Listen to many elected officials or union bosses, and you’d think Wal-Mart was a malicious criminal, exploiting workers and pillaging towns for the benefit of greedy shareholders. But if that’s the case, how has Wal-Mart grown from a single shop in a small Arkansas town into a world-wide colossus with 4,000 stores, 1.3 million employees, $245 billion in annual sales and 100 million customers each week?

The company’s success isn’t built on exploiting. It’s built on providing. Wal-Mart can’t force anybody to work at its stores, nor can it force anybody to shop there. Through relentless cost-cutting and technological innovation, the company offers low cost goods to consumers, jobs for willing employees, and solid returns for shareholders.

Yet Chicago, despite its history as a scrappy, industrious center of commerce, seems to want nothing to do with the world’s largest retailer. The City Council killed the prospect of a Supercenter in Chicago’s South Side Chatham neighborhood by refusing to support Wal-Mart’s request for a zoning change. Instead, nearby Evergreen Park got the store, collecting over $1 million in taxes each year.

All the revenue, traffic and new jobs — I suppose a majority of the City Council didn’t think the economically impoverished South Side could use that sort of boost.

The real puppet masters behind the anti-Wal-Mart fervor are the big unions, who, in claiming to stand up for average working Americans, end up hurting exactly the constituency they purport to represent.

In a free country, consumers have the option to shop wherever they choose. And although Wal-Mart isn’t as quaint as the corner hardware story, millions of people prefer Wal-Mart because they get significantly more value for their hard-earned dollar. The company’s “low price guarantee” shouldn’t be dismissed as a marketing catchphrase: estimates suggest the average Wal-Mart can save a family over $2,000 a year compared to shopping at higher priced alternatives.

That’s not chump change for anybody, let alone the lower income families that flock to Wal-Mart for everything from clothes to books to groceries. The money saved by shopping at Wal-Mart can be put towards retirement, invested into a home, a new business or spent on other goods that will improve the quality of one’s life.

The charge that Wal-Mart puts local “mom-and-pop” stores out of business is a validation of the company, not a demonizing of it. In a market economy, we vote with our pocketbooks. Most folks, especially low income patrons, prefer to stretch their dollars and get more for their money.

What’s immoral is to claim small business has a “right” to be protected from bigger competition through government intervention. That’s the real injustice.

Just as we have the right to choose where to shop, so do we have the right to pick where to work as well. Wal-Mart hires workers on a voluntary basis, and right now 1.3 million Americans have willingly chosen to work there. They could walk out and leave at anytime

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Jonathan Hoenig

Jonathan Hoenig is managing member at Capitalistpig Hedge Fund (http://www.capitalistpig.com).

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