a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

Harrumph of the Will

Posted by Thomas Nephew on January 21st, 2006

On Thursday, columnist George Will took note of the Fair Share Health Care bill becoming Maryland law last week, and as his article’s title — Shoplifting as Governance –suggests, he didn’t like it, not one little bit. After one of his standard opening gambits — beguiling the gullible with a far-fetched historical analogy from the 18th century — Will sniffs:

Maryland’s grasping for Wal-Mart’s revenue opens a new chapter in the degeneracy of state governments that are eager to spend more money than they have the nerve to collect straightforwardly in taxes. Fortunately, as labor unions and allied rent-seekers in 30 or so other states contemplate mimicking Maryland, Wal-Mart can contemplate an advantage of federalism.

Continuing, Will warns darkly:

States engage in “entrepreneurial federalism,” competing to be especially attractive to businesses. A Wal-Mart distribution center, creating at least 800 jobs, that has been planned for Maryland could be located instead in more hospitable Delaware.

That’s right — you don’t want to get into a rent-seeking contest with those guys!


Were it the case that the Wal-Mart workers showing up on Medicaid client lists were seeking, say, cosmetic surgery or crystal therapy, Will might have a bit of a point. Even though by strict free marketeer standards, even such frivolities cannot be gainsaid those who desire them, Wal-Mart might rightly protest that they shouldn’t have to foot the bill.

If, on the other hand, those workers or their family members were seeking medical care that will enable them to work productively again, then Wal-Mart has been getting quite a good deal compared to the rest of the working world. While again, by strict “greed is good” standards, we cannot begrudge the worthy folk of Bentonville a good cry as their free ride comes to an end, neither can we quite hold it to be “shoplifting” by the Maryland legislature when they essentially require some co-payment for services rendered. Think of the 10,000 employees requirement as a “means test,” and think of throwing a “welfare queen” off the dole, and perhaps we’ve reformulated things more to Mr. Will’s liking.

Speaking of rent-seeking — the “bending of public power for private advantage,” by Will’s definition a week earlier — here’s a great example noticed by Arkansas Times Blogs. As it happens, it’s right in Wal-Mart’s back yard of Bentonville, Arkansas:

Morning News reports that Bentonville is forging ahead with creation of a giant (2.8-square-mile) Tax Increment Finance District so that school taxes can be siphoned off to provide infrastructure to serve such areas as the Wal-Mart world headquarters, a world-class art museum being built with Walton money and land Wal-Mart has acquired for future development. Blight fighters at work, subsidized by taxpayers all over Arkansas.

The Morning News article explains, “A tax increment financing district temporarily freezes the amount of tax revenue that goes to schools, counties and other entities that are taxing undeveloped or blighted property within the district.” Via Facing South, where Chris Kromm adds:

Nationwide, local governments have shoveled Wal-Mart over $1 billion in public money, according to a 2004 report from Good Jobs First.

If poor, blighted Bentonville knows what it must do to stay in its master’s good graces, we must not second-guess that decision. But proud Maryland is not yet so far gone, nor may she ever be. And, as Will points out, there may be be more states like her in in the months ahead — lawmakers in 30 states are reportedly preparing legislation similar to Maryland’s. “Shoplifting as Governance”? Hardly. Rather, the days of “Freeloading as Business Model” may be drawing to a close.

One Response to “Harrumph of the Will”

  1. » Blog Archive » Drum strikes out Mallaby to retire the side Says:

    […] is shifting on the issues of Wal-Mart, the “dwindling anti-trade labor movement,” and freeloading as business model. Mallaby may splutter, and Lieberman may have his fingers crossed behind his back, but […]

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