Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Monster, Incorporated

I used to be a free market libertarian. I absolutely believed that the market would produce the best products at the best prices for the consumer. I believed that healthy competition would result in workers being paid fair, competitive wages. That, of course, was in the days when the market seemed to be free. Since then, things have changed, as we see here. This is a very long article, and if you are interested in the nuts and bolts of the economics and politics of the thing, you might want to read it all. If not, however much you do read will be an eye-opener. The Case for Breaking Up Wal-Mart. I have long been aware of many of the ways that Wal-Mart is destructive to small business, workers, and communities. Of how it underpays its workers, leaving them to then turn to public assistance in one way or another, so that the taxpayer ends up paying for Wal-Mart to be allowed to under pay its staff. Or how they force suppliers to off shore their manufacturing in order to keep the prices that Wal-Mart pays down, thereby further destroying American labor. Or how once they come into a community, it drives all the small businesses out, and hires their owners and full time staff for part time work at depressed wages. I knew they were bad for mom and pop business, the worker, and local government. What I had never suspected, was that they are dictating culture and reproductive rights.

We should be most disturbed by the fact that Wal-Mart has gathered the power to dictate content, even to the most powerful of its suppliers. Because no longer is the retailer's attention focused only on firms that produce T-shirts, electrical cords, and breakfast cereal. Every day Wal-Mart expands its share of the U.S. markets for magazines, recorded music, films on DVD, and books. This means that every day its tastes, interests, and peculiarities weigh that much more on decisions made in Hollywood studios, in Manhattan publishing houses, and in the editorial offices of newspapers and network news shows.


...Wal-Mart recently decided to allow each individual pharmacist in the company to choose whether or not to stock the "morning after" pill. Given the degree to which Wal-Mart has rolled up the pharmaceutical business in many towns and regions across the country, this act amounted, for all intents, to a de facto ban on these pills in many communities. This political decision was made and enforced by a private monopoly.

So, since the days when I was a free-market libertarian what has happened? Well, the federal government relaxed regulation and I saw what happens without it. I saw that all the theory in the world doesn't hold a candle to the practice. Communism sounds pretty good, too. Except that people don't operate that way. If all my hard work gets me no more reward than someone who doesn't work hard, and less than someone who needs more, then I stop trying. It sounds good, but it doesn't work. And it's the same for the free market. If unregulated business goes into partnership with the government and laws are passed to favor business over individuals, be those workers, customers, or competitors, well some businesses are going to take advantage of that and then others have to in order to keep their doors open. And the next thing you know, Wal-Mart!


J said...

This sounds stupid and shallow, but I mean it...I hate when reality gets in the way of my ideals. Here I have some great theory, mine or one I have read, and it's based on the goodness of people, and then it all goes to hell. Does this mean that people are intrinsically bad, and that these theories won't work because of it? No, but people aren't intrinsically good, either, and where we get in trouble is when we depend upon people to behave in a certain way for our theories to work. There are enough people out there who would sell their grandmother to make an extra nickel, that most economic theories go to hell in a handbasket.

Maya's Granny said...

Unless your theory accounts for selling grandmothers for nickels, I suppose.

Gina said...

My husband is a free market libertarian, although he agrees with the fact that our current market is not free at all. What with oil companies and media companies all combined into a few large companies, where is the competition?

Uncivil said...

You hit the nail on the head with Wal-mart.
I totally despise Wal-mart and what it has done to our small towns. I try my best to stay clear of all big corporations including Lowes, and Home depot.

I would much rather spend my money with the local family owned businesses even if it cost me more money. It's worth it to keep these people in business as long as possible.

lorettambeaver said...

I guess there are times when it seems like it would be better to live in places where the fee market is free. But I am not sure just where that would be.

Deja Pseu said...

Several cities in the LA area are now starting to pass ordinances to bar Wal-Mart or other megastores from locating there. I think people are starting to get it.

Gurukarm said...

Yike! This, and your subsequent post, are so right on, well-thought-out, and well- written. Thank you for sharing it. I'm glad to have found your blog and have subscribed to you! :-)

Ted said...

I think I've stepped into a Wal-Mart twice in my life. And both times I felt like I was in Hell.

Maya's Granny said...

Ted, and the reason you felt like you had stepped into Hell was that -- you had!

Ms. Mamma said...

I wish Wal-Mart would dry up and blow away. Some places will "get it" as deja pseu says, but the reality is that they will continue to suck the life out of every little 'berg and ville.

And the whole EC pill, that's just friggin rediculous. A pharmacist did that here and the girl is suing. It is none of their damn business. Don't be a freaking pharmacist if you can't do your job, asswipe. Whoa, sorry ladies & gents.

We all know Wal-Mart ignites passion good and bad.

donna said...

I agree with your viewpoint, Maya's Granny. I was a libertarian too until these last 20 years which showed me what unchecked capitalism does. If Clinton or like-minded people are in charge, no problem, but when the wingers are allowed to run loose, well... the debate is over, completely.

The problem is *true* libertarianism is about the rights of individuals, not corporations. But, by allowing corporations to exist and have *more* rights than individuals, the entire idea of libertarianism is corrupted. And when we get this mess of people who claim to be libertarian but want to exercise moral control over others, the whole thing goes to hell in a handbasket.
Especially when companies are allowed to enforce their "morals", which apparently don't include paying decent wages but do include deciding who can get birth control.

I call myself a liberal libertarian these days, working with the new progressives to push the pendulum back towards the people again.