Sunday, December 04, 2005

Another WalMart post

It has just come to my attention that Karen DeCoster was disappointed by the criticism of WalMart I wrote awhile back. You'll have to scroll down a bit to get to the part where she addresses my post.

My original post pointed to Lew Rockwell's commentary on WalMart's support of a minimum wage hike, and then questioned why certain free market advocates supported WalMart, an institution that is an enemy of free markets. I also provided a link to a Jonathan Tasini article that provides some of the reasons why WalMart is not pro-free market. With that background taken care of, here is what Karen's response begins with:
Then the libertarian critter--a fellow Michigander and all-around good guy--disappoints with this post. He links to an absolutely spot-on article by Lew Rockwell that shows how Wal-Mart does exactly what many other corporations do to squash competition, in concert with the state. (Lew discusses the backing of a higher minimum wages by Wal-Mart executives.) Now how does this set Wal-Mart apart from every other state-supporting corporation across America? Of course, it doesn't. But these anti-free market moments need to be pointed out, always.

Here's where the critter makes me go {sigh}. He links to this absolutely left-wing, anti-free market article, and he himself equates Wal-Mart with evil on the basis of all those usual hysterical accusations made by the Left and the Luddite Right. Rather clumsily, the critter attempts to make libertarians defending Wal-Mart look as if they are in grave error:


If you ask me, it must be a knee-jerk reaction for some of these otherwise consistent free market types to defend anything criticized by certain leftists.

The pro-Wal-Mart free enterprise types, are, in fact, the ones defending against knee-jerk hysteria and the hate against free trade and "bigness." It is NOT just leftists that rail against Wal-Mart; in fact, it was the Luddite, Mom-and-Pop "Right" who formerly had the biggest voices and the craziest accusations. The Left jumped on the bandwagon with a different tack (human rights, unions, health care, job loss, etc.).

Yes, the Tasini article is anti-free market in nature, but i'm not concerned with his ideas on what to do about WalMart. I'm interested in his expose of Walmart as it pertains to showing WalMart as being just another beneficiary of state capitalism as opposed to the bastion of free enterprise as many portray it as being. Additionally, I did not equate WalMart with evil for all the usual reasons cited by the anti-WalMart crowd at large. Again, my concern is with their increasingly apparent animosity towards free enterprise.

I recognize where free market types defend against complaints from typical anti-WalMart people and have no problem with it to the extent that they're addressing the arguments that are imprecise, or worse. What concerns me is when people equate WalMart with free enterprise, as if what all free market types yearn for is a world where everything winds up being run like a WalMart. WalMart is not the embodiment of free enterprise, it is a beneficiary of state capitalism. We don't even have a free market, so how can an actually existing corporation be the embodiment of an economic order that is actively suppressed by state intervention? Free market advocates such as Karen and myself may realize this, but many people do not.

As a radical free market advocate with an interest in making free market libertarianism more appealing to the left, I have no interest in defending an institution that is both hostile to free enterprise and seen as evil by leftists, even if I don't agree with all of their criticisms. I also condemn any statist remedies that leftists may have in mind, but the typical statist nature of WalMart criticism isn't going to keep me from joining in, albeit while singing a different, pro-free market tune. To praise an institution that benefits from state privledge is inconsistent with free market advocacy, and I thus have no interest in doing so, even if I enjoyed their low prices (which I don't since I don't shop at WalMart).

If certain free market types wish to defend WalMart's "bigness", their wages, or other things targeted by the anti-WalMart crowd, be my guest. I just wish that such defenses don't leave an impression amongst those who may read them that the WalMarts of the world are consistent with a free market vision, because they're not. I happen to be similarly bothered by lefties who criticize "free trade" treaties like NAFTA and know that they're not really about free trade, but then don't let their readers know that there is a difference between "free trade" and the real deal. It creates confusion amongst people who may not know the difference and wind up thinking that the huge government-managed treaties that largely serve corporate interests are what free trade is all about. Similarly, when free market types equate WalMart with free enterprise, some people wind up thinking that a free market would result in a world where everything would be like WalMart, which is totally inaccurate.

Before moving on, I wish to point out that not all critics of "bigness" are luddites. "Bigness" is not necessarily synonymous with progress, and some people view progress differently from those who view big box stores as the greatest thing since sliced bread. If some people like shopping at WalMart, then more power to them. I'm not one of them, but that doesn't make me a luddite, just like buying my produce at the local food co-op and planning on one day having my own organic garden to take care of my produce needs doesn't make me a luddite. Oh, and I also think that big box stores are ugly, but I'm still not a luddite.

Karen then confronts the portion of Tasini's article that focuses on WalMart's relationship with China. She dismisses what she calls "anti-china hysteria" as being "old and worn", without going in depth as to why. The only analysis she provides involves correctly noting Lew Rockwell's commentary about WalMart supporting a rise in the minimum wage, along with the fact that WalMart pays higher than the minimum wage here in the US, which is also, to my knowledge, correct. The problem is that she states these things in response to Tasini's claim that Chinese workers would have to be paid more in a free market. Regardless of Tasini's potential flaw in perceiving who is ultimately responsible for the paychecks of these Chinese workers, Karen has not addressed the ultimate claim that WalMart, in a free market, would be hard pressed to remain the giant that it currently is, let alone even exist at all.

While some free market advocates may think that large corporations may still exist in a genuine free market, others do not agree. While I again don't have much of anything in common with Tasini, I linked to his article because he does point out that a) WalMart's practices are inconsistent with free enterprise, and b)things would be radically different for WalMart in a free market. The fact that Tasini is also hostile to free enterprise does concern me, but not at this moment.

Additionally, I don't see why criticizing China is "old and worn". Why is criticizing government corruption "old and worn"? Why is criticizing the artifical suppression of wages and other state distortions of the market "old and worn"? Why is criticizing prisoner slave labor "old and worn"?

So China may be involved in a transition from a state socialist hellhole to a more state capitalist hellhole. I see no reason to celebrate, and the fact that China remains being a totalitarian hellhole and that corporations like WalMart would rather support such totalitarian hellholes than promote free enterprise makes me see much relevance in continuing the criticism of China and those who support China's tyrannical system. Again, I don't agree with all of the criticisms, such as the ones rooted in pro-protectionist beliefs, but some of the criticisms are valid and warranted.

Finally, she concludes her post with the following:
This is what the "free market types" (as espoused by the critter) are defending against: the authoritarian, anti-free trade hysteria (especially concerning China): the war against "bigness" and progress; the socialist-protectionist takeover of the economy under the umbrella of the "American Dream" and "national interest"; and the war on the lower and middle classes and the improvement in living standards therein.

Yes, Wal-Mart is guilty of many crimes--including eminent domain issues--and so are many other corporatist state players. But "ugly buildings," world-class inventory systems, higher wages, more jobs, progressive supplier relationships, and lower prices are the "crimes" Wal-mart is unjustly accused of because people just love to hate Wal-Mart.


To the extent that these free market types criticize protectionism and further state intervention of the economy, I salute them. But as I've already stated, "bigness" is not inherently synonymous with progress, and the anti-free market practices of Wal-Mart make them an institution that I view deserves scorn rather than praise. WalMart may not be much different than any other player in the corporate statist system, but the fact that they are part of that system is what bothers me. I may not boycott all such corporations, but that doesn't mean that I have to like them.

It's true that many people love to hate WalMart, and their reasons for doing so and their proposed remedies may not jive with me. My only reason to chime in on the subject of WalMart is to defend free enterprise from those who are hostile to it and from those who falsely equate WalMart with free enterprise. When people make that false equation, it gives free enterprise a bad rap that it doesn't deserve amongst those who may be open to free market ideas if they understood some of the things that so many people make confusing.

I appreciate much of Karen's writing on various issues of importance (especially her criticisms of the automotive industry), but I must say that we wind up disappointing each other on the issue of WalMart.

5 Comments:

Blogger buytrafficforblog said...

well written keep doing

12:49 AM  
Anonymous Brad Spangler said...

Great post.

1:55 AM  
Blogger Vache Folle said...

De Coster seems almost like a paid apologist for Wal-Mart at times.

4:29 PM  
Anonymous JE said...

I think it is kind of strange that you are in favor of "free-market capitalism" as some utopian solution to the world's ails. Capitalism is a rather unelightened and unworkable philosphy that has been toyed with for hundreds of years and has never been attained due to state protectionist policies. While you might reply that this adds to your argument/ideology I would caution that you first considered the historical context and reason behind tariffs in the first place...to allow for the growth of industry. Yes the state and industry need each other to further the goal of profit for...capitalists. According to your solution luck geographically speak which would account for the location of raw materials and resources would be the main determinant of who will be more equal than others in your idealized society(as it has been more or less up to this point anyway).
Recognizing the state is responsible for proping up our economy is great. More people should be aware of this, but it is hardly a de facto endorsement for free-market enterprise, at least not by any logic I can conceive of. BTW, where is the historical context for Wal-mart's statist empire. Wal-mart was not alway monolithic. And therefore the corporate giant couldn't have gain hegemony by the aid of the state over larger opposing statist forces, could it? My point being this, Wal-mart currently makes rational investments in the state via lobbying that yield very high returns, yes, but it doesn't give us any notion of how Wal-mart attained its current status.

8:09 PM  
Blogger freeman said...

I think it is kind of strange that you are in favor of "free-market capitalism" as some utopian solution to the world's ails.

Um, nope. You've got me wrong, pal.

1)I'm not in favor of "free market capitalism". I am in favor of free markets, but that does not necessitate the capitalist part. In fact, depending on your definition of captialism, you could say that I'm a free market anti-capitalist.
2)I'm not in favor of any sort of utopian solution. I am in favor of liberty. It ain't perfect, but it's moral and it's better than relying on coercion.

Capitalism is a rather unelightened and unworkable philosphy that has been toyed with for hundreds of years and has never been attained due to state protectionist policies.

Again, it all depends on what your definition of capitalism is. What do you mean by capitalism?

A free market has always been thwarted by state intervention, but that in itself is no knock against it. All it means to me is that the political class sees it as a threat to their interests.

While you might reply that this adds to your argument/ideology I would caution that you first considered the historical context and reason behind tariffs in the first place...to allow for the growth of industry. Yes the state and industry need each other to further the goal of profit for...capitalists.

I don't think you have any idea of what my "solution" is. Your statements thus far show that rather clearly. Again, are you mistaking me for some sort of "neoliberal" apologist or something? A person that some would refer to as being a "vulgar libertarian", perhaps?

Recognizing the state is responsible for proping up our economy is great. More people should be aware of this, but it is hardly a de facto endorsement for free-market enterprise, at least not by any logic I can conceive of.

You're right. It's not. So?

As to the rest of your comments, I'm not following it. Expressing what you're getting at more clearly would help.

9:09 PM  

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