Response to “The Calling: Why I defend Walmart” by Steve Horwitz

I recently laid eyes on this article, and felt an urge to write a reply.  I Was especially struck by this bit:

“”Finally, Walmart is no worse than other firms in its willingness to take advantage of eminent domain and subsidies, yet we seem to hear far more complaining, especially from libertarians, when Walmart does it. One of the sure signs of an irrational prejudice is applying different standards to similar people or institutions. Criticizing Walmart for things that lots of other firms do while remaining silent about the others is simply unfair. In a mixed economy there will be no clean hands, and Walmart’s are no dirtier than anyone else’s.

The real danger of libertarians enthusiastically joining the Walmart-bashing is that we are providing aid and comfort to the enemies of freedom. Walmart’s critics are not concerned about eminent domain and subsidies because they want to eliminate them so we can have a freed market – it’s the freed market itself that they are unhappy with. When we cheer them on, we harm the cause of freedom and, in the process, the well-being of the least well-off among us.

I of course, largely disagree.  As I mention in a previous post, myself and other libertarian-leaning Walmart bashers, bash Walmart because so many conservatives and mainstream libertarians so passionately defend the company and hold it up as an example of a firm that has found success on the free market (or something like a free market). Pointing out where they are wrong about this is hardly a case of signaling Walmart out.   I have vocally said, that my issues with Walmart apply to just about every firm that uses a similar business model. I view that as the problem: government has made the business model, associated with Walmart and other big box companies artificially competitive. I wish to emphasize that genuine freed market economy would look radically different from the current one.

My point, and that other of “walmart bashers”  is specifically that Walmart is not alone in this critique, they just happen to be a prominent example.  The whole point, in my case, to draw a distinction as to how different the existing economy is from the one we should be advocating, by pointing out how much the dominant firms are artificially made more competitive.  It is most certainly not just Walmart (they are though a convenient example).  I would go as far as to say that all firms that have business models, which depend on intellectual property rights, government infrastructure, government contracting (aka the military system) and government land grants for resource extraction, and direct subsidies (most big agriculture companies), are worthy of similar criticism, for taking advantage of government nonintervention.   Though it is not always their fault, if the intervention is there to begin with, remaining competitive forces firms to use towards their advantage.  That said, it should be striking, that such a huge portion of the most profitable firms, fall into one of the categories.

Despite Horwitz claim, as a Walmart critic, I am very concerned about eminent domain and subsidies, precisely because I do want to eliminate them so we can have a freed market. His statement “it’s the freed market itself that they are unhappy with” makes no sense, since no actual freed market exist for us to be unhappy with, in the first place (though I do acknowledge that many other Walmart critics are not free market-oriented).

Horwitz’s article completely overlooks my previously noted point that Walmart’s entire business model relies on the government created and tax payer funded highways system. As noted this makes Walmart’s business model and similar ones artificially competitive. I do concede the point that Walmart has shown some great business acumen, but it seems that it has mostly been directed at effectively filling a role created by the current mixed economy.

I’ll also acknowledge that the firm has created jobs, but from a libertarian point of view, I would expect a firm that has taken advantage of huge government inputs to be a big job creator. If Walmart has used government intervention to stifle it’s would be competition, it should not be surprising, that it ends up hiring, those would be competitor’s would be employees. Furthermore, “the Walmart effect” he describes in the article strikes me as largely a product of their mixed economy business model, and their super-centers and warehouses on wheels, delivery system, I think are both made possible largely by imminent domain and the national highway system.

I disagree with his statement that when we “cheer on” (and by that he seems to mean, acknowledge areas where they are correct), we do not undermine the cause of freedom, but instead are pointing areas, that are currently unfree. As such viewing Walmart as some sort of sacrosanct institution that we should feel “a calling” to defend strikes me as absurd.

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One Response to Response to “The Calling: Why I defend Walmart” by Steve Horwitz

  1. Pingback: My Problems with Environmentalist-Bashing and Global-Warming Denying Libertarians | The Wilson Report

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