Who Is Our Economy For?

Brad DeLong has a post about productivity growth in Europe and America. What it comes down to is America builds lots of “big box” retail stores and Europe doesn’t. From the Financial Times piece he refers to:

“The new stores are the “big boxes” such as Wal-Mart, Home Depot and Best Buy, large new buildings set up on greenfield sites at interstate highway junctions, in suburbs and, increasingly, in inner cities. As these new stores reap the rewards of their size, openness and accessibility and drive smaller stores out of business, they bolster the average productivity of the US retail sector as a whole.

While countries differ, Europe has many ways of stifling modern retailing, from green belts and land-use restrictions to laws that prevent companies from lowering their prices. These make life difficult for new, more efficient retailers in order to protect small, traditional merchants.”

So my question, a usual, is, “Who is our economy FOR?

Yes, “big box” stores “bolster the average productivity.” What that means is more work gets done by fewer workers who are paid less. Increased productivity is supposed to be “good” for the economy. And it can be, if the economy is structured in ways that productivity increases and other economic gains flow to the public. If our economy is working for us, that would happen. It’s what happens when regular working people have a say in what happens, like when unions are strong, and when more regular people are voting.

It comes down to whether we want to be greeters at Wal-Mart, and look at Wal-Marts, and have our downtowns be all Starbucks and Gap stores — or live in nice, pleasant communities with small bakeries and neighborhood stores owned locally… We (those few in America who get to make these decisions) are choosing the former. France chooses the latter.

Economically the Wal-Mart scenario doesn’t help the average person one bit – we’re going to be the greeters. The products on the shelves will be produced by people making 15 cents an hour somewhere. Fewer and fewer people getting the benefits.

Am I exaggerating? The answer lies in the statistics for concentration of wealth. If concentration of wealth is accelerating, then no, I am not exaggerating. More and more of the benefits of our economy flowing to fewer and fewer people. How long are we going to put up with this?