From 2010 to 2014, 60 percent of counties nationwide saw more businesses close than open, compared with just 17 percent during the four years following the 1990s slowdown. During the 1990s recovery, smaller communities — counties with less than half a million people — generated 71 percent of all net new businesses, with counties under 100,000 people accounting for a full third. During the 2010 to 2014 recovery, however, the figure for counties with fewer than half a million people was 19 percent. For counties with less than 100,000 people, it was zero.
How did we get here? After the Great Depression, the government used antimonopoly laws to keep markets open and fair for smaller, independent businesses — in other words, to keep mom-and-pop shops open and Main Street buzzing. These were businesses run by people who cared about and understood their communities, that kept wealth circulating locally, that created the vast majority of new jobs and that were often the source of game-changing innovation.
But in the 1980s, folks in power decided bigger was better, and conventional political wisdom followed suit. For the federal officials charged with protecting competition, that meant that cheap consumer prices trumped all other values, including the preservation of American jobs, open and competitive markets where innovation could flourish, and maintaining level playing fields for start-ups and small businesses. To this day, when government officials evaluate mergers, it’s considered a good thing when they result in job losses — because that means, in the twisted reasoning we still use, gains in economic efficiency. The hard-working Americans turned out on the street corner to look for new jobs are the human sacrifices to the insatiable beast of corporate concentration.