Crony capitalism is an extremely important topic for the community food system to ponder. This is how I define what has happened a few times when online aggregators or other techies spend all of their money building fancy software and no money or time investing in distribution systems or training staff and then throw up their hands when the farmers don’t immediately flock to their door to sell their items below retail or the weekly market shopper doesn’t become enamored of their online tool. This may also best describe the situation when new, poorly-planned farmers markets open without adequate time to plan or to talk to the community it wants to serve or build relationships with producers a season or two before opening day. (Sometimes these folks call me a few weeks before they plan to open a new market and are dumbfounded when I tell them they should have begun planning 18-24 month before!)
I want to be clear that I am NOT talking about the majority of markets, but those thrown together (often by a developer or another outside interest) that simply see the market as visual dressing to sell their apartments or product without any effort made to whether there is a need and if the vendors will make any money.
This is why I believe farmers market managers roles should be financially supported by other food system initiatives, and experienced market managers should be brought in as consultants or facilitators to use their expertise in curating other relationships between buyers and sellers for new market ideas, for intermediate sales (specialty stores and restaurants), and even when building value chains for institutional buying.
But Robert Litan and Ian Hathaway, writing in Harvard Business Review, have a more dire hypothesis. They surmised that many American entrepreneurs are no longer looking for ways to produce more useful stuff, and are instead looking for new techniques for extracting money from each other and from the government. In other words, crony capitalism may be slowly cannibalizing productive capitalism.