Monday, December 26, 2011

Remembering A Mother's Gift

Read the column here (25 December 2011).

My mother’s papers gave me starting points for my research, but left many gaps. My thanks go out to those individuals with whom I spoke or corresponded concerning her at Rabun Gap-Nacoochee School (since transformed into a prep school), Piedmont College, the University of Georgia, the Stephens County School District, the Franklin County School District, and the Teachers Retirement System of Georgia. Not much in the way of records survive from some six to seven decades ago and I thank them for taking the time to assist me in locating those that are still available.

As an aside, my mom taught me to shoot using a Winchester Model 1903 pump-action .22LR that had been handed down through her family. I sold it years ago; other than possessing some sentimental value, there was nothing particularly notable about it. Even so, sometimes I wish that I had it back.

Sphere: Related Content

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Wal-Mart Isn't Evil

Read the column here (11 December 2011).

The column I had originally intended to pen for the Sunday after Thanksgiving had to do with things for which we should be thankful – not the things folks typically think of, but rather those parts of our political culture that we usually take for granted: peaceful transfer of power, real opposition parties, a free press, etc. I don’t think that we fully appreciate how rare those have been throughout history, and the fact that in many places in the world are still so today.

But then this Wal-Mart thing came up – and it doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon. Maybe I will get back to the political version of being thankful at some point.

Be that as it may, this is another of those times when I ended up with far too much research material to condense down to a Sunday opinion column. Listed first are the sources that I cited in the column, followed by others that I used for background and context. Note that I did not even broach the subjects of the “sustainability,” “local foods,” “express,” and “green” policies that Wal-Mart has initiated in recent years.

And how many of you caught the homage to Reagan?

Cited in the column:

NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH "Consumer Benefits from Increased Competition in Shopping Outlets: Measuring the Effect of Wal-Mart"

NBER Working Paper (December 2005)
Abstract – Consumers often benefit from increased competition in differentiated product settings. In this paper we consider consumer benefits from increased competition in a differentiated product setting: the spread of non-traditional retail outlets. In this paper we estimate consumer benefits from supercenter entry and expansion into markets for food. We estimate a discrete choice model for household shopping choice of supercenters and traditional outlets for food. We have panel data for households so we can follow their shopping patterns over time and allow for a fixed effect in their shopping behavior. We find the benefits to be substantial, both in terms of food expenditure and in terms of overall consumer expenditure. Low income households benefit the most.

Journal of Applied Econometrics (December 2007
Abstract – Non-traditional retail outlets, including supercenters, warehouse club stores, and mass merchandisers, have nearly doubled their share of consumer food-at-home expenditures in the U.S. from 1998 to 2003. Wal-Mart supercenters have had the biggest impact on food retailing as they compete most closely with traditional supermarkets and offer many identical food items at an average price about 15%–25% lower than traditional supermarkets. We consider consumer benefits from this market share growth and estimate the effect on consumer welfare of entry and expansion into new geographic markets. We calculate the compensating variation that arises from both the direct variety effect of the entry of supercenters and the indirect price effect that arises from the increased competition that supercenters create and find the average effect of the total compensating variation to be 25% of food expenditures. Since we find that lower income households tend to shop more at these lower priced outlets, a significant decrease in consumer surplus arises from restricting entry and expansion of supercenters into new geographic markets.

Journal of Applied Econometrics Data Archive (December 2007)


"The Wal-Mart Effect: Poison or Antidote for Local Communities"

"The Research Literature on Wal-Mart: Some Frowns, Some Smiley Faces"

"Thomas J. Holmes on Wal-Mart’s Location Strategy"

"The Diffusion of Wal-Mart and the Economies of Density"

"Self-Styled Expert Travels the County to Prepare Towns for Wal-Mart Invasions"

"The Wal-Mart Revolution: How Big Box Stores Benefit Consumers, Workers, and the Economy"

"Wal-Mart and the Politics of American Retail"
Gives an overview of the history of American retail and department stores; says that the fear and loathing of Wal-Mart is just the latest is a long series of such directed toward companies that have revolutionized retail, such as Sears, Woolworth, and A&P.

Bckground and context:

ABC NEWS Wal-Mart Unveils Tiny Walmart Express in Arkansas"

"Wal-Mart Plans to Open its First Wal-Mart express Stores"

"The Wal-Mart Revolution"


"The Wal-Mart Effect"

"How Walmart is Changing China"

"The Great Grocery Smackdown"

"An Insider’s Account of Walmart’s Local Foods Program"

"Wal-Mart: Making Its Suppliers Go Green"

CATO INSTITUTE "Is Wal-mart Good for America?"

"Economist Explains Why Wal-Mart’s Business is Good for America"

"Wal-Mart is Good for You"

"In Pictures: Ten Wal-Mart Myths"

FOUNDATION FOR ECONOMIC EDUCATION "Wal-Mart is Good for the conomy"

"Wal-Mart plans to Open 40 Scaled-Down Express Stores This ear"

"Walmart Express Stores"

MOODY’S ANALYTICS "Good or Bad? Wal-Mart’s Effects on Consumers"

"Wal-Mart Pares Costs By Selling Local Produce"


"Wal-Mart to Buy More Local Produce"

"Wal-Mart to Seek Savings in Energy"

"Wal-Mart pushing Chinese Suppliers to go Green"

"Looking at the Wal-Mart of the Future"

Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Well Just Damn

I am somewhat ambivalent about Herman Cain "suspending" his presidential campaign.

On the one hand, he continues to deny the allegations of all of his accusers save one.  Even with that one, he continues to deny any sexual impropriety.  I fully realize that politics at the presidential level is a dirty business and would not be surprised to find that many of the people involved in this on the accusatory side were in it for their own gain: politics, money, fifteen minutes of fame, whatever.

On the other hand, this last accuser is troubling.  What Cain admits to, namely maintaining a 13-year long relationship with a woman in which he gave her money while neglecting to tell his wife about it, does at the very least call his judgment into question.  I am one of those political dinosaurs for whom character and integrity still matter, and though this episode still does not rise above the level of a he said/she said thing insofar as the most serious aspects of it go, it does send up some unmistakeable red flags.

Even if Cain's conduct was entirely above board, the fact that his campaign got caught so completely flatfooted about it is disturbing (and yes, I realize that different standards are applied to different candidates - but they still should have seen it coming and been prepared - remember that squad of the Clinton campaign tasked with dealing with "bimbo eruptions?").

Be that as is may: here is what I regard as the operative portion of the "Cain Commentary" released Sunday (click here to read it in its entirety):

And while I am disappointed, there are more than a few silver linings to doing this work outside the context of a presidential campaign. The process by which we choose our nation’s leader is ridiculous. There is little focus on policy substance and even less on candidates’ governing skills. If you’re not warding off some wild accusation, you’re explaining away a “gaffe,” which is usually the sort of slip of the tongue that anyone can make, but because some reporter heard it, it turns into a news-cycle narrative with a shelf life of six or seven days.

That’s behind us. All I need to do now is advocate for solutions that work, under the auspices of, and that will have two essential elements.

One is to better educate the American people about the nature of the problems we face. There is still too little understanding of the severity of our debt and fiscal crisis. That is why members of Congress lack the political will to solve the problem. They perceive that they will pay a steeper price for taking action than they will pay for doing nothing. That is no excuse for such poor leadership, but the fact remains that if we can change the political dynamic – so that the people are demanding action rather than rewarding inaction – we will be able to change the results.

The second element is to advocate for solutions that actually work. I was amused by the criticism I received for frequently mentioning my 9-9-9 tax reform, particularly by those who referred to it as a “catch phrase” and so forth, clearly demonstrating that they didn’t grasp what it’s all about. The 9-9-9 plan is the biggest transfer of power from government back to the people since the beginning of this nation. That’s what they are afraid of.

I talked about 9-9-9 so often during the campaign because it’s a major reform that would completely change the way we pay taxes, the way we do business and the way people manage their personal budgets. We need reform like that. Political consultants are forever telling candidates to “stay on message,” but I guess that doesn’t apply when the message is a substantive reform that would actually solve problems. Be that as it may, I am far from finished staying on message. The Cain Solutions effort will relentlessly push for an understanding of the real stakes our nation faces, and for a groundswell that demands real solutions.

As I said during my announcement on Saturday, becoming president was Plan A. Anyone with a big goal needs to recognize that you might need a Plan B, and our Plan B has a lot going for it.

Six months ago, most of you had never heard of me. You have now. A lot of what you’ve heard is not true, but I’ve got your attention. Keep listening, and if you care about the future of our country like I do, get involved. Unlike a presidential campaign, what we’re doing now can’t be stopped by scandal-mongering or polls. We’ll only be defeated if we give up.

And we’re not going to do that.

So, we shall see.  Regardless of the particulars of Cain and his campaign, I think that there is much truth in this statement.  And note the obvious similarities between elements of Cain's 9-9-9 Plan and the FairTax of which I have been a supporter for years.

Sphere: Related Content