July 12 2013
D.C. City Council to Poor: Let Them Eat Cake...
If you have any doubt that we have a political class that votes its own interests over those of the people it supposedly serves, Wednesday’s anti-Walmart vote by the D.C. City Council should be instructive.
Mona Charen characterizes it:
In an 8–5 vote, the council elected to prevent the “underserved” poor people of the District from getting fresh produce and other food, a wide variety of good-quality products at affordable prices, and some 1,800 jobs, many of them entry-level.
In short, the D.C. city council has defeated the mighty Walmart.
Walmart had agreed, as Charen points out, to stock local products, pay for transportation projects, and create a job-training program. The bill approved by the council would require all employers of a certain size to pay double the regular minimum wage. The bill was aimed specifically at Walmart. Union shops are excluded and the bill grandfathers in businesses already here. .
“We don’t have to beg people to come to the District anymore,” Council member Vincent Orange, who voted for the bill, said when Walmart promised that, if the bill was passed, it would not buckle. Orange is right if he’s thinking of fancy restaurants and upscale stores that serve the well-to-do. The affluent are the lawyers, lobbyists, top journalists, and others who are in D.C. because of the government. They don't need to worry that the next French restaurant will be turned away. They are going to do fine. The poor? Not so much.
The poor people of the District of Columbia can well afford to be choosy. Other cities and states, like Virginia (unemployment rate 5.2 percent) or Houston (unemployment rate 6.1 percent), might feel constrained to offer incentives and inducements for big employers. Not D.C. As Jarvis Johnson, a leader of “Respect DC,” the organizer of the anti-Walmart movement, put it, “People won’t take another bully joining Congress in disrespecting our voices and our priorities.”
Just so. The District is practically inundated with offers of employment. That must be why the unemployment rate in D.C. is 8.5 percent — and 20.3 percent among blacks. That must explain the 37.8 percent unemployment rate for black teens, and the 43.3 percent rate for black male teens. It would explain why about a third of the District’s residents are currently receiving food stamps, Medicaid, or welfare — and why more than 18 percent are living below the poverty line.
By all accounts, many of the neighborhoods in which Walmart had planned to open its noxious stores, like those in Ward 7, are places that lack outlets selling fresh food and other products. In some cases, the Walmart stores were to be anchors for whole new developments. Never mind.
The council's vote is aptly characterized on AEI’s blog as a “politically motivated ‘economic death wish.’”
AEI blog posted thoughts on the subject from six responders.
This one under the heading “Che Is Dead” is especially provocative:
Certain parts of the United States, however, are like Greece. Just read emergency manager Kevyn Orr’s134-page report on Detroit, which has $20 billion in unpayable debt.
Couched in the workmanlike prose of a bankruptcy lawyer — which is what Orr is — the document nevertheless tells a harrowing story of institutional rot and social collapse, brought on by decades of government of, by and for special-interest groups.
Prominent among them are public-employee unions — 47 in all, from organized crossing guards to the Association of Professional Construction Inspectors. Contracts permitted employees to “bump” from job to job based solely on seniority, “without regard to merit, relevant qualifications or experience,” the report says.
The District probably won’t end up like Detroit anytime soon—big government breeds big lobbying. Don’t worry about your favorite upscale restaurant—lobbyists love good food.
The D.C. City Council has kept faith with its union backers, and, as for the poor, let them eat cake.