As I listen to the debate about superstores, the 'let 'em in' argument sounds very familiar. I've said the same things. I've used the same arguments with the "keep 'em out" people. But I listened, too. I asked hard questions.
I changed my mind.
Let's examine the arguments:
It's the free market system working as it should.
I believe in a free market. You're free to start a business and run it as you like. But, like they say, "it's a jungle out there." Sometimes you're the lion and sometimes you're the gazelle. There are no guarantees of success, only opportunity. It's not fair, but that's the way it is. If you don't know that going in, you will be the recipient of a very expensive and unpleasant education.
But this is different. A Wal-Mart superstore isn't just a lion. It's a 100-ton leech and it will suck the life out of our community. It's competition that makes our capitalist system work. Wal-Mart has gotten so big it can drive any competition out. That's not a "free market."
One hundred years ago we broke up Standard Oil for the same reason.
Fleet Farm is a superstore and it's been good for the economy.
That is not a fair comparison for three reasons. First, Fleet Farm is big, but it's not a true superstore. Second, they have good competitors. But far and away the most important difference is this: the Mills family invests back in the lakes area. The money stays here. Moreover, they are quietly very generous. The Mills family and many other local businesses are supportive of local charities and nonprofits. I think the Waltons will give just enough to say they are generous.
A super Wal-Mart will create many jobs.
That may be the truth, but it's not the whole truth. These jobs will be low-paying. I'm told that many of their workers will be on welfare. If this is true, and I'd be surprised if it weren't, it means that we may save on toothpaste, but we will pay higher taxes. Will these workers be covered by a medical plan? Most won't have coverage but they'll still get sick. Who will pay? You know the answer. You and I will be subsidizing Wal-Mart. That's not a "free market."
How can you argue with lower prices?
A super Wal-Mart will come in with low prices, drive local businesses out, and then raise prices. Who can blame them? Their stockholders would demand management's head on a platter if they weren't wringing every possible dollar out of our wallets. It's businesses. They'd be foolish not to.
I talked to a business owner the other day who had a store in Hibbing. Business dropped off 35 percent when the super Wal-Mart opened. They closed the store.
Nobody wants to pay more than they have to, but we have to look beyond the marked price. The real price of cheap dog food will be higher taxes, lower wages and ultimately higher prices.
You can't fight Wal-Mart. They're coming and we can't stop it.
Baloney. Who runs our towns, We the People or Wal-Mart? We have every right, and I think a responsibility, to say no.
A super Wal-Mart may look good; jobs, low prices etc., but the real cost will be lost jobs, lower wages, higher taxes and higher prices.
Let's keep 'em out.
(Hegstad is a resident of Brainerd.)
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