More Wal-Mart Myths
By Beth Cody, Writers’ Group member
Iowa City Press-Citizen
Wednesday, July 9, 2008

My last column, “Analyzing three myths of the Wal-Mart Haters”, Jun 11, elicited many online comments: some were supportive and others argued rationally. But most were simply personal attacks for my support for Wal-Mart’s right to expand their Iowa City store.

Of particular note was the person who repeatedly identified my business name, threatened me with economic ruin if I didn’t keep my opinions to myself, and then, most creepily, mentioned that he planned to visit me at my store. No actual arguments about Wal-Mart, just cowardly bullying. The Haters are indeed hateful.

So to show them how well their intimidation tactics have worked, I have written a second column to address a few more Wal-Mart myths mentioned by the more thoughtful commenters.

Myth #4: Wal-Mart is simply “too big” to be allowed to expand – it supposedly has monopoly power over consumers, competitors and suppliers. One commenter even advocated breaking up the company on anti-trust grounds!

But Wal-Mart does not have actual “monopoly” power, because it is far from being the only discount retailer around. There are, in fact, very few actual monopolies that aren’t enforced by government (Carlos Slim is the second-richest man in the world because the Mexican government enforces his real telephone monopoly).

While Wal-Mart is indeed large, it is certainly not “too big to fail”. A few years of stocking the wrong items, and many customers would disappear and its stock would tank – think Kmart.

And yes, Wal-Mart does pressure its suppliers to sell at ever-lower prices to them, but these are voluntary contracts. Manufacturers could sell to numerous other retailers, but many have been seduced by the idea of selling a ka-jillion widgets a year, and made business decisions to trade profit margin for market share. We should not feel sorry for them because Wal-Mart is constantly looking for ways to keep prices low for hundreds of millions of consumers.

Myth #5: Wal-Mart is a bad business because it gets special tax breaks and its employees rely on government welfare programs to supplement their wages. It is true that Wal-Mart gets tax breaks, which is completely unfair to taxpayers and small business owners without the clout to win such largesse. But the handouts are the product of our corrupt political system, which existed long before Wal-Mart was even a twinkle in Sam Walton’s eye.

And as for employees relying on government health plans, it’s not Wal-Mart (whose benefits are comparable to other discount retailers’) that instituted those badly-designed programs. And isn’t government healthcare what the Haters and their ilk want for all of us anyway?

Myth #6: Because the quality of its products and service are not the highest, Iowa City is protecting consumers by thwarting Wal-Mart. These are indeed good reasons not to shop there – many customers want and can afford something better. But others (150 million others each week) have decided they would rather spend their money on something else besides “the best” or good service. And aren’t they best suited to decide their own spending priorities?

Myth #7: Wal-Mart has ruined the “good old” way of life. Well, yes – the way America “ruined” the stagnant feudalism of the Old World: by offering something better that millions of people have freely voted for with their feet. Is Wal-Mart to blame, or are the desires of the people really the cause?

At their core, the Haters are simply anti-business. They despise that our incredible gains over the past century – in life-expectancy, living and working conditions, and leisure time – that all of these are the direct result of the wealth created by profit-seekers (and not because of beneficent government).

Instead of being hated, Wal-Mart should be revered for creating – from nothing – millions of jobs. Yes, those positions are not the pinnacle of employment, but they are necessary stepping-stones to something better. The 25,000 people who applied for 325 jobs at a new Chicago-area supercenter (during a period of low unemployment) knew this to be true. Why not let them decide which jobs aren’t good enough for them?

In the end, this issue is about a few trying to control the many. Let’s let people decide for themselves and let Wal-Mart succeed or fail on its own merits. It’s the American way.