Teen protestors need refresher on economics

Generally speaking, it’s probably a positive thing when young people take an interest in politics and the world around them — even if the conclusions they reach are dead wrong. It’s all part of the maturation process and you assume their point of view will evolve as they grow up and continue to learn.

Consequently, it would be a mistake to take too seriously the views espoused by a handful of South Kitsap High School students profiled in the Feb. 7 Independent (“A crash course in Protest 101”).

That doesn’t mean the students’ criticisms of Wal-Mart in general and the local store in particular aren’t as wrong as wrong can be, though, because they certainly are. What concerns us most, however, is that the students apparently launched their misguided crusade against the mega-retailer after learning about the company’s business practices in their SKHS economics class.

If that’s the case, one of two things must be true: Either the students deserve an “F”in the class for learning absolutely nothing about the workings of capitalism, or their economics teacher is advancing some very curious theories to his or her students.

The specific aspect of Wal-Mart’s business practices that seems to trouble the students most is the company’s annoying habit of pricing its merchandise lower than that of its competitors. The overwhelming majority of consumers, of course, think this is a pretty good arrangement, which explains Wal-Mart’s unprecedended success. But the SKHS students seem to think Wal-Mart is doing it just to be mean.

Competition, they will eventually discover, is the lifeblood of capitalism and it’s why our economic system works so much better than anything else that’s ever been tried. If Wal-Mart enjoys economies of scale that allow it to sell its product for less than Safeway or K-Mart, so much the better for all of us. If other retailers can’t compete on price, perhaps they can find a market niche by providing superior quality or customer service.

If not, they’ll fail. But it isn’t Wal-Mart’s responsibility to set its own prices needlessly high in order to subsidize its competitors’ weaknesses. All that does is sustain mediocrity.

In the long run, the competitive struggle benefits everyone, while corporate pity on an unsuccessful rival would benefit no one. But who needs to worry about the long run when you’re a 17-year-old who knows everything?

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