Saturday, September 23, 2006

Will on Wal-Mart

Guest post by Greg Prince

George Will had an interesting column recently discussing the politics of Wal-Mart. He points to a suburban store just a block outside of the Chicago city limits and how it's bustling with city shoppers -- and employees. Moreover, jobs are in demand. Over 25,000 applications were received for a mere 325 jobs when this particular store opened last January.

[Wal-Mart's popularity] vexes liberals such as John Kerry. (He and his helpmeet last shopped at Wal-Mart when?) In 2004 he tested what has become one of the Democrats' 2006 themes: Wal-Mart is, he said, "disgraceful" and symbolic of "what’s wrong with America."

Looking at the raw numbers Will cites, Wal-Mart’s influence on the American economy is significant -- and impressive. Wal-Mart:

  • Has about the same number of employees as there are soldiers in the armed forces;
  • Was responsible for about 13% of the nation’s productivity gain in the late 1990s;
  • Saves shoppers over $200 billion (that’s billion) each year;
  • Has about 20% of the nation’s grocery business, and saves its grocery customers about 17%; and
  • Creates on average two jobs for every job lost through its practicies.
Will continues:

Before they went on their bender of indignation about Wal-Mart (customers per week: 127 million), liberals had drummed McDonald's (customers per week: 175 million) out of civilized society because it is making us fat, or something. So, what next? Which preferences of ordinary Americans will liberals, in their role as national scolds, next disapprove? Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet?

This captures the essence of Will's point -- silly liberals don’t "get" real Americans. Silly liberals don't "get" what it means to be American. And yet, as is often the case, there's more going on beneath the surface which Will conveniently doesn't bother to address.

A question many have asked, and few on the right burden themselves with thinking about, is why we see a growing economy and a GNP that has grown by leaps and bounds even as wages have been stagnant for the last decades? To an extent it's better to view Wal-Mart as a symptom of other, less friendly thoughts.

Has Wal-Mart really "saved" people to the tune of $200 billion a year, or has its relentless efforts to hold the line on cost and undercut the competition disguised the disgraceful stagnation in take home pay?

Wal-Mart may account for 13% of our productivity gains, but it also accounts for about 13% of our trade deficit with China.

Wal-Mart may tally a net increase in jobs, but what are the wages and benefits associated with those jobs compared to the ones lost? Of course people apply to work when new stores open. A substandard job is better than no job. That doesn't mean they shouldn't aspire to more.

I am not a Wal-Mart hater. I even shop there once in a rare while. Wal-Mart is the master of "good enough." That is to say, at the price point, what they have is good enough to be serviceable. Do I purchase a set of breathable rain gear for $300 from REI, or $100 from Wal-Mart? It's not the same quality, and you don't have the same selection, but when presented with something that fit well and wasn't butt ugly, I chose the Wal-Mart set. For obvious reasons.

And for the poor it's even more blatant. A bottle of shampoo is the same thing whether bought at Wal-Mart for $1 or a corner market for $3. How do the poor benefit from paying more than necessary for daily staples?

So I'll agree with Will that the anti-Wal-Mart fervor is a bit excessive and overlooks the good the lower prices accomplish. But that doesn't tell the whole story. What's going on behind the scenes? What else is going on as part of the economic climate? That tells a less cheerful tale, one that people might pay some attention to in lieu of faking orgasms over Wal-Mart's growth and profitability.

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  • Behind the scenes, in the shadows and maybe under the rug.

    Is it true that the Walton Family with their billions contributes less to Charity than I do? I think so. Is it true that Wal-Mart has spent a fortune (even considering it's wealth) lobbying against the inspection of incoming freight containers because it will cut into their profits? I think so.

    Perhaps Wal-Mart makes it possible for people to make ends meet but so did the free bread Nero passed out to the Romans and I think Wal-Mart is part of the overall plan to reduce as many Americans to a subsistence level and dependency while the Cheneys and the Bush's go hunting on their estates like feudal lords.

    By Blogger Capt. Fogg, at 9:43 AM  

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