Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Monday, February 19, 2007

Snobbery's Day Off

You probably know Ben Stein best from Ferris Bueller's Day Off and the game show "Win Ben Stein's Money" on Comedy Central. But he is also a lawyer, an author, a lecturer, and a former presidential speech writer. Here's what Ben thinks about Wal-Mart.
Here’s a shocker. I love Wal-Mart. I know it’s almost always on the receiving end of bad press. It ruins neighborhoods. It puts small businesses out of business. It wrecks the balance of trade. It pays its workers poorly and treats them mean. It makes overseas workers into slaves. That's what the news says. The truth is that Wal-Mart is a major blessing for most Americans who live close enough to one to shop there and for the people who work at them. My smart friend C.L. Werner in Omaha made the point really clearly. When a Wal-Mart opens in a town, he said, it's as if everyone in the town got a raise. That's because the stuff at Wal-Mart is so much cheaper than that same merchandise was anywhere else. This is not a trivial thing. Now, don't get me wrong. Target and Sears and K-Mart and J.C. Penney and Brooks Brothers also sell good stuff usually at bargain prices, but they do not have the same reach of stores, the same astounding prices that Wal-Mart offers every day. This makes the people who shop there richer. Price matters a lot to most people.

I am sure Wal-Mart is stiff competition for the stores and supermarkets across America. I feel bad for the people who lose their stores because of Wal-Mart. But not everyone is a store owner. Everyone is a consumer, and Wal-Mart is about as good a friend as the consumer ever had.Is Wal-Mart ruining the balance of trade? Well, let me put it like this: I buy American whenever I can find it.

But there are a lot of things that are just not usually made in the USA any longer. Toasters. Hot pots. Color televisions. Underwear. Since the goods are almost always made overseas, why not buy them at the best possible price? By the way, if someone knows of a good American made toaster, please stand up and shout.

Is Wal-Mart wrecking small towns? Not the ones I see, which are mostly in North Idaho. Those towns are booming. And the closest you get to a town square is the Wal-Mart, where neighbors visit with neighbors in the aisles all day and all night, in air conditioning, out of the rain.

Is Wal-Mart impoverishing third world workers in sweat shops? Heck, no. Conditions in those places are far from ideal. But they are far better than working on the farm or begging in the streets or selling themselves into prostitution or whatever they were doing before they came to work for foreign suppliers of US stores. The gains in prosperity in the developing countries because their people can sell to America through Wal-Mart are astounding. As to the people who work at Wal-Mart, they seem to me to be bright, alert men and women who work there because it's the best they can do in their town or at their age. Plus, they seem happy. The usual clerk at Wal-Mart gives a lot better service than the clerk at Tiffany. I would like it if they were paid more, but they are in a competitive labor market. And what about those greedy stockholders? A lot of them are those same Wal-Mart clerks, many of whom got rich from their stock.

In the real world, Wal-Mart is as much of a boon to the American shopper as the Sears catalogue was long ago.

Jeer at it all you want, all you cool people, but, it's progress, big time.
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1 comment:

Nic said...

Brooks Brothers usually sell at bargain prices? I'll remember that the next time I shell out $90 for a button down dress shirt there.