Nickels, Dimes, and Wal-Mart

22 July 2006 at 8:12 am Leave a comment

| Peter Klein |

Like many US universities, my school has a summer reading program, in which incoming freshman are assigned a book to read over the summer, for small-group discussions during the fall. A couple of years ago I volunteered to lead one of these discussions. You can imagine my disappointment when I learned that the assigned reading was Barbara Ehrenreich’s extremely silly Nickel and Dimed, a polemic against the low-wage retailing and hospitality sector. (My main complaint against the book was not that I disagreed with nearly all its substantive points, but that it consists of little more than left-wing bromides and platitudes, supported by anecdotal evidence and written in an annoyingly cutesy style. I don’t care if the book is liberal, conservative, libertarian, Green, brown, or purple, but please make it well-reasoned, balanced, and thorough. Why expose these poor freshmen to mush?)

Hence I was glad to see Ehrenreich taken to the cleaners by Jason Furman in this Slate dialog, “Is Wal-Mart Good for the American Working Class?” Furman actually has arguments and evidence for his position, a refreshing addition to the typical Wal-Mart debate. (HT: Fred Tung)

Incidentally, some of the best empirical work on Wal-Mart has been done by my colleague Emek Basker.

Update: Bob V. summarizes the Slate debate this way: “Dr. Furman is an economist. . . . He sees the world as systems and asks the question: how should our systems be designed to make the world a better place? Ms. Ehrenreich, on the other hand, asks: how can I get more stuff?”

Entry filed under: - Klein -, Classical Liberalism, Teaching.

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