Monday, February 28, 2005

Wal-Mart's not to blame

Wal-Mart has always intrigued me. First because of its explosive growth in the 70s and 80s and, more recently, because it's become trendy to hate it. Robert B. Reich puts some perspective on it in this New York Times essay. And yes, I almost fell out of my chair to read something from Reich that I largely agree with.
Berkeley, Calif. — BOWING to intense pressure from neighborhood and labor groups, a real estate developer has just given up plans to include a Wal-Mart store in a mall in Queens, thereby blocking Wal-Mart's plan to open its first store in New York City. In the eyes of Wal-Mart's detractors, the Arkansas-based chain embodies the worst kind of economic exploitation: it pays its 1.2 million American workers an average of only $9.68 an hour, doesn't provide most of them with health insurance, keeps out unions, has a checkered history on labor law and turns main streets into ghost towns by sucking business away from small retailers.

But isn't Wal-Mart really being punished for our sins? After all, it's not as if Wal-Mart's founder, Sam Walton, and his successors created the world's largest retailer by putting a gun to our heads and forcing us to shop there.
Reich goes into more detail about how we cannot expect competitive pricing for goods and services and then be upset when the more expensive producers go out of business. Or when the low-cost producers don't offer employees the best benefits.

Reich suggests that we legislate requirements for certain employee benefits and raise the minimum wage, which I cannot agree with, but he writes an interesting piece.

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