Creative Destruction

September 15, 2006

The liberals’ culture war

Filed under: Politics,Politics and Elections,Popular Culture — bazzer @ 6:54 pm

The woman who manned the register at the Blue Hill Food Co-op in Maine was a hugely pregnant hippie chick who did not shave under her arms. I knew this because she was wearing overalls… and nothing else. My wife, who is mildly allergic to bees, had just been stung, so we were asking her where we could find a nearby pharmacy.

She scowled for a moment, and then asked us (no kidding!) “Why do you need a pharmacy? You should just menstruate on a piece of tree bark, like I do.” Well okay, she didn’t really add that last sentence, but she might as well have. She mumbled some directions, we thanked her, and then drove for a few miles until we found a strip mall on the side of the highway, anchored by that pernicious blight of the suburban landscape — Wal-Mart.

First of all, let me say that I personally tend to avoid Wal-Mart as much as possible. I find shopping there to be a profoundly unpleasant experience (except for the ICEEs, which are getting harder and harder to find these days.) Still, I would never presume to judge those who do shop at Wal-Mart, as many liberals (including the Co-op girl) clearly do.

Secondly, there’s nothing wrong with the Food Co-op either. Sure, the staff and some of the clientele can be a bit nutty. It’s one of those places where you could probably expect a 10% discount if you say “STOP BUSH’S ILLEGAL WAR IN IRAQ!” at the checkout. But they have a wide variety of stuff you can’t find elsewhere. Much of it is good (fresh local produce, craft-brewed beer and exotic cheeses) and much of it awful (meatless meat, cage-free tofu and homeopathic snake oil) but all of the merchandise there has one thing in common — it was exorbitantly expensive.

See, the Co-op is committed to social justice, paying a “living wage” to its hippies, buying coffee only from the Zapatistas and other such b.s. Still, their curried chicken salad (real chicken — free range, of course) was quite good, and we shopped there often. With our New York salaries, we could afford to. Others, however, can’t.

The pregnant hippie chick and other liberals would, no doubt, prefer that everyone shop at the Co-op — or at the very least avoid shopping at Wal-Mart. Unfortunately, that’s simply not realistic, and the liberals’ animosity towards the nation’s largest retail chain is further evidence that the liberal movement in America has lost touch with working families. The GOP’s rise to power in America came about as the working class began to self-identify as Republicans. Liberals’ obsession with Wal-Mart won’t help them win the NASCAR set back, I’m afraid.

We’ve all heard the lefties’ anti-Wal-Mart shtick before. We also know that it seldom (if ever) stops at criticizing Wal-Mart’s labor practices. More often than not, it goes on to disparage the taste and class of Wal-Mart shoppers themselves. Remember the good old days, when Republicans were the party of the elite?

George Will has a great piece on the Democrats’ bizarre fixation on this American institution, and notes some very interesting facts.

The median household income of Wal-Mart shoppers is under $40,000. Wal-Mart, the most prodigious job-creator in the history of the private sector in this galaxy, has almost as many employees (1.3 million) as the U.S. military has uniformed personnel. A McKinsey company study concluded that Wal-Mart accounted for 13 percent of the nation’s productivity gains in the second half of the 1990s, which probably made Wal-Mart about as important as the Federal Reserve in holding down inflation.By lowering consumer prices, Wal-Mart costs about 50 retail jobs among competitors for every 100 jobs Wal-Mart creates . Wal-Mart and its effects save shoppers more than $200 billion a year, dwarfing such government programs as food stamps ($28.6 billion) and the earned-income tax credit ($34.6 billion).

People who buy their groceries from Wal-Mart — it has one-fifth of the nation’s grocery business — save at least 17 percent. But because unions are strong in many grocery stores trying to compete with Wal-Mart, unions are yanking on the Democratic Party’s leash, demanding laws to force Wal-Mart to pay wages and benefits higher than those that already are high enough to attract 77 times as many applicants than there were jobs at this store.

Whether you like Wal-Mart or not (and again, I don’t) it sure doesn’t sound like the unmitigated evil that John Kerry deemed it in 2004, when he called it “disgraceful” and symbolic of “what’s wrong with America.” So long, party of the working man. Hello, party of effete white liberals.You need look no further than this absurd war against Wal-Mart to understand why the Democrats have repeatedly failed to gain traction in heartland America. It’s another symptom of the same disease that Will summarizes brilliantly in the last paragraph of his column.

When liberals’ presidential nominees consistently fail to carry Kansas, liberals do not rush to read a book titled “What’s the Matter With Liberals’ Nominees?” No, the book they turned into a bestseller is titled “What’s the Matter With Kansas?” Notice a pattern here?

Yes. I do.

21 Comments »

  1. Well, you’re conflating liberals with Democrats. They really aren’t the same thing.

    That said, I basically agree with you about the Democratic disconnect from the concerns, values and interests of ordinary working people. There has always been a strain of elitism in Democratic politics, which is most evident whenever the members of the electorate are free to make real choices about something, and choose “wrong”. Wal-Mart didn’t spring into being with 10,000 stores; people chose to shop there instead of going to the Mom and Pop stores. Elitists (of any stripe) have a hard time when the benighted masses don’t listen to the elitist wisdom (“why don’t you just use zoning laws to keep the big stores out, like we do here in Madison?”) and instead make their own choices.

    Comment by Robert — September 15, 2006 @ 7:35 pm | Reply

  2. > Well, you’re conflating liberals with Democrats. They really aren’t the same thing.

    Fair point.

    Comment by bazzer — September 15, 2006 @ 9:55 pm | Reply

  3. I think Bazzer is conflating a lot of things with a lot of other things, or at the very least, reducing complex characterization of political parties and the Walmart issue to simple stereotypes. It then becomes a matter of deploying those reductions against each other to show how one side or another is stupid, wrong, irrantional, etc. Frankly, who cares? All sides (not both) share at times in being wrong, stupid, irrational, etc. The value of this website, I think, is at least partly to observe that there is a legitimate range of opinion about many things. Baiting the putative opposition with simple stereotypes is for fools. But go ahead, beat that drum if you wish.

    So to take Walmart as a case in point (rather than the tired red/blue dichotomy), it has been singled out as emblematic (another reduction) of particularly unfair and unjust labor and purchasing practices. There’s no argument that Walmart has lower prices or has positive effects on the U.S. economy (even at the expense of its employees). But to obtain those lower prices, Walmart indulges in actitivies that are exploitative, monopolistic, predatory, and in some cases illegal. Walmart has shown remarkable hostility to things that don’t jibe with its values and practices. Its union busting and coerced purchasing are legion. The end of the cash register line doesn’t magically wipe clean the slate.

    Now, some folks would rather shop elsewhere than do business with Walmart. It’s a matter of clear conscience, not unlike someone refusing the gift of money obtained illegally — blood money, for instance. It’s not that other big box and department stores don’t have their own unsavory practices. It’s that Walmart is worse in degree than the others and is therefore the primary target of objections.

    Comment by Brutus — September 16, 2006 @ 11:25 am | Reply

  4. So long, party of the working man. Hello, party of effete white liberals.

    Actually, Kerry beat Bush among voters who earn less than $50,000 a year. Among voters with incomes from $15000-$30000 a year, Kerry got 57% of the vote. Apparently earning $15,000 a year makes people “effete,” in your eyes.

    You also mention Kerry’s support among white liberals. Kerry actually lost among whites, while Bush lost among non-whites. (I think it’s safe to assume that Kerry won among all “liberals” regardless of their skin color).

    Whether you like Wal-Mart or not (and again, I don’t) it sure doesn’t sound like the unmitigated evil that John Kerry deemed it in 2004, when he called it “disgraceful” and symbolic of “what’s wrong with America.”

    I just tried a Lexis-Nexis search for “John Kerry” combined with “wal-mart” and “wrong with America” in daily papers or news transcripts in 2004. Then I tried it spelled “walmart.” Then I tried using “disgraceful” instead of “wrong with America”.

    The results were the same: I can’t find any record of Kerry actually saying what you claim he said. (Although I can find plenty of right-wingers claiming he said that without giving an attribution). My guess is that his (as opposed to Tereza’s) actual criticisms of Wal-mart were in fact more measured – more “mitigated,” in fact – than you’re claiming here.

    We’ve all heard the lefties’ anti-Wal-Mart shtick before. We also know that it seldom (if ever) stops at criticizing Wal-Mart’s labor practices. More often than not, it goes on to disparage the taste and class of Wal-Mart shoppers themselves. Remember the good old days, when Republicans were the party of the elite?

    Have you noticed that the more mean-spirited and broad-based (“seldom (if ever)”) the claim you make is, the less evidence you provide to back it up?

    Googling for “critique of wal-mart” turns up these lefty criticisms of Wal-Mart in the top 15 results: here, here and here. Since lefties seldom (if ever) critique Wal-Mart without going on to critique the taste and class of Wal-Mart customers, maybe you could show me where these three links do that.

    Ezra Klein seems to get a higher google ranking for his commentary about Wal-Mart than any other lefty (he has two posts among the top 15), which I assume means he’s someone lefties read about on this subject a lot. Where does Ezra Klein attack Wal-Mart’s customers in the manner you describe? Please show it to me, with a quote and a link to the original context of the quote.

    While you’re at it, maybe you could try reading what Ezra says and seriously engaging with his ideas, rather than just knocking down straw-men. I know that would require some actual work and thought on your part, which is a bummer; but it might actually be worth reading.

    Intelligent critiques of the other side’s views involve seeking out intelligent writers on the other side and engaging directly with what they actually write. Indirect criticism – in which your opponent’s views are filtered through what William Buckley or some other right-winger claims liberals think or say – is a bad habit, which encourages intellectual laziness and dishonesty.

    Comment by Ampersand — September 16, 2006 @ 11:55 am | Reply

  5. OK, now I feel intellectually lazy since I didn’t go to the trouble Ampersand did to support my comments. I’m humbled.

    Comment by Brutus — September 17, 2006 @ 12:20 am | Reply

  6. Bazzar, why don’t you like Walmart?

    Comment by SBW — September 17, 2006 @ 1:38 am | Reply

  7. Because he’s a stinking liberal communist, that’s why!

    Comment by Robert — September 17, 2006 @ 2:07 am | Reply

  8. OK, now I feel intellectually lazy since I didn’t go to the trouble Ampersand did to support my comments. I’m humbled.

    Actually, I didn’t see your comment until after I had posted mine, and when I did I felt bad because you made actual arguments whereas I just picked at details.

    So thanks for the compliment, but I think your post was better than mine.

    * * *

    Robert, I’ll have you know that liberal communists shower on a regular basis, and make good use of deodorants.

    Comment by Ampersand — September 17, 2006 @ 11:42 am | Reply

  9. I think both of your posts sucked. Liberal scum!

    And I didn’t say the liberal communists were DIRTY, Amp. I said they stink – of patchouli, pot smoke and appeasement!
    😛

    Comment by Robert — September 17, 2006 @ 1:51 pm | Reply

  10. First of all, I didn’t mean to imply that all Democrats (or even all liberals) disdain Wal-Mart. Indeed, among much of the Democrats’ core base, Wal-Mart is no doubt quite popular. (The woman in the second paragraph of Will’s column is a good example.)

    I was referring to a certain subset of liberals, whom I refer to as the Kos/MoveOn axis. They are primarily Northeastern liberals who are more highly educated and affluent than the average American. Their heroes are Howard Dean and Ned Lamont, and Wal-Mart is anathema to them. (John Kerry belongs partially, but not wholly, to this designation.) These folks may not comprise a majority in the modern Democratic Party, but they are certainly the driving force behind its recent resurgence.

    And I must say, I’ve had a lot of political debates in my time, but this is the first time I’ve ever encountered the “if you can’t prove Ezra Klein said it then it must not be true” fallacy. Points for originality on that one. 😉 I’m describing attitudes that I encounter frequently throughout the blogosphere and internet discussion boards, as well as in my personal life here in the Northeast. If you’ve truly never encountered such anti-Wal-Mart snobbery yourself, I’d be surprised, but you can glimpse a taste of the kind of thing I’m talking about here, here, here, here, here, here and here. Alternatively, you can just go to the forums of the Democratic Underground, search on “Wal-Mart,” and look at some of the vitriol that extends beyond Wal-Mart’s corporate masters to its shoppers as well.

    Comment by bazzer — September 17, 2006 @ 3:20 pm | Reply

  11. Bazzer, you can’t expect that anyone will know that you’re talking about “a certain subset of liberals” when your post contains many blanket references to “lefties” and “Democrats,” without ever mentioning the word “subset.”

    Regarding that interesting collection of “for example” links, one of them is to a Republican. Am I to understand that he’s a good example of the typical “Kos/MoveOn axis” member?

    The other blogs you linked to include a celebrity gossip blog (how anti-populist!) and a blog with a sidebar full of photos of electric toys. There’s one genuine lefty blogger of note on the list – but unlike the Republican you linked to, she never criticizes Wal-Mart customers, only management and commercials.

    You’ve failed to demonstrate an ability to connect your criticisms of liberals (sorry, “a subset” of liberals) with the real world.

    You didn’t understand my point in bringing up Ezra. I mentioned Ezra because he is one of the leading lefty writers on this subject, but there are certainly others. My point was that if you can’t show me that popular, smart lefty writers are saying this terrible stuff about Wal-Mart’s customers, then your point is empty. You’re the intellectual equivalent of lefty bloggers whose primary examples of right-wing thought are the comment-writers at Little Green Footballs.

    Let’s imagine a right-winger who is intellectually honest, interested in intellectual challenges, and wants to seriously engage with left-wing views to show that even at their best, the lefty analysis of Wal-mart is not credible. Who do you suppose this right-winger will choose to critique: some idiot at the Democratic Underground that no one in the world has heard of, or Ezra Klien?

    I’m describing attitudes that I encounter frequently throughout the blogosphere and internet discussion boards, as well as in my personal life here in the Northeast.

    Unless you think that you are an objective reporter, with no political opinions of your own, then you must admit you might be unintentionally mischaracterizing these encounters. This is a problem that all political writers, left or right or other, have to face.

    I think the best way to maintain intellectual honesty is to criticize smart, articulate opponents, and to include links (or citations, if what you’re writing is in print rather than on the web) so that other people can read and check for themselves. Do you think I’m mistaken abotu that, Bazzer? I’m really interested in your answer.

    If you’ve truly never encountered such anti-Wal-Mart snobbery yourself…

    Of course I’ve encountered it – most recently, in the Republican blog you linked to. However, I’ve encountered it among both political people and non-political people, and from many different political views.

    What you’re doing here is shifting your argument (my guess is because you know your original argument can’t be upheld). Here’s what you wrote before you began backpedaling furiously: “The lefties’ anti-Wal-Mart shtick …. more often than not… goes on to disparage the taste and class of Wal-Mart shoppers themselves.”

    Clearly, you didn’t just claim that anti-Wal-mart snobbery exists; you claimed that it was nearly universally present among lefties who criticize Wal-mart.

    * * *

    I’m bewildered that you didn’t comment on the revelation that your post used quotes from John Kerry which are probably fictional. Don’t you think that’s something that intellectual honesty requires some concern for?

    * * *

    At this point in time, American political dialog sucks raw monkey eggs. A lot of the problem is extreme partianship; people on both sides routinely speak of their opponents with contempt, and we talk and write as if the only people we’re talking to are the people who already agree with us.

    It’s called “insider speaking,” and there’s a place for it; I’m not saying that we have to eliminate insider speaking. But there’s also should be places where we learn to talk across party lines; where, even when we disagree with people, we speak of them and their position with respect, and we try to organize our arguments and statements in a way that maintains our credibility even among the people we disagree with.

    I think that Creative Destruction should be a place like that. And I think that your post is a step away from where Creative Destruction ought to be.

    I am eager to have a dialog with you. But I can’t have a dialog with made-up Kerry quotes and someone who thinks criticizing the Democratic Underground is a good way to engage with lefty views.

    In my opinion, of course.

    I’m curious – Does anyone here who isn’t a lefty see my point?

    Comment by Ampersand — September 17, 2006 @ 5:00 pm | Reply

  12. I think you’re right.

    Albeit, also a stinking communist liberal.

    Comment by Robert — September 17, 2006 @ 6:29 pm | Reply

  13. Still, I would never presume to judge those who do shop at Wal-Mart, as many liberals (including the Co-op girl) clearly do.

    Phew. For a moment I thought you were judgemental towards people you dislike. But thank God only liberals judge people for silly reasons, as opposed to real reasons like wearing overalls or living in the Northeast.😉

    I’m sorry, but I’m with Amp and Brutus on this one. This was a rather Coulteresque article, IMO.

    Comment by Tuomas — September 18, 2006 @ 1:22 am | Reply

  14. Good God, you nag worse than my wife.

    Still (as is usually the case with Mrs. Bazzer) you have a point. 😉

    At no point in my life has the Democratic Party been a monolithic body that one could sensibly speak of in blanket generalities. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always stop us from doing so anyway. I pled guilty very, very early in this thread to a lack of precision regarding the subject of my post. The Kos/MoveOn crowd may not represent a numerical majority in the Democratic Party, but I do believe they are the party’s animating and driving force at the current time.

    I disagree with many on the right who view this segment of the Dems as crazed, foam-at-the-mouth leftists, by the way. Both Howard Dean and Paul Hackett, for example, seem to me quite moderate in their actual viewpoints, contrary to their largely undeserved reputations. I think it’s all symptomatic of the way the war in Iraq has warped our entire political landscape. By allowing Iraq to define political categorization, we are left with absurdities like Sean Hannity campaigning for Joe Lieberman and Ralph Nader buddying around with Pat Buchanan.

    And while you are correct that snobbery and elitism are by no means confined to the left, I do think the current Wal-Mart debate is extremely interesting, and stems from the fact that the bases of our two political parties have shifted substantially. The Republican Party has become increasingly populist since at least the advent of Karl Rove, while the Democratic Party has increasingly WASPy.
    Regarding the Kerry quotes, I spent no more than a few minutes Googling, but I did find an AP story quoted here and a Boston Globe piece which may be the original sources for the quotes, but they were so fragmentary that it makes it hard to say so with any certainty.

    But I must say something else. Large parts of your post really struck home with me. You are right about many things, foremost among them the current state of American political discourse.

    I’m saddened by that, because I find genuine dialog with people of differing political viewpoints to be far more stimulating than the sterile echo chambers that characterize so much of the blogosphere these days, right and left.

    Consequently, I tend to spend more time hanging out on lefty blogs than righty blogs these days, even though I’m not always welcome. The intellectually honest give-and-take is growing harder and harder to find, which is unfortunate, because I desperately think we need more of it, not less.

    In short, I think you’re right. I think CD takes a very reasonable stab at being precisely the kind of bridge-building dialog that I claim to have been searching for. Your incredibly refreshing piece on the widely-reported “median income” map is a case in point.It’s ironic, therefore, that I would finally find what I’d been looking for in terms of honest political dialog, and then fail to live up to it. You are right; my piece did not belong here. Like lots of people, there are times when I get caught up in the mudslinging and cheerleading that pass for political discourse these days, and become defensive and snarky. Those are not my finer moments.

    The Wal-Mart piece was hardly my best work. It was, however, practically my only written piece of significant length for some time now, as I’m only beginning to emerge from under a pile of professional and personal obligations that have kept me away from blogging for far too long. I posted it here because I felt I had woefully neglected this fine site of late. It was too hasty. In the future, I will try to limit my postings to those times when I actually have something to say. 🙂

    You’ve (all) done very good work here. I look forward to reacquanting myself with this blog. And again, sorry for the standards slippage.

    Comment by bazzer — September 18, 2006 @ 10:41 am | Reply

  15. In short, I think you’re right. I think CD takes a very reasonable stab at being precisely the kind of bridge-building dialog that I claim to have been searching for. Your incredibly refreshing piece on the widely-reported “median income” map is a case in point.It’s ironic, therefore, that I would finally find what I’d been looking for in terms of honest political dialog, and then fail to live up to it. You are right; my piece did not belong here. Like lots of people, there are times when I get caught up in the mudslinging and cheerleading that pass for political discourse these days, and become defensive and snarky. Those are not my finer moments.

    The Wal-Mart piece was hardly my best work. It was, however, practically my only written piece of significant length for some time now, as I’m only beginning to emerge from under a pile of professional and personal obligations that have kept me away from blogging for far too long. I posted it here because I felt I had woefully neglected this fine site of late. It was too hasty. In the future, I will try to limit my postings to those times when I actually have something to say.🙂

    (emphasis added)
    Believe me, I know that feeling. Couldn’t have described it better. Good thing that none of us here is of the grudgebearing type (I presume…) and I suppose our, hmm, missteps are something we can learn from.

    This blog is too good, damn it, and the blogging threshold is hence quite high, I suppose.

    Comment by Tuomas — September 18, 2006 @ 1:27 pm | Reply

  16. I bear grudges. I shall hunt all of you down unmercifully and give you head noogies until you cry.

    Comment by Robert — September 18, 2006 @ 1:47 pm | Reply

  17. Robert, I have to admit a breathed a sigh of relief when I hit the word “noogies” in your comment. 😉

    Comment by bazzer — September 18, 2006 @ 2:07 pm | Reply

  18. As noted above, the war over Wal-Mart is fundamentally over how Wal-Mart achieves low prices.

    The most important gripe is that it (sometimes legally (e.g. not providing health insurance), and often illegally) treats is workers poorly, often to the point that workers there qualify for welfare, and are, in effect, subsidized by the welfare system.

    Another gripe is that Wal-Mart is using market power to forward conservative political agendas — like opposition to emergency contraception and certain media offerings. This is a good reason for liberals not to like Wal-Mart, although it is not a good reason for further regulation. Liberals boycott Wal-Mart here, for the same reason that they tend to avoid country music. It isn’t selling what they want — writ large.

    These certainly aren’t the only gripe, or even the most politically explosive ones. The other big gripe is that this big box retails takes out local merchants through competition. Here, Wal-Mart is hardly unique, and the claim of cultural elitism is more serious. Here, Wal-Mart is merely the symbolic poster-child for a larger concern about the homogenization of American retail culture, one which franchises have been perpetrating since the 1950s. (Hence, the global anti-McDonalds movement, and in Europe, the larger “slow food” movement).

    There may be a small place for government intervention to preserve “heritage” and “character”, but it is, at best, a small one, and I don’t encourage the U.S. to follow the heavy handed efforts of Europe and Japan in this regard.

    Comment by ohwilleke — September 18, 2006 @ 3:22 pm | Reply

  19. Bazzer, I’m really impressed – the ability to admit to a mistake is appallingly rare on the internet.

    Like lots of people, there are times when I get caught up in the mudslinging and cheerleading that pass for political discourse these days, and become defensive and snarky. Those are not my finer moments.

    All of us have moments like that (I’ve had more than I can possibly count) – I think it’s impossible for any politically engaged person to avoid it, given what political discourse in the US is like.

    Thank you very much for reaffirming my confidence in the worth of this groupblog.😀

    Comment by Ampersand — September 18, 2006 @ 3:35 pm | Reply

  20. “Wal-Mart has a choice to make,’’ Kerry said in an email distributed by his own political committee, johnkerry.com

    “Either denounce the unacceptable and offensive attacks made in their defense, or admit that they represent a proxy in Wal-Mart’s lavish public relations war against its workers,’’ Kerry wrote. “Make no mistake, those who push and prod Wal-Mart to be a decent corporate citizen are standing up for the American worker. Decent wages and affordable health care aren’t too much to ask for from the largest employer in the United States.’’

    (http://newsblogs.chicagotribune.com/news_theswamp/2006/08/kerry_walmart_s.html)

    “on February 17 Heinz Kerry remarked that Wal-Mart “destroy[s] communities,” and that she once owned Wal-Mart stock (though he notes that Heinz Kerry’s spokesperson stated that she no longer owned the stock when she made that remark).

    This tune sounded familiar to Campaign Desk. It turns out that the Los Angeles Times mentioned Heinz Kerry’s Wal-Mart criticism in a February 19 piece as one of several quotes that supposedly demonstrate how she “deliciously refuses to stay above the fray.”

    Digging further, we found that Heinz Kerry’s stock ownership was reported back on October 15, 2003 by the Boston Herald. The paper noted that Heinz Kerry “owns more than $1 million in Wal-Mart stock” though “Kerry aides said the stock [was] in a family trust managed by financial professionals.” More recently, the Republican National Committee mentioned Heinz Kerry’s stock ownership in a February 26 “Research Report” under the heading “Kerry’s Wal-Mart Hypocrisy,” quoting John Kerry’s criticism, spoken during a debate, of Wal-Mart’s hiring practices.”

    (http://www.cjrdaily.org/politics/hello_cleveland.php)

    If Wal-Mart unionizes, it will be worth a half-billion a year in union dues for democrats. Coincidence, I’m sure.

    Comment by Noel — September 18, 2006 @ 8:28 pm | Reply

  21. And if Wal-Mart fails to unionize, it will be worth a half-billion a year in avoided union dues for republicans. Coincidence that George Will is a republican, I’m sure.

    Shifting gears here – the cited George Will article says as follows:

    By lowering consumer prices, Wal-Mart costs about 50 retail jobs among competitors for every 100 jobs Wal-Mart creates….

    Does it seem remotely plausible that Wal-Mart creates more retail jobs than it destroys? Wouldn’t that pretty much nullify Wal-Mart’s putative efficiency advantages? And where are all these additional retail workers? I can never find any help whenever I go there.

    I understand that elasticities of demand mean that people will buy more when the price is lower, and that increased sales can generate additional employment. But we’re talking Herculean elasticities of demand, and really terrible economies of scale to employment, to justify Will’s claim.

    For example, Will asserts that Wal-Mart reduces grocery prices by 17%. So when the price of food goes down, people buy more; when people buy more food, more (retail?) people can be employed in the food sector. Great. But how much? Will suggests that every time Wal-Mart runs a 20-man grocery store out of business, Wal-Mart adds 40 people to its own grocery department. And this might make sense if, for example, 1) when grocery prices fall by 17% people’s consumption of groceries double and 2) Wal-Mart achieves no economies of scale in its own staff, so a doubling of purchases requires at least a doubling of staff. These look like pretty unlikely assumptions to me.

    Perhaps Will is saying that for every 100 jobs Wal-Mart creates (both retail and non-retail), Wal-Mart destroys 50 retail jobs among competitors plus an unspecified number of non-retail jobs. That seems plausible and would be consistent with Will’s literal words. But it would mean Will was being pretty deceptive when he made his remark.

    Comment by nobody.really — September 19, 2006 @ 2:21 am | Reply


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