Unlike the coalition which is attacking Wal-Mart, says Harvard's Pankaj Ghemawat:
Consider, for example, the conclusions of the McKinsey Global Institute's study of United States labor productivity growth from 1995 to 2000. Robert Solow, a Nobel laureate in economics and an adviser on the study, noted that the most important factor in the growth of productivity was Wal-Mart. And because the study measured productivity per man hour rather than per payroll dollar, low hourly wages cannot explain the increase.
Second, most of the value created by the company is actually pocketed by its customers in the form of lower prices. ...Wal-Mart saves its consumers something like $16 billion a year. And because Wal-Mart's presence forces the store's competitors to charge lower prices as well, this $16 billion figure understates the company's real impact by at least half.
These kinds of savings to customers far exceed the costs that Wal-Mart supposedly imposes on society by securing subsidies, destroying jobs in competing stores, driving employees toward public welfare systems and creating urban sprawl. Even if these offenses could all be ascribed to Wal-Mart, their costs wouldn't add up to anything like $16 billion.
Similarly, the savings to customers also exceed the total surplus the company generates for its shareholders- a surplus that would be wiped out if Wal-Mart's million-plus employees were to receive a $2-per-hour pay increase, modest though that sounds. .... the more than 100 million Americans who shop at Wal-Mart would most likely just end up paying higher prices.
This last point suggests that the debate around Wal-Mart isn't really about a Marxist conflict between capital and labor. Instead, it is a conflict pitting consumers and efficiency-oriented intermediaries like Wal-Mart against a combination of labor unions, traditional retailers and community groups.
....Wal-Mart's customers tend to be the Americans who need the most help. Our research shows that Wal-Mart operates two-and-a-half times as much selling space per inhabitant in the poorest third of states as in the richest third. And within that poorest third of states, 80 percent of Wal-Mart's square footage is in the 25 percent of ZIP codes with the greatest number of poor households. Without the much-maligned Wal-Mart, the rural poor, in particular, would pay several percentage points more for the food and other merchandise that after housing is their largest household expense.
So in thinking about Wal-Mart, let's keep in mind who's reaping the benefits of those "everyday low prices" - and, by extension, where the real conflict lies.
[Thanks to N.C. State's Craig Newmark]