Sitting down for Thanksgiving last week, my family (grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles) mostly stayed away from political talk, which can sometimes leave everyone in a dour mood. The one exception: Wal-Mart.
Why does everyone these days seem to be mad at Wal-Mart? I’ll point one finger at Robert Greenwald, whose movie, “Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price,” has done exactly what it set out to do: enrage liberals. They’re going bananas over the discount retailer they’ve grown to hate.
Sebastian Mallaby of the Washington Post reveals in an op-ed today why Wal-Mart isn’t the enemy of poor Americans. In fact, it’s because of Wal-Mart’s low prices, Mallaby writes, that the poor can afford to eat.
Wal-Mart’s discounting on food alone boosts the welfare of American shoppers by at least $50 billion a year. The savings are possibly five times that much if you count all of Wal-Mart’s products.
Wal-Mart’s "every day low prices" make the biggest difference to the poor, since they spend a higher proportion of income on food and other basics. As a force for poverty relief, Wal-Mart’s $200 billion-plus assistance to consumers may rival many federal programs. Those programs are better targeted at the needy, but they are dramatically smaller. Food stamps were worth $33 billion in 2005, and the earned-income tax credit was worth $40 billion.
And sure, I’ll acknowledge that Wal-Mart employees aren’t raking in the big bucks, but, Mallaby points out, why then do so many people want to work there?
When Wal-Mart opened a store in Glendale, Ariz., last year, it received 8,000 applications for 525 jobs, suggesting that not everyone believes the pay and benefits are unattractive.
The company is in a hole right now, but there’s no doubt that it will find a way to overcome the bad press. It has done so in the past.