Washington DC’s city council has “tentatively” passed an ordinance that would raise the minimum wage from $8.25 ($1 more than the federal minimum wage) to $12.50 per hour. But this ordinance only applies to “non-union shops that are at least 75,000 square feet and whose parent companies gross above $1 billion annually.” Guess what company fits that description.
The left excuses this discrimination by calling it a “living wage” ordinance. But why is it that only employees of WalMart, and not employees of smaller retail shops, supermarkets, restaurants, or other businesses?
Ironically, over the last decade three successive Washington DC mayors worked hard to attract WalMart to build stores in inner-city neighborhoods. WalMart was reluctant to build in those areas due to crime, but finally agreed to open six stores in the district. “We’ve been praying for food in this neighborhood for about 40 years,” said the resident of one neighborhood where WalMart was planning to build.
Residents of this and other neighborhoods would not only benefit from WalMart’s low prices but also from the hundreds of jobs that each store would require. Certainly $12.50 an hour is more than $8.25, but $12.50 times zero jobs is a lot less than $8.25 times 600 jobs. Not surprisingly, WalMart is now threatening to abandon at least three if not all six of the stores it was planning to build in the city.
Meanwhile, the left-wing Grist magazine chortles over a requirement in Cape Cod, Massachusetts for any big-box retailers to do an “economic impact analysis” before receiving a permit to build. The retailers will presumably be denied permits if the analysis shows that existing businesses might be harmed by the lower prices and wider selection of goods offered by new superstores.
These policies set the standards all wrong. The only valid way of judging WalMarts and other major retailers is from the point of view of consumers, not employees and certainly not their competitors. Retailing evolves quickly, and for more than a hundred years, stores not willing to adapt and evolve have sought protection from the government instead. J.C. Penney faced this problem more than 100 years ago; A&P faced it 90 to 100 years ago; the first supermarkets faced it 75 years ago. Today it’s WalMart, but WalMart’s own business is threatened by on-line retailers such as Amazon (which makes the Antiplanner wonder how WalMart feels about proposals to tax Internet sales, which benefit big stores but would put many small shops out of business).
A hundred years ago, people bought their groceries by going to a counter and giving a man their order, and he would hand them their goods from behind the counter. Very few retail businesses work that way today because it is expensive and reduces consumer choice (not to mention impulse buying). If Cape Cod’s rule had been in general use a hundred years ago, though, that’s probably the way we would still be shopping.
People who don’t like WalMart should just not shop there, and people who think WalMart doesn’t pay enough should just not work there. Otherwise, they should get out of the way and let others make their own decisions.