Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The NY Times thinks Wal-Mart is evil

The Supreme Court's recent Wal-Mart decision has stirred a hornets, nest at Paul Krugman's other employer, the New York Times. Indeed, what else can one expect from that paper, but the belief that it would be a very good thing for lawyers and the government to loot one of the country's most successful businesses.

Yet, as I read an attack op-ed article written by Nelson Lichtenstein, a professor of history at the University of California, Santa Barbara, I have to ask myself just what crime does the NYT believe Wal-Mart committed in the first place?

The original charge was discrimination against women, and when feminists, racialist, and environmentalists make ANY charge against an American business, the NYT never fails to take their side in knee-jerk fashion. In fact, as the newspaper's editorial laments, the alleged actual damages to individuals were pretty small (maybe about $1,000), but by claiming that ALL women who worked (or had worked) at Wal-Mart after a certain year, were victims of discrimination, thus turning this whole thing into a multi-billion-dollar payout. (Not surprisingly, the NYT's favorite class of lawyers, the plaintiffs' bar, would have seen a small group of individuals receive hundreds of millions of dollars apiece while the women they represented would have not taken much at all. This is the NYT's version of "justice.")

I was not particularly familiar with the substance of the charges until reading Nelson's article, and it hit me that he is describing the typical business atmosphere. He writes:
There are tens of thousands of experienced Wal-Mart women who would like to be promoted to the first managerial rung, salaried assistant store manager. But Wal-Mart makes it impossible for many of them to take that post, because its ruthless management style structures the job itself as one that most women, and especially those with young children or a relative to care for, would find difficult to accept.

Why? Because, for all the change that has swept over the company, at the store level there is still a fair amount of the old communal sociability. Recognizing that workers steeped in that culture make poor candidates for assistant managers, who are the front lines in enforcing labor discipline, Wal-Mart insists that almost all workers promoted to the managerial ranks move to a new store, often hundreds of miles away.

For young men in a hurry, that’s an inconvenience; for middle-aged women caring for families, this corporate reassignment policy amounts to sex discrimination. True, Wal-Mart is hardly alone in demanding that rising managers sacrifice family life, but few companies make relocation such a fixed policy, and few have employment rolls even a third the size.

The obstacles to women’s advancement do not stop there. The workweek for salaried managers is around 50 hours or more, which can surge to 80 or 90 hours a week during holiday seasons. Not unexpectedly, some managers think women with family responsibilities would balk at such demands, and it is hardly to the discredit of thousands of Wal-Mart women that they may be right.
Notice that Nelson is not saying that ONLY Wal-Mart engages in these practices. I have seen other firms have similar policies, but if I read Nelson and the NYT correctly, he and the editors are claiming that this policy is "discrimination against women" ONLY in the case of Wal-Mart. (I am sure that the NYT never has reassigned anyone to a new location at any time, male or female.)

Furthermore, the hours of work are not unlike some of my own hours of work, or the hours that a new assistant professor on a tenure track works when appointed to the faculty of a research institution. (Go to the offices of the economics departments of any major university on a Saturday, and you will see lots of assistant professors in their offices working on research papers.)

Retail management, especially at big stores like Wal-Mart, is a difficult job. Furthermore, the holiday seasons are extremely busy times, yet Nelson and Krugman's other employer are claiming that Wal-Mart has managers working these long hours, at least in part, in order to engage in discrimination.

I'll give a personal example. My oldest daughter was in sports broadcasting several years ago and was quite good. She had good connections with network broadcasters and was told that she had all of the skills to "go to the top."

One day, she called me and told me that she was leaving the profession. "I want to get married and have a family, and this career will not allow me to do it the way I want," she told me. So, she went into another line of work (that pays well), but gives her flexible hours, and she and her husband have two young children.

So, should my daughter have been able to sue ESPN or her own employer at the time for sex discrimination? After all, the kinds of hours and work that sports broadcasting requires will be disruptive to any female who wishes to have a family.

The logic of the Wal-Mart case, at least according to Nelson's screed, is the same as what I have presented above, yet no one would take seriously a claim by my daughter that these broadcasting firms had discriminated against her on the basis of sex. For that matter, I am sure that the NYT requires hours and working conditions that make it difficult for women to have families AND work the way the paper would demand. So, should every reporter who has worked for the NYT be permitted to sue? It seems that the NYT would be impaled upon its own logic.

To be honest, I had expected a stronger argument than what I saw. The NYT is angry because the courts did not stick it to another American business, and especially a business that does not operate according to the "Progressive" vision that the editors at that paper have for the rest of us.


AP Lerner said...

As someone who is employed by the public sector, who, according to your logic, has little accountability and incentive and do good work, and who has little chance of ever being fired for incompetence (this blog proves that point), are you really qualified to comment on private sector work discrimination?

"The logic of the Wal-Mart case, at least according to Nelson's screed, is the same as what I have presented above"

Only someone who is completely dishonest with themselves and blinded by ideology would agree with the above statement.

jason h said...

I can only assume you didn't read the Nelson quote.

"this corporate reassignment policy amounts to sex discrimination"

Only someone who is completely dishonest with themselves and blinded by ideology would agree with the above statement.

Methinks said...

As a woman in the most male dominated part of a male dominated business, this kind of thing annoys me more than I can describe.

When did people's personal goals stop requiring personal sacrifices? When did women's desire to bear children and have a robust family life become a right, the cost of which must be borne by others?

This is ridiculous. One's desire to reproduce and have a specific type of family life is a personal choice, the cost of which should rightfully be borne by the individual. The company one works for does not owe one advancement in one's career. If you're unhappy, leave.

Bob Roddis said...

While he's dishing out ad hominem attacks, when is AP Lerner going to explain where all the stuff is going to come from to satisfy the government's unfunded liabilities and why he claims that catallactics does not matter after 1971?

I submit that he avoids these questions like the plague because he cannot answer them thereby totally undermining MMT.

Mike Cheel said...

@AP Explain how the logic is different instead of attacking Professor Anderson. Also, are you saying that you agree that Walmart was intentionally discriminating against women?

AP Lerner said...

"Explain how the logic is different instead of attacking Professor Anderson"

I never attacked the Mr. Anderson. My first statement was meant 'tongue and cheek' and I was using the same debate technique he uses not only in this post, but in most of his posts that are not supported by facts or data. What's funny is you guys get on me for doing exactly what Mr. Anderson does on a regular basis. The difference is I do it intentially to prove a point. Mr. Anderson just doesn't care about evidence, especially if it goes against his ideology. You don't even notice he is lose with facts and presents zero evidence or data for his claims because you think Mr. Anderson is on your side. Therefore, anything Mr. Anderson says must be true, regardless of evidence. It would be comical if it was not so sad.

"are you saying that you agree that Wal-Mart was intentionally discriminating against women"

I have no idea, nor do I care. My point is when Mr. Anderson tries to compare a voluntary action by his daughter with a lawsuit that presented some statistically analysis that showed women were discriminated, he is completely off his rocker. Mr. Anderson has absolutely no idea if the Wal Mart case is valid, and I can guarantee has done zero research to determine the validity of the case. Yet it didn't stop him from creating a blog that allowed him to draw the conclusion that 'The NYT is angry because the courts did not stick it to another American business'.

Mr. Anderson has no interest in whether or not the Wal Mart is valid. He is looking for some data point to support a conclusion he has already: that the NYT's wants to destroy American business (despite that fact they NYT's is an American business - go figure that one out.). Hey, when you can't find facts to support your argument, just make illogical conclusions, right?

Tel said...

Seems that this entire case hinges on the presumption that all women have a family of little kids in tow and need to look after their sick relatives, whilst all men are single, unattached and devoted to their job.

Given that the fundamental presumption is itself highly sexist, no surprise that a sexist conclusion can be drawn from that.

However, the real reason that the NYT hates Walmart is unrelated to this case. We all know that Walmart is the quintessential example of imported good being sold cheaper than the locally made product, in other words globalization. That's the real reason for the attack on Walmart, everything after that is just digging around for munitions.

David B said...

Does it really matter what the NYT allows to be written in its worthless paper? The NYT will soon be out of business. Walmart - a company that actually provides value to consumers - will not.

That, my friends, is justice, libertarian style.

American Patriot said...

According to the progs, your daughter should have sued the pants off of them. How dare they not cater to all her whims, just because she wanted to get married and have a family.
BTW, doesn't your daughter know that 'family' is so passee in today's world?

AP Lerner:
You claim in your blog that bid to cover has been increasing since 2006 therefore we are not broke? Are you a complete moron not to understand thise of us who are screaming? No one is saying we are broke now, but at this trajectory, we will be within 25-30 years.

Medicare alone will sink us. How do you think over 100 million in unfunded liabilities be paid (all coming due within the next 50-60 years)

Anonymous said...

Dear god, another ignorant post from Anderson. Where to start with these idiocies?

1) The lawsuit itself was not about Walmart's dubious business model and culture and how that forces an unfair decision on women. The lawsuit was about actual occurrences of discrimination. The decision hinged on what "class-action" was in two regards - whether 1.5 million women actually were a "class" of people and whether Walmart had a deliberate policy of discrimination.

The ridiculousness of the ruling (Scalia's opinion) is his conclusion that since Walmart as a corporate entity does not have a discriminatory policy, it is therefore not discriminatory in practice. Walmart allows regional manages to decided issue of hiring and pay - the majority of those regional managers of men - and apparently they discriminate against women according to both testimony and statistical evidence regarding qualifications and pay.

2) This is an op-ed by a guest author - not the editorial board of the NY Times. You failed to mention the "Room for Debate" over the "End of Class Action." Jumping from this op-ed to the conclusion that the NYtimes wants to stick it to business in order to toe some left-wing loony ideology is preposterous.

3) Comparing academic economists to Walmart employees!? The former are essentially a unionized class, which the latter are clearly not.

4) The decision your daughter faced is fundamentally different from the one that Walmart employees face. The problem is not the long hours or the pressures. There are plenty of jobs where people need to choose between that and their lifestyle. For instance, there are not a lot of female stock brokers. At Walmart, you are talking about promotions to mid-level management that essentially precludes women who want to have families from ever accepting. These aren't complaints about long hours and not seeing my family! These are complaints about a corporate culture that is completely insensitive to basic support of maternity or families (men and women). Not the most shining example of a family-friendly business.

American Patriot said...

One more thing AP Lerner:

By any chance do you know something that the CBO doesn't? From today:

Tel said...


The ridiculousness of the ruling (Scalia's opinion) is his conclusion that since Walmart as a corporate entity does not have a discriminatory policy, it is therefore not discriminatory in practice.

Some statistical variation will occur, partly because of random factors, partly because men and women are actually physically different, and partly because of whatever personal opinions people might have toward one another. Thus, the only way to get perfectly balanced statistics is to implement a (so called "positive") discrimination policy that forces the statistics to balance. Such a policy is not useful in the long run toward achieving equality, it only entrenches discrimination.

By all means we should encourage opinions to change, but that takes time, and once people see discrimination entrenched in the law and entrenched in company policy, it only serves to demonstrate that discrimination is acceptable... then opinions will never change.

At Walmart, you are talking about promotions to mid-level management that essentially precludes women who want to have families from ever accepting.

So it is impossible for any woman to have husband or other family members who look after the kids? Sounds like you have an entrenched attitude of inequality right there.

Not the most shining example of a family-friendly business.

If Walmart is anti-family, then why try to twist that into a sexual discrimination issue? As you admit yourself, many high pressure jobs do make it difficult to find time for the family, that's a fact of modern life. Have a long think about why people need to work so hard just to go nowhere... ask yourself where all of the productivity gains of our technology have been wasted. Any economist who can't answer that question should retire and try something else for a living.

Bob Roddis said...

If it weren't for the idiocy of Keynesian policies that impoverish us all (except that bankers) and make jobs unnecessarily scarce, it wouldn't be a big deal who got to be middle management at Wal-Mart.

Mike Cheel said...

@AP Thanks for your reply.

Just because someone has similar beliefs as me about one thing or another doesn't automatically make this a 'our side your side deal' and I automatically tow the party line. I shill for no party and no one.

I think the point he was trying to make is that the business does not exist to hire people. It hires people to exist and needs to hire the right people that can do the job. Libertarians and free market folks believe that private business have a right to hire and fire whomever they want for whatever reason they want.

If Walmart had made a contract with these women and had promised to promote them then that would be something to complain about. Other than that no one owes anyone anything.

Anonymous said...

Tel, I would not disagree with any of your points - but those were not the points made by Anderson in what in my opinion was a very uninformed and stupid post.

Statistical evidence is difficult to mount, but we're talking about 1.5 million people. This was coupled with testimony. I have not read the entire report, but Anderson asserted that the lawsuit was over the issue of women having to work too hard and therefore not able to have families.

Scalia's opinion makes is very problematic for two reasons - it denies the idea that 1.5 million people constitute a class and that a big corporation like Walmart is not discriminatory because its written policies say it is not.

About women and families - I agree that this is usually framed as a woman's choice. I did note that Walmart's corporate culture is not conducive to both men and women from wanting a family.

So I didn't twist anything. There is a legitimate sexual discrimination suit out there - evidence that regional managers persistently deny woman promotions and equal pay and have used discriminatory language. Related, Walmart as a business model squeezes its employees and makes it nearly impossible for anyone to both be promoted and have a family.

But again, these were not the points made by Anderson who asserted that this was a NYT editorial board op-ed and that the NYT hated business so it would print anything.

Az Liberty said...

Who cares about the statistics and whether it can be proven that Walmart discriminates. Walmart is a private business that can hire and fire whomever it wants. It's nobody elses business. If you don't like it don't shop there, it's as simple as that.

Anonymous said...

Az Liberty - your an idiot! You really think a free market works where a corporation the size of Walmart can fire and hire based on sexual preference?

Az Liberty said...

Always with the personal attacks. Actually I do think it works! Why do you think it is called free? What difference does it make what size it is? I don't understand why it's any of your business. They are free to hire and fire and you are free to shop or not. Why do you get to impose your values on anybody else? If these females are actually valuable to the company then Walmart will lose profits by firing them. The so called greed of the capitalist already regulates this issue. We do not government intervention!

Bob Roddis said...

Speaking of idiots, why can't ANY non-Austrians ever demonstrate the slightest comprehension of basic Austrian concepts like ignorant acting man, economic calculation and the pricing process or the concept of poverty-inducing malinvestments which are the result of Keynesian-style policies?

Anonymous said...

Bob you are such a broken record.... I get ignorant man acting, economic calculation etc etc. I just don't buy it or think it can form a basis for any empirical economic analysis.

And Az you have a lot to learn about how free markets work. You don't even have econ 101 down. Here's your homework - look up monopolies, oligopolies, labor markets and discrimination (

Bob Roddis said...

Anonymous - You've never shown any understanding or familiarity with those concepts. Neither have any other of the numerous trolls on this blog. Not even LK and his voluminous footnotes.

Ignorant acting man and economic calculation are just about the only empirical data available for economic analysis. Your statement further proves that you haven't a clue.

Tel said...

I do believe that size matters from the point of view that a corporation large enough to significantly manipulate the market becomes a monopoly, and thus any workable system of Capitalism needs to impose anti-monopoly laws against large corporations.

Exactly how big a company needs to be in order to manipulate the market is a difficult judgement, and I can imagine a reasonable argument that Walmart is somewhere near that size (although Walmart does have competition, e.g. Costco). Anyhow, the discussion of anti-monopoly provision, while all quite interesting, is still nothing to do with sexual discrimination.

For what it's worth I also believe that recent decades in the USA have shown that government is more interested in helping corporate monopolies than it is interested in preventing them manipulating the marketplace. That puts a strong squeeze on small business which is part of the problem that the US economy is facing.

The whole approach that government has towards monopoly corporations is the key factor in recognising the difference between corporatism and capitalism.