D.C. City Council says no to Wal-mart, yes to continue hurting residents

Posted on July 12, 2013 by

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Much is being made of the D.C. city council’s 8-5 decision to impose a “living wage” of $12.50 on Wal-mart.  Wal-mart has announced cancellation of three planned stores and a review of 3 stores being built now.  Mona Charon over on NRO correctly highlights the harm this decision will have on its citizens:

Vincent Orange is one of the members of the District of Columbia city council currently exulting in victory over the poor people of Washington. In an 8–5 vote, the council elected to prevent the “underserved” poor people of the District from getting fresh produce and other food, a wide variety of good-quality products at affordable prices, and some 1,800 jobs, many of them entry-level.

Likewise the WSJ opines on President Obama’s meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus:

The District of Columbia is 50% black, its jobless rate is 8.5%, and the city has invested millions of dollars to revitalize shopping areas to attract anchor stories like Wal-Mart. Each Wal-Mart store offered the prospect of 300 new jobs and $1 million in tax revenue. Not to mention lower prices for such daily staples as food and clothing. Now all of that is in jeopardy.

While it is great to highlight the harm these politicians are doing to their supposed constituents, we must carefully avoid the elitist view that “they don’t realize the harm they are doing.”  Of course, there are many times that politicians don’t realize the harm they are doing.  But these type liberal policies have been harming constituents for years, and they keep happening.  We must ask why.  The easiest way is through the lens of Public Choice economics:  we simply ask, why do these city council members find it in their interest to vote against Wal-mart?  You may call this cynical (yet Jesus told us to be wise as serpents but as innocent as doves with respect to the ways of the world), but it beats the alternative:  politicians are perpetually stupid (or worse, they are malevolent).  So why is it in their interest?  Because most voters are rationally ignorant, and 1) don’t vote, 2) don’t know who their council member is, 3) certainly won’t know how their particular council member voted on this issue, and 4) won’t contribute either time or money toward the council members re-election.  On the other hand, there are many liberal special interest groups that are highly engaged that 1) do vote, 2) do know who the council members are,  3) do know how they voted on this issue, and 4) can be counted on to aid their re-election with both time and money.  For these special interest groups, fighting big business (especially non-unionized big business) is a feel good cause.  For local politicians who want to stay in power, or move up the ladder, they know who’s bread they have to butter.  And you can bet its not the single mother in D.C. that now will have to go to Maryland for fresh vegetables.

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