Tag Archives: purchasing power

Walmart And The Healthy Free Market

In case you had trouble guessing: I like businesses.

If there weren’t business there wouldn’t be internet, iphones, cars, bicycles, buildings, tents, sleeping bags, fresh produce in the middle of winter, heat and A/C, in cars too, hospitals, medication, surgery…

You get the picture.

We’ve had government since the beginning of time, and it hasn’t done a thing directly to benefit or develop beneficent products and services (except nuclear energy and other war-related items).

We’ve also had businesses since the first person decided he’d rather spread and grow his wealth instead of laboring over the same rows in the same farm for his own families sustenance.

Chipotle is an excellent example of a good business.

Our wealth allows us to pay premium price for food raised and prepared in a reasonably environmentally conscious and sustainable manner.

And it tastes good, too.

Walmart is not too different from Chipotle.

The monstrous store chain that’s easy to hate until we need cheap razer blades and jeans and socks and hand towels and garbage can liners. Then everybody loves it.

Except the unions, who are never going to love Walmart until it caves to their regressive and stiflingly stupid and anti free market strong man tactics and effects.

I pray Walmart never does, and for good reason.

When Walmart enters an area, consumers win as the often cheaper prices at Walmart “encourage” the other stores to moderate their own prices.

The prices are not always better, but they are better enough of the time and for enough products to justify the crowds you normally find at these supercenters.

Does Walmart Save You Money? (read the comments, many people report savings in the $1000’s each year while others disagree with their perception of the business practices)

But enough about prices already, Walmart benefits your health!

Huh?

Indeed, studies are showing that people living near a Walmart or “club store” (Costco, Sam’s Club, etc) are lighter on average.

But don’t all the fat and ugly people shop at Walmart? No, it’s just the ugly people and me.

In an article published in Forbes Magazine, Art Carden, an Professor of Economics at Rhodes College in Memphis TN, reports on studies showing that the increased buying power people experience when benefiting from the Walmart effect has a direct and close correlation to the health of those people.

There are several reasons this may be, and the why or how is always a bit murkier than fact of correlation, but all of the possibilities enjoy sound economic sense.

Those benefiting most from the Walmart affect are…

…women, the poor, African-Americans and people who live in urban areas.

The arguments as to why and how and many, as I noted earlier, and some may find them difficult. Read it a few times if necessary.

Our evidence is indirect, but we think it shows that price changes can have subtle and sometimes hard-to-detect consequences. Any change in price results in two phenomena. The first is the substitution effect: a change in consumption mix due to a change in relative prices. If a bag of salad is $2 and a bag of potato chips is $1, then the price of salad in terms of chips is two bags and the price of a bag of chips is half a bag of salad. If a Wal-Mart opens and reduces the price of salad to $1 a bag and the price of chips to 75 cents a bag, the “salad price” of chips has risen (from 1TK2 bag to 3TK4 bag) and the “chip price” of salad has fallen from 2 bags to 4TK3 bags. In short, salad has become cheaper relative to chips.

This argument is based on basic price comparison. If the salad cost 2 times what chips cost before Walmart,  Jack and Jill are more likely to buy the salad now because it only costs 1.3 times more than the chips now.

Then there is the income effect:

If Wal-Mart sells food at lower prices–even if our incomes don’t change–every dollar can buy more. Therefore, we’re richer.

The crux of their findings is that people, when given a choice and a suitable price range, will purchase healthier foods.

Our data suggest that we buy healthier food when our purchasing power increases. There is a small increase in consumption of fruit and vegetables in places where Wal-Mart does a lot of business and a decrease–or smaller increase–in fatty food consumption relative to places where Wal-Mart doesn’t do business. That is, people might consume more fatty foods, but consumption of those unhealthy goods increases more slowly than it does for the rest of the population.

There are other facts, findings, and arguments in the article. I urge you to read the whole thing: Wal-Mart’s Weight Effect.

The point is, don’t be too quick to denigrate or disparage the current state of our free martket system.

It’s not always pretty, and it’s easy to find fault.

However, compared with any other system out there, capitalism and the free market are the best at providing escalating levels of service and product to the most people most equitably and with the least amount of downside.

It’s been proven time and again, yet we in America now are dangerously close to forgetting completely, if we haven’t already.

The free market and capitalism isn’t about the blind, mindless pursuit of money at all costs, that’s anarchy.

Free markets and capitalism are about working in tandem with those around us to maximize our return by providing the best service or product to others. It’s a mutually beneficial system.

And we’re in danger of throwing it away.