Study Finds Quality of Life Undamaged by Wal-Mart

The arrival of a town's new Wal-Mart is notorious for being detrimental to the community. But when it comes to social capital, obesity, leisure time, and social and political values, Wal-Mart might not be so bad after all, according to one study.

"'A theme of our research might be that the hype about Wal-Mart is a little bigger than the reality,' Courtemanche said. 'Wal-Mart has come to be seen as a symbol of everything evil about capitalism, and when you look at what does it actually cause, well, there are substantial price effects but not a whole lot much else.'"

"They also used multiple estimation strategies. One of the challenges of estimating the consequences of Wal-Mart entry is that the store does not choose its locations randomly but decides based on certain characteristics of different communities. If these characteristics are associated with particular deficiencies in social capital, this could give the appearance that Wal-Mart is degrading communities when, in actuality, its arrival is merely an indicator of a community having diminished levels of social capital."

"What they found was that depending on how they set up their statistical measurement, the effects of Wal-Mart on different indicators of social capital bounced around, going from positive to negative, from statistically significant to statistically insignificant - all suggesting that while there might certainly be cases where Wal-Mart's arrival had a negative impact on various aspects of social capital, effects were far from uniform. Their findings are reported in the January 2009 issue of Public Choice."

Full Story: Researchers Not Buying The Wal-Mart Effect

Comments

Comments

Michael Lewyn's picture
Blogger

Is there a difference...

between very small towns where Wal-Mart is the only Big Box retailer and bigger cities where it is just one of many?

I ask because it seems to me that if there are any effects at all from Wal-Mart, they would exist only in the first category.

Suburban Land Waste

WalMart, like other retail that gravitates to suburbia and small towns, wastes a tremendous amount of land for surface parking lots. This spreads out cities and drives up the cost of the commercial uses attached to that parking. It also forces people who go to WalMart without driving to subsidize the parking of drivers through higher prices. That's insane. This is the fault of off-street parking requirements imposed by local governments.

When are we going to embrace Don Shoup's ideas? Let developers decide how much parking to build, promote priced parking, and send parking revenue back to where it is collected.

Instead of vast parking lots we should be building smaller, priced, garaged and/or underground parking and using the saved land to build badly needed housing.

Wal-Mart And Quality Of Life

Note that the Planetizen headline is misleading:
"Study Finds Quality of Life Undamaged by Wal-Mart"

The term "quality of life" generally refers to environmental quality as well as to social capital, but this study just looks at social capital. There is no doubt that Wal-Mart reduces environmental quality and therefore quality of life, by paving over large areas of land, generating more traffic, etc.

In addition, the study's measurement of social capital seems to be inconclusive:

"What they found was that depending on how they set up their statistical measurement, the effects of Wal-Mart on different indicators of social capital bounced around, going from positive to negative, from statistically significant to statistically insignificant — all suggesting that while there might certainly be cases where Wal-Mart's arrival had a negative impact on various aspects of social capital, effects were far from uniform.

To me, that suggests that we are not very good at measuring social capital, which is obviously rather intangible. Since we have this huge urge to quantify, studies look at a few indicators of social capital that are easy to measure, ignore aspects of social capital that are harder to measure, and then announce that they have come to a precise, statistical conclusion without mentioning that they have ignored most of subject.

"It is the mark of an instructed mind." Aristotle said, "to rest satisfied with the degree of precision which the nature of the subject admits and not to seek exactness when only an approximation of the truth is possible."

Charles Siegel

Prepare for the AICP Exam

Join the thousands of students who have utilized the Planetizen AICP* Exam Preparation Class to prepare for the American Planning Association's AICP* exam.
Starting at $199
Planetizen Courses image ad

Planetizen Courses

Advance your career with subscription-based online courses tailored to the urban planning professional.
Starting at $14.95 a month
Red necktie with map of Boston

Tie one on to celebrate your city

Choose from over 20 styles of neckties imprinted with detailed city or transit maps.
$44.95
DVD Cover of The Story of Sprawl

The Story of Sprawl

See how America changed shape in this collection of historic films that visually document how sprawl evolved.
$29.99 for 2-DVD SET