A Conservative Takes on Wal-Mart

A CONSERVATIVE TAKES ON WAL-MART….Stephen Bainbridge makes the conservative case against Wal-Mart today. You should read the whole thing to get a sense of his argument, but here’s an incomplete summary:

So opening a Wal-Mart has a small positive effect on consumer prices and employment for the community. The latter effect dissipates over time as Wal-Mart drives competitors out of business or, at least, the area.

….By trampling small businesses underfoot, through its mix of volume pricing and subsidies, Wal-Mart and its ilk undermine the possibility of “wide participation in businesses.” Prospective entrepreneurs are thus pushed out of fields like retail.

….Being a conservative is supposed to be about things like tradition, community, and, yes, aesthetics. If I’m right about that, it’s hard to see why a conservative should regard Wal-Mart as a societal force for good….

The funny thing is that I don’t really agree with this, even though we end up at the same place. The bucolic vision of small town America as a web of communities centered on mom and pop stores lining Main Street is a pleasant one, but I’ve long since given up thinking it’s worth fighting for. In an advanced country of 300 million, any industry with economies of scale is bound to produce powerhouse nationwide corporations that take over most of the market no matter what we do. Fighting this is like fighting the tide. (Besides, one of the benefits of big box retailers that Steve doesn’t mention is that they really do provide small town customers with far more variety than they can get from Main Street shops. That’s a significant social good.)

For myself, I don’t want to stop Wal-Mart from expanding, I’d just like to see them accept unionization and pay better wages. Beyond that,

government should not subsidize Wal-Mart either through zoning or tax breaks. Wal-Mart?s a big boy, so to speak, who can take care of itself. We ought to let it compete in a free market. And those of us with a bully pulpit ought to use it to encourage Wal-Mart to become a better neighbor and citizen.

On that, we agree.

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