Lurking behind the critique of Walmart is a strange view of business. . . . very old-fashioned. It is almost as if progressives see big businesses as little different from slave plantations. When the masters treat the slaves well, then left-leaning critics might give them a pass. But when the masters dont meet up to some imposed standard, then the masters are said to be evil.
To the left, employers remain masters. And workers remain slaves. The terms of the wage contracts that would prove otherwise get little or no respect. You can tell by progressives willingness to override or prohibit any contract they dont approve of.
This weird institutional bias seems to dominate leftist imagination. The institutions are there to employ workers, and they are under obligations more specific than merely living up to their contracts. The reason to treat workers well is entirely a matter of morality, of humanity, and not business sense or contract. That is, the only reason businesses do not drain and drink the blood of their employees is because governments, urged by well-meaning activists, prohibit such acts.
Not mentioned? The business reasons contra-indicating the draining of employee blood.
The bias assumes radical inequality: Workers have few obligations; employers have many. And yet every wage contract is between two parties. Both have some negotiating room. Both can reject offers. It is commonly said that businesses have more options than workers do, considering competition amongst laborers, but that depends on skill levels, and time and place. Generally, the higher the skill set of a worker, the higher the pay — and the more options. Its related to productivity, to something economists call marginal product, but apparently no wants to talk about that. Even ignoring productivity, just looking at the numbers game of supply and demand competition, the more employers there are the more workers will bid up wages (thats one reason why most wages arent as low as they are at Walmart, or its competitors).
So you might think that those who say they want higher wages would try to minimize the obstacles to business formations and capital accumulation.
But youd be wrong.
Indeed, they take the opposite approach: attack successful big businesses as a sort of compensation to help more struggling businesses. Whether from the desks of The Nation or the geniuses in the District of Columbias ruling body (who have recently been favoring some big box stores over others), the demand of the moment is for the bigger outfits to pay wages substantially higher than smaller businesses would be forced to pay. This, they reason, might help favor the small at the expense of the big.
Maybe. But its not the only effect of the policy.
Raising the costs to the successful stores means that the lower prices offered by those stores will not so effectively reach the mass of consumers, many of whom are poor. Indeed, considering the effects on consumer prices of the lefts obsession with big box stores, I have to wonder: who really is being served by all this?
As near as I can make out, only the progressives themselves. Their desire to interpose between producer and worker, consumer and producer, shows no consistency other than that of a meddler, a puritanical scold who always knows best.
But does fewer people working at higher wages paying higher prices for goods make any sense?
Not if youre poor.
But it does feed the eternal progressive love for progressively larger government. [further reading]