Goliath vs. Goliath

I can see it now, the smoke coming out of the ears of the most strident anti-corporate critics, as they try to make sense of this one.

Wal-Mart is an evil, low-paying, mom-and-pop-store killing, culture-dumbing, hegemonic corporate monster, right?

And drug companies are money-hungry giants that care more about their profits than they do about the health, well-being, & financial status of their customers, right?

So…what are we supposed to think when evil Wal-Mart takes on the evil Drug Companies?

Here’s the story, courtesy of the Detroit Free Press: Wal-Mart to Cut Prices for Generic Drugs

Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, plans to slash the prices of almost 300 generic prescription drugs, offering a big lure for bargain-seeking customers and presenting a challenge to competing pharmacy chains and makers of generic drugs.
The drugs will be sold for as little as $4 for a month’s supply and include some of the most commonly prescribed medicines….

Now, Wal-Mart claims that it sees the drug companies as “partners” in this endeavour.

…Wal-Mart is working with the 30 participating drug companies to help them be more efficient. “We are working with them as partners. We are not pressuring them to reduce prices….”

Uh-huh. I’ve blogged before about the love-hate relationship that many suppliers have with Wal-Mart. The point is, Wal-Mart is here (again) using its economic might and savvy supply-chain management techniques in a way that is genuinely beneficial…not to shareholders of pharma companies, but to the working-class folks who make up the bulk of their customer base. Now, I have nothing against the shareholders of pharma companies, nor do I begrudge them their stock dividends. The point is that a paradigm-bending company like Wal-Mart shifts benefits around within an economy. Wal-Mart makes some people better off, and others worse off. Should you be a fan of Wal-Mart? That depends on some combination of a) whether you think Wal-Mart’s net impact is positive, and b) whether you think the harms and benefits of Wal-Mart are appropriately distributed.

Hmmm….so, first Wal-Mart goes organic, and now they’re trying to do something the U.S. government has been unable to do, namely get pharmaceuticals into the hands of people who really need them, at a reasonable price. What next? It looks like it’s going to get harder and harder to find reasons to hate the Beast of Bentonville.

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