The Ultimate pro-WalMart Article

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The Ultimate pro-WalMart Article

Postby Metsfanmax on Wed Jul 03, 2013 6:39 am

I thoroughly enjoy economics pieces that are simple to understand for those of us whose economics expertise is limited to a semester or two in college; here is one such piece. Basically, the author makes the argument that WalMart is one of the best things to happen to our economy, not the worst, because of how much it has done to increase real wealth. I find it to be a very persuasive argument, and it also illuminates some things about the way the capitalist system works in general. Here is a passage offering an idea I had not ever considered:

It is a waste of time for the Wal-Mart critics to worry about average wages falling too low. Average nominal wages on an economy-wide basis will always tend towards the level of full employment. If average wages go higher or lower than this point, the market automatically works to bring them back to this level.

At any given time, there is a certain quantity of total dollars of demand for labor services by all employers in the entire economic system. Average wages at full employment will be at the level of the total amount of monetary demand for labor services divided by the total number of people who choose to sell their labor services. When the average wage rate is forced above the full employment level there is not enough total monetary demand for labor to pay all those who want to work at this higher average. If, for example, in a hypothetical small economy, the total monetary demand for labor is $1 billion, and the total number of workers seeking employment is one million, the average wage must be $1,000 to reach full employment. If the average wage is forced higher than this point — say to $2,000 — then employers could only hire 500,000 workers. Without artificial interference with average wages, such as minimum wage laws or labor union coercion, unemployed workers would outcompete the employed by accepting lower wages. If the average wage was $2,000, an unemployed person could outcompete an employed person by offering his services for $1,500. The next unemployed person could get a job by accepting $1,400. As wages fell, employers could hire more total workers. This would happen throughout the economic system until the average wage rate was back at $1,000, at which point there would be enough total monetary demand to hire all one million workers. Freedom in the labor market is all that is required to reach full employment.

It is in the self-interest of employers to keep wages from falling below the point of full employment because any lower wage would cause a shortage of labor services for employers. The lower average wage would allow employers who couldn't previously obtain employees to be able to afford them. This would leave many employers who were willing and able to pay higher wages without the employees they desired. In response to this imbalance, the employers who needed more labor services, and were willing and able to pay higher wages, would simply offer higher wages and outbid the employers who weren't able to pay the higher wages. This would happen throughout the economic system until the average wage was back up at the point of full employment.


I have been agnostic about Wal-Mart in the past, but anecdotally I have always respected their decision not to engage in psychological pricing.

Read the rest here.
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Re: The Ultimate pro-WalMart Article

Postby Woodruff on Wed Jul 03, 2013 8:46 am

f*ck Wal-Mart!!!!

And as far as it's representation of Wal-Mart's critics, it seems to be intentionally misleading the subject. Most of Wal-Mart's critics are not critical of Wal-Mart's economic methods themselves (as almost everyone recognizes the intelligent business model that it is), but rather of the outlying impacts of those methods. This article completely whitewashes those issues as being based on ignorance, which they certainly are not.

Truly, and I say this while fully admitting that I have a significant anti-Wal-Mart bias, that was not a balanced article in any way, shape or form.

And did the article actually have the statement "Most people couldn't have predicted the Internet just a few years ago."? Was this article written in the early 90s?
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Re: The Ultimate pro-WalMart Article

Postby Haggis_McMutton on Wed Jul 03, 2013 9:48 am

It is a waste of time for the Wal-Mart critics to worry about average wages falling too low. Average nominal wages on an economy-wide basis will always tend towards the level of full employment. If average wages go higher or lower than this point, the market automatically works to bring them back to this level.

At any given time, there is a certain quantity of total dollars of demand for labor services by all employers in the entire economic system. Average wages at full employment will be at the level of the total amount of monetary demand for labor services divided by the total number of people who choose to sell their labor services. When the average wage rate is forced above the full employment level there is not enough total monetary demand for labor to pay all those who want to work at this higher average. If, for example, in a hypothetical small economy, the total monetary demand for labor is $1 billion, and the total number of workers seeking employment is one million, the average wage must be $1,000 to reach full employment. If the average wage is forced higher than this point — say to $2,000 — then employers could only hire 500,000 workers. Without artificial interference with average wages, such as minimum wage laws or labor union coercion, unemployed workers would outcompete the employed by accepting lower wages. If the average wage was $2,000, an unemployed person could outcompete an employed person by offering his services for $1,500. The next unemployed person could get a job by accepting $1,400. As wages fell, employers could hire more total workers. This would happen throughout the economic system until the average wage rate was back at $1,000, at which point there would be enough total monetary demand to hire all one million workers. Freedom in the labor market is all that is required to reach full employment.

It is in the self-interest of employers to keep wages from falling below the point of full employment because any lower wage would cause a shortage of labor services for employers. The lower average wage would allow employers who couldn't previously obtain employees to be able to afford them. This would leave many employers who were willing and able to pay higher wages without the employees they desired. In response to this imbalance, the employers who needed more labor services, and were willing and able to pay higher wages, would simply offer higher wages and outbid the employers who weren't able to pay the higher wages. This would happen throughout the economic system until the average wage was back up at the point of full employment.


Now I'm far from an economics authority, but this passage seems to me like it should have enough asterisks appended to make a small galaxy.

First thing that pops in mind: Isn't this assuming wages are completely elastic? Is there not a minimum wage level under which people are unwilling to go regardless of the employment situation (because, for instance, going lower would mean they starve)?
Under the assumption the article is making would it not be possible for the "full employment wage" to be something way below the poverty line?

Second thing: This passage seems to be assuming there is only one possible equilibrium point, as if the "total demand for labour services" is some kind of cosmic constant value. In reality, aren't all these values intertwined in a complex cycle? Is it not possible, for instance, that having higher wages means people have more leisure money to spend and so there are more business opportunities to pursue to satisfy these needs and therefore more "total demand of labour services" ?

I think that passage suffers from a severe case of physics envy. Unfortunately, I don't think economics will ever be that clear cut. But I'd be happy to be proved wrong.
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Re: The Ultimate pro-WalMart Article

Postby AndyDufresne on Wed Jul 03, 2013 10:02 am

Haggis_McMutton wrote:Unfortunately, I don't think economics will ever be that clear cut. But I'd be happy to be proved wrong.

My wallet was empty recently. It felt pretty clear cut. :(


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Re: The Ultimate pro-WalMart Article

Postby Timminz on Wed Jul 03, 2013 5:38 pm

Metsfanmax wrote:...As wages fell, employers could hire more total workers...


Yes, in the theoretical world of economics text books. I suspect that a real-world business, in the situation described (falling wages due to increased unemployment), would still only need 500,000 employees (they got by with that number before), but would simply expect the same amount of work, for lower wages.

Here's a scenario for us to consider:

Business owner/manager: "Hey, people are only demanding $1200 for labour, when they used to demand $2000. That's great! Now we can ____________________________________________."

fill in the blank:

a) "hire a bunch of new people, give all employees shorter work weeks, and still make the same amount of money."

b) "save $800 per employee, and give ourselves bonuses for cutting expenses so well."



If you've ever worked in an actual business, you'll know which answer is more likely.
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Re: The Ultimate pro-WalMart Article

Postby Lootifer on Wed Jul 03, 2013 8:19 pm

Blergh my eyes glazed over pretty quickly; and im an economist (sorta). How did you find that any more accessible than the usual crap?

Anyhoo. My opinion on the matter is more fundamental:

I am a critic of walmart (and similar places: our local ones are called "The Warehouse" and "Mitre10 Mega"), but not just because they pay low wages.

The real issue here is why they are paying low wages. That reason, I think, is what they are selling. Instead of locally sourced, high quality items, they are churning out asian sourced low quality items.

While for the consumer the decision is quite easy: Buy item X from walmart for $5 or buy it from the locally owned and operated shop for $25? Simple really. But economically its essentially adding straight into your balance of trade deficit (the difference between how much your country buys vs what it sells - privately, lets not worry about government spending here) and making that pool of $$$ available for all employees in the economy smaller.

The reason why walmart wages are shit? Because we are addicted to cheap crap.
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Re: The Ultimate pro-WalMart Article

Postby Metsfanmax on Wed Jul 03, 2013 8:40 pm

Haggis_McMutton wrote:First thing that pops in mind: Isn't this assuming wages are completely elastic? Is there not a minimum wage level under which people are unwilling to go regardless of the employment situation (because, for instance, going lower would mean they starve)?


I don't follow. If your choice is between having no money and starving, or having a little money and starving a little less, aren't you going to choose the latter?

Under the assumption the article is making would it not be possible for the "full employment wage" to be something way below the poverty line?


Sure it is possible. Perhaps the author is arguing that without government intervention in the market, this is just unlikely to be the case.

Second thing: This passage seems to be assuming there is only one possible equilibrium point, as if the "total demand for labour services" is some kind of cosmic constant value. In reality, aren't all these values intertwined in a complex cycle? Is it not possible, for instance, that having higher wages means people have more leisure money to spend and so there are more business opportunities to pursue to satisfy these needs and therefore more "total demand of labour services" ?

I think that passage suffers from a severe case of physics envy. Unfortunately, I don't think economics will ever be that clear cut. But I'd be happy to be proved wrong.


Well, I agree. From my limited understanding of economics, the best you can do in most cases is to assume a magical world where "all other things are equal," and then derive some conclusions from that. But real economics is a non-linear system, where all other things are not equal, and so I think the author can at best only make qualitative statements about Wal-Mart in the real world based on his fantasy land scenario.

Lootifer wrote:Blergh my eyes glazed over pretty quickly; and im an economist (sorta). How did you find that any more accessible than the usual crap?


Mainly because it was couched in terms of a real practical situation (how to feel about Wal-Mart) rather than a purely abstract situation. But as a scientist and mathematician, I guess I would find it more interesting than others.

Anyhoo. My opinion on the matter is more fundamental:

I am a critic of walmart (and similar places: our local ones are called "The Warehouse" and "Mitre10 Mega"), but not just because they pay low wages.

The real issue here is why they are paying low wages. That reason, I think, is what they are selling. Instead of locally sourced, high quality items, they are churning out asian sourced low quality items.

While for the consumer the decision is quite easy: Buy item X from walmart for $5 or buy it from the locally owned and operated shop for $25? Simple really. But economically its essentially adding straight into your balance of trade deficit (the difference between how much your country buys vs what it sells - privately, lets not worry about government spending here) and making that pool of $$$ available for all employees in the economy smaller.

The reason why walmart wages are shit? Because we are addicted to cheap crap.


It seems the author is trying to make the point that cheap crap is good. And I think this is a valid point, at least in a vacuum -- the whole point of economic progress is to be able to do the same thing for less input resources. All of the problems that are generated because of that, like global warming and political injustices resulting from economic inequality, are kind of external to the point being made by the author. I guess you just have to really be drinking the Kool-Aid to hope that if we just let the market do its thing, that it will magically correct things -- even though classical economic theory tells us that the market just won't do a good job dealing with externalities (e.g. greenhouse gas emissions).
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Re: The Ultimate pro-WalMart Article

Postby Woodruff on Wed Jul 03, 2013 10:31 pm

Metsfanmax wrote:
Haggis_McMutton wrote:First thing that pops in mind: Isn't this assuming wages are completely elastic? Is there not a minimum wage level under which people are unwilling to go regardless of the employment situation (because, for instance, going lower would mean they starve)?


I don't follow. If your choice is between having no money and starving, or having a little money and starving a little less, aren't you going to choose the latter?


Wal-Mart depends on the government to make up the difference. Yes, DEPENDS ON IT. Advertises for it in the workplace, actually. So at a certain point of lowering wages, workers are just going to go full-bore on the government welfare rather than accept the poverty wage plus some government welfare.

Metsfanmax wrote:I guess you just have to really be drinking the Kool-Aid to hope that if we just let the market do its thing, that it will magically correct things -- even though classical economic theory tells us that the market just won't do a good job dealing with externalities (e.g. greenhouse gas emissions).


Yes, you do (BBS, I'm looking at you <smile>).
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Re: The Ultimate pro-WalMart Article

Postby Night Strike on Wed Jul 03, 2013 10:47 pm

Woodruff wrote:
Metsfanmax wrote:
Haggis_McMutton wrote:First thing that pops in mind: Isn't this assuming wages are completely elastic? Is there not a minimum wage level under which people are unwilling to go regardless of the employment situation (because, for instance, going lower would mean they starve)?


I don't follow. If your choice is between having no money and starving, or having a little money and starving a little less, aren't you going to choose the latter?


Wal-Mart depends on the government to make up the difference. Yes, DEPENDS ON IT. Advertises for it in the workplace, actually. So at a certain point of lowering wages, workers are just going to go full-bore on the government welfare rather than accept the poverty wage plus some government welfare.


I don't ever recall seeing such advertisements within Walmart. Although we do know that the government actively advertises the "free" money they hand out to people to get more people signed up, so perhaps those ads were forced into Walmarts. The problem is the welfare system, not the businesses. If the government would stop handing out limitless "free" money to people, then those people would either demand more money or work somewhere else. And now, Obamacare has actually made the low wages problem worse by outlining exactly what businesses have to do to avoid providing health care: work no more than 30 hours a week to not be penalized, which also drives down wages. Walmart, and all the other businesses that do the exact same thing yet aren't hated, aren't the cause of these problems; the crony government being perpetually involved in business is the problem.
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Re: The Ultimate pro-WalMart Article

Postby Woodruff on Wed Jul 03, 2013 10:52 pm

Night Strike wrote:
Woodruff wrote:
Metsfanmax wrote:
Haggis_McMutton wrote:First thing that pops in mind: Isn't this assuming wages are completely elastic? Is there not a minimum wage level under which people are unwilling to go regardless of the employment situation (because, for instance, going lower would mean they starve)?


I don't follow. If your choice is between having no money and starving, or having a little money and starving a little less, aren't you going to choose the latter?


Wal-Mart depends on the government to make up the difference. Yes, DEPENDS ON IT. Advertises for it in the workplace, actually. So at a certain point of lowering wages, workers are just going to go full-bore on the government welfare rather than accept the poverty wage plus some government welfare.


I don't ever recall seeing such advertisements within Walmart.


Have you been employed by Wal-Mart? They make a point of having their employees apply for government assistance to the point of it being advertised in their break rooms and made part of their employee briefings. Of course, they do this under the guise of "helping our employees", but the reality is that they know as long as their employees are being made survivable by the government, then Wal-Mart won't have to do it themselves.

Night Strike wrote:The problem is the welfare system, not the businesses.


No. Absolutely not. That is an entirely DIFFERENT SUBJECT. That is a problem, I agree...but that is not THIS problem. At all.

THIS problem is that businesses like Wal-Mart (they are not at all the only one) actively use government welfare to subsidize their own wages.
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Re: The Ultimate pro-WalMart Article

Postby Night Strike on Wed Jul 03, 2013 10:56 pm

Woodruff wrote:Have you been employed by Wal-Mart? They make a point of having their employees apply for government assistance to the point of it being advertised in their break rooms and made part of their employee briefings. Of course, they do this under the guise of "helping our employees", but the reality is that they know as long as their employees are being made survivable by the government, then Wal-Mart won't have to do it themselves.


Yes, I was. And the assistance you're talking about is the same that has to be mentioned at other jobs such as lists of the eligibility for Medicaid and other child assistance programs. These notifications are mandated by the government, not the businesses.
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Re: The Ultimate pro-WalMart Article

Postby Night Strike on Wed Jul 03, 2013 11:04 pm

Besides, Walmart is doing quite well on their own of driving away customers because of their refusal to schedule enough workers to keep cash registers flowing and shelves stocked. That had started even before I left, but only appears to have become much more pronounced.
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Re: The Ultimate pro-WalMart Article

Postby Woodruff on Wed Jul 03, 2013 11:20 pm

Night Strike wrote:
Woodruff wrote:Have you been employed by Wal-Mart? They make a point of having their employees apply for government assistance to the point of it being advertised in their break rooms and made part of their employee briefings. Of course, they do this under the guise of "helping our employees", but the reality is that they know as long as their employees are being made survivable by the government, then Wal-Mart won't have to do it themselves.


Yes, I was. And the assistance you're talking about is the same that has to be mentioned at other jobs such as lists of the eligibility for Medicaid and other child assistance programs.


Yes and no. Certainly that is a part of it, but Wal-Mart makes it an advertising program for all forms of state and Federal aid, not at all just those.

Night Strike wrote:These notifications are mandated by the government, not the businesses.


Having something pinned on the board in the break room or within an employee handbook is required. Having it be a part of regular employee briefings are not required.
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Re: The Ultimate pro-WalMart Article

Postby Woodruff on Wed Jul 03, 2013 11:23 pm

Night Strike wrote:Besides, Walmart is doing quite well on their own of driving away customers because of their refusal to schedule enough workers to keep cash registers flowing and shelves stocked. That had started even before I left, but only appears to have become much more pronounced.


I have to admit this is one part of their strategy I've not understood. I realize that customer service hasn't really been a part of their business model since probably Sam Walton left the company, but this doesn't make sense to me. As tremendous as their logistics system is (and it is), if they would simply apply those exact same methodologies to their staffing, this wouldn't even be an issue AND they'd be just as money-making (due to accessing more of their customers money more quickly).
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Re: The Ultimate pro-WalMart Article

Postby Haggis_McMutton on Thu Jul 04, 2013 6:03 am

Metsfanmax wrote:
Haggis_McMutton wrote:First thing that pops in mind: Isn't this assuming wages are completely elastic? Is there not a minimum wage level under which people are unwilling to go regardless of the employment situation (because, for instance, going lower would mean they starve)?


I don't follow. If your choice is between having no money and starving, or having a little money and starving a little less, aren't you going to choose the latter?


If it's not enough money to maintain some minimum standard of living you're presumably gonna choose option C: riot, start stealing, etc.
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