Walmart as... Welfare Queen?


Robert Baratheon

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One of the strangest progressive memes of the past few years has got to be the following, which is currently making the rounds on social media:

http://www.dailykos.com/story/2012/10/10/1141724/-Walmart-fuels-inequality-epidemic-taking-advantage-of-our-safety-net

http://activism.thenation.com/p/dia/action3/common/public/?action_KEY=11116&tag=twitter

Stripping away the many superfluous adjectives, the argument goes something like this:

- Walmart pays low wages and limited healthcare benefits to many of its employees

- Some of the employees are eligible for food stamps and Medicaid because of their low compensation.

- Therefore, Walmart is using social safety nets as an integral part of its business model (Walmart = Welfare Queen)

There are too many logical fallacies wrapped into this argument to give proper treatment in one post. Aside from the dubious employment-as-exploitation framework upon which the argument rests, it is uniformly assumed that Walmart's low-wage workers are welfare recipients because of the widely accepted progressive truism that "it's impossible to live on such wages." One problem with this assumption - and with the broader category of "living wage" arguments - is that many low-wage workers are in fact living in households with pooled resources. A few obvious complicating factors in the analysis are marriage, roommates, teenagers living with parents, and other sources of income.

For the argument to carry any semblance of merit, one must further assume that Walmart wages are in fact adjusted downward in proportion to the availability of government programs like food stamps and Medicaid rather than being based on competitive market conditions. To my knowledge, there is no evidence whatsoever to support this conclusion, nor is such a hypothesis even testable in the first place.

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For the argument to carry any semblance of merit, one must further assume that Walmart wages are in fact adjusted downward in proportion to the availability of government programs like food stamps and Medicaid rather than being based on competitive market conditions. To my knowledge, there is no evidence whatsoever to support this conclusion, nor is such a hypothesis even testable in the first place.

You mean, aside from the observable empirical evidence that Walmart employees receive welfare benefits because their wages are insufficient to pay for a basic American lifestyle. (If only we could live in Africa and work in New York City... Thatched hut, dirty water, and $100,000 a year... )

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You mean, aside from the observable empirical evidence that Walmart employees receive welfare benefits because their wages are insufficient to pay for a basic American lifestyle. (If only we could live in Africa and work in New York City... Thatched hut, dirty water, and $100,000 a year... )

Yes, aside from that, since the simple fact that some Walmart employees receive public assistance on top of their compensation requires an Olympian leap of logic to reach the conclusion that Walmart itself is exploiting welfare programs.

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I understand WalMart briefs its employees on how to apply for sundry government benefits, the most likely being food stamps. COSTCO, the Eminent-Domain King (Queen?) pays much higher wages and has very low employee turnover. It's all mixed economy derivative bull shit and we all participate one way or another. Everything is distorted and questionable to some extent. Drive you crazy if you want. There is no Rearden or Rearden Steel in this world (TJ Rogers of Cyprus Semiconductors?), only grey crap. As the economy is de-regulated corporations will adjust to a more free-market model or roll over and die. If the economy goes the other way Zyklon B will appear on the horizon, maybe from Dow Chemical.

--Brant
buy the stock?

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Yes, aside from that, since the simple fact that some Walmart employees receive public assistance on top of their compensation requires an Olympian leap of logic to reach the conclusion that Walmart itself is exploiting welfare programs.

But it's Walmart's fault their employees can't quit.

Seriously though, aside from the cashiers, nobody seems to do anything at Walmart. How that one article could suggest they "deserve" a raise, whatever the hell that means, is based on "need" alone. But I think the cashiers get paid more than the floor staff anyway.

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Yes, aside from that, since the simple fact that some Walmart employees receive public assistance on top of their compensation requires an Olympian leap of logic to reach the conclusion that Walmart itself is exploiting welfare programs.

But it's Walmart's fault their employees can't quit.

Seriously though, aside from the cashiers, nobody seems to do anything at Walmart. How that one article could suggest they "deserve" a raise, whatever the hell that means, is based on "need" alone. But I think the cashiers get paid more than the floor staff anyway.

Somebody isn't "nobody."

--Brant

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One of my favorite EconTalk interviews (can you tell I'm a fan of the series?) was with writer/journalist Charles Platt about his experience applying for a job with Walmart and working there.

http://www.econtalk.org/archives/2009/06/platt_on_workin.html

What I particularly like about the episode is it turns the Walmart-as-anti-competitive-monopoly progressive narrative on its head. In reality, the Walmart is the anti-monopoly - it's ultra-competitive and constantly innovating through decentralized decision-making. Platt claims based on his (admittedly limited) experience with the company, Walmart workers are relatively content with their conditions, which is consistent with many of the people I know who work there. While it's true that $9/hour to stock shelves in air-conditioning isn't exactly a dream job for most of us, it's by far the best alternative for most of those who work there, and it beats the hell out of $7.50/hour slaving over a deep fryer and serving $1 hamburgers to homeless people all day.

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I've enjoyed the Wal Mart shopping experience for many years, and see most of the same employees working there year after year. Having talked with them, I've found them to be generally happy with their lot in life and regard their duties no matter how menial they might appear, to be a useful service to others. Generally, they are people who are comfortable with finding their purpose in society.

There is a general elitist disdain for the common laborer by those whose minds have been molded by the leftist government medrasas called Universities. Whereas I simply see Wal Mart employees as people who work to earn their bread, which makes them no different than myself..

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