Everyone should read this book: Wal-Mart lovers, enthusiasts, conflicted shoppers and haters.
I picked up this book because I hate Wal-Mart - I despise their business practices, the way they destroy small, local businesses and confuse the economy by creating a screen of bargains for the people, when it's the people who are ultimately getting robbed, that profits earned at my local super center Wal-Mart do not, after sales tax, stay in my community, but go back to Bentonville, Arkansas and into the pockets of the 6 Walton family heirs (with a combined worth of $93 Billion) - and because Wal-Mart is attempting (apparently without any serious trouble) to build a second super center store in my little town of 36,000, in a location, no less, that would promise an overflow of traffic and congestion, and potentially dig up an unmarked 19th century cemetery.
We do not save money at Wal-Mart. Statistics prove the average American family saving somewhere around $900 a year by shopping at Wal-Mart actually has less than $500 in savings. In other words, we just buy more stuff.
I've heard personal war stories of Wal-Mart edging out a supplier's sales rep in order to get a lower price. We've all heard about the low wages, the difficulty in getting a full-time position, hard-to-get health insurance, sweat shops, locking workers in stores overnight, hiring hundreds of illegals to clean their stores (because their contracts are, of course, the cheapest) and overall cheapening of America by selling poor quality items made overseas. And yet we Americans still shop there, still vote with our money by supporting what Fortune Magazine has declared for 7 years running as #1 in America's top 500 businesses - that's gross sales.
From a gut instinct I do not shop at Wal-Mart. It's simply too big. No for-profit entity should be so large and have so much power that they literally by-pass their suppliers, reach into their supplier's [overseas] factories and dictate how a product is made, how fast, with what materials and at what cost, especially when that cost is the inhumane treatment of workers. I hear people complain all the time about Wal-Mart, but admit to shopping there anyway. "There's no other option!" they say. Or "no one else carries the product I like." We've been trained to think we have no other option, that we are getting robbed by paying the other guy a dollar or two more for an item. Or that we can not live without what that certain product.
In The Wal-Mart Effect Charles Fishman suggests we consider those everyday super low prices and ask how they got so low. Who's working 16 hour days for .40/hour? Who's not allowed to use the bathroom during their 16 hour shift? How long does that product even last? If you have to buy another next year, haven't you already spent more than if you'd just paid a little more for the product that lasts? What pollution is being committed as a side effect of that everyday low price? How safe is the factory where the products are made?
Keep in mind, not one of those overseas factories would be legal in this country. We would never stand for it.
If the tables were turned and we were the ones working in factories that supplied Wal-Mart, with only a day off a month, a barely livable wage, in filth and unsafe circumstances, all to provide cheap goods to a country fat and greedy for more, how would we feel about ourselves?
We've allowed our desire to collect more things, our buyer's impulse and false sense that we deserve more, to replace our traditional sense of pride as Americans, Americans who believed a durable, dependable well-made product was more important than price. Americans who believed in 'American Made'. Most big box retailers practice very similar buying standards now, sourcing from overseas, but Wal-Mart is by far, by a huge margin, the largest offender. Wal-Mart has set that pace and dictated the practices for everyone (at $446.9 Billion, the next largest grocer after Wal-Mart is Kroger with $90.4 Billion in sales, Costco with $89 Billion is the next largest box retailer, with Target weighing in at $69.8 Billion in sales). And we buy it up.
So I'm coming off a little hard-ass on the matter. But I fear our complacency is our worst enemy. Complacency is what allows politicians to to conduct shady business, to allow government to make bad decisions for us, to send young men and women to fight money wars, to pollute the environment, to grow obese, to watch our homes slip away when mortgage lending gets out of control, to spend too much money on higher education that can't deliver what it promises because markets are over-saturated.
Fishman does not argue that Wal-Mart is bad or good. He simply states we do not yet fully understand Wal-Mart, or how it's values that worked when they were 300 stores becomes grossly distorted and ugly when they are 3,000 stores, or 8,000. Fishman argues we are not asking the right questions. And that legislation has not yet been created to handle mega corporations like Wal-Mart, like Fanny Mae, like Proctor & Gamble, or Chevron or Exxon Mobil. Wal-Mart, by the way, is larger than both Exxon Mobil and Chevron.
Our dollar is our strongest vote.
It's a lot to ask to consider where our dollar is really going, into who's pocket, or how things work behind the scene. It's a lot to ask to consider what goes into our food, which ingredients and how it's made, where it's sourced. It's a lot to ask to consider the ethics of a politician, their background, their true character, before voting on an impulse, or emotional pull. Life should be easier. We should be able to afford not just the things we need but the things we want and we should feel good about spending that dollar, regardless of extenuating circumstances. We've been sold that right as much as it is a core American value. But life is no longer so simple. We are a complicated people in a complicated world. The least we can do is look hard at what has been revealed (however legal it may be, one has to question the ethics of the world's largest company when it refuses to contribute publicly ANY sales information, ultimately skewing the numbers on the state of the U.S. economy) and make a decision based on a larger picture, a moment longer and deeper than the one we are immediately standing in, the one where that unbelievably low price is truly unbelievable.
Please, read this book, congratulate yourself for having been born American, for having been born into a country that allows choice, then exercise choice with an informed vote.
The Wal-Mart Effect, by Charles Fishman
**May 21st, 2012, Fortune 500 listed Exxon Mobil as the top grossing company in the world with $452,926 Billion in sales. Wal-Mart was #2 with $446,950 Billion.