Editorial: War on low-income consumers

As part of last week’s mad rush by the Legislature to remake the planet — you know, commanding the climate to cool, universalizing health care — the Democrats threw in two other measures, both designed to advance their party’s national agenda by demonizing Wal-Mart.

A curious target, this retail phenomenon, because few businesses have done more to democratize the American marketplace than the late Sam Walton’s inspiration out of Arkansas. So popular was this economy-of-scale merchandiser that one Hillary Clinton, an upcoming governor’s wife, in 1985 happily joined its board of directors.

She’s long since off that board, for obvious conflict-of-interest reasons. But the decent interval since her departure has allowed the New York senator to stay mute through her colleagues’ anti-Wal-Mart chorus.

No such history inhibits Delaware’s Sen. Joseph Biden or Indiana’s Sen. Evan Bayh, both potential presidential contenders in 2008, from bashing Wal-Mart. SaidBiden recently: “My problem with Wal-Mart is that I don’t see any indication that they care about the fate of middle-class people. They talk about paying them $10 an hour. That’s true. How can you live a middle-class life on that?”

Never mind that in 2005 the average hourly wage in retailing was $10.85, in range of Wal-Mart’s. And never mind that, according to Global Insight, nationwide expansion of the company’s competitive price reductions from 1985 to 2004 lowered the consumer price index by 3.1 percent, making the world’s largest employer an inflation fighter to rival the Federal Reserve.

And never mind that other studies show how, when Wal-Mart comes to town, it creates more jobs than it displaces. All this prompted Investor’s Business Daily to muse: “Imagine a private group that pays billions in taxes, creates millions of jobs and sells things at ultra-low prices. Too good to be true? It’s called Wal-Mart — and Democrats, for some reason, want to kill it off.”

The party, in Bayh’s words, consider Wal-Mart “emblematic of the anxiety around the country, and the middle-class squeeze.” So here in California the legislature is sending Gov. Schwarzenegger one bill that would require local governments to conduct economic impact reviews before allowing “big box” retailers to open up shop.

Another would force the company to pay local government legal fees if it challenges “anti-Wal-Mart” restrictions and loses (the closest you’ll see the Democrats coming to “loser pays” tort reform). You do wonder.

The Bay Area has known its share of anti-Wal-Mart passions, most recently in Hercules, where officials realized their anti-competitive afflatus to bar the store. And Sacramento has forced consumers, many of them low-income, to drive well into the Central Valley to take advantage of Wal-Mart prices.

Does this really make political sense? Why would the Democrats want to alienate these consumers?

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