Tuesday, December 06, 2005


Have you heard there are people arguing over Wal-Mart? A commentary at OpinionJournal.com puts the issues in perspective. Consider:
"But even if you buy into the myths, there's no getting around the fact that somewhere out there, millions of people are spending billions of dollars on what Wal-Mart puts on its shelves. No one is making them do it. To the extent that mom-and-pop stores are threatened by Wal-Mart, it's because the same people who supposedly so value their Main Street hardware store find that Wal-Mart's selection, or prices, or parking lot--something about it--is preferable. Wal-Mart can't make mom and pop shut down the shop any more than it can make customers walk through the doors or pull out their wallets. You don't sell $300 billion a year worth of anything without doing something right.

What about the workers? In response to long-running criticisms about its pay and benefits, Wal-Mart's CEO, Lee Scott, recently called on the government to raise the minimum wage. But as this page noted at the time, Wal-Mart's average starting wage is already nearly double the national minimum of $5.15 an hour.

So raising it would have little effect on Wal-Mart, but calling for it to be raised anyway must have struck someone in the company as a good way to appease its political critics. (Bad call: Senator Ted Kennedy quickly pocketed the concession and kept denouncing the company.) The fact is that the company's starting hourly wages not only aren't as bad as portrayed, but for many workers those wages are only a start. Some 70% of Wal-Mart's executives have worked their way up from the company's front lines."
Note first, the attention to Wal-Mart isn't forcing anybody to buy its products. Nor is it forcing people to stop buying at the "Mom-and-Pop" stores. Nor is it forcing people to become employees.

Second, note Wal-Mart's average starting wage, and the observation that 70% of Wal-Mart's executives worked their way up in the organization.

Third, consider the following:
". . . 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 in 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)."
So, the criticism of Wal-Mart is in support of the interests of unions, and unions, by their nature are, coercive. Further, note that government has historically, with legislation, thrown it's coercive power behind the unions. Thus the arguments over Wal-Mart seem to involve those on one side who point to the voluntary actions of buyers, employees, and Wal-Mart, versus those on the other side who want to use force and coercion to interrupt those voluntary actions.

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