Don’t Blame Walmart

I don’t often shop at Walmart. It’s laid out in the most haphazard fashion and its products are not always reliable. Sometimes they work out OK; sometimes  not so much. (And Sandra won’t eat their groceries.)

But I think the current crusade against the retail giant is unfair.

Sure, Walmart employees are paid little and nothing. Sure, they’re often treated like indentured servants. And, yes,  Walmart workers definitely need a union.

But it’s not necessarily up to Walmart to mend its ways. As long as the company’s economic model works, and as long as they’re not using physical force, or other illegal means, to intimidate their workers, I think it’s unreasonable to demand that Walmart become like Starbucks (as Timothy Egan seems to suggest in the New York Times). Or like Costco (as some other Walmart critics advocate).

Starbucks and Costco’s benevolent models work for them; Walmart’s mean-spirited model works for Walmart.

And if Walmart workers must rely on food stamps and other kinds of welfare to survive, that’s a shame. But I don’t blame Walmart. I blame the federal government.

If the government created an economy in which low-skilled workers could find other jobs, better paying jobs, they wouldn’t flock to Walmart.

I see the primary role of government not as some kind of police agency, telling private companies what they can and cannot do. For one thing, private companies find ways to get around federal regulations. For another, too much government regulation breeds the kind of rebellion you are seeing in the Tea Party and other hostile groups.

I would prefer the government to be an enabler, providing incentives to private companies to do the right thing, and competition to private companies if they don’t.

Instead of regulating the vast health care industry, for example, it would have been more effective to expand Medicare and provide an alternative insurance source to compete against the private insurers. But a single-payer health insurance system was out of the question politically. Too many Democrats sided with Republicans against it.

And, while I can see the merits of a minimum wage hike, the government might get even better results by providing alternative sources of employment to compete against employers like Walmart.

Why can’t Walmart workers find better jobs?

The fault is yours and mine. We let skinflints get control of Congress, and they refuse to pass a jobs bill. They are letting the nation’s infrastructure rot, while millions are jobless.

You voted Democrat? That’s not enough. We should have done more. We didn’t get enough of our friends to vote with us. We didn’t persuade those “conservative” acquaintances to change their tune. We didn’t give President Obama a Congress he could work with.

In a democracy like ours, individuals – you and me – have to work harder to ensure we get the government we want. If we don’t, we get the government we deserve.

Click for Timothy Egan’s column.

Click for Walmart’s response.

Click for Walmart’s policies vs. Costco’s.