I'd like to dig into the various business and economic issues at play when I've got more time, but one of the things that's particularly struck me about this conversation is the following interchange which seems to invariably result when Walmart comes up:
A: Walmart pays poverty level wages. The company makes huge profits and should pay more.
B: Walmart pays low wages because they employ low skilled workers to do low productivity work. The work isn't worth much more than they're paying for it.
A: But if Walmart paid higher wages, they'd get a higher quality of worker and those higher quality workers would be more productive and they'd make even more money. Look at Costco and Trader Joe's!
Now, I like Costco and Trader Joe's, both as business models and as places to shop, and I'm not fond of shopping at Walmart (indeed, we basically never do these days, though back when we were financially really hard up, we did.) But the thing that strikes me about this line of reasoning is that it purports to be really worried about workers at Walmart, yet then immediately jumps to the idea that if only Walmart paid more, it could not hire the kind of people it currently hires.
Now, maybe it would be nice if Walmart paid higher wages, but if instead of 2.1 million low paid low skilled workers it had 1.4 million better paid more skilled workers, that kind of leaves all the low skilled workers who currently work there out in the cold, doesn't it? Making $8.80/hr to stand by the door and greet people doesn't sound to me like a fun and rewarding way to make a living. (Indeed, back when I went to Walmart fairly often the greeters always kind of bugged me because it seemed like a job I'd hate having.) But if Walmart went to a business model in which they paid twice as much as they currently do and hired more productive workers, a lot of the folks who are currently doing that kind of work at Walmart would simply be out of a job, or else doing something worse. That seems an odd way of doing them a favor.