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August 25, 2010

We’re pretty sure that when some Chinese grad student writes about the decline and fall of the West in his doctoral thesis at Beijing University in the year 2110, he won’t be citing Wal-Mart as a factor. 

But to hear certain New York union officials, Wal-Mart is the most pernicious force in society today. It destroys communities, exploits workers and undermines social values. 

Curious, we took a field trip to Wal-Mart to investigate. 

There was a girls’ softball team fund raising at the door. There was regional corn and berries in the produce section. There were a hundred or so local people, from all ethnic backgrounds, working as cashiers and clerks. 

The clothing line for men, women and children was Carhart/NASCAR chic. The discount books included an abundance of Christian motivational tomes. 

Yes, the toys and electronics were all made overseas – but that is an unfortunate fact wherever you go. 

The only thing we saw that tickled the insidious meter was the marketing of beer and milk, in close proximity, one almost equated to the other.  (But then we asked ourselves: What percentage of the population is going to say: “And what could possibly be wrong with that!?”) 

Alas, if Wal-Mart is truly evil and destructive it is not immediately apparent to the naked eye. 

But because the same thing can be said of nuclear radiation, we decided to look for academic research on the topic. And the most recent study we found was from the University of North Carolina in 2009. Researchers confirmed that Wal-Mart can indeed undercut smaller local merchants on pricing. But negative social effects were harder to quantify. In fact, depending on the community where the store was placed, the negative effects could be limited and/or offset by factors such as the new availability of goods and the jobs created.  In this regard, a new store of any kind in a (minority) neighborhood that lacks groceries and other retail shops would certainly seem to be an affirmative thing.  The report concluded that the negative effects of Wal-Mart are considerably overstated. 

This kind of research is not likely to quell the NIMBY furor that will erupt in New York City when and if Wal-Mart tries to build a new store. (See Motivated Cognition) 

Nor is any kind of historical perspective. In this regard, Wal-Mart-like controversies have been associated with many of the super-marketing trends of the last 50 years or so. Think McDonalds and Home Depot, or the current controversy in Albany regarding wine in grocery stores. 

No, we’re not embracing Wal-Mart as the best of Americanism, any more than we’d say the advent of the shopping mall was a seminal event in our culture. (George Romero was right.) 

It’s just that we continually wonder why people get so incredibly worked up about an issue like Wal-Mart and not even shrug when it comes to more pressing problems associated with our torpid state economy and dysfunctional state government.

One Comment leave one →
  1. August 25, 2010 10:22 AM

    Politicians are would-be magicians. They make rabbits appear out of empty hats and tax-payers’ money disappear right out of their wallets.

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