Ryan Avent wonders whether Walmart can do for local communities what the federal government cannot:
Wal-Mart clearly has market power, which it occasionally uses abusively, if not necessarily illegally. But sometimes, it uses its market power to accomplish things government entities are unwilling or unable to accomplish—pressing environmental standards on its suppliers, for instance, or reining in abusive lenders.
I have previously expressed support for this idea, especially with respect to China, where local governments are even less willing and able to accomplish do things that are necessary for well functioning societies.
Avent was pivoting off of Matt Yglesias, who was calling for Walmart to get into banking for the benefit of consumers. Avent agreed, especially with regard to payday lending, arguing that more competition may be just what that market needs, which I have also called for.
So what are the other common public policy goals that Walmart could accomplish?
One obvious example is “food access”, which misguided politicians often believe is their responsibility. If there’s one thing Walmart does, it’s provide a large variety of inexpensive foods to people. With widespread unemployment, their drive to bring food prices down will also help struggling households by increasing their real income- meaning each of their dollars will buy more stuff.
Another possibility is that they could replace the Post Office in many areas. One suggestion for scaling back the USPS to a sustainable level is that they should close down some of their 32,000 offices that serve very few people (I’ve read that their are 2,000 locations that serve less than 100 people, but I can’t remember the source of that claim). In those communities that lose a post office, Walmart and other grocery stores could serve as a post office, where they drop off and pick up mail.