Labor activists are outraged that Walmart has decided to close 154 stores in the United States and 269 globally. The top company in the Fortune 500 has been slammed as greedy and lying: “Walmart is a company that, time and again, will say one thing and then do the opposite. Public relations matters more to them than their customers, the community, or their employees,” said Jess Levin, communications director for the United Food and Commercial Workers-linked (UFCW) group Making Change at Walmart.
Oddly, however, liberals and union activists have been long-time supporters of shutting Walmart down. From small towns like Ashland and Hood River, Oregon, to big cities like San Francisco and New York City, they’ve run campaigns to ban Walmart.
Most of the time that is accomplished by banning all retail stores over a certain size—at 45,000 square feet in Ashland, for example. But it’s no secret who their target is. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio was crystal clear in 2014 when he said, “I have been adamant that I don’t think Walmart—the company, the stores—belong in New York City, and I continue to feel that.”
Now there are crocodile tears when Walmart stores are shutting down?
Do You Care about Jobs or Not?
According to reports, 10,000 U.S. employees will be affected. Walmart says it will shift some to nearby stores. Many others will necessarily be let go. Perhaps that will also result in fewer employees being hired in the future than would have otherwise been hired had the stores been profitable and remained open. No matter what, some people will end up having to find a new job.
But if liberals were so concerned about jobs, why did many oppose Walmart in the first place? Whether blocking a new Walmart, which would create X jobs, or seeing an existing Walmart that employs X people close, the result is the same: X fewer jobs than would have existed. One cannot be logically consistent in opposing the construction of a Walmart while also opposing its closing.
Many liberals think Walmart jobs offer scandalously little pay and benefits. “Walmart’s corporate practices create an atmosphere, where they are able to bottom out prices, where they hurt the community and workers,” Patrick Purcell, a UCFW spokesman, said in 2012. So UFCW opposed the opening of a Walmart in New York City. Apparently no jobs are better than what they think are low-paying jobs. So wouldn’t the situation for workers look better now that bad jobs are being cut?
Customer Demand Determines Success
Some liberals think Walmart cause local “mom ‘n pop” stores to shut down. One commenter by the moniker “DeathbyInches,” commenting on the Arkansas Times’ blog, summarized the argument: “Walmart store caused all the old places to go belly up and close. He thinks everyone has the ability to drive 40 miles to get their drugs now that the old drug store has been closed for a few years and the Walmart drug store is leaving.” In short, now there is nothing—no jobs and no place to shop—whereas the local stores would have been preserved if Walmart had never entered.
But that argument displays a misunderstanding of the dynamic environment that exists in free-market capitalism. Walmart’s leaders thought they had opportunities in all of these places, and they entered the market. Clearly they miscalculated, and now they are closing due to lack of demand. If the demand existed, they would still be in business.
Meanwhile, other businesses or individuals have the chance to exploit the situation as they see fit. Maybe there is demand in a small town for a small grocery store and a small hardware store but not for the big box. If so, entrepreneurs can open shop and earn money.
That argument is somewhat moot, however, because 102 of the 154 locations closing are actually Walmart Expresses, smaller stores located in cities. Big cities were among the most opposed to Walmart, and they have a lot of competition already that would absorb the impact. Urban residents just didn’t like shopping in small Walmarts. (Vox writer Matt Yglesias, who says he has “been engaged in a lifelong near-boycott of Walmart,” wrote in 2013 that “the urban-format Walmart may be an idea whose time has already passed.”)
Clearly, a good deal of anti-capitalist liberals have no solid economic understanding or principles. They attack big corporations, no matter what the circumstances. Whole Paycheck—where many of them shop—is too expensive, but they also balk at opening low-price stores in urban areas where they allege that so-called “food deserts” exist. They’re against Walmart existing but also against Walmart ceasing to exist. Big business can do no right.
Well, except for when Walmart endorses Obamacare.