Wal-MartIt seems everyone these days has an opinion about Wal-Mart, so here's mine. Back in grad school I loved our Wal-Mart Supercenter (actaully the small college town of State College now has two Wal-Mart Supercentersand a Sam's Club). I loved that everything was so convenient and cheap. Towards the end of graduate school, the place seemed to get more hectic and I got more and more impatient with it. I don't know if the town was just growing or I was becoming more of a curmudgeon (psst...I'm not people person, whatever that means).
Now that I'm living in Sacramento (Natomas to be precise), the Wal-Mart is even more like a zoo. So I already didn't like going there when my brother told me about the film Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price. Of course I'd already heard myriad stories of the evil empire we call Wal-Mart. My view had always been, "What's all the fuss about, Wal-Mart is the quintessential American business?" Greed is what drives our economy. We like to say America's success is due to our freedoms and the innovation they allow. And sure, those play a role. But nobody wants to admit that greed plays a central role too.
And I don't have a problem with that. I'm a die hard capitalist. My inclination is almost always to let the free market work its magic. And that's exactly what Wal-Mart has done.
I have little, if any, sympathy for the towns who feel like they've been decimated by Wal-Mart. I'm so sick of hearing that Wal-Mart puts small family owned stores out of business. It just isn't true. It's all those customers you thought were loyal that are putting you out of businessbecuase they're all going to Wal-Mart now. The very same people who claim to miss the downtown shopping districts were probably first in line when the Wal-Mart opened. It's doesn't matter how low Wal-Mart sets their prices, they can't force you to shop there. We all make choices in life, andsuprise surpisethose choices have consequences.
I also don't have much sympathy for all the people who claim they can't hardly survive on what Wal-Mart pays and the meager benefits they provide. If they're not paying enough, then go get another job. Where were you working before Wal-Mart came to town? Can't find a higher paying job becuase you have no skills? Well, then how can you expect a better wage? If there are a hundred people waiting in line to take your job, why on Earth should your employer pay you any more? On the flip side, if you're the only person who can do what you do, then you get to set your price. Welcome to capitalism. Oh, but you have three kids to support and can't afford to quit and go back to school or start over somewhere else. Well, what the hell were you thinking having kids when you didn't have any real earning potential? So you made some bad choices. Welcome to life. We all make bad choices from time to timesome worse than others. And we all have to live with the consequences of those choices. It's not Wal-Mart's fault that you're stupid, or that you can't control your libido.
All that being said, what does piss me off about Wal-Mart is how they're manipulating the system and costing me money. They pay their employees low wages with ridiculous benefits and then encourage them to get government assistance. So in a very real sense, every single taxpayer is supplementing Wal-Mart's wageswhether they shop there or not. Wal-Mart is getting filthy rich off my tax dollars. And that pisses me off. But again, Wal-Mart is just using the system our society has set up. We should all be outraged, but at our leaders who let this happennot at Wal-Mart.
As for the film, I finally watched it this week. The first thing I noticed was how one-sided it was. The filmmakers clearly beleive Wal-Mart is at the center of all that is wrong with the world. The one hint they gave to the other side of the issue was a ten second clip of a small town mayor saying that if the town didn't give Wal-Mart incentives to come, then they'd just go outside the city limits and then the town would get all the downsides without any of the upsides. But wait, what are all the upsides? Why are towns all across America rolling out the red carpet for this evil corporation? The film didn't bother to ask those questionstoo much work I guess. Then the film ends like a old time gospel revival with the glorious stories of the few communities who have defeated the evil empire and prevented them from taking over their lives. And I'm left thinking, "Well there you have it. If you don't want Wal-Mart, you don't have to have Wal-Mart. But you have to get off you lazy pathetic asses and make that choice." As for me, I won't shop at Wal-Mart any more. And I'll tell everyone I know about why I don't support them. And I'll try to find time to write some letters to my local, state, and federal representatives explaining what I think needs to be changed. And in the meantime, I'm not going to blame Wal-Mart for persuing the American dream.