THOSE who camp little or badly may have missed another symptom of the arrogance that underscores Dick Smith’s ongoing madness, a deficiency well worth pointing out as the man who made his fortune by building a chain of house-branded, cut-price electronics outlets decries Coles, Woolworth and Aldi for doing the same thing with groceries. The Dick, of course, is these days pushing his own lines of popular comestibles, so the cynic might guess that attacks on the chains’ vigorous discounting is motivated by commercial self-interest. There are no cynics at the ABC however, not when David Hicks’ best cobber is involved, so The Dick’s interview this morning on Radio National focused on his concern that Australia will be ruined if grocery retailers are allowed to vigorously compete for the consumer dollar.
Be that as it may (or may not), the act of unpacking the tucker box this morning after the latest sojourn beside trout-infested streams brought a couple of interesting things into focus. The radio was babbling away in the background as the operation proceeded, with The Dick slipping in many sly plugs for his own lines of groceries, noting repeatedly that while his provisions cost roughly 20% more than the chains’ counterparts, the additional expense is an investment in putting “good, Australian-grown food in your kids’ stomachs.”
Well, at that very moment, thepurpose-built container in which tea, coffee, sweet bikkies and a dozen cans of condensed milk are stored was being hauled out of the trailer. With the exception of the coffee, all were generic brands, and each campfire comfort was purchased in bulk when those items were on sale. Condensed milk makes the best example. Each can in the tucker box cost one dollar, roughly half the regular price, and all were purchased during one or other of the chains’ episodic spasms of discounting. Sticky and sweet, the processed milk always tastes much better in the bush, where fresh milk goes off in a matter of days, so it is a staple provision and much appreciated when the last of the Esky’s ice has melted.
Smith’s gripe is that the chains can afford to discount in order to cruel their smaller competitors, the all-but-vanished mum-and-dad stores, where condensed milk goes for anything up to $4 a can (the price eight months ago in Barmah’s general store). After that, to use The Dick’s own words, “extreme capitalists” Coles and Woollies will jack up prices and gouge consumers until the cows come home. All very doctrinaire and no surprise to anyone, especially ABC interviewers, whose privilege it is to work for an organization under no obligation to turn a profit.
It was a great pity the ABC interviewer did not interrupt The Dick’s stropping, at least for a moment or two, by noting that his objections are inspired by the proliferating Aldi stores, whose discounted prices undercut even those of Coles and Woolworths. Exactly how, she might have asked, can the chains work their hegemonic evil if fresh competitors continue to enter the market? The question was not put – surprise, surprise! -- so the interview ended as a lengthy, unpaid plug for The Dick’s premium brands of chocolate biscuits, Vegemite surrogates and the like.
If The Dick, who is also a warmist, ever wishes to park his personal helicopter and disappear into the dull green with The Professor, he will be welcome to observe the advantages of unfettered markets first-hand. After a day of standing thigh-deep in icy mountain waters, he will enjoy the comfort of a cheap, sweet, hot coffee by the fire, not to mention a discounted bikkie or two. And he had better eat up big because, having taken The Dick to some remote and inaccessible spot, the strategy would be to leave him there for good.
Let him discuss capitalism’s evils with the ants, his fellow noxious weeds and tree stumps, many of which are notably more intelligent than his standard interlocutors at the ABC.