King or Wendy's or Taco Bell, then the local eateries would thrive, and the big boys would have some troubles.

Think about that the next time you choose where to spend your dollars. You can either save your two bucks supporting a giant chain whose home office is in some other city besides your own, supporting the Bigger is Better mentality that has ripped the cultural heart out of most of our hometowns, or you can look for the smaller entities, especially those that might provide excellent service because the owner is right on the floor with the troops.

That's what I do anyway....
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