Corporations Bad

It seems George Will cannot argue for any of his libertarian-ish positions without counterposing it to the clueless, elitist, and dishonest “liberal” one. But, as we’ve noted before, the existence of the liberal straw man–not hard to find, but meaningless when you find it–does not justify the conclusions Will would like to draw. The disjunction, in other words, between dumb-ass liberal and smarty pants libertarian economist is not an exhaustive one. Between these a million possibilities. Many of them quite sensible and worthy of serious consideration. The straw man, a sign of a failed mind, is also often the sign of another fallacy–the false dichotomy. I invite the reader to the Will archive to examine the evidence for herself. So much by way of general observation. Let’s look at today’s iteration, a completely confused counter to the “liberal” arguments against Wal Mart.

>The median household income of Wal-Mart shoppers is under $40,000. Wal-Mart, the most prodigious job-creator in the history of the private sector in this galaxy, has almost as many employees (1.3 million) as the U.S. military has uniformed personnel. A McKinsey company study concluded that Wal-Mart accounted for 13 percent of the nation’s productivity gains in the second half of the 1990s, which probably made Wal-Mart about as important as the Federal Reserve in holding down inflation. By lowering consumer prices, Wal-Mart costs about 50 retail jobs among competitors for every 100 jobs Wal-Mart creates . Wal-Mart and its effects save shoppers more than $200 billion a year, dwarfing such government programs as food stamps ($28.6 billion) and the earned-income tax credit ($34.6 billion).

>People who buy their groceries from Wal-Mart — it has one-fifth of the nation’s grocery business — save at least 17 percent. But because unions are strong in many grocery stores trying to compete with Wal-Mart, unions are yanking on the Democratic Party’s leash, demanding laws to force Wal-Mart to pay wages and benefits higher than those that already are high enough to attract 77 times as many applicants than there were jobs at this store.

Everyone loves to save money at the big boxes. Even the sponsor of the failed Chicago “Big Box” ordinance. Gee, in addition to the big savings, people also like to work, especially when there are no other jobs available. But just because people are applying for jobs at Wal Mart does not make them good jobs. It does not make them jobs with reasonable benefits. It does not make them pay a living wage (where one can shop anywhere else but Wal Mart). It does not mean that Wal Mart doesn’t leach off the state welfare system (passing its big volume costs on to us!). (Sidebar–if Wal Mart can pass off its costs to the welfare system on account of its job creation and such, isn’t that an argument for state-assisted healthcare among other things? Just a thought).

As Will seems forever not to understand, the liberal argument is not: “Grrrrr. Corporations bad! Make money with blood of worker, get fat off work of little guy! Me know it all franken-democrat! Grrrrr.” There’s more inanity in today’s op-ed. Much more. Maybe tomorrow we’ll return to it.

10 thoughts on “Corporations Bad”

  1. I’m no economist, so I’ve probably oversimplified, but this is how I the situation:

    Wal-Mart would have to increase prices if it raised wages and provided free comprehensive health care to its employees. With an increase in price, Wal-Mart would come into competition with other companies. Wal-Mart’s employees, with increased wages, would not be chained to buying products from Wal-Mart, because they would have enough to spend at competitors. Wal-Mart would have to improve their products or mount a marketing campaign to win back former customers. Marketing, improving products, and gaining competitors, while increasing wages and absorbing health care costs, would initially cause Wal-Mart to lose profits with a subsequent depreciation of stock, hurting the elite, wealthy stockholders. There is no guarantee that Wal-Mart will regain its former profit levels if its products aren’t good enough. So it keeps wages low to assure profits to its stockholders.

    The employees who can afford to purchase stock (only for 401k’s, I think) would lose what very little return they amass. I suppose with higher wages, the employees have more spending and saving freedom, so they trade their retirement funds for freedom and health care. Wealthier stockholders would lose money and gain only decency. Would Wal-Mart even consider such a radical change?

  2. Hey, you got acknowledged! Too bad the argument set against yours completely missed the point. What the article from Positiveliberty doesn’t analyze is the number of jobs and/or small businesses run out of town by Wal-Mart, or the enormous amount of slave labor from China, among other countries, that lines the shelves of Wal-Mart stores, passing on those savings straight to us. But jcasey is a rich man, so he’s not too concerned with the savings anyway. Hey man, I’d rather have a job shoveling shit rather than no job at all, right? Poverty is our natural state anyway, apparently. Thanks, Wal-Mart, and thanks, positiveliberty for setting me straight.

  3. Jem I think you’re right. My point was missed. But perhaps I could have been more clear. The complaint of the democrats is not that Wal Mart is a successful business or, as Will has his interviewee say, “has an attitude.” The complaint is that Wal Mart (unlike other successful businesses of its largesse) is non a good citizen. No one makes the same argument about Costco or Target, for instance. So rather than psychologizing about the motives of democrats, those who defend Wal Mart ought to stick to the point of the argument–Wal Mart’s corporate citizenship. Now of course that’s not as fun as calling your opponents cry-babies, but at least we’ll be arguing about the right thing. And for that argument I recommend Sirota. His is one progressive anti-Wal Mart voice. Then of course there’s the Wal Mart movie (linked above).

  4. I stumbled across this site the other day and really liked the concept and some of the execution. But as I look at it more and more it seems to come of as partisan. I’m generally a conservative but not especially sterotypical about most issues. I’m fairly libertarian on economics issues.

    It seems to me that there is a lot of delight and emphasis attacking errors by George (Will and Bush) and most of it is on target. But aren’t there any other politicians or commentators on the left that ever throw out a fallacy? Michael Moore? Nancy Polosi?

    I’ve totally agreed with many of the points about how Bush speaks and his argument doesn’t support the conclusion. Note, that this does not disprove his conclusion, it just means his argument is unsound.

    In this case Will is considered as making a straw man by arguing that the jobs Walmart provides are good enough to attract people to voluntarily take them. The counter arguments here are not very sound in that they don’t build a case for why Walmart is “bad”. In essence I see them countering a straw man with another straw man.

    I expect to see some of the awesome logic presented and discussed on these pages to be exhibited and it would be nice if it was applied fairly. I’m constantly trying to develop my skills as a critical thinker. I certainly have predjudices and conceptions that need to be challenged. I’m not seeing that by posters or the hosts here.

    Is the criticism fair?

  5. Dear CJ Cox–

    jcasey here. Thanks for the comments. You raise some interesting questions–questions we often think about. I have written on this site before about this question (not that I expect you to have found it). Here’s a short version of various things we’ve written (then I’ll reply to what you said about the straw man here).

    Will and the other conservative types, much moreso than their liberal counterparts in the major daily newspapers and so forth, *argue* for their views. They also have (especially Will and Krauthammer) well-formed ideologies. This causes them in my estimation to force arguements in ways they can’t go–and this is when one reasons badly. Dionne, on the other hand, as well as Cohen and some others, rarely argue much. They do a lot of meta-political analysis. Besides, they are ideologically more flexible. Paul Krugman is probably the most consistently argumentative liberal in a major daily newspaper. I read him a bunch and rarely find his arguments to suffer from structural–i.e., logical–problems. He may play fast and loose with facts–but I’m not in a position to evaluate that. And besides, that’s not our point.

    As for the claim that we’re not “balanced.” We’re not. But I think such questions of balance are often posed superficially. Could we have, however, more liberals as the object of scrutiny? Certainly. But since we are primarily media orientated (with a few forays into Bush and Cheney land), and they’re aren’t a lot of liberal *arguers* in the mainstream major newspapers and such, we don’t have a lot to go from. If you have suggestions along these lines, of course, we’re always happy to hear them. A bad argument is a bad argument.

    Finally–the straw man. Will consistently employs his shallow bleeding heart dishonest liberal caricature. Too often–go see how often in the archives. It’s appalling. He ought to know better than that. Liberals have arguments against Wal Mart that amount to much more than “Corporations bad!!” He ought to direct his attention at them.

    Once again, thanks for your comment. Please continue to criticize and comment. We profit greatly from such suggestions.


  6. One added point on partisanship. We examine particular arguments on a case by case basis. If our analysis is bad at any time, then don’t be afraid to point that out. We don’t intend that anyone draw any conclusions beyond the ones we explicitly draw. As we often point out, the failure of any particular conservative’s argument does not in any way imply the success of its liberal counterpart.

  7. Thanks for the responses.

    I find it hard to believe that you don’t think there are a lot of “liberal arguers” in the mainstream press! Or, that you insinuate that liberals don’t have “well formed ideologies.” I agree most conservatives have identified core priniples and tend to attempt to apply these to any issue identified. I’m not sure how liberals would work differently. If they do I’d love to hear how. I definitely want to learn how people do it poorly so I can make a better argument.

    I appreciate your up front and honest discussion here and I hope to engage you more. You answered me in a very fair and reasoned way.

    I also look forward to identifying some awful liberal argumentation from the main stream media for your use and the edification of your readers. As I said before I can learn from a good example whether done by the left or right.

    Ran across this excellent quote in my planner from Bertrand Russell
    “It is important to learn not to be angry with opinions different from your own, but to set to work understanding how they come about. If, after you have understood them, they still seem false, you can then combat them more effectually than if had continued to be merely horrified.”

    I hope this interchange will help me understand my worthy opponents better.

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