Saturday, May 28, 2011


In 2006, journalist Robert Samuelson noted that Democratic politicians had adopted a new corporate bete noire, Walmart. Sam Walton’s retail giant was displacing Exxon Mobil and Microsoft as the villain du jour for business-loathing do-gooders.

As a thought experiment, Samuelson suggested that critics should simply nationalize the company and double wages that then averaged about 50% above the national minimum wage.
Walmart, of course, would no longer exist as a profit-making, tax-paying enterprise. Instead, it would become another money-losing conduit through which political patronage would be dispensed and tax dollars redistributed.

Politicians would “find unending opportunities for grandstanding and meddling. Does Wal-Mart import too much from China? Order it to cut back… Are its stores ugly? Appoint architectural advisers.”

Govmart, in other words, would deliver countless payoffs to favored constituencies and few, if any, low prices and products to consumers in general. Samuelson might also have noted that this new monstrosity would be a retail version of California’s government—providing sweetheart deals for its public employees and to unions with political clout.

As currently organized, Walmart not only offers low prices, it also exerts price pressure on other businesses. One consulting firm calculated that the company’s influence lowered consumer prices by a total of 3.1 percent between 1985 and 2004. Today Walmart, with 1.4 million employees in the U.S., is the nation’s largest private job-provider.

Critics contend that the company’s success is actually government-subsidized because a significant percentage of Walmart employees receive public benefits like foodstamps. A more reasonable economic analysis would ask how many more Americans would be unemployed or more dependent on welfare were it not for the jobs Walmart creates and for the money saved by consumers who can then purchase additional items.

On June 7, voters in Menifee will have an opportunity to say “yes” or “no” to Walmart and several other businesses that hope to occupy a shopping center at the northwest corner of I-215 and Scott Rd.

The most compelling arguments against expansion (and Measure C) are the lack of adequate roadways in the area and the absence of a clear plan for generating the revenue that’s needed for construction.

Supporters of Measure C argue that infrastructure funds largely depend on the additional tax revenues that new businesses (especially Walmart) can generate.

This municipal decision should, I think, be based primarily on these issues: infrastructure, jobs, tax revenues, and the desirability (or not) of new businesses in Menifee. The decision should not be based on the corporate hatred fostered by politicians and their union allies who see Walmart’s employee pool as a potential boon to themselves and their very political coffers.

Thursday, May 12, 2011


The Edwards Cinema complex in San Marcos shrugged off “Atlas…” last week. Before its run was finished, however, I caught a Tuesday matinee performance. After three weeks the flick attracted an audience of perhaps a dozen souls.

Overall, the film version of Ayn Rand’s classic novel has grossed a bit more than four million dollars—not too bad for a movie that opened in only 299 theaters.

Dramatically speaking, one could quibble with various aspects of the production, as P.J. O’Rourke does, somewhat reluctantly, in his Wall Street Journal blog review. What is not open to serious debate is that the film’s philosophical premise represents a voice in the intellectual wilderness of Hollywood and California. After all, when was the last time powerful California politicians or a major studio script portrayed corporate leaders as heroic?

“Atlas Shrugged” has two such protagonists, one a shapely railroad magnate and another a steel manufacturer forced by cynical politicians to divest his holdings in other industries. In addition, the film’s take on the way sheer envy and the lust for political power utilize concepts like “fairness” to accomplish their sordid ends hits very close to the truth—a fact that explains the avalanche of negative reviews (most dressed in dramatic garb) that have been issued by mainstream media elites.

Currently California, which sports a 12% unemployment rate, provides a real time illustration of Rand’s novel by vilifying “greedy” businesses and driving various “Atlases” to flee the state or begin operations elsewhere. All this has been done in the name of “fairness” or for the sake of a dogmatic green ideology.

The recent decision by Obama’s National Labor Relations Board to file a complaint against Boeing Corporation for planning to open a facility in right-to-work South Carolina must have been music to the ears of Senator Barbara Boxer and former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi—politicians whose Sacramento allies continue to pass laws that have transformed the Golden State into one of the most business-hostile environments in the nation.

The logic behind this perverse sentiment is that government-heavy states will benefit if corporate property rights are limited for “the greater good”—thus minimizing competition between states. In short, if all states are run as irresponsibly as California (with huge public employee pensions, absurdly restrictive environmental regulations, and generous welfare benefits for residents and illegals) Californians will benefit.

The more likely result is that the entire country will start to resemble California and that enterprise and tax revenues nationwide will dwindle.

As of this writing “Atlas Shrugged” was still showing at Horton Plaza in San Diego and in Riverside’s Mission Grove Theaters.