Wal-Mart and Creative Destruction

by Don Boudreaux on March 3, 2011

in Competition, Complexity & Emergence, Creative destruction, Seen and Unseen, Standard of Living, Wal-Mart

A friend asked me earlier today a Wal-Mart question.  I remembered this letter to the editor of The Economist that I wrote in 2006; I post it here at the Cafe for the first time:

In “Opening up the big box” (Feb. 25) you overlook a significant benefit of Wal-Mart – namely, by relieving Main Street’s retail spaces of the need to supply staple goods such as groceries and hardware, Wal-Mart frees these spaces to be transformed into ethnic restaurants, wi-fied cafes, art galleries, arts theaters, and specialty retail shops.

Wal-Mart makes downtown areas more diverse and lively.

Sincerely,
Donald J. Boudreaux

This happy effect of Wal-Mart first dawned on me back in the mid-1990s when I lived near Greenville, SC.  Many of my older friends in South Carolina – such as Bruce Yandle, the late Hugh Macaulay, and the late Wallace Trevillian – remembered Main St. in Greenville from the ’40s, ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s.  They described the hardware store that no longer exists on Main St., as well as the barber shop, the mom’n'pop grocery store, the diner, and the pharmacy.  But the Main St. in Greenville that I knew (having moved to South Carolina only in 1992) was booming and lively with fusion restaurants, art galleries, wine bars, and up-scale gift shops.

See also here.

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FeFe March 15, 2011 at 6:32 pm

I know these changes and Main Streets and it seems to me they have succeeded in bringing a tribal element into cohesive communities. Not a negative to diversity of peoples (even among an all white or black community you will find they naturally acknowledge differences that do not lead to exclusion; religion, heritage, light skin vs. dark, etc.) but as to the multi-culti aspect. What once was a monoculture, as Prince Charles would say, had a common sense of purpose but now special interest groups compete for who can claim more status as a victim and worthy of notice or funds so local culture is no longer based on merit. Patriotism becomes a 4 letter word.

Even the natural gentrification over time of ethnic areas is resented and spun for the tribal capitalist vs. Marxist victim but this is what leads to successful American assimilation of immigrants. Without it you have ‘youths’ burning tens of thousands of cars in France a year and no-go zones in Malmo, Sweden.

Mom’n'pop towns have a safety net built on American principles while WalMart towns turn to government. Is it so wrong to feel like the government is a carpetbagger?

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