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October 14, 2013

Brazilian Entrepreneur Inspired by "The Men Who Built America"



HangLucianoArrivesAtFlagshipHavanStoreInBrusque2013-09-29.jpgThe co-founder of the Havan chain, Luciano Hang, arrives at the chain's flagship store, which is in Brusque, Brazil. Source of photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. 6) "My philosophy is pro-capitalism, so of course the best symbols for this come from the United States," said Mr. Hang, who flies around Brazil on a Learjet to visit the nearly 60 stores in his chain, called Havan. "I tell people that we're about freedom: the freedom to stay open when we choose, the freedom to work for us and the freedom to shop," he added. "I know this can be controversial, but I think those who disagree with my approach are few and far between."


. . .


The son of textile factory workers, descended from German and Italian immigrants, Mr. Hang said he admired European culture but preferred the United States. He said he was inspired by a show on the History Channel, "The Men Who Built America," about industrial titans like John D. Rockefeller and Cornelius Vanderbilt.

"I couldn't sleep after I saw that program," he said.

His business model is partly based on Walmart, whose small-town origins he admires, as well as its method of turning economies of scale into low prices.



For the full story, see:

SIMON ROMERO. "Reshaping Brazil's Retail Scene, Inspired by Vegas and Vanderbilt." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., September 15, 2013): 6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date September 14, 2013.)






November 3, 2012

"Richly Researched" Study of "Ironies of Antitrust Policy" in Retailing



(p. 819) Levinson's book opens up a crucial discussion on the role of integrated retailer-distributors in shaping the twentieth-century U.S. economy. As he rightly notes in the book's conclusion, A&P was in many ways the Walmart of its day: it used its buying power to squeeze inefficiencies out of supply chains, it was widely reviled for upending small-town business patterns and bitterly fighting union organizers, and yet it drew waves of customers who appreciated its low prices. While we have many business histories of mass-production industries, we have only a handful of richly researched studies of the mass retailers that have, in the words of historian Nelson Lichtenstein (2009), "become the key players in the worldwide marketplace of our time." Levinson has produced a valuable book for business and economic historians interested in retailing, supply chains, and the ironies of antitrust policy. As a former editor for The Economist, furthermore, Levinson is particularly effective at translating challenging economic concepts into language that lay audiences and undergraduate students can grasp.


For the full review, see:

Hamilton, Shane. "The Great A&P and the Struggle for Small Business in America." Journal of Economic Literature 50, no. 3 (Sept. 2012): 818-19.

(Note: italics in original.)


The book under review is:

Levinson, Marc. The Great A&P and the Struggle for Small Business in America. New York: Hill and Wang, 2011.


The Lichtenstein book mentioned is:

Lichtenstein, Nelson. The Retail Revolution: How Wal-Mart Created a Brave New World of Business. hb ed. New York: Metropolitan Books, 2009.






June 26, 2012

Sam Walton Was No Overnight Success



(p. 199) Sam Walton used to joke that people thought he was an overnight success. "No," he'd say, "they just heard of me last night."


Source:

Wyly, Sam. 1,000 Dollars and an Idea: Entrepreneur to Billionaire. New York: Newmarket Press, 2008.





June 22, 2012

Sam Walton Was "America's Greatest Entrepreneur of the Twentieth Century"



(p. 194) Sam Walton is my pick for America's greatest entrepreneur of the twentieth century.

He not only built the world's largest retailing empire and the single most valuable company in America, he created the institution with the greatest muscle to do good today.



Source:

Wyly, Sam. 1,000 Dollars and an Idea: Entrepreneur to Billionaire. New York: Newmarket Press, 2008.





December 19, 2011

Entrepreneur Sam Walton Sought to Learn from Others



(p. 40) So where is Ames at the time of this writing, in 2008?

Dead. Gone. Never to be heard from again. Wal-Mart is alive and well, #1 on the Fortune 500 with $379 billion in annual revenues.

What happened? What distinguished Wal-Mart from Ames?

A big part of the answer lies in Walton's deep humility and learning orientation. In the late 1980s, a group of Brazilian investors bought a discount retail chain in South America. After purchasing the company, they figured they'd better learn more about discount retailing, so they sent off letters to about ten CEOs of American retailing companies, asking for a meeting to learn about how to run the new company better. All the (p. 41) CEOs either declined or neglected to respond, except one: Sam Walton.

When the Brazilians deplaned at Bentonville, Arkansas, a kindly, white-haired gentleman approached them, inquiring, "Can I help you?"

"Yes, we're looking for Sam Walton."

"That's me," said the man. He led them to his pickup truck, and the Brazilians piled in alongside Sam's dog, Ol' Roy.

Over the next few days, Walton barraged the Brazilians with question after question about their country, retailing in Latin America, and so on, often while standing at the kitchen sink washing and drying dishes after dinner. Finally, the Brazilians realized, Walton-the founder of what may well become the world's first trillion-dollar-per-year corporation-sought first
and foremost to learn from them, not the other way around.



Source:

Collins, Jim. How the Mighty Fall: And Why Some Companies Never Give In. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 2009.






May 25, 2011

Corruption, Inefficiency, Inflation and Bad Policies Lead to Decline in Foreign Investment in India



ForeignDirectInvestmentGraph2011-05-19.jpg Source of graph: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



(p. B1) While inefficiency and bureaucracy are nothing new in India, analysts and executives say foreign investors have lately been spooked by a highly publicized government corruption scandal over the awarding of wireless communications licenses. Another reason for thinking twice is a corporate tax battle between Indian officials and the British company Vodafone now before India's Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, the inflation rate -- 8.2 percent and rising -- seems beyond the control of India's central bank and has done nothing to reassure foreign investors.

And multinationals initially lured by India's growth narrative may find that the realities of the Indian marketplace tell a more vexing story. Some companies, including the insurer MetLife and the retailing giant Wal-Mart, for example, are eager to invest and expand here but have been waiting years for policy makers to let them.



For the full story, see:

VIKAS BAJAJ. "Foreign Investment Ebbs in India." The New York Times (Fri., February 25, 2011): B1 & B6.

(Note: the online version of the article is dated February 24, 2011.)





August 7, 2010

Banks Try to Suppress Competition Through Federal Finance Regulations



Wal-MartBanco2010-07-24.jpg















"Banco Wal-Mart plans to open more than 160 branches in Mexico this year." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



(p. B2) Banco Wal-Mart plans to open more than 160 branches in Mexico this year, nearly doubling its presence south of the border. Wal-Mart Canada Bank also opened this month. It is offering a credit card and may make loans, including mortgages.

As Wal-Mart has done with retail in America, a Wal-Mart bank could be a disciplining force in keeping down costs for customers. It could also act as an engine of credit creation for a significantly underbanked subset of the American populace.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation estimates that 60 million Americans, most of them low-income, are underserved by local community banks and wind up using usurious check cashers, payday lenders and pawnbrokers for financial services.


. . .


As part of the financial reform legislation, bankers have supported a three-year freeze on new applications for industrial loan corporations, the charter Wal-Mart would need.

That runs contrary to the supposed spirit of reform that seeks to empower and protect consumers. Greater competition, coupled with sounder regulatory supervision, would help accomplish that. And Wal-Mart could be its catalyst.




For the full commentary, see:

ROLFE WINKLER, ROB COX and MARTIN HUTCHINSON. "Reuters Breakingviews; The Halls of Finance Fear Wal-Mart." The New York Times (Thurs., June 24, 2010): B2.

(Note: the online version of the article has the date June 23, 2010.)

(Note: ellipsis added.)





July 12, 2010

Chicago's South Side Welcomes Wal-Mart: "The Audience Stood and Cheered"



WalmartChicagoSupporters2010-06-29.jpg"Supporters of a proposed Wal-Mart store in Chicago demonstrated at a City Coumcil zoning panel hearing Thursday." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. B4) "We need jobs for our neighborhood, and Wal-Mart is willing to come, and they're willing to provide the jobs," said the Rev. Dr. D. Darrell Griffin, the pastor at Oakdale Covenant Church.

Politicians who supported the Wal-Mart store said they did so in part because of employment and revenue for the city.

"There are major corporations willing to invest significant money within our communities, which has not been done, really, since the '60s, when a lot of the corporations left the communities after the riots," said Howard B. Brookins Jr., a member of the council. "This is huge for us."


. . .


On Thursday, the zoning committee meeting was filled with about 200 onlookers wearing T-shirts with the Wal-Mart logo and slogans like, "Our neighborhood. Our jobs. Our decision."

Before he asked for a simple yes or no vote, Daniel Solis, chairman of the zoning committee, told the crowd, "We are now the model in this country."

After the unanimous vote -- which sends the proposal to the full City Council, where it is expected to pass next week -- the audience stood and cheered.

"It's going to bring jobs and help the community," Shawn Polk, 20, a college student who lives near the proposed store, said afterward.



For the full story, see:

STEPHANIE CLIFFORD. "Wal-Mart Gains in Its Wooing of Chicago." The New York Times (Fri., June 25, 2010): B1 & B4.

(Note: the online version of the article is dated June 24, 2010.)

(Note: ellipsis added.)





June 20, 2010

Farmers in India Like Wal-Mart



WalMartIndiaFarmer2010-05-20.JPG"Mohammad Haneef, [above], a farmer in Haider Nagar, said that Wal-Mart is better than his previous clients. "You have to establish trust," he said in Hindi. "Wal-Mart has been paying on time. We would just like them to buy more."" Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below. (Note: bracketed word added.)


(p. B1) HAIDER NAGAR, India -- At first glance, the vegetable patches in this north Indian village look no different from the many small, spare farms that dot the country.

But up close, visitors can see some curious experiments: insect traps made with reusable plastic bags; bamboo poles helping bitter gourd grow bigger and straighter; and seedlings germinating from plastic trays under a fine net.

These are low-tech innovations, to be sure. But they are crucial to the goals of the benefactor -- Wal-Mart -- that supplied them.

Two years after Wal-Mart came to India, it is trying to do to agriculture here what it has done to industries around the world: change business models by using its hyper-efficient practices to improve productivity and speed the flow of goods.


. . .


(p. B3) Here in Haider Nagar, in the bread basket state of Punjab, farmers who supply vegetables to Wal-Mart say they like working with the company. It typically pays them 5 to 7 percent more than they earn from local wholesale markets, they said. And they do not have to pay to transport produce because Wal-Mart picks it up from their fields.

Abdul Majid, who sells cucumbers to Wal-Mart, says his yields have risen about 25 percent since he started following farming advice about when to apply fertilizers and which kinds -- more zinc, less potash -- from the company and its partner, Bayer CropScience.

Mohammad Haneef, a farmer in a nearby village, said he had sold to two other companies before Wal-Mart, but one shut down and the other cheated him and paid him late. Wal-Mart is much better, he said, but its buyers are picky, taking the best vegetables and leaving him with inferior ones that he still must truck to wholesale markets.

"You have to establish trust," he said in Hindi. "Wal-Mart has been paying on time. We would just like them to buy more."



For the full story, see:

VIKAS BAJAJ. "Cultivating a Market in India; Wal-Mart Nurtures Suppliers as It Lays Plans for Expansion." The New York Times (Tues., April 13, 2010): B1 & B3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review is dated April 12, 2010 and has the title "In India, Wal-Mart Goes to the Farm.")





September 18, 2008

Medicare Pays $110 for Walker that Wal-Mart Sells for $60


MedicareSavingsFromEquipmentBids.jpg Source of table: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. C1) On Wal-Mart's Web site, you can buy a walker for $59.92. It is called the Carex Explorer, and it's a typical walker: a few feet high, with four metal poles extending to the ground. The Explorer is one of the walkers covered by Medicare.

But Medicare and its beneficiaries aren't paying $59.92 for the Explorer or any similar walker. In fact, they're not paying anything close to it. They are paying about $110.

. . .

(p. C5) In the abstract, fixing the health care system sounds perfectly unobjectionable: it's about reducing costs (and then being able to cover the uninsured) by getting rid of inefficiency and waste. In reality, though, almost every bit of waste benefits someone.

Doctors who perform spinal fusion surgeries, despite decidedly mixed evidence that they're effective, are making a nice living. Hospitals that order $1,000 diagnostic tests, even when a cheaper one would work just as well, are helping their bottom line. Medical equipment makers selling walkers for $110, while Wal-Mart sells them for $60, are fattening their profits.

The current fight to protect those profits is a microcosm of what you can expect to see if a larger effort to rein in health costs ever gets going. The defenders of the status quo won't say that they are protecting themselves. Instead, they'll use the same arguments that the medical equipment makers are using -- that a change will destroy jobs, bankrupt small businesses and, above all, harm patients.

. . .

But this is a case in which the market can clearly do a better job than a government-mandated fee schedule. Just look at Wal-Mart's Web site or, for that matter, the bids that Medicare has already received.

By standing in the way of this competition, Congress is really standing up for higher health care costs.



For the full commentary, see:

DAVID LEONHARDT. "ECONOMIC SCENE; High Medicare Costs, Courtesy of Congress." The New York Times (Weds., June 25, 2008): C1 & C5.

(Note: ellipses added.)




August 6, 2008

Obama Top Economist Likes Wal-Mart and Sees Improved Worker Living Standards


(p. C1) Acting quickly after securing his party's presidential nomination, Barack Obama picked a well-known representative of Bill Clinton's economic policies as his economic policy director and signaled this week that the major players from the Clinton economics team were now in his camp -- starting with Robert E. Rubin.

Senator Obama, Democrat of Illinois, hired Jason Furman, a Harvard-trained economist closely associated with Mr. Rubin, a Wall Street insider who served as President Clinton's Treasury secretary. Labor union leaders criticized the move, and said that ''Rubinomics'' focused too much on corporate America and not enough on workers.

. . .

(p. C4) Mr. Furman, who served for a while as a special economic adviser in the Clinton administration, has taken some controversial positions. He argued in 2005, for example, that Wal-Mart, despite its conflicts with organized labor over pay and health insurance, was a good business model.

More recently, he argued that while the typical worker suffers from inadequate income, that worker's living standards, broadly measured, are higher today than those of their counterparts 30 years ago -- an argument in dispute among economists.

. . .

Until now, Austan Goolsbee, an economist at the University of Chicago, had been Mr. Obama's chief economic adviser. He remains an unpaid adviser. He said he was not a candidate for Mr. Furman's full-time job because of his university duties.



For the full story, see:

LOUIS UCHITELLE. "Union Critical of Obama's Top Economics Aide." The New York Times (Thurs., June 12, 2008): C1 & C4.

(Note: ellipses added.)




April 28, 2008

Wal-Mart Designs Health Care Around the Needs of Consumers


LedlieAliciaWalMartHealth.jpg "Alicia Ledlie, senior director of health business development for Wal-Mart, said walk-in medical clinics would look like the mockup behind her, in a warehouse in Bentonville, Ark." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. C4) Moving to upgrade its walk-in medical clinic business, Wal-Mart is set to announce on Thursday plans for several hundred new clinics at its stores, using a standardized format and jointly branded with hospitals and medical groups.

. . .

Walk-in medical clinics are a growing industry, with numerous competitors that include big-box retailers, drugstores and even grocery chains around the country. Industry executives say 1,500 to 1,800 clinics will be open by the end of the year.

Propelled by the drugstore chains CVS and Walgreens, by far the biggest sponsors of the clinics to date, more than 700 clinics have opened in the last 15 months. But the business model is unproven so far.

Few, if any, clinics are profitable, according to industry analysts, and only a handful have broken even on daily operations. Most have been open a year or less, and executives say it takes up to three years for a clinic to become profitable enough to recover start-up costs.

Medical societies are inclined to be skeptical of the clinics. The American Academy of Pediatrics opposes them, saying they add to fragmentation in the health care system.

Dr. Edward Zissman, a pediatrician in central Florida, said he had qualms about hospitals that hook up with the clinics. "Putting their name on a product that I don't think has the highest quality," he said, "is going to cost them dearly with physicians."

The American Academy of Family Physicians and the American Medical Association have set forth principles for clinics to observe, including sending patients' medical record to their doctors and finding doctors for patients who do not already have them. Most states require varying degrees of physician supervision of the clinic nurses. Clinic operators say they are complying.

Many patients have said they like the convenience of the walk-in clinics' weekend and evening hours, the short waiting times to see a nurse practitioner, and the posted price lists for a limited menu of care like tests and prescriptions for sore throats and ear infections and seasonal flu shots.

. . .

"The clinics are the latest big example of how you could think about consumers and what their needs are, rather than a health care system exclusively designed around the needs of providers," said Margaret Laws, director of an innovations program at the California Health Care Foundation, an independent group that finances health policy research.


For the full story, see:

MILT FREUDENHEIM. "Wal-Mart Will Expand In-Store Medical Clinics." The New York Times (Thurs., February 7, 2008): C4.

(Note: ellipses added.)


WalMartMedicalClinicDesign.jpg "The design of the Wal-Mart medical clinic is intended to look like a doctor's office, complete with the usual medical hardware." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.




August 22, 2007

Why New York City Needs Wal-Mart

 

(p. 7)  . . .  an enduring mystery of the retail economic world: why don't people in New York City want a Wal-Mart in Midtown?


Manhattan is the most underserved market I have ever seen for retail customers. There really is nowhere for bargains on ordinary household goods and groceries in the whole borough. Yes, I know unions hate Wal-Mart. But not every New Yorker is in a union, and every New Yorker needs food and paper towels. (I, by the way, am a member of three unions: the Screen Actors Guild, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, and the Writers Guild of America, West. How many unions is Mayor Michael Bloomberg in?)


Don't the consumers deserve a break, too? I know Wal-Mart is not hip, slick and cool. It's for people who have to live within a budget, not for people who see movies with subtitles and have houses on Martha's Vineyard (or would like to). But don't working-class people deserve bargains on their daily bread?


To keep Wal-Mart out of New York -- or my home, Los Angeles -- is simply to inflict a snobby class prejudice on working people. Why they and their representatives put up with this classist, ''let them eat Whole Foods'' nonsense is yet another mystery, and one that could be solved if politicians really cared about consumers.

 

For the full commentary, see: 

BEN STEIN.  "EVERYBODY'S BUSINESS; Assorted Mysteries of Economic Life."  The New York Times, Section 3  (Sun., May 13, 2007):  7.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

 




June 25, 2007

Investor Wally Weitz Defends Wal-Mart

 

(p. 1D)  Weitz was able to deliver good news to about 200 shareholders in his investment company, Wallace R. Weitz & Co., at the firm's annual meeting at the Scott Conference Center in Omaha.

The flagship Value Fund grew 18.3 percent in the fiscal year ended March 31, compared with the Standard & Poor's 500's 11.8 percent. The Value Fund accounts for more than $3 billion of Weitz & Co.'s $6.5 billion in assets.

. . .


(p. 2D)  Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is among the companies Weitz has invested in, and one investor asked about controversy that company has faced in recent years. Weitz said a lot of negative publicity has resulted from Wal-Mart's huge scale, its ability to obtain less expensive products overseas, its efficient use of technology and its low prices driving competitors out of business.

Low prices that discount stores offered years ago brought them similar criticism, he said.

"It's one of those progress things," Weitz said.

 

For the full story, see: 

Joe Ruff.  "Weitz not interested in Buffett position."  Omaha World-Herald  (Wednesday, May 23, 2007):  1D-2D.

(Note:  ellipsis added.)

 




April 17, 2007

Anti-Wal-Mart is Anti-Free-Choice

     Source of logo/header:  http://www.muddycup.com/mudlane/img/header.jpg

 

The article excerpted below reveals the soul of much of the anti-Wal-Mart movement.  It is not anti-big; it is anti-competition and anti-free-choice.

 

How in the world did a guy who started his first coffee shop on Staten Island six years ago and now runs five others in far-flung Hudson Valley towns become the moral equivalent of Wal-Mart and Starbucks? “Well, it’s now official,” he announced last month on the Web site that promotes his Muddy Cup coffeehouses. “I am now head of the evil empire.”

. . .

And now the talk of New Paltz has to do with something far more important than mere marriage — coffee. More specifically it’s whether Mr. Svetz is plotting an act of entrepreneurial imperialism by presuming to open one of his Muddy Cup coffeehouses next door to the ultimate green icon in town, the funky 60 Main coffee shop operated in conjunction with the nonprofit New Paltz Cultural Collective.

. . .

Little did he know. As word filtered out he began receiving a blizzard of e-mail messages from 60 Main proponents, reacting to an urgent appeal from the collective. The messages threatened a boycott and told him to stay home. “If we can stop Wal-Mart we can stop you,” said one.

“We do not want to become yet another small town taken over by huge corporations,” read another.

. . .

Mr. Svetz is still stunned by the whole thing, particularly his sudden status as a giant corporation. He says that just as lots of bars coexist in town, several coffee shops can too. Maybe he’s right. Maybe he’s not. He’s not Wal-Mart, but maybe it’s fair to ask how many artist-friendly coffeehouses the village can support. But it’s hard to argue when he says that even in New Paltz, businesses generally have to compete to survive, not find a way to build a Berlin Wall around town.

“When a community starts building walls and saying you don’t belong here or you don’t think like we do, that can’t be a good thing,” he said.

 

For the full story, see: 

PETER APPLEBOME.  "Coffee Puts Laid-Back Town on Edge."  The New York Times, Section 1  (Sun., March 4, 2007):  21. 

(Note:  ellipses added.)

 




April 13, 2007

Wal-Mart Improves Life in Mexico

   Source of graphic:  online version of the WSJ article cited below.

 

(p. A1)  JUCHITÁN, Mexico -- For as long as anyone can remember, shopping for many items in this Zapotec Indian town meant lousy selection and high prices. Most families live on less than $4,000 a year. Little wonder that this provincial corner of Oaxaca, historically famous for keeping outsiders at bay, welcomed the arrival of Wal-Mart.

Back home in the U.S., Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is known not only for its relentless focus on low prices but also for its many critics, who assail it for everything from the wages it pays to its role in homogenizing American culture. But while its growth in the U.S. is slowing, Wal-Mart is striking gold south of the border, largely free from all the criticism. Like Wal-Mart fans in less affluent parts of America, most shoppers in developing countries are much more concerned about the cost of medicine and microwaves than the cultural incursions of a multinational corporation.

That fact is making Wal-Mart a dominant force in Latin America. Wal-Mart de México SAB, a publicly traded subsidiary, is not only the biggest private employer in Mexico -- it's the biggest single retailer in Latin America. Sales at Wal-Mex, as the Mexican unit is called, are forecast to rise 16% to $21 billion this year, representing a quarter of Wal-Mart's foreign revenue. International revenue soared 30% to $77.1 billion, accounting for 22% of Wal-Mart's sales, in the fiscal year ended Jan. 31. Wal-Mex profits are forecast to grow 20% to $1.3 billion this year.

. . .

(p. A14)  In Mexico, Wal-Mart has been a counterweight to the powers that control commerce. One of the most closed economies in the world until the late 1980s, Mexico was dominated for decades by a handful of big grocers and retailers. All were members of a national retailing association called ANTAD, and cutthroat competition was taboo. At the local level, towns are still hostage to local bosses, known here as caciques, the Indian word for local strongmen who control politics and commerce.

. . .

In recent months, as rising prices for U.S. corn pushed up the price of Mexico's corn tortilla, a staple for millions of poor, Wal-Mart could keep tortilla prices largely steady because of its long-term contracts with corn-flour suppliers. The crisis turned into free advertising for Wal-Mart, as new shoppers lined up for the cheaper tortillas.

Wal-Mart also overcame a Juchitán cacique, or local boss: Héctor Matus, a trained doctor who goes by La Garnacha, the name for a fried tortilla snack popular in town. Dr. Matus, 55, owns six pharmacies, stationery stores and general stores. He has also held an array of political posts, including Juchitán mayor and state health minister. As town mayor from 2002 to 2004, he says he blocked a national medical-testing chain from opening in town because it meant low-price competition to local businessmen doing blood work.

But Dr. Matus couldn't persuade local and state officials to block Wal-Mart, and he is feeling the pinch. Sales are off 15% at his stores since Wal-Mart arrived, and he is now lowering prices in response. Even so, he's still more expensive. A box of Losec stomach medicine costs 80 pesos ($7.30) at one of Dr. Matus's stores, marked down from 86 pesos. The price at Wal-Mart is 77 pesos ($7.20).

Dr. Matus isn't happy about the competition. "I could still kick them out of town, because I know how to mobilize people," he said, sitting in his living room surrounded by pictures of him with leading Mexican politicians dating back to the 1970s. Despite his bravado, town officials say Wal-Mart is staying. "The ones who have benefited the most [from Wal-Mart] are the poorest," says Feliciano Santiago, the deputy mayor. "I hope another one comes."

. . .

Gisela López, the 31-year-old head of billing at the Juchitán store, benefited from the retailer's system of promoting from within. Raised by her uneducated, Zapotec-speaking grandparents, Ms. López earned a computer degree at Juchitán's small technical college and then left for the booming northern city of Monterrey in search of opportunity.

Lacking connections, she couldn't find the office job she dreamed about, and took a job at one of Wal-Mart's stores. After three months, Ms. López made cashier supervisor, and later moved over to the billing department. When Wal-Mart opened a store in Juchitán, Ms. López jumped at the chance to move home -- and was promoted to billing chief in the process.

"It's a very different place to work, because you can succeed by your own effort," says Ms. López, whose $12,000-a-year salary now puts her in Mexico's middle class.

Ms. López's story of economic mobility is a rare one. Most of her childhood friends don't have steady jobs, she said. The success stories are friends who inherited jobs from their parents at the state oil company's big refinery in Salina Cruz, about an hour away.

 

For the full story, see:

JOHN LYONS.  "SOUTHERN HOSPITALITY; In Mexico, Wal-Mart Is Defying Its Critics; Low Prices Boost Its Sales and Popularity In Developing Markets."   The Wall Street Journal  (Mon., March 5, 2007):  A1 & A14. 

(Note:  ellipses added.)

 

WalMartJuchitanMap.gif MatusHector.gif LopezGisela.gif Source of map and images:  online version of the WSJ article cited above.

 




April 4, 2007

Preventing Creative Destruction Slows Economic Growth

 

GrowthRatesUS-Eur-JapanGraphic.jpg   Source of graphic:  online version of the NYT article cited below. 

 

It would be interesting to explore why the gap in growth rates was smaller last year than previously.  Was it a statistical fluke?  Or did the U.S. labor market become somewhat less flexible?  Or maybe the job market in Europe and Japan became somewhat more flexible? 

 

FOR more than a decade, many American economists have pointed to Europe and Japan as prima facie evidence that layoffs in the United States are a good thing. The economies in those countries were not nearly as robust as this country’s. And the reason? Too much job security in Europe and Japan, the economists said.

American employers, in sharp contrast, have operated with much more “flexibility.” Hiring and firing at will, they shift labor from where it is not needed to where it is needed. If Eastman Kodak is struggling to establish itself in digital photography, then Kodak downsizes and labor moves to industries and companies that are thriving — software, for example, or health care, or Wal-Mart Stores or Caterpillar.

This shuffling out of one job and into another shows up in the statistics as nearly full employment. Never mind that the shuffling does not work as efficiently as the description implies or that many of the laid-off workers find themselves earning less in their next jobs, an income roller coaster that is absent in Europe and Japan. A dynamic economy leaves no alternative, or so the reasoning goes among mainstream economists.

“Trying to prevent this creative destruction from happening is a recipe for less economic growth and less productivity,” said Barry Eichengreen, an international economist at the University of California, Berkeley.

 

For the full commentary, see: 

LOUIS UCHITELLE.  "ECONOMIC VIEW; Job Security, Too, May Have a Happy Medium."  The New York Times, Section 3 (Sun., February 25, 2007):  5.

 




February 9, 2007

Real-Time Pricing Results in More Efficient Electricity Generation


   Real-time electricity meters in a building in Central Park West behind resident Peter Funk, Jr.  Source of photo:  online version of the NYT article cited below.

 

The article excerpted below gets some of the story right.  It should emphasize more that the main benefit from real-time pricing would be that it would reduce the peak load.  Generation plants need to be built to handle peak-load.  The last generating plants to go on line are the least efficient.  if the need for such inefficient, peak-load, plants can be reduced, the costs of generating electricity can be enormously reduced.

There is talk of market competition in the states that have deregulated their electric utility industries.  But it should be remembered that even where most deregulated, the result is a long way from a paradigmatic free market.  The main point is hinted at in the article below.  The ultimate suppliers of electricity to the home remain government-protected monopolies. 

If we wanted a truly free market, maybe we should actually allow multple companies to connect to homes, the way we allow multiple television and internet companies to connect their cables to the home.  Then some low-cost Wal-Mart of electricty would arise, and blow the stick-in-the-muds away.

 

(p A1)  Ten times last year, Judi Kinch, a geologist, got e-mail messages telling her that the next afternoon any electricity used at her Chicago apartment would be particularly expensive because hot, steamy weather was increasing demand for power.

Each time, she and her husband would turn down the air-conditioners — sometimes shutting one of them off — and let the dinner dishes sit in the washer until prices fell back late at night.

Most people are not aware that electricity prices fluctuate widely throughout the day, let alone exactly how much they pay at the moment they flip a switch. But Ms. Kinch and her husband are among the 1,100 Chicago residents who belong to the Community Energy Cooperative, a pilot project to encourage energy conservation, and this puts them among the rare few who are able to save money by shifting their use of power.

Just as cellphone customers delay personal calls until they become free at night and on weekends, and just as millions of people fly at less popular times because air fares are lower, people who know the price of electricity at any given moment can cut back when prices are high and use more when prices are low. Partici-(p. A14)pants in the Community Energy Cooperative program, for example, can check a Web site that tells them, hour by hour, how much their electricity costs; they get e-mail alerts when the price is set to rise above 20 cents a kilowatt-hour.

If just a fraction of all Americans had this information and could adjust their power use accordingly, the savings would be huge. Consumers would save nearly $23 billion a year if they shifted just 7 percent of their usage during peak periods to less costly times, research at Carnegie Mellon University indicates. That is the equivalent of the entire nation getting a free month of power every year.

. . .

Under either the traditional system of utility regulation, with prices set by government, or in the competitive business now in half the states, companies that generate and distribute power have little or no incentive to supply customers with hourly meters, which can cut into their profits.

Meters that encourage people to reduce demand at peak hours will translate to less need for power plants — particularly ones that are only called into service during streaks of hot or cold weather.

In states where rates are still regulated, utilities earn a virtually guaranteed profit on their generating stations. Even if a power plant runs only one hour a year, the utility earns a healthy return on its cost.

In a competitive market, it is the spikes in demand that cause prices to soar for brief periods. Flattening out the peaks would be disastrous for some power plant owners, which could go bankrupt if the profit they get from peak prices were to ebb significantly.

. . .

The smart metering programs are not new, but their continued rarity speaks in part to the success of power-generating companies in protecting their profit models. Some utilities did install meters in a small number of homes as early as three decades ago, pushed by the environmental movement and a spike in energy prices.

 

For the full story, see: 

DAVID CAY JOHNSTON.  "Taking Control Of Electric Bill, Hour by Hour."  The New York Times  (Mon., January 8, 2007):  A1 & A14. 

(Note:  ellipses added.)

 

PowerRateGraphic.jpg   Graph showing the range of variation in hourly electricity rates in different months.  Source of graphic:  online version of the NYT article cited above.





October 14, 2006

R&D Stats Better; But Still Omit a Lot of Innovation

GDPgrowthWithR&Dgraph.gif  Source of graphic:  online version of WSJ article cited below.

Note well Romer's caveat below that, although we may be measuring better, we are still not measuring Schumpeterian innovations (such as the Wal-Mart innovations that are vastly increasing the efficiency of retailing).

 

That research and development makes an important contribution to U.S. economic growth has long been obvious.  But in an important advance, the nation's economic scorekeepers declared they can now measure that contribution and found that it is increasing.

. . .

Since the 1950s, economists have explained economic output as the result of measurable inputs.  Any increase in output that can't be explained by capital and labor is called "multifactor productivity" or "the Solow residual," after Robert Solow, the Nobel Prize-winning economist considered the father of modern growth theory.

From 1959 to 2002, this factor accounted for about 20% of U.S. growth.  From 1995 to 2002, when productivity growth accelerated sharply, that grew to about 33%.  Accounting for R&D would explain about one-fifth, by some measures, of the productivity mystery.  It suggests companies have been investing more than the official data had previously shown -- a good omen for future economic growth.  "The slump in investment is not as drastic as people thought before they saw these figures," says Dale Jorgenson, professor of economics at Harvard University.

Mr. Jorgenson noted a lot of the multifactor productivity growth remains unexplained.  "The great mystery of growth . . . is not eliminated."

Paul Romer, an economics professor at Stanford Business School, said the better the measurements of R&D become, the more economists and policy makers will realize other factors may be more important.  "If you look at why we had rapid productivity growth in big-box retailing, there were lots of intangibles and ideas that . . . don't get recorded as R&D."

 

For the full story, see:

GREG IP and MARK WHITEHOUSE.  "Why Economists Track Firms' R&D; Data on Knowledge Creation Point to an Increasing Role In Domestic Product Growth."  Wall Street Journal  (Fri., September 29, 2006):  A2.

(Note:  The slightly different online version of the title is:  "Why Economists Track Firms' R&D; Data on Knowledge Creation Point to an Increasing Role In Domestic Product Growth.")

(Note:  ellipses in Jorgenson and Romer quotes, in original; ellipsis between paragraphs, added.)

 




October 8, 2006

Intel Chairman Says Health Care Inefficient

 

WASHINGTON (AP) - Intel Corp. Chairman Craig Barrett said Tuesday that U.S. jobs will continue to move offshore at a rapid pace unless corporate America forces the health care industry to adopt systems that will cut costs and improve efficiency.

"Every job that can be moved out of the United States will be moved out . . . because of health care costs," which averaged more than $6,000 per person in 2004, Barrett said at a conference sponsored by eHealth Initiative, a nonprofit coalition of health information technology interest groups.

. . .

Barrett was joined on-stage by Wal-Mart Stores Inc. Executive VP Linda Dillman.  Barrett said the health care industry could learn from the efficiency of the retail giant, which tracks every item in inventory.

 

For the full story, see: 

"Health care waste costs jobs, says Intel chief."  Omaha World-Herald  (Wednesday,  September 27, 2006):  3D. 

(Note:  ellipsis in the Barrett quote, in original; ellipsis between paragraphs, added.)

 




September 20, 2006

Wal-Mart Really Does Benefit Consumers by Lowering Prices

 

Scholarly studies show Wal-Mart's price reductions to be sizable.  Economist Emek Basker of the University of Missouri found long-term reductions of 7 to 13 percent on items such as toothpaste, shampoo and detergent.  Other companies are forced to reduce their prices.  On food, Wal-Mart produces consumer savings that average 20 percent, estimate Jerry Hausman of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Ephraim Leibtag of the Agriculture Department.

All told, these cuts have significantly raised living standards.  How much is unclear.  A study by the economic consulting firm Global Insight found that from 1985 to 2004, Wal-Mart's expansion lowered the consumer price index by a cumulative 3.1 percent from what it would have been.  That produced savings of $263 billion in 2004, equal to $2,329 for each U.S. household.  Because Wal-Mart financed this study, its results have been criticized as too high.  But even if price savings are only half as much ($132 billion and $1,165 per household), they'd dwarf the benefits of all but the biggest government programs. 

 

For the full commentary, see:

Robert J. Samuelson.  "Wal-Mart as Red Herring."  The Washington Post  (Wednesday, August 30, 2006):  A19.

 




September 18, 2006

Daley Shows Chicago is Still the "City of the Outstuck Neck"

I think it was the poet Gwendolyn Brooks who once described Chicago as the "city of the out-stuck neck."  Chicago's current Mayor Daley did himself and the city proud recently when he had the guts to stick his neck out by vetoing the proposed Chicago minimum wage. He deserves a salute from Chicago's consumers and poor.  Democrat Daley is the mayor of the out-stuck neck.

 

Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley used the first veto of his 17-year tenure to reject a living-wage ordinance aimed at forcing big retailers to pay wages of $10 an hour and health benefits equivalent to $3 an hour by 2010.

The veto is important to Wal-Mart Stores Inc., which plans to open its first store in Chicago late this month in the economically depressed 37th ward.

. . .

In vetoing the ordinance, Mayor Daley cited a potential loss of jobs.  In recent weeks, several big retailers had written to his office to oppose the ordinance.  "I understand and share a desire to ensure that everyone who works in the city of Chicago earns a decent wage," the mayor wrote to the aldermen yesterday.  "But I do not believe that this ordinance, well intentioned as it may be, would achieve that end.  Rather, I believe that it would drive jobs and business from our city."

 

For the full story, see: 

KRIS HUDSON.  "Chicago's Daley Vetoes Bill Aimed At Big Retailers."   Wall Street Journal  (Thurs.,   September 12, 2006):  A4.

 

(Note:  I can't find the exact source of the out-stuck neck quote, but one reference on the web is:  http://starbulletin.com/97/05/22/sports/fitzgerald.html )

 




August 21, 2006

Big Business Is Often Bashed, But Is Not Always Bad

(p. 4) BUSINESS bashing by politicians in America has a long history, including rhetoric far more inflammatory than the denunciations being directed at Wal-Mart this year by some Democrats, who sometimes sound as if they are running against the company instead of another politician.

. . .

The company may not appreciate the honor, but its place in the political debate reflects its revolutionary effect on the American economy.

Put simply, the big winners as the economy changes have often been scary to many, particularly those with a stake in the old economic order being torn asunder.

“Twice as many Americans shop at Wal-Mart over the course of a year than voted in the last presidential election,” said H. Lee Scott Jr., the company’s chief executive, in a speech to the National Governors Association in February.

Wal-Mart’s success reflects its ability to charge less for a wide range of goods.  That arguably has reduced inflation and made the economy more efficient.  It has introduced innovations in managing inventory and shipping goods.

. . .

But the fact that Wal-Mart has more shoppers than any politician has voters shows that many of those workers — and many people higher on the income scale — find its prices irresistible.  That group no doubt includes some of the company’s critics.

Previous business targets of politicians have similarly been both popular and reviled.  The railroads enabled much of America to prosper, but to many people in the late 19th century they were viewed as villains.

They upset old economic relationships by making it possible to ship goods over much longer distances, thus introducing competition for local businesses and farms.

 

For the full commentary, see:

FLOYD NORRIS.  "THE NATION; Swiping at Industry From Atop the Stump."  The New York Times, Section 4  (Sun., August 20, 2006):  4.

(Note:  ellipses added.)

 

   Illinois protesters bashing Wal-Mart during the summer of 2006.  Source of photo:  online version of the NYT article cited above.

 




June 12, 2006

Prices Can Be Lower When Few Firms in Industry

TabarrokAlex.jpg   Alex Tabarrok.  Source of image:  http://www.gmu.edu/centers/publicchoice/faculty.html

 

Price gouging can work only if firms have monopoly power -- so if gouging is the explanation for higher premiums, we would expect to see higher premiums in states with less competition. My student, Amanda Agan, and I tested this hypothesis in a study released two days ago by the Manhattan Institute. Contrary to the gouging hypothesis, we found that a 10% increase in industry concentration reduces premiums by $2,200. The result makes sense if we remember that, to increase market share, firms don't raise prices but rather lower them. Wal-Mart has grown into the nation's dominant retailer by lowering prices, not raising them.

 

For the full commentary, see: 

ALEX TABARROK. "Rule of Law; Price Gouging Is Bad Medicine." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., May 20, 2006):  A9.

 




March 24, 2006

Welch: Importance of Taking and Spreading Best Employee Ideas

Sam Walton may have been the grand master of absorbing good ideas of others and then spreading the ideas across the company. Another master was Jack Welch:

 

(p. 383) Getting every employee's mind into the game is a huge part of what the CEO job is all about. Taking everyone's best ideas and transferring them to others is the secret. There's nothing more important. I tried to be a sponge, absorbing and questioning every good idea. The first step is being open to the best of what everyone , everywhere, has to offer. The second is transferring that learning across the organization.

 

Source:

Welch, Jack. Jack: Straight from the Gut. New York: Warner Business Books, 2001.

See also pp. 197-198 for Welch's description of the specifics of how Wal-Mart got this job done.

For even more details, see: Walton, Sam. Made in America: Doubleday, 1992.

 




January 31, 2006

Wal-Mart Is Front-line Soldier in Real War on Poverty

 

BALTIMORE -- In Big Labor's war against Wal-Mart, "collateral damage" -- in the form of lost jobs and income for the poor -- is starting to add up. Of course, since the unions and their legislative allies claim that their motive is to liberate people from exploitation by Wal-Mart, these unintended effects are often ignored.

Here in Maryland, however, that's getting hard to do. The consequences of our legislature's override of Republican Gov. Robert Ehrlich's veto of their "Fair Share Health Care Act" on Jan. 12 will be tragic for some of the state's neediest residents. The law will force companies that employ over 10,000 to spend at least 8% of their payroll on health care or kick any shortfall into a special state fund. Wal-Mart would be the only employer in the state to be affected.

Almost surely, therefore, the company will pull the plug on plans to build a distribution center that would have employed 800 in Somerset County, on Maryland's picturesque Eastern Shore. As a Wal-Mart spokesman has put it, "you have to take a step back and call into question how business-friendly is a state like Maryland when they pass a bill that . . . takes a swipe at one company that provides 15,000 jobs."

 . . .

. . . , legislators should be mindful that companies like Wal-Mart are not the enemy but rather front-line soldiers in a real war on poverty. The profit motive leads them to seek out areas where there is much idle labor and put it to work. Where they are prevented or discouraged from doing so, the alternative job prospect is rarely a cushy spot in the bureaucracy. Rather, it is continued idleness and hardship.

 

For the full commentary, see:

STEVE H. HANKE and STEPHEN J.K. WALTERS. "Cross Country; Hard Line State." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., January 26, 2006): A11.

 




December 19, 2005

Wal-Mart Benefits Rural Poor

 

Our research shows that Wal-Mart operates two-and-a-half times as much selling space per inhabitant in the poorest third of states as in the richest third. And within that poorest third of states, 80 percent of Wal-Mart's square footage is in the 25 percent of ZIP codes with the greatest number of poor households. Without the much-maligned Wal-Mart, the rural poor, in particular, would pay several percentage points more for the food and other merchandise that after housing is their largest household expense.

 

Source:

PANKAJ GHEMAWAT AND KEN A. MARK. "The Price Is Right." The New York Times (Weds., August 3, 2005): A23.

 




September 5, 2005

Secret of Wal-Mart's Success

In a recent book, written for business managers, MIT business school professor David Simchi-Levi and his co-authors, discuss the secret of Wal-Mart's success. In the following discussion a "cross-docking" system is one in which ". . ., warehouses function as inventory coordination points rather than as inventory storage points." (p. 63)

 

The tremendous market growth of Wal-Mart over the past 15 to 20 years highlights the importance of an effective strategy that coordinates inventory replenishment and transportation policies. Over this time period, Wal-Mart developed into the largest and highest-profit retailer in the world. A number of major components in Wal-Mart's competitive strategy were critical to its success, but perhaps the most important has been its enthusiastic use of cross-docking. Wal-Mart delivers about 85 percent of its goods using cross-docking, as opposed to about 50 percent for Kmart. To facilitate cross-docking, Wal-Mart operates a private sattelite communications system that sends point-of-sale (POS) data to all its vendors, allowing them to have a clear picture of sales at all its stores. In addition, Wall-Mart has a dedicated fleet of 2000 trucks, and on-average, stores are replenished twice a week. Cross-docking enables Wal-Mart to achieve economies of scale by purchasing full truckloads. It reduces the need for safety stocks and has cut the cost of sales by 3 percent compared with the industry average, a major factor explaining Wal-Mart's large profit margins. (p. 64)

 

Source:

David Simchi-Levi, Philip Kaminsky, Edith Simchi-Levi. Managing the Supply Chain: The Definitive Guide for the Business Professional. McGraw-Hill, 2003.

 




September 4, 2005

Looting New Orleans


"In downtown New Orleans, where looters are floating garbage cans filled with clothing and jewelry down the street." From an online slideshow of looting at Wal-Mart and Walgreens in New Orleans. Caption for photo, and photo itself, from: http://www.nbc10.com/slideshow/news/4917518/detail.html?qs=;s=4;p=news;dm=ss;w=400 (POSTED: 9:45 pm EDT August 30, 2005; UPDATED: 10:53 am EDT August 31, 2005; Downloaded Sept. 5, 2005)


Harold Andersen reports on the observations of his wife's cousin, Michael Ross, a member of the faculty of the history department of Loyola University in New Orleans:

When the levees broke and put the major share of New Orleans under water, a substantial portion of the city was still dry because it was on higher ground, above sea level. Included were the French Quarter, some attractive residential neighborhoods and the land on which Loyola University is located.

There was some wind damage in the higher-ground areas of the city, but those areas were basically preserved and could have served as a base from which the city could be rebuilt.

"But they're gone now, as a result of looting," Ross told us.

The looting wasn't random. Organized street gangs, armed with weapons stolen from looted stores, went about looting quickly and systematically, Ross said. In residential areas, they went down streets kicking in the doors of house after house after house, leaving the residences in shambles.

One unforgettable scene, Ross said, was the telecast showing five pickup trucks of gang members leaving a looted Wal-Mart store with dozens of weapons they had stolen.

Ross is pessimistic about the chances that Loyola and Tulane Universities will reopen this fall, even if their campuses are intact. Students, particularly new students, are most likely to be discouraged from attending school in a nearly destroyed city.

On a personal note, Ross expects that the house in which he has been living will be a victim of looting and his computer files are likely to have been destroyed.

Andersen, Harold W. "If New Orleans is Dead Forever, Looters Delivered the Fatal Blow." Omaha World-Herald (Sunday, September 4, 2005): 13B. Also online at: http://www.omaha.com/index.php?u_pg=609&u_sid=2006986

New Orleans is the opposite of America, and we must hold onto places that are the opposite of us. New Orleans is not fast or energetic or efficient, not a go-get-'em Calvinist well-ordered city. It's slow, lazy, sleepy, sweaty, hot, wet, lazy and exotic. (p. 9)

Childress, Mark. "Tribute: What It Means to Miss New Orleans." New York Times, Section 9 (September 4, 2005): 9 & 11.


OK, so then why is it that all us fast, energetic, efficient, go-get-'em Calvinists are responsible for coughing up billions to save a lifestyle we don't much get to enjoy?




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