Perhaps Wal-Mart should start selling nautical supplies, because most people who argue whether or not the company is “good for America” are completely missing the boat.

Both critics and supporters of Wal-Mart debate its alleged effects on employees, local businesses, prices, wages, etc., and offer only studies and facts that support their specific agenda. People who like Wal-Mart usually point out its low prices, but those against the company focus on the low wages paid to its employees. But these groups are accomplishing nothing arguing past each other, because both are correct.

These arguments cannot be sufficient in determining whether or not Wal-Mart is good for America, because neither actually tries to answer that question. While many Americans seem to have forgotten the childhood lesson that money does not grow on trees, it certainly applies to the situation here.

If Wal-Mart’s wages force the government to provide social services to needy families, then consumers save money at the cash register, but must pay higher taxes to make up for the shortfall. If Wal-Mart provides more benefits for its employees, then prices go up, and, in theory, government spending should fall. Since that’s unfortunately not going to happen anytime soon, this cause-and-effect comparison actually becomes a great reason to support Wal-Mart’s lower prices.

Because everything eventually has to be paid for, looking at the individual winners and losers is only a tiny part of the situation. In order to find out if Wal-Mart is good for America, we need to take a look at the company’s effects on the country as a whole.

Wal-Mart is the largest private employer in the world, and if it were its own country, its GDP would rank 20th in the world. Obviously, an entity that large has the opportunity for a staggering level of efficiency and tremendous economies of scale. This means that Wal-Mart’s size, on a national level, is good for the country and good for the American economy.

The respected economic analysis team at Global Insight recently completed a sweeping study of Wal-Mart’s national impact. The study found that, from 1985-2004, Wal-Mart caused a 3.1 percent decline in prices, and a 2.2 percent decline in nominal wages, which increased real American income by just shy of a percent. The study cites Wal-Mart’s efficiency as the “main driver” behind this effect. It shouldn’t be surprising that, after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, Wal-Mart was at times able to provide relief supplies more quickly than the government.

Good economic policy cannot be twisted by special interest politics. Wal-Mart’s tremendous bargaining power drives prices down, and forces its suppliers to increase their efficiency, too, if they want Wal-Mart to keep buying their products. Some of the loudest complainers about Wal-Mart are other business owners who couldn’t keep up. If they can’t, then they need to be replaced in the free market by those who can.

Because Wal-Mart has beneficial effects on the country as a whole, the many winners Wal-Mart creates should not be punished by a few losers. Many failed national policies, such as the U.S. sugar quota, are kept in place seemingly thanks to intense lobbying efforts by the few people such policies benefit. For example, because sugar beet and cane farmers benefit from artificially sweetened prices, the entire country pays more for our candy bars, and candy manufacturers shed employees because sugar costs more than it should in America. U.S. consumers should stand up for their rights, and not allow interest groups to leech off of an unaware public.

Finally, the tremendous competition and low profit margins present in the retail sector prevent Wal-Mart from growing “out of control.” Recently, other businesses have also improved their efficiency and/or ability to attract consumers in response to Wal-Mart’s success, and presumably as a result Wal-Mart’s stock price has fallen 20 percent in the last five years. Again, these improvements benefit the country as a whole, and not just particular interests.

While Wal-Mart does not have a reputation for corporate benevolence, the company and the Walton family have been increasing their charitable giving. Alleged legal violations should be investigated, but isolated incidents don’t detract much from the company’s greater benefits to society. And if you still don’t like Wal-Mart, you can shop somewhere else.

In the face of conflicting evidence, many pundits are quick to point out bits and pieces of information instead of the bigger picture. When considering the merits of an argument, make the effort to take a step back and think about the important things you might not be hearing. It’s very easy to use certain facts to create a mirage outside of the scrutiny of a wide-angle lens.

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