Becker on Chicago's Anti-Big Box Ordinance

Cite this Article
Joshua D. Wright, Becker on Chicago's Anti-Big Box Ordinance, Truth on the Market (July 31, 2006),

Gary Becker has an important post on the political economy and economic consequences of Chicago’s Big Box ordinance which would raise the costs of using low skilled labor for the affected retailers. The punchline is not surprising. It is a bad ordinance that “will hurt the very groups, African-Americans and other poor or lower middle class individuals, that supporters claim would be helped.” Here’s a taste of Becker’s analysis:

Even if retailers with mega stores were trying to cater at least in part to the Chicago market, this ordinance makes them more likely to open up in suburbs that could be reached by some Chicagoans as well as by those living in the suburbs. Large retailers that continue to operate in Chicago will reduce their use of low skilled workers by replacing some of them by more skilled employees, and by machinery and other capital. Retailers will also try to avoid being covered by the ordinance by reducing their space to just below 90,000 square feet.

In a city like Chicago the burden from these responses to the ordinance will fall disproportionately on African Americans and Latinos since fewer jobs will be available to workers in the city with less education and lower skills. In addition, prices in Chicago of items sold relatively cheaply by stores like Wal-Mart and Target will rise because fewer of these stores will open in the city. The mega stores that remain will raise their prices because their costs will go up. Since city customers of these stores are mainly families with modest incomes who seek low prices rather than elaborate service, they more than the affluent classes will be hurt by the rise in prices and reduced availability of big box outlets.

Read the whole thing. I can’t help but think with the passing of this misguided and ill-conceived ordinance, and as my co-blogger Thom once noted in this space, “What’s the Matter with Chicago?”