Monday, 27 June 2005

Shopping Alone

Dallas Morning News columnist Rod Dreher and Clarion-Ledger columnist Eric Stringfellow both travel down nostalgia lane to sing the praises of the local market over Big Bad Evil Wal-Mart. Dreher focuses on the social fabric argument, but touches on revenues as well:

People shopped at the impersonal supermarket for years, but now many of them drive over to the next town to buy groceries at the Wal-Mart Supercenter, where the aisles are wider, the lighting brighter and the product selection more dazzling.

With them go the tax dollars that ought to be supporting my hometown but aren’t.

Why should these tax dollars be supporting his hometown? The town housing Wal-Mart bears the externalities of hosting the retailer; shouldn’t they get the tax dollars it generates? And, while the property taxes may remain local, the bulk of sales taxes are generally shipped off to the state capital and redistributed back to localities on the basis of population.

Stringfellow, on the other hand, doesn’t care that much about taxes—he just wants local ownership, although it’s not obvious to me why we should care that the folks extracting surplus are a few visible local millionaires versus the more numerous, invisible shareholders that we’d probably prefer to see in a true “ownership” society. Yes, Jitney Jungle was a local “hometown” success story—until those same locals ran it into the ground with a series of bad business decisions.

It seems to me that Dreher and Stringfellow get it backwards: Wal-Mart, Target, and the more successful “pure” grocers like Kroger have figured out that society has changed from the era when people had the time to search for goods in narrow, cramped aisles and the inclination to go elsewhere if they couldn’t find them—which was OK when we (mostly) had one-income families and a “stay-at-home” spouse had most of the day free to shop several places, prepare meals, and maintain the household. We don’t live in the Dick Van Dyke Show era any more, the Jitneys and other small retailers failed to adapt, and nostalgia isn’t going to bring that era back.

þ: James Joyner.

Now I don't feel so bad

The Texas Longhorns won the College World Series yesterday; I have to say that I was disappointed when Texas beat the Ole Miss Rebels in the best-of-3 a couple of weeks ago in Oxford, but losing to the eventual champs (especially given that the Rebels were on the verge of winning both games 2 and 3 in the 9th) takes a little bit of the sting out of it.

þ: Steven Taylor.