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Stand Up! with Pete Dominick

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Apr 30, 2024

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Austin is an expert on agricultural and antitrust policy. During the 2020 presidential campaign, he advised candidates Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, and Pete Buttigieg on agricultural policy before ultimately serving as Co-Chair of the Biden campaign’s Agriculture Antitrust Policy Committee. He is a Fellow of the Thurman Arnold Project at Yale University, an initiative that brings together faculty, students, and scholars to collaborate on research related to competition policy and antitrust enforcement. He also serves on the Board of Directors for Common Good Iowa and the Socially Responsible Agriculture Project. In 2022, The Advocate named him a "Champion of Pride.”

He recently published his debut book, Barons: Money, Power, and the Corruption of America’s Food Industry, which profiles a series of powerful magnates to illustrate the concentration of power in the American food system. The book has received universal acclaim. Publishers Weekly gave it a Starred Review and the host of Bloomberg's Odd Lots commended the book, remarking that “I have come away with a completely different idea of agriculture that I cannot unsee." The book has received praise from across the political spectrum, including a rave review from The American Conservative.

Austin also has a strong track record of organizing conferences and other forums to push the conversation forward on agriculture policy. He recently worked with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to organize a conference and publish a compendium at Yale Law School entitled “Reforming America’s Food Retail Markets,” which explored competition issues in the nation’s food retail industry. He previously spearheaded other conferences at the Yale Law School, including “Big Ag & Antitrust: Competition Policy for a Sustainable and Humane Food System.” He also created & organized the "Heartland Forum" in Storm Lake, Iowa, the first candidate forum during the 2020 Democratic presidential primary process, which focused on the impacts of economic concentration in rural America.

Austin is a 7th generation Iowan. His mother Kathy managed a beauty salon in his hometown of Cedar Rapids before opening her own bakery. His father Scott delivered and merchandised beer for a local, family-owned beer distributor. Austin’s passion for agriculture comes from spending weekends working with his Grandpa Frerick.

He has held a job since the age of 12, when he started working at the Cedar Rapids Gazette as a paperboy. He attended Grinnell College on merit scholarships and Pell Grants. While in college, Austin wrote two theses on corporate power in Iowa’s slaughterhouse communities. After being the first in his family to graduate from college, Austin attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison for graduate school on a full academic scholarship. He has since held positions at the Congressional Research Service and at the U.S. Department of Treasury, Office of Tax Analysis, where he published research on executive compensation, pharmaceutical corporate charity abuses, and the growth of concentration in the American economy.

“In this eye-opening debut study, Frerick, an agricultural policy fellow at Yale University, reveals the ill-gained stranglehold that a handful of companies have on America’s food economy…It’s a disquieting critique of private monopolization of public necessities.” --Publishers Weekly, starred

Barons is the story of seven corporate titans, their rise to power, and the consequences for everyone else. Take Mike McCloskey, Chairman of Fair Oaks Farms. In a few short decades, he went from managing a modest dairy herd to running the Disneyland of agriculture, where school children ride trams through mechanized warehouses filled with tens of thousands of cows that never see the light of day. What was the key to his success? Hard work and exceptional business savvy? Maybe. But more than anything else, Mike benefitted from deregulation of the American food industry, a phenomenon that has consolidated wealth in the hands of select tycoons, and along the way, hollowed out the nation’s rural towns and local businesses.

Along with Mike McCloskey, readers will meet a secretive German family that took over the global coffee industry in less than a decade, relying on wealth traced back to the Nazis to gobble up countless independent roasters. They will discover how a small grain business transformed itself into an empire bigger than Koch Industries, with ample help from taxpayer dollars. And they will learn that in the food business, crime really does pay—especially when you can bribe and then double-cross the president of Brazil.

These, and the other stories in this book, are simply examples of the monopolies and ubiquitous corruption that today define American food. The tycoons profiled in these pages are hardly unique: many other companies have manipulated our lax laws and failed policies for their own benefit, to the detriment of our neighborhoods, livelihoods, and our democracy itself. Barons paints a stark portrait of the consequences of corporate consolidation, but it also shows we can choose a different path. A fair, healthy, and prosperous food industry is possible—if we take back power from the barons who have robbed us of it.


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