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January 7 2020

The Latest Elitist Move to “Help” Urban Poor: Banning Dollar Stores

by Charlotte Hays

 Elitists have a new target: dollar stores.

Somehow, we should have expected this.

An article in City Journal reports that dollar stores are “the latest front in the food wars,” with activists claiming that banning them would promote better eating habits among the poor. Research doesn’t support this contention, but that hasn’t dampened the ardor of dollar store foes. City Journal notes:

Behind the sudden disdain for these retailers—typically discount variety stores smaller than 10,000 square feet—are claims by advocacy groups that they saturate poor neighborhoods with cheap, over-processed food, undercutting other retailers and lowering the quality of offerings in poorer communities.

Towns such as Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Fort Worth, Birmingham and DeKalb County in Georgia already have enacted numerous restrictions and regulations on dollar stores. They are fighting dollar stores through zoning laws and other regulations and more communities are set to follow suit. 

Some activists claim that the presence of a dollar store reduces the chances that a grocery more acceptable to our elites will open in the neighborhood.

I urge them to consider an opposite interpretation: if the dollar store were not there, there might not be a grocery outlet at all.

And the idea that dollar stores promote bad eating habits is fundamentally flawed:

Recent research undermines the argument that a lack of fresh, healthy food is to blame for unhealthy diets. In a paper published in the Quarterly Journal of Economics, three economists chart grocery purchases in 10,000 households located in former food deserts, where new supermarkets have since opened. They found that people didn’t buy healthier food when they started shopping at a new local supermarket.

“We can statistically conclude that the effect on healthy eating from opening new supermarkets was negligible at best,” they wrote. In other words, the food-desert narrative—which suggests that better food choices motivate people to eat better—is fundamentally incorrect. “In the modern economy, stores have become amazingly good at selling us exactly the kinds of things we want to buy,” the researchers write. In other words, “lower demand for healthy food is what causes the lack of supply.”

Steven Malanga, the author of this otherwise excellent and counterintuitive article, does err in one respect: he’s right that banning dollar stores won’t accomplish a thing, but he also holds up as a model for how the eating habits of low-income people should be changed Michelle Obama’s draconian program to make kids eat better. It failed miserably.

I see in this campaign to ban dollar stores a parallel to the elitist crusade to ban short-term loans. The elites may find dollar stores and short term loans just too yucky, but they should find within themselves he humility to allow low-income families to make their own decisions. Sometimes they even know what works for them. 

The elitist campaign to impose their values through regulation is going to harm the very people in whose name they claim to be acting.  





Independent Women's Forum is an educational 501(c)(3) dedicated to developing and advancing policies that aren’t just well intended, but actually enhance people’s freedom, choices, and opportunities. IWF is the sister organization of the Independent Women’s Voice.​
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