Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Friday, October 20, 2006

"Public good"

Nice editorial about Wal-Mart from the San Diego Union-Tribune:
Wal-Mart shows government how it's done

October 3, 2006

Wal-Mart bashers are rapidly running out of material. Last month the world's largest retailer began selling hundreds of prescription drugs at just $4 for a one-month supply, first in Florida but eventually nationwide. The innovation, which will help millions of people, comes as the company spends hundreds of millions to boost energy efficiency, slash global warming emissions and cut costs of organic food.

This is all a bit embarrassing for Scott Peters, Ben Hueso, Toni Atkins, Donna Frye and Tony Young, the five members of the San Diego City Council who want to keep Wal-Mart Supercenters out of the city. They are backed by labor unions and grocers who want to use government to block competition. A vote on a restrictive ordinance is expected on Oct. 23 or 24.

What they fear is Wal-Mart's wildly successful Supercenter format, which packs groceries and general merchandise into giant stores at prices so low they force competitors for miles around to cut costs. Economists say this helps low-income families and creates thousands of jobs.

Now the company is embracing much of the so-called progressive agenda, using its famous ability to exploit technology to improve efficiency. Wal-Mart, the world's largest private purchaser of electricity, is designing stores that use 30 percent less energy. Its trucks already use 8 percent less fuel. Wal-Mart wants to cut solid waste by 25 percent, so it developed a “closed-loop” recycling program that sends plastic and paper directly to suppliers, who send back “high-profit” products for sale to consumers. And the company says it will cut its carbon dioxide emissions by 20 percent, along with those of its 60,000 suppliers.

In each case, Wal-Mart is simply trying to make more money in response to customer demand, in a nearly perfect illustration of how free markets serve the public good far better than the inherently coercive powers of government.

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