The Enigma of Wal-Mart

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Ohg Rea Tone is all or nothing. He is educated and opinionated, more clever than smart, sarcastic and forthright. He writes intuitively - often disregarding rules of composition. Comment on his posts - he will likely respond with characteristic humor or genuine empathy. He is the real-deal.

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The Enigma of Wal-Mart

Son,

You and I are of different generations – how obvious is that. What is less obvious is what it means to be of different generations. I am a baby-boomer, you are a nut case child of the seventies. Such is the case with labels. But the cultural influences and differences of our lives are real. Take Wal Mart for example.

Wal Mart is problematic for me. One the positive note, it is one-stop shopping. I like that. Their volume allows for lower prices. I like that. That is about as far as positive goes.

Wal Mart has become a subsidiary of China – or the other way around – I don’t know which. ‘All things China’ could be their motto – but that would not sell. They produce their own products – which allows for lower prices – but lends itself to predatory labor practices in developing countries. The company fights with their employees over benefits and constantly struggles with people trying to organize unions.

There is irony in employee pay. Henry Ford paid his employees well so they could buy the automobiles they were producing. Wal Mart has the exact opposite tact – they lower their prices so their low paid employees can shop there.

Aside from the moral implications, shopping at Wal Mart is not always easy. I mentioned one-stop shopping – but that means I park my truck one time, then I have to walk about ten miles to get my toothpaste, milk, and windshield washer fluid.

The phenomenon of multi-national corporations is not unique to Wal Mart. When I was young the local businesses were invested in the community. It was common to see the Officers of community corporations on social service boards – engaged in the problems of community. The new climate of Big Corporations has diminished the local investment – they spend money here to build and operate – but their profits are shipped out of the local community. Big companies have no concern for the local school district, local health care, or even the fire department. There is no profit in community investment.

The enigma of Wal Mart is that they offer low prices in one stop shopping – but the long term consequences can be disastrous. Here is the problem – when people are living from payday loan to payday loan – they don’t care much about long-term consequences.

Young people have the energy and ideology to pursue their moral and philosophical endeavors.  Old people lapse into convenience.

Dad

There Are 2 Responses So Far. »

  1. Wal-Mart has had one of the greatest positive influences on our country in recent history. When a Super Wal-Mart opens in a community, the average grocery bill for everyone in that community drops by 15%. Thats due to their own low prices and the incumbant supermarkets’ need to respond by lowing their overpriced wares.
    I’ve seen 3 complaints about Wal-Mart, they are: 1) They don’t pay employees enough/skimp on benefits, 2) They drive small stores out of business, 3) They buy too much from overseas hurting american labor. Complaints 1 and 2 are incompatible. The typical employee at mom and pop stores makes minimum wage and has no benefits, the typical Wal-Mart employee makes 2X minimum wage and has limited benefits. If you are concerned about worker pay and benefits you should want Wal-Mart to replace the mom and pop stores. Yes, Wal-Mart workers make less than the unionized workers at Albertsons, Krogers etc. That is why they can charge 15% less. Do you think its right to ask several million people in an area to pay 15% more for their groceries so that a few thousand can make a little more money? Many of those shopping at Wal-Mart are low income and the 15% means a lot to them. And its not like Wal-Mart forces people to work there. They average several applications for each openning position so they obviously pay a wage that is competitive in the market. Their wages are similar to Target, K-Mart, McDonalds and other low skill service jobs.
    As far complaint #3 theres not much I can say if you are a xenophobic trade protectionist. The fact is most people don’t care where their product is made. They want the lowest price they can get for the value they are receiving. You have a right to buy 100% American made goods with your money if you want to, but you have no right to tell someone else they must pay more because you think its the right thing to do. Trade benefits both partners. Yes a few manufacturing jobs are lost here, but the population in general benefits more from lower prices. The unemployment rate is still very low so obviously other jobs pop up as replacements.
    Bottom line, an independant study showed that Wal-Mart singlehandedly depressed wages by a little less than 1% per year over the last 20 years. But they also singlehandedly depressed inflation by 2% over the same period making the average american 1% richer per year.

  2. “Wal-Mart has had one of the greatest positive influences on our country in recent history.”

    Well, no.

    “the typical Wal-Mart employee makes 2X minimum wage and has limited benefits.”

    Minimum Wage is well over six dollars an hour. Just based on my monkey math, that makes 2x that almost thirteen dollars an hour. Which Wal Mart are you talking about?

    “And its not like Wal-Mart forces people to work there.”

    That is pretty typical of the upper middle class. No one is forcing the lower class to be lower class. Poor is an option. People somehow choose to be oppressed.
    …again, no.

    “Their wages are similar to Target, K-Mart, McDonalds and other low skill service jobs.”
    Point taken. Don’t shop at any of those stores. With the exception of Target, which has a relatively high rating for employee satisfaction in the retail industry.

    Don’t buy clothes that are made in sweat shops. Don’t shop at stores that export profits. Don’t support businesses that undermine foreign governments for their own corporate gain. It is just unconscionable and it doesn’t benefit communities as a whole. It isn’t frugal, its just cheap.

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