In praise of Wal-Mart

One of my many conservative mantras is, “Capitalism rules; don’t mess with it.”

To that end, I’ve never really understood the vilification of “big” business. Big business is, after all, the inescapable result of capitalism. Big business provides jobs, benefits and stock dividends and helps drive the economy. I’ve never once met anyone, no matter his or her income, who didn’t have at least one of the following: a microwave, a cell phone, a dishwasher, cable television or an Internet service provider. All courtesy of big business and capitalism.

The most recent embodiment of evil—that is, big business—is Wal-Mart. It is also frequently vilified as having achieved global domination on the backs of labor, even though its total sales account for less than 10 percent of the world’s retail market. At 1.3 million employees, Wal-Mart is the world’s largest private employer. Doubtless there are some bad apples among so many employees, but why do the rest stay? Involuntary servitude was outlawed with the passage of the 13th Amendment, so they must know something the rest of us don’t. Perhaps Wal-Mart is not as oppressive to labor as is generally reported.

Four years ago, a segment of our metropolis banded together to protest the opening of a new Wal-Mart store in northwest Reno, just as they had done with the Super Kmart a few years before that. Vilifying Wal-Mart as a union-busting, predatory-pricing behemoth, they predicted the end of civilization as we know it. In attempts to block the store, opponents produced a study that reported the store would generate unacceptable traffic volumes, bringing McCarran Boulevard to a standstill, with traffic backed up the I-80 freeway off-ramp.

The project had previously been approved by the Nevada Department of Transportation, the Regional Planning Commission, the Regional Transportation Commission, and the city Planning Commission, but our venerable City Council caved to a bunch of vocal miscreants—in an election year.

In the ensuing lawsuit rightfully brought by Wal-Mart, Washoe County District Court Judge Steven Kosach overturned the council’s decision, and thus a 22-acre Wal-Mart was born.

Passing by said store today, I couldn’t help but notice that it was open for business, and the parking lot was full.

So a vocal minority, purporting to speak for the entire community, almost deprived Reno residents of the opportunity to get their goods at low, low prices. If the parking lot was any indication, that is something we like. The point here is that if enough of the community boycotted the store, they could’ve summarily shut it down quite easily. Unlike, say, government, business must make money to keep the doors open. If a location isn’t making money, it’s closed. Obviously the local militia was not sufficiently large or representative of the community, so the store won. Four years later, this American success story continues.

Of course, nowhere is it reported that Wal-Mart made Fortune magazine’s lists of the “Most Admired Companies in America” and the “100 Best Companies to Work For.”

Coincidentally, it had $9.1 billion in net income last year and paid $4 billion in taxes. (How does “big business” not pay its fair share again?)

If you’re a shareholder like me, you’d be happy to note that Wal-Mart has increased dividends to its shareholders every year since 1974. It paid out $1.6 billion last year (that’s 36 cents per share) and has approved 52 cents per share for 2005.

So, as I understand this, Wal-Mart pays almost half its net income in taxes, gives its owners another 10 percent, and we shareholders get the pleasure of paying taxes on it again? Can anyone explain the fairness here?