By Gary Truitt
For years, large agricultural companies and farmers have felt the sting of public opinion. Seed and crop protection companies have been the subject of multiple conspiracy theories claiming world domination of the food supply. The term factory farming has been used on any farm larger than 500 acres. CAFOs have become synonymous with industrial polluters. GMOs and BGH are carcinogens in the minds of consumers, even though science does not back that up. But now, big ag and ag tech are being pushed aside as the fickle finger public opinion points at big technology companies.
During the pandemic and subsequent shut down of the U.S. economy, certain industries have flourished. One of these is technology. With millions of people shopping on-line, working from home, and doing school remotely, several technology companies have done quite well. Their profits have reached into the hundreds of millions of dollars and, in a few cases, into the billions. As the stock prices of these firms have skyrocketed, the net worth of their CEOs and top management has also increased by hundreds of millions and, in at least one case, over a billion dollars. Public reaction to this has been negative.
Even the technology darling Apple lost some of its luster when it revealed it was sitting on a pile of cash on hand of $207.06 billion. This when millions of people had just shelled out over $1000 each for the latest iPhone. Jeff Bezos, owner of Amazon, is the first person in modern history to accumulate a personal fortune of over $100 billion — and he currently has a net worth of $178 billion, making him the richest man in the world. Other tech giants, including Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and Twitter, are coming in for harsh criticism.
Democratic politicians are calling for more regulation of these big tech firms. The progressive movement is not happy with this kind of wealth being amassed by private industry. Conservatives are calling for restrictions on social media alleging censorship on conservative opinions. Not to be left out, Congress recently called the heads of big tech to Washington for a tongue lashing. Regardless of who occupies the White House in 2021, anti-trust sentiment will likely be strong in Washington.
There is something in the American psyche that just distrusts things that are big. In some cases, there is good reason; but, sometimes, there is nothing wrong with being big. In fact, in an ever increasing worldwide and technology-driven economy, being big helps foster innovation. It was innovation that created Apple, Amazon, and the like. It was the drive for innovation that fostered the consolidation in the ag tech area that resulted in global leaders such as Bayer, BASF, and Corteva. While guarding against monopolistic market manipulation is important, breaking up everything that is big can also hurt innovation and advancement.