19 November 2010

Choice in Commerce

(This is like the eighth DCist post by Morrissey I've commented on this week. I have no idea why. I don't have it out for the guy or anything, it's just a coincidence.)
DCist | Aaron Morrissey | Would Walmart Help Alleviate D.C.'s Food Desert Problem?

There are plenty of legitimate reasons for Washingtonians to oppose Walmart's arrival in the District of Columbia. Whether you oppose big box retail as but a precursor to vacant concrete slabs and unused space, or find the company's labor policies appalling, or think that Walmart's arrival will signal an end to D.C.'s small business renaissance -- let's just say that there is no shortage of arguments you can make against the company.
True. But there is a shortage of arguments which actually carry water.
Of course, there are plenty of people who will argue for it: of note, people who really like cheap stuff and those who believe that Walmart could bring jobs and revenue into the District. Alex Baca, in fact, has already verbalized this cognitive dissonance nicely: "Wal-Mart...[is] going to plunk its ass down somewhere with plenty of yardage and make people come to it."
No. This is the essence of the confused arguments against Walmart. Neither Walmart nor any other store can not make anyone come to it. People shop there by choice.

Walmart has never put an independent or mom-and-pop out of business. Customers have chosen to spend their money at Walmart rather than elsewhere.

Walmart has never forced anyone to work under certain labor policies. Employees have chosen to work there.

I am so deeply confused about this next passage. I have no idea how you would get to this conclusion rationally. Maybe someone can fill me in.
Of course, there are those who would tell you that it's not just about the availability of groceries that transforms a [food] desert into an oasis:
Building a Walmart to eliminate food deserts only serves as a cheap, "lesser evil" Band-Aid to the real, gaping problems that create them: poverty and inequality. Billion-dollar corporations like Walmart could throw all the fresh tomatoes and organic bananas at local residents they'd like, writes Eric Holt Gimenez, executive director of Food First, but it won't allow people in these communities to be lifted out of poverty and overcome the economic, health, and racial inequalities that cause food inequality. "The solution to food security in America must come through a revitalized food economy — one that pays workers a living wage, that includes worker and minority owned businesses, and that keeps food dollars in local communities," Gimenez wrote on the Huffington Post. "Walmart does none of that." To many people living in food deserts, Walmart isn't the answer, but rather a patronizing slap in the face.
How is offering someone a new choice of commerce an insult?

If poverty and prosperity are different ends of a spectrum of living conditions, how can adding new grocery choices only be papering over a problem? Isn't lowering the cost of things people consume making a real, tangible benefit to their living conditions, and therefore to their poverty?

What does having minority owned businesses have to do with whether people can get food on their table? Is the goal to feed people, or to use this issue as a wedge to agitate for tangential social changes

Why would you debate the right of Walmart to open a store on the basis of its effect on the Gini coefficient of income? Why does that never come up when someone is opening a new coffee shop?

If a "living wage" is one on which someone can live (and I confess I've always been confused about what this actually means beyond "what I think people ought to be paid") then wouldn't lowering the prices of consumables bring all people in the community closer to this standard?

Why is any of this Walmart's responsibility, besides "they have deep pockets and are rhetorically close at hand"?

No comments:

Post a Comment