This is a really interesting e-mail debate about the true economic impact of Wal-Mart. It’s worth reading the fact-filled essays and then considering the tired criticisms of the Wal-Mart critics, from “they contribute to global warming” to the never gets old “they put main street shops out of business”.
A range of studies has found that Wal-Mart’s prices are 8 percent to 39 percent below the prices of its competitors. The single most careful economic study, co-authored by the well-respected MIT economist Jerry Hausman, found that grocery sales by Wal-Mart and other big-box stores made consumers better off to the tune of 25 percent of food consumption. That doesn’t mean much for those of us in the top fifth of the income distributionâ€”we spend only about 3.5 percent of our income on food at home and, at least in my case, most of that shopping is done at high-priced supermarkets like Whole Foods. But that’s a huge savings for households in the bottom quintile, which, on average, spend 26 percent of their income on food. In fact, it is equivalent to a 6.5 percent boost in household incomeâ€”unless the family lives in New York City or one of the other places that have successfully kept Wal-Mart and its ilk away.