The Wal-Mart Way

Charles Platt (Photo: New York Post)
Charles Platt (Photo: New York Post)

An interesting article in the New York Post from former Wired writer Charles Platt, who went undercover working in an Arizona Wal-Mart to get the inside story on the world’s largest retailer. His discovery? It’s not the soul-deadening hell-pit that labor unions and anti-growth activists would have you believe.

He notes that for many unskilled workers, the company offers chances for advancement, even if the starting wages are nothing to crow about:

I found myself reaching an inescapable conclusion. Low wages are not a Wal-Mart problem. They are an industry-wide problem, afflicting all unskilled entry-level jobs, and the reason should be obvious.

In our free-enterprise system, employees are valued largely in terms of what they can do. This is why teenagers fresh out of high school often go to vocational training institutes to become auto mechanics or electricians. They understand a basic principle that seems to elude social commentators, politicians and union organizers. If you want better pay, you need to learn skills that are in demand.

The blunt tools of legislation or union power can force a corporation to pay higher wages, but if employees don’t create an equal amount of additional value, there’s no net gain. All other factors remaining equal, the store will have to charge higher prices for its merchandise, and its competitive position will suffer.

This is Economics 101, but no one wants to believe it, because it tells us that a legislative or unionized quick-fix is not going to work in the long term.

Of course, the low wages Platt describes are still more than I make running this idiotic blog, so maybe I should look into this as an exciting new career opportunity. And it’d give me a chance to wear my snappy red turtleneck! Read the whole thing and form your own conclusions.

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