Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Cheap Crap

Ezra Klein posts about cheap chicken, and other (apparently) cheap consumer goods over here.

This is one fight I have a dog in, living where I do, in NW Arkansas, home of both Wal-Mart and Tyson.

This bit of the world is littered with chicken ranches and Wal-Mart wealth: it makes for a schizophrenic landscape. On the one hand, appalling poverty, since the people who run the chicken farms and work in the chicken factories are, in general, stunningly poor. I'm talking missing teeth, can't make the light-bill poor -- I have their kids in my classes, from time to time, and I get essays; or I'll get a wife or a fifty year old man who can't manage the work at the chicken factory anymore (it's physically awful, just wrecks the body) who has come back to school hoping she can or he can get off disability that way.

They hate living on the state, btw.

Usually the one with jobs at Wal-Mart are just as poor, and often just as physically damaged.

On the other hand: the executives have these houses that look like small hotels, or maybe the sort of mini-castle some nine year old who had watched too much Disney would think up. "God lives there," mr. delagar likes to say, as we drive past. And these houses are right next to the rat-trap shacks and trailers the line-workers live in; Marie Antoinette drives right past the peasants, here in Arkansas, in her shiny red Beamer.

She's safe enough though I guess. Nearly every one of my freshmen is still Republican. They're all going to live in a house just like hers some day, see, and they just know when that happens they won't want anyone taxing their money away, money they earned fair and square....

Anyway, not what I started out to say.

The cost of the chicken, the cost of the tennis shoe, the cost of the teeshirt.

Wal-Mart sells teeshirts for five bucks, Tyson sells chickens for six bucks. Never mind that the teeshirts suck and the chickens taste like flavorless gum. They're cheap! So America will buy them.

Are they cheap? That's the point.

They only look cheap: that's the point being made by Ezra's post, and the book he links to.

It's also what anyone who thought for half a minute could figure out.

If Wal-Mart and Tyson (and so on) do not pay the health costs of their employees (just to take a random point) does that mean their employees do not have health costs?

If they do not pay the retirement costs of their employees does that mean those employees do not have retirement costs?

If they don't pay their employees enough to live on, does that mean their employees starve?

No: sometimes their employees have wives or husbands who get jobs; but sometimes they get earned income back in taxes. Who pays that? Why, you do!

Who pays the retirement benefits (in the form of disability pay)? Why, you do!

Who pays the health cost, since no insurance gets bought? (Can't buy it on what they're paid.) Why, you do, taxpayer!

Add all that to the price of your chicken and teeshirt, not to mention the subsidies you're already paying to the farmers that grow the cotton and the chicken feed and probably the chicken, and jeez that shirt isn't so cheap now, is it?

Wal-Mart is making a fortune on America's back. You're paying for the Disney House. Too bad they don't let you come visit.

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