Why does the Left love Mom and Pop stores, but hate Mom and Pop medicine?

Gay Patriot posted the other day about yet another anti-Walmart protest.  His point was that the protesters, rather than being excited about real paying jobs coming to L.A., insisted that they would be better off with some hypothetical Mom and Pop jobs that might arise if they protested Walmart with sufficient vigor:

Last week, when watching TV news footage of people protesting a Walmart being built in LA’s Chinatown, I caught sight of a sign which seemed to define contemporary American liberalism, “Good Jobs/not Walmart jobs.”


These protestors, however, prefer these abstract “good jobs” to the very real “Walmart Jobs.”  They favor, that is, something that exists in the abstract, in theory, to something very real — and well, like most real things, (at least) slightly imperfect.

Gay Patriot is, of course, correct, about the illogic driving the protesters.  But think too about their claim that large, impersonal employers aren’t “good.”  The assumption underlying this claim is that multiple small businesses better serve the community by ensuring choice and by preventing people from having a single Leviathan-esque employer beaten them down (in the form of “union busting” and “low wages”):

“This historic neighborhood will be utterly gutted if Walmart comes here,” Morello told the Associated Press.

Others said they were worried that the retail giant will drive smaller stores in Chinatown out of business.

“We hope that Walmart will hear us loud and clear and stop the construction and get out of Chinatown,” said King Cheung, an organizer with the Chinatown  Coalition for Equitable Development. “So that we in Chinatown, the stakeholders, can talk about what is best for Chinatown.”


Sarah Tseng said her nonprofit had collected signatures for 80 local small businesses in opposition to the planned store. She said the majority of Chinatown residents oppose it, but are “afraid to say so publicly.”

To summarize, the protesters are appalled that a large entity will move in and squeeze out the diversity offered by multiple small providers, because doing so harms the worker and the consumer.   Pretty clear, right?  Right.  Except….

Except that this principle collapses completely when it’s the government that wants to move in and despoil Mom and Pop concerns (i.e., small providers).  In deconstructing Fareed Zakaria’s liberal defense of the government takeover of medicine, Yuval Levin points out the Left’s hostility to small providers:

Zakaria then contends that the inefficiencies of the American health care system—and especially the frequent disconnect between costs and outcomes—are a function of there just being too many different players in the system, each with his own goals. This is the classic liberal complaint: disorder causes inefficiency. Citing a conversation with Daniel Vassela, the chairman of Novartis, Zakaria writes:

“In America,” he said, “no one has incentives to make quality and cost-effective outcomes the goal. There are so many stakeholders and they each want to protect themselves. Someone needs to ask, ‘What are the critical elements to increase quality?’ That’s what we’re going to pay for, nothing else.”

And from this, Zakaria does not conclude that we need to rearrange the financial incentives in our health-care system so that, like in other parts of our economy, providers of services have a powerful incentive (called the profit motive) to make quality and cost-effectiveness their goal. Instead, he concludes that government must take over decisions about how to provide coverage and organize the system because presumably government is very good at making quality and cost-effectiveness its goals.

In other words, the protesting Left isn’t really interested in Mom and Pop, whether Mom and Pop are selling shoes or health care. Instead, Leftists are simply interested in destroying large capital and elevating Big Government.

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  • pst314

    Perhaps the Left hates Walmart because it represents private enterprise become hugely successful: Mom and Pop can be tolerated because they are small, and in traditional myths of the Left are always struggling. But Walmart, by its size and growth is successful on a scale that cannot be ignored.
    Furthermore: Mom and Pop are easy for government to push around, but Walmart is big enough to hire its own army of lawyers. And  business people who are not under the thumb of government cannot be tolerated.

  • pst314

    And by the way, Michael Moore is on record as despising small business people and ordinary working people: They just don’t have the right opinions. I think the Left’s love of Mom & Pop businesses is more pose than reality.

  • jj

    I don’t make myself responsible for trying to understand how – or if – the Left “thinks” – if “thinks” is the word – but I remain undecided about Walmart.  I’ve spent a lot of time cruising around this country, and I can tell you firsthand that there are a whole lot of little towns all over the place, but particularly in the eastern and central south that aren’t really there any more.  A Walmart moved in, and the six or seven towns within easy reach of it ended up with tumbleweeds blowing down Main Street, and a half mile of boarded up storefronts.  I continue to be uncertain, despite all my free market leanings, if this is a completely Good Thing.  It isn’t just the commercial aspects that are disappearing, it’s the whole way of life that goes along with it.  Neighbors don’t run into each other on the sidewalks any more to talk about the day’s (local) news, the old codgers don’t gather in the hardware store any more, the local clothing stores, the shoe store, the five-and-dime – all of which used to have people hanging around interacting with their neighbors: they’re just gone.
    Walmart showed up, and Mayberry dried up and blew away.  Corny, perhaps, but very real.  The guys at the local feed store, and the hardware store, and any number and kind of other places knew how to do stuff, and they’d dispense advice and experience along with passing the time.  Ask a Walmart kid how best to accomplish something, and it’s welcome to the world of the blank look.  Go in with a fairly simple plumbing problem, they don’t know how to advise you to fix it, and they don’t know what parts to sell you to do it – though they probably do stock the parts.  So I don’t know.  Something’s been gained in a commercial sense, but a lot’s been lost.  I remain undecided.

  • Charles Martel

    Wal-Mart has done more than any other retailer in the past 40 years to bring decent, inexpensively priced goods to people who otherwise had to patronize the vaunted mom-and-pop store with its overpriced merchandise and limited selection. 
    pst134 is spot on with his observation that what the left is doing here is exposing its foundation, the bedrock it lies on: envy. Wal-Mart obliterates the left’s pretensions to efficiency. You can count on one hand the leftist-run enterprises that approach even partial efficiency. (Yes, I know that favorite leftist creations like the Chinese Gulag and the MSM have reached high levels of efficiency, but their products are death and lies. I’m speaking here of life-enhancing things. . . .like Wal-Mart.)

  • JKB

    Sorry, jj, but the 1960s are done and gone. Walmart didn’t kill that in the more urban areas, shopping malls did. That and the car, which made it affordable to travel what used to be huge distances to centralized shopping with efficiencies.

    The fact of the matter is if the mom and pop stores were providing value, Walmart wouldn’t tread into the area. But the mom and pop work on a tight margin and can’t achieve the efficiencies. They are going to be the higher cost provider and the reluctant employer under the current regulatory environment (http://www.zerohedge.com/news/guest-post-dear-person-seeking-job-why-i-cant-hire-you)

    Mom and pop don’t go under because Walmart moves in, they go under because the customers go for the better deal.

  • Mike Devx

    I think everyone above is right.  JJ is right, in that the economy of greater scale *does* have an effect on smaller businesses, which struggle, and a way of life is lost.  JKB is right that Wal-Mart didn’t cause this, but only raised the effect to the Nth degree.  Shopping malls changed a lot of behaviors, and then Wal-Mart and similar predecessors (K-Mart, Montgomery Wards, even Sears, J.C. Penneys, etc, changed behaviors even more.)

    Smaller front porches, bigger backyard patios.  Less community intermingling.  The Internet provides a virtual community of like-minded birds of a feather that you almost cannot get unless you live in a big city *and* can find a group of real people matching your interests.  Apartment and condo-livers rarely intermingle and have always been more isolated.  The same dynamic is extending these days to housing neighborhoods.

    Perhaps smaller stores, especially the Mom-N-Pops, could survive if they all banded together under a collective agreement and bargained with suppliers for the same cost-cutting deals available to Wal-Mart and Target and others.  The game has changed: There is an inherent efficiency in large-scale distribution and sales (done well) that smaller distributors can’t match.  So, yes, all those charming (but obsolete) small Main Street stores start disappearing.  Can they change their model somehow, reinvent, re-imagine, to make themselves non-obsolete?

     You can’t get your expertise from the old codgers sitting every day at that wooden table in the corner; and the kid working the Wal-Mart aisles really doesn’t have the knowledge.  It’s gone.  So that game has changed.  But you can find out almost anything on the Internet, and usually you can distinguish the good ideas there from the crap.  It is sad to me that the game has changed.  But nothing stays the same EXCEPT change.  And change always involves trade-offs.

    It’s not bad to be nostalgic for what passes away, for what’s been lost.

  • JKB

    Mike, you forgot air conditioning and television that really did in the front porch and sidewalk sitting. With TV, people had something to do inside, closed off. No need to stroll to the movies, promenade around the block, or congregate in the park.

    A/C made it possible to do this in summer. Note that the image of people sitting on their stoop is always of summer, no one did that in the winter.

    With the internet, the world now comes in on a wire with not just an occupying feed but interactive.

    Now, with texting, the need to interact with those around you is even less. My aunt says to her daughter, a bit jokingly, come by the next time you want to talk to your friends. Her daughter says a few words but spends most of her time texting. My sister and nieces were doing the same last night. In the same room but not really present.

  • heather

    I’m from a small town in VA.  The small stores had already died or were on their last legs when Wal-mart finally came in.  Many fought it on principle, but many welcomed it.  Prior, most everyone was driving one hour or more to buy anything other than groceries.  It’s been a real blessing.  There are some new small shops that have opened up catering mainly to the few tourists/rich retiree crowd.  So there is still some choice – for those who want to pay more!
    Interestingly, that Walmart has a bit of a small town feeling, unlike the one in the larger community where I live.

  • JKB

    As to the medical care side of the equation, the most terrifying words you can say to the doctor, nurse or even the girls down in patient services, is how much does this cost. They can’t answer. The actual providers are completely ignorant, even hostile to the idea of making a value judgement. The girls in the business office struggle to find out, having to call the lab for each and every test.

    Really, ordering up a surgical consult for a non-acute condition for someone who is in the hospital just to build up their blood enough so they can have a simple, normally outpatient, procedure? Anyone with half a brain would know for a surgeon to cut on such a person for anything not immediately life threatening would be tantamount to murder. It’s a nice bit of coin for the doctors, but a $1000 charge the uninsured patient could do with out. As it was, the surgeon said “hell no” and that was that, cha ching.

  • http://photoncourier.blogspot.com David Foster

    ““In America,” he said, “no one has incentives to make quality and cost-effective outcomes the goal. There are so many stakeholders and they each want to protect themselves.”

    What the centralizers fail to understand is that in the centralized systems of their dreams, there are ALSO many stakeholders with their own individual goals. Ask someone who tried to run a factory under the Soviet Union.

    The difference is that the more centralization there is, the fewer and less-effective the mechanisms for aligning individual interest with the effectiveness of the overall “ecological system.”

  • lee

    Walmart ‘s value is questionable. For disposable products, fine. But most of the stuff they sell is so shoddy, you’re replacing it very quickly. I knew someone in a very depressed area of the Midwest who owned a commercial venture. They needed stools, and bought the 12 stools she needed at Wlamart for $10 each, rather than at $40 a pop from the local guy who made nice furniture. I gave her hell for it, and she respnded that she was spending $120 versus $480 and that was a huge savings. I asked her how long she expectec the  stools to last before replacing them. She said for at least a few years. To prove my point, I bought one stool from the local guy and gave it to her. In less then 12 months, the Walmart stools were fuel for a bonfire. She bought her replacements from the local guy. Theone I bought, and her replacements are still around after ten years. 

    This is typical of the $***t sold at Walmart. But people see the $10 up front and think, “What a bargain!” Even electronics are specially manufactured especially  for Walmart. And they die fast. I saw a Walmart go in in one town, and in the four smaller towns nearby, what little reail existed was gone in less than ssix months. The only grocery store in the area is at the Walmart, some twenty miles away.

    I despise Walmart. 

  • Charles Martel

    Mike Devx’s suggestion that mom-and-pops band together has a real-world example: Best Western hotels. The chain uses the combined buying power of its thousands of independent properties to get deals on everything from linens to furniture to insurance to mass marketing. In return, member properties have to adhere to a certain standard of cleanliness and service.
    BW’s confederation style of doing business has allowed many small properties to compete with the big boys toe-to-toe in most respects. Mike’s idea certainly could apply to small stores in some areas, but as heather points out, many mom-and-pops were on their last legs when Wal-Mart the circling shark arrived in the neighborhood sniffing for blood.

  • http://bookwormroom.com Bookworm

    I’ve actually never been in a Walmart, since Marin has maintained its commercial “purity.”  However, just today I returned from a lovely trip to Target, which has been allowed in Marin’s northernmost fringes.  (Even better, in a few years, there’ll be one in central Marin.)

    I was able to get clothes for the whole family (shirts, socks, shorts, and underwear) for less than $300.  Even better, all of it is wholesome — nothing sleazy for my daughter or gang-like for my son.  Closer to home, the stores are much more expensive and more fashion-conscious.  Within five minutes of here, I could have spent $100 on a single pair of shorts that would allow my daughter to display the word “Juicy” on her bottom, or $100 for my son to buy baggy, low-rider jeans, displaying more of his backside than I deem appropriate. 

    So it’s not just the cost — it’s also the fact that, when it comes to clothes, those who prefer a clean, practical, “innocent” look do better at the big stores than at the smaller or more upscale stores.

  • Danny Lemieux

    I’ve found that the people who don’t like Walmart are generally people who don’t worry much about clipping coupons or about their level of disposable income in general. I suspect that this population subgroup has probably been shrinking in tandem along with the fortunes of the economy. 

    I personally am not crazy about Walmart only because, for me, Target and Costco provide way more value. But then, I’m grateful that my higher disposable income allows me this luxury of choice.

  • http://photoncourier.blogspot.com David Foster

    Much of the Left’s problems with Wal-Mart has to do with aesthetics. The stores aren’t beautiful, and I’m afraid that the same can be said of many of the people who shop there. Thus, leftists would find Target (Tar-Jay, in certain circles) to be preferable to WMT, even if the former’s products were made by a process powered by suffering unicorns on treadmills and requiring constant sacrifice of virgins to volcanos.

  • Libby

    There’s also some class snobbery mixed into the Walmart hatred. They love to joke about the type of person who shops at Walmart (usually equated with white trash), versus their preference for more boutiques and smaller, pricier shops. Unlike Walmart, Target has managed to create a completely different atmosphere by partnering with popular designers (like Mossimo) to offer lower priced/lower quality designer lines to the masses. It’s actually “cool” to shop at Target, while only dumb rednecks shop Walmart.

  • heather

    Agree with Libby.  It is so interesting to see how it’s acceptable to shop at Target but not Walmart, even though both probably have equal amounts of corporate “evil”.  The quality of goods is about the same at each store.  Pricing is very close – Walmart may beat out Target by a few pennies, but Target has a better coupon policy.  Target spends more on advertising and atmosphere.  The clientele really is quite different (we have both stores in our town, less than one mile apart). So if you are a person worried about mixing with the unwashed masses, you can shop at Target in comfort.

  • bizcor

    Did the protesters know what they were protesting or did they just show up because someone sent out a Twitter Tweet? The OWS crowd was protesting big corporations and tweeting about it on their iPhones, and ipads. Who the made those phones? I read an article somewhere over the last few weeks that a group of protesters had shown up to protest Karl Rove and when asked who Karl Rove was they didn’t know.

    I have a news flash though more and more everyday people are buying things on the internet. Best Buy and other electronic outlets are seeing people come in look at all the choices then leave and buy it on line. It is becoming a big problem for them and they will probably have to start reducing inventory or closing stores or both. Many years ago I read book titled “Megatrends” by John Naisbitt he worte about how goods would be delivered to homes verses people going out and shopping. Personally I still like to go out and shop but my wife buys nearly everything on line. She’ll buy form Wal-Mart, JC Penny, Macy’s what ever but she does it alost exclusively online.  

  • lee

    I am still unemployed after six months of searching. Money is very tight. I am clipping coupons. I can’t afford snobbery. Still hate Walmart. Like I said, it’s fine for disposable items, but if you want anything that is going to hold up for any length of time, shop somewhere else. Taregt provides mich better value–things will last much longer.

  • lee

    Plus, a lot of grocery items are as cheap, or cheaper, at the Publix or Piggly-Wiggly. But if you need a shirt that is cheap, and you don’tcare that it is tatters by the end of the year, Wlamart is your place to shop!

  • Charles Martel

    It’s funny how things come full circle. Amazon today is our equivalent to the Sears catalog of the 19th century. For people then, most of whom lived in small towns and rural areas, the catalog was a glorious compilation of all the things that the emerging American industrial colossus could produce—clothing, tools, appliances, farm equipment, even entire house kits that cost $800 and up and could be shipped to the nearest rail head. House kits included the nails and tools for construction!
    We got away from that because of the automobile and urbanization. Sears and others like it built thousands of brick-and-mortar stores that people could easily access, so their catalogs gradually got smaller and finally stopped being printed at all.
    But Al Gore’s marvelous invention, the Worldwide Information Highway, has brought back the catalog era. Unless I need something right away, I’m content to do a majority of my shopping online after perusing electronic catalogs. The feature that seals the deal with me is customer comments. When I have to make a choice between Doodad A and Gewgaw B, what people have to say about either product helps me make my decision.

  • jj

    I guess it’s the loss of a way of life, combined with the loss of knowledge that most bothers me.  Not that many years ago – if I could actually remember how many I’d say so – my brother blew a head gasket on a lawnmower.  There was a little place in town called “Buck Lawnmower Repair,” and it did exactly what the name implies, though in fact its writ ran considerably beyond lawnmowers.  Chain saws, weed whackers, leaf blowers, hedge trimmers, pressure washers all the way up to outboard engines and tractors were grist to Jimmy’s (Not Buck’s) mill.  Any small gasoline engine, though it must be said that tractors often enough aren’t “small” engines.  (It must also be said that he wasn’t completely averse to getting into the occasional vacuum-cleaner, too, so it wasn’t just gas engines – if the mood struck him.)  Anyway, Jimmy of course rebuilt the engine, got it up and running like new, the lawnmower’s God-knows-how-old these days and rumbling along fine.  But, if you have a similar problem, or a chainsaw that absolutely will not start, or a weed whacker or hedge trimmer with the same problem – what’s Wal-mart’s answer?  (Or Target’s, BJ’s, Costco’s, or K-Mart’s?)  You know their answer: get a new one.  That’s all they know: get a new one.  And Buck Lawnmower Repair is, of course, gone the way of the Great Auk.
    If you didn’t decorate your house to match the slipcover that comes with the couch on the showroom floor, and you’d like a new slipcover, well – good luck with that one!  Nobody who works in the furniture department of any of these stores is even aware that slipcovers can be changed: they’ve never seen it done.  Except for the mythical Oldest Associate working there, they’re unaware that there were once guys who could take a bolt of material and a pair of shears and turn out a new, perfectly-fitting slipcover.  And what do you do with a couch that has sagged and has some springs sticking up?  You throw it out, of course, right?  The idea that along most Main Streets there were once guys called “re-upholsterers;” guys who could actually climb inside a piece of furniture and retie the webbing and reset – even replace! – the springs (provided you have such a fine old antique that it has such things as springs and webbing) is lost on the big box employees of today.  They don’t know it’s not only possible, but was once routine.  The upholsterer’s shop that was down the block from Buck – long gone.
    Seen a tailor, or a dress-maker under the age of 70 recently?  And if you bought yourself a fine pair of shoes and had them imported from, let’s say, the reconstituted Peal’s in England, they’ll last a lifetime with reasonable care.  But they’ll need soles every few years.  There has to be an easier way to get new soles put on them than mailing them back to England and waiting a few weeks – but there isn’t.  The shoe guy’s shop, which was alongside the tailor’s, both of which were down the block from Buck – all gone.  When a pair of shoes needs new soles, what you do is throw ’em out and get a new pair of shoes.  Ask anybody works at Wal-mart, they’ll tell you.  What are you – nuts?
    I somewhat lament the loss of all that stuff, and the life that went with a busy little Main Street.  I don’t know whether you’d define that as “snobbery” or not, but it seems to me the loss is as big or bigger than the gain.  Obviously you can’t blame the loss of all this stuff on Wal-mart, and granted there were places in Virginia where the little Main Streets were on the way out anyway – but there were plenty of places where they weren’t, too.  And we understand the economics of the buying power that lets the big boxes buy widgets by the ton at a great unit price so they can sell them for half what Joe can sell for them for on Main Street, because he’s just Joe and doesn’t reap the rewards of Wal-mart buying power – I understand that.  (Hell, I’m from a town back east that didn’t have a drugstore because the next town over had both a CVS and a Walgreen, and the little local guy couldn’t compete with either of them.  How many towns you know don’t even have a drugstore?)  But it’s still a loss, and it may go somewhat beyond merely the economic.
    And it also must be said that Wal-mart does not know anything about, and does not give a f*** about; you, your town, any of its citizens, or any of what’s important – on a human level – to you.  Ask the 22-year greeter who just got fired for touching a customer in the act of being ill.  If somebody’s falling to the floor, doesn’t matter: no touching!  Well, okay.  That’s – naturally – because of the lawyers; who’ll take any normal human behavior – catching someone whose falling – and make it actionable.  I suppose you can’t blame Wal-mart for that.  But Jimmy wouldn’t have worried about that, he’d have caught his neighbor, consequences be damned.

  • Gringo

    But if you need a shirt that is cheap, and you don’tcare that it is tatters by the end of the year, Wlamart is your place to shop!
    I purchased a shirt from  Wal-Mart shirt that is now about ten years old.
    There is a nearby Wal-Mart.  I make some food purchases there when it has the best price. But as there are a number of food  markets within 1-2 miles, I can pick and choose.  Over the years I have bought several shirts and pairs of pants from Wal-Mart, but there are nearby clothing stores which have better selections at similar or lower prices. The same applies for electronic goods. Nearby electronics stores  have better selections at similar or lower prices. I purchase some housewares at Wal-Mart.
    Wal-Mart’s attempting to be all things to all people, by attempting to make it the place to do ALL your shopping, means that in a given area, variety  is limited.
    jj‘s comment about no one knowing how to make slipcovers these days is well taken. I have been perusing Craig’sList for some used furniture.  Many of the comments on sofas say something like this: “Need to sell because I am changing my decor.”  Wouldn’t a new slipcover be cheaper?

  • Danny Lemieux

    JJ, I can’t speak for your neighborhood, but only for mine.

    I just had my luggage repaired at a small luggage shop in a local strip mall. For all my tailoring and refitting, my local, family-run Korean dry-cleaner is just boffo. Some of my most comfortable and well-made shirts I buy at Costco. Equipment repairs? My local Ace hardware store keeps a list of local repair experts, ranging from electrical, engines, roofs to driveways and siding. That store competes very well with the Home Depot down the road, btw. Upholsterers we can find through Angie’s list.

    I believe that all these skills are out there, but how we find them (internet?) has changed.

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