Would you rather have a perfectly efficient system that, if hit by a pebble, would shatter? Or, would you rather have an adaptable system that may not give you the exact output you want, but can handle anything?  According to Barry Lynn of the New America Foundation, our economy and our entire domestic food supply are being set up to be shattered.

Because of our obsession with efficiency over flexibility, our “lowest-price-above-all” philosophy over fair prices for producers, and our acceptance of a monopolistic commercial distribution structure, lots of essential products are now coming over seasons from a single foreign source.

That includes one critical preservative that is in nearly every food in America’s grocery stores, which China currently has a monopoly on.  China currently has a production stranglehold over a critical chemical compound that helps keep food fresh — ascorbic acid.  We use this to preserve almost all the food that is on the store shelves.  It’s essential to keep food on America’s tables, and we don’t have any control over its production or distribution.

Monopolistic supply chains, because of their single-source distribution system, can easily fail during a catastrophic event.  “When that monopoly vendor decides to buy all of some good or import us some good from some place offshore, if there is any break in trade, then you don’t get “that thing” — and that thing might be really important. It might be an ingredient that goes in your food supply — a really vital ingredient. It might be semi-conductor chips that go into all of the products you use.  So if you allow a monopolist to concentrate all of your production of something really important far away like in northern Japan for instance, all of a sudden because an earthquake, or an uprising, or a little spat, a political spat that we might have with the Chinese, all of a sudden you don’t have that thing,” says Barry.

Barry is Senior Fellow at the New America Foundation and author of Cornered: The New Monopoly Capitalism and the Economics of Destruction.