These families have clearly revealed their preference for the price, quality, and convenience of Wal-Mart. The retailer is also familiar to critics. Among the complaints lodged against Wal-Mart are condemnation of its impact on local wages, retail competition, sprawl, income equality, health care and its potential for speeding the rate of globalization. Policymakers, mostly in state legislatures and local governments, also fret about Wal-Mart and its impact on tax revenues and expenditures.
This book is an effort to objectively examine these issues, and I take seriously the expressions of interest by critics and advocates alike. In this book, I examine the existing research critically and try to expose flaws as fully as necessary. My work here is partially theoretical but primarily empirical. I seek to answer the positive, not normative, questions about Wal-Mart’s impact. I attempt to ascertain what the company’s impact is, not what it should be, although normative issues are discussed in the summary.
In evaluating the range of potential impacts of Wal-Mart, I do not mean to provide blanket intellectual cover for all the company’s critics or its advocates. The loudest arguments in the public square consist of emotional rather than thoughtful analysis. Because of this, I attempt to largely steer clear of some of the fringe debates and touch only lightly on these issues.
It is also useful to explain at the outset that this is not really a book about Wal-Mart, Inc. Economists study markets, not individual firms. This book is instead about those markets in which Wal-Mart operates and how the company affects and is affected by them. Consequentially, my analysis does not speak to many issues that are directly related to the firm. For example, I do not emphasize its marketing efforts, use of radiofrequency identification, supply chain innovations, or allegations of gender discrimination or antiunion behavior except where there is a clear market component to these facets of the firm.