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Capitalism, It Ain't
Where are all the common-sense moderates these days? I get so tired of the politics of certain friends of mine, left and right, who will fight to the death to tell you everything their party stands for is correct and good and smart. For example, there's the penchant for people on the right to defend big business at all cost.

I'm a libertarian, a capitalist (I teethed on The Fountainhead, I believe), and fiscally conservative -- moreso than many right-wing friends of mine who believe in taxpayer-funded public education for middle-class children. (I don't -- pay for your own damn brats to go to school...unless you're dirt poor, and then the rest of us should pick up the tab, so as to have an educated populace -- step one in maintaining a democracy.)

Hey, all you right wing-or-die types, how do you feel about picking up your neighbor's property taxes? Okay, so maybe that's a bit much to ask. How about their doctor bills? Well, if they work at Wal-Mart, you just might be doing that. And if you're running a newspaper, and somebody who works for you writes a complaint about that, you just might get your newspaper yanked out of the store because of that (the store's prerogative, of course). Note that Wal-Mart isn't complaining about inaccuracy; namely, because the writer, Mark O'Brien, wasn't inaccurate:

"I like Wal-Mart prices the same as the next shopper, but there's a downside, too. Many Wal-Mart employees lack the fringe benefits and insurance that makes the difference between existence and a good quality of life. Yet, we customers pay a surcharge from a different pocket — subsidizing health care for Wal-Mart employees who can't afford it."

Mark then described how Friedman's book pointed out that more than 10,000 children of Wal-Mart employees are in a Georgia health-care program, which costs the state's taxpayers nearly $10 million a year. Mark also pointed out that a New York Times report found that 31 percent of the patients at a North Carolina hospital were Wal-Mart employees on Medicaid.

Mark's column really wasn't about Mr. Walton's store, but about Pensacola and how we're becoming a Wal-Mart kind of town, "cheap and comfy on the surface, lots of unhappiness and hidden costs underneath."

Wal-mart should have a health care tip jar at the door so shoppers saving big there won't be doing it at the expense of the rest of us. Of course, we should send the balance of the bills to people on the right who think Wal-Mart is the greatest thing since toast, and should be allowed to perpetuate this de facto theft on the rest of us. Is that really what you'd call capitalism? it more like the welfare state dressed up in capitalist's clothing?

via Romenesko

Posted by aalkon at July 26, 2005 9:48 AM

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Target and Costco treat their employees much better, and if you look at their financial performances over the last few quarters, they're doing better than Wall Mart. So perhaps the free market will work here after all.

P.S. You forgot to mention the times they locked their employees in after the stores had closed in order to make them work overtime. Cute.

Posted by: Dmac at July 26, 2005 7:29 AM

Dummies. When I worked for Ogilvy & Mather, right out of college, it was such fun that we all worked until 10 a lot of nights, because we liked being there so much. Then they got stingy and we all found social lives outside the office that started at 7pm.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at July 26, 2005 9:05 AM

We don't really have capitalism in this country - big business relies on government subsidies and protection for lots of things. Take a look at Virginia Postrel's post about the Wright Amendment.

Posted by: Todd Fletcher at July 26, 2005 10:20 AM

I wish I could say that I've never shopped at Walmart. However, I can say that I've shopped there only four times ever, and two of those times were while traveling in Iowa. My first and lasting impression - YUCK! I can't stand the layout of the stores, they're too crowded, aisles too narrow, tacky, no ambience whatsoever. We have Meijer stores in Michigan, and while I'm not a fan of those either, they're much nicer than Walmart. Of course, I completely object to the business tactics/ethics of Walmart (and I'm somewhat conservative/moderate politically).

Posted by: Claire at July 26, 2005 12:01 PM

Hmm. Well, you should all know that one of the best supermarket chains in the country, Publix, has about 200 part-time employees per store - if the local one is any indication.

While we are so busy being mad at Wal-Mart - I am for environmental and eminent-domain reasons, not for their employment policies - will someone tell me just how much health-care a part-time, minimum-wage worker is worth, or entitled to?

Name it!

Posted by: Radwaste at July 26, 2005 3:06 PM

You could use Starbuck's as a good example of what a good baseline healthcare plan would entail for part - timers. I believe they can get catastrophic coverage for a nominal fee, but I don't know exactly what that cost would be - but employees there always talk about that benefit being a big selling point for them.

As for supermarkets, Trader Joe's here in Chicago seems to treat their people well - most of the staff is still at my local store, and it's been open for over three years.

Posted by: Dmac at July 26, 2005 6:11 PM

How much is a worker in this country worth? When I went through college, being a card carrying member of the AFL-CIO, I had full medical & dental coverage, and Albertsons is still making profits and thriving. It was actually a great motivator, in both real and "economically-spiritual" (if there is such a thing, I think there is...) terms. Great company to work for as well.

So worth.... how about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, even at the expense of billionaires? Abstract wealth never did a thing to promote democracy, and I believe abstract wealth utilized to be democracy's greatest threat.

Just a thought... every yacht or bomber built is a dollar taken from the general good. That's to paraphrase the general who guided us through WW2. To be fair, he never mentioned yachts.

Posted by: eric at July 26, 2005 8:02 PM

"You could use Starbuck's as a good example of what a good baseline healthcare plan would entail for part - timers."

And it's more than the health benefits. I work in South Central LA, and the kids at the Watts/Willowbrook Starbucks talk about their jobs like they're the best thing that's ever happened to them. They get help paying for classes, and they're also allowed the kind of weekly flexibility in hours that working students need. They take a lot of pride in their work, and it shows: The store is spotless. I have no patience for people who whine about "corporate coffee culture," etc. What's the name of that tiresome performance artist from NYC, Amy?

Posted by: Dr. Lena Cuisina (former SEIU member) at July 26, 2005 9:16 PM

Sigh. Reverend Billy.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at July 27, 2005 1:25 AM

So... I see a lot of abstract expression here about the quality of life, etc. - but just who is being forced to work by Wal-Mart at Wal-Mart?

You have to realize something: a company of any kind is in business to make profits. While that might be a dirty word to those who wish to set private enterprises up as personal caretakers, it's still a fact.

How come nobody has come out and said this: "I think WalMart ought to pay full benefits to every employee!"?

Go ahead - then, I can show you how corporations, as legal fictions and nothing else, pass 100% of their costs on to consumers. Individuals pay for everything in the US.

By the way, Eric - if you study the debacle of the "Luxury Tax", you'll find that this attempt to "soak the rich" actually put tens of thousands in the US out of a job, as the tax on a yacht meant that one built in Singapore was immediately cheaper. (Why does nobody ever want to hear that expensive goods are made by common folk?)

The quote is Eisenhower's. People tend to forget he rode against the Bonus Marchers, who had the temerity of demanding what was promised them by the Federal government.

Posted by: Radwaste at July 27, 2005 2:46 AM

But costs should be passed on to consumers -- not taxpayers. Profits should not come at the expense of taxpayers. Read the work of the English economist Pigou, who said that prices should reflect the real cost of things -- ie, the fact that taxpayers will have to pick up employee health insurance because somebody got a laundry basket for two dollars instead of eight. I'm a captalist, but I'm not an idiot. It's good business to treat your employees well. And it's fair to the taxpayers. And, oh yeah, and it's humane, too.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at July 27, 2005 3:17 AM

Rad -

I think Amy makes the point succinctly here: if the largest employer in the US (i.e. Wal - Mart) doesn't offer their employees affordable health insurance, then ultimately we'll all pay for their health care when they get into real trouble.

The latest Gov't survey showed that between 20% -30% of the populace currently don't carry health insurance, primarily because they can't get it or can't afford it. Hospitals write off hundreds of millions in health care for the indigent, but the rest who can pay foot the bill through taxes for Medicaire and Medicaid.

Posted by: Dmac at July 27, 2005 8:54 AM

Perfectly said, Amy!

Now - how many employees per store get benefits? All of them? The same day they're hired? A month later, given reliable performance?

My point is not the defense of Wal-Mart, but the establishment of the point at which the contract between company and employee is tested and found to be of merit. Companies like Wal-mart - with a large number of part-timers, for various reasons - do already have programs in which the employee is vested after so much service. Simply put, signing the job application doesn't, and shouldn't entitle you to anything. Litigious people already cost consumers big money without our making medical fraud easier.

Posted by: Radwaste at July 27, 2005 3:02 PM

When I worked for big Publishing concerns like Conde Nast and Time, their healthcare policies usually kicked in after 90 days - but...those were full - time jobs. I think most large companies (over 500 people) do operate in this manner, though.

Posted by: Dmac at July 27, 2005 3:29 PM

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