No doubt Wal-Mart has contributed to low prices for consumers, as Sebastian Mallaby noted in his Nov. 28 column, "Progressive Wal-Mart. Really." But that is only part of the story.

For all the reductions in prices that Wal-Mart generates for consumers, the company's business practices, such as leaving more than half of its employees not covered by its health insurance plan, also contribute to real reductions in the purchasing power of its employees. And when many companies follow Wal-Mart's lead, as they must, millions of Americans are left with declining real wages and rising debt -- exactly what is happening in today's economy. If Henry Ford wanted his workers to be rich enough to buy his cars, Wal-Mart is leading us to an economy in which its employees are barely able to shop at Wal-Mart. No one should welcome this.

Wal-Mart could distribute more of its billions of dollars in profits to its workers without even raising prices. Or Wal-Mart could raise prices marginally but, in so doing, help hundreds of thousands of Americans move from being debtors to savers. Either way, America would be better off. But these results will occur only if Congress raises the minimum wage, which Wal-Mart now opportunistically supports, and gives workers an effective right to join a union, which Wal-Mart clearly does not.

-- Christian E. Weller

Washington

The writer is a senior economist at the Center for American Progress.

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I'd like to pay less for my Washington Post. I suggest that The Post reduce subscription rates by cutting salaries for your staff, especially writers and columnists. A 50 percent reduction ought to help a lot. While you are at it, make them pay for a big chunk of their health insurance, maybe 80 percent, instead of whatever they are paying now. By the way, none of this will apply to management or the shareholders.

Sebastian Mallaby can offset the reduction in his take-home pay by shopping at Wal-Mart.

Oh, did I mention his newspaper will cost less?

-- Bob Bailey

Silver Spring

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Sebastian Mallaby's column referred in passing to a New York University academic who "advised John 'Benedict Arnold' Kerry in the 2004 campaign." It doesn't matter to me if the target is John Kerry, George Bush or the Easter Bunny. A gratuitous and insulting statement, made completely out of context and with no explanation by the writer, in a paper committed to elevating the public dialogue, adds up to a loss of credibility.

-- Barak Rosenbloom

Seattle

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Wal-Mart's low prices drive down not only its own workers' wages and benefits but also the wages and benefits offered to other companies' workers.

Even if we assume that Wal-Mart provides lower costs for the average consumer, those lower costs don't come without a price -- lower wages and fewer benefits for the workers who produce the goods Wal-Mart sells, and eliminating the jobs of others. So isn't it all a bit like borrowing from Peter to pay Paul?

Many of those who are helped out by Wal-Mart's prices are workers whose jobs went to China, workers who lost their health insurance because their employer couldn't keep up with the Wal-Marts of the world or workers who can no longer make ends meet on the wages offered them (e.g., farmworkers in Southern California).

Where does Sebastian Mallaby think the company's savings come from, anyway? Wal-Mart's business model draws blood.

-- Nicholas J. Levintow

Silver Spring

The scene at a Wal-Mart store in Salt Lake City on Nov. 13.