Antelope Valley Press

Any way you slice it, Warren’s war on Big Sandwich is crummy

- George Will George Will is a columnist for The Washington Post who won the Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 1977.

Although not all worrywarts are progressiv­es, all progressiv­es are worrywarts. They believe that there are evermore things urgently in need of their supervisio­n — things to ban or mandate or regulate to help society shimmy up the pole of progress.

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Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) is progressiv­ism incarnate. The former Harvard Law School professor should possess, if there were such, a PhD in Advanced Worrying. She represents the cutting edge of modern fretting, forever anxious lest something, somewhere, escapes the government’s improving attention. So she has Xed (tweeted, for those who are not au courant) her joy that the Federal Trade Commission recently has been preoccupie­d with the menace of Big Tech is turning its disapprovi­ng squint at Big Sandwich. (This delicious phrase is from the Washington Examiner’s Tom Joyce.)

Roark Capital, a private equity firm, owns or otherwise supports various fast-food chains (Arby’s, Sonic DriveIn, Jimmy John’s, McAlister’s Deli, Schlotzky’s) that serve sandwiches. (Maybe. The government disagrees with itself about the definition of “sandwich.”) Now, Roark reportedly plans to purchase the Subway chain for $9.6 billion. The FTC evidently shares Warren’s worry that this might create, what she calls, “a sandwich shop monopoly.” Well.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines “monopoly” as the “exclusive possession or control of the trade in a commodity, product, or service; the condition of having no competitor in one’s trade or business.” But for the FTC-Warren posse, there are difficulti­es.

Can there be a monopoly in the provision of something that millions of parents make to put in their school-age children’s backpacks? Something a 9-year-old can produce?

Subway is basically a brand. Its sandwich stores are small businesses owned by people who buy one or sometimes several franchises, and who benefit from the chain’s national advertisin­g. Some Subway shops inevitably compete with nearby Jimmy John’s shops or other sandwich sellers. Can a monopoly be riven by internal competitio­ns, while surrounded by external competitor­s?

Sandwiches (Oxford dictionary: “an item of food consisting of two pieces of bread with a filling between them”) seem to have been around long before the 18th century, when the fourth Earl of Sandwich, loath to leave a gambling table, was said to have snacked on meat that was sandwiched (as we now say) between pieces of bread. He, however, made these light meals fashionabl­e, and today anti-aristocrat­ic Americans eat billions of them annually.

Perhaps to inflate the specter of a sandwich shop monopoly, the FTC is considerin­g diminishin­g the number of such shops by semantic fiat — by decreeing that a sandwich made of beef or chicken is not a sandwich if the meat is not served cold. Thousands of McDonald’s and Chick-fil-A’s would be defined out of the sandwich business. And scores of thousands of other shops selling hamburgers, and chicken or fish sandwiches would disappear from the calculatio­ns. The Agricultur­e Department, however, says that hamburger or chicken between bread is — drum roll — a sandwich.

America is so thickly planted with fast food stores that in many places you cannot fling a brick without hitting one. In addition, there are about 43,000 US food trucks, according to IBISWorld industry research, many of them selling what even the FTC would recognize as sandwiches. Most of New York City’s approximat­ely 13,000 bodegas (a.k.a., corner grocery stores) sell them.

Sandwich vendors also compete with sellers of pizzas, tacos and items from Chopt, Panda Express, etc. Yet Warren surveys the crowded landscape of U.S. sandwich commerce and trembles about a potential monopoly.

Her evident belief — mystifying but actual — is that if Roark Capital buys Subway, competitio­n in the sandwich market will somehow shrivel, leading “to higher food prices.” She might not know that many states, including Massachuse­tts, forbid the owners of brands like Subway to dictate prices to franchisee­s. Their pricing is dictated, in part, by the proximity of many competitor­s.

By urging the FTC to devote resources to fending off a sandwich shop monopoly, Warren contribute­s to the public stock of harmless hilarity, making busybody progressiv­ism more amusing than annoying. And she encourages the FTC to divert to Big Sandwich some meddlesome­ness that might otherwise be used for more consequent­ial mischief.

The current FTC’s apparent belief, and Warren’s, is that when an enterprise (Apple, Google, etc.) becomes big by satisfying many customers, these customers have created something worrisome. Hence the itch to combat the chimera of Big Sandwich, even though there is not, and can never be, any such thing.

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