Shrewsburying The Free Market
On Tuesday night, the Shrewsbury Board of Aldermen approved a $15 million tax subsidy for the construction of a new Walmart Supercenter, which will be located on Watson Road. In its request, G.J. Grewe, the commercial real estate company overseeing the store’s development, said the subsidy is needed to “grade the topography at the site.” Despite the manifest drawbacks of such schemes, the board overrode the recommendation of the St. Louis County Tax Increment Finance (TIF) Commission with a 4-2 vote.
Hence, we observe one of the more unsettling hallmarks of statist intrusion into the market: the spectacle of multi-billion-dollar corporations successfully offloading costs onto everybody else. German sociologist Franz Oppenheimer referred to this as the “political means” of wealth acquisition, a process involving “the unrequited appropriation of the labor of others.” This is to be contrasted with the “economic means” of earning wealth, which stems from the “equivalent exchange of one’s own labor for the labor of others.” The former is only made possible by the latter; one cannot confiscate that which has not been created.
Walmart is in an interesting category. It often benefits greatly from public money, but it is also on the receiving end of hostile state regulation. This is also problematic, not least because the company has proven itself to be a force for positive change.
But that is beside the point. A free market, properly conceptualized, is nothing more than the institutionalization of voluntary interaction among economic actors. It constitutes the only politico-economic system that legally enshrines the rights of consumers and producers to live in accordance with their values. And such a system has immensely greater potential to improve our standard of living than any state-administered subsidy program for politically connected enterprises.