Saturday, November 19, 2005

Why Liberals Hate Wal-Mart

Jim Stingl in a column in the Journal-Sentinel, deconstructs a currently circulating film titled “Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price.”

Doing a little fact checking, he discovers that one central claim of the movie, that a small hardware store in Ohio was driven out of business by Wal-Mart, is simply false.
No company gets to be as big as Wal-Mart without being part evil. The movie would argue all evil.

But [movie maker] Greenwald overplays his hand when he features a family hardware store supposedly crushed by Wal-Mart in Middlefield, Ohio. “The Wal-Mart had nothing to do with that store closing,” Dan Weir, the village administrator, told me. The store struggled after being passed from father to son, and died before Wal-Mart opened.

You also don’t learn from the movie that the store was taken over and renamed Middlefield Hardware by Jay Negin, who told me business is going great. For the record, though, Negin said he doesn’t like Wal-Mart’s employment practices and won’t shop there.

Negin and Weir could not think of any businesses in the village of 2,233 that closed after Wal-Mart opened in May.

Stuff like this makes me wonder what else in the 98-minute movie isn’t quite true. If you trust what’s on the screen, you won’t even want to drive past a Wal-Mart, let alone shop or work there.
A lot of other stuff in the movie is untrue. For example, there is the claim that a large number of people are attacked on Wal-Mart parking lots. It’s true that in absolute numbers, there are a lot of attacks. But Wal-Mart is huge, and is necessarily going to have more muggings in its parking lots, heart attacks in its stores, and employees having sex in the stock room than any other retailer. Just as it has more shoppers and employees than any other retailer.

Similarly misleading is the claim that many Wal-Mart employees are on Medicaid and Food Stamps because they aren’t paid “enough” by the huge retailer. This is true, but it’s equally true of adults working for McDonald’s or Burger King. Indeed, Wal-Mart pays well above the minimum wage.

People who make this argument tend to assume that the choice is between having low-paid jobs and having well-paid union jobs with ample benefits. In reality, especially for workers who are somewhat marginal (been on welfare, spotty work history, dropped out of high school) the choice is between a low paid job and no job at all. And public policies like Medicaid, Food Stamps and the Earned Income Tax Credit are based on the idea that we want everyone who can to work. Thus we recognize that not everybody can earn a middle-class income, and the taxpayer should chip in to provide a decent living for people with modest earning power.

This is public policy. It’s very good public policy, and Wal-Mart fits in very well. The liberals would apparently prefer that people be on welfare.

Blogger Lance Burri discusses the effect Wal-Mart has had in his home town of Baraboo.
We’ve got a Wal-Mart in my home town. And not just a Wal-Mart, but a Wal-Mart Superstore. It’s a miracle we’ve survived this long.

Oh, we’ve also got a K-Mart, a Menard’s, a Slumberland, a Gander Mountain, and, not too far away, a Home Depot.

Not only that, we’ve got a thriving downtown, full of small, independently owned shops and cafés. Empty storefronts don’t stay empty for long.

Wal-Mart was blamed for a couple of closings here in Baraboo, back when they moved in. A small hardware store closed. It had already been competing with two larger hardware stores at the time. Then a grocery store on the east side of town (Wal-Mart, Pick and Save, and Aldi’s are all on the west side). It’s reopened, now, under new management.


We’ve got a Book World chain store downtown. Hasn’t stopped the Village Booksmith, a used-book store, from thriving. Or so it seems.
Burri goes on:
Others before me have pointed out: we decry oil companies for charging too much, but Wal-Mart for charging too little. We don’t seem to understand: if Wal-Mart’s prices are lower, it means more disposable income for us. If one store offers a variety of products normally available only at multiple stores, it means less time spent shopping.
Finally, a plaintive query:
And Wal-Mart might work hard to keep overhead – thus prices – low, and profits high. But that only makes them…ordinary. Every business, no matter the size, tries to do the same thing.

Which begs the question: why has Wal-Mart been singled out?
We know the answer to that.

Wal-Mart is on the “wrong” side of the culture wars. The Volvo-driving, latte sipping crowd doesn’t like the cultural “vibes” the retailer sends out. Wal-Mart is very “red state.” It’s headquartered in Arkansas. It’s mentioned in all those country songs. It’s not stylish nor boutiquey. It’s about very ordinary Americans — the kind of people the elite leftists resent because they don’t properly defer to their “betters” (the elite leftists).

If these folks really cared for poor and people with modest incomes, they would like a place whose prices make a modest paycheck go a long way. But they prefer to fight the Culture Wars, and Wal-Mart is their bugaboo.


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