Outline the view that big supermarkets both provide and limit choice.
In the context of our consumer society, the role of big supermarkets and their influence on our lives has come under much scrutiny. Broadly split into an anti-supermarket and pro-supermarket camp, both sides insist that their interpretation of evidence is the correct one, and that their conclusions are sound. In light of such contention, I will explore both sides of the argument, and attempt to explain how an answer can be both ‘yes’ and ‘no’ , depending on which perspective you are looking from, and how you interpret the evidence used to support it. That the big supermarkets (in particular the ‘big four’; Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury’s, Morrison’s) have power, is not in itself disputed. Power itself is a complex, indeed even abstract, term. It can refer to Market Power or Buying Power. It may allude to fiscal might or political influence, the ability to coerce suppliers and producers through price, or the ability to sway planners toward favouring an application. Regardless of which definition or definitions we use, it is fair to say that supermarkets hold a great deal of power. The arguments revolve around exactly what big supermarkets do with that power; do they wield it in a way that produces only gain for all of us, or do they abuse it in a system where they are the only winners, and other parts of our society are the losers? Claim and counter-claim over the ways in which supermarkets use this power at local, national, and global level are rooted firmly in one of two assumptions; that our consumer society operates either as a ‘zero sum game’ or as a ‘positive sum game’. In a zero sum game, one ’player’ can only win at the cost of another – when one wins, another consequently loses. In a positive sum game, the outcome can be a net gain for all ‘players’ – what’s good for one is good for all, on some level. Each assumption has its proponents and opponents, each side their own set of claims...
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