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The Wal-Mart conundrum

Something that's nagged at me for a while has been the hostility of a lot of folks to Wal-Mart and the other "category killer" stores like Best Buy, Barnes & Noble and so on...even people who are otherwise pretty libertarian get their shorts in a knot when one of their favorite shops goes under, ostensibly because one of the category killers sucked all the money out of the local economy. I've already commented on 433's complaint about Bound to be Read's demise, so I won't repeat that argument here, but I want to noodle out loud about this a bit.

Seems to me that while people are okay with the abstract notion of libertarianism, they also have these notions about how people should be able to earn a living wage doing what thy want to do, and that small Mom and Pop stores should be able to continue doing business even if it means that extraordinary legal measures have to be taken to keep Wal-Mart out of the neighborhood. This reminds me of the comment Garrison Keillor makes in Lake Wobegon Days about how his neighbors talked a lot about free enterprise but in practice expected people to support each other by buying local, even if it was less expensive to buy things a few miles down the road in St. Cloud. You see this on a bigger scale as subtext in Neil Stephenson's Snow Crash, where laissez-faire capitalism run amok has broken up the United States into "franchulates" and "Burbclaves" and some random scattered pieces of "Fedland" where the old Federal government still exercises what little power it still has. (Economically illiterate, imao, but that's an argument for another day.)

Now, I'm not going to repeat the normal arguments in support of Wal-Mart; you can find some here and here. These also apply to the other category killers, though WM tends to attract most of the flak on account of their high visibility and conscious Low Rent approach. There are conservative arguments against WM, too. What I want to know is, what's the libertarian argument against the big box stores? Is there one? Or is this just a case of people (as usual) being people and having different political stances on different issues?

Comments

( 14 comments — Leave a comment )
qob
Apr. 28th, 2005 04:36 pm (UTC)
My feeling is basically laissez-faire on Wal-Mart. Also I am always gratified when I go in there and see people working there that lost jobs when the K-Mart that inhabited the shell taht Wal-Mart took over. The thing that bothers me though, is not WalMart as such, but the fact that so many of our goods come from China nowadays. Normally that's not a big deal, Japan, Korea, China, what's the diff? Except that China has a long term goal of supplanting us in the global economy and has international help.
wombat_socho
Apr. 28th, 2005 07:44 pm (UTC)
That's right, you live over by the Midway, don't you? Yeah, China's going to be a problem sooner than later, but I think the PRC bosses may have unleashed something they can't control that may topple them before they become a serious threat.
433
Apr. 28th, 2005 07:55 pm (UTC)
My problem with Wal-Mart is pretty simple.

They pride themselves on the fact that they pay less for goods than other retailers "...and pass the savings on to you!" at the same time both wrapping themselves in the flag and talking about how great Wal-Mart jobs are.

However, if you continue to pay American manufacturers less and less, they won't be able to continue providing the product forever, and then the manufacturing goes overseas. The American worker loses their good manufacturing job. I think that, by supporting Wal-Mart, American workers are kicking their own asses.

I also fully support communities being able to say, "no, we like our small town and we don't want you here."
stuckintraffik
Apr. 28th, 2005 08:38 pm (UTC)
So... if a community doesn't like someone they can tell them to bugger off? Boy, if only they had thoughts like that in regards to race and creed...

Seriously though, and believe me I have no love of Wal-Mart, the country was founded on the idea of freedoms. If the small town doesn't want them, don't shop there. People vote with their dollars and if Wal-Mart comes in and succeeds, is that the fault of Wal-Mart, or is the community accepting them in with their cash?

433
Apr. 28th, 2005 08:50 pm (UTC)
A community has the right to decide what it considers a blight - adult bookshops, bars, Wal-Mart - and not allow them in.

Sure, protected classes sould be...well...protected, but I have no problem letting communities decide what they don't want to allow in their communities.
stuckintraffik
Apr. 28th, 2005 09:13 pm (UTC)
But where does that stop? What should constitute 'protected'? And what should constitute a 'blight'? Who determines this? How often does this come up? If a community in 2005 says Wal-Mart is a blight, when does the community get to vote on this? And do they get to vote again in 2006? 2007? For exaggerated numbers, if a community of 500 says that Wal-Mart is a blight, then in two years triples in size, that original 500 is now a minority. Do we vote again? Or rather do we allow Wal-Mart to build in this community of 500 and let the community shun it and wait it out until they give up and go.

Let's make it more abstract. You agree that races, creeds, sexual orientations should be protected, yes? (Feel free to say no if I'm wrong.) So... what about the Disney commune? The exact name escapes me, but they are to the point where if I want to change the flowers in my flowerbed I have to go to the community leaders and petition them to change it. I hope we can both agree that that is the far side of insane.

So where do we draw the line? Does every time a new person/business/seedling come into the community we go and hold a referendum? Do we schedule a time each year when business can come and beg to be let into the hamlet, and have everybody vote then? And when they do, can they vote people off the island despite the money they spent establishing a presence after being voted in last year?

What if a community decided that the mom and pop bookstore down the street, the kind that the big ones kill, is a blight? Even though Ma & Pa Kettle spent their lives and life savings making that bookstore what it is, what happens when the community says go?
433
Apr. 28th, 2005 09:33 pm (UTC)
Oh, hell if I know. I'm not a politician or a talk-show host, I'm just talking about my perfect world.

As for Celebration (the Disney community), you sign an agreement to follow the rules of the homeowner's association when you live in one of those horrible, horrible places.
stuckintraffik
Apr. 28th, 2005 09:40 pm (UTC)
I know you have to sign the agreement for Celebration (thanks for finding the name), but that's the extreme end of what you're asking. To enter the community you have to abide by the community, not the law. It's like the Loyalty Oath sequence in Catch-22.

BTW - a while back Something Positive had a great run on a local bookstore going out of business due to big market competition - I'll post the link if I can find it. While I don't think this applies to all (or even most) small bookstores, I've been in a few of the little ones where I thought some B&N takedown was right up their alley.
wombat_socho
Apr. 28th, 2005 09:49 pm (UTC)
This all reminds me...When I was y'all's age I used to think it would be cool if we could get all the SF fans to move into one small town and run it the way we wanted to. Now that I'm much older I realize what a horrible, horrible idea this was. I think we're doing well to put together a few weekend conventions for a couple thousand people without coming to blows. ~_^
edminster
Apr. 28th, 2005 09:00 pm (UTC)
Excellent point.
I definitely have to agree with stuckintraffic on this point. I also would like to say that I patronise small businesses whenever I can, mainly because I enjoy the atmosphere. But something people must remember, Wal*Mart started out as one store, as does every retail chain. So if Wal*Mart completely stops existing, another chain will soon takie it's place.
433
Apr. 28th, 2005 09:34 pm (UTC)
Re: Excellent point.
I son't just blindly hate chains, I have no problem with a lot of them. I'm specifically targetting Wal-Mart.
wombat_socho
Apr. 28th, 2005 08:53 pm (UTC)
And in fact WM drove Vlasic into Chapter 11 not too long ago by insisting on buying pickles for less than it cost Vlasic to make them. *nods*

The question that nobody's been able to answer to my satisfaction is wheher on balance WM and chains like it (Best Buy, BN) do more harm than good by making more and better stuff available for less to more people while destroying "mom & pop" stores that can't adapt and specialize fast enough? I'm not convinced that's the case.
433
Apr. 28th, 2005 08:56 pm (UTC)
I'm not convinced that Best Buy is as bad as WM or B&N, although I have different problems with them, not relating to their size.

wombat_socho
Apr. 28th, 2005 09:52 pm (UTC)
The same principle applies, though. Between Best Buy and amazon.com, it's a wonder there are any independent music stores left. BB has also pretty much eliminated all the boutique stereo stores and driven Gateway out of the storefronts besides.
( 14 comments — Leave a comment )

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