Thursday, July 10, 2008

In Honor of Wal-Mart

In honor of Wal-Mart’s new logo, I’d like to take a minute and discuss the controversy over the retail giant. There are many claims that Wal-mart is bad for Americans (low wages for workers, bad for small business, etc) and bad for foreign laborers (low pay, poor working conditions, etc), but just how accurate are those claims?

The former director of economic policy for John Kerry stated that Wal-Mart alone increased the welfare of American shoppers by at least $50 billion a year. In fact, most of these savings went to low and middle-class citizens because of their frequent use of the company. The poor also spend a disproportionate amount of money on groceries, which makes them the main beneficiary of lower food prices. In that same article they claim that the presence of Wal-Mart’s is responsible for a 10-20% decrease in prices. Furman even claimed that the retailer was a “progressive success story.” Now that’s not the big scary Wal-Mart you hear about.

So the customers are satisfied, but what about the workers? When Chicago got their first Wal-Mart, sadly because of politicians this was only 2 years ago, 15,000 people applied for 400 jobs. Surely these workers aren’t in a rush to get abused and underpaid. They may not all get health insurance, but they can buy it for as low as $11 a month. I bet the local shops can’t beat that.

But it must be bad for the community as a whole, right? No, in fact, employment growth is better in areas that have a Wal-Mart. A study at the University of Missouri even found that a new Wal-Mart kills 50 retail jobs, but creates 100 and without decreasing wages.

But if customers are better off, workers are better off, and even local communities are helped, surely the foreign workers must be hurt. Except that the facts say otherwise. From 1990-2002, Wal-Mart is credited with lifting 5,520,000 Chinese people out of poverty. Making knickknacks for wealthy Americans may not be your dream job, but it is for many. There have been roughly 100 million rural Chinese moving to the cities to earn more than twice what made farming.

I'm not saying that the corporation of Wal-Mart is philanthropic, or even nice. What I am trying to show is how when corporations seek profit, we all profit. I'll leave you with a quote from Michael Strong, a man who suggests Wal-Mart may deserve a Nobel Peace Prize. “Act locally, think globally: Shop Wal-Mart.”


  1. I shop at Wal-Mart when I'm home (we have few choices in our small town) and also while traveling. Wal-Mart is kind to RVers -- allowing in most of their locations, overnight parking for RV's. Their products for the most part are less expensive than other places and in today's economy, we're all looking for bargains. I have two friends who are Wal-Mart employees. Both have expressed how good their benefits are and the general working conditions are good.

  2. Glad to know my theory seems to match with your real world experience. It always bothers me when people bash Wal-mart's treatment of workers. There are always going to be unhappy employees, but most seem relatively content to me. I wish my uniform was just a blue shirt!


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