May 24, 2004

Defending the Activists

In "WM Endangers Vermont", Kevin talks about the attitudes and arguments of anti-WM activists, and that it comes down to either "people are powerless" and "people are dumb". Furthermore, Kevin suggests that the "people are powerless" argument isn't a real argument anyway, and that it boils down to "people are dumb, and we must save them from their dumbness".

Now, I am far more in agreement with Kevin than with these anti-WM activists, but I think that Kevin is not giving the "people are powerless" argument a fair hearing. He argues that even if people were powerless to prevent the entry of Wal-Mart into a locality, they could nonetheless choose not to shop there, and the WM would have to close down, and that they therefore do have power.

But in fact, this could be presented as a case of the Tragedy of the Commons and the inability to co-ordinate actions. It could be asserted that every single person in the community prefers to have the prettier shops, "unique sense of place" and all that Vermontiness, even if it means they pay higher prices and have lower-paying jobs. Once the Wal-Mart was there though, it would to each individual's rational advantage to shop there---after all, the prices are lower, and a single person withholding his or her purchases won't drive out the Wal-Mart and bring back the Vermontiness. The activists see themselves as providing co-ordination for the individuals so that they can co-operate in a positive-sum game and get rid of the Wal-Mart (or prevent it from showing up) and bring back the Vermontiness that everyone (every single individual!) likes better than the greater purchasing power.

So I don't think that the argument that the "people are powerless" is completely bogus, although it might be more accurately phrased as "people are disorganized".

I think it would be better to argue against anti-WM activists on other grounds: whether every single individual does prefer more Vermontiness to greater purchasing power; what to do when only some people benefit from Vermontiness, while others would benefit from lower prices and more jobs; whether people, even in the aggregate, actually do prefer Vermontiness to more purchasing power; whether Wal-Mart actually, and necessarily, destroys Vermontiness; whether a relatively small group of activists accurately represents the interests of the community.

Posted by gkanapathy on May, 24 2004 at 01:43 PM