The problem–well, one of them—with trying to control how other people choose to live their lives is that nobody’s smart enough to do it without making things worse. Still,a lot of sociologists and politicians think they are smart enough.
Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Fort Worth, Birmingham, and Georgia’s DeKalb County have passed restrictions on dollar stores, and other communities are debating whether to follow their example, where laws and zoning regulations limit how many of these small stores can open within a particular area. Other laws dictate what they can and can’t sell, most notably fresh food. You see, the antipathy to dollar stores is based on the narrative pushed by activists that they saturate poor neighborhoods with cheap, over-processed food, squeezing out other retailers and lowering the quality of nutrition in poor communities. An analyst for the Center for Science in the Public Interest makes the argument, “When you have so many dollar stores in one neighborhood, there’s no incentive for a full-service grocery store to come in.” Dollar stores, like Dollar Tree and Dollar General, the researchers say, make neighborhoods seem poor, and scare away better stores, “locking in poverty rather than reducing it,” as one told the Washington Post.
Ah! Poor nutrition is the fault of dollar stores!
Once, academic researchers described poor urban neighborhoods as “food deserts.” The insufficient numbers of grocery stores, it was determined then, were the fault of suburban shopping centers and the decline of mass transit. These food deserts caused an epidemic of health problems to the poor. In response, urban governments spent millions in subsidies to attract supermarket chains to these communities. Hundreds of new grocery stores opened in depressed areas around the country.
Nothing changed. Obviously, the real problem was dollar stores.
The dollar stores are just the most recent victims of woke researchers’ resistance to reality when it doesn’t fit their illusions. Recent research chews up the claim that unhealthy diets result from the lack of healthy food options. A research paper published in the Quarterly Journal of Economics found that people didn’t buy healthier food even when they had shiny new supermarkets to shop in. “We can statistically conclude that the effect on healthy eating from opening new supermarkets was negligible at best,” the rsearchers wrote, and this was after studying grocery purchases in 10,000 households in former “food deserts” after supermarkets moved in. This suggests that the theory that better food choices motivate people to eat better is, in technical terms, baloney.
“In the modern economy, stores have become amazingly good at selling us exactly the kinds of things we want to buy,” the paper explains. “Lower demand for healthy food is what causes the lack of supply.”
Are you surprised? I’m not. Getting people to eat more healthily requires teaching people why a better diet is important,why simply tasting good is not the best argument for eating things, and why its worth the time and effort to eat a healthy diet. I know all about the importance of eating healthy foods. I’m not poor. Yet I often choose quick frozen dishes I can microwave rather than preparing fresh vegetables, and it has nothing to do with dollar stores. Six supermarkets are within 15 minutes of my house, and only one dollar store.
Americans are getting fatter and fatter; diabetes is becoming an epidemic, and for this we should punish—dollar stores? Anything to resist assigning responsibility to where it really lies: the individuals, poor or rich, who choose what they put in their mouths, and how highly they prioritize healthy food over beer, drugs, or other things.
There is another factor that keeps supermarkets out of some communities: shoplifting. In their efforts to combat “over-incarceration,” many states, including my suddenly super-progressive state of Virginia, raised the amount of stolen merchandise necessary to qualify as a felony. At the same time, law enforcement declined to aggressively prosecute shoplifting. Surely the effect of this on supermarkets should be obvious. A Portland resident told the City-Journal, In the Portland Oregon area the major grocery stores are being shoplifted out of existence. The Multnomah County courts don’t even prosecute shoplifters.”
Easily fixed, right?
Ban dollar stores.