Housing Complex

You Won’t Believe the Stupidity of the Latest Attack on D.C.

Washingtonians, we have a savior in our midst! If only our repellent, socialist politicians wouldn't get in its way.

That's the basic gist of a patronizing op-ed that just appeared on Forbes' website, under the headline "You Won't Believe the Stupidity of the Latest Attack On Walmart." The piece centers on the legislation proposed by D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson to require large national retailers in the District to pay a so-called living wage, which received a contentious hearing yesterday. I won't pass judgment on the merits of the bill (just yet), but I will weigh in on the vision of D.C. that the author of the piece, Kyle Smith, apparently has.

"The latest foolish attack on Walmart is happening, fittingly, in a committee hearing in Washington, D.C., a town that is reminding us all how it is even more obtuse on the local level than on the national," Smith writes. "The salvo is called the Large Retailer Accountability Act (LRAA), but just think of it as yet another effort from the DGDP: the Department of Good Deeds Punishment."

Yes, good deeds. To Walmart, it seems, profits are secondary; its mission to rescue the poor, helpless District is priority No. 1.

"Away from the tourist trail, the District still contains some blighted neighborhoods where crime and disorder discourage business and leave residents starved for corporate attention," Smith writes. "Walmart has eagerly been reviving desolate corners of the city."

It's true that many Washingtonians are excited to have a big retailer coming to their neighborhoods. But it's not because they expect Walmart to eliminate blight and crime and disorder—it's because they want to be able to buy cheap clothes and food without having to go somewhere else.

And has Walmart somehow already revived "desolate corners of the city" before opening a single store in D.C.? Hardly; what it has done is skillfully maneuver through the city's political landscape. Walmart has managed to move forward with plans for six stores in D.C. without attracting meaningful opposition from city leaders. It's orchestrated successful PR stunts and photo ops, and it's made substantial donations to community organizations that have, I'm sure, been put to good use in many cases.

But according to Smith, the resistance to Walmart's arrival could've been eased with simple bribery. "You may well ask why Walmart allowed the matter to get this far: When it comes to breaking into northern urban markets, can’t one of America’s largest and greatest companies steamroll a few local-yokel pols?" he writes. "Can’t it grease the right palms?"

No, he continues, Walmart is nobler than that. Instead of palm-greasing, Walmart has admirably put Council employees on its payroll, which is totally different.

And yet that's still not enough to get those "rebarbative" (it means abhorrent; I had to look it up, too) councilmembers on board!

"You’d think a business that not only plays by the rules (without asking for tax and zoning breaks) but is a beloved icon for the working class and goes to considerable lengths to be a good corporate citizen would be welcomed at least as warmly as, say, a heavily-subsidized sports stadium catering mainly to suburbanites and the well-off," Smith snarls.

But Smith concludes on a hopeful note, writing that "even in statist D.C.," the glorious free market may come out on top. Let's hope he's right, for the sake of our blighted, desolate city!

  • dave b

    A heavily subsidized sports stadium that caters to suburbanites is a good thing. It brings suburban money into the city instead of just city people transferring their money from other city attractions. It's not like it is a park for suburbanites to come to for free

  • NE John

    Who is this goob Kyle Smith? I wish he'd come to my house in my neighborhood. I would give him a memory of DC he'd never forget.

  • drez

    Love how the author mocks the notion that Walmart has any social obligation or responsibility in one paragraph, and in the next is effusive about how it is revitalizing "desolate" corners of the city.

  • grumpy

    I don't buy the pro-Walmart argument about not interfering with the free market. Walmart is opening stores in DC because there is unmet demand here for the goods they sell. If paying their employees a living wage makes their business plans unfeasible, then they shouldn't open stores here and another retailer will step in and take their place to profit off of that unmet demand. What I don't know is whether the level chosen as a living wage ($11.75) is a reasonable level to impose.

  • Fearing Dystopia

    @NE John: Smith spent last week in Oxen Hill, hoping to get Sarah Palin's autograph. He believes Wal-Mart is incapable of bribery (never mind what happened in Mexico), and he doesn't believe in climate change.

    Why would anyone expect factual accuracy or minimal cognitive consistency from him?

  • jp

    Writers love taking shots at DC for various reasons, including issues as frivolous as how much red tape and bribery Walmart has to go through to open up retail stores.

    I am strangely excited for the urban walmarts to open in DC. Despite being an urbanist at heart, I know that Walmart will have very little impact on the local businesses with the exception of the city grocery stores which I completely detest. Walmart has taken great care in building design and the location will blend in well.

    I will not shop at Walmart, but I believe that anything is better than a vacant lot, and it'll be nice alternative to going to CVS or Safeway for basic household items.

  • sticktoyourguns

    their are buisness owners who live in ward 4 that Walmart won't even work with...but they wanna build in ward 4.....

  • Fabrisse

    @ grumpy --
    The current DC Living Wage is set at $12.50. So, it's much better than just paying minimum wage (and our high minimum wage is one reason Walmart stayed away so long), but not quite enough for someone to live on at current rents.

  • will

    No one writing in Forbes should ever be allowed to say that they know what "a beloved icon for the working class" is.

  • maktoo

    But Walmart NEEDS that extra money - it's a waste to pay their staff too much! How else will its owners continue to support their brand-new, extremely fancy art museum just opened in middle-of-nowhere Arkansas? Have a heart, minimum-wage-earners!

  • Sebastian Townview

    "Beloved icon of the working class," huh? More like repeatedly kicking the ass of the working class. Walmart could pay all of its employees a starting wage of $12/hr, not touch its profits, and still only increase the cost to shoppers by $12.49/YEAR. The benefits to the local economy and to the workers themselves are clear. But the Cult of Walmart can't see beyond its own nose.

  • Hillman

    Sebastian, do you have data to back that up?

  • Beeland123

    "...a beloved icon for the working class..."

    :throws up in mouth:

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