Walmart: capitalist overlord?

Is Wal-mart a runaway monopoly? Destroying jobs? Oppressing workers? Devaluing our communities? Sexist, even? Some think so. The slander that is all the rage these days, even from Presidential candidates, is that by focusing on providing the lowest cost to it’s consumers, Wal-mart is in fact attempting to destroy America. (Insidious, I know.)

The rantings of neo-marxists and reactionary leftists you say? Perhaps, but Wal-mart is the world’s single largest employer. What are they planning to do with this army of workers? With their football field size superstores crushing businesses all across the United States…

The company -- let's call it Mal-Wart -- enslaves about 99 percent of the global population through its manufacturing, distribution and retail operations.

But that's not all. Mal-Wart controls all major industries: building and construction, banking and finance, energy, transportation, technology, health care and media.

The company rules these sectors with a brutal efficiency that obliterates the competition and leaves oppressed workers across the globe overworked and underpaid as prices for goods and services plunge lower and lower.

Anyway, to make a long story short, the scrappy businesspeople lose.

You expected a happy ending? -Bob Mook, The Coloradoan

Ahh, sweet global hegemony.

With its dominance over its own 1.2 million workers and 65,000 suppliers, plus its alliances with ruthless labor abusers abroad, this one company is the world’s most powerful private force for lowering labor standards and stifling the middle-class aspirations of workers everywhere. -Jim Hightower

To hear these stories you'd think Wal-mart was run by the mafia or ...Saddam Hussein. But how does Wal-mart accomplish these seemingly illegal acts of oppression? By asking for and getting the lowest possible prices from their suppliers. Efficiency. Productivity. By cutting costs and trying to make their operation as profitable as possible.

In the end all these transactions are voluntary. Buying from Wal-mart is voluntary. Employment is voluntary. Selling to Walmart is voluntary. Yet, somehow this upsets people.

Normally businesses being squeezed for every penny would be a cause of celebration for those inclined to hate corporations but not when it creates profits. Not when it gives consumers a chance to buy more for their money. Not when it shows a capitalist company succeeding. Not when it threatens their version of reality.

Wal-mart is actually doing what Kerry (you can find his biography here) says only he, in his infinite wisdom, if elected, can do. Creating jobs and making life more livable for millions of Americans. Consumers win when Wal-mart provides cheaper products than their competitors. So I wonder, why would it be better if we were paying more?

What better contrast can we have between two economic systems than comparing the way Wal-mart gets the most for it's customers in the paragraph below with the way the government fails to do so with it's suppliers and contractors?

By now, it is accepted wisdom that Wal-Mart makes the companies it does business with more efficient and focused, leaner and faster. Wal-Mart itself is known for continuous improvement in its ability to handle, move, and track merchandise. It expects the same of its suppliers. But the ability to operate at peak efficiency only gets you in the door at Wal-Mart. Then the real demands start. The public image Wal-Mart projects may be as cheery as its yellow smiley-face mascot, but there is nothing genial about the process by which Wal-Mart gets its suppliers to provide tires and contact lenses, guns and underarm deodorant at every day low prices. Wal-Mart is legendary for forcing its suppliers to redesign everything from their packaging to their computer systems. It is also legendary for quite straightforwardly telling them what it will pay for their goods. -Fast Company

What if the U.S. government had this amount of concern for getting the most for the taxpayers money? Zero chances of that I know. But a guy can dream can't he?

In the end it seems that the success of Wal-mart is threatening because it threatens a political ideology. A political ideology which brands corporations as oppressors and prefers its own brand of economic control, self defined as 'cooperative' rather than 'competitive'. Which, when you think about, what it really means is a democratic despotism.

Why should we accept this? Is it our country, our communities, our economic destinies—or theirs? Wal-Mart’s radical remaking of our labor standards and our local economies is occurring mostly without our knowledge or consent. Poof—there goes another local business. Poof—there goes our middle-class wages. Poof—there goes another factory to China. No one voted for this . . . but there it is. While corporate ideologues might huffily assert that customers vote with their dollars, it’s an election without a campaign, conveniently ignoring that the public’s "vote" might change if we knew the real cost of Wal-Mart’s "cheap" goods—and if we actually had a chance to vote. -Alternet, Jim Hightower

It's not enough that I want to give someone my dollars for goods, the whole community must have a say and in fact approve how much I pay for my goods, who I can buy them from, in what kind of store I can buy them, etc. How is that different from a 'planned' economy?

Should we subject the very economic vitality of our nation to a 'vote' in the name of social justice and political whim? Exactly who does Mr. Hightower think will be framing the issue up for vote? Shall we say those properly enlightened will be in control of the process? And any thought of the interests of consumers and corporations being involved would be a 'corrupting influence'.

When the debate comes down to using the same language to label a company merely engaged in commerce as one would use to describe real dictatorial regimes who actually massacre people, maybe it's time for a reality check.

Posted by Eric Simonson at February 27, 2004 2:00 AM