Ron Radosh

The Left, Wal-Mart, and the D.C. City Council Fiasco

Yesterday, the liberal majority of the D.C. City Council voted that if Wal-Mart opens three stores in the underserviced poor areas of the nation’s capital — inhabited largely by African-Americans — it cannot do so unless the chain raises the minimum wage of its employees to $12.50 per hour.

That action reflects how far removed from reality the council members are. Their supposed concern for the poor will only hurt those they claim to be representing. The action also displays how the arguments and activism of left-wing groups — who have for years campaigned for what they continually call a “living wage” — have had an influence on Democratic Party politicians.

In the District of Columbia, the minimum wage is already $8.25 an hour, higher than the established federal minimum wage. Moreover, the Council’s action would apply only to the three stores that Wal-Mart planned to build. It is clearly a discriminatory piece of legislation, since it targets only one employer — a firm which we all know is the chain most hated by Left activists like those of the old ACORN. (To see typical leftist arguments on the issue, read here.)

Investor’s Business Daily notes that if Wal-Mart cancels the three stores under construction and the other three that were being planned, it means a loss to D.C. residents of 900 retail jobs and 600 construction jobs — 1500 people who would be able to gain much-needed work. More important, however, is that Wal-Mart is building in areas of the city that have few, if any, supermarkets or chains at which residents can locally buy produce at prices they can afford.

The Daily editors write:

At a time when millions of marginally employed Americans are scraping by, prices at Wal-Mart average 10% to 40% below other retailers for food, clothing, medicines and many other items.

In that manner, consumers shopping at the popular chain — popular except among the denizens of the Left who get their produce at Whole Foods and other upscale chains — achieve savings totaling over $50 billion per year. On the individual level, a shopper buying his food and other items exclusively at Wal-Mart saves up to $2000 per year.

To the poor, Wal-Mart is actually “progressive.” Local resident Yvonne Williams informed a D.C. weekly free paper:

We’ve been praying for food in this neighborhood for about 40 years. … God has brought what was supposed to be here — a first-class progressive thing.

Evidently, Ms. Williams has not taken the leftist message to heart that anything or anyone “progressive” must oppose Wal-Mart, and oppose saving money when buying groceries.

To stop the chain from building the new facilities, one University of Michigan economist told IBD, was a “politically motivated ‘economic death wish.’” Fortunately, the vote passed with one vote shy of a majority, and the mayor of D.C. has said he would veto the council’s resolution. Already, the leftist Daily Kos site is urging its readers to send a letter of protest to Mayor Vincent Gray, who wisely supports the opening of the Wal-Mart stores, and to threaten to oppose him if he goes through with a veto.

The Left might recall the experience of the residents of some California towns, whose councils had passed a similar increase in the minimum wage. The result was that scores of small businesses fled to other states and communities, since the forced increase in wages meant they would have been put out of business.

As the centrist Washington Post editor Charles Lane put it, if legislators want to increase jobs and help the poor, they might actually consider lowering the minimum wage:

Minimum wage laws do indeed reduce job opportunities for less-skilled workers and even tend to reduce their earnings. … If Obama and Congress were really as serious as they say they are about reducing unemployment, they would at least be willing to discuss rolling back last July’s minimum wage increase. It would create some jobs for those who need them most, and it would not cost taxpayers a dime.

Lane, of course, knows he is being sarcastic. There is not a ghost of a chance that Democratic liberals and leftists in the House and Senate would ever take such a wise step. Instead, they prefer to think that a foolish act of legislative leftism is all it takes to create prosperity. It is akin to a leader who wants an educated populace awarding a Ph.D. to every citizen.

Once again, leftist politicians, listening to middle and upper-class leftist activists, have taken a step to assuage their guilty consciences by opposing an industry and firm that helps create jobs and thus increases economic well-being for all. As they shop at Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods, you can be sure that the fate of the poor is the furthest thing from their minds.