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December 19, 2005

Outsource Matt Bai's Job

Matt Bai has joined the chorus of liberals flacking for Wal-Mart --only in Matt's world not only can't we expect decent benefits from companies like Wal-Mart, we can't expect decent wages.

This argument over Wal-Mart's virtue or villainy is interesting but ultimately academic; it is like having had an argument, at the dawn of the microchip, about the merits of automation. The service economy is a reality of our time, and it would be wishful to expect that its engine can sustain the middle class in the way that industry once did. Wal-Mart didn't ask to be the new G.M., and even if it wanted to treat its employees as generously, it couldn't; ; Furman concludes that Wal-Mart's profits would be obliterated by adopting companywide health care or a significant raise in wages. It makes little sense to blame one company for the pain caused by a profound economic transformation.
Matt's solution: "a total reimagination of the basic contract between government, businesses and workers."
Does it make sense to expect businesses to finance lavish health care plans when foreign competition is forcing companies to cut their costs? Isn't government better equipped to insure a nomadic work force while employers take on the more manageable task of childcare - a problem that hardly existed 50 years ago?
And not-to-blame companies like Wal-Mart and its corporate brethren will just go along with this? In between extorting massive tax breaks from local government and helping Bush stay in power so he'll give them more goodies at our expense, these companies will allow us to write a better social contract -- and toss in corporate-paid childcare as a gesture of goodwill?

I could address the problems with this argument -- e.g., the complete absense of any discussion of power or unions -- but I have a simpler solution. I'm sure the New York Times could find a very smart writer in India or China who could crank out the same argument for one fifth the salary. Maybe then the Matt Bai's of this world would spend less time showing how clever they are in saying "Wal-Mart's not to blame" and more time talking about how we fight our way out of this hole. And if not, at least I'd save a little money on my Times subscription.

Posted by RalphTaylor at December 19, 2005 07:35 AM