Friday, October 14, 2005

I'm Not on Wal*Mart's Payroll...

and yet that doesn't make me a "useful idiot" either.

Recently, the NYC city council has passed a bill (overriding the veto efforts of Mayor Mike Bloomberg) to require businesses with large footprints to contribute towards the health care costs of it's employees. This ploy was for the purpose of keeping one low-priced, international store chain called Wal*Mart from opening a store in any of New York City's boroughs. Even one of the lone dissenting votes admitted that he would vote for it, if only the law excluded a few of the businesses located in his district which were the unintended and unfortunate targets of this new legislation. (read more here: "The Higher-Priced Groceries Act", "City Council, in Veto Override, to Block Wal-mart" and "New Questions Arise on Bill on Wal-mart".)

If on principle I reject the legitimacy of government to determine which retailers are allowed to locate how, where and when, how does this ever translate into a "pro" Wal*Mart position?

As an anarchist, I condemn any group or individual from coercively intervening to prevent or stop an individual from performing an action which causes no direct or indirect physical harm to befall a second party and/or their property.

As an aspiring economist, I will even deny the legitimacy of the claims of those who say bigbox retailers are bad for the economy, bad for jobs, uses the state to subsidize their healthcare, worsens the "local economy" by exporting money, etc. and will argue that these claims are either completely baseless or at least dispute the question of its utility (which determines the "badness" according to the proponents of said arguments.)

Furthermore I will state that policies enacted upon "wishful-thinking economics" will only hurt consumers (shortages, higher-prices, long lines, etc.) and prolong inefficient business investment, and which will result in a more spectacular job-market or local economic collapse when these businesses ultimately fail.

I found myself chuckling yesterday over a poster seen at a local senior citizen's center. It was promoting the innocuously-titled "Farmer's Market Nutrition Program" where underneath it stated to bring your WIC stamps to the Farmers Market to support the local growers of unprocessed fruits and vegetables.

This the perfect example of the federal and its corresponding state-level government agency intervening to prop up a most-likely inefficient local economy (namely the production of fresh produce in an urban neighborhood) which involves multiple wealth redistributions just to realize.

First, the government must allocate space to set up the market, and yet they don't charge access fees like they would for any private use of that resource. Second, they urge those who are net tax receivers to spend their freely-obtained WIC stamps at these locations, which bears
a) the cost of the Farmer's Market promotional material
b) the overhead of the bureaucracy which produced and distributed the material and runs the program,
c) the cost of the WIC stamps face value, even if discounted,
d) the overhead costs of running the WIC agency for running the programs,
e) the overhead of the tax collection agencies (local, state and federal) which need to collect the funds to do all of the above!

In all likelihood, the local economy would be better, and more efficiently served if the participants were simply handed a handsome and generous check which paid them ten times the price of their products and just called it a day. However, this leads right into my next point.

Instead of economizing the taxpayer's funds with a direct wealth transfer, the government opts to cover up an indirect welfare transfer under a colorful banner of economic-illiterate yet local-friendly garb. Anyone who thus attacks the wealth transfer is than labeled as one who is anti-small business, or one "who doesn't want to support his local economy".

There is absolutely nothing wrong with [voluntary] supporting your local economy; it's only naive to think that an artificial support supplied by multiple wealth transfers of inefficient government agencies will successfully accomplish what the free market will not bear.

The participants in this grand scheme are thus kept working in less-than-gainful employment, for goods better supplied from elsewhere. Even if they truly were more efficient at producing and supplying these goods, there is still the question of whether the locality enjoys a comparative advantage of having the goods produced elsewhere so that the local resources are utilized in professions and tasks which are more valuable.

The one thing that bothers me most is having to defend my "pro" Wal*Mart position with economics, and not simply denying the validity of those who wish to intervene in the first place. Why is that the ethical argument is always less appealing than the utilitarian (economic) approach?

One thinks that this is because of the unquestioned legitimacy of the state, which in the minds of its dupes enjoys the right to shoot first, ask questions later; so that it may impose bodily or financial harm to individuals, the costs of which to be judged at another time, when the recipients of the wealth transfer can then vote for the politician who promises not to take the wealth transfer away (i.e.- see rent control).

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