Thursday, January 26, 2006

Wal-Mart Strikes Back

No doubt out of righteous indignation, the city fathers of Chicago rejected Wal-Mart in its attempt to install a store in the Windy City. So Wal-Mart set up its store about a block outside the city limits. According to reports, Wal-Mart has received some 25,000 job applications, most from Chicago people.

The great city has acceded to Union demands and in so doing, has lost a huge amount in taxes. But they have kept the Great Satan, Wal-Mart, at arm’s length. Good for them!

Even though all of us must agree that Wal-Mart is a great evil, we must also see that there is a parallel between today’s battle against Wal-Mart’s low prices and the battle against Fair Trade laws of the 1950’s and 1960’s.

In that earlier era (from about 1931), manufacturers set prices for which retailer had to sell their products. Pricing regulations were enforced by state laws. The Supreme Court said these laws were in violation of the Sherman Anti-trust Act. So in 1937 Congress, under pressure from lobbying groups passed a special act allowing price-fixing by manufacturers. The laws generally worked as long as numbers of manufacturers were few and the banded together to establish prices.

But pressure from discounters began developing cracks in the “Fair” Price structure. By the late 1950’s manufacturers began dropping their suggested pricing and in 1975 Congress woke up and killed Fair Pricing once again.

There was a great deal of consternation in the market place as the Fair Trade laws faded away. Rumors were passed around that “Jews from New York” were destroying the local little guy, and that service would be non-existent. Also, cities would fail if prices dropped causing a decline in tax revenues. Few seemed to realize that an increased volume of sales due to lower prices might very well increase total tax revenues.

Well, today the same arguments are being used in one form or another as Jews like the Walton family continue to find ways to deliver goods to the average guy at prices he can afford. Unfortunately for his detractors, Sam Walton is a Christian and there is nothing wrong with Jewish (or any other) people winning at retailing, anyway.

What appears to be at stake is not what the politicians are saying; it is their financial support from unions. That and the fact that some political people instinctively dislike the winners in society. You would think they would want to help Wal-Mart in its pattern of supplying the average guy with goods that only the rich used to have.

It’s a strange world. But it is made stranger because politicians are so terribly ignorant of even recent history.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Those Evil Corporations

There is a very interesting program on cable TV called “Fox News Watch.” At my house it is scheduled for Saturdays at 3:30 P.M. On the show, two fairly liberal folks and two fairly conservative folks give their views about the way news was handled in the previous week. There are usually four different “takes” on each event.

When the show was in its early stages, one of the Liberal pundits often began his comments with the observation, in effect, that the news media were owned by corporations and corporations were bad so they corrupted the news. His response was simplistic and monotonous. That may be the reason that he is no longer on the show.

But his argument lingers. I often hear arguments that begin with some connection to “evil corporations.” Proponents sound a bit like the early Rousseau, with a twist.

Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) was a French philosopher who argued early in his career that man is essentially good, a "noble savage" when in the "state of nature" (before the creation of civilization and society), and that good people are made unhappy and corrupted by their experiences in society. He viewed society as corrupt and thought that the furthering of society results in the continuing unhappiness of man. In other words, people are all right, but institutions are evil. Especially the Government.

These days, some folks agree with Rousseau without realizing it. But to them it is the corporations that are evil; but Government? Big Government is good.

But there is problem with this line of thought. Corporations are things—arrangements of people. Things are neither good nor evil. It is people in corporations who are either good or evil (or indifferent). So despite Rousseau, the argument goes back to people as it did in his day.

Rousseau’s evil “Society” was an arrangement of people. So are corporations. It seems to blame a mindless “arrangement” for today’s problems is somewhat like blaming the god Mars for a belligerent nature, or the god Bacchus for the hangover you get after a night of drinking.

But, some people are more religious than I am.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Ugly Combination of Science and Politics

In an inappropriate mixture of science and politics, two experts in insect lore set aside the names for three slime-mold beetles. According to TLC News on the Internet, this first day of 2006, in an article called “Weird Science Tales of 2005” the names were adaptations of Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld, our President, Vice President, and Secretary of Defense. An example given for a slime beetle name was Agathidium bushi.

The story disappeared from the Internet within a few hours. If true, it appeared unprofessional and cowardly. There is no way a person can protect himself from this kind of childish prank. It doesn't matter which political party is involved, either.

But on another level, mixing science and politics can be rather devastating. When Fascist scientists determined that “survival of the fittest” meant eliminating the weak (minorities), it took a long time for people to realize there was no science in such thinking. Many German citizens thought nothing of killing Gypsies and Jews and anyone else they deemed “weak,” or less fit than they thought themselves to be.

The study of Eugenics, which had many well-known followers and a “scientific” basis for purifying the human race, resulted in harmful actions. It was nutty, of course but people believed in it for years. Some probably still do.

Communist scientific theoreticians clearly saw economic cycles that no one else could find. They used these “facts” to justify all kinds of monstrous behavior. Psychology, a weak science at best, was used for mind control. If that didn’t work, a frontal lobotomy might be called for. After all, people weren’t bad, they just needed an adjustment.

Science and politics can be an unwise and unjust combination. It would be well if we ordinary citizens could learn to spot such alliances when they occur. Perhaps the scientist/politicians involved could obtain an "adjustment."