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Wal-mart: Sith Lord of unbridaled capitalism
June 6, 2005 9:31 AM   Subscribe

That "liberal bastion" PBS and that "wacky" Christian Right AGREEING on something? Does the "Sith Lord of unbridaled capitalism" really deserve to be hated? Does it bear watching? A new movie will take a look: (Registration -free link). Why are growing numbers "ready to join the ranks of all right-thinking people the world over in declaring Wal-Mart an outpost of hell on earth"??? The full 60 minute Frontline program video is available online.
posted by spock (28 comments total)

 
Still haven't ever shopped there. Why do they suck so much?
posted by wakko at 9:50 AM on June 6, 2005


..and the coffee sucks, too.
What?
Oh, I'm sorry - I thought this was the anti-Starbucks thread.
posted by bashos_frog at 10:00 AM on June 6, 2005


Weird, that sojerner's link worked once, nad now it's asking for a registration.
posted by delmoi at 10:22 AM on June 6, 2005


"Church leaders (primarily mainline, liberal, and Roman Catholic) have joined grassroots activists fearful that mindless global market factors will steamroll human dignity."

That doesn't really sound like the Christian Right to me. Still, I welcome all comers to the anti-Wal-Mart bandwagon. Strange bedfellows, and all that.
posted by gurple at 10:24 AM on June 6, 2005


I live in Arkansas and I love Wal-Mart. =)
posted by weretable and the undead chairs at 10:43 AM on June 6, 2005


"So this is how democracy dies.... to the sound of cheers and thunderous applause."
-Senator Amidala
posted by Balisong at 10:44 AM on June 6, 2005


fearful that mindless global market factors will steamroll human dignity.

Of course, we all know that a central planning model would be MUCH more respectful of human dignity.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 11:01 AM on June 6, 2005


The funny thing is that anyone who defends Wal-Mart's practice of dumping healthcare liability on medicare is essentially arguing in favor of socialized medicine -- because that's precisely what it is. Nevertheless, Wal-Mart apologists and advocates of socialized medicine aren't normally the same people at all. Just another bit of widespread cognitive dissonance in the ever-wackier America -- the one in which, for example, the wrongness of a lie is determined not by its content or consequences, but by who tells it.
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:22 AM on June 6, 2005


George, not if those same people are also arguing dumping medicare. I'm willing to attribute it to concealed malice as opposed to cognitive dissonance.
posted by substrate at 11:57 AM on June 6, 2005


"Founder Sam Walton's autobiography indicates he taught Sunday school in his church, prayed with his children..."

This is the first statement that ever caused me to consider never shopping at WalMart again. On further consideration however, I found it an insufficient reason.
posted by mischief at 12:13 PM on June 6, 2005


Christianity Today == "wacky" Christian Right?

spock == douchebag?
posted by quonsar at 12:17 PM on June 6, 2005


The Burri article is heavily biased, like most articles that rely on Wal-Mart for statistics about the company. They brag about their health benefits, but in reality their turnover for non-managerial associates (who are, as a rule, not part-timers) is such that they pretty much never receive health benefits. Turnover rates at a quick Google are somewhere around 45% annually, so many never even hit that hard-to-afford health plan. The argument that low-skill jobs don't offer health benefits is not worth the dignity of engaging, but in any case most Wal-Mart employees can't afford the health program even if they stick around long enough to afford it.

His argument about passing the costs on directly to the consumer is pointless; Wal-Mart deflates its prices artificially in the first place by paying employees less than its competitors. (You can't trust Wal-Mart statistics on pay scales, btw; they only count full-time employees, who are managers and making the $9.68 or whatever it is lately.) The net effect of this is to lower the average wage scale, which costs society much more than the $250,000 Burri talks about.

The anti-Wal-Mart rhetoric is mostly problematic in that it thinks Wal-Mart is the problem, and that if it only behaved itself everything would be fine. Wal-Mart is acting as it must, in the interests of higher profits. It's a symptom of the underlying problem - globalized capitalism - not the problem itself.
posted by graymouser at 12:42 PM on June 6, 2005


Of course, quonsar. Everyone knows that anyone who is a Christian is by definition "Wacky".
posted by Eekacat at 12:43 PM on June 6, 2005


Of course, we all know that a central planning model would be MUCH more respectful of human dignity.

Oh, typical despicable debating tactic: the straw man. Requiring minimal ethical standards is not the same as advocating a central planning model. If a corporation's only responsability is towards maximising return on investment for its shareholders (and it certainly seems so these days), then the role of government to make and enforce legislation to force corporations to behave in a civilised manner becomes even more crucial.
posted by Skeptic at 1:17 PM on June 6, 2005


I am a Christian, and I will be the first to admit that I am wacky.
posted by verb at 1:39 PM on June 6, 2005


"That means Wal-Mart customers pay $250,000 more for charcoal than they would have otherwise. That’s $250,000 that isn’t spent on hot dogs, movies, gas, flowers, newspapers, or beach towels. A quarter million dollars in lost economic activity."

This sentence doesn't quite add up. The quarter million goes into the economic activity that is the purchase of charcoal from Wal-Mart. This is the kind of math and logic that is the backbone of political rhetoric. It does not matter if this helps offset costs for Wal-Mart, it is a taxable sales transaction, and thus pays into the economic equation. What may be lost in this case is some economic diversity. That is if wall people decided that they spent to much on charcoal and could no longer afford hotdogs buns and the like.
posted by iwouldificould at 2:04 PM on June 6, 2005


I know someone who works at Wal-Mart.

He works there because, honestly, no where else will hire him, having spent a lot of time in college instead of in the work force gaining that nebulous quality, "experience," in order to gain those pitiful few lines on a resume that would enable him to work elsewhere. So that, at least, could be seen to be in their favor.

On the other hand... they hired him because they knew they could pay him a lot less, and they were able to pay him a lot less because, as has happened in many places, the presence of a Wal-Mart in our community has meant the deaths of a number of small businesses, which would have been able to offer him employment had they not all been so ruthlessly replaced by Wal-Mart.

Their health plan sucks. He has hurt his back *on the job*, twice now, and both times it was like pulling teeth to get them to pay for his emergency room visit. (I'm sorry, but if you get hurt on the job it is the company's responsibility to pay for it, in my opinion.)
posted by JHarris at 2:09 PM on June 6, 2005


Of course, we all know that a central planning model would be MUCH more respectful of human dignity.

Why yes, it would be (as long as it's the right model). America was built on a central planning model.
posted by mrgrimm at 2:42 PM on June 6, 2005


Christianity Today == "wacky" Christian Right?

spock == douchebag?


quonsar: You aren't questioning/objecting to the " 'liberal bastion' PBS" part? Hmmmm.

Those aren't my labels. They are those bandied about by others - hence my use of the quotation marks around both terms. I appreciate your use of the question marks, however!
posted by spock at 3:29 PM on June 6, 2005


wakko: Still haven't ever shopped there. Why do they suck so much?

IME (completely disregarding their cavalier treatment of employees), they're often crowded, dirty, and ill-stocked with items that just scream "lowest possible bidder". I've only been in a few, but they've all seemed rather hard to navigate (due to a plethora of aisle displays), grubby and ill-kept. I was in one two weeks after it opened, and it already smelled like spoiled milk and bad fish.

My in-laws shop there, and I've found that their clothes and linens are shoddy. Their market is the person for whom price is everything; and who would prefer to spend $3.50 for an item and replace it in a year or two than to buy a better quality version of that item for $4.50 and have it last for five years.
posted by jlkr at 3:48 PM on June 6, 2005


The only Walmart I found grungy was one so old and small, it was bursting at the seams. Plus, I have never had a problem with their goods. Shoddy? Not in my experience.
posted by mischief at 4:51 PM on June 6, 2005


At least you don't have to worry about keeping up with the Jones' when everybody buys the same crap from the same store.

I haven't been to a Wal-mart in over 6 years. I buy my groceries from an equally despicable grocer, Safeway.
I buy all other products from outlets that specialize in those products when I can. Not to say they don't use the same practices, but at least they aren't Wal-mart.

I usually end up with something better than I would have found there (I think remembering the last time I was there), and probably pay $1.00 more or so. Wal-mart is the thing destroying this country, Better to ship it off to Iraq, since it will never be bullets, bombs, or Bibles that will convert them, rather X-box, X-files, simpsons and Britany Spears that will finally win them, grudgingly, over.
posted by Balisong at 5:25 PM on June 6, 2005


JHarris, Wal-Mart is being investigated by the state of Maine for contesting an inordinate number of workers comp claims. Maine is one of the few states that tracks these figures on a quarterly basis, but I wouldn't be surprised if the situation was the same in every state where Wal-Mart operates. (Which is, um, every state, I believe...)
posted by damn yankee at 5:48 PM on June 6, 2005


The Wal-Mart-China joint venture is the strangest thing. It's all about the power of branding. If China opened retail stores in America selling the same stuff but with a Chinese store name and Chinese brands on the products they wouldn't have succeeded. But, because the stuff can have American sounding brand names and the retailer itself has an American sounding name it's acceptable. Americans can fool themselves into thinking they're shopping in an American store. Makes the whole killing Mom and Pops business thing acceptable too.

Wal-Mart has an interesting image. It's like an apparently goofy poorly-dressed salesman. His schtick is to make you think he's so inept that even you can make a good deal from him. They have this simpleton Arkansas image (no offence to Arkansas) but are actually a Chinese retailer. How strange is that.

Where I live we have something generically called 'dollar stores' where you can by an incredible variety of low quality items that cost anywhere from a dollar to five dollars. They're full of stuff from China and even cheaper than Wal-Mart. It's amazing what they can afford to sell you for a buck. How long before China doesn't need Wal-Mart any more and cuts out the middle man? How well does this explain Wal-Marts business practices, are they mortally afraid of being replaced themselves? Is it fair to say Wal-Mart is importing more than third world goods, they're also importing third world labor practices to avoid being replaced as 'overhead' themselves?
posted by scheptech at 8:38 PM on June 6, 2005


jlkr: I should think that a good deal of Wal-Mart's market is people who can't afford to shop anywhere else.
posted by ddf at 9:17 PM on June 6, 2005


Of course, we all know that a central planning model would be MUCH more respectful of human dignity.

when dick cheney's energy plan includes a map of iraq's oil fields, how decentralized is the economic planning, anyway?

wouldn't this be much more empowering, and more decentralized?
posted by eustatic at 9:41 PM on June 6, 2005


ddf- I should think that a good deal of Wal-Mart's market is people who can't afford to shop anywhere else

Yes and no. Sure, there are people who are pinching every penny. BT, DT. Still didn't shop at W*M. Still won't. If we couldn't afford it at Kmart or Pamida, we went without, because the W*M price wasn't enough lower that we could afford it.

WM isn't really as "low priced" as they would have you believe. We get the W*M circulars at holiday time (we're at the far range of their advertising), and really, the only things I've seen that might draw me in are W*M "exclusive" electronics. Everything else is within a couple of bucks of other stores. And when I have gone into a W*M, I've done quick price comparisons on the stuff I usually buy, and on a usual shopping run I'd come out about even with the Meijer down the street. Prices slightly better on some items, slightly worse on others, total just a couple of bucks different. (And the traffic is much worse in the W*M parking lot.)

I think it's more that a good deal of W*M's market is people who can't (or won't) shop anywhere else, due to location or inertia.
posted by jlkr at 5:50 PM on June 7, 2005


Wal-Mart is just plain evil.
posted by gwenzel at 12:41 PM on June 20, 2005


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