Consistency on the Walmart Debate

I caught a bit of a Walmart debate on TV this weekend. Some support, some oppose … fine. But, if you’re going to support a position, support it for logically consistent reasons. Otherwise, you show yourself to be unserious and reactionary. So, let’s begin.

The folks who brought you “profit=theft” now complain that Walmart “puts mom & pop stores out of business.” OK, there are several problems here to address. Fortunately, they  can be addressed quite logically with rather simple terms. First, “profit=theft”. I disagree. Profit is the motive that attracts competition to reduce costs (and thus reduce profits). However, if you take the position that profit is indeed theft, you can do so rather logically. If I make a profit selling you a product then I could have sold it to you for less, thus I’ve “stolen” from you. (Again, I disagree with this notion, but there it is.) Herein lies the conundrum. If company A can sell you the product for less than company B, then company B is (by this weak definition) stealing from you. Invariably this means we must prefer company A. By the way, company A is walmart in this scenario – giving you the product at a lower price and putting mom & pop out of business.

Now, you may well disagree with the ludicrous “profit=theft” argument. If so, good for you.  This doesn’t absolve you in your defense of mom & pop. The fact is that walmart can provide goods and services at lower costs than the local mom & pop store (at least the ones going out of business). Walmart does so because it can operate more efficiently. So, mom & pop will go out of business and suffer hardship due to “big bad” Walmart. How can this be? How can a company provide economic efficiency and still be the bad guy?

No matter how you slice it, if mom & pop can’t survive in a walmart world, it’s because they are economically inefficient. Or, to put it more bluntly, they are wasteful. This isn’t evil, it’s just a harsh reality. Do they want to stay in business (and keep walmart out of town)? OF COURSE! This is hardly surprising. There is always somebody who benefits from economic waste. We kick and scream when we see government contractors benefiting from wasteful spending (and, in turn, bribing congressman and senators to keep the game going). But this is just some perverse rationalization of who should and shouldn’t benefit from wastefulness. The fact is that free markets ruthlessly eliminate waste. To the folks who benefit from said waste, it never feels good (or fair, for that matter). But it is ultimately a benefit to us all.

Now, there are surely plenty of reasons you can oppose Walmart. Perhaps you don’t like their benefits, or how they treat their workers. Heck, I don’t even shop at Walmart here – the Target is much nicer. The point is, it’s certainly OK for you to dislike Walmart. You don’t have to shop there – you too are free. But please, don’t trot out this old canard about Walmart being bad economically and hurting small businesses. It is hurting waste – and that’s a good thing.

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