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Forbes columnist John Tammy weighed in on the debate over whether Walmart should be allowed to open stores in New York City, concluding that efforts to prevent it from doing so amount of a kind of “local protectionism” that results in “collateral economic damage.”

Tammy writes:

“For one, money saved is money that, if left in the bank, is lent out to entrepreneurs and businesses eager to grow. In short, were Wal-Mart given the freedom to open its stores in the largest city in the U.S., not only would many of its citizens receive instant raises, but the realized savings would expand a capital base that is presently a bit subdued as evidenced by difficult economic times.

“Extrapolated across the country, though Wal-Mart’s reach is impressive, it remains the case that it’s not everywhere it wants to be not because it lacks the means, or consumer demand, but thanks to local barriers meant to protect well-connected, local businesses. If removed, Wal-Mart’s continued expansion would on its own enhance the capital outlook for a country populated by businesses ever needful of more of it.

“When prices of goods are kept artificially high thanks to government barriers, the first-stage losers are those with limited funds forced to do business with merchants whose prices don’t reflect market realities. Not mentioned enough, though, are the successful businesses actually offering what customers desire, but that are similarly weakened by unnatural hurdles that keep the most efficient businesses from opening.

“Indeed, assuming a removal of the impediments to Wal-Mart’s expansion, its customers would quickly find themselves more flush, and if eager to consume rather than save, more able to patronize other local businesses eager to serve them. The beauty of free trade is that it expands the range of businesses that consumers can do business with. In Wal-Mart’s case, the presumed decline in receipts for inefficient grocery stores would redound to the sales of other businesses giving customers what they actually want.”

Tammy concludes, “Imposed on consumers by governments, protectionism at its core is the cruel process whereby weaker, less efficient businesses are kept in operation thanks to barriers that keep the goods and services of the more efficient producers out; either locally or internationally. Put simply, protectionism subsidizes the weak at the expense of the enterprising. And in a world of limited capital, this is problematic because it ensures the perpetuation of business practices that would otherwise cease if market forces were allowed to prevail.”

• The Wall Street Journal carries an interview with Walmart CEO Mike Duke in which he spoke about balancing a “big picture” approach to his job with a more granular view of the business.

“If I spend all of my day in the details as a CEO of a company like Wal-Mart, I think it would be trouble, because I wouldn't really be prepared to speak to the big issues that the country or the world should face,” Duke says. “But at the same time, if you spend all of the time at 50,000 feet, (you) really are not out talking to customers and know real people. ... I think it's often the interaction directly with customers in the details of their family and their issues is what inspires me to want to help solve the big issues.”

And Duke also addressed how much attention he pays to the company’s stock price:

“Maybe every other day ... I look at sales every day, and customer traffic, and (the) average (shopping) basket. I look to see how we're doing in Brazil and the UK and China every day. I don't necessarily check the stock price every day. I think if I were a shareholder and the CEO spent all of his time focused on the share price, then I would probably be concerned, because the share price follows the results of the company.”

• The Financial Times reports that “Walmart is aggressively discounting the cost of digital films as it competes with Apple in an intensifying battle between two of the world’s biggest companies over the future of the entertainment industry.”

The story notes that Apple dominates the download business through its iTunes service, and that Microsoft ranks number two. But in the final month of 2010, Walmart competed actively for third place with the likes of Amazon and Sony, renting digital copies of movies for as little as 99 cents.

According to the piece, “IHS Screen Digest data suggest renting a film digitally is fast becoming more popular than buying one online: in the US, digital rental transactions rose more than 50 per cent in 2010 to 38m, compared with 25m transactions in 2009.”
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