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1343, 01 Sep 18

Wisconsinites Still Paying More Because of Minimum Markup

The sales tax holiday was nice, but Wisconsin Republicans could have helped consumers so much more by repealing the Minimum Markup laws and letting the invisible hand work. Their failure is not inexplicable, but very disappointing. MacIver runs some numbers.

Like in past years, families in Milwaukee buying basic items like notebooks, markers, and crayons can expect to pay anywhere from 14 to 146 percent more than Walmart shoppers in Dubuque, Iowa, and Kalamazoo, Mich.

A 24-pack of Crayola Crayons posted the largest price difference, costing 146 percent more in Milwaukee than in cities in the neighboring states. The same was true for similar basic school supplies.

Parents picking up a one-subject notebook at Walmart in Dubuque, for example, only paid 25 cents. That same notebook cost 40 cents in Milwaukee – a 60 percent gap. Crayola markers cost 97 cents in Kalamazoo, but thanks to the archaic minimum markup law, those same markers cost $1.97 in Milwaukee, a whopping 103 percent difference.

A Texas Instruments graphing calculator cost $100 in Milwaukee, but just $88 in both Iowa and Michigan.

The added costs stack up. A basic shopping list would cost 17 percent more for a Milwaukee back-to-school shopper than in nearby states – 85 percent more not including the calculator.


1343, 01 September 2018


  1. Kevin Scheunemann

    I know it is right to criticize Republicans for not repealing this.

    However, Democrats will never repeal it.

    At least with Republicans there is always a shot for fairness.

  2. jjf

    “As the clerk is ringing it up, Tonette swoops into her purse and pulls out some of that Kohl’s cash,” Walker says, scanning the audience for reaction. Eyebrows wiggling.
    When the story goes over well, at least one audience member will visibly react, providing Walker with an opening to connect with a fellow Kohl’s enthusiast. “You know what I’m talking about,” Walker replies, pointing to the audience member. Finger-bang!
    “Next thing you know, they’re paying me to buy the shirt!”

    Yes, this was quite a tax holiday.  All sorts of goods, no tax!  Didn’t really matter if they were school-related, right?  But that’s the veneer for the pre-election give-away.

    And MacIver’s prices?  Come on, who’s fooling who?  Those are imaginary prices.  Any good shopper would find better.

  3. Jason

    >Those are imaginary prices.  Any good shopper would find better.


    Wow, a mind blowing rebuttal there.  No facts, all conjecture.  Epic Fail.

  4. jjf

    Examine the MacIver story and tell me if you can find facts about the particular products and exactly which stores they compared, and perhaps we can get closer to facts and true comparisons.
    Take the graphing calculator, for example. There are several variations in the TI product line.  There’s no info in the MacIver story that would allow us to perform an accurate comparison.  There’s an $88 TI you can get at Walmart in Wisconsin.
    And then there’s Amazon.  We’re supposed to imagine that struggling families with school-age children aren’t shopping online today?
    The MacIver story is worked up about the difference between $3.94 in goods versus $7.19 if you remove the calculators.
    Do you think they stacked the deck to make their story more exciting?  They resorted to comparing percentages.  The next step in deception playbook would’ve been a bar graph.

  5. jjf

    Jump right in, Jason.  Would you like to ask MacIver for their raw survey data, or should I?

  6. Paul

    Since you don’t seem to be doing anything useful, John Foust, go ahead and ask them.


  7. jjf

    Thank you for your encouragement as always, Paul.  I just sent the author a note.

  8. Jason

    >Would you like to ask MacIver for their raw survey data, or should I?

    Since you’re concerned enough about it to post here, why don’t you take it all the way.  Oh right that would require MORE than just trolling.  Oh well, I guess we’ll never know.  You and Leroy are amazingly similar.

  9. jjf

    I certainly did more than troll, and I did more than you…  I looked at the MacIver story, saw a distinct lack of detail that would allow anyone to fact-check and confirm their comparisons, and looked at and saw that there are indeed $88 calculators available in Wisconsin.  Do you think my skepticism is unwarranted?

  10. Mark Hoefert

    Supposedly these comparisons have been based on weekly store flyers for Walmart retail stores.  I am a little skeptical of the figures based on the wide variation on some of the prices.

    Note that is not Walmart retail.  Completely different pricing structure.  I learned that when I went to pick up an Ipad –  saw the price ( said it was in stock and available for pickup).  Went there and found that off the shelf was higher price.  So, I had to go home and order it via and then go pick it up at the service desk.  So those calculators you see at might not be at your local store.  You have to look at your local ad or go to the store in person to find the actual price.

    I also learned that each local Walmart does their own pricing.  Usually go to the one in West Bend.  Happened to be at the Hartford store and was going to pick something up that I usually paid about $6.00 for – it was about $7.00 there.


  11. jjf

    For example, it shows this calculator available for pickup, in-stock, $88, at a store near me.

    If we’re not comparing SKU to SKU, it’s not a valid comparison, right?

    And you are correct, the story says “According to advertisements obtained by the MacIver Institute from the end of August, Walmart stores in Milwaukee charged higher prices for a number of common back-to-school items compared with other Walmart stores in  Iowa and Michigan.”

    If the actual prices in stores don’t match their advertisements, and the advertisements are higher, why is MacIver’s comparison useful?

  12. Mark Hoefert

    Yes, SKUs would be much better for comparison, especially since there are so many variations – I know that from past experience trying to get the exact one on my daughter’s school supply list.

    When I click on the $88.00 one it comes up that “pickup not available”, and “Free Shipping, arrives by Thursday, Sep 13”.

    I changed to Jefferson store and get the same thing.

  13. jjf

    My store was Whitewater.

  14. Jason

    >I certainly did more than troll, and I did more than you…  I looked at the MacIver story, saw a distinct lack of detail that would allow anyone to fact-check and confirm their comparisons, and looked at and saw that there are indeed $88 calculators available in Wisconsin. 

    No you didn’t.  You saw a story you disagreed with on principle, questioned it on a blog that you rarely agree with, and tried to slink away with nothing more than contrarian opinion.  Now that you’ve been called out for your boorish behavior you’re trying to save face.

  15. jjf

    Jason, I think you can find better examples of boorish behavior on this blog than lil’ ol’ me.

    I don’t disagree with the MacIver story on principle.  I would enjoy reading a well-researched and detailed explanation of how minimum mark-up has affected Wisconsin.  I welcome any evidence and argument and I’ll use that to make up my mind.

    If you only skim the MacIver annual press release, you might be fooled into thinking that minimum markup has cost you $20 on a $100 purchase.  As I said, without better evidence, I’m not convinced they compared apples to oranges on the calculator, which is the bulk of the absolute difference they claim.

    It’s also clear the bundle they picked is pretty skimpy.  Fifteen cents difference in five low-priced items is a big swing in those numbers, and may not scale to dollars for true $100 mixed-bag purchases.  Multiple crayons and colored pencils?  Come on.

    As for the tax holiday, if it were proposed by a Democratic governor, there would be plenty of WisGOP argument coming out against it.  As I said, the sale wasn’t specific in any way.  It wasn’t “for the children.”  Anyone could buy clothes and shoes that weekend and pay no taxes.  It was an election-year hand-out.

    I look at the Unfair Sales Act and see loopholes.  All a retailer has to do is declare something on “clearance” and they can sell at whatever price they want.

    Similarly, a retailer can lower prices to meet competitor’s prices as found in a survey similar to what MacIver does, and I don’t see any exception that would prevent a retailer from examining competitors online or in Iowa or Michigan, and there’s been at least one court case to support that.  There’s another case that confirms there’s no DATCP requirement on the time period of a survey, too – meaning you can lower a price today if a competitor had a similar price at some point in the indefinite past.

    I think a good discussion of the minimum markup law should include an examination of who benefits from keeping the law and who benefits from striking the law.  Who argued for it when it was created?  Who’s lobbying to remove it now, and what might we imagine they’ll do?  Which markets are already exploiting the loopholes?

  16. jjf

    No response from MacIver…

  17. Paul

    We’re more surprised they don’t have a restraining order against you.

  18. Mark Hoefert

    Here is the current online circular ad for Walmart, Whitewater, WI

    Page 20: price of TI – 84 calculator $100

    Here is current online circular ad for Walmart, Dearborn, MI

    Page 20: price of TI – 84 calculator $88

    That is the difference when you walk into a Walmart retail store, Dearborn, MI versus Whitewater (or West Bend), WI.

    Walmart store “price match” policy specifically excludes prices at


  19. Mark Hoefert

    John Faust, just to be thorough and diligent, here is current online circular ad for Walmart, Ames, IA

    Page 20: price of TI – 84 calculator $88

    So to recap, Walmart prices for TI-84 calculator:

    Dearborn, MI: $88

    Whitewater, WI: $100

    Ames, IA: $88


  20. jjf

    Thank for the links.  And I see the link I made a few days ago doesn’t show the same price and availability, either…

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