Wal-Mart Is Front-line Soldier in Real War on Poverty


BALTIMORE — In Big Labor’s war against Wal-Mart, "collateral damage" — in the form of lost jobs and income for the poor — is starting to add up. Of course, since the unions and their legislative allies claim that their motive is to liberate people from exploitation by Wal-Mart, these unintended effects are often ignored.

Here in Maryland, however, that’s getting hard to do. The consequences of our legislature’s override of Republican Gov. Robert Ehrlich’s veto of their "Fair Share Health Care Act" on Jan. 12 will be tragic for some of the state’s neediest residents. The law will force companies that employ over 10,000 to spend at least 8% of their payroll on health care or kick any shortfall into a special state fund. Wal-Mart would be the only employer in the state to be affected.

Almost surely, therefore, the company will pull the plug on plans to build a distribution center that would have employed 800 in Somerset County, on Maryland’s picturesque Eastern Shore. As a Wal-Mart spokesman has put it, "you have to take a step back and call into question how business-friendly is a state like Maryland when they pass a bill that . . . takes a swipe at one company that provides 15,000 jobs."

 . . .

. . . , legislators should be mindful that companies like Wal-Mart are not the enemy but rather front-line soldiers in a real war on poverty. The profit motive leads them to seek out areas where there is much idle labor and put it to work. Where they are prevented or discouraged from doing so, the alternative job prospect is rarely a cushy spot in the bureaucracy. Rather, it is continued idleness and hardship.


For the full commentary, see:

STEVE H. HANKE and STEPHEN J.K. WALTERS. "Cross Country; Hard Line State." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., January 26, 2006): A11.


Using a T-shirt to Tell the Story of Progress

Source of image: Amazon.com

The protests occurred on ”a cold day in February 1999.” Ms. Rivoli was watching as students gathered at the gothic centerpiece of Georgetown to demonstrate against the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organization, and other putative villains of international trade. The crowd, Ms. Rivoli noticed with characteristic acuity, had ”a moral certainty, a unity of purpose” that permitted it to distinguish black from white and good from evil ”with perfect clarity.” One woman seized the microphone and asked: ”Who made your T-shirt? Was it a child in Vietnam? Or a young girl from India earning 18 cents per hour? Did you know that she lives 12 to a room? That she shares her bed and has only gruel to eat?”
Ms. Rivoli did not know these things, and she wondered how the woman at the microphone knew. But she decided to find out. In the rest of her narrative, the author tells the story of ”her” T-shirt, which she purchased for $5.99 by the exit of a Walgreen’s in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. ”It was white and printed with a flamboyantly colored parrot, with the word ‘Florida’ scripted beneath.” A company in Miami had engraved the front, after buying the shirt from a factory in China. The Chinese manufacturer had purchased the cotton used to make the shirt from Texas. Eventually it will end up as part of a large but little-known market for used clothing destined for resale in East African ports.
. . .
By looking across history to the shifting center of textile manufacturing from Manchester, England, to Lowell, Mass., to South Carolina to Japan and, finally, the developing nations of Asia, Ms. Rivoli discovers a universal truth. Without making light of the horrors experienced by workers, she asserts that their jobs were a little better than other available options (usually farm work) and, what’s more, that textile factories led to advances in industrialization and, just as dependably, in living standards. It is not too much to say that she uses the T-shirt to tell the story of progress.

For the full commentary on Rivoli’s book, see:
ROGER LOWENSTEIN. “OFF THE SHELF; Travels With My Florida Parrot T-Shirt.” The New York Times, Section 3 (Sun., August 21, 2005): 7.
The book is:
Pietra Rivoli. The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy: An Economist Examines the Markets, Power, and Politics of World Trade. John Wiley & Sons, 2005. ISBN: 0471648493

Reagan “the man who championed creative destruction”

ReaganStatueLiberty.jpg Image source: http://www.nytstore.com/ProdDetail.aspx?prodId=2689
From Wooldridge’s review of a book on Ronald Reagan:

Reeves argues that Reagan was a master of both imagination and delegation. He stuck firmly to a small number of clear goals – reducing the size of government, restoring America’s power and pride, and facing down Communism – and then delegated implementation to the “fellas.” He did not so much do things as persuade others to do them for him. But his preference for delegation should not be confused with passivity. He insisted on using the phrase “tear down this wall” against the advice of his underlings, for example.

Wooldridge describes Reagan as, in part:

. . . the man who championed “creative destruction” . . .

The review is:
ADRIAN WOOLDRIDGE. “The Great Delegator.” The New York Times, Section 7 (Sunday, January 29, 2006): 11.
The book being reviewed is:
Richard Reeves. PRESIDENT REAGAN: The Triumph of Imagination. Simon & Schuster, 2005, 571 pp. $30. ISBN: 0743230221

Private Property Rights Would Help American Indians

(p. W11) The main problem with Indian reservations isn’t, as some argue, that they were established on worthless tracts of grassland. Consider the case of Buffalo County, S.D., which Census data reveal to be America’s poorest county. Some 2,000 people live there. More than 30% of the homes are headed by women without husbands. The median household income is less than $13,000. The unemployment rate is sky high.

Just to the east of Buffalo County lies Jerauld County, which is similar in size and population. Yet only 6% of its homes are headed by women without husbands, the median household income is more than $30,000, and the unemployment rate hovers around 3%. The fundamental difference between these two counties is that the Crow Creek Indian Reservation occupies much of Buffalo County. The place is a pocket of poverty in a land of plenty.
Maybe we should give land back to the rez-dwellers, so that they may own private property the way other Americans do. Currently, the inability to put up land as collateral for personal mortgages and loans is a major obstacle to economic development. This problem is complicated by the fact that not all reservations have adopted uniform commercial codes or created court systems that are independent branches of tribal government — the sorts of devices and institutions that give confidence to investors who might have the means to fund the small businesses that are the engines of rural economies.
. . .
. . . the real tragedy is that reservations, as collectivist enclaves within a capitalist society, have beaten down their inhabitants with brute force rather than lifting them up with opportunity. As their economies have withered, other social pathologies have taken root: Indians are distressingly prone to crime, alcoholism and suicide. Families have suffered enormously. About 60% of Indian children are born out of wedlock. Although accurate statistics are hard to come by because so many arrangements are informal, Indian kids are perhaps five times as likely as white ones to live in some form of foster care. Their schools are depressingly bad.
Even if casino revenues were able to address these soul-crushing problems — a doubtful proposition — most reservations are too isolated geographically to profit from big-dollar gambling. Yet the rise of the casinos may help point the way forward: Their ability to flourish contradicts the tenured Marxists in ethnic-studies departments who claim that communitarian Indian cultures aren’t compatible with market capitalism. After all, it takes entrepreneurship to run some of the world’s biggest casinos.
What’s more, this modern-day entrepreneurship is part of a long tradition: Meriwether Lewis (of Lewis & Clark fame) described the Chinooks as “great hagglers in trade.” I once visited Poverty Point, a 3,000-year-old set of earthen mounds in Louisiana; the museum there displayed ancient artifacts found at the site, including copper from the Great Lakes and obsidian from the Rockies. These prehistoric Americans were budding globalizers, and there’s no reason why their descendants should remain walled off from the world economy.

For the full story, see:
JOHN J. MILLER. “The Projects on the Prairie.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, January 27, 2006): W11.(Note: ellipses added.)

“Dream Big and Dare to Fail”

(p. 8A) ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) – Norman Vaughan, a dog handler and driver in Adm. Richard Byrd’s 1928 expedition to the South Pole, has died.
Vaughan died at Providence Alaska Medical Center just a few days after turning 100 years old.
He was well enough six days before his death to enjoy a birthday celebration at the hospital attended by more than 100 friends and hospital workers.
Vaughan’s motto was “Dream big and dare to fail.”

“Vaughan with Byrd at Pole.” Omaha World-Herald (Sunday, January 8, 2006): 8A.

West Wing President Bartlet Endorses Creative Destruction

From Episode #519 of The West Wing, which was written by Eli Attie, directed by Richard Schiff, and first aired on NBC on Wednesday, April 21, 2004, during the fifth season:

Josh has negotiated a trade deal. The President is enthused about the agreement and he and Leo are looking now at getting it through Congress. But when C.J. asks what he is going to say to those who say the agreement is going to export jobs, Bartlet makes a joke about economists recommending filing for unemployment. So, Josh asks,

“Sir, have you read the talking points?”
“I’m an economist. Some would say half-decent. I don’t need a primer on this.”
“Due respect,sir,” Charlie says as a lead-in to, “your answers on economics can be a bit—” When he hesitates for a fraction of a second, Bartlet offers a word.
“Academic,” C.J. counters.
“I was going to go with incomprehensible,” says Leo.
“Hey listen: Any economic advancement involves what Schumpeter called ‘creative destruction’.”
“…Not a good answer,” C.J. tells him. “…’Cause that word ‘destruction will really mollify our critics….”
“Global economic forces are unstoppable just like technology itself,” Bartlet insists.
But C.J. and Josh counter that the answers to everything must be, “Free trade produces better, higher paying jobs. It’s got to be that simple.”

The source of the transcription of the above dialogue is: http://westwing.bewarne.com/fifth/519points.html
(I appreciate Matt Hunter alerting me to this mention of Schumpeter, and providing me with the above link.)

The Good Old Days, When Coffee Smelled Like Wet Dogs

We tend to romanticize the country store, and to deride chain stores and name brands. But maybe coffee lovers should think twice.


(p. 116, footnote 1) "The air was thick with an all-embracing odor," wrote Gerald Carson in The Old Country Store, "an aroma composed of dry herbs and wet dogs, [of] strong tobacco, green hides and raw humanity."  Bulk roasted coffee absorbed all such smells.



Pendergrast, Mark. Uncommon Grounds: The History of Coffee and How It Transformed Our World. New York: Basic Books, 2000.


(Note: the “of” in brackets in the Carson quote is the word Carson used in his book; Pendergrast mistakenly substitutes the word “or”; I have corrected Pendergrast’s mistake.)