Book Review: Big Box Swindle

Published December 31, 2006

Stacy Mitchell’s new book, Big Box Swindle, offers a compelling case for why uncontrolled proliferation of corporate chains undermines communities, competitive markets, and democracy. Mitchell provides a fine balance by detailing the big picture with extensive research while driving home the impact of problems with stories of real people, businesses and communities.

An especially interesting chapter is “Uncle Sam’s Invisible Hand,” which reveals how government policies have played an immense role in shaping the retail and other commercial development. Some of these policies, such as directly subsidizing politically powerful corporations, may be familiar to our readers, but Mitchell unearths many cases of more subtle government favoritism or discrimination that make clear the growth of corporate chains has not resulted from market forces alone.

Equally valuable, Mitchell details a wealth of positive and concrete measures that independent businesses and communities are taking to support hometown businesses and keep opportunities for entrepreneurs alive. This is not the brief “wish list” we too often see concluding books about the problems with corporate power, but real stories of viable solutions and who is creating them.

This isn’t surprising, since Mitchell works for the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and chairs the board of directors of the American Independent Business Alliance — two organizations leading localization efforts in the U.S.

Mitchell’s first book, The Home Town Advantage, quickly earned our recommendation, but in addition to having the most up-to-date data and examples, Swindle surpasses her earlier effort in breadth, depth and quality of narrative. After an opening chapter that’s interesting, but heavy on data, Mitchell’s engaging stories make Swindle a compelling read.

Big Box Swindle is one of the most important books in years. We encourage you to not only read it, but get it into the hands of friends, family and opinion leaders in your community

If you lack an independent book store in your town, you can order directly from our merchandise page or from the website (Beacon Press, 2006. $25 hardcover). Inquire for discount on multiple copies.

See for additional reviews and Stacy Mitchell’s speaking schedule.