What is it about smallness that turns erstwhile progressives into the next pro-business lobbyist? I think the fetishization of small, whether it’s small businesses or small farmers, does a huge disservice to welfare generally, but in particular it can easily get in the way of policies and outcomes that progressives care about.

Case in point is Marion Nestle discussing Walmart’s new healthy foods initiative. Now sketpicism is of course merited anytime a business appears to be doing something that is less than profit maximizing, but skepticism about efficacy is not what bothers me about Nestle’s take. No, it’s worrying about how the policy will affect our cherished smallness:

Walmart says it will price better-for-you processed foods lower than the regular versions and will develop its own supply chain as a means to reduce the price of fruits and vegetables.  This sounds good, but what about the downside?  Will this hurt small farmers?

And then there is the one about putting smaller Walmart stores into inner cities in order to solve the problem of “food deserts.”  This also sounds good—and it’s about time groceries moved into inner cities—but is this just a ploy to get Walmart stores into places where they haven’t been wanted?  Will the new stores drive mom-and-pop stores out of business?

Now we should consider all costs and benefits when examining policies, but the displacement of inefficient businesses by more efficient ones while making poor people healthier and providing consumers more choices doesn’t strike me as a particularly important cost economically. As to whether a coherent set of progressive values should lead you to consider the interests of upper and middle class capital owners when evaluating policies designed to help poor people, I’ll leave it to those in possession of such values to debate.

About these ads