Democrats & Liberals Archives

“Price Check on America’s Communities, Aisle Three Hundred and Sixteen”

At one of my holiday get-togethers a diversified but simultaneously homogenous group (varying opinions and backgrounds but a similar demographic) of people got into over all that is and isn’t Wal-Mart.

The two people who argued adamantly in support of the store made the following claims:

  • The first person argued that Wal-Mart gives lower income people access to cheap goods. The argument ended there and was the sole justification in defense of the company’s existence. Perhaps we should be doing all we can to help the less fortunate at any costs. But if this is the case then why are the same people who support Wal-Mart cutting taxes to the rich, benefits to the poor and further alienating a disenfranchised segment of society? Also, why then does Wal-Mart support those very people who make policy to hurt the poor?

  • The second person argued “it’s capitalism stupid”. Not considering the social implications of economic decisions is naive at best. Academic arguments hold more substance over lattes at Starbucks with other academics than on the streets of small towns and poor neighborhoods where the effects of Wal-Mart’s presence is truly felt.
  • If we are to only consider an entity for itself, without externalities, then why are there no strip clubs by schools? Strip clubs are legal. Why are social responsibility and the greening of companies growing in importance? Who cares if the river is polluted if someone can get his product to the people cheaper and faster? People must consider the negative implications of bad economic planning, no matter how pure or strong the capitalistic arguments for such behavior. Presently, people are ignoring long-term effects for short-term economic gains. They are also ignoring urban sprawl, the homogenizing of suburbs and exurbs, and the death of local retailing and small business. These socioeconomic trends breed ignorance and isolationism, two things we need less of in this ever-diversifying country. And the debate on whether Wal-Mart treats their employees fairly can continue ad naseum. It wouldn’t be losing multi-million dollar lawsuits if it was, but I digress. It seems to me the only arguments that truly justify allowing Wal-Mart to conduct business the way it does require tunnel vision to support.

    A friend of mine posted the following on Change For Missouri’s website on January 2, 2006. Here are some excerpts from what she wrote:

  • In the late 80’s and early 90’s Wal-Mart trumpeted its claim to “Buy American”. Not anymore. In 2002 Wal-Mart bought $12 billion in merchandise from China. That represents nearly 10% of all Chinese exports to the U.S.

  • In the first decade after Wal-Mart arrived in Iowa, the state lost 555 grocery stores, 298 hardware stores, 293 building supply stores, 161 variety stores, 158 women’s apparel stores, 153 shoe stores, 116 drug stores and 111 men’s and boy’s apparel stores.

  • All else being equal, U.S. counties where new Wal-Mart stores were built between 1987 and 1998 experienced higher poverty rates than other U.S. counties.
  • If nothing else, these statistics show that Wal-Mart’s presence in a community can have dramatic negative externalities. It is the government’s responsibility to guide the development of a community and provide a check on irresponsible economic growth. To what degree government involves itself is continually up for debate but there’s a reason strip clubs aren’t being built by schools and steel mills in neighborhoods, and it’s not capitalism. The reason is that the system responsible for protecting our communities is working in these cases. Why our government officials are ignoring the negative impact of Wal-Mart is beyond me, but if something isn’t done soon to support intelligent urban planning America will become one massive wasteland of Chinese-subsidized, Edward Scissorhand-like communities lacking diversity and uniqueness, but at least we’ll get to save a buck!

    FYI: Frontline : Is Wal-Mart Good for America? will be showing on PBS tonight at 9PM CST.

    Posted by Vihar Sheth at January 3, 2006 11:25 AM