More on Wal-Mart in the news
Here's an applied-economics discussion at the Wall Street Journal concerning the Maryland legislature's unions-motivated attack on Wal-Mart and the effects it will have on the people of Maryland:
...our legislators often behave as if business is a problem to be solved. On Jan. 17, they also overrode a gubernatorial veto of a $1-an-hour increase in the state's minimum wage. Like the health-care mandate, the hike is a job killer--though not in affluent areas of the state, where strong labor demand long ago pushed the going wage above the minimum. In those areas, the law is largely symbolic and enables well-meaning voters and legislators to conclude that they are "doing something for working families." Safely out of their view, however, at
Maryland's impoverished margins, already weak labor demand will be further diminished....
In these upcoming battles, legislators should be mindful that companies like Wal-Mart are not the enemy but rather frontline soldiers in a real war on poverty. The profit motive leads them to seek out areas where there is much idle labor and put it to work. Where they are prevented or discouraged from doing so, the alternative job prospect is rarely a cushy spot in the bureaucracy. Rather, it is continued idleness and hardship.
On the other hand, here's Kathleen Parker's recent take on Charles Fishman's book concerning some less-than-desirable consequences of Wal-Mart's big footprint in the global marketplace that consumers should know:
Wal-Mart, which buys all its salmon from Chile, sells more than anyone else in the country and undersells all other retailers by at least $2 per pound. That's a lot of market power, which prompts Fishman to ask: "Does it matter that salmon for $4.84 a pound leaves a layer of toxic sludge on the ocean bottoms of the Pacific fjords of southern Chile?"
Salmon in Chile are raised in packed underwater pens - as many as 1 million per farm - and fed prophylactic antibiotics to prevent disease. Here's a fact you'd rather not know: A million salmon produce the same amount of waste as 65,000 people. Combine that waste with unconsumed food and antibiotic residue, and you've got a toxic seabed.
Does it matter?
Only if consumers say it does, says Fishman. Wal-Mart listens to "voters." If shoppers say they won't buy salmon until Wal-Mart insists on higher standards from suppliers, then Wal-Mart will make those demands. Incentive is the engine that drives the company that promises low prices - "always."
I am very in favor of increased consideration and scrutiny of unintended consequences, whether it's in regards to legislation and social engineering, or where and with whom we spend our bucks. Stay informed and pay attention, people! Whoever says "All you need is love" has got it wrong, wrong, wrong. All you need is love, information, and a threshold amount of intelligence (the ability to think rationally, critically, and clearly). One hopes that all adds up to wisdom. And our democratic republic could use a lot more of that.