A lot of my favorite libertarian writers spend a lot of time defending Wal-Mart, and rightfully so for the grounds they have chosen. Here are a few examples. From Radley Balko:
Yet more states are passing bills aimed specifically at requiring Wal-Mart to pay for its workers’ health care. Unbelievable. I don’t see how such Wal-Mart-specific legislation can pass constitutional muster. But then, I find it appalling that lawmakers in an allegedly quasi-free market society would tell a private company that it is required by law to give its employees free stuff.
Wal-Mart’s losing on another front, too. More states are requiring the store to cary the morning-after pill on its shelves.
Let me repeat.
State governments are requiring a private business to put a certain product on its shelves.
What next? Why not force Wal-Mart to sell certain books? Why not ban it from selling others? In fact, why don’t these states just set up a regulatory agency to take over the day-to-day operations of Wal-Mart stores inside their borders?
Balko is certainly correct in this case, as he is here, too:
It sure is thoughtful of lefty activists to work so hard to keep Wal-Mart out of urban areas. We can’t have this corporate behemoth exploiting low-income folks with jobs that wouldn’t otherwise exist, and by selling them good stuff at low prices.
Better people who are well-employed decide for the urban poor that they don’t need those jobs. And that they should be shopping at more tasteful stores, anyway.
I think that maybe — just maybe — anti-Wal Mart sentiment has more to do with an aversion to the white, rural ethnology the store sometimes represents than its labor practices. We can’t have our Ethiopian restuarants and esoteric bookstores blighted by NASCAR culture.
Sabine Barnhart correctly wrote:
The hate campaign against Wal-Mart reflects the late Weimar Republic Nazi oratory when Hitler’s election slogans were directed against free economy in general and certain prosperous businesses — many of them Jewish owned — in particular. They were deemed “Non-German in their zeal for profit.” Never mind that their reason for being profitable was in their success in catering to the German citizens themselves. Hitler’s dubious grasp, his promises of greater Germany despite the NSDAP’s destructive economic planning do seem to resonate once again.
Laurence Vance provided some good arguments to hate Wal-Mart today:
Good reason #1: Crowds
Good reason #2: Parking
Good reason #3: Carts
Good reason #4: Lines
Good reason #5: Cashiers
Good reason #6: Inventory
Good reason #7: Selection
Good reason #8: Self-checkout registers
Good reason #9: Prices
Good reason #10: Getting Help
If you still prefer the “bad” reasons for not shopping at Wal-Mart then by all means don’t shop at Wal-Mart. Just quit citing your bogus reasons as if they were facts.
He’s correct, up to this point. Then he blows it.
Wal-Mart has never caused any firm to go out of business. Wal-Mart can’t close down any store but one of its own. It is the customers who no longer do business with a company or shop at a particular store who put that company out of business or closed that store.
Despite all of these valid arguments in favor of Wal-Mart’s right to compete in a free market system, the arguments provided start to lose their validity when statements like this are made:
Contrary to popular thinking, Wal-Mart does not drive other retailers out of business: customers do by choosing to patronize a store that does a better job of supplying their wants than do their established competitors.
I can’t speak for the entire country (although I hear of similar cases in other states), but in my state of Alabama, Wal-Mart is the beneficiary of eminent domain and political pay-offs — and they use these tools to gain an edge in the marketplace.
I’d like to quickly describe three Wal-Marts in my community. The first one was in Alabaster. They used eminent domain (and the coercive threat thereof) to kick dozens of people from their homes. From Neal Boortz:
Alabaster City Councilman Tommy Ryals thinks that these property owners are just being greedy. “Sometimes,” he says, ” the good of the many has to outweigh the greed of the few.” Indeed, Councilman Ryals, how dare these private-property owners refuse to sell their private property when the new owner could generate so many tax dollars for the good of the many! Don’t these people realize that the rights of one individual to his property are nothing when the need of the collective is considered?
Vance and Shaffer insist that Wal-Mart does not drive other retailers out of business. However, the planned Wal-Mart in Birmingham’s Crestwood area will be sharing parking lot space with the last remaining K-Mart in town. Here is the kicker. The city plans to give Wal-Mart $11 million taxpayer funded cash dollars to compete with the K-Mart. What sort of principled libertarian could support this sort of deal or not see how it may well drive the K-Mart of out business?
If eminent domain and pay-offs aren’t enough, what happens when the two are combined in the same deal? Just ask the 30 or so business owners who were shut down after Wal-Mart set its eyes on a new location in the Roebuck section of Birmingham. Only one of them actually fought the deal, but he had the cajones to explain why the others didn’t:
Chris Curran, owner of Spuds Pub, told the newspaper that the city has put a gun to owners’ heads. “Anybody who has been signing contracts with Wal-Mart is signing under duress,” Curran said. “That means: Here’s our contract, sign it and if you don’t sign it, we’ll take it. … They (city officials) just want a trophy, and they don’t mind pushing us out of the way to have that trophy.”
Additionally, Wal-Mart got a $10 million dollar tax abatement in that deal. I’m all for tax abatements, but only if all businesses get their fair share. In this case, like many others, Wal-Mart was the only beneficiary.
Libertarians are opposed to the abuse of government force and the threat thereof. The consistent misuse of eminent domain and tax dollars to give one business an advantage over others clearly qualifies as such force.
Since the Iraq War started, it is rare that one would find me disagreeing with Radley Balko and writers at the von Mises Institute and LewRockwell.com while agreeing with Neal Boortz. I’d suggest that libertarian writers check their facts a bit more before making such knee-jerk defenses of Wal-Mart.
UPDATE: The debate is hot and heavy here and here, too.
UPDATE 2: I just spoke with my assistant, and she reports that by a vote of 8-0 (of nine members), the Birmingham City Council just passed the latest $11 million dollar deal for Wal-Mart. The only member who was opposed was sick today. He was given three minutes by speaker phone to address the council, but was not allowed to vote against awarding the contract. This should be a very proud day for all of the Wal-Mart supporting libertarians out there.