Monday, December 13, 2010

Has the Sun Schoen as a Disenfectant?

The NY Post has an "exclusive" today on a poll commissioned by Wal-Mart that shows-incontrovertibly, mind you-that all New Yorkers are desperate for Wal-Mart to come into NYC: "The Big Apple would become a Walmart city if local shoppers had their way. A poll of 1,000 New Yorkers found that a whopping 71 percent favor locating a Walmart store in the city, with only 24 percent opposed. And the survey -- conducted by pollster Douglas Schoen for the mega-retailer -- also showed that 63 percent gave a thumbs-up to having a Walmart located in their neighborhood, with only 34 percent opposed."

Oh boy! The Post is at it again-substituting corporate propaganda for news. Is this the same pollster who also moonlights for Mike Bloomberg and came out with an in house poll before the last mayoral election that demonstrated, also incontrovertibly, that Mike would win by more than double digits? How did that go? And you knew that there's something fishy afoot when we find 63% saying that they would welcome having a Walmonster in their neighborhood.

We've been doing this kind of work-generating grass roots coalitions against mega-development-for the past thirty years and we have never found widespread support for mega projects in any of these local neighborhoods-certainly not in Tottenville, Rego Park and Monsey, NY where Big Wally was forced to tuck tail and run when those communities told it to take a hike. But Schoen, much like the organ grinder's monkey, is dancing quite well to his master's music.

We got a particular kick out of Schoen seeing Wal-Mart's entry as a, "no brainer"-confirming just how little he knows about what Wal-Mart would do to the city's workers and small businesses: "It's almost a no-brainer," said Schoen, a consultant who has conducted surveys for Bill Clinton and Mayor Bloomberg. "This is a deal that benefits everyone -- and poor and working-class people benefit the most. It's a rational act."

Only if he means the kind of, "crackpot rationality," that C. Wright Mills described in his vintage, "The Causes of World War 111." And while we're at it, you don't suppose that Schoen would release all of his data so that someone less partisan could review it-we're particularly interested in the sampling methodology.

But it's good to see the Bloomberg amen chorus in full throttle-as the NY Times story this morning pointed out: "And critics say Wal-Mart would also spell doom for nearby small businesses that could never compete with the giant retailer on price and selection. But some Wal-Mart supporters say protecting businesses that charge higher prices is unfair to consumers, especially when so many New Yorkers are worried about their finances. “Competition means people have to step up and compete or it’s not going to work out,” said Steven Spinola, the president of the Real Estate Board of New York. “I don’t think government should say that we’re going to make sure people have to pay more or travel farther because we want to protect certain types of establishments.”

Sounds reasonable, doesn't it? But Spinola, someone who has never to our knowledge ever done one thing to help small business in New York, leaves out some important facts. He neglects to mention how Wal-Mart has operated all over the country, coming into a locality with initially low prices, only to raise them when their main competitors are forced out-which is exactly what the A&P did in the 1930s, leading to the passage of the Robinson Patman Act designed to prevent predatory pricing. Unfortunately, the law is rarely enforced today-allowing for companies like Wal-Mart to force out many of its local competitors.

In addition, Spinola doesn't tell us how the Bloomberg administration-through its tax and regulatory policies-has crippled small businesses in NYC. These policies, on top of the impact of the Great Recession, has led to record levels of bankruptcies here-making the entry of the Walmonster that much more dangerous for the viability of local business. These factors-and there are many more-are why people talk about, "The High Cost of Low Prices," when it comes to Wal-Mart.

So by all means let's have a debate-and while we do, perhaps we can get an independnet poll on the welcome mat that Schoen has posited for the retail giant. And while we're at it, let's help the folks know what kind of negative impacts the company would bring here-something that had to be missing in the Wal-Mart survey methodology.