And Microsoft isn’t always the great satan

And Microsoft isn’t always the great satan: A regular feature in James Taranto’s Best of the Web, is a running “What would we do without experts?” gag that links to headlines that include an obvious statement along with the clarifying, “experts say,” as in this one he points to today, “Wal-mart isn’t all bad, experts say.” I love to hate Wal-mart, but I shop there and at Sam’s and believe one needs to visit a Super Wal-mart at least once a quarter to understand an aspect of the American experience that few (including me) fail to understand related to affluence and poverty.


Moreover, some economists note, lower prices for the kinds of basic goods on sale at Wal-Mart superstores, such as food and clothes, are of the greatest benefit to the less affluent. Grocery prices, for example, drop an average of 10 percent to 15 percent in markets Wal-Mart has entered, analysts say.

“Wal-Mart is the greatest thing that ever happened to low-income Americans,” said Michael Cox, chief economist of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. “They can stretch their dollars and afford things they otherwise couldn’t.”

  • Hudge

    >”Wal-Mart is the greatest thing that ever happened to low-income Americans,” said Michael Cox, chief economist of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. “They can stretch their dollars and afford things they otherwise couldn’t.”

    It’s also a tremendous source of jobs for a community, including its senior citizens. And, there are more than a few folks in my town, which has a Super Wal-Mart, who use its vast interior space as a walking track during inclement weather (the fact that they end up at the McDonald’s in the rear kinda offsets the virtue they claim, though).

  • Rex Hammock

    Perhaps, Bill. But I know a regular commentor on the rexblog who knows the personal pain a Wal-mart can leave in its wake on the way to goodness.

  • lcreekmo

    OK really, I am not sure I have the energy to be fighting this battle on two fronts. Can I see your page views so I can compare it to the number of subscribers on my neighborhood listserv so I can fight where I’ll have maximum impact?
    We in East Nashville will soon have a Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market, the grocery-store version of Wal-Mart. Some misguided souls (I am tempted to call them idiots, but I suspect it is just that they have never a. lived in a market where Wal-Mart has wreaked its havoc on small business and b. shopped there regularly and c. worked there) seem to think that this is a blessing. What they do not understand is that with an already significant number of grocery stores in our area (though only one or two are of high quality), they are likely to be soon looking at an empty storefront, probably closer to home than the W-M Neighborhood Market. And NO OTHER grocery store will take over the space — they aren’t stupid. Grocery stores don’t move into markets where Wal-Mart is.
    Yes, Wal-Mart employs lots of senior citizens. Seniors have Medicare. Wal-Mart doesn’t have to pay them benefits. I’m glad they employ senior citizens. If they ONLY employed seniors, I’d have a lot fewer beefs with them. But they employ a lot of people who have no other benefit options and keep them part-time so they don’t have to offer them benefits either. They finally move you to full time…do you think those benefits are free? All those employment discrimination lawsuits, do you think those are ALL just sour grapes? No way. Wal-Mart systematically looks for any way it can to keep its prices low.
    The grocery business is one of the lowest margin businesses you can be in. Why is Wal-Mart expanding into it so rapidly? What have they figured out that no one else did? They pay less than everyone else — and make no mistake, grocery jobs aren’t high-paying jobs to start with; they send their suppliers through the wringer and end up with products that may or may not make sense for consumers — witness the $3 gallon jar of pickles mentioned in the recent NYT profile; and they are very predatory in their “competitiveness.” They figure out who their biggest competition is in a market and figure out what they have to do to literally drive them out of business. And they will throw all their resources into that. They’ve done it in other divisions as well. I’d be curious to see how many independent tire stores, optometrists, office supply stores, etc., etc., etc. there are in markets with Wal-Marts and Super Wal-Marts.
    The effect on the economy? * Low-paying service jobs pay less than ever and offer fewer benefits than ever. Other stores don’t have to offer nearly as much in order to compete, widening the gap between rich and poor.* Retailing is more and more consolidated, in every sector. Wal-Mart defines how things are bought and sold in America today.* Small business doesn’t have the capital to compete against a single Wal-Mart, never mind against the entire corporate system. Don’t give me the song-and-dance about “better customer service.” Where do you shop?

  • Hudge

    Rex – i will let you deal with the notion that benefits are free.

  • lcreekmo

    Bill you are twisting what I’m saying and you know it. 🙂 I know they are not ‘free’ to the employer. They are quite expensive…thus they are not something Wal-Mart is fond of. Also, the Christian Science Monitor characterizes Wal-Mart’s insurance as “catastrophic plans to cover primarily life-threatening situations.”
    It also quotes fr a union survey:

    It found that in 2001, “Wal-Mart workers paid between 41 percent and 47 percent of the total cost of the company health plan, while similar employees at large companies pay 16 percent of the total premium for single coverage and 25 percent for family coverage.” That, despite earning an “average of $7.50 to 8.50 an hour.”

    OK I’m done w/ the topic. You guys have fun.

  • Rex Hammock

    I’m glad I’ve been on vacation. I agree with Laura 100%. Except when she quotes statistics, and we all know what I think about those (especially when they are from union surveys). Besides being the largest, Wal-mart is perhaps the most signficant for-profit institution in the United States. To study and debate it is critical to understanding our economy, our culture and our future. I am sure Laura may be through with this thread (as am I), but she’s not through with this topic, as much as she wishes she were.