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Zero sum games some like to play

By Chatham Resident
Posted Friday, September 22, 2006

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Chatham County, NC - "Hating the people..."? What, pray tell, is the difference between "hippie" music festivals and the "Beast of Bentonville"? One is a label you must assume applies to yourself based on a generality, the other is a direct attack (hatin' as the kids say) on the 1.2 million people who work for Wal-Mart in this country and the 330,000 people they employ overseas. The last time I checked, no one was working there by force or coercion.

Philanthropic giving? Do you watch how much your neighbor drops in the offering plate at church or the drum at the thrift shop and thereby judge the quality of their character? As Wal-mart is the second most profitable company in the United States (behind Exxon), a small(er) percentage of their profits is still more money than most charities will ever see.

In fact, for just 2005, that charitable giving was $245 MILLION dollars. Hmmm, how much did you donate last year? Exactly what percentage of your income? If I gave more than you am I a better person? (I really don't want you to answer that)

Let's talk about those profits while we're at it and how they might affect Chatham, as this is the reason we're all here. If you believe that economics is a zero sum game, that is that you must lose a dollar in order for me to gain one, you really ought to do some homework.

The fact that Wal-Mart makes a profit in Chatham County and shifts it off to Bentonville does not mean that it has left our area. According to the state treasurer's website the state employee's retirement fund owns 6,413,262 shares of Wal-Mart stock totaling $344,512,935.66. Yahoo finance says that Wal-Mart stock pays $0.67 per share annually (and rapidly rising) so the state pension system takes in $4,296,885.54 annually in dividends. As of 2003, the average beneficiary of a state pension in North Carolina received $14,722. According to my math, Wal-Mart paid the entire pension of 292 state employees last year.

Add in all of the Wal-Mart stock owned by individuals, either directly or through their 401k's, private pensions, etc. and a lot of those profits are coming right back here. Add in the property, sales, social security, Medicare, unemployment, etc taxes that they pay, even more comes back.

Another point. It is true that Wal-Mart has caused the movement of many manufacturing jobs overseas, but has anyone bothered to count the number of service jobs that they have created? Is earning $10 an hour at a fabric mill any better than earning $10 an hour at the restaurants that always spring up around new WalMarts? Don't you think that some of that $2,000 that Wal-Mart saves the average family every year might go to buy more massages, hair dos, real-estate, antiques, biodiesel, etc. that they may not have been able to afford before? Ever wonder why we have so much more choice today?

Zero sum economics would not have allowed a growth in our service and specialty sector as the money paid to those folks would have been shipped to the Chinese.

Suppressed wages in the retail market, or just not artificially inflated them (along with prices for the rest of us) due to union pressure? Again, no-one forces anyone to work there.

Given more alternatives of places to buy my underwear, or more places to go out to eat, I'll take my cheap undies and the food every time.

Asked for taxpayer subsidies? Again, is Wal-Mart to be faulted for taking what is offered? Is Wal-Mart responsible for the policies of the local governments? Do local governments have to cave in? Wait, they probably wouldn't do it unless they believed taxes made up for the costs...back to a net benefit for the county.

You countered your own argument. It doesn't matter where people buy their underwear, the county still benefits tax-wise, but one type of business promotes additional economic growth (The big W) and the other tends toward stagnation (mom and pop shops who don't exactly encourage more restaurants or other stores to open nearby. If they did so, Pittsboro would have been loaded down with good restaurants for years).

Even so-called compact communities have had to add the "big anchor" in the "town center" to draw in the smaller tenants and make their businesses viable.

Environmentally, starts and stops cause the most pollution when driving. So, what is better, starting and stopping as you go between 6 or 7 mom and pop shops or making one stop and being done? Don't try telling me that any small town has ever had enough shops to provide the variety and choice available in one Wal-Mart. We had the necessities, but they came in one variety, the kind the town store sold. If they were out, too bad.

Enough for tonight.

I agree that Wal-Mart is not perfect and they do make mistakes. But Wal-Mart is made of the 1.5 million people that work there and it's hardly likely that they are all perfect. They are also made up of the 100 million+ shareholders, pensioners, and charitable recipients who benefit from their profits.

They are also, and most importantly, made up of the millions of people who choose, of their own free will, to shop there every day and who quietly disagree with the vocal minority who think that the squeaky wheel is right simply because it is the loudest.

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