How Walmart Is Destroying America And The World: And What You Can Do About It
December 27, 2004 7:31 PM   Subscribe

"How Walmart Is Destroying America And The World: And What You Can Do About It" Available for pre-purchase, online, from Walmart.com. List price: $10.95. Wal*Mart price: $7.55. You saved $3.40.
posted by jmccorm (101 comments total)

 
Usually I don't think much of "look at this incongruous item for sale" FPPs, but I have to admit that this is funny.
posted by Faint of Butt at 7:34 PM on December 27, 2004


damn. great find. the evil ones sure did bust themselves.
posted by moonbird at 7:38 PM on December 27, 2004


Walmart will wait until there are some sales, then beat up the 'feisty grandfather' and take his lunch money.
posted by UseyurBrain at 7:38 PM on December 27, 2004


Oh Boy, Oh Boy, Oh Boy!!!!!
posted by sophie at 7:42 PM on December 27, 2004


Is the what you can do about it chapter just one page?

Such as

"How to stop Walmart

-Don't shop there
-Convince your friends not to shop there.
-Lobby your government to keep them out of your area."

To me, the easiest way to defeat Walmart would be to make it socially awkward to go there. Make it uncool to shop there. With no intention, that's partially what did K-Mart in. Target has already positioned itself as the "cool" discount store. Maybe K-Mart could cut into Walmart's market share by pointing out how unenjoyable shopping at Walmart is. Have someone waiting in line for twenty minutes at a giant "The WALL" to get help. Have someone wax poetic about how much they're afraid the items stacked to the ceiling might kill them. Have people taking home items they bought at The Wall only to have them break because they are made so poorly.
posted by drezdn at 7:46 PM on December 27, 2004


A run through of one of the chapters from the point of view of the head of a libertarian think tank.
posted by DrKatz at 7:53 PM on December 27, 2004


Rather than being ironic, I think it's rather fitting. We think of Walmart as an unscrupulous corporate behemoth only interested in power and wealth. Naturally an uncaring corporate entity would have no problem selling a book that was critical of itself or the power structure, as long as they made a profit selling it.

KA-CHING
posted by aerify at 8:04 PM on December 27, 2004


I'd be worried if they didn't carry it, for the very reasons that it's amusing that they do. So, in the end, it's all good. Except Walmart. They're pure e-vil.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 8:06 PM on December 27, 2004


Hey--a quantum paradox!
By deciding to sell this, they could change objective reality and put themselves out of business.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 8:16 PM on December 27, 2004


But can you buy it in the store are there naked Supreme Court justices in this one too?
posted by AstroGuy at 8:16 PM on December 27, 2004


I got no beef with Wal-Mart; I just usually don't shop there because parking is a bitch.
posted by davidmsc at 8:23 PM on December 27, 2004


A run through of one of the chapters from the point of view of the head of a libertarian think tank.

That's a right-wing libertarian think tank. (I don't call them "libertarians, I call them "plutocratists".) For a left-wing libertarian think tank you might check out Z Magazine .

As for Wal-Mart, I avoid shopping there but I have held my nose and done so: I'm poor and they're cheap. I'm soon going to need a left wrist brace to match my right one; those are almost $10 cheaper at Wal-Mart than at Rite-Aid. And where else can you buy a dozen name-brand condoms for five bucks? So go ahead and shut Wal-Mart down, but give me some warning so I can stock up first.

As for China's "sweat-shop" industrialization, how do you think Stalin made the USSR stromg enough to whoop the Nazis for us? For that matter, how do you suppose the US industrialized? (I'll refrain from referring to the 1987 movie "Matewan" -- oops! -- but you've all heard of Sinclair's _The Jungle_.) Of course it's evil. But then we were telling you it's evil in 1848 too.
posted by davy at 8:23 PM on December 27, 2004


Preorder this item today and it should arrive on or just after 04/28/2005

If I just order it, in stead of preordering it, when should it arrive?
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 8:28 PM on December 27, 2004


Make it uncool to shop there.

Have you been to a walmart? People don't go to walmart because it's cool. Maybe they can get a loaf of bread cheaper there, or maybe it's the closest store. But trying to make it uncool to go to walmart shows a basic misunderstanding of why people go there.
posted by justgary at 8:29 PM on December 27, 2004


Offer prices that are "too" low, and you are a scumbag for driving out "local" business.

Offer prices that are "too" high, and you are a scumbag for gouging the public.
posted by Ayn Marx at 8:38 PM on December 27, 2004


From my experience (in the L.A. market; local conditions may vary), Target's prices for what I've needed in the 'Health and Beauty' department are nearly as low as Wal-Mart's. That includes a 90-cent difference on a $30 box of diabetes test strips; sorry, I haven't shopped for condoms at either store, but I have seen some at the 99-Cents-Only store :).

But nobody comes close to Wal-Mart's price on a two-pound block of Velveeta... Unfortunately, they're out of stock of this book.

And Aynnie, your argument shows why Moderation is considered a virtue...
posted by wendell at 8:45 PM on December 27, 2004


Oh, great. First they come into a little town and put all the mom-and-pop Wal-Mart haters out of business; then they reconfigure their regional operations by centralizing in one big superstore 40 miles away, so that you have to drive halfway across the state to get your Wal-Mart hating materials.

I hate that.
posted by coelecanth at 8:46 PM on December 27, 2004


Whoa! Walmart sells condoms? Haven't they heard about abstinence?
posted by idontlikewords at 8:47 PM on December 27, 2004


Yes, I have been to Walmart, and yes I know what shopping is like. But people don't like to feel like they're doing something abnormal or that they're being taken advantage of. It wouldn't be that hard to give people that impression about Walmart.

Just look at all their "Walmart does good for the community" ads which they've started airing after all the complaints about how they treat their employess really broke through earlier this year.

A change in people's habits takes time, but happens pretty often, just a year ago McDonalds were severely hurt in terms of sales by things like the Atkins diet.

Walmart too will one day fall in the same fashion, and I think a smart competitor with a targeted ad campaign could easily dent Walmart's market share.

In a way, Target did this by positioning itself as the place for people to shop if they want to look down on Walmart shoppers.

Now, someone should step up and take on Walmart directly. A sort of "Where's the Beef" discount retail campaign.
posted by drezdn at 8:48 PM on December 27, 2004


Unfortunately, they're out of stock of this book.

It's $1.20 more expensive (gasp!) at Amazon, but they've got it in stock. Plus, shipping is free.
posted by Faint of Butt at 8:50 PM on December 27, 2004


they'll sell that but not Jon Stewart's "America (The Book)"?

::cough::antisemites
posted by tsarfan at 8:58 PM on December 27, 2004


Said Wal-Mart Stores Inc. spokeswoman Karen Burk. "We offer what we think our customers want to buy. That just makes good business sense."

Which is odd considering that "America" was one of the best selling non-fiction books of the past year. Maybe Walmart customers like the more obscure stuff?
posted by drezdn at 9:03 PM on December 27, 2004


There's a good reason Walmart puts Mom&Pop stores out of business. It's because the economies of scale exercised by a megastore such as Walmart allow them to give consumers such low prices. As proved when the Mom&Pop stores close their doors, the local populace on a whole values these lower prices more than they value the homely feel and loyalty benefits (a personal hello when walking in, etc.) of local businesses. The middle class people who are willing to pay more for the local businesses are upset because there is nothing they can do. Unfortunately for them, the benefits of Walmart to the lower class outweigh the costs, and since these people have more market power in this sector, they win.

Thus, preventing Walmart from coming in is along the same lines as saying "Screw the poor!"

Of course, this argument completely disregards issues such as Walmart's illegal employment of illegal aliens, their obnoxious morals, and issues such as coelecanth mentioned (destroying local biz, uprooting and leaving, leaving nothing but a shell of retail business in the location), so take this argument at face value.
posted by tricky_t at 9:06 PM on December 27, 2004


Down and Out in Discount America
posted by muckster at 9:13 PM on December 27, 2004


I don't get people who criticize a business for giving them what they want, at low prices. It almost as though people don't want any business to be successful. The same sort of thing gets tossed around about Starbucks too.
There's successful, and there's *too* successful.
People suck.
posted by nightchrome at 9:26 PM on December 27, 2004


tricky_t... while Wal-mart and all larger store chains can take advantage of economies of scale in offering lower prices, that's not the *only* reason their prices are so low. They often use their huge purchasing power to force suppliers to cut back their own margins by dropping the wholesale price. For more info: this article at Fast Company. IMO, economies of scale are one thing, but this is another thing altogether.
posted by twiki at 9:31 PM on December 27, 2004


And when the profits go out of the local economy, the guy who used to own the local bookstore or hardware store can't afford the local restaurant, so the chef makes less money and has to shop at Wal-Mart. Black hole.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 9:41 PM on December 27, 2004


Slight tangent, but I was wondering...I've heard people bemoan that the government has to pick up the tab for health care of Wal-Mart workers since that company does not provide for their workers as other companies do.

And this is a slightly sick thought, but say all companies started doing this.

The government would have to pick up the tab for even more.

So wouldn't that also serve to make the gov focus on the huge costs, and lead to more regulation of the medical industries and maybe reform health care?
posted by rexruff at 9:49 PM on December 27, 2004


Wal-Mart Haiku:
Wal-Mart
Wal-Mart
Wal-Mart
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 9:50 PM on December 27, 2004


That's hardly a haiku, WGP. Perhaps:

The aged greeter
Was once an entrepreneur
He works and shops here


or:

Stacks of plastic crap
Piled to the ceilings for miles
But I can't find truth


or:

Icy fingers claw
Beckon me to save, save, save!
Ghost of Sam Walton


This is easy. C'mon, everybody!
posted by Faint of Butt at 9:57 PM on December 27, 2004


Alternatives to Wal-Mart:
Calmat
alma
palmate
palmary
Wilma
palmated
Dalmatian
Walkman
almas
altar
calmative
dalmatian
palmation
warmer
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 9:58 PM on December 27, 2004


or...

Tram law.
posted by drezdn at 10:04 PM on December 27, 2004


That's hardly a haiku, WGP
That's exactly the point, Faint.
I'll spare you the sonnet.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 10:04 PM on December 27, 2004


That's exactly the point, Faint.

Ah. I thought you might be going for something subtle, but I wasn't certain, and didn't give you the benefit of the doubt. Sorry about that. Anyway, how about a sestina?
posted by Faint of Butt at 10:07 PM on December 27, 2004


Nah, I had a short nap this afternoon.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 10:12 PM on December 27, 2004


Slight tangent, but I was wondering...I've heard people bemoan that the government has to pick up the tab for health care of Wal-Mart workers since that company does not provide for their workers as other companies do.

I don't work in retail, but the second-last place I worked at had such a crummy medical package it was almost non-existant (huge deductible, no prescription co-pay, very few local doctors on their approved list). I either paid for my own medicine/doctor's appointment, or I didn't go. How does one get the government to make up the difference? I could've used the help!! (The next place had a better package, but I had to pay the entire premium, just over $700/month.) Wal-Mart is by far not the only company screwing their employees on benefit plans, but they seem to get all the press when it comes to that topic.
posted by Oriole Adams at 10:19 PM on December 27, 2004


Nah, I had a short nap this afternoon.

I can't stanza any more of this.
posted by Faint of Butt at 10:22 PM on December 27, 2004


I've heard people bemoan that the government has to pick up the tab for health care of Wal-Mart workers since that company does not provide for their workers as other companies do.


And not all of retail does this. I am personally familiar with the Big Lots insurance plan, and they have a better health plan than Wal-Mart. It does take six months to qualify for health insurance, but they offer a nice PPO-based system at varying deductibles and free dental and medical exams every year. The premiums are reasonable ($20-$40 a week for a family) and you don't have to deal with a HMO. And Big Lots products tends to have a lower profit margin and scrape a lower class of customers than the Wall. So if Big Lots can do it, why not Wal-Mart?
posted by calwatch at 11:01 PM on December 27, 2004


Whoa! Walmart sells condoms? Haven't they heard about abstinence?

Shows a distinct lack of foresight. They should be encouraging people to breed up tons of next-generation Wal-Mart shoppers!

But people don't like to feel like they're doing something abnormal

Au contraire, the abnormal is quite often the most rewarding way to go.

The same sort of thing gets tossed around about Starbucks too.

I've never heard anyone say that Starbucks was cheap, much less criticize them for being "too cheap."
posted by rushmc at 11:03 PM on December 27, 2004


Let he who is without Walmart merchandise cast the first stone.
posted by HTuttle at 11:23 PM on December 27, 2004


And when the profits go out of the local economy, the guy who used to own the local bookstore or hardware store can't afford the local restaurant, so the chef makes less money and has to shop at Wal-Mart. Black hole.

The guy who goes out of business should go out of business because he is providing an (in aggregate) undesirable service in comparison to walmart due to him being inefficient.

And it is true, monopolies should be regulated, and by the same token, monopsonies (walmart) should also be regulated, although this group is often forgotten about because it is a rarer breed.
posted by tricky_t at 11:44 PM on December 27, 2004


:: don't post this, don't post this, don't post this ::
The more people that boycott Wal-Mart, the easier for me to find parking there...
:: damn I posted it ::
posted by apocalypse miaow at 11:57 PM on December 27, 2004


Let he who is without Walmart merchandise cast the first stone.

*starts throwing rocks*

Whee!
posted by Coda at 12:25 AM on December 28, 2004


From the article already linked above:
The net result of Wal-Mart's activity is a rising standard of living.

This is (technically) correct. China's standard of living is going up due to Wal-Mart, and America's is declining.
posted by oaf at 1:05 AM on December 28, 2004


Have you been to a walmart? People don't go to walmart because it's cool.

Having grown up in a small Texan town (25k) with not much going for it (no bars worth going to, no late-night restaurants, nowhere to see live music that isn't the city convention center), after class at the junior college half the people I knew headed over to Wal-mart to say hi to friends who worked there, meet up with other friends in the parking lot, maybe go get high & go back to Wal-mart later because it was the only thing open after midnight..

And, maybe this is part of the cyclical nature of Wal-mart-ization, but in poor, high-unemployment parts of the US, a minimum wage job at Wal-mart is infinitely better than no job at all, and as we know from life (or Intro to Psych--Maslow's hierarchy of self-actualization?), when you're living hand-to-mouth, you don't have as much time to consider the moral implications of how you pay for your necessities.
posted by soviet sleepover at 1:30 AM on December 28, 2004


Ahhh Tricky T my dear thank you , you made my day !

It's because the economies of scale exercised by a megastore such as Walmart allow them to give consumers such low prices.

Ahahah ahhhh ROFL. Ok listen buddy, the fact that they do indeed achieve economy of scale doesn't imply in any way that they are
passing the benefit to the consumer. In other words, they're keeping the benefit as profit and giving people only a very tiny marginal
discount to make them see "WHOA I'm saving $$ !"

Why ? Because they can and because it's profiteable ; it's easy to forget companies are in market for profit, not to give consumer
benefits. Nothing evil in that, unless you're on the receiving end of the shaft.
posted by elpapacito at 1:33 AM on December 28, 2004


oaf - Sorry, wrong. The increase in the welfare of the thousands of people that shop at any given Wal-mart greater than any possible decrease in welfare of the hundred or so that work there.

People shop at Walmart becuase their dollar goes further at Wal-Mart than anywhere else. They can buy more clothes, food, medicine, toys, books, DVDs, and entertainment at Walmart than anywhere else.

Go to a factory town - they still exist in parts of the country. West Virginia comes to mind. Ask where people shop. You'll hear "Walmart" a lot. Ask why. People will tell you that it's becuase Walmart is the only way they can make ends meet. These are factory workers whose wages are determined outside of Walmart's influence and they will tell you that Walmart has improved their lives.

Wasn't it last Christmas or so that Walmart offered a $30 DVD player? People were in awe! Are you telling me that people who make minimum wage at other jobs should pay the $20 extra at Best Buy if they dare to be so uppity?

I think you, oaf, are trying to keep the poor down by denying them the opportunity to buy the same luxuries that you covet. You're smart enough to dress your classism up in a fancy name, but being anti-Walmart is fundamentally the same as being anti-poor.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 1:47 AM on December 28, 2004


elpapacito - Walmart doesn't exist in a vacuum. Their sales growth slowed last quarter due to competition from Target, Costco, and a revived K-mart. In response they have made a legitimate store-wide price cut. Every time Walmart doesn't pass the savings on to consumers Costco will. And Costco will make it abundantly clear that they're under-pricing Walmart. This competitive pressure will force Walmart to give some of the savings back.

In fact, Walmart has historically had lower gross margins than other discount stores. (Eg, in 2003 it was around 22.2% for Walmart compared to 34% at Target)

That means that Walmart (1) lowers cost in volume, and then (2) passes even more of the savings back than other discounters.

It's neither good nor evil, but it works in the favor of consumers. There's no moral judgment about that - it's a law of how the market works. Dear lord, it amazes me how far $100 goes in a WalMart compared to anywhere else.

Do I have other concerns about Walmart's business practices? Of cousre. But man, they deliver a lot of stuff, cheap.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 2:00 AM on December 28, 2004


eplacito - Also, if Walmart were taking such obscene profits then why has its stock held flat since 1999? One would think that all the Wall St fatcats would want to grease their filthy pockets with these alleged profits. Seems to me like they might not be struggling, but hardly raking the dough in by the fistful.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 2:05 AM on December 28, 2004


Whoa! Walmart sells condoms? Haven't they heard about abstinence?
...
Shows a distinct lack of foresight. They should be encouraging people to breed up tons of next-generation Wal-Mart shoppers!


Maybe they are selling defective condoms. All those accidental teenage pregnancies and unmarried mothers will make perfect future Walmart customers.
posted by Meridian at 2:19 AM on December 28, 2004


re: Walmart and snobbery. Actually the majority of Walmart's shoppers (like the vast majority of Americans) are middle class. That they bemoan the death of mom 'n' pop storessimply shows that, although they care about these things, they just don't care enough to park their SUVs and walk between five or six stores.

On a different note, quite a few people have bought Starbucks into the argument. Here though there's a more compelling reason to vote with your feet. The coffee is absolute crap - and expensive. No matter what the company would have you believe, two pints of brown milk is not a cappucino.
posted by rhymer at 3:02 AM on December 28, 2004


Late to the party, but first thing in the NY Times online this morning is a piece on how US megastores (read: Wal-Mart) are squeezing Central American farmers [deeper] into poverty.

The stark danger is that increasing numbers of them will go bust and join streams of desperate migrants to America and the urban slums of their own countries. Their declining fortunes, economists and agronomists fear, could worsen inequality in a region where the gap between rich and poor already yawns cavernously and the concentration of land in the hands of an elite has historically fueled cycles of rebellion and violent repression.

So Wal-Mart not only depresses wages and contributes to poverty in red-state America, and whatever of blue-state it can reach, but (techcentralstation article notwithstanding) shares the riches in central America as well.

Just to drop something else in besides the simplistic "Wal-Mart evil" bit--why isn't this just a logical extension of what capitalism does, by definition?
posted by palancik at 3:31 AM on December 28, 2004


I think you, oaf, are trying to keep the poor down by denying them the opportunity to buy the same luxuries that you covet. You're smart enough to dress your classism up in a fancy name, but being anti-Walmart is fundamentally the same as being anti-poor.

Like the addict, who has fallen into the terrible vicious circle in which the thing that is causing his destruction offers itself as the only way to assuage the pain of that destruction. You, sir, are what is called in polite company a fool.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 3:35 AM on December 28, 2004


thedevil:
Every time Walmart doesn't pass the savings on to consumers Costco will.

If CostCo (or whateverCo) assumes customers will notice the difference and win their money, they will almost surely as they hope to offset the offered saving by exploiting (among the other possible effects) the supermarket effect.

That is to say, if it costs me 10 cents to take the customer away from competition then I'll risk that cost if any only if I hope to make back at least 10 cent on the customer or even 9 if this helps reduce my losses..depending on what I'm trying to achieve (11 if i aim for profit, 10 for at least break even on customer stealing cost or 9 if damage containment).


As for the stock price..indeed the price seems to be relatively stable, but there are many variable who can play a role into stock price, not necessarily all rational. Profit surely plays a substantial role, but also future expected profit and expected liquidity and many others ; that is to say, just because something is profiteable that doesn't imply demand will skyrocket, therefore price.
posted by elpapacito at 5:24 AM on December 28, 2004


Must admit, I've never shopped at mal-wart. First off, my home town has blockaded one from being built here (law suit has been going on for years), and second, I don't drive. So even when I live in a town with a mal-wart, I can't get to it without walking miles and miles from the nearest bus stop. They always put those things way out in the boonies with all the other big box stores.

What was that about screwing the poor?
posted by Hildegarde at 6:32 AM on December 28, 2004


Sadly, or happily depending on how you look at it, it appears that we're stuck with WalMart. Boycotting won't work, because as many have mentioned, it's just too goddamn cheap. I hate Walmart, but we're poor and sometimes have to go there for basic supplies like catfood, light bulbs, etc. We hate to, but the fact remains that it's a lot cheaper.

You can't put the genie back in the bottle. The best thing to do is limit your exposure to the genie, bemoan the stinkiness of the genies ass and deal with him when you have too.

Vote with your feet, use target, kmart, costco whatever. Get your friends to do it, get their friends as well. Make a dent however you can and if enough people feel the same, then maybe something can happen. Sadly I doubt it, but hey it worked in what Maine? Vermont?
posted by damnitkage at 6:34 AM on December 28, 2004


As far as I can tell, Wal-Mart is a big vacuum that sucks up truckloads of America's money and send it to China where they don't send much of it back. How is this not a bad thing? Aren't we going to end up all working at Wal-Mart and selling each other things that were made in China back and forth? The country can't have an economy if we don't produce anything that anybody buys. Isn't that like the two salesmen who were stranded on a desert island, they had one hat that they sold back and forth between them, and by the time they left they were both millionares.
posted by Megafly at 6:41 AM on December 28, 2004


In China, Wal-Mart biggest competitor are stores owned by a French company. The industry says these stores have a better floor plan for shopping in.
posted by thomcatspike at 7:23 AM on December 28, 2004


I've been saddened watching Wal-Mart grow, having read Global Reach: The Power of Multinational Corporations years ago in a Labor Studies class. And having worked for several unions in a past life, I can promise you that the problems described in twiki's Fast Company link hurt even more for the working stiff who loses a job because of it. For example.
posted by bodabutton at 8:03 AM on December 28, 2004


"The capitalist will sell you the very rope you intend to hang him with." Not that it's ever actually happened that way. Usually, the consumer is distracted by the new, improved rope that's on sale next door at a low low price.
posted by Slothrup at 8:12 AM on December 28, 2004


some of you sure hate low prices....
posted by h00dini at 8:26 AM on December 28, 2004


"some of you sure hate low prices wages...."
posted by bodabutton at 8:37 AM on December 28, 2004


China's standard of living is going up due to Wal-Mart, and America's is declining.

And (assuming, for the sake of argument) that the net benefit to the world and its people were to outweigh the net losses, why should I care about imaginary lines drawn on the world? Some of you are so damned parochial.
posted by rushmc at 8:57 AM on December 28, 2004


bodabutton: "some of you sure hate low prices wages...."


as if wal-mart employees are forced to work there?
posted by h00dini at 9:05 AM on December 28, 2004


You're kidding, right?

Thank you for completely missing the point. I think the next person who says that we're piling on WalMart simply because they are successful or because we hate the poor should be forced to go back and repeat their 11th grade economics class. Or maybe we should just pull down their gym shorts in front of the class and point/laugh at them.

Please go watch this right now and then you can come back here and make inane comments like, "you hate low prices."
posted by fletchmuy at 9:06 AM on December 28, 2004


why should I care about imaginary lines drawn on the world? Some of you are so damned parochial.

Isn't part of the social contract that countries should take care of their own, in exchange for taxation and other "parochial" duties?
posted by AlexReynolds at 9:16 AM on December 28, 2004


@ fletchmuy

I don't have time to watch it now but poked around the site and tried to get a feel for the program. So Wal-Mart has the power to squeeze its suppliers because of the volume of purchases it makes. So manufacturers move to China in search of cheaper labor and US workers lose their jobs. Big deal. The bottom line is that you, Joe Consumer, gets lower prices in the end. Welcome to economics 101, capitalism 101, efficient allocation of resources 101. (You were aware that this is a market economy right?)

How about this for just one of the few economic policy solutions: divert the subsidies paid to US farmers to workers who lose their jobs due to trade to help them through the transition period.
posted by h00dini at 9:24 AM on December 28, 2004


How about this for just one of the few economic policy solutions: divert the subsidies paid to US farmers to workers who lose their jobs due to trade to help them through the transition period.

For one thing, this is a stopgap measure and doesn't address the root of the problem, but more prominently, this reeks of socialism, and the Republican government would never allow it.
posted by Faint of Butt at 9:39 AM on December 28, 2004


These are factory workers whose wages are determined outside of Wal-Mart's influence and they will tell you that Wal-Mart has improved their lives. --thedevildancedlightly

Sure, that's the perception. The problem is, many of these people are shopping themselves out of their manufacturing jobs by supporting a chain that pressures manufacturers to move overseas in order to keep prices down. On preview, I see the Frontline program has been mentioned. Sure, you can argue that this is inevitable, but it's sure causing a lot of real life suffering for the poor people you purport to care so much about.

As it turns out, many items at Wal-Mart are the same price as at other stores. They stack up the cheap shit in the aisles to get your attention, so you don't really notice that a lot of other things cost the same.
posted by apis mellifera at 9:41 AM on December 28, 2004


Thanks for taking the time to check out that Frontline program, h00dini.

"So manufacturers move to China in search of cheaper labor and US workers lose their jobs. Big deal. The bottom line is that you, Joe Consumer, gets lower prices in the end."

So, the holy grail is lower prices? That seems so simplistic to me. It seems to me that a better standard of living should be the goal. Low prices? Sure. But give me a better life and I'll gladly pay a few cents more. And I'm not just talking about WalMart's current employees here, I'm talking about the effect WalMart is having on America's economy by pushing all of the manufacturing jobs overseas and forcing layoffs by American companies. Then the former employees have to go find a job at, you guessed it, WalMart where they have NO benefits and are paid half of what they made before. Yippee!

So, divert the farmer's subsidies? Well, that's just swapping out farmers for factory workers. I don't get it. What do the farmers do once they stop receiving their subsidies?
posted by fletchmuy at 9:44 AM on December 28, 2004


For one thing, this is a stopgap measure and doesn't address the root of the problem, but more prominently, this reeks of socialism, and the Republican government would never allow it.


I don't think it's any more socialist than distorting prices through agricultural subsidies. It's an investment in your labor force, as opposed to an outright wealth transfer from the average taxpayer to a small sector of the economy.
posted by h00dini at 9:53 AM on December 28, 2004


People shop at Walmart becuase their dollar goes further at Wal-Mart than anywhere else. They can buy more clothes, food, medicine, toys, books, DVDs, and entertainment at Walmart than anywhere else.

Maybe you want to believe that, thedevildancedlightly, but you are, in fact, wrong. At least here, in the South (and if we aren't Wal-Mart country, no such place exists), items like milk, bread, Coca-Cola, and most groceries are less expensive at Publix. (Last I checked, milk was 50¢ less per gallon at the local gas station's convenience store, where your chances of geting a good deal are slim to none, than at Wal-Mart.) You get a better selection of CDs, and lower prices, at Best Buy than you do at Wal-Mart. The toys and books at Wal-Mart? You're joking. The selection is awful, and the prices aren't that great.

Wal-Mart fools the average consumer into thinking they're getting a good deal by prominently displaying items which are a good deal, but are the bottom end of the line, and generally not that great. By the time the consumer makes a selection, usually, they've bought a more expensive item that they could have gotten for $4 less at Target.

The consumer pays Wal-Mart for the illusion of saving money. Shopping at Wal-Mart costs more.

On preview:
They stack up the cheap shit in the aisles to get your attention, so you don't really notice that a lot of other things cost the same.

Or more.
posted by oaf at 9:54 AM on December 28, 2004


So, divert the farmer's subsidies? Well, that's just swapping out farmers for factory workers. I don't get it. What do the farmers do once they stop receiving their subsidies?

I think they'll be ok
posted by h00dini at 10:06 AM on December 28, 2004


As proved when the Mom&Pop stores close their doors, the local populace on a whole values these lower prices more than they value the homely feel and loyalty benefits (a personal hello when walking in, etc.) of local businesses.

I'm not sure you can say that the market fluctuations "prove" what people "really" want. Voting with your wallet often privileges short term impulsive desires over long term reflective preferences. I want to live in a world where chickens aren't lame and featherless and sitting in their own shit, but sometimes at the supermarket I don't want to spend twice as much money on organic eggs. It took me a long time to just learn to ignore the regular eggs and either buy (organic) eggs or not depending on how much money I have. When a cheaper option exists, you can get convinced that something is 'too expensive' when it really isn't, and not even notice how much you affect the world with your continuous choices.

I don't get people who criticize a business for giving them what they want, at low prices. It almost as though people don't want any business to be successful. The same sort of thing gets tossed around about Starbucks too.
There's successful, and there's *too* successful.


"too successful" is usually when they are not happy just to be a good store giving people what they want, but seem to need to try to take over the world. Starbucks is atrocious coffee (dunkin donuts is much better; I have heard that even mcdonald's coffee is better, although I've never tried it). I understand that most of america did not have anything resembling good coffee before starbucks - the first cross country trip I made revealed to me that most people were drinking some sort of dishwater with lots of milk and sugar - so it's not surprising that they got big. But in NYC, for instance, we had a lot of good local coffee shops, and a lot of them get pushed aside because some people will accept "mediocre." Starbucks sells a lot of 'coffee drinks' for people who don't actually like coffee (like caramel coffee and stuff like that) and then a bunch of people just want caffeine, milk and sugar, and that's what they think coffee is, so they buy starbucks.

For those of us who actually have a taste for the drink, it means we are left with fewer options. This is what happens when business is all about business. People who open their own coffee shops are usually coffee drinkers who want to serve good coffee. Starbucks owners don't care that the product is crap; they just want to convince people to buy it. People can be convinced that this is how coffee is supposed to taste, that they need the 'pick me up', that getting a coffee on the way to work is 'part of the morning routine', and so the owners make their money. But the actual value and content of the product is lost. The owners don't know what they're selling and the people don't know what they're buying. It's just a constant game of exchanging money and no one's personally invested in it...
posted by mdn at 10:09 AM on December 28, 2004


I don't mean to derail, but I would like to say that compared to the coffee I've had in Germany, almost all American coffee is bad.

Ditto for the beer.
posted by oaf at 10:15 AM on December 28, 2004


Isn't part of the social contract that countries should take care of their own

At the expense of everyone else? I'd say, rather, part of the human tragedy. *looks sadly over toward Iraq*
posted by rushmc at 10:21 AM on December 28, 2004


To bring your derail back on topic, oaf, as bad as their coffee is, Starbucks still offers benefits to its part-time employees.
posted by fletchmuy at 10:34 AM on December 28, 2004


Despite how evil (or not evil) Wal-Mart is, there is the fundamental issue of rampant consumerism to address.

They can buy more clothes, food, medicine, toys, books, DVDs, and entertainment at Walmart than anywhere else.

Whatever happened to buying something quality, repairing it when it breaks, and using it until its usefulness is gone?

We live in a society of consumption: he who has the most toys at the end wins; parents working to provide their kids with designer clothes buy buying dinner at McDonald's; minimum wage earners driving leased SUVs and living in government-subsidized apartments; everyone wanting to look more successful than his neighbor.

Wal-Mart did not cause the problem, it is feeding off it.
posted by bikergirl at 10:39 AM on December 28, 2004


he who has the most toys at the end wins

Which reminds me of "Dad buying the biggest dollhouse."
posted by bodabutton at 11:13 AM on December 28, 2004


oaf - I offered you concrete data about gross margins showing that on average Walmart has a lower markup than other discounters. You offered me a story about going to Publix one time and finding cheaper milk. Until you offer me concrete data showing that Publix has a lower margin on its goods then one story about cheap milk doesn't convince anybody of anything. In fact, it suggests that Publix felt the heat from Walmart and very visibly marked something down so that you'd go and buy their more expensive crap.

If you look at the politics surrounding new Walmarts you'll see supermarkets are among the lead anti-Walmart forces because they know that a Walmart with a produce section will undercut them.

stavrosthewonderchicken - you can, as they say in less polite company, blow me. Unless you have something other than your rantings to back up your comments?
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 11:34 AM on December 28, 2004


The problem is that many people making what are, for them, individually rational decisions — e.g., shopping at the place that has the cheapest DVD players — can produce an outcome that leaves everyone worse off. So you can't assume that just because it's rational for me to shop at Wal-Mart, Wal-Mart is a good thing.

I think that the current situation is a good approximation of the Prisoner's Dilemma. Collectively, we'd all be better off if no one shopped at Wal-Mart. However, given that my boycott of Wal-Mart won't hurt them in the slightest, it's not rational for me to shop someplace else. Of course, everyone else is making the same calculation, thus keeping Wal-Mart in business.
posted by myeviltwin at 11:38 AM on December 28, 2004


Walmart Music
posted by Niahmas at 11:47 AM on December 28, 2004


Even if you don't shop at Wal-Mart, you still pay for it. The corporation has been very good at sucking on the public teat all across the USA, reaping billions in public subsidies.

So if you think you can just boycott the SOBs, you can't -- WalMart will still get your money.

Isn't that wonderful?
posted by mooncrow at 1:16 PM on December 28, 2004


Thedevil:

Additionally on the Gross Margin Walmart vs Target (from now on , WMT vs TGT)

Let's dig deeper , it's interesting. We see that TGT has managed to reduce its COGS
over the shown time lapse whereas WMT COGS is still higher. What does that mean ?
Probably that either the two have different goods sold (TGT selling more profiteable
goods or managing to obtain lower prices from manufactures, while WMT sells something
else) or that Target has managed to squeeze more from manufacturers, making it more
"evil" the Walmart when it comes to manufacturer pushing.

When we go to SG&A we see that WMT ones are significantly lower . Both WMT and TGT
have similar EBT Margins, even if recently TGT had a 0,5 better margin.

Where does it come from ? Not from COGS, but from WMT lower SG&A.

Which is excellent, I commend Walmart for having lower SG&A as it probably means they're
good at reducing administrative overhead (thanks to computers, optimizations, megamalls).
My praising stops when the guy working at Walmart pays the price with significantly
reduced wage and significantly higher risks on them, without receiving a significant benefit
offsetting the loss; you know by yourself that the returns from an optimization are limited
(diminishing returns), but you can also try to reduce other fixed costs (wage,benefits,etc)


One example : in my city we have two CarreFour, which is the european equivalent of Walmart (I don't
have the data handy, guess it doesn't move nearly as much as WMT but is surely a major player in retail
arena if not the biggest). Carrefour has two megamalls (mega for european standars, rather big for U.S. I
guess) ..they both sell Coca Cola 1.5 liter at the same price (obviously). Another less important chain
named Conad sells the same 1.5 liter Cola in far more distributed stores over the territory.

Now there's a difference in price...roughly 10% more at Conad that at Carrefour, therefore I should
say Carrefour is local Walmart with low price. Problems are

1. the price is indeed lower, but only 10%
2. the Carrefour mall is 20Km away from my home, the Conad 100 meters.
3. the price is lower for other products, but NOT constantly lower and not an all product I routinely buy

Therefore I'd rather buy near home and save driving stress and costs and pay more or less 10% then go
to Carrefour : also consider that sometimes the price differential is not that sensible unless you buy
a category of products ..which makes you fall in the "bad consumer" category...the ones who only buy
deeply discounted products ; retailers hate them and are planning to track them to death (fidelity card,
rdif, whatever) because they dare buy only what's profiteable to buy and are immune to supermarket effect.

---
So , you argue that lower margin is good for consumer ; indeed it is better then higher price, but not necessarily good for consumer if

1. their wage is reduced because of a chain effect of wage reduction (example Walmart hits on Kraft, Kraft on kraft workers who shop at Walmart and so on)
2. they're baited into lower price offers, end up spending the same but buying chinese product (chinese or whatever, I'm not against any particular country) taking jobs away from U.S. Indeed they're shopping themselves out of jobs.
posted by elpapacito at 1:36 PM on December 28, 2004


mdn, a coffee snob? Who'da thunk it!
posted by rushmc at 2:45 PM on December 28, 2004


They pulled it off the site. :-)
posted by nathanrudy at 3:00 PM on December 28, 2004


sssshhhhh! They're on to us!
posted by bodabutton at 3:04 PM on December 28, 2004


At the expense of everyone else? I'd say, rather, part of the human tragedy. *looks sadly over toward Iraq*

Bad example, I think. The Iraq war is not benefiting anyone but a very select group of shareholders and oil men, some of which are not American. Wrt "expense", it is certainly being paid for on our dime.
posted by AlexReynolds at 4:41 PM on December 28, 2004


If Bush Co. conquers to "assure American access to oil reserves," then I think that is a quite apt example.
posted by rushmc at 4:47 PM on December 28, 2004


Wasn't it last Christmas or so that Walmart offered a $30 DVD player? People were in awe! Are you telling me that people who make minimum wage at other jobs should pay the $20 extra at Best Buy if they dare to be so uppity?

If they're smart they will. I worked for one of Walmart's competitors for more than three years. The thirty dollar DVDs ten to break within a year. Which means you tend to have to buy them more often than the ones that could be twice the price. Which means you usually end up paying the same price, if not more for the absolutely cheapest DVD players.
posted by drezdn at 5:22 PM on December 28, 2004


oaf - I offered you concrete data about gross margins showing that on average Walmart has a lower markup than other discounters. You offered me a story about going to Publix one time and finding cheaper milk.

Stop beating that straw man. My argument's over here. Except for the entry-level microwave, DVD player, backpack, bicycle, whatever, you can get just about everything you buy at Wal-Mart cheaper somewhere else (note: this does not mean the same somewhere else).

Until you offer me concrete data showing that Publix has a lower margin on its goods then one story about cheap milk doesn't convince anybody of anything.

And since I provided you with more than that (if you actually bothered to read my comment, which is looking doubtful), I'll assume you're just playing dumb. The only grocery prices that Wal-Mart actually has cheaper are for store-brand goods, like Sam's Choice root beer or whatever-the-brand-is (American Fare?) fabric softener.

In fact, it suggests that Publix felt the heat from Walmart and very visibly marked something down so that you'd go and buy their more expensive crap.

Well, since Publix usually beats Wal-Mart's prices on groceries, it doesn't suggest this. Publix rarely runs sales, but still manages to be less than Wal-Mart, which pretends is prices are always great. Always.
posted by oaf at 5:36 PM on December 28, 2004


Always the Low Price. Always. It certainly doesn't apply to soft drinks. Wal-Mart consistantly has the highest prices in my area. They definately do NOT follow an "everyday low price" policy and their prices fluctuate as wildly as anywhere else.

Best example: name brand soft drinks in 12 or 24 can boxes. You get ripped HARD when you buy them at Wal-Mart at any time but when they have them at a sale price. I've tracked this for some time because I have a pop machine in my gameroom. At least, until my college graduate job is outsourced to another country with cheaper college graduates.
posted by jmccorm at 6:54 PM on December 28, 2004


Thirty dollar DVD players... Thirty dollar dvd players.
posted by drezdn at 7:53 PM on December 28, 2004


mdn, the thing is...what gives you the right to say that the people who are satisfied with Starbucks coffee are getting an inferior product? If they like it, what does your view of coffee quality matter?
I like Starbucks coffee. I live in Tokyo, so I can get damn near any kind of coffee that exists in the world. I still drink Starbucks coffee. Are you saying that my tastes are somehow less valid than yours because I patronize a shop you don't like?
That's what I mean. Everyone keeps going on about shoddy merchandise and "cheap junk" as though the word "cheap" means low-quality rather than low price. In this day and age, cheap items are not always crap.
posted by nightchrome at 8:34 PM on December 28, 2004


One example : in my city we have two CarreFour, which is the european equivalent of Walmart (I don't
have the data handy, guess it doesn't move nearly as much as WMT but is surely a major player in retail
arena if not the biggest).


Carrefour is really a hypermart in a form you can't really find in the US. The closest equivalent would be a bigger Wal Mart Supercenter. There's a full size grocery store with a butcher (Wal-Mart fired all of them a while back when they unionized), seafood department, computer department, etc. At least the ones in Taiwan were that way.
posted by calwatch at 9:31 PM on December 28, 2004


If they like it, what does your view of coffee quality matter?

In my experiences with Walmart, it usually does. For example, I used to go to Walmart when ever I would get a new aquarium because they sell some aquarium stuff really cheaply. Unfortunately, the inexpensive stuff needed to be trimmed to actually be usuable in an aquarium, but, trimming it caused it to break free from it's mooring, making it unusable.

And Starbucks isn't cheap, at least in my experience.
posted by drezdn at 9:41 PM on December 28, 2004


the writer of xymphora recently referred to cheap china-produced walmart goods as "the real opiate of the masses" ...
posted by ism at 10:18 PM on December 28, 2004


mdn, the thing is...what gives you the right to say that the people who are satisfied with Starbucks coffee are getting an inferior product? If they like it, what does your view of coffee quality matter?

my point was that when it becomes entirely a question of business, and neither the seller nor the buyer is especially knowledgable about the product, mediocrity wins big. The seller doesn't care whether the product is any good. The consumer is often convinced by brand names to buy something even without really understanding what they should be getting out of it.

It's true, it's possible you just have different taste buds than I do, and what tastes like burnt water to me tastes like a rich, smooth, well rounded drink to you. It's entirely possible that we all experience tastes somewhat differently (I know one person who gets nauseated by the smell of coffee, eg). But a lot of people buy mediocre products because they honestly never give it much thought, and just buy the loudest/cheapest/coolest logo (loudest as in, most advertised). Cheapest is not usually a good long term choice unless you're a careful comparison shopper. The point is, I don't think it's fair to say that the 'market choices' of an underinformed, hurried public are equal to their truest desires for how things should be.

The thing with mediocrity is, different people will have a different threshold for what counts as 'good enough', and you're right that if I'm one of a tiny percentage of americans who don't consider starbucks 'good enough', who am I to expect everyone else to change their shopping habits to accommodate my persnicketiness? Yet somehow, the major coffee chain I came across in london (I think it was called coffee republic?) was, in my opinion, good coffee.

I have to run - maybe I'll finish up these thoughts later -
posted by mdn at 7:38 AM on December 29, 2004


my point was that when it becomes entirely a question of business, and neither the seller nor the buyer is especially knowledgable about the product, mediocrity wins big. The seller doesn't care whether the product is any good. The consumer is often convinced by brand names to buy something even without really understanding what they should be getting out of it.

That is inarguable, and a good point. It should be noted, however, that Starbucks and Wal-Mart are hardly operating alone in the mediocritization of American tastes. They cater to it, certainly, and profit highly from doing so, but I wonder how much they actually contribute to it?
posted by rushmc at 8:17 AM on December 29, 2004


A social group I belong to had the Pete of Pete's Wicked Ale and more recently Cocoa Pete's Choclate Adventure as our speaker. This is a guy who, after more than a dozen years as a rocket scientist, started two successful businesses based on developing quality tasting food products and in the process tasted other offerings of beer and chocolate from all over the world and in all price ranges. He told us that in the American market, because of a desire to appeal to the broadest possible number of purchasers, taste (beer or chocolate) had to be made blander and blander year after year, to the point that, for example, our pals at Anheiser-Busch and Miller et al were now using rice in equal measure to hops. Whereas in Europe no brewer uses rice at all.
posted by billsaysthis at 5:18 PM on December 29, 2004


I would have to argue that Starbucks and Wal-mart are both working toward the "mediocritization of American tastes". Wal-mart's mission is clear (Always the lowest price. Always.); they are providing, in essence, lower-than-department store prices. Starbucks on the other hand is far from cheap (remember when a cup o' joe used to cost a buck or less?) and instead is cashing in on the same trend seen with Pottery Barn, and many others - "trading up" or the mass availability of luxury goods. Other than the fact that both Starbucks and Wal-mart exist in nearly every community, I'd be hesitant to lump them in together in terms of strategy.
posted by twiki at 6:55 PM on December 29, 2004


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