Chicago’s Risky Bet On State-Run Grocery Stores

When Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson (D) came into office, his win was fueled by a growing socialist alliance within the Democratic Party. Now, he’s stepping up to actualize his vision — this time by exploring the feasibility of government-run grocery stores.

Last week, Johnson recently announced a partnership with the Economic Security Project, a progressive nonprofit, to study whether city-owned grocery stores could fill the “food deserts” that afflict Chicago’s South and West sides. According to the city’s press release, the effort aims to remedy “past harms that have contributed to purposeful disinvestment and exclusion and lack of food access in historically underserved communities.”

While it sounds altruistic, the concept of state-run grocery stores is far from a proven success. Chicago is a prime example of how rising crime rates and increasing taxes drive businesses, including grocery chains like Walmart, Walgreens, and Aldi, to pack up and leave.

Johnson’s strategy seems disconnected from historical precedents and current economic realities. It’s one thing to identify the problem of food deserts, but it’s another to offer a practical solution. Instead of addressing the underlying factors that deter businesses from operating in these communities, like rampant shoplifting and an unfriendly business environment, the mayor wants to embark on an experiment that could be a costly mistake for taxpayers.

Ameya Pawar, a Senior Advisor at the Economic Security Project, likens this endeavor to “the way a library or the postal service operates.” But the comparison seems flawed. Government-run stores globally have rarely been models of efficiency or profitability. Rather than generating revenue, these stores could further drain already strained state and federal funds.

The financials get even murkier when you consider that these grocery stores would receive support from city coffers and federal funds. If Congress allows for such use of federal dollars, it would be a glaring example of financial irresponsibility and a slippery slope for unlimited government spending.

The most biting critique comes from history itself. In the Soviet Union, government-run grocery stores became subjects of dark humor as citizens joked about the absence of essential products on the empty shelves. Milton Friedman, the famed economist from the University of Chicago, once said, “If you put the federal government in charge of the Sahara Desert, in 5 years, there’d be a shortage of sand.”

Mayor Johnson and his progressive allies might argue that their ideas are different, rooted in modern sensibilities, and advanced by technological means. However, history and logic tell us that it is wise to be skeptical. Rather than reimagine grocery stores, we should reimagine what responsible governance looks like when it gets out of the way of the private sector to supply needs in a safe and stable environment.

While Johnson has promised a “better, stronger, safer future,” he’s just placing a risky bet using taxpayer money. Unfortunately, economic reality suggests the odds are not in his favor.