I love Walmart: my wife hates it. Help!

21st November, 2009

Dear Economist,
My newlywed wife and I are deeply in love. There is, however, one issue that threatens the blissful fabric of our marriage. I absolutely insist upon shopping at Walmart. My wife, meanwhile, would rather avoid Walmart at all costs.
I have recently tried to convince her that not only does Walmart offer the lowest prices known to man, but that the chain is also a force for good – lower prices mean better standards of living for all consumers, increased global trade means a tighter-knit international community, and efficient operations translate into higher productivity growth for the economy. My wife complains about poor labour policies, the “fact” that Walmart squeezes suppliers, and that it puts local shops out of business.
Who is right? Will our marriage survive?
Brian Gee

Dear Brian,

I have to agree with you about Walmart. Jason Furman, then an economist at New York University, now an adviser to President Obama, famously argued in 2005 that Walmart was (unwittingly) a progressive success story. The chain’s prices don’t much affect me (I prefer Whole Foods) but Furman reckoned that they benefited low- and middle-income Americans to the tune of around $250bn a year.

Walmart does not pay much, so it may depress wages. Then again, it may boost wages by offering jobs to the otherwise-unemployed. Either way, the benefits of low prices to Walmart shoppers far outweigh any plausible costs to Walmart employees. And while it is true that Walmart employees tend to be poor, the same is true of Walmart shoppers.

Armed with this information you can confront your wife with confidence. You are sure to win the conversation. The divorce is likely to be more keenly contested.

Also published at ft.com.

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