The War on Cheap Groceries

Friday, April 29th, 2011

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48 Responses to “The War on Cheap Groceries”

  1. #1 |  KrisV | 

    I cringe at anti-WalMart people. Sorry, knee-jerk post….

  2. #2 |  damaged justice | 

    I put a higher priority on fighting the war on individual rights to trade food (most notable example being unpasteurized dairy) than the imaginary rights of a fictional creation of the state to steal more money from peaceful, honest people. When the people of Wal-Mart are no longer sucking down subsidies and rent-seeking to beat the band, I will certainly find some sympathy for them.

  3. #3 |  Jeff Darcy | 

    I don’t think people are against truly cheap groceries. What they’re against is the burden-shifting false economy of stuff that’s only cheap because of sweetheart tax/infrastructure deals, worker exploitation, environmental degradation, monopolistic predatory pricing and supplier-squeezing, etc. Why should people who don’t shop at Wal-Mart but do live in communities where these other effects are felt accept it? That’s not the free market. That’s government and big business looting together. If it’s wrong to pay higher taxes that go toward government functions, it’s wrong to pay higher taxes that go toward Walton family mansions.

    Let them pay the same property taxes as everyone else, build their own infrastructure like anyone else, play by the same labor/environmental/anti-trust rules that bind other companies, and if they can really provide cheaper groceries then more power to them. I’d go shop there myself. Then you’d have a case, but we’ll never get to see the results of that experiment because Wal-Mart is not interested in free markets.

  4. #4 |  James | 

    Looks like Libertarian Fonz went to the Mike Moore school of filmmaking

  5. #5 |  EH | 

    I have several reasons not to like what Walmart does to local businesses, but being responsible for shoplifting isn’t one of them.

  6. #6 |  gersan | 

    Well, said, Jeff. Thank you. Wal-mart has gotten a free ride at the expense of other businesses.

    If you want cheap groceries, you can find the nearest wholesaler to where you live. Many wholesale food companies only accept businesses or nonprofits for customers, but you can incorporate yourself in order to shop at these places. Or you can dumpster dive if you live in a place where that’s feasible.

  7. #7 |  gersan | 

    And furthermore, whole spiel about Wal-mart being cheaper is just that, spiel.

    Case in point: my mother only goes to Wal-mart in order to buy birdseed, and that’s only because she can’t get it at any other store where she lives. Everything else she buys she does it cheaper elsewhere.

  8. #8 |  celticdragon | 

    @ Jeff Darcy:

    This. Nicely said.

  9. #9 |  shecky | 

    Which sweetheart tax deals is Walmart getting in NY and DC?

  10. #10 |  John C. Randolph | 

    Jeff,

    You’re an idiot. I point this out, because you probably live in a left-wing echo chamber where your idiocy is not noticed, because you’re moderately articulate.

    If Wal-mart is able to obtain tax breaks, good for them. Every dollar kept out of government hands is a dollar not spent on bloody mayhem and interference in our lives. If you think it’s unfair for Wal-mart to pay lower taxes than other vendors, then justice demands lower taxes for those other vendors, too.

    -jcr

  11. #11 |  Brandon | 

    “build their own infrastructure like anyone else…”

    What?

  12. #12 |  Bart | 

    @Jeff, I agree that sweetheart tax deals and other “subsidies” are horrendous but labor unions and 99% of other organized groups out there arguing against Wal-Mart are for those same subsidies when they benefit them. The people to blame in those situations aren’t the Wal-Marts who take them but the people who give them.

    As for worker exploitation and supplier squeezing; those are adults entering into voluntary agreements and I am not going to judge what is fair and what isn’t.

    Wal-Mart is not perfect but it isn’t the devil either. They do take advantage of their size / influence in ways I don’t like. But they also are the world leader in supply chain management and procurement with systems that are more sophisticated and more efficient than anyone else.

    Their advancements leads to savings that others emulate and everyone benefits.

    But no one wants to give them any credit for that.

  13. #13 |  qwints | 

    WalMart =/= capitalism. /thread

  14. #14 |  Who Needs | Oh, My! | 

    […] Stumbled on this idiocy. These peeps need a life. […]

  15. #15 |  jb | 

    John C.

    Thanks for saying what I would have if you had not.

    Flipping marxists have no clue.

  16. #16 |  freebird | 

    Wrong.

    This article is about corporatism, not capitalism.

    Yes, those ‘breaks’ should be to the people not the corporation.

    I hope you’re rich enough to keep yourself in armor everywhere you go, because that is the society you advocate for.

  17. #17 |  Not Sure | 

    “Case in point: my mother only goes to Wal-mart in order to buy birdseed, and that’s only because she can’t get it at any other store where she lives. Everything else she buys she does it cheaper elsewhere.”

    Used to be, Walmart was driving mom and pops out of business by undercutting their prices. Now, they’re hurting people by charging more than other stores?

    It’s always something.

  18. #18 |  EH | 

    Used to be, Walmart was driving mom and pops out of business by undercutting their prices. Now, they’re hurting people by charging more than other stores?

    What usually happens when the competition is eliminated? Business 101.

  19. #19 |  Not Sure | 

    “What usually happens when the competition is eliminated? Business 101.”

    The post I quoted included this comment: “Everything else she buys she does it cheaper elsewhere.”

    Sounds like the competition wasn’t eliminated to me.

  20. #20 |  JOR | 

    “Flipping marxists have no clue.”

    When libertoids or conservatives use the word “Marxist”, or “socialist”, or “communist”, or any other related word, you can be 99% certain that they don’t mean anything by it except to indicate a purely emotive disapproval. In libertoid-speak, “Marxist” means something like “stupid poo-head” or “big fat meanie”, nothing more and nothing less. Similar to the way mainstream right/leftoids apply the label “fascist”, or theocratic conservatives apply the label “moral relativist” or “feminist/feminazi”, or Team Blue asshats apply the labels related to “right-wing”, or populist/pseudo-populist dumbfucks use the term “elites”.

  21. #21 |  GT | 

    @JOR – name-calling is part of the internet, you despicable anti-Semite (I know you haven’t said anything anti-Semitic – yet – but I thought it prudent to use the ‘go to’ debate-ender; the fact that you not have not offended yet is no excuse).

    JCR’s comment was phrased harshly (he never called anyone a Marxist), but he has a point: namely, to the extent that taxes get pocketed by someone other than Halliburton, Raytheon, General Dynamics or Xe, the world is better off, net-net.

    That said, the corruption that helps Wal-Mart (absolution from property taxes; infrastructure development that would not otherwise be funded; ‘help’ in labour relations) all represent that type of attempt to ‘pick winners’ for which the political class have shown ‘negative aptitude’.

    In short, welfare to Wal-mart is no different qualitatively to welfare to Raytheon, GD or the rest of the Merchants of Death, as far as its effect on the fiscal situation is concerned; it is effectively a tax-transfer from the masses to a politically connected corporation. (OK, so Wal-Mart does not use those tax transfers to slaughter brown children – that’s a plus, but the lesser of two evils is still evil).

  22. #22 |  Buddy Hinton | 

    Antitrust is in Mr. Balko’s I-can’t-see-that zone. Has been for years. He ain’t all KochBros, but he got a lil KochBros in’im and this is where you can pick up on it. Hopefully, HuffPo has the kind of collegial atmos. that will make him look where he doesn’t want to look on this “concentration” problem (biggest problem of our Age) and see that there was a pre-seelout Miltie before 1980 and that he was the better Miltie. Lord knows I ain’t gettin’ through, but it might just be that my touch is heavy-handed or that my gourd is something I am sometimes perceived as being out of.

  23. #23 |  Black 27 | 

    I particularly like how the arrival of Walmart in DC will lead to children having a criminal record by presenting them with irresistible opportunities to become shoplifters.

    I have always disdained shopping at WMT for aesthetic reasons (narrow aisles, wide people, shrieking children.) But this video makes me significantly more sympathetic to WMT.

  24. #24 |  C. S. P. Schofield | 

    When WalMart starts to die a great fuss will be made about how we are losing a piece of Americana. Possibly even by some of the same people.

    *sigh*

    They are a Corporation. Like any such that are run by a Board of Directors instead of owned by an individual, they have no personality and are relentless in the pursuit of Market Share and Money.

    It would be nice if more businesses were more community conscious, but that would require either changing the tax structure so that families could retain control of large businesses after the first generation (which the Progressive Left would hate) or giving a great deal of control of private enterprise over to do-gooder busybodies (*shudder*). I would back the former idea, if only because it’s fun to see what a millionaire wants to do to help others so long as he’s spending his own money. Hell, sometimes their ideas even make sense. The buttinskis, on the other hand, are drearily predictable.

  25. #25 |  Buddy Hinton | 

    The real answer is that there should be steeply progressive corporate tax rates depending upon on how big the corporation is. That way the unhealthy advantages of concentration would be offset so that competition would tend toward being how Adam Smith said it should be. Atomized. Lots of INDEPENDENT decisionmakers.

    This plan, if implemented, doesn’t mean that WAL*MART would not exist. It just means that their corruptive influence on the free marketplace would be offset by their outsized contribution to the common weal. They would be the ones paying for the great oil wars, for example.

    This ain’t rocket science ppl.

  26. #26 |  Bob | 

    I had the oddest dream last night, it wasn’t until I woke up that I realized it was a metaphor for how NOT to compete with Walmart’s system of efficiency.

    I go to the Bloom store by my house. I really dislike the place, mostly because they act like they ‘know’ me (Refer to me by name, acl like they care) but in reality are just running an idiot script given them by their corporate masters. I know this because they continually ask me for my ‘Bloom’ card, whereas I don’t use ANY ‘club’ card because I’m greatly opposed to them.

    So… here’s my dream:

    I go to Bloom and get my groceries. Lawrence Fishborne is the checkout guy, and talks in the “Ray Langstrom” character from CSI. Neither of which I found odd at all. He asks me, “Do you have your Wasnasserman”? I say no and he pulls one out from behind the counter. It’s 2 pieces of translucent white plastic with slightly curled edges and there are 2 small holed about 2 inches apart on the bottom edge of each. The pieces are about 6 by 8 inches.

    He takes my receipt, then several other smaller pieces of paper printed by another, otherwise totally useless piece of hardware, then inserts them in order into a third machine one at a time. It prints yet another piece of paper that Lawrence then stacks with the rest, places them all inside the Wasnasserman and hands it to me. “I just saved you 8 bucks on your 30 bucks of groceries!” He announces. You don’t need a card or anything, just bring this with you next time.

    On my next trip, I noticed everyone had a Wasnasserman. They were proudly placing them in the convenient holder in the shopping cart. I get my groceries. Then hand Lawrence my Wasnasserman. He says “Ah! These are great! Everyone is getting these!” and goes through the same arcane ritual as before.

    At this point, I realize that the Walmart isn’t THAT much farther than the Bloom, and I don’t think they have ‘Club cards’ (What a Wasnasserman is a metaphor for.) or those stupid coupon machines. None of that crap. They just bring stuff in as efficiently as possibly and sell it to you. There’s a greeter, but that’s a low cost frill, there’s no giant database subterfuge involved with that like there is with the “Bloom” card.

    I think I’ll go there next shopping trip.

  27. #27 |  Joe | 

    Why do they hate Walmart so much? It is pathological. Frankly often I get better prices at its competitors (every chain tends to have different loss leaders), but if you lower that competition, watch prices rise accordingly.

  28. #28 |  Michael Chaney | 

    I can’t wait to see the quality of posters when Radley goes to Huffpo. Holy crap.

  29. #29 |  Michael Chaney | 

    (poster == commenter)

  30. #30 |  xenia onatopp | 

    I am not in love with all of WalMart’s business practices, but they certainly aren’t the Great Satan. It is incredibly presumptuous of people who have jobs to claim they speak for the poor and unemployed when they say that WalMart jobs are worse than no jobs. It’s also bullshit, which is why most poor and working class people welcome WalMart to their communities. As a real-life resident of the hood (and former longtime poor person) I’m hard pressed to think of anyone I know who does not understand and accept the fact that an entry-level job in a service industry is exactly where most people start out, but doesn’t have to be where they end up. Just having a paycheck and learning the basics of having a job can be incredibly empowering experiences; being part of the working world opens up a whole world of possibilities and sparks ambition. It is motivating in a way that sitting at home waiting for a mythical “living wage” job to materialize can never be. And these jobs that progressives and poverty activists dismiss so cavalierly are a major source of income for retirees, developmentally disabled people, second job holders and older married women who are working outside the home for the first time– in other words, large segments of the population outside the “traditional” workforce.

    I think the whole WalMart-drives-local-stores-out-of-business trope is a cherished elitist fairy tale. The jobs lost at those stores are not numerous enough to keep WalMart from causing a net job gain, and working at the neighborhood hardware store doesn’t actually provide higher pay or better benefits.

    Also, cheaper paper towels and dog food and socks and deodorant and motor oil and all, under one roof? This is a convenience that materially improves my life. Just sayin’ is all.

  31. #31 |  Wade | 

    Almost none of the Wal-Mart haters understand how unpleasant it is to live in a community where the only choice for groceries or general merchandise is one of those wonderful locally run businesses. Just because a business is locally owned does not mean that it won’t take advantage of being the only place to shop. Anyone who has been to a “mom and pop” grocery and seen the overpriced, low-quality produce and meat that some of them offer would be pining for a Supercenter in seconds.

    As to the general merchandise, Wal-Mart brought selection and lower prices to people who would otherwise have been stuck with only what “mom and pop” wanted to stock.

    The Wal-Mart haters always miss the point that sometimes Mom and Pop are assholes who deserve to go out of business.

    Finally, where else can I buy cigarettes, shoes, storage bins, whipped cream, fresh carrots, antifreeze and ammunition in the same place at 11:00 PM?

  32. #32 |  gersan | 

    @Not Sure

    Wal-mart lowers it’s prices, putting the businesses around them out of business. Then they raise their prices. It’s called “monopoly” and it’s supposed to be illegal.That is what I was referring to.

  33. #33 |  Anthony | 

    I put Wal Mart in the same group as the Texas Longhorns. I hate them both, but I don’t think either one should put at a competitive disadvantage or advantage. If you don’t like Wal Mart don’t shop there. If you do, then by all means knock yourself out. Same with following the Longhorns.

  34. #34 |  Not Sure | 

    “Wal-mart lowers it’s prices, putting the businesses around them out of business. Then they raise their prices. It’s called “monopoly”…”

    A monopoly? As in “the only source of groceries/merchandise in a community”? Is there anyplace in America like that?

  35. #35 |  cApitalist | 

    The economic and social ignorance on display in this video is absolutely astounding.

    “The real answer is that there should be steeply progressive corporate tax rates depending upon on how big the corporation is.”

    Yep. Use the coercive power of the state to rob the fuck out of them. Good plan dude.

    “I can’t wait to see the quality of posters when Radley goes to Huffpo. Holy crap.”

    I’ve always considered this blog a refuge of sanity. I worry it will soon become a cesspool of statitst leftist jargon akin to reddit. Hopefully Mr. Balko can teach them a thing or two.

  36. #36 |  qwints | 

    A lot of the “Wal-Mart haters” are making the point that this video isn’t about anti-competitive practices by city council members. Wal-Marts cause a ton of externalities which require government action to address (e.g. infrastructure and traffic.) Unlike other reason.tv videos which have addressed serious threats to civil and economic liberties or have expressed a unique point of view on the American political scene, this video takes one side in a rent-seeking fight between Wal-Mart and organized labor. Neither is really on the side of free minds and free markets.

  37. #37 |  Not Sure | 

    “Wal-Marts cause a ton of externalities which require government action to address (e.g. infrastructure and traffic.)”

    Most development involves costs to the developer for those sort of things. To the extent any fees collected are insufficient to cover those costs due to government actions, the problem is with government, not the developer.

    If you were building a house and were able to get tax breaks from your local government for the construction, would you refuse them? If not, then why should Walmart? If you feel your taxes are higher than they need to be, you have the right to petition for a change, do you not? Why is it wrong if Walmart does it?

    I don’t know what it’s like where others live, but in the three states I’ve spent any time in in the past 20 years, every Walmart development I’ve seen appears to spawn a dozen or more offshoot businesses. These are all new businesses located in close proximity to Walmart, which never existed before Walmart arrived. If Walmart is responsible for killing mom & pops, why don’t they get credit for giving life to these new businesses?

    Or is it just easier to hate Walmart because, well… Walmart!

  38. #38 |  random guy | 

    WTF happened here? Anti-Walmart blinders on full display today.

    Lets do a hypothetical here, anti-trust legislation breaks Wal-mart up into about ten different companies. They each have to spend massive amounts of capital re-branding their companies, prices go up. They loose the national distribution systems that make Wal-mart so efficient, prices go up. They loose the leveraging power they have on other suppliers creating new negotiations and contracts, prices go up.

    Most of these companies will be out competed by organizations like Target, who are big, but not big enough to get the antitrust ax, yet. Some of the mini-Wal-marts fail, jobs are lost, prices fluctuate, new competitors move in. Some are bought out by competitors. Eventually one of the mini-Wal-marts or one of its old competitors grows enough to emulate the old Wal-mart logistic system that brought them national prominence and rock bottom prices.

    Faced with the same market pressures that Wal-mart faces today, they take on its old policies. Domestic and international labor issues, supplier intimidation, etc, are all used to bottom out the price of their goods and beat out the competition. Ten years after the “success” of the Wal-mart anti-trust legislation we will get a brand new company in the exact same mold. The only thing it did was increase prices for a period to cover the wasted capitol on forcing changes upon the corporate landscape.

    That’s because Wal-mart isn’t actually a trust, they never have and never will have a monopoly on the generic goods they sell. What the anti-Wal-mart crowd doesn’t get is that Wal-mart is not “evil”. Wal-mart becomes what the public demands of it and the truth is that first-world people are unwilling to pay for first-world labor. Thats why your fucking Ipod is made in China by sweatshop workers pulling 16-hour shifts. Its not that Apple is evil, its that you don’t want to pay a $1000 dollars for it, so they do what they have to do to get it to you for $200.

    If the left wants to get rid of the Wal-marts of the world they need to convince every American (including those living at or below the poverty line) to spend twice to three times the amount of money on everyday goods at “good” companies that don’t use “exploitive” practices. Oh and you also have to do the same thing in Europe and the emerging markets of China and India.

    Good luck.

  39. #39 |  Not Sure | 

    “Thats why your fucking Ipod is made in China by sweatshop workers pulling 16-hour shifts.”

    You say that like it’s a bad thing… ;-)

    I imagine that works (finding employees for sweatshop jobs) only because pulling 16-hour shifts doing manual labor on the family farm is a far less desirable option TO THE CHINESE.

    Clearly, there are plenty of people in this country who are willing to insist that the Chinese should be living their lives in a specific manner. But then again, isn’t that the point of being “progressive”? You know… believing that you can better manage the affairs of people you don’t know and have never met than they can themselves?

  40. #40 |  Greg C. | 

    I am a libertarian and not a corporatist. Some of us exist, and we don’t attack non-corporatists as “Marxists” and socialists. There is nothing remotely free market about corporatism and cheerleading for Wal-Mart. Just sayin.

  41. #41 |  Buddy Hinton | 

    That’s because Wal-mart isn’t actually a trust, they never have and never will have a monopoly on the generic goods they sell.

    The absence of monopolies is not how capitalism, or its famous “Invisible Hand,” are properly defined. Nor is anti-trust law (woefully lacking as it is) limited to anti-monopoly law.

  42. #42 |  Not Sure | 

    “There is nothing remotely free market about corporatism…”

    No, there’s not.

    “… and cheerleading for Wal-Mart.”

    Walmart doesn’t make the rules- the government does. Walmart uses the rules to their best advantage- kind of like lots of people do when they arrange their affairs to minimize the amount of taxes they have to pay.

    Just sayin.

  43. #43 |  random guy | 

    Not Sure, I completely agree, it’s unfortunate that things in China are bad enough that someone would choose a job like that, but its the reality. In the long term though, China developing an industrial economy, and the middle class that follows will hasten protests against brutal working conditions and their brutal government.

    America has sweatshops, share-croppers, and slaves in its past too, but we somehow got where we are today, labor-wise. I am worried about the cultural differences though. People with the will to immigrate to America, work in sweatshops, and eventually demand fair pay are a far cry from the Chinese peasant class that has been treated essentially the same way for the past 5000 years.

    I think I know why this thread got such an unusual start, Andrew Sullivan linked to both this reason video and the Donald Trump capital punishment article on the same day, so we probably got some of his non-commenters here.

  44. #44 |  Not Sure | 

    “I completely agree, it’s unfortunate that things in China are bad enough that someone would choose a job like that…”

    As you said, the same thing happened here 100+ years ago. Whether the Chinese are able to replicate the results (well, maybe not the *current* results, but still…) is up to them. And anybody who wants to go over there and help them out on this path can do so (or try, anyway), I suppose.

    But insisting that things should be different because, well… they just should, is silly (not that that’s what you’re saying, of course).

  45. #45 |  cApitalist | 

    #40 Greg C.
    “I am a libertarian and not a corporatist. Some of us exist, and we don’t attack non-corporatists as “Marxists” and socialists. There is nothing remotely free market about corporatism and cheerleading for Wal-Mart.”

    To the extent Walmart uses the state to hurt competitors, it should be criticized. But, that’s not the objection being voiced by the protesters. They’re jacked that Walmart offers cheap goods and pays its employees less than the protesters would like. Their position is unfounded. They have no authority to interfere in the voluntary interactions of others.

    Additionally, the activists are turning the brute force of the state against Walmart, and that’s immoral. Defending Walmart in this instance makes one a corporatist.

  46. #46 |  cApitalist | 

    edit: Defending Walmart in this instance does not make one a corporatist.

  47. #47 |  John C. Randolph | 

    >he never called anyone a Marxist

    Marxists are a specific sub-group of idiots. Jeff may be a Marxist idiot too, but I didn’t see him advocating mass murder, so I berated him for his idiocy in a more general manner.

    -jcr

  48. #48 |  MilkeL | 

    my parents shop at walmart and the local IGA. They get some things cheaper at each. since it is a small town, the dollar store is the only other place to get some foodstuffs, as well. We don’t have any unions there and the people are happy to have a job. I guess I see another good reason for not living in the big city. I thought this was a free country and if you wanted to open up business, you could do t anywhere. I guess the unions, in this case can keep competition out, sort of like doctors manipulate who else can come to town!

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