Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Wal-Mart and Leisure

When you get a chance, check out this working paper "Wal-Mart, Leisure, and Culture" by Charles Courtemanche and Art Carden (of DoL fame). In reading the abstract, I couldn't help but recall this:
Singles can head to the Roanoke Wal-Mart tonight for the third of the store's weekly singles nights, held every Friday evening. Billed as a way singles can meet their match while filling their cart, participating customers select shopping carts adorned with red bows identifying them as singles looking to mingle. The rest is up to them.
The paper cited above essentially taps into Wal-Mart's influence on the "Bowling Alone" phenomenon, which is the idea of diminishing community spirit and interaction. Capitalism takes the blame by many of those involved in this literature, I would suggest, because they are looking for capitalism to blame for something. It's good to see the more empirical/positive approach being applied by Courtemanche and Carden to this literature. I think if community (whatever that is) involvement is declining, it has to do with a few other things that I have not yet been able to prove (data suggestions welcome):
  1. Wealth effect: Markets and wealth allow us to economize our love, spending on it where we value it most. I no longer need the mechanic to like me to get a good price for fixing my car. I don't need to go to the bar, or offer him help moving. Instead, I can spend that time and love on my family.
  2. Cultural improvements for families: There is less social pressure to marry or marry early, and less stigma from divorce if the marriage goes bad. Hence, those who marry prefer to spend time at home with spouses and family, rather than go bowling with their work buddies.
  3. Supreme Court: Many state supreme court have been undermining the link between the community and their local public schools, which are a source of great community interaction.
  4. More information available helps people sort into the kind of communities they want to live in, so there are less sources of tension within communities. Communities that are voting a lot on divisive issues have a lot of community involvement. Communities with low turnout are content.

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