business news in context, analysis with attitude

I got several emails regarding the MNB story about a study from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) charging that Wal-Mart’s purchase of products from China has helped to contribute to a trade deficit with that country of $233 billion, with Wal-Mart’s imports alone accounting for $27 billion. EPI also says that Wal-Mart’s purchases from China alone led to the loss of close to 200,000 jobs in the United States between 2001 and 2006.

One MNB user wrote:

Wal-Mart certainly doesn't need me to defend them (nor am I predisposed to do so). That said, the brief report on Wal-Mart's contribution to the country's annual trade deficit, brought about by its extensive imports from China, is simply just one side of the sword here. Most if not all economic contexts involve two or more parties trying to agree on something where their individual self interests do not coincide, and in such a context, the better one side "does" in the negotiation, generally speaking, the worse the other side "does." Labor-management negotiations, for example. Here, although Wal-Mart may well be a significant single factor in the US' large trade deficit, consumers "voted with their pocketbooks" to bring about this result, that is, they went, out of their own free will, and purchased these massive quantities of Chinese-import products, ostensibly in the belief that such purchases were optimal for their personal life situations. No one coerced a consumer to make any of these purchases. Collateral damage: loss of 200,000 US jobs (to China); those 200,000 workers "lost" while the many consumers making these import-good purchases (and Wal-Mart itself, of course) "won" via, presumably, a product-price-value index they considered to be optimal.

Reverse the scenario: retain the 200,000 US jobs, reduce (at least partially) the Chinese import total, and these US consumers "lose" by now being unable to procure these products at the same product-price-value index. They "lose" whereas the 200,000 jobs not lost "win." It's always more gray than black & white in these economic contexts, and to ultimately say what's best for all considered seems most likely to be more of a personal value judgment, replete with personal biases, than any objectively derived, incontrovertible fact.

For every winner, there's a loser in the economic arena; in the end, maybe "balance" is a good thing to shoot for: everyone wins some, loses some, rather than some always win, some always lose. Lawmakers: heads-up: there's a policy initiative in there somewhere!

Maybe, but it all sounds too nuanced for the political or government arena. But that may just be my latent cynicism speaking.

Another MNB user wrote:

I realize it is Wal-Mart beat BUT it is most interesting that the banks, the airlines, the hotel chains, the mortgage companies, and our Congress have sent far more jobs overseas than Wal-Mart has.


Regarding another recent MNB story, a member of the community wrote:

Gee...Safeway is being asked by Congress to defend their practice of selling meat treated with carbon monoxide. How about calling in the FDA who approved the practice and the companies who provide the carbon monoxide equipment to retail? It wasn't Safeway or any other retailer who dreamed up this method for preserving meat. While I'm fortunate to work for a retailer that doesn't use carbon monoxide on meat, I don't think that Congress should put retailers on the firing line for using a technique that was approved by the country's supposed authority on the matter.


One recent MNB story mentioned that Target has thus far avoided self-checkouts, which led one MNB user to observe:

If you look at Target's average sales-per-store annually, and compare it
with Wal-Mart or some other stores, you'll realize why Target doesn't have self-checkouts. They aren't needed. I was in a Target recently while doing some editorial research and found 3 out of 30 checkouts in operation, but no customers at any of them. At a Wal-Mart within minutes of the Target visit, nearly a dozen, plus the

Finally, in my Thursday radio commentary before leaving on vacation, I opined:

I don’t understand how Salmon of the Americas can send out a press release saying, in essence, that the reason that 13-year-old Evan O’Dorney won the recent National Spelling Bee is because he eats fish – especially salmon – before every competition.

Give me a break.

First of all, hasn’t this kid been exploited enough? I get the feeling when I see events like the National Spelling Bee … that the main reason the kids are there is because their parents want them there…that if they had a choice, they’d be out playing stickball or shooting hoops or playing video games or hanging out down at the malt shop. (Okay, maybe not playing stickball or hanging out at the malt shop…but you get my point.)

I just have trouble believing that poor Evan sits down for a nice salmon meal before he starts a spelling bee. What seems more likely is that his parents – and the folks trying to sell more salmon – saw a nice promotional tie-in here and decided to make some money…

Be careful, Evan. Today it’s the National Spelling Bee, but with these kinds of endorsements and promotion deals, it won’t be long before you’re out clubbing with Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton, and having the tabloid newspapers go through your trash looking for odd misspellings that can be exposed to the world.

It is a slippery slope.

One MNB user thought that maybe we were a little tough:

Just a quick note from someone who's proud of her inner geek.

I was the school Spelling Bee champion for all four years I was eligible -- county runner up three of those years, and county champion my last year. I ended up being 19th in the state, falling on the word "fallible", ironically.

All of it was by choice -- I was (and still am) a crummy athlete, clumsy and accident prone. There really weren't any other extracurricular activities in those days (cough-- the early 70s) as I was raised in the farmlands of the Midwest, and everyone lived a long way out of town.

But I could spell. It was one thing I did really, really well, and no one ever coerced me into competing in the bees -- I wanted to sign up the very first time I ever heard about it. My parents didn't push -- if anything, they bent over backward to let me do something I wanted to do -- my mom came on Fridays to pick up me and the enormous unabridged dictionary that the school let me take home with me over the weekends to study. My folks would spend the entire weekend picking random words out of the dictionary for me to spell, and I didn't want to stop, even for meals or to sleep. When they had to stop to do other things (trivial stuff like cooking or something!) I would page through that huge dictionary, literally reading every word on the page. Nearly every other kid I talked to during those long, long bees was there for the same reason I was -- we enjoyed being able to compete at something we did well and might be able to win.

Not every kid who spells is doing it because they've been pushed into it -- more of the "there's something for everyone".

Fair enough.

I’ll admit to being fallable on this one. (And many others.)
KC's View: