A couple of years ago, I shared a cab to the airport with a Wal‐Mart lobbyist, who told me that Wal‐Mart supports an “employer mandate.” An employer mandate is a legal requirement that employers provide a government‐defined package of health benefits to their workers. Only Hawaii and Massachusetts have enacted such a law.
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Wal‐Mart is a capitalist success story. At the time of our conversation, this lobbyist was helping Wal‐Mart fight off employer‐mandate legislation in dozens of states. Those measures were specifically designed to hurt Wal‐Mart, and were underwritten by the unions and union shops that were losing jobs and business to Wal‐Mart.
But it all became clear when the lobbyist explained the reason for Wal-Mart’s position: “Target’s health‐benefits costs are lower.”
I have no idea what Target’s or Wal-Mart’s health‐benefits costs are. Let’s say that Target spends $5,000 per worker on health benefits and Wal‐Mart spends $10,000. An employer mandate that requires both retail giants to spend $9,000 per worker would have no effect on Wal‐Mart. But it would cripple one of Wal-Mart’s chief competitors.
So yesterday’s news that Wal‐Mart is publicly endorsing a “sensible and equitable” employer mandate — i.e., a mandate that hurts Target but not Wal‐Mart — didn’t come as a surprise to me. It merely confirmed what I learned in a cab on the way to the airport: Wal‐Mart has gone native. That great symbol of the benefits of free‐market competition now joins its erstwhile enemies among the legions of rent‐seeking weasels who would rather run to government for protection than earn their keep by making people’s lives better.
In 2007, Wal‐Mart officially joined the Church of Universal Coverage when it entered one of those countless strange‐bedfellows coalitions with the Service Employees International Union. At the time, I criticized Wal‐Mart for “self‐congratulatory puffery” and “jump[ing] on the big‐government bandwagon.” I also criticized then‐CEO Lee Scott for spouting economic nonsense. (I later learned that Scott was not amused.)
This is so much worse than that.