May 17, 2004

Columbia Political Review

The editor of the Columbia Political Review sends notice that the latest issue has an intruiging article on the politics of WM--Fearing Walmart--by Telis Demos:

So like most things that divide Americans geographically, shopping at Wal-Mart is an increasingly political matter. During the primaries, Democrats targeted the store in their critique of Republican economic policies, claiming that in the �Wal-Martizing� economy of the Bush years the only jobs that are surviving are low-wage, no-benefits, non-unionized service jobs. Taking the Democrats� lead, newspapers and magazines have turned their attention to chronicling the destructive economics of the super-retailer. By collecting tales of woe from store employees who are paid little and treated poorly, or from product suppliers who are squeezed out of business by Wal-Mart�s extreme demands, they have built the case that Wal-Mart stores are, as Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry put it, a symbol of �what�s wrong with America��outsourcing jobs to foreign sweatshops, paying minimum wage salaries without health care, refusing unionization, closing mom-and-pops in small towns, and subcontracting to affiliates that hire illegal immigrant workers.
I think the whole thing is worth reading--for the politics, not the economics.

In fact, I'm troubled by the economics of the article, not because it presents both sides of the debate, but that it judges the quality and truth of the arguments on the basis of political potency. Even though it rightfully declares, "most people don�t really consider the economics of Wal-Mart when forming an opinion of it," two sentences later it declares, "It could make for a potent political critique of our modern low-road, race-to-the-bottom economic culture." My problem is that no such culture exists--real wages keep rising.

It asks, "Which picture is true? Is Wal-Mart an employer of the otherwise unemployable and a provider of cheap goods to everyone else? Or is it an economic steamroller that�s bringing down the standard of living by putting every other option out of business?" But then cites the incendiary and shamefully venemous report put out by George Miller's staff and various other sources all with their own agendas. (Dispassionate social science they ain't).

The economic issue behind WM is fundamental. The US has consistently benefited from letting industries fail, move, and improve themselves out of existence. WM is just another data point in the pattern.

But don't let my carping stop you from this excellent summary of the issues.

Also, astonishingly, ALP is noted...

Disclosure: I'm CC '99

Posted by Kevin on May, 17 2004 at 09:11 PM