Adventures in Ideas: Conversation With Al Norman, Author of Occupy Walmart

Perhaps some of you have been following the debates in various cities (e.g., New York, Chicago) over big retail stores that land in their backyard. I enjoy reading about attempts to regulate economic activity because I believe it raises a central contradiction of American society: phrased as a question, how much regulation is necessary to maintain the free market? Maybe this is not a contradiction, but a perennial challenge. Two areas seem ripe for inquiry: The need to monitor big financial institutions and the limitations that some want to impose on mega-retailers who crowd out the little mom & pop establishments.

Regarding the second issue, I came across a book I thought might interest you. Al Norman has been writing critically about the retail chain Walmart for some time. He brings his insights and passion together in a book called Occupy Walmart. Below is a brief Q&A.

Q. I want to begin with a basic economic question: Why do you feel that so many consumers support companies like Walmart if they are supposedly so detrimental to our economy and our social contract? I know hundreds of families that benefit from the prices and the commodities that Walmart brings to their town. How do we explain this apparent contradiction?

A. For many Walmart shoppers, their grasp of the economic ramifications of a decision to shop at big box stores is no bigger than the dimensions of their own shopping cart. There used to be a Walmart bumper sticker which read: “Outta my way, I’m shopping at Walmart.” But if you look behind the sticker price, there is a hidden price to our economy of shopping at the giant chain stores.

The story of blue jeans will illustrate the economic forces at work. Levi-Strauss was once the iconic symbol of American clothing. Because of pressure from big box stores to lower their prices, two things happened: 1) the manufacturer shut down all its U.S. stitching plants about a decade ago, throwing more than 3,300 Americans out of work, and 2) the company began making a special “big box” brand of jeans only for stores like Walmart, K-Mart and Meijers. Today, you can buy Levi-Strauss slim straight jeans for men anywhere from $22 to $26 at these box stores.

But Walmart also sells its own “Faded Glory” brand jeans for $10 a pair. None of these jeans are made in America, and the cheaper the price, the cheaper the quality. The fabric and the thread count in a Faded Glory jean are inferior to a Levi-Strauss Signature jean, which is inferior to the Levi 511 jeans. If I go to Walmart and buy a pair of Faded Glory or Signature Levi’s, I am supporting the outsourcing of jobs to Asian sweatshops, getting an inferior product that ends up in my town’s landfill in half the time of a superior product, and weakening the value of labor in the U.S. — often described as the shrinking of the American middle class.

When Levi-Strauss closed its U.S. plants, a company spokesman said, “There is no question that we must move away from owned-and-operated plants in the U.S. to remain competitive in our industry…Outsourcing production…helps us maintain strong margin.” Since 2004, a company called Li & Fung USA has been designing, manufacturing, and marketing certain Levi trademarks. In essence, a foreign company has become the “brand manager” for what was once the classic American clothing company.

Companies like Walmart have had a major impact on our trade deficit with China, our loss of millions of production jobs, and our switch from a manufacturing economy to a consumer economy. All this flows from the decisions we make as shoppers to buy Chinese-made jeans at an import store like Walmart.

Q. You have an intriguing chapter, entitled “Wayward Capitalism,” that looks at the Occupy Wall Street movement. You address the ways in which individual residents can affect the behavior of large corporations like Walmart for the greater good of their communities. Can you cite some examples where business and communities have worked hand-in-hand to satisfy the interests of both?

A. The only times I have seen local officials and developers work “hand in hand” is when they are colluding to approve a project by discouraging citizen involvement.

For the past twenty years, I have watched developers try to maximize profits by constructing the largest store possible on the smallest parcel of land. Properties with historic values, with wetlands, with surrounding residential properties — all have been fair game for big box developers

The land use model in this country is not based on town/corporate collaboration. There are situations where cities and towns have extracted commitments from large corporations regarding local hiring, even wages. Such “community benefit agreements” are rare. By and large, the developer’s job is to push for as many concessions from local officials as possible. Big box stores like Walmart, Target, Home Depot and Lowe’s will deliberately attempt to end-run local regulations, or even sue city councils if they dare to deny a project. Mayors and City Councils are reluctant to use public dollars to fight a wealthy corporation in court. Instead of sitting down with neighbors, developers will intentionally marginalize them. Walmart has often challenged town decisions at the ballot box, spending as much as half a million dollars to win a special permit in a public referendum.

Q. What is an example of a large corporation that you believe operates in a more sustainable way vis-a-vis its workers?

A. I believe that the phrase “sustainable large corporation” is an oxymoron.

Employee-owned companies tend to treat their worker/owners better than a company like Walmart, which basically operates like a retail plantation. In the retail sector, the number of employee-owned companies like Publix Supermarkets, Hy-Vee, or Price Chopper can be counted on two hands. Publix, with 152,000 employees, is one of the largest employee-owned operations in America — yet its workforce is only one tenth the size of Walmart’s. Founded in 1930, Publix Super Markets describes itself as “ the largest and fastest-growing employee-owned supermarket chain in the United States.” The company boasts of a employee stock ownership plan that gives stock to workers each year at no cost; has a group health, dental and vision plan; and company paid life insurance.

Unlike Walmart, Publix has been listed for the past 15 years in Fortune magazine’s 100 Best Companies to work for. You won’t find Walmart, Target, Home Depot or Lowe’s on that list—because employees have to put you there. Walmart has more employee-based lawsuits than men’s suits.

Walmart is a chain store. At every link of that chain—from the sweatshops in Shenzhen, China, to the sales floor in Sheboygan, Wisconsin—someone is being exploited. This business model is simply not sustainable.

Q. People defend Walmart as a big-box retailer by saying that they just play the game better than others — meaning, they play the “free market” game better than others. Are you suggesting that the game is rigged, or that they are rigging the game? I’m trying to figure out if Walmart gets help from the government or otherwise operates in way that is not true to free market principles.

A. I am not sure what people mean by the “free market,” unless it refers to companies that are trying to get something for free in the marketplace. The capitalist enterprise in America is not “free” of restraints and rules. It is part private capital, part government intervention. There is no question that large corporations have many advantages in this environment — and companies like Walmart will milk everything from tax increment financing to elaborate tax dodges to reduce its operating costs.

For example, in 2007, the Wall Street Journal ran a story revealing that Walmart paid billions of dollars a year in rent for its stores, but in 25 states — most of them east of the Mississippi — it had been paying most of that rent to itself, and deducting that amount from its state taxes. By so doing, Walmart avoided paying several hundred million dollars in state taxes.

Based on a scheme developed by its accounting firm, Ernst & Young, for a “local tax reduction strategy,” Walmart’s financial self-dealing allowed it to pay rent to itself through a maze of eight corporate subsidiaries, including Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs). The rent appeared as an expense on state tax forms, and was deducted from its taxable revenues. Under an agreement with itself, Walmart paid 2.5 percent of gross sales monthly as rent to its own REIT, which then wired the money quarterly to Walmart Property Company in the form of a dividend, which was then paid to Walmart Stores as a tax-exempt “dividends received.”

All of these transactions were handled through a “cash management agreement” between all the parties. Neither the REIT nor the Property Company ever had any employees. The REITs didn’t pay taxes, as long as they paid 90 percent of their income out in dividends to shareholders. In Walmart’s case, the REITs were owned by Walmart subsidiaries registered in Delaware, a state that has no corporate income tax. Walmart got the benefit of the rent expense, but also the benefit of the non-taxed dividend, on the same monies. The dividends escaped taxation, and the original rent that created the dividends was deducted from taxable income in the states where the “expense” was incurred. The rent, in essence, went from one Walmart pocket, into another.

It took some states years to figure out how Walmart was cheating them of taxes due. Add to this the millions of dollars in “corporate welfare” that cities and towns give Walmart in tax write offs for infrastructure like roads, sewer, and traffic improvements. There is no reason why a company with Walmart’s bottom line should get any public financing, but taxpayers have been subsidizing their destruction of smaller firms by underwriting many of their costs of doing business.

Q. Today progressives are complaining about Walmart, but tomorrow it will be someone else. Isn’t capitalism perfectly engineered as an economy to produce bigger and bigger companies? Isn’t that always going to happen?

A.As I state in my latest book, capitalism is inherently very wasteful and inefficient. Defenders of this “free” marketplace like to quote the Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter, who popularized the concept of the “creative destruction” of the capitalist enterprise. One of the great economic myths about companies like Walmart is that they are “job creators.” When a new Walmart opens, the company (and local officials) will claim that the new superstore brings with it “250 new jobs.” This is a form of voodoo economics—because studies have shown that as much as 80 percent of these jobs are simply transferred from existing retailers in the same trade area. So the net effect is negligible. In fact, some analyses have shown negative job growth after a Walmart opens.

It is fair to say that there will always be the big bully on the block that attracts the scorn of neighbors. This was true in the 1930s, when farmers and merchants united in an anti-chain store movement against the Atlantic & Pacific Company. Walmart, like any other business, will go through its business cycle, and one day—perhaps in the not too distant future—will become as obsolete as the Sears Catalogue—once the retail center of American merchandising. I have no doubt that the huge superstores of today have already entered their Ice Age, and online shopping will make them as superfluous as horseless carriages made horses.

The point is, capitalism is not “perfectly engineered.” It is perhaps evenly balanced between creation and destruction. In the field or retailing, the nearly 4,000 Walmart stores in American have done little or nothing to lift the economy, and as I have argued for years, have actually precipitated the decline in the value of labor and the sustainability of the middle class. Our economy over the past 50 years would have fared better if Sam Walton had never stumbled onto the concept of discount retailing in small towns.

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  1. caleb b says:

    So what if the jeans are made in China? Please read Econ 101.

    Should everything I buy be made in my home state? What about my city? What about just the block I live on? IN FACT, I am costing MYSELF jobs by not butchering my own meat or sewing my own clothes.

    Occupy Walmart is a preachy, economically illiterate book that panders to people of the same. I’m disappointed that it was given a forum here.

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    • Mike B says:

      Correct, it doesn’t matter where the jeans are made, but WalMart has been tricking Americans into purchasing goods with low up front costs, but high lifetime costs (via bad quality). After all, if your cheap WalMart product breaks after 6 months or a year, you have to come back to WalMart and buy a new one.

      WalMart first got big though honest innovations in efficiency, but then started using its market power to co-opt producers into making high churn, low quality items and preventing competition from high quality items. That’s the problem, but the people who write books like this are still wedded to the idea that our society should be paying middle class wages to unskilled labourers.

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      • Phillip Ng says:

        I would argue that a dollar today is worth more than a dollar tomorrow. Accordingly, people who shop at Walmart probably realize they are buying bad quality products, but would rather have sequential reoccuring expenses than buy a quality product upfront.

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      • Bob says:

        I would really like to see a detailed analysis on the costs over a lifetime on buying from Wal-Mart. The fact is, next time you go to buy from Wal-Mart, the cost is still low.

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      • Enter your name... says:

        It depends on what you’re buying. I can see the argument for clothes that an adult wears every day, but occasional clothes (I haven’t worn jeans for almost 20 years, but might get a pair for a particular costume) or for growing children probably don’t increase the lifetime cost. Even the cheapest baby clothes are likely to last longer than they will fit.

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      • BSK says:

        Are they really “tricking” people? I don’t know anyone who buys from WalMart and is then shocked to find the clothes fall apart.

        There are a lot of things to fault WalMart for. Selling low-quality goods for low prices is not one of them.

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  2. frankenduf says:

    there is no contradiction, because there is no tooth fairy, imean free market- there is only regulation for privatization (bailouts, regressive tax policy) vs. regulation for socialization (taxes, unions)

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  3. MrAtoZ says:

    Wal-Mart, and for that matter all its brethren (Target, Kohls, Kmart, Meijer), are far from perfect, but I would rather live in a country with them than it one where they are banned. And what’s his solution for limiting the creative destructive efect of Amazon and other online only retailers? You can’t live in, or for, the past.

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    • Bob says:

      If Wal-Mart does not innovate, it will fall to Amazon. If that happens, when Wal-Mart falls to Amazon, these occupiers will gleefully cheer that they finally got those evil capitalists, and the occupiers will fail to realize that they both lost to much more efficient competition.

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  4. Nil says:

    ” I have no doubt that the huge superstores of today have already entered their Ice Age, and online shopping will make them as superfluous as horseless carriages made horses.”

    While on-line shopping will certainly increase I suspect we will still have plenty of even bigger superstores as most consumers will always want immediate gratification when making purchases instead of getting the items a day or two later and will demand product selection & pricing that is competitive with the online retailers.

    What seems much more realistic is that improved RFID or similar technology will make 90% of retail workers superfluous in another decade or two. Once every little product has a tiny chip in it then machines can automatically restock the shelves and there is no need for cashiers to ring up products as a shopper could just push their whole cart through a scanner and swipe a card or use a cell phone to pay. Wal-Marts of the future will be able to man their 200k+ sq foot stores with just 5-6 employees. At least those few remaining employees are likely to be higher skilled and higher paid so perhaps that thought can slightly comfort critics such as Mr. Norman.

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    • Mike B says:

      The way the WalMart’s of the world are good for the local economy is not through jobs, but through the cost reductions of retail items available to local consumers. When people save money at WalMart they can purchase more goods and services elsewhere which creates new jobs to replace the ones WalMark destroyed in the local retail space.

      Only problem is that automation and outsourcing have eliminated many of the jobs that people need to be able to shop anywhere besides WalMart and because education and healthcare can’t be sold at WalMart an increasing amount of the population is having to go without.

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    • Bob says:

      Online retailers are way ahead of you. They are fighting themselves to be the first to bring same-day delivery to customers.

      200k+ sq foot retail spaces will be ancient soon enough, when robots can just man a warehouse and ship a product directly to your door the day you order it. The concept of shoppers pushing a cart to buy stuff will be laughable, when anyone can buy anything anywhere with a click on their computer or a tap on their smartphone.

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      • anon says:

        Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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      • Bob says:

        The idea of people driving to a supermarket to pick up groceries once seemed ridiculous too. In fact, most of what you talk about in terms of appliances and clothing would’ve been unthinkable once upon a time.

        While it may seem unthinkable now, you have to rethink what you mean by computer literate. Smartphones are making computers more accessible than ever, and there is an app for everything now. It is not beyond possibility that maybe in the near future, people will use apps to shop for basic necessities, and they will laugh at the times when they wasted their day shopping at a store.

        I suspect that even you one day, far in the future, will enjoy the convenience of having your food and other items you got into your car and went out shopping to buy delivered directly to you after you purchased them on whatever device comes along. Instead of bothering your aging body to go to the store, you get the store to come to you.

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  5. Mike B says:

    I have absolutely no problem with Walmart being large and efficient and driving small mom and pop stored out of business. That’s call progress and it is how standards of living are able to increase. Before A&P came along Americans would spend 33% of their incomes on food and filling a basket of groceries would often take trips to 5 different stores and take most of a day. Do you really want to go back to the pre-A&P days where you had to go into a general store and ask the clerk to hand you items that were stocked behind the counter? By your logic such inefficient operation would be great for the economy because it employs more people!!

    My primary problem with WalMart is its commitment to lowering the quality of the goods its sells due to its Monopsony power to set prices. If you don’t meet a certain price point you don’t get put on the shelves, no matter how “important” your brand or product is and as you pointed out this has lead to all sorts of high quality American brands watering down their products and outsourcing labour to meet these low price points. Now is this a shame because thousands of American jobs are being sent to China? No, most of the jobs that are being eliminated are provide little value added and should be eliminated. The real shame is that Walmart is the best example of the old adage that it is the stingy man that pays the most. Walmart’s whole business model came to be built around the bait and switch where you were enticed by the low up front prices, but could not see the higher lifecycle costs for a low quality good.

    What allowed this to happen is a combination of Walmart’s size of a corporation being able to nullify the producer’s previous prerogative of producing, marketing and pricing a good and various changing cultural factors that make Americans demand more “things”, while at the same time not providing them with the rising incomes to purchase those things as the previous quality and price points. What else would you expect WalMart to do when all of its customers were increasingly poor and selling shoddy merchandise would ensure repeat business.

    Ironically the only entity that can possibly change consumer habits as you are advocating is WalMart itself. When WalMart wishes to be a force for good and progress it can be. WalMart has drastically driven down the cost of organic foods and efficient light bulbs. If WalMart were to see out high lifetime value products or products that are made in America and instead of competing only on rock bottom prices, changing it to best value for money they could go a long long long way to solving the problem of Americans wasting their dwindling dollars on bottom bucket goods.

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  6. DavidS says:

    Why do people continue to think that we will become richer if we trade with fewer and fewer people?

    Do we want to be the country that still makes blue jeans, while other countries are pioneering internet/software/medical imaging technologies? Do we aspire to be the Guatemala of today in 20 years?

    I remember the last time the economy stunk this bad, the late 1970s. Everyone was talking protectionism, and how we should protect this industry and that industry. Had we done that, we would still be making rotary phones, tube televisions, and mimeograph machines.

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    • Bob says:

      The protectionism alarm is ringing loudly today. Recently, Obama declared that he has no problem with “saving” every industry, since it seemed to work so well for the auto industry.

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    • Mike B says:

      To be fair, making jeans doesn’t have to be a low tech, low value industry. The alternative to China is high tech domestic production of jeans using automated jeans making machines. When China uses prison camp labour to kill domestic advances in productivity then everybody loses.

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  7. James says:

    Couple of points that seem to have been missed here. First on the jeans: yes, the Faded Glory brand is a lighter fabric than Levis, which makes them more comfortable to wear. They’re also tailored somewhat differently (don’t ask me to explain just how), so they me fit better. So even if I had both brands side by side in a store, at the same price, I’d likely wind up buying the Faded Glory.

    Second issue here is that, for me at least, shopping decisions are far more about convenience than price. If I can pick up everything I need by spending 20 minutes in a big box store, why would I want to spend two hours or more going around to a half-dozen mom & pop stores? Sure, I’d like it if there were big boxes which concentrated on quality rather than absolute low prices, but I place a pretty high value on my time.

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  8. J1 says:

    So what I take from this:

    1. People shop at WalMart because, well, they’re just not as smart as Al.
    2. People buy blue jeans that were made in WalMart’s asian sweatshops, instead of Levi Strauss’ asian sweatshops.
    3. I should ignore the economic disasters of countries with centrally planned economies, because capitalism is so inefficient.
    4. Large successful companies should ignore their business plans and run their business the way unemployed protestors with masters degrees in puppetry would run them.
    5. Large companies have more success getting around unreasonable environmental regulations than smaller companies.
    6. When WalMart moves into town, employees get a crappy job at WalMart after leaving their even crappier job at the mom n’ pop place that paid them less, had zero opportunity for advancement, and didn’t offer benefits.
    7. Mom n’ pop places that pay less, offer zero opportunity for advancement, and don’t offer any benefits are superior to larger companies that do, because they’re small and run by mom n’ pop. And they were there first and have dibs.
    7. Companies are doing something wrong when they take advantage of tax breaks available to them.
    8. WalMart circumvents the will of government officials by actually winning referendums put to the voters, and that’s just wrong.

    WalMart will probably sell Al’s book if it’s popular.

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    • David Leppik says:

      There’s a big difference between taking advantage of a tax break and creating a series of shell corporations to hide one’s tax liabilities. The biggest difference is that the former is legal. (And just because a municipality doesn’t have the investigative firepower to enforce a law doesn’t mean they aren’t breaking it.)

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    • Ryan says:

      ’5. Large companies have more success getting around unreasonable environmental regulations than smaller companies.’

      So if the residents of a town decide they don’t want a river polluted, for instance, and some company comes in a conspires with local government to exclude citizen input and pollutes that river, the citizens are in the wrong for wanting an ‘unreasonable’ environmental regulation? Do the citizens of that town not have the right to decide to not allow their water to be polluted?

      ’7. Companies are doing something wrong when they take advantage of tax breaks available to them.’

      These aren’t simply ‘available tax breaks’ that large corporations are using. They are very complex tax loopholes that require a team of lawyers to set up and take advantage of; many states don’t even realize these things exist until well after the fact and its hard to get rid of them because of all the lobbying dollars pouring in to keep them in place. Due to the immense amount of obfuscating paperwork and detailed tax knowledge needed to use these loopholes, along with the necessary stable of tax lawyers to intimidate the state into not taking action against them, these are loopholes that can not be taken advantage of by small businesses.

      8. WalMart circumvents the will of government officials by actually winning referendums put to the voters, and that’s just wrong.

      Right, because money equals speech. The fact that some local environmental group, which consists of residents and actually cares about the town, can’t spend as much as the large corporation is irrelevant. All that matters is both groups were allowed to spend as much money as they could, the corporation had more and so they won. Democracy in action!

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      • Jack says:

        “They are very complex tax loopholes that require a team of lawyers to set up and take advantage of”

        If I made $30,000 a year, it would probably not be worth hiring anyone to find tax loopholes.

        If I made $3,000,000 a year, it would likely be worth it for me to hire a tax expert (or two) to find tax breaks and save me money.

        If I was making Walmart money, I am sure it would be worth hiring a team of experts to find tax breaks, as well.

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      • Ryan says:

        Jack, exactly. Let’s say taking advantage of the tax loophole costs $ 500,000 (via employing lawyers or accountants, doing paperwork, whatever) and it saves you 1% of your income in taxes. It only makes sense to use the loophole if you make over $50,000,000. And if you make a billion dollars, the output to take advantage of the loophole is virtually nil compared to what it saves you. In other words, the more you make, the more the loophole saves you (as a percentage, obviously any break does this already in absolute dollars). This is the very definition of a regressive tax. And the tax code is chock full of these loopholes. Are you starting to see the problem?

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      • Bob says:

        It’s never the residents of a small town that just decide they don’t want their river polluted. It’s the EPA.

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      • Jack says:

        Ryan: There are a lot of arguments for closing loopholes, breaks, w/e you want to call them. I don’t disagree with the concept.

        However, blaming Walmart for taking advantage of them is asking for a higher moral standard than you would most likely apply to yourself. That I disagree with.

        It is one thing if they are breaking laws, it is another thing if they employ people to find their best advantage within those laws.

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      • J1 says:

        For Ryan:

        EPA wetlands regulations are notorious for use as obstructions to land development, essentially using extortion via gigantic daily fines and denial of judicial review. At least that was the unanimous finding of the Supreme Court in the Sackett case (http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/11pdf/10-1062.pdf) . Nobody wants rivers polluted, nor do they want their property effectively confiscated because there’s a puddle or dry creek bed located on it, without being able to challenge such a claim in court. Until Sackett, only large companies with extensive resources could afford to fight it out. That changed in March.

        I don’t have any problem with huge fines for fouling someone’s drinking water or exposing them to hazardous waste. The problem with our current system is that the government has no skin in the game when they accuse someone of doing so. If the EPA (or any other government agency) threatens a property owner with huge fines then loses in court, the EPA should be subject to the same fines, payable to the landowner, plus legal expenses.

        You also imply that companies using tax loopholes to reduce their taxes are doing something illegal. They’re not, though I very, very strongly agree with your implicit desire for a radically simplified tax code that prevents such activity. The larger issue in your complaint, though, is your assumption that states and localities care about the use of the loopholes you mention. With the possible exceptions of Delaware and New Hampshire, state and local entities are after sales tax. The idea that states and localities aren’t aware other tax loopholes exist is too preposterous to argue about.

        Re your last point, I continue to be amazed and disappointed with the persistent contempt some Freakonomic readers have for the democratic process.

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      • Ryan says:

        Jack: ‘However, blaming Walmart for taking advantage of them is asking for a higher moral standard than you would most likely apply to yourself. That I disagree with.’

        Walmart’s not the problem, they are a symptom. The problem is that these tax loopholes exist to be taken advantage of. We have a system where the richer you are, the easier it is to avoid paying taxes you owe. This was not done by accident. This was done so that people don’t realize how little taxes most of these corporations pay, and Fox news can keep trumpeting the top corporate tax rate as if companies actually paid it.

        J1:
        Federal environmental oversight is critically important. Governmental transparency and the ability to fight injustices in a public forum is also. I’m glad people can now take the EPA to court over these regulations, but it means that the EPA will be constantly be fighting huge corporations with stables of lawyers, and I’m fine with this as long as the EPA is properly funded and can fight back. Of course it won’t be, and large corporations will run roughshod over environmental regulations, but I guess that happens already so it doesn’t matter.

        A company is a machine who’s purpose is to make money. If they think it will be cheaper to fight a regulation than to follow it, they will do so. We lose. It doesn’t matter at all to the company if the regulation is a good one who’s benefit to society outweighs the cost. But that does matter to the rest of us.

        ‘Re your last point, I continue to be amazed and disappointed with the persistent contempt some Freakonomic readers have for the democratic process.’

        Yeah, democracy is terrible. What we have, where the results of elections are largely determined by the amount of money each candidate can spend is way better. And really its our own fault, for democratically choosing to allow politicians to be bought. When I was in the voting booth deciding if we should allow unlimited, anonymous donations to affect our elections, I really should have thought about it harder before voting ‘yes’.

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      • Jack says:

        I consider myself moderate but it’s this kind of conversation that pushes me towards voting republican.

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      • Bob says:

        Ryan,

        Perhaps it’s time you start worrying what your media tells you, instead of what they tell you Fox News reports. I suspect you would come up with reasons to hate the TEA Party as well, when in reality they also want to see tax loopholes closed up and replaced with a transparent tax system that is fair to everyone.

        The actual problem is not how much money is spent on elections, it’s how our education system has completely failed our young people, and resulted in an electorate that is not educated on the issues, which is a requirement for any democracy to function well.

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      • Dave says:

        It seems to me that the largest problems with Walmart aren’t Walmart caused, but government caused. I have no problem closing tax loopholes and changing regulations so that large corporations aren’t given a benefit over mom-and-pop stores. That IS capitalism.

        I like the references to Econ 101. Again, no one is forced to work for Walmart, either at production or retail levels. They are doing so because it is a better job than the last position they held. If you could close down every Walmart due to their poor treatment of workers, you would invariably hurt no one more than the workers.

        The other attacks that don’t hold water talk about the ‘hidden costs’ of Walmart to our country through outsourcing and other means. What is never talked about are the hidden benefits of Walmart . The money saved in Walmart stores doesn’t go up in flames, but rather is spent in other areas. There is no one to defend how it is easier to buy a home, make car payments, or anything else because people saved $400 this year by shopping at Walmart. Also, dollars made by Chinese in jobs invariably come back to the US as increased desire for goods and services here. You can also mention how half of Chinese millionaires want to retire to the US. Always look at the hidden benefits as well.

        Finally, it is easy to say Walmart is poor quality because you don’t like the faded glory brand, but selling a range of products isn’t a sin. First try comparing apples to apples and seeing if they are cheaper on standard items. Name brand foods, clothing, electronics, etc. all tend to be cheaper at Walmart than at other stores. By a lot.

        Don’t give Walmart unfair advantages through legislation, but don’t punish a company that has a successful strategy and force us to subsidize the inefficiencies of other companies.

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    • Enter your name... says:

      7. Mom n’ pop places that pay less, offer zero opportunity for advancement, and don’t offer any benefits are superior to larger companies that do, because they’re small and run by mom n’ pop.

      Actually, the argument here is that the Mom and Pop, not their employees, are the ones who are suffering. Mom and Pop in the pre-Walmart town, have a job as managers and get all the profits (if any) from the store. They might even own the building, and therefore get all the (imputed) rent, too. In the post-Walmart town, their store is losing money or closed, their building is worth less, and their job has changed from the middle-class owner/operator/manager to the lower-class Walmart employee.

      The low-skill people behind the counters won’t see much change, but the mid-skilled people who were running all the stores will. They were all managers of these small stores, with middle-class incomes, but they can’t all be managers at the new Walmart.

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      • James says:

        This, I think, is one of the root problems of the US economy: the idea that managers a) should be paid a lot more than the people who do the actual work; and b) that the only way for skilled & productive workers to advance is by becoming managers, despite the fact that most have neither training nor aptitude for the job.

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      • Enter your name... says:

        I think it depends on what you mean by “manager”. A retail manager works hard and requires a variety of skills. Look around your grocery store some time: the manager is almost always on his feet, dealing with problems, filling in at the checkstand, talking to vendors, etc. This is in addition to the “invisible” duties, which include hiring, scheduling, ordering, checking payroll, and more.

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