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Wal-Mart's latest crime: Developing Latin America

By Bill Shepherd
web posted August 11, 2008

Certain things are nearly guaranteed to raise the ire of those on the Left, and the stronger an individual's irrational anger towards these things, the further towards the dark end of the spectrum he or she is sure to be. Private property, corporations, market presence, and more fundamentally, free market success all occupy a place on this list of bête noires. And this is why Wal-Mart, with the possible exception of McDonald's, is the most reviled company in the world. Odds are every person reading these words have heard an extensive list of the supposedly malicious deeds of the Boogieman of Bentonville.

For instance, note the words [1] of Barack Obama as directed at Sen. Clinton during a debate on Jan. 21: "While I was working on those streets watching those folks see their jobs shift overseas, you were a corporate lawyer sitting on the board at Wal-Mart." It is a surprise she's even allowed in the Democratic Party. By all rights she should be in The Hague as we speak to answer for her abominable crimes.

The latest scandal, involving alleged attempts by Wal-Mart to influence employees to vote against the Democrats led to a philippic in Slate.com [2] which depicts Wal-Mart as a threat to democracy. Even though Wal-Mart's accusers claim that there was no overt attempt to sway votes, they are still being demonized. Instead, an indirect mention that a Democratically controlled government would be bad for business was made to look like a capital offense. So as you can see, Wal-Mart is now being blamed for making a connection as obvious as that between buying a cat and noticing fewer mice. I only hope they avoid making any salacious claims about water being wet.

What has been less well reported is Wal-Mart's recent expansion into Honduras. Perhaps the news has not been aired by the Left as breathlessly as the supposed misdeeds surrounding the election because it was reported by that well known bastion of right-wing propaganda, National Public Radio [3]. But if I were betting, I'd take dollars to doughnuts that the reason for this silence on the left lies in the fact that this expansion is resoundingly positive for the people of Honduras.

As reported in the NPR piece, the leading reason for the rapid growth of the supermarket industry in Honduras, in the range of 20% per annum, is the assurance that the food their customers receive is free of disease. Such a simple notion, that what you eat to sustain your life is not also a threat to your life, is so common place a luxury in the developed world we seldom think of it. In nations such as Honduras this is a new innovation, one brought about not by government intervention but by the dastardly practice of turning a profit for stockholders. Perhaps the FDA could stand to go public.

Whenever American style capitalism spreads into less developed portions of the world, the anti-globalism/anti-capitalism crowd bemoans the inevitable exploitation of native peoples as a result of trade. For proof that these fears are, in the very least, overblown, if not totally baseless, one could acquaint himself with the theory of comparative advantage as supported by economists Adam Smith and David Ricardo. More generally, a review of The Age of Milton Friedman [4] shows the overwhelming force for human improvement that is present in a free market economy. But the most powerful means of rebutting all the paternalistic, unfounded laments for the native population comes from Honduran farmer Vicente Sanchez: "Whatever we plant, we know that it's already sold before we plant it," he says. "Before, we'd plant things without knowing whether we had a buyer, and we used to lose out." Naturally, an entrepreneur like Mr. Sanchez is possessed of the common sense to cut through the fog that benights the socialistic aspects of America culture.

As remarkable a benefit as a guaranteed buyer is, the perks for the Honduran economy don't stop there. In order to meet the high standards for food safety that is all the rage in Honduras these days, farmers need to store their crops in fly-free facilities. Currently, these facilities are nonexistent. Solution? The cold-hearted corporate Leviathan will build these facilities themselves. In fact, the World Bank reports that the improvements to infrastructure brought upon by Wal-Mart's expansion will be a great boon to the economy at large. Just keep your fingers crossed that the vast increase in the standard of living for the Honduran people doesn't increase their carbon footprint. That would be awful.

Yet, buried beneath the surface of this story, beneath the potential for prosperity that is so sorely absent in Honduras, is an example of left-wing contradiction. Any good liberal would be quick to tell you that many of today's most pressing problems, from illegal immigration to terrorism to political instability in Latin America and Africa, are rooted in poverty and economic exploitation. However, the same liberal would be at least as quick to decry the attempts of corporations to alleviate poverty and economic underdevelopment as modeled by Wal-Mart in Honduras. Such futility of mind reminds me of a line offered by the incomparable William F. Buckley when suggesting an epithet for Eleanor Roosevelt, "'With all my heart and soul,' her epitaph should read, 'I fought the syllogism.'"

Considering all this, I am decidedly less than distressed by the newest allegations against Wal-Mart. Naturally, I abhor the thought of any person or organization exercising undue influence on the political progress. But nothing is new about this. So until left-wing pressure groups stop working against the American Right or Wal-Mart ceases to be an overwhelming agent for growth across the world, I'm simply going to pray the people of Honduras stay on this track. ESR

This is Brian Shepherd's first contribution to Enter Stage Right. (c) 2008 Brian Shepherd.


1) http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/22771568/
2) http://www.slate.com/id/2196774/?from=rss
3) http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=93050486
4) http://www.economics.harvard.edu/faculty/shleifer/files/friedman3.3.pdf


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