I have written a fair amount defending the much-maligned big box store—a brief history of chain store panics here, in praise of Wal-Mart's prescription drug program here, and various fawning blog posts. So here's a little more Bentonville hagiography for the unsated. According to a story in today's The Federal Times, a new study by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University shows that "Private organizations such as Wal-Mart, Home Depot and other so-called "big box" stores provided more supplies and relief than the Federal Emergency Management Agency in the days immediately after Hurricane Katrina."
Local store managers took advantage of their autonomy and moved quickly to reopen after the storm and distribute supplies—sometimes for free, and often without the permission of superiors. One Wal-Mart employee in Kenner, La., broke through a warehouse door with a forklift to get water for a nearby retirement home, the report said.
But at the bureaucratically stymied FEMA, supply purchases and shipments were tied up in red tape, and offers of help from other parties were turned down for fear of liability issues. The main difference, said report author Steven Horwitz, is that private companies have to make sure there are still people in the community to shop at their stores after a disaster and who think well enough of stores like Wal-Mart and Home Depot to give them their business. That prompts companies to act quickly and keeps them from gouging prices, which, they believe, hurt them in the long run.