Badtux the Snarky Penguin

In a time of chimpanzees, I was a penguin.

Religious fundamentalists are motivated by the sneaking suspicion that someone, somewhere, is having fun -- and that this must be stopped.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

In defense of Wal-Mart

I've noticed that it's fashionable to bash Wal-mart. Their stalwart anti-union attitudes, the low wages and lack of benefits for their workers, the tacky Chinese imported merchandise that they sell, their habit of brow-beating local governments for special advantages over locally-owned business, and, most importantly, their habit of running locally-owned businesses out of business, all of which are, well, morally dubious at best.

Okay, so all of that is true. And the question is, is this Wal-Mart's fault, or ours?

Wal-Mart didn't create the anti-union attitude. Wal-Mart didn't elect the anti-union politicians who pass the laws that make it possible for them to exclude unions. Wal-Mart didn't set the national policies that encourage growth of low-wage jobs and discourage growth of high-wage jobs. Wal-Mart didn't de-industrialize the country to the point where even if they wanted to buy American, they couldn't, because America just doesn't build all that much nowadays. Wal-Mart didn't elect the local governments that give them special tax breaks. And while Wal-Mart does run local businesses out of business, in large part this is because the local businesses refuse to cooperate with each other and build purchasing co-ops of their own to match Wal-Mart's economies of scale, and local businesses don't operate in a way that fits the modern American lifestyle. In short, most of the local businesses that Wal-mart drives out of business *DESERVE* to go out of business.

I don't know if any of you have lived in a small town where there's no Wal-mart around. I have. The businesses are open 7 to 7 on Monday through Saturday. Period. They are not open on Sunday, and on weekdays most people can't get in there because they have to drive more than an hour a day to the nearest mid-sized city to work. These locally-owned businesses stock what the owner thinks they should stock, and the owner rarely bothers doing any sort of market research to see whether he needs to change inventory. 30 year old fashions in the white goods store? Nothing but white bread on the bread aisle of the local grocer? No low-fat milk? That's what people need to wear or eat, gosh darn it! Only those effete outsiders would want whole-wheat bread or low-fat milk!

So Wal-mart comes in, and they're open 6am to 10pm, seven days a week. Wow, we can actually get in there before or after work! They stock what their market research has found to be popular fashions amongst low-income types like rural workers. Wow, now we don't have to go to the white goods store and wrinkle our noses at out-of-date fashions, or drive hours to the nearest city! They stock all sorts of things that local businesses never bothered stocking. Wheat bread? TORTILLAS?! Salsa!!!! Whoa! And the local businesses start going under, and they all blame Wal-Mart, not their own arrogance, incompetence, and poor customer service. "The way we did business worked for 30 years!" they whine, failing to recognize that the *only* reason it worked was because they had no effective competition.

In short, you can whine about Wal-Mart all you want. But Wal-Mart does not set the national policies and priorities that allow it to operate in the way it operates, and Wal-Mart doesn't force local businesses to avoid participation in purchasing co-ops or force local businesses to stock outdated merchandise and open during hours that don't meet the needs of the modern lifestyle. Wal-Mart is what any large modern corporation is in these modern days -- an amoral artificial creation of society which operates in exactly the manner that society allows. If we don't like the way Wal-Mart operates, we need to change those rules rather than whining. And if we're not willing to do that, well, (shrug) we get what we want -- and deserve.

-- Badtux the Wal-Mart-shopping Penguin

Posted by: BadTux / 9/14/2006 12:16:00 PM  



See, here's the flaw in your analysis.

Those same mom and pop stores can't buy from low-wage factories in China and Indonesia because of barriers to trade that the Chinese and Indonesians have set up, that WalMart can get around.

Which gives WalMart a bit of an unfair advantage. Now add to that the fact that WalMart has for a long time been able to dictate pricing and policies at its suppliers favorable to itself. Even co-op purchasers lack that ability, because co-op purchasers can't represent just one company and must take into consideration the different philosophies and considerations of its members.

WalMart sucks the lifeblood out of just not the immediate town it locates in, but surrounding towns miles and even tens of miles away.
# posted by Carl : 14/9/06 2:30 PM  

Say what? Look. I work for a "mom and pop" type outfit. We buy from low-wage factories in China just fine. All it takes is going over to China, hiring a reliable interpreter, and greasing the right palms. All those cheap Chinese scooters that are now being sold on the Internet here in America for ridiculously low prices? Being sold by small businesses that went over to China and bought them by the caseload.

Now you say, "but the average mom and pop outfit can't afford to do that!". Well, no, not if they're just buying for their own store. They'd need to form a buying cooperative to do it. But they don't. They don't not because they can't. It's perfectly legal for independent stores to get together and form a buying cooperative to buy stuff in bulk for cheap then sell it for cheap to the member stores. But they don't do this, for the most part (with a few exceptions like IGA). They don't do this because "that's not how we do things."

Idiots. Morons. No wonder they go out of business when Wal-Mart comes to town. They're lithographers in an era of photo-typesetters. They whine that the world has changed, rather than doing something about it. Whine whine whine. Well, I'll tell you this, all that whining isn't going to keep them in business, and "business as usual" means they'll be OUT of business. Yet all they do when Wal-mart comes to town is whine, whine, whine because Wal-mart does what they SHOULD be doing -- but won't do.

-Badtux the Sometimes-rural Penguin
# posted by BadTux : 14/9/06 5:04 PM  

I don't know, BadTux. I'm kind of on the fence about Walmart. I despise the way they treat their employees when it comes to wages and benefits, but I do like the low prices. Every time we go in there, I remark to my wife "Always low wages. Always." But it doesn't stop me from shopping there. Here in metro Milwaukee, there just really aren't any competitive (price-wise) Mom-and-Pop stores around. The ones that are around, usually don't sell everything that I may want. What Walmart capitalized on was not just the low-low-prices, but also making just about each store into a 1-stop-shop. That more than anything else, I believe, is what keeps people coming back again and again to Walmart.
# posted by Bulldog : 15/9/06 5:24 AM  

Walmart is what you reap with economic Darwinism, just a differnt sort of monopoly. Sorry I won't ever show there, but then again I can afford not too.
Pablo, lucky to be affluent.
# posted by Anonymous : 15/9/06 8:41 AM  

I look at a Wal-Mart, and I see a place where I can buy stuff I have absolutely no use for on the cheap. Sure, Wal-Mart serves a useful function -- it meets the needs of people who want to buy stuff they don't need when they're not working and slaving their lives away.

I think "workshop" out to be one of those words the FCC won't let you say on TV or the radio. There's more to life than Work, Shop, Work, Shop, Work, Shop...
# posted by Mimus Pauly : 16/9/06 10:41 AM  

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