12.03.2005

OpinionJournal: Wal-Mart is good for America

OpinionJournal repeats the argument that Wal-Mart is good for America, and attacks the Wal-Mart bashers.

...the vanguard of the Wal-Mart haters is composed of unions that have for decades kept retail wages and prices artificially high, especially in the supermarket business. Those unions have had next to no success organizing Wal-Mart employees and see Wal-Mart's push into groceries as a direct threat to their market position. And on that one score, they may be right.

But seen it that light, it becomes clear that much of the criticism is simply a form of special-interest lobbying in socially conscious drag. And why an outside observer should favor the interests of unionized supermarket employees over those of Wal-Mart shoppers and employees is far from clear (unless you're a politician who gets union contributions).

I'm ambivalent about Wal-Mart. It has certainly raised the standard of living for the working class, as it as reduced prices dramatically. Even those who don't shop at Wal-Mart benefit from its presence, as other stores must reduce their prices to remain competitive.

But I do regret the demise of Main Street America and mom-and-pop shops. Wal-Mart has certainly played a role in this, but it would happen without Wal-Mart. Economies of scale dictate that the dominance of large chain stores is inevitable. The Internet, too, is transforming business and wrecking a lot of bricks-and-mortar stores along the way, but we don't hear calls to ban Internet commerce.

OpinionJournal sees Wal-Mart's recent call for a higher minimum wage as a poorly executed PR stunt. I think it was sincere. After all, as OpinionJournal notes, Wal-Mart already pays the vast majority of its workers far more than minimum wage, so a hike in the minimum wage wouldn't cost Wal-Mart much at all. It would, however, put more spending money in the pockets of Wal-Mart's minimum-wage customers. And it would hurt any of Wal-Mart's competitors that still pay minimum wage.

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