Will Wal-Mart Last Forever?





Mr. Batchelor, the author of The 1900s (2002), is a writer for the History News Service.

You think that Americans' national pastime is baseball, football, or Nascar? You're wrong. It's shopping.

The United States is a country filled with passionate shoppers. Nothing is more American than finding a bargain. If you want to see an economic juggernaut in action during the holiday shopping sprint from Thanksgiving to Christmas, head over to the local Wal-Mart. The company's promise of"everyday low prices" is music to the ears of every shopper.

For better or worse, we're living in a Wal-Mart World. The company now produces an astonishing 2.3 percent of the nation's gross domestic product. Last year, Wal-Mart sold a record $1.43 billion the day after Thanksgiving. This year the number jumped to $1.52 billion.

Yet, even with millions of people entering the doors of the world's largest company, things are not all rosy for its stores. Public outcry against the company is growing stronger.

This shopping season could be critical for Wal-Mart, given the criticisms leveled against it. The notion that Wal-Mart's aggressive expansion has destroyed small-town America is nearly universal. Recently the store has faced censure for paying its employees substandard wages and for hiring illegal aliens. Public outrage could reach a point where shoppers turn away from Wal-Mart and give their business to retailers viewed as more employee -- and consumer -- friendly.

Wal-Mart is in danger of becoming corporate America's Darth Vader, master of an all-but-impregnable Death Star to execute its strategies while ignoring the forces massing against it. Shoppers openly declare how much they hate Wal-Mart, but say they must shop there because it stretches their budgets. Notice how, in contrast, consumers rave about Target and Costco. This disparity in consumers' attitudes could be Wal-Mart's fatal defect.

Given its size and scope, Wal-Mart's ultimate demise may seem inconceivable, but the death of a bargain retailer is not unprecedented.

From the original giant retail empire founded by Frank Woolworth in Utica, N.Y., in 1879 to regional powers such as New York's E.J. Korvette and Pennsylvania's Fisher's Big Wheel, many discount retailers have been discarded into history's dustbin.

While many discounters failed because they didn't adopt technological innovation quickly enough or because they pursued ill-advised diversification projects, others disappeared as public perception shifted. Surely Woolworth executives didn't imagine that Kmart would upend the company, just as Kmart never really viewed Wal-Mart as a threat in the 1960s and 1970s. Will there be a retailer that can out-Wal-Mart Wal-Mart? History suggests that the answer is yes.

Woolworth wasn't the first merchandiser to offer cut-rate prices. Like many of the world's greatest businessmen -- think of Henry Ford's assembly line or Bill Gates's computer operating system -- Woolworth didn't invent what made him famous. He recognized the beauty of the discount concept and then built an empire.

Woolworth's work to establish bargain shopping apart from traditional retailing was revolutionary. Retailers were just beginning to understand the psychology of shopping in the late 19th century. Using dramatic displays and offering a broad selection of goods, his stores transformed simple marketplaces into edens where shoppers fulfilled their dreams. Woolworth's five-cent promise gave almost everyone buying power. By 1918, a billion people entered Woolworth's stores each year, and more than 820 million left with a purchase.

Looking back at the history of discount shopping in the United States, it's easy to visualize a line from Woolworth's to Wal-Mart. Today's discount retailers use the same methods Woolworth pioneered. They build stores in prime locations, squeeze distributors and offer low prices. Wal-Mart has mastered its gargantuan supply chain and used its size to force vendors to cut their prices. Technological innovations have driven down overhead. Savings have then been passed on to shoppers. Wal-Mart's high-tech infrastructure is the real engine driving the company's revenues.

Public protest, however, has put Wal-Mart at a crossroads. On its present course, it can continue gobbling up the hundreds of billions of dollars shoppers spend there annually and keep expanding until a store sits on every corner. As it does so, the company will battle challengers and constantly look for threats to its throne. Traditionally, this is the way large corporations function.

But given the heavy criticism Wal-Mart faces, a better strategy would be for the company to use its power to become a corporate revolutionary, utilizing its influence to set new merchandising standards as the country continues its shift to a service economy. A simple first step would be to pay employees better, which would immediately improve the lives of 1.4 million people and their families. With such actions, Wal-Mart has the chance to change the way corporate America operates.

The economy goes as Wal-Mart goes. Will it do something visionary or risk eventual extinction as did Frank Woolworth's great innovative retail enterprise? This may be the company's only chance to offset its damaged reputation.

It's not unreasonable for the world's largest company to aspire to be its most compassionate. That might make Wal-Mart a place where people would want to work -- and love to visit again.


This piece was distributed for non-exclusive use by the History News Service, an informal syndicate of professional historians who seek to improve the public's understanding of current events by setting these events in their historical contexts. The article may be republished as long as both the author and the History News Service are clearly credited.


comments powered by Disqus

More Comments:


Candice D - 12/2/2005

I think that the economy of US is more in danger than Walmart itself; with the movement of factories to foreign countries, jobs are lost and soon enough everyone wouldn't even have the money to buy a bargain. I think that the customers have the greatest power and we should utilize that to force Walmart to cease its expansion, better pay for its employees, and be responsible for its economy and implement the "Buy America", like what Sam Walton wrote in his autobiography. I think that if we, customers, must do to save the U.S economy and, foremost, set an example for other corporation to implement the "buy america" notion.


James Daniel Bennett - 6/21/2004

Hi--

Though it does not respond directly to the issue of Wal-Mart, I recently created a website of pictures and sound files dealing with rural town death through the story of the town's volunteer fire department. I would recommend it to anyone interested in the effects of sprawl and suburbinization:
http://www.crozetproject.com

Jamie


Garry Perkins - 1/7/2004

Some companies or even industries do get unfair privileges, but not "business" as a whole. "Business" is simply people doing work. Everyone who is not a government employee is part of a business. The reason why logical regulation of business is so hard to come by is because so many people have a weird hatred of business.

For example, there is nothing wrong with buying products from democracies that respect labor rights, such as Taiwan or Japan. There are serious moral issues in buying products made in criminal run states with no human rights at all, such as China or Vietnam. Yet, anti-trade people want to ban all trade, including that with nations like Japan. So, we cannot regulate trade effectively. We are forced to open trade with almost all nations, rather than punish our allies who radical Americans hate for some reason.

Similarly, all workers should be allowed to organize. And, all companies should be allowed to structure themselves efficiently by outsourcing. When organizations outsource, they still must follow their standard business practices. So, businesses should be held to account when they contract out work to firms of poor reputation. Yet, once again radicals just scream that outsourcing is immoral. It is not. When the argument is a simple yes/no to outsourcing, people choose yes. Radicals do not allow for a proper discussion of corporate responsibility. So corporations like Wal-mart get away with abuse by using contractors.

So, radicals force the majority to accept less regulation than necessary because the alternative they propose is too restrictive, or even downright stupid. It almost makes one wonder if Wal-mart is paying its critics to look crazy in order to drown out legitimate calls for reform.


Garry Perkins - 1/7/2004

There is a positive side to the Wal-martization of American suburbs. The cheapening of America drives Suburban refugees into cities. I grew up in suburban Chicago. All of my peers who could afford to ended up in Chicago. I could not imagine buying sub-standard products made by slave labor in China. Instead I buy furniture and clothing from small local shops. I live in a 19th century building with high ceilings that is within walking distance to work. It was renovated by union labor.

Everyone I know is in the same situation. We could never live in soulless suburbs. Our clothing and furniture are made in democratic countries. We work harder so we can afford to live like Americans. The suburbs are filling with the poor, the fat, and the ugly. Cities are booming. New York, Chicago, San Francisco,… are all swelling with the ranks of young suburbanites who would rather give up half their income in rent than live in a sub-division. Wal-martization is forcing a new generation of American back into cities. This is revitalizing American culture. The divorce rate will go down. Crime rates will continue to decline. Wal-mart has come to define life outside of American cities. People who can afford to escape have voted with their feet. Let Wal-mart have the boondocks. They can never take the real America.


collected by Kimmo Lapplander - 1/3/2004

Protest Poetry: Volume: oppressed intellectuals of Working Class, discouraged Academicians like Leonard PELTIER...(Int. English language version)

Poetica surrounded romantica

Kimmo Lapplander

kimmo_schamansson@laponia.com

**

Two Faced,
Double-dealing me.
Studying your bedroom ceiling
We crushed my scruples
To a fine white powder,
Heated gently with a little ambiguity.
I tried to be vague,
don't lie please, in the dark!
In the dark I lay and I betrayed,
Helpless,
In the sway of my doubt.
Cut off my nose to spite my heart
And cut the future out.
You injected a viciously circular cure
For my sickness of loss and desire,
You left me sore and wanting more,
Spinning confused and self-abusing.
I made my exit in the morning,
Coming down and withdrawn,
And deeper than I ever was before,
The day still to face
And I none the wiser
For my aching thighs and misadventure.
_______________________
Poetica surrounded romantica

Kimmo Lapplander

kimmo_schamansson@laponia.com

**
Shaped, moulded and remoulded, composed and decomposed
A casual overcastting of sunshine?
No, but a blank desolation.

Gloom, was it that might have departed?
No, but settled and abiding darkness
Total eclipse
Without all hope of day.

Oh, spirit of merciful interpretation,
Angel of Forgiveness to youth and its aberrations
That hearkenast for ever,
As if to some sweet choir of far-off female intercessions
Will ye, choir that intercede -
Wilt thou, Angel that forgivest - join together
And charm away that mighty phantom,
Born amidst the gathering mists of remorse
Which strides after me in pursuit from forgotten days
________________
Poetica surrounded romantica

Kimmo Lapplander

kimmo_schamansson@laponia.com

**
Upon the page displayed
a whole
a thought
open dream
Fall, fall, fall,
fall, fall
and
am I not a piece of mine?
and
is this not what I asked for?
I do not dream.
I fall, fall, fall
fall, fall
unaware
and like water.
______________

Poetica surrounded romantica

Kimmo Lapplander

kimmo_schamansson@laponia.com

**
my skin
presents

the mystery
of electric
darkness

and how
humans
compete

for misery

like horses
at thunder

____________
Poetica surrounded romantica

Kimmo Lapplander

kimmo_schamansson@laponia.com

**
the sun
gravity
at my

retina

like sweet
salts

in my
vein

finding
you in
my arms

the wonder
of each
flex

of our
mouths

______________
Poetica surrounded romantica

Kimmo Lapplander

kimmo_schamansson@laponia.com

**
night
takes
a dive

thick
and unknown

like being
stabbed

in the
pancreas
____________
Poetica surrounded romantica

Kimmo Lapplander

kimmo_schamansson@laponia.com

**
the body
betrays
sorrow

like ants
on a sleeping
thief

like a kiss
on nails

each claiming
the underworld

of crimes

to examine
and diagnose

the ill of
the soul

to present
solutions

like over
abundent
hormones
____________
Poetica surrounded romantica

Kimmo Lapplander

kimmo_schamansson@laponia.com

**
She was simply there,
An incarnation of herself.
No longer a nexus of adjectives
But pure and present noun.

I noticed the little fine hairs on her legs,
A speck of sleep in the canthus of her eye.
No longer Our lady of the Enigmas, but a girl,
Just a girl.

And somehow by being suddenly there like this
She made the things around her be there too.
In her, and in what she spoke, the world,
The little world in which we sat.

Found it's grounding and was realised.
It was as if she had dropped a spreading drop of colour
Into the water of the world and the colour had spread
And the outlines of things had sprung into bright relief.

As I sat with my mouth open
And listened to her, I felt everyone
And everything shiver and shift, falling into the most vivid of forms
Detaching themselves from me and my conception of them.

And changing themselves instead into what they were
No longer figment, no longer mystery,
No longer a part of my imagining.
And I, I was there amongst them, at last.
_______________________________
Poetica surrounded romantica

Kimmo Lapplander

kimmo_schamansson@laponia.com

**
Rubber Boots Walkin'
Lunar eye-- pale.
Kold rain.
March.
Slow motion reckonings.
Deep and certain,
the more things change,
The more they stay the same.

Rhythmic cognitions note,
Wahtz, daring to be bad.
Agree'in to disagree?
Or Rockin' the boat outta need for hope.
Fools git eaten whole?!
Dilettantes need not apply.
Lynch me not.
So long Psycho Ma'ma
Gorgon of featherdown
attachments.
Kold rain~z .... March.

Shoulda quite you long ago!

Down on the killin' floor...
Knowing is– Abraded teeth, long and sharp.
Screw the soul-eater.
Dogma iz a Bust!

Stand apart,
Be otherly in norm.
Laugh aloud– Blue-blue.
Pity the unwitting
snail.

Know too that,
Clownish proto-anarchism
Is but
Black booted consciousness
Leaving no-where fast
Hence: Stereotypes fixed agendas
that fly high on,
Are no-thing more then
The polemic of power broker's
Spittle.

Parasites with attitude.

Hello: Corporate America facicsts in soft drag
War makers... Jesus replicants... Thought police
And
Man-hating Hydras, too.
We're all one.
Who speaks for who?
Disavow'd gender– Nihilism and deconstructo obfuscation.
Secondary differences pity the gentler gamester.
Politico-feminist schism,
Deliberates wahtz it all about.
Why so...
Priests of Backlash– Why so?!

Every generation... Self anew.
Womyn suffrage moves to the beat of indifference and fast moving social
constructs.
Tradition as myth.
A concept waiting to happen.
A *GhostChild* walkin' in
Blue.

All yah gotta do,
Iz put one foot in front of the other;
I'm told.
Then take note of waht yah never get told
Or sold via the mass media
Shm~ooze.
Listen to the cries of the POOR.
Ask where did that preferential potion
For the POOR get to.

Alwayz talkin'/doing,
The living dead and a workaday ethic of Gimmie.
Howl: Dissatisfaction.
1, 2, 3 Watch the rush of self-emancipation.
Hear the hush of the pendulum swung there and back again.
Everything shivers.
Shifts.
Vivid forms detach-- The I and Thou of Me
Notes perception lacking.
Cognizance gone West and South.
Rhetorical
Wag played me cheap.
Ghost Child walking.
Cold rain~z a
Day.

Damn,
Where's my rubber walkin'
Boots.

End.

T-Indigo.... Cyas later/Peace.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
Poetica surrounded romantica

Kimmo Lapplander

kimmo_schamansson@laponia.com

**
Today I Smile…
(OR Truth & Justice 98)
**
Today I Smile,
An albeit ironic smile,
But shared by thousands...…
Some don't know the details why,
But they share that Smile
'cause Justice is so hard to find,
..and it's being re-discovered...…

---------------------------------------------------
A Non y Mousely
**
When people begin to talk...
**
Today the World said ; NO
To tyranny; NO,
To a tyrant's claimed impunity, NO,
To his self-imposed "immunity"...…
The joke is over,
Torturers and murderers are being named,
n"G" blamed...…

I always Damned you Pinocshit,
Now The World Damns you;
History will regret you,
And We'll remember with disgust your crimes...…
Such an idiot,
Let himself be played by foreign interests in 73,
Now foreign interests screw him,…
Such Poetic Justice,…
Such sweet Victory for the Truth...…

**
A small group will mourn,
The same privileged minority that always backed him,
Placed by the tyrant in positions of power,
As payment for their money and their souls;
A violent, loud group
of good 'ol boys and their disgusting whores...…
Let them cry their crocodile tears,
Let them scream their falsehoods;
There were too many witnesses left behind
to their disgusting crimes;…
Too many Fatherless,
Too many Motherless,
Too many tortured left to die but didn't,…
Their scars condemn you,
And forgiveness just isn't in your stars...…

**
Pinochit and friends,
I,
A simple member of the Human Race,
Condemn you for your ignorance and arrogance,
For your violence and your greed...…
I spit on you and your name,
Like you spit on democracy and Human Rights,
For destroying the hope of two generations of Chileans,
For dividing your people with lies...…
For being a Zion-loving coward…
For Murdering Victor Jara...
tims,
Decomposing in mass graves
while you took the Eucharist,
Women raped and tortured,
Justified by your machine gun toting apes
With one word, 'communist'...…
They raped and tortured and murdered,
To stop communism, in a 'till then democratic country...…
This made sense to these apes?
Why not?
After all,
they are descendents of those other historical disgraces,
those who condoned and conducted
the vile Spanish Inquisition...…
Old families,
Conditioned on decades of abusing Natives,…
The true savages of Latin America,
They almost all have foreign names,
And with the wealth
They also think they inherit the right to have no manners...
They run from all that is common,
And most of all from common sense...…
They still think Wrong and Right
And Left and Right are the same thing;…
25 years of oppressing all the wrong people,
No wonder that fascist money-grabbing clique
hasn't learnt a thing…
Fuck 'em!!
Today is for celebration!!!
Let the Andes welcome back the voices of the truth,
Let Justice reign;
Let the guilty burn a bit on Earth
Before they burn forever in the pits of Hell...…
Today is for joy!!!
My tyrant is busted!!
My devil is slowly dying,
And I feel High!!!
And I feel Good!!!
The chip is rolling off,
I scream it from my roof,
Long live Justice and the Truth!
ice and the Truth!!!
-------------------------------------------------------------------
Poetica surrounded romantica

Kimmo Lapplander

kimmo_schamansson@laponia.com

**
the days we were children behind of reindeers
**
When that I was and a little, tiny boy,
Me daddy said to me,
'The time has come, me bonny, bonny bairn,
To learn your ABC.'
Now Daddy was a lodge chairman
In the coalfields of the time
And his ABC was different
From the Enid Blighton kind.
He sang, 'A is for Alienation
That made me the man that I am, and
B's for the Boss who's a Bastard,
A Bourgeois who don't give a damn.
C is for Capitalism,
The bosses' reactionary creed, and
D's for Dictatorship, laddie,
But the best proletarian breed.
E is for Exploitation
That workers have suffered so long, and
F is for old Ludwig Feuerbach,
The first one to say it was wrong.
G is all Gerrymanderers,
Like Lord Muck and Sir Whatsisname, and
H is the Hell that they'll go to
When the workers have kindled the flame.
I's for Imperialism,
And America's kind is the worst, and
J is for sweet Jingoism,
That the Tories all think of the first.
K is for good old Kier Hardy,
Who fought out the working class fight, and
L is for Vladimir Lenin,
Who showed him the left was all right.
M is of course for Karl Marx,
The daddy and the mommy of them all, and
N is for Nationalisation -
Without it we'd tumble and fall.
O is for Overproduction,
That capitalist economy brings, and
P is for all Private Property,
The greatest of all of the sins.
Q's for the Quid pro quo,
That we'll deal out so well and so soon, when
R for Revolution is shouted and
The Red Flag becomes the top tune.
S is for Socialism
That gave us all such a good name, and
T is for Trotsky, the hero,
Who had to take all of the blame.
U's for the Union of Workers -
The Union will stand to the end, and
V is for Vodka, yes, Vodka,
The vun drink that vont bring the bends.
W's for all Willing Workers,
And that's where the memory fades,
For X, Y, and Zed,' my dear daddy said,
'Will be written on the street barricades.'
Now that I'm not a little tiny boy,
Me daddy says to me,
'Please try to forget those thing that I said,
Especially the ABC.'
For daddy is no longer a union man,
And he's had to change his plea.
His alphabet is different now,
Since they made him a Labour MP.
---------------------------------------------------------------------
Poetica surrounded romantica

Kimmo Lapplander

kimmo_lapp@laponia.com

**
Cotton flesh rest in this sweet fulfillment
Soft and delicat
Wet with a morning's dew
The world has conceived her
Time has delivered her being
And the breath of life
Has touched her innocent soul
She is wonder
Her soul now whispers
Ever so curiously
__________________
Poetica surrounded romantica

Kimmo Lapplander

kimmo_schamansson@laponia.com

**
The machine hums and clicks
as the wood is filled with holes.
I wonder what I'm doing here.
Is this where I'll be the rest of my life?
Co-workers wander about
doing their endless tasks,
unaware that this monotony spells death.
Not the death of the body,
but of the mind,
as there is no challenge to fill it's day.
The stronger their arms grow
the weaker their minds become.
The machine clicks one last time,
then dies with a final twitch.
It can no longer perform its routine tasks.
What will happen when my mind,
slow from a lack of enlightenment,
takes its last, remorseful gasp?
I wonder if I will notice.
_______________
Poetica surrounded romantica

Kimmo Lapplander

kimmo_schamansson@laponia.com

**
Beyond the wall
**
Society has built a wall
to squander inspiration.
To evoke a cotrolled response
and silence imagination.
The "educated" power
helped it grow tall and wide.
Hiding us from the truth.
Sealing us all inside.
They say we're not smart enough to understand,
that we can't comprehend what's there.
It's true that our eyes can't see over this wall
but we're not blind, we are aware.

_____________________
Poetica surrounded romantica

Kimmo Lapplander

kimmo_schamansson@laponia.com

**
make me out
behind tempered glass
distorted
as i flare off your lip
and trail
downwards
on to sometimes
on a warm afternoon
where condensation
takes the place
of anemic conversation

(you're sitting in a perfect way)

___________________
Poetica surrounded romantica

Kimmo Lapplander

kimmo_schamansson@laponia.com

**
during you play with your hair
**
you can love someone you never touch
love someone but never let them in

they said I never had him before; I don't need him now
ere to him I was feeling okay
....but they didn't see me pray

I cant explain how
Cant explain the dizzy and the swirliness of eyes
and the calculated belly rasping sweep of two hands before goodbye

O that the nothingness was throbbing there like thirst
Tall flute full of juice; spilt before you even get to taste it
Still thirsty
Try satisfy that aching with salt or bread
O substitute
the syrupy appeal of the substitute

substitution like the calcite on my pillow
in place of pretty locks of hair
or nocturnal visions of my prince in a dragon's lair

and my hair grows longer every day
it wont wash away
bathe with an inch of water about my feet like an asian spa

then I go to sleep like combless hair
and dream of the prince with the dragon who dares
to disturb my existence and determine my cares

_______________________
Poetica surrounded romantica

Kimmo Lapplander

kimmo_schamansson@laponia.com

**
Okay this one of the worst ones....any advice?????
**

stupid i tricked myself for the feeling to belong.
seeking and hoping. how wrong.
should have stayed as i was,
i was afraid just because,
i thought i was standing alone,
but isn't that the way it usually goes?
under all this waste
what do you think's in better taste?
winning over useless minds
with weak and self rejection, absent
in all these times, i thought we killed their god already
i wasn't even there
your vendictive after all you grew,
why stop now there's things you've never knew
breaking thought the silence you live for but complain about
nothing else to learn that makes you stupid-holding back
sick of change, sick of holds but living with them oh so well
a perfect living example of, a forced adaption

_____________________
Poetica surrounded romantica

Kimmo Lapplander

kimmo_schamansson@laponia.com

**
the north pole is stupid
**
albatross wings
and stretches the sky.
high, goodbye.

to hold this heart
he can't hold this heart
it is art.
subtly mild
sick and fine
colored tart.
in a blue sky, red sky, dark sky
i'll die.

with nothing more to look at.

nothing. why?
did you expect to hear something
clearly? my
own eyes unglazed
with vasoline.
but Figaro wasn't as lucky
or keen.

he was a cat.
i am a cat.
i am a panther, black
cat
was never found under the mat.
he was never found, where he sat.
_______________
Poetica surrounded romantica

Kimmo Lapplander

kimmo_schamansson@laponia.com

**
doors one and two
**

choosing systems was a difficult task
the way she looked
to how i shook
and pointed at the premier cask.

she built the wall
i tore it down
but grow like ivy
as a crown.

one kiss her cheek.
two learn to seek.
three let her weap.
four in a week.

but now i linger
now i hope
to listen to herselfly
cope.

why? love is such an understatement.
why? i knew her uncontrolled fate meant
so much more to me than ever has before.
and will forever more.
be my warmth to the door.
and kiss her on the floor to
kill a senseless crying whore.
of the bells that sing alors.
______________________
Poetica surrounded romantica

Kimmo Lapplander

kimmo_schamansson@laponia.com

**
drop shadow
**
in a grey driveway, lilacs
my birds like to sing
i love, i love
spring comes as she brings

with sienna for hair
and uncertianty stare
i look, i look
while she looks at me there

silent cries of electrical
impulsive mind
her eyes, her eyes
look onto, i bind

still only i wonder
if it would go under
her voice, her voice
while her voice calms the thunder

__________________
Poetica surrounded romantica

Kimmo Lapplander

kimmo_schamansson@laponia.com

**
Silent echoes
**
You look up at the star filled night
and wonder what it is that your searching for.
Your eye lids blink then close
and lightning streaks across the black once more.
A tear finds its way down your cheek
as in your mind the rain begins to fall.
Washing away your sheild made of sand,
forever drowning the sound of my call.
Silent echoes whisper throughout the breeze,
flirting ever so gently with your ear.
These silent echoes fill the canyons of your heart,
never loud enough for you to hear.

_____________________
Poetica surrounded romantica

Kimmo Lapplander

kimmo_schamansson@laponia.com

**
sun-changing
**
The day you left me
is the day that I died


So many shatterd hopes and dreams
I couldent do enything but cry


I dreamed that you would come
take away my pain my fear


But when I woke up all I was
A head filled with broken memories
and a hand full of tears


And the day you left me is the
day I tryed


But I knew you couldent
change


Nether can I
--------------------------------------------------------------------------
Poetica surrounded romantica

Kimmo Lapplander
kimmo_schamanson@laponia.com


**
growth by embrace
**
Troubling.
Thoughts recurring across time.
Confusion.
Eyes glazed with nothingness.
Unable.
Falling with a broken wing.
Destroyed.
Pieces thrown into a lost cave.
Numbness.
Mind searching for a key.
Hidden.
All doors masked with deceit.
Offered.
A chance to regain truth.
Taken.
A love so bright it darkens all.
Growth.
Trust overshadows dishonesty.
Complete.
Life forever wrapped in beauty's embrace.

----------------------------------------------------
Poetica surrounded romantica

Kimmo Lapplander

kimmo_schamanson@laponia.com

**
hill of the hearts
**
She made a show of hesitating on the threshold,
Leaning against the doorframe.

She regarded him with a small, false, enquiring smile,
He said nothing, merely looked at her.

And still she advanced, still smiling,
The expanse of skin about her collarbone was mottled.

And there were hairline cracks in her make-up around her eyes,
Stop at the window, consider the view.

The sun shines on a glitter of green,
And summer strides up the hillside.

He watched her where she stood with her back to him and her arms folded,
As if she were holding another, slightly self clasped tightly to her.

He noticed her poor bare feet with their stringy tendrils,
Once the world had seemed to him, a rich, coloured place.

Now all he saw was the poverty of things,
And the ghost of a love past.

----------------------------------------------------------------------
Poetica surrounded romantica

Kimmo Lapplander

kimmo_schamanson@laponia.com

**
ancient wilderness of feelings
**
Love Means More When Life Is Hard
Love means more when life is hard
And choices lead to sacrifice,
And every passion has its price
In duties paid and windows barred.
Though I have loved for many years,
Love is still for me a spring
That will from stone sweet fragrance bring,
And make a garden of our tears.
The love of children, children's children,
Flowing to the distant verge,
Flowing from the ancient urge
To make a home of wilderness,
Has been my joy, my inner dance
Of ecstasy, as day by day
I move the mountains in my way
And claim through love the gifts of chance.
-------------------------------------------------------------
Poetica surrounded romantica

Kimmo Lapplander

kimmo_schamanson@laponia.com

**
dancing waves
**
stream seems to conform
bending and meandering
all the while carving.

**
requiems of mothers of Laponian comrades
innocent arrogant youthful smiles
convert to fragile ancient withered ones
recent footprints currently residing
in transitory shadows....
tears of grandmothers will fill them in
validating the laws of math and physics
recovery seemingly so incomplete
sand castles of old
long since dissolved....
dancing still on incoming waves
**
dancing waves, reindeers move
nobody heard
mothers crying

______________________________________________________________________________________________________

Protest poetry / silence

Leonard PELTIER

Leonard PELTIER

resistance_culture@revolutionaries.org
(from the book; My life is my sun dance)
**

Silence, they say, is the voice of complicity

But silence is impossible

Silence screams

Silence is a message

just as doing nothing is an act

Let who you are ring out and resonate

in every word and every deed

Yes, become who you are

There's no sidestepping your own being

or your own responsibility

What you do is who you are

You are your own comeuppance

You become your own message

You are the message

In the Spirit of Crazy Horse

**
Leonard PELTIER
(without any legal reason ever accuse, since 27 years imprisoned Poet)

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Protest poetry / identity card

Mahmoud DARWISH

Mahmoud DARWISH

Intifada_culture@workers.org

"Identity Card" (Bitaqat Haweeya)

**
RECORD!!
I am an Arab
and my identity card is number fifty
thousand
I have eight children
and the nineth
is coming in midsummer
Will you be angry?

Record!
I am an Arab
employed with fellow workers
at a quarry

I have eight children
to get them bread
garments
and books
from the rocks-
I do not supplicate
charity
at your doors
Nor do I belittle myself
at the footsteps of your chamber
So will you be angry?

RECORD!!
I am an Arab
without a name- without title
in a patient country
with people enraged
My roots-
were entrenched before the birth of time
and before the opening of the eras
before the olive trees, athe
pines, and grass

My father-
descends from the family of the plow
not from a privileged class
And my grandfather-
was a farmer
neither well-bred, nor well-born
And my house-
is like a watchman's hut
made of branches and cane
This is my status
Does it satisfy you?
I have a name but no title.

RECORD!!
I am an Arab
The color of my hair-is black
The color of my eyes-is brown
And my distinctive features:
The head-dress hatta wi'gal
And the hand is solid like a rock
My favorite meal
is olive oil and thyme {zatar}
ANd my address:

A village-isolated and deserted
where the streets have no names
and the men-work in the fields and quarries
THey like socialism
Will you be angry?

RECORD!!!
I am an Arab
You have stolen the orchards
of my ancestors
and the land
which I cultivated
Along with my children
And you left us with those rocks
so will the State take them
as it has been said?

Therefore!
Record on the top of the first page:
I do not hate man
Nor do I encroach
But if I become hungry
The usurper's flesh will be my food

Beware-beware- of my hunger
and my anger!!


-----------------------------------------------------------------------------

Protest poetry / those who pass between fleeting words
Mahmoud DARWISH
Mahmoud DARWISH Intifada_culture@workers.org
Those who pass between fleeting words
(Abiroon Fi Kalamin Abir)
**

O those who pass between fleeting words
Carry your names, and be gone
Rid our time of your hours, and be gone
Steal what you will from the blueness of the
sea and the sand of memory
Take what pictures you will, so that you understand
That which you never will:
How a stone from our land builds the ceiling of our sky.

O those who pass between fleeting words
From you the sword -- from us the blood
From you steel and fire -- from us our flesh
From you yet another tank -- from us stones
From you tear gas -- from us rain
Above us, as above you, are sky and air
So take your share of our blood -- and be gone
Go to a dancing party -- and be gone
As for us, we have to water the martyrs' flowers
As for us, we have to live as we see fit.

O those who pass between fleeting words
As better dust, go where you wish, but
Do not pass between us like flying insects
For we have work to do in our land:
We have wheat to grow which we water with our bodies' dew
We have that which does not please you here:
Stones or partridges
So take the past, if you wish, to the antiquities market
And return the skeleton to the hoopoe, if you wish,
On a clay platter
We have that which does not please you: we have the future
And we have things to do in our land.

O those who pass between fleeting words
Pile your illusions in a deserted pit, and be gone
Return the hand of time to the law of the golden calf
Or to the time of the revolver's music!
For we have that which does not please you here, so be gone
And we have what you lack: a bleeding homeland
of a bleeding people
A homeland fit for oblivion or memory
O those who pass between fleeting words
It is time for you to be gone
Live wherever you like, but do not live among us
It is time for you to be gone
Die wherever you like, but do not die among us
For we have work to do in our land
We have the past here
We have the first cry of life
We have the present, the present and the future
We have this world here, and the hereafter
So leave our country
Our land, our sea
Our wheat, our salt, our wounds
Everything, and leave
The memories of memory
O those who pass between fleeting words!



----------------------------------------------------------------------------
Protest poetry / Intifada
Najwa Farah
Najwa Farah

Intifada_culture@workers.org


Intifada
**

One poet got it right -
Addressing his beloved,
spoke about a bird that shivers
On a bough when dew wets its feathers.
That's like the love of maddened Qays to Leila.

Did such a shiver of passion
Spur the children of Palestine
To rise, pick up a stone, which transformed, becomes
A symbol of the land?

Children of passion,
Holding the land, are doomed to fall
By the deadly weapons of foreign troops,
And embrace the land forever.

But the birds will still sing and shiver
When dew falls on wing and feather,
And the babes who will grow older
Will grasp the language hidden
And translate it into deeds.

And the spring will lushly spring,
And the birds will chirp and sing,
And the boughs will dance and sway
For the love of those who died,
For the love that rent their heart.

(from the book "The Colour of Courage")

----------------------------------------------------------------------

Protest poetry / Children bearing rocks
Nizar Qabbani
Nizar Qabbani

Intifada_culture@workers.org
Children Bearing Rocks

**
With stones in their hands,
they defy the world
and come to us like good tidings.
They burst with anger and love, and they fall
while we remain a herd of polar bears:
a body armored against weather.

Like mussels we sit in cafes,
one hunts for a business venture
one for another billion
and a fourth wife
and breasts polished by civilization.
One stalks London for a lofty mansion
one traffics in arms
one seeks revenge in nightclubs
one plots for a throne, a private army,
and princedom.

Ah, generation of betrayal,
of surrogate and indecent men,
generations of leftovers,
we'll be swept away--
never mind the slow pace of history--
by the children bearing rocks.
In my shoes


---------------------------------------------------------------------------



Protest poetry / When revolutions degenerate
Nizar Qabani
Nizar Qabani
Intifada_culture@workers.org

When Revolutions Degenerate!!

Translated by: Fahmi Abboushi

**
The most abhorrent event in the Arab world nowadays is the phenomenon of
degeneration;
degeneration in our bodies,
degeneration in our souls,
degeneration in our minds and our sense of time beats,
degeneration in our dreams and hopes,
degeneration in our national aspirations,
degeneration in our political practices,
degeneration in our language, our poetry, our prose and our cultural vision,
degeneration in our beliefs, our principles and our revolutionary slogans.

It is a horrifying chain of degenerations,
swiftly soaked us into the age of senility.
and with a simple comparison,
between our national maturity and the beautiful characteristics of the fifties,
and our degeneration, paleness, and the arching of our spine in the nineties,
we discover that aging is penetrating our bones, and that we have grown three
thousand years in thirty years.

The Arabic path has degenerated and is struck by partial paralysis;
after being able to engrave with its nails the flesh of the impossible,
and jump the walls of the stars...
And the Arab masses, who shared in inscribing history,
have entered the age of illiteracy;
nothing remains but a few rabbits seeking bits of carrots
to bite,
or a hole to enter.

The physical degeneration may be considered half the disaster,
if measured by the degeneration of the soul.
The soul degeneration means first of all:
the human's loss of desire for life;
the dreamer's loss of the ability to dream;
the mind's loss of the ability to create and prosper;
the feet's loss of energy to continue the march;
secondly, it means;
the horses resign from their neighing;
and the armed resign their arms;
the angry resign their anger;
and the messengers resign from preaching their messages;
and thirdly it means:
shame is stripped of its clothes;
and principles stripped of their axioms;
And Arabs stripped of their Arabness;
and the politicians stripped from their last membrane of virginity;
and fourthly it means:
our eyes become in the back of our heads;
so that we only see our own faces in the mirror;
and read no books but our own;
and do not listen but to our rhetorical radios;
and see nothing in the geographical directions but the reverse;
and degeneration lastly means:
to give up our freedom,
for the sake of a meal, or an Omega watch;
or a job in the ministry of culture,
or for a hundred dollar bill.

Since the defeat of June 1967,
the count down of the Arabic national project began;
and then came the second Gulf War to abort the rest of that project;
the word of unity became a work of Satan;
and a source of terror for Arabs in general and for the Gulfians in particular;
and there the happy Yemen;
cutting the last threads of unity between its north and south,
inspired by the lesson of separation between the Egyptian and Syrian in 1961.
I imagine that the virus of separation attacked all the national immune-organs;
and the Arab nationalists, ideologists, and Arab leftests intellectuals are
dodging the use of words such as "unity" or "unification";
so curses will not follow them,
and shame scar them.

Who expected that the unionists will retreat from their call of unity;
and the separatist, regionalist, religious and tribal thought will replace it
and raise their flag all over the Arab world?
Who expected to repent on our unification sins, and go back to out tribal
ideology? Returning to Dahis and Alghabra'e wars.
Do Dahis and Alghabra'e have ideology?
Yes. It is the idealogy of hatred, slander, invasion, attack, an ideology that
still compose a main part of our war and media campaigns strategies.

It is a series of satanic denigration,retreats, and defeats,
with no equal since the defeat of Grenada in 1492, and our exodus from
Andalusia,
And we found relatives to house us in Grand Morocco,
who opened their houses for us, and shared their loaf of bread with us, to save
us from asking alms,
who may rescue us from our diaspora these days?
If Abu-Abdalla, the last of the lords of Grenada, found a mule to take him
and his Harem to his new abode of exile in Morocco, how many mules do we need
to transfer the millions of Arabs who ran away from the Arabic wars, and the
Arab dictatorships, to their new diaspora...

We have no place in the land of Christians...
we have no place in the land of Muslims...
nor in the land of the Jews...
and the land of Buddhists.
We have no place in an Arab world that placed on its borders thousands of
barrels, hurdles and sand bags.
So that we do not share with it the piece of bread...
or disturb it by the noise of our sick and hungry children...

Nothing new on the Eastern front,
nor on the Western front,
not in the north,
nor in the south.
All our fronts are closed...and sealed with red wax,
and our rifles turned to kids' toys...
and our heroes turned to paper tigers,
and our slogans turned to spaghetti dishes...
and Fairuz's song "We shall return" is no more an Arabic song...
which became a Norwegian song!!

When the revolution chews American gum,
and wears American jeans,
then mourn it with eulogies...

And the peace negotiations with Israel...
these also degenerated...
we sit on chairs looking decrepit,
speaking a language that is corrupt,
dictating conditions that are degrading,
signing the minutes of the meeting in a state between waking and disillusion.
And when we are asked to stand in front of the microphone,
to lay the egg of the roaster,
we perspire, chill, fiery, and grumble,
and then we speak in broken English,
and utter with an indignant broken Arabic.

Who can stop these grand downfalls in our history?
Who can stop the death that daily emanates from our coffee cups?
And out of our papers headlines?
Who can take our homeland out of the dead freezer and slap it on its face,
once or twice, till it awakes from its state of unconsciousness,
and returns to its lively beat, anger and pride.

In the nineties,
the Arab world became a huge freezer absorbing 200 million Arab,
they are thinking under the zero level,
reading under the zero level,
writing under the zero level,
and dying under the zero level!



-------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Protest poetry / Jerusalem city of peace
Nidal Kersh
Nidal Kersh

Intifada_culture@workers.org

Jerusalem city of peace

"Ya madinat alsalam" Fairuz
**

Oh you city of love

We pray for you

You most graceful among cities

Oh you city of pray

We pray for you


We imagine you everyday

How we used to walk there

Walk among the old churches

And pray together at the temple mount


Not a day goes by

Without Jerusalem on our mind

we pray


And in the stable

Lays Mary and her son

They are both crying

Crying for the children

For the children that were martyred




Oh you murdered peace

In the city of peace

And in the hearts over the world

Love declined

And in the stable

Lays Mary and her son

Their faces shed with tears

We pray for them all


We will leave the sorrow behind us

The anger of the people will rise

And I am full of faith

From everywhere we will come

to free you

from everywhere

we will free you

Even heaven will turn its wrath upon you

The hate which you brought

Will be washed away from the streets with rocks


You cannot close the gate of Jerusalem

I am going there to pray!

I will swim in river Jordan!

I will pray in the temple mount!


The land is ours!

Jerusalem is ours!

In our hearts you live forever!

In our hands you will have peace forever!



---------------------------------------------------------------------------


Protest poetry / Do you remember?
Nidal Kersh
Nidal Kersh

Intifada_culture@workers.org


Do you remember?


**
Do you remember?

How you stole my rights and raped my land?

Do you remember?

How you murdered my mother, father and son?

How you stole my home and replaced it with your own?

Cant you see the tears that are shed?

The tears we shed is because we love our land

The land you came and raped


Tears to all the ones you killed

To all villages you destroyed and claimed they were yours

You let the sons of whores in to our promised land

And this promise I give you, you son of a whore

Nor day, nor night will the people rest

They will fight


Do you remember?

When we let you in to Jerusalem?

Do you remember?

How you stole our land?

We will not forget the hate and sorrow

that you brought to us


Can not you here the cries?

The cries which cry out the hate for you?

Fifty years has been, and you might think we will give up

Then think again you rapist of our land

As long as we live we will stand

We will fight you with rocks and bare hands

We will never forget the land we had


So remember!

Our struggle will not stop, nor day nor night

With love for our country we will fight



--------------------------------------------------------------------------

Protest poetry / Long lost land

Khadijah Al-Zeer

Khadijah Al-Zeer

Intifada_culture@workers.org

Long Lost Land
London 9 April 1994

**

To tread on a Palestinean street
That once was peaceful, once discreet
But now you'll see the scurrying feet
Of hopless children with nothing to eat.

To see them running and risking their lives
and one out of four who ever survives.

Broken down buildings that once used to stand
Sidewalks and gardens that once were garnd.

A young mother is carrying her dying child
she gives him love that's soothing and kind
Little young children trying to cope
defenceless, unarmed, they have no hope.

Beside the ruins the youngsters play
but sooner or later they're frightened away
Starvation and poverty are all you can see
and to burnt down shacks civilians flee.

"Safe as home" people had said
now homes hold only the dying and dead.
Innocent prisoners are locked away
and graveyards are places where loved ones lay.

Students studying out on the grass
start fleeing away as the soldiers pass
after a while they will retreat
but their education is never complete.

A boy of fifteen picks up a stone
and faces an army on his own
a pleading child, a poor civilian,
the young and the old all killed by the million.

But will there be an equal law?
Will we see the end of war?
Will the rightful owners stand
to reown and rule their long lost land?

---------------------------------------------------------------------

Protest poetry / a million suns
Tawfiq Zeyad
Tawfiq Zeyad
Intifada_culture@workers.org

A Million Suns in my Blood
**
They stripped me of water and oil
And the salt of bread
The shining sun, the warm sea
The taste of knowledge
And a loved one who--twenty years ago--went off
Whom I wish (if only for an instant) to embrace.
They stripped me of everything
The threshold of my home
The flowerpots on the balcony.
They stripped me of everything
Except
A heart
A conscience
And a tongue!

In their chains, my pride
Is fiercer than all arrogant delirium.
In my blood a million suns
Defy a multitude of cruelties.
My love for you
You people of boundless tragedy
Lets me storm the seven heavens
For I am your son...
Your offspring
In heart
Conscience
And tongue!

Our hands are steady and enduring.
The hands of the oppressor
However hard
Tremble!


----------------------------------------------------------------------------

Palestinian Am I

By: Edna. Yaghi - Nov 13, 2002

No one can take away from me
My identity,
For it is mine.
Palestinian am I.

I am the river that flows
Through my land.
I am the mountain
Noble and magnificent
Rising up out of chaos and destruction.

I greet the morning sun
That shines down on my fertile valleys
And parches my barren desert.

I am the red poppy and yellow daffodil
That grow upon my bloodstained hills.
I am the battle cry of freedom
That echoes through my corridors
And every fiber of my being.

Palestinian am I.
I am the proud owner of
Orange orchards and lemon blossoms
And honey bees, wild and free.

I am the Palestinian David child wielding a single stone
Against the Israeli Goliath.
I am not afraid,
For truth is with me and God is on my side.
If I die,
A choir of angels will honor me
And later, my parents will grasp my outstretched hand
And join me in Heaven.


I am the tears of
Mothers weeping for their dead sons.
I am the footsteps of ancient prophets
Who foretold of doom and destruction
To those who torture and oppress me.

My brethren are the doves, hummingbirds and seagulls
That fly unhindered above my sea.
I am Palestinian,
Therefore, I am.

No one can take my identity
Away from me,
Not tanks or guns or bombs
Meant to desecrate me and kill me.
My country lives in me.

I am the cry of liberty.
No matter what they take from me,
They can't take away my identity
Or my dignity.
Palestinian am I.

---------------------------------------------------------------------
"OH MOHAMMAD"
Poem for two year anniversary of Mohammad El Dura's murder.
by Nahel Rimawi Sept 30, 2002
Oh Mohammad all we can do is watch helplessly
as you cried out to us for help. Your father pleaded
for the shooting to stop while shielding you from
the bullets with his body. Your cries were heard
around the world and the world did nothing as the
soldiers kept coming after you like wolves after
prey. The hail of bullets came down like a
thunderstorm and when the dust cleared you laid in
your father arms motionless. Oh Mohammad El Dura
what did you do to deserve this horrific end, were
the soldiers hunting and you were the game, was it
because you were Muslim and one day you would be a
strong man, or maybe it was that you are Palestinian the
true inheritant of this land. While mourners carried you
through the streets your mother watched and wept, you
had a smile on your face as if to say do not worry momma
I am in peace. Go now young Mohammad your soul is free,
you will never have to worry about bombs, bullets, and
death in these streets. Your screams and cries are still heard
across this Holy Land, but we will carry on the struggle
in the name of Islam. One day we will be free, rest now
and may your soul be in peace.
-----------------------------------------------------------------------
Subject: A moving poem about Palestine from an American Christian

Assalamu'alaikum

We received the following note and poem today and thought we would share it with
you.

IAP
----------------

Dear IAP,

I am a middle-aged Christian American woman who supports your cause.
My husband and I speak neither Arabic nor Hebrew, but follow the
English-language press daily, and are sickened by what we learn. We write
letters weekly, and feel endless frustrated with our country's leaders. But,
because it is our country, your blood is on our hands, too, and we are deeply
sorrowful and ashamed. As believers in the same God, your cause is our cause and
we, too, are presently helpless.

But just as Martin Luther King and Mohandas Gandhi ultimately prevailed,
by shaming those who currently have no shame, we deeply believe that, with the
Grace of God, you will regain your homeland.

Please accept this poem -- it is from my heart. I hope that by writing it --
by expressing to you my deepest feelings as one who bleeds for you and with you,
but nevertheless is not of you and therefore cannot possibly know the true
depths of your feelings -- I have not in some unknown way offended you.

Sincerely,
Nancy Horn


Dave Livingston - 12/29/2003

B.C. says "Business has unfair advantages..." Unfair to whom? If this refers to Wal-Mart to whom has it unfair advantages? Its competitors? To those to whom it sells products? Please list examples.


Barbara Cornett - 12/18/2003

If you are not a stuffy professor or historian you are welcome to call me Barbara because I don't stand on any formality. Just don't tell the professors I said that tho. ;)

I think the government has a role to play and that there is much regulation needed to keep business in line.

What about businesses that falsely label food products so that people don't even know what they are eating? If not for the government there is litterally no telling what businesses might put in our food and then lie about it. We couldn't survive if there was no gov regulation and the market was free to do as it pleased.

What about businesses that pollute our air, water and soil? If not for government intervention we would be like Russia and actually have much shorter life spans because of pollution. What about disease that people get as a result of pollution. What about all of the pollutants that happen during manufacturing processes that businesses leave for the taxpayer to pay to clean up? Do you think thats fair? They pollute and give us cancer then take our tax dollars to clean up after them. The burden of paying for health care for people who get sick because of the enviroment is paid by the taxpayer and not business.

Business has all kinds of unfair advantages which you don't seem to even notice or acknowledge.


Jesse Lamovsky - 12/17/2003

"The fact is we don't have a free market. Subsidizing agribusiness in an example that we don't have a free market. Subsidizing dairy farmers so that the price of milk is jacked up in an example that we don't have a free market."

Well, you are correct about that. We are saddled with what is, in all honesty, a fascistic economic system. But if you really want equity, the answer lies not in more regulation, but in less. It is the regulatory pitfalls- minimum wage laws, insurance laws, zoning laws and the like- that keep smaller concerns out of the market, and clear a path for the dinosaurs like Wal-Mart. Look, I have no special attachment to Wal-Mart. If they go under in an unregulated market environment... que sera sera.

"I know that you hate labor and you think that if Minute Maid or WalMart can use Mexican or Chinese or American slaves that is ok as long as they can make tons of money in the process."

I hate labor? Ms. Cornett, I am labor. I don't have a college degree, I have precious few marketable skills, and since I entered the workforce, I've done just about every kind of menial job you can think of. I'm no oligarch. I get up and do a day's work. But there are principles involved. I believe every man has the right to the money- all of the money- which he has earned, and I don't approve of anyone taking that man's money at the pistol's point and handing it over to someone he deems more "deserving" of it. That doesn't work for me. I've argued on this site, related to the war on terrorism, that we need to be more stringent on the border patrols, and less tolerant of any illegal immigration. And please show me the evidence that Wal-Mart employs "slave" labor. And American "slaves"? Come on.

"You say that people could boycott Wal-Mart. Yes they could but that would be interferring in the free market as you see it just as surely as government interference would be."

Wrong, Ms. Cornett. There's a world of difference between a boycott and government regulation, and that difference lies in the application of force. Boycotts are non-violent and non-compulsory. Government regulation is backed by government guns, and the word of government is definitely compulsory- comply or else. I have no problem with interference in the free market by private persons and organizations- after all, the market is not God, and people have the choice to participate or not participate. My problem is with most kinds of government regulation which are backed, after all, by violence.

"The fact that people are so desperately poor that they shop and work at WalMart means that most of their time is involved in working and attempting to make a living. There is precious little time for intellectual pursuits such as reading, involving yourself in civic activities, or becoming politically knowledgeable etc."

Ms. Cornett, I've worked fast food, gas station, factory, temp jobs where they work you one day and dump you the next, I've not known where the rent money was going to come from, I've been down... and I've always found time to educate myself, because I care about what's going on in the world. And so do you, because we're exchanging our opinions right now. So don't tell me people don't have the option of enriching their own minds, because they do, and you know it.

Again, there's no way we will agree. You think there exists an amorphous body politic going by "the people" and "the workers", and this monolith has the same interests, and the same needs. I say such a consensus does not exist, has never existed, and will never exist, and history shows that the only way to build such a consensus is through mass murder. I say this as a member of the very class you champion. Do I agree with you that politics in money in the contemporary USA are hopelessly intertwined, and to our misfortune? Yes. Your solution is to hand all power to a government in the name of a Rousseau-like "general will" that is a plaything of philosophers and tyrants, nothing more. Mine is to hand power to individuals, which do exist. That is the difference.




Barbara Cornett - 12/16/2003

The reason that HNN is a good place to debate is because there are educated professional historians who presumably or perhaps ideally will keep the debate at a higher level and call people on things they misstate. I insist that you take issue with what I say if you disagree so I certainly have no problem with that and I don't think any of this is personal.

a) I don't hate the free market. The fact is we don't have a free market. Subsidizing agribusiness in an example that we don't have a free market. Subsidizing dairy farmers so that the price of milk is jacked up in an example that we don't have a free market.

In a free market any airline that cannot survive would go under. In a free market any auto manufacturer who could not survive would go under. In a free market any steel company that could not survive would go under. In a free market media would have to pay for their use of our airwaves. In a free market pharmacueitcals would have to pay for drugs that my dollars discovered thur research that I paid for.

When citizens have to pay taxes to build a military while businesses don't and then that military is used in Iraq to benefit business then that is an indication that we don't have a free market. My money made the investment in Iraq but business gets the profits. I was the one who was the risktaking entrapranuer who invested in Iraqi oil but ExxonMobile gets my profits. Is that your idea of a free market?

The US is a country of, by and for the people. Under our system it is the people who have rights. Not the market. The market should work within our system and any freedom it has is conditioned upon the rights of the people coming first. The right to make a living for instance.

I think people should be able to operate a motor vehicle before they are allowed to get on our roads and I think taxing people who drive on roads which cost money is a good way to pay for them. Where would you get the money to pay for roads?

b) I know that most people who go shopping at WalMart know or think very little about WalMart policies. I know that you hate labor and you think that if Minute Maid or WalMart can use Mexican or Chinese or American slaves that is ok as long as they can make tons of money in the process.

When you can support a system where companies use slave labor to make their wealth then you will have to demonstrate to me how that is THEIR money before you can say that I'm a greedy to take what THEY have EARNED.

The government could raise the min wage, they don't have to hold a gun to anyone's head.

You say that people could boycott WalMart. Yes they could but that would be interferring in the free market as you see it just as surely as government interference would be. The gov represents the people so it is the gov place to make laws that give us min wage, safe work places etc etc. Boycott. Government. same thing.

There would have to be an organizing effort to get people to protest and boycott WalMart. The fact that people are so desperately poor that they shop and work at WalMart means that most of their time is involved in working and attempting to make a living. There is precious little time for intellectual pursuits such as reading, involving yourself in civic activities, or becoming politically knowledgeable etc.

A necessary tool in getting people involved and in informing is tv. We own the public airwaves. They belong to us. Yet we cannot use them to organize. We cannot use them to inform people. Why? Because corporations have taken them over and use them to spew propaganda that benefits and serves the corporate agenda rather then worker's agenda. How is the control by corporations of my public airwaves a free market? You certainly don't object when the gov holds a gun to my head and gives my airwaves to corporations do you?

I don't have to be greedy and want to take NBC's money. I already have billions and billions of dollars and that is because I own the most expensive airwaves in the world. NBC is the greedy one are they not.

We don't have a free market. We have a subsidized, corporate dependent, market where business has all of the advantages and where business uses my gov to take my labor and my possesions and turn it over to private individuals who then become wealthy because they steal what is mine.

Why should our gov allow Mexicans to illegally come into the US so they can provide slave labor for business. In a free market business would have to abide by US law just like the rest of us. No exceptions would be made for them so they can access slave labor at the expense of American labor.

Money is the key to getting elected and business has an advantage and senators like the FL senator who owns stock in orange juice and used her power to prevent the ending of Mexican slave labor shows that business is doing everything it can to prevent a free and honest market. I am not jealous of people who make money but I do have a right to object to slavery and fraud and businesses they take over my government and give themselves welfare. Thats my money and they have no right to steal it. You couldn't handle a free market and businesses like WalMart don't want a free market.


Jesse Lamovsky - 12/15/2003

Ms. Cornett,

If people don't like Wal-Mart's policies, or the way they treat Mexican illegals, or the 98-year 'greeters' at the doors, than you know what? They can voluntarily refuse to give Wal-Mart their money. If enough people do this, if the reasons for this are delineated clearly, than perhaps Wal-Mart will change these policies. It's called a boycott, Ms. Cornett. It's a non-violent, non-compulsory means of affecting change in society. But what do you propose? You propose that the government, quite literally, place a gun to the heads of Wal-Mart's executives and demand, on pain of fines, imprisonment, or worse, that they affect changes for a non-existent "public good". Why do you propose this?

a.) you hate the free market, and you are filled with irrational anger at those who have prospered by it, and greed to take what they have, which you have not earned yourself, by force.

b.) you know that most people are more than happy to go on shopping at Wal-Mart because it benefits them. They're not interested in boycotts, or government regulations. Thus, you must use force to accomplish your goals, because you and your ideological ilk are in a minority. That's why progressives rely on federal judges to bring about their idea of social change- they don't have the votes.

You think Wal-Mart and its executives, who do business purely by voluntary contract, are exploitive. Yet you propose to place all power in the hands of government, which by its very nature relies on nothing but brute force and compulsion, in the name of a "public good" that does not exist. Who has the power to jack your life up more, Ms. Cornett? A Wal-Mart executive? Or the little bureaucrat down at the BMV, from whom you have to pay for permission to drive your own car? Think about it. Who really does the exploiting here?

I'm not going to get too personal here, Ms. Cornett- you've been very kind and generous toward some of my other posts, and I appreciate it. But you are a champion of an evil system, one that never creates- only destroys, impoverishes, starves. Perhaps one day you'll see that.


Barbara Cornett - 12/15/2003

Many people say that they don't think government should intervene in business and that we should 'let the market work'. Here is a stunning report on how Mexicans and migrant workers get treated and it is a part of the system that allows places like WalMart to treat its workers like they do.

http://www.palmbeachpost.com/moderndayslavery/content/moderndayslavery/

If things change the government will have to step in and make those changes.

I would also like to know why Mexico is so far behind the US. Why have they failed to make progress like the US and Canada? What have they done differently?


Jerry West - 12/15/2003

-
I'm flattered, Harold.

And it may well be semantics, we certainly have wandered away from whether material wealth can be created or only moved about.


Harold - 12/15/2003

I think we have a definition problem, Jerry.

According to my dictionary, the only definition of labor (of the dozen or so available) that remotely relates to what you seem to want "labor" to mean is: "exert one's powers of body or mind".

But face it, some people are smarter or luckier than others.
Bill Gates is a gazillioner and a workaholic, but lots of other workaholics are in drab offices typing away with (and cursing at) Windows95. Gates started out as just a nerd in an office, and I don't think his 90 hour + work weeks are the reason he is now able to sell crappy software and still rake in enough in profits and bonuses to give away massive amounts in charitable donations every year while living in 5,000 room Saddam-sized palace of a house.

If the less thrifty of the two corn-farmer brothers in the prior example suffered a head injury that left him strong and eager to work hard physically, but with the brain of a two year old, he might eat up all his corn out of sheer inability to mentally grasp the necessity of saving some of it. He might "exert" much greater labor and raise much more of a sweat digging a hole and filling it in over and over, than his twin exerts plowing, planting, and gathering, and yet still be the hungry one at the end of the summer.

I think you are one of the most sensible and knowledgeable people writing comments to this website, but I don't think it's because you work harder at it than, say for example, "NYGuy".


Jerry West - 12/15/2003

-
Jesse Lamovsky wrote:

A person's worth on the labor market is determined by the scarcity of that person's skills.

JW:

Sometimes it is determined by one's family connections, other times by luck, sometimes by skin color. Sometimes by skill. But, a person's "worth" on the labor market is a poor gauge to judge one by, and no reason to exploit that market through wages below a living level.

JL:

But if you want the government to put a gun to the heads of the Walton family and force them to lower their top execs' salaries and raise their lowest workers', well...

JW:

No gun needed. Tax incentives for paying workers more up to a certain level and disincentives for paying anything beyond that level. Let the businesses make the decision how to distribute their money.

JL:

That's extortion.

JW:

High profits are also extortion. Profits in fact are a form of private taxation and should be regulated and kept reasonable just like any other tax.

JL:

You want to bribe people into getting off the public tit. I just want to kick 'em off.

JW:

No, I just want to remove the reasons for them being there in the first place. Just kick them off? Welcome to the Third World.

JL:

It had better not be socialism, though!

JW:

Yeah, we should get rid of all of those socialist institutions like a publicly supported military, police, fire services, highways, airline subsidies, etc and etc.

JL:

- Atlas Shrugged

JW:

I concur with Harold. You may feel free to quote a fairy tale if you like.

I suppose in your world in a boat full of starving people the first one to break into the food should eat it all, eh?


Jerry West - 12/15/2003

-
Harold wrote:

I suppose you could argue that Americans are better stealing wealth than Iraqis

JW:

I would use the word acquire instead of steal. Acquiring comes in many forms. :)

H:

There is still the question of what one does with the wealth one acquires. If a laboring man eats his seed corn, while his laboring twin brother plants his, will their "labor" determine who is better off come harvest time ?

JW:

Actually, yes. Wise use of labor will generally allow one to transfer more wealth than a foolish one. It is still the labor that moves the wealth. In the case of the first brother his labor moved it all to shit. Only a wise move if he can use that for something better than another crop of corn. This is assuming that starvation wasn't emminent and eating the seed corn was the only way to make it through the winter.



Harold - 12/15/2003


Maybe a couple of examples will help, Jerry.

Try this:

How many Iraq's would like to see Americans leave Iraq right away
(now that we Americans have finally done something really useful for them, today) ?

Some millions, probably, who would be willing to "labor" for the cause of gaining sovereignty.

And how many American soldiers are in Iraq to tell them they have to wait many more months before they get their country "back" (in quotes, because of course, they never really "had" it before) ?

A few hundred thousand.

Now undoubtedly the average American soldiers is in considerably better physical shape than the average Iraqi, but is it not clear that labor power is not the reason why Americans are able to stay in charge of Iraq, regardless of what the people there might want ?

I suppose you could argue that Americans are better stealing wealth than Iraqis (I would disagree, but suppose it's true).
There is still the question of what one does with the wealth one acquires. If a laboring man eats his seed corn, while his laboring twin brother plants his, will their "labor" determine who is better off come harvest time ?





Bob Batchelor - 12/14/2003

I don't accept that Wal-Mart could not fundamentally change the way businesses operate for the better, since the company has already had such a major impact on the corporate world to this point.

Look at what Ford did with the Five Dollar Day. There have been some criticisms of the policy over the years and Ford certainly had his negative points, but he had a positive effect on workers and industry in general with the Five Dollar Day. For a time, before becoming virulently anti-union, Ford revolutionized corporate America.

What I argue is that Wal-Mart is so powerful at this point in history that it could re-write and revolutionize much of what we now consider basic business practices. There are certainly companies -- though much smaller than Wal-Mart -- that are trying to do this, like Working Assets, the SF Bay Area telecom company and giant research/engineering company SAIC.

I believe that Wal-Mart could change "the economics of the business, [AND] the psychological character of the management." That is why the company would have to act "revolutionary," or basically overthrow our current thinking about business principles. Today's Wal-Mart way is not the only way that business must be conducted.

I'll agree with your notion that I didn't offer a lot in the way of direction for the way Wal-Mart should act if the company followed my idea. What I was saying is, "Here's what history suggests happens to all giant retailers, sooner or later, and perhaps Wal-Mart can fundamentally change the way it and the business world operates to prevent this from happening."

If Wal-Mart wanted to proceed, surely it could convene the greatest business minds in the world to figure out just how it should go about its revolution.


Jerry West - 12/14/2003

-
Harold,

I fail to see a point here unless it is that some labor is more useful than others, to which I would agree.

The issue remains that wealth (meaning material) is not created but moved from one sector to another by labor (not meaning a specific class of people).

Ideas are not wealth, but a means of manipulating wealth, which may make them valuable in their own right, but still not something you can eat or build a shelter with all by themselves.


J. Bartlett - 12/14/2003

It is a fair point to make that the longer the essay, the greater the capacity to convey information. An "op-ed", however, if that is what was intended here, should be about more than "eliciting argument"; it should also make a convincing argument itself.

The notion that Wal Mart could, out of some general sense of good will, transform itself into something kinder and gentler, more "revolutionary" in a socially positive sense (which seems to be Mr. Batchelor's concluding recommendation) is not well-founded in the economics of the business, the psychological character of the management, or a realistic assessment of the sprawl culture which both subsidizes and is reinforced by Wal Mart.

You have some good insights, Mr. Batchelor, but they don't yet add up to much in the way of usable prescriptions. Read Kunstler (his classic "Geography of Nowhere" is the best place to start), reflect on some of the constructive feedback offered here, and try again, please.


Bob Batchelor - 12/13/2003

Wait a second here...Of course a cover story in Fast Company is going to be more informative than my 800 word op-ed essay.

An op-ed is designed to elicit argument, which I feel that this essay definitely has done. The Fast Company story is well done and at probably 3,000+ words, can more fully outline the Wal-Mart situation.

--Bob


Harold Q. Whitman - 12/13/2003


The "labor theory" of value, endorsed by Marx and reflected in the following remark by Jerry is a delusion:

"No one produces or generates wealth. Wealth exists and is transferred between sectors by labor."

There is are big differences between the "labor" which invented steam engines or built networking computers, and the "labor" used to make mud pies in a sandbox. Those differences include the application of non-rudimentary knowledge to extensive physical resources.


Harold Q. Wilson - 12/13/2003


Wealth does not have to be "created" by men. Rivers in Alaska are often choked with salmon. No mighty mortal entrepreneur put them there. Nor were 17th century merchants in Amsterdam and Antwerp "Americans". Adam Smith was not either. Leave Rand where she belongs: with utopian writers of fiction.


Barbara Cornett - 12/13/2003

Dick Cheney is making money but I wouldn't define it as morality. Is the Bush administration creating wealth? Is Halibuton creating wealth? Is that how America created its wealth? That is the essence of capitalism. Plundering the rightful owners of the wealth and stealing, I mean 'creating' it for yourself.

There was a time when cotton was king, was that a good example of 'creating' wealth? The same way WalMart 'creates' it, on the backs of workers?

When Bush uses our military which for he most part is made up of the sons and daughters of the working class does that still mean that he and people like him are 'creating' the wealth?

When lumber businesses use OUR tax dollars to build roads into OUR forests and cut down OUR trees is that an example of Rand's idea of the 'risktaking entraprenuers' 'creating' wealth?

When the poorest people in the land enter mines to mine coal and risk their health and their lives for robber barons who exploit their labor is that an example of 'creating' wealth?

Lo and behold god almighty the war between the states was a greater outrage then I ever could have imagined! King Cotton was CREATING WEALTH!! Rand would have approved!


Pablo Erlichman - 12/13/2003


I am not sure unions are as irrevocably obsolete as Dave assumes, nor do I see anything inherently "leftist" about wanting higher wages in the "Thoid" world.

I do think that unionizing Wal Mart will have little lasting effect on the trend of wages in America, especially if the challenge of a massive and growing global surplus of low wage workers abroad continues to be ignored by left, right, and ambidextrous alike.


Pablo Erlichman - 12/13/2003

Dave,

Neither your Italian or German examples (miniscule drops in the global population bucket) nor the fact that Nigeria's oil wealth has been squandered by corrupt officials contradicts my earlier post in the slightest.


Barbara Cornett - 12/13/2003

You say that retail work is drudgery, but isn't all working class labor drugdery? I think accounting would be drudgery and I'd rather dig ditches so I guess it depends on the individual. I imagine there are people who would find satisfaction in stocking shelves or working the cash registers or dealing with the public since they are being productive and accomplishing something valuble. They are providing a service and playing a vital role in the economy and I think they have a right to take pride in what they do. btw, Ronald Reagan seemed to enjoy chopping wood more then working in the White House. Jimmy Carter enjoys building furniture and houses.

But if retail work is drudgery then that of course means that the people who do this work deserve to be compensated for doing jobs that are difficult and unpleasant and paid accordingly, not shafted, just as people get hazard pay or extra pay for working odd hours.

If working at Walmart is drudgery then how can you argue that people work there of their own free will?

When I talk about a vast labor pool you reply "yeah, and?", that sounds like "let them eat cake", are you sure you want to take that attitude? 'Vast numbers' has advantages as well as disadvantages.

Imagine that workers don't show up for work and there is nobody to open the store or work the registers. How much money does WalMart make? They make nothing without their workers. The money should be distributed to the workers in a fair way instead of ending up in the hands of the Waltons. Without the Walmarts of this world workers could have their own small businesses just like they did before big corporations came on the scene so workers could do without walmart but not vice versa.

In fact in immigrant communities where the people have their own stores and businesses and their own economies and are not dependent upon the WalMarts of this world, their communities are untouched by economic ups and downs and the effects of Wall Street adjustments. We'd all be better off to follow their example and be rid of the Waltons of this world.

The Waltons are not purchasing the labor if they are not paying fair wages for it. That is the whole point here. They are taking advantage of powerless people and oppressing them and keeping them poor and disadvantaged while they get rich off their labor.

The Waltons buy the real estate but it is enhanced by taxpayer dollars that build access roads to it among other handouts. They purchase merchandise that is made by convicts in China. Then after they have been given all of this you argue that they don't owe anyone else anything and that Darwinian rules apply when its time for them to pay livable wages to the people whose taxes paid for their access roads. That doesn't sound fair to me.

When people are unable to find other jobs then in order to live they are forced to work at WalMart and they are indeed wage slaves. Walmart is known for illegally preventing unions and recently they were in the news for having hired illegal Mexican workers. In order to be free you have to have economic freedom and I don't think that is something that people have who work, but are still below the poverty line.

It amazes me to hear you say that WalMart has a right to pay its workers anyway it likes. It must be nice to have rights. Too bad their workers don't have a right to make a livable wage.



Jesse Lamovsky - 12/13/2003

Again, I'll borrow Mr. West's style here, for a moment:

Mr. West:

And what determines a persons "worth"? I thought that we held to the belief the "all men were created equal." Silly me, silly fore fathers.

Jesse Lamovsky:

Please don't be obtuse, Mr. West: you know exactly what I'm talking about. A person's worth on the labor market is determined by the scarcity of that person's skills. There are a great deal of people that are capable of doing the relatively menial work at Wal-Mart. Thus, the low wages. I really have to explain this to you?

Mr. West:

Perhaps if the wage and salary differences were not so badly skewed and the lower and middle incomes were much closer to the upper ones, more people would have more money spend, thus more choices and a better economy for all.

Instead of Wal-Marts for poor people why not raise lower incomes in relation to upper ones?

Jesse Lamovsky:

Perhaps the disparity between worker and CEO salaries isn't such a good thing. But if you want the government to put a gun to the heads of the Walton family and force them to lower their top execs' salaries and raise their lowest workers', well... you're not getting my help. That's extortion. And extortion is extortion, whether the person extorted "can afford it" or not.

Besides, any wage hike, forced or otherwise, would wind up being passed on to the consumer anyway. So what's the point?

Mr. West:

And, I wonder how many Wal-Mart employees are also depending on some form of taxpayer supported social assistance or other because of their economic status? Perhaps higher wages would remove people from the public trough and lighten the burden on taxpayers? What a concept!

Jesse Lamovsky:

You want to bribe people into getting off the public tit. I just want to kick 'em off. Different strokes for different folks, I guess.

Mr. West:

This same argument could be used to defend slavery, involuntary servitude and feudal relationships. In the 21st Century we should be looking for a better paradigm.

Jesse Lamovsky:

Knock yourself out, Mr. West, Go ahead and think of one. Figuring out "better paradigms" is a little beyond me. It had better not be socialism, though!

By the way, you made a point in another piece that "wealth is static". No, sir- wealth is created.

"...men had always thought of wealth as a static quality- to be seized, begged, inherited, shared, looted, or obtained as a favor. Americans were the first to understand that wealth has to be created. The words 'to make money' hold the essence of human morality."

- Atlas Shrugged


Jerry West - 12/13/2003

-
Dave Livingston wrote:

The purpose of a corporation is to make money for its shareholders, that is to say a commercial corporation.

JW:

Agreed, and that is why there needs to be strict social controls over corporations, how big they can get and how much influence they can have. The profit motive is often not compatible with a stable society or social justice. This is not to say that there should not be corporations or profits, quite the contrary, but they should be servants of society, not masters of it.

DL:

But as USAA rakes in more cash each year my annual dividend paid by it, out of the company's surplus has grown, but not enough to compensate for higher auto insurance rates.

JW:

And you should be asking who, exactly, is benefitting from the higher dividend rates. If they are paying higher dividends then they must be making more money relative to expenses. Where does this surplus go?

DL:

Leftists arrogantly demand companies pay higher wages to Third World workers....

JW:

A rational and fair trade policy, unlike NAFTA, would require uniform environmental and labor standards and wage rate amongst all of its participants. No doubt, using the logic of those who favor cheaper foreign labor, we could save billions in the defense budget by only enlisting members of the Third World in our armed forces, and paying them a quarter or less of what we are currently paying our underpaid troops.

Outsourcing jobs to countries with lower living standards than our own is a race to the bottom that only the rich will profit from in the long run, and in the end probably not even them. Creating unemployment and increased social problems in the US for lower prices in the stores seems like a race to the bottom with less being paid into society at the low and mid level, and more demand on services paid for by taxes.

DL:

Your seeking ZPG runs contrary to reality.

JW:

Not if you consider the world as a whole. We are depleting our resources, and the world that my grandchildren are inheriting is significantly poorer in many ways than they one I entered.

Just one example is the state of the ocean fisheries. Too many people making too many demands on the resource, including pollution, has reduced commercial biomass to about 10% of historic capacity, so I am told.

We would all have a better world if the population was gradually reduced back to mid 20th century levels or lower.

Jesse Lamovsky wrote:

The owners of Wal-Mart generate wealth by purchasing the real estate for the store; by purchasing the inventory; by purchasing the labor. The labor in itself produces nothing.

JW:

No one produces or generates wealth. Wealth exists and is transferred between sectors by labor. Without wealth to transfer, labor would be nothing. Without labor, wealth would be static and of no use to anybody. Wal-Mart could not survive without labor and the service it provides.


Dave Livingston - 12/13/2003

Pablo,

Your seeking ZPG runs contrary to reality. As "The Econmoist" reported last week, both Germany &Italy facing severe poulation shrinkage are offering numerous financial incentatives to young couples in an effort to boost their populations.

Yes, you are correct in many Third World courtries population growth is outracing job growth. In mind is Nigeria, where there are not nearly enough white collar jobs available for the number of well-educated professional class people the country produces. Really, what such places need are more Capital investment and less corrupt or at least more efficient, government.


Jesse Lamovsky - 12/13/2003

I'm going to borrow Mr. West's Q&A style for this one:

Ms. Cornett:

According to your argument Bush should be getting paid minimum wage since he has no marketable skills either. Lets pay the inarticulate moron every penney he's worth. I'm all for it.

Jesse Lamovsky:

Well, I'm all for that, Ms. Cornett. In the original Articles of Confederation, the Congressional representatives were unpaid. I would be down for going back to that.

Ms. Cornett:

...working at WalMart requries a high level of skill and it is demanding and hard work that an intelligent person like her found challenging. So what you say about walmart workers not having skills is wrong.

Jesse Lamovsky:

Retail work is drudgery, it can be physically demanding, but skilled? Come on. That dog won't hunt. How much skill does it take to stock shelves, or work a cash register?

Ms. Cornett:

Their labor is not worth much because there are a thousand more just like them waiting to take their jobs the minute they leave. It is the vast labor pool that creates a situation which keeps their wages down.

Jesse Lamovsky

Yeah. And?

Ms. Cornett:

WalMart is totally dependent upon its workers who are the ones generating its wealth by their labor. They absolutely deserve to be paid a living wage. Anyone who supplies the skills necessary for the job required is skilled enough.

Jesse Lamovsky:

With all due respect, you should trash your discredited "labor theory of value" arguments. The owners of Wal-Mart generate wealth by purchasing the real estate for the store; by purchasing the inventory; by purchasing the labor. The labor in itself produces nothing.

Ms. Cornett:

You may as well argue that black slavery was acceptable because it kept plantations in business which in turn fed and housed the slaves and therefore was for their benefit as well as the consumers of cheap cotton.

Jesse Lamovsky:

Come on, don't be ridiculous. Nobody is kidnapping people and forcing them to work at Wal-Mart for nothing. People are exercising their choice to work at this store. If they don't like the conditions there, they, unlike the slaves, are free to leave.

Ms. Cornett:

There is plenty of money available to pay fair wages and give decent benefits to workers but that money goes directly into the hands of the Waltons rather then being distributed in a fair way among all the people who make WalMart successful so prices would probably not need to be rasied if not for their greed and avarice.

Jesse Lamovsky

Guess what, Ms. Cornett- it's their money! They pay into these stores! They provide the opportunities for workers! They can do what they want with their money. If they want to pay their workers low wages, that's their right. If you don't like it, don't shop at Wal-Mart.




Dave Livingston - 12/13/2003

Barabara,

Once again you've joined Alice in a strange wonderland, with your "Bush has no matketable skills." Humbug, Honey! Geo. W. has a Harvard M.B.A. and he was prior to becoming elected governor of Texas a successful businessman, an oilman. In addition, because he's a highly qualified aviator, he'd have no difficulty in landing, inadvertant pun, a job as a pilot with an airline. All that in addition to his executive skills honed as seving as a two-trem governor of one of this nation's largest sstates. Moreover, he could, should he choose, teach Spanish. It seems to me he has plenty of qualifications for the job he has, most importantly personal integrity.


J. Bartlett - 12/13/2003


Thanks for the reference. More informative than Batchelor's article, in my view. Clearly I underrated the importance of sheer size in my initial comment, though maybe not in terms of the source of public disgruntlement. I still see little value in quixotic unionization - the internet and mail order alternative (ala Todd's remarks), coupled with a scaling back of the sprawl subsidy (e.g. gasoline way below real cost), strike me as much more promising antidotes to the defects and dangers of Wal Mart.


Dave Livingston - 12/13/2003



As Pablo more or less pointed out, unions are a dinosauer facing eminent demise from low wage Thoird World countries.

A century and a half ago the union did great service to the working msn in this nation & elsewhere, but it has largely out-lived its practical usefulness. A rapidly changing world economy has left unions in the dust of yesteryear.

Liberals want working people to unionize, in order to better organize opposition to industry, to garner more votes for the Left by polarizing people and their interests, but one negative thing they accomplish is to drive jobs overseas. Then Leftists arrogantly demand companies pay higher wages to Third World workers in their constant quest for a socialized world.


Dave Livingston - 12/13/2003

Jesse,

Sic'em! You're on to something here. regardless, should Wal-Mart employees vote to unionize, why shouldn't they be permitted to shoot themselves in the foot, if they wish? Fortunately, Colorado here is a Right-to-work state. As a consequence, no-one may be forced to join a union. Of course, if Wal-Mart's employees do unionize, store prices will rise and Wal-Mart will face increased pricing competion.


Dave Livingston - 12/13/2003


Both Oscar, his Dad & Harold make reasonably valid points supporting the case that a Wal-Mart can contribute to the saving of a small town. David too has a good point about agribusiness serving to replace the family farm, which in turn reduces the number of people in an area, which in turn weakens a smallish community. And David's point about people driving long distances to save a few bucks is certainly quite valid.


Dave Livingston - 12/13/2003

Complaining about a corporate lack of social compassion is a phoey issue. The purpose of a corporation is to make money for its shareholders, that is to say a commercial corporation. In contrast, my insurance company, homeowners & auto, is USAA, a mutually owned corporation with the original, circa 1923, to provide reasonably priced insurance to officers of the armed forces. But over in recent years, especially since 1989, the end of the Cold War,our military establishment has shrunk dramatically. As a consequence, USAA instead of growing smaller to accomadate a smaller officer corps, has expanded, bureaucratic empire-building, IMHO, by opening its services to not only only retirees, such as I, but also to families of G.I.s, to military & Naval cadets & most recently virtually all enlisted men on actoive duty, in the Reserves or in the Guard.

Prior to opening up to EMs USAA's aim was to provide the lowest cost as possible to officers, but with eighteen-year-old enlisted men hot-rodding the quality of USAA's customer base has degenerated & guess what, our auto policy costs haven't shrunk with the advent of a larger customer base. But the empire-building continues apace. But as USAA rakes in more cash each year my annual dividend paid by it, out of the company's surplus has grown, but not enough to compensate for higher auto insurance rates.

But pleased to give Private Snuffy, the average G.I., a little helping hand with insurance, I don't really begrudge my insurance rates rising a little instead of dropping.

Do you think Wal-Mart really tends to destroy small towns? Perhaps it does by driving out-of-business Mom Pop stores. But by the same token, it brings jobs to wherever it opens a store and better prices for the local spender.

IMHO what truly serves to wreck havoc on small towns are highways. Our increasingly excellent highways built largely for the benefit of city folks wishing to travel from one city to another permit the easy travel of small town & rural folk to large cities, where prices in large stores are lower than in their local Mom & Pop ones--so there is a tendency for such folks to make longer & longer trips to save a few bucks--to the detriment of the small town.

Of course, Wal-Mart won't last forever, nothing does. After all, Montgomery Ward, once a retail powerhouse in the U.S. went bankrupt a few years ago, after having been in business for 124 years.

If Wal-Mart lasts through my lifetime it will satisfy me, I a frequent shopper at its 3 nearby stores. A few years ago I bought a floor lamp via mail order & paid $100. for it. Although the lamp was a satisfactory product more recently I bought a better one, made in China, at Wal-Mart for $18. I shouldn't continue to shop there, although Best Buy has better prices on some products?


Jerry West - 12/13/2003

-
Another article to add to this discussion:

http://pf.fastcompany.com/magazine/77/walmart.html


Pablo Erlichman - 12/13/2003


Ralph, it's time for a little discussion about the facts of life:

1. The world's population is growing by something like 70 million a year (a half dozen New Yorks or LAs).

2. Almost all of that population increase is coming in poor countries that do not have, and not likely to ever have, decent jobs for most of the unsustainable increase in their work forces. The global long term trend of jobs is still upwards but is noticeably more gradual than the growth in the number of job seekers.

3. If we manage to massively transfer resources from wealthy "center" countries to impoverished "periphery" countries over a long and sustained time period (assume, for the moment, that this can be done efficiently and democratically) but fail to stop population growth, then our kids, grandkids, and great-grand kids will be something 10-15 billion wonderfully equally miserably poor peasants. If, other the other hand we manage to stabilize the world's population at something like 6 or 7 billion, most of our descendants will have a much better standard of living (than under the 10-15 bil scenario), even if redistribution efforts fall short of socialist utopian ideals.

4. Achieving zero population growth (ZPG) around the world is not impossible. Many countries have done it. As a whole, these mothers and potential mothers (in poor countries, see point 2) would have far fewer children if they (the mothers) had other a more viable range of other options, such as education, job training, and had something closer equal rights with men.

Subtlety and clear comprehension is a rarity on this website, so I will make three redundant but important further points.

a) I am NOT calling for any sort of mandatory restriction on births, only a liberalization of choices for the people who choose to give birth, in many cases, because of a lack of alternatives.

b) I am NOT saying the the world's population will grow forever, if not pro-actively stabilized as a matter of policy. I am saying if we keep our heads buried in the sand on this, our great-grand kids will inherit a much poorer and less livable planet.

c) I am NOT saying that ZPG would solve all our problems ( including making Wal Mart executives more humane). I am saying that unlivable wages and declining living standards are virtually inevitable unless the current decline in population growth rates becomes steeper and more global than it is now. Unionization or no unionization has almost no conceivable effect on that hard fact of life.


Jerry West - 12/13/2003

-
Jesse Lamovsky wrote:

Wal-Mart employees are unskilled and, quite frankly, aren't worth a whole heck of a lot on the labor market.

JW:

And what determines a persons "worth"? I thought that we held to the belief the "all men were created equal." Silly me, silly fore fathers.

JL:

....why should they be allowed to unionize?

JW:

Maybe because it is their democratic right. Are we arguing against democracy here? We could take this a few steps further, why should doctors be allowed to form the AMA, or industries their various councils, ad infinitum....

A better question is why should anyone be prevented, either legally or illegally (goons, killings, etc, the things that labour history is full of) from freely associating and acting together in their common interest?

JL:

The reason Wal-Mart has been such a phenomenally successful enterprise (along with K-Mart before it, and Woolworth before that) is the quality....

JW:

Huh? Strange, I never found its merchandise to be anything more than run of the mill.

JL:

....and, most importantly, the affordability of its merchandise.

JW:

Well, that is more like it, cheap.

JL:

This is a store that caters mainly to lower and middle-income people who can't afford some of the other retail stores.

JW:

Perhaps if the wage and salary differences were not so badly skewed and the lower and middle incomes were much closer to the upper ones, more people would have more money spend, thus more choices and a better economy for all.

Instead of Wal-Marts for poor people why not raise lower incomes in relation to upper ones?

The Wal-Mart mentality is one of abuse, not benefit.

JL:

Raising wages (artificially) may "improve the lives" of Wal-Mart's 1.4 million unskilled employees, but it would screw the millions of other people who benefit from the store every day- the customers.

JW:

Except that 1.4 million of those customers are probably Wal-Mart employees who would have more money to spend at Wal-Mart.

And, I wonder how many Wal-Mart employees are also depending on some form of taxpayer supported social assistance or other because of their economic status? Perhaps higher wages would remove people from the public trough and lighten the burden on taxpayers? What a concept!

Then of course to be fair one should also ask, how much better would it be for customers if the upper echelons of Wal-Mart had salaries closer to those of the average employee.

JL:

If wages are raised for Wal-Mart's unskilled employees (just about all of them), the higher operating costs will be passed directly to the customers.

JW:

Some of it could be passed to executive salary reductions and tighter profit margins and dividends. They could also probably save a bundle in fines and legal fees if they did not hire undocumented foreign workers. :)

JW:

If the customers stay away, profit margins fall. If profit margins fall, stores close. Guess who ends up getting tossed over the side? The employees, and their inflated salaries. Everybody loses.

JW:

This same argument could be used to defend slavery, involuntary servitude and feudal relationships. In the 21st Century we should be looking for a better paradigm.


Ralph Johansen - 12/12/2003

My last message was posted erroneously as a response to RE: Higher Wages? Public Outcry? By Barbara Cornett (December 12, 2003, 3:41 PM) instead of to this captioned topic.

The message:


---------------
Hardly out of proportion, in fact sorely neglected given the vast preponderance of the labor force who are waged, salaried and unrepresented, and left to shift for themselves, one by one, against powerful employers.
---------------


---------------
What union labor representation in the US could do to affect wages and employment, here and elsewhere, as well as to otherwise affect global demographic realities, is to provide an organized coherent response through which to make common cause with workers everywhere - especially as working conditions are clearly a race to the bottom as opposed to a rise to the top.
---------------


---------------
It boggles to see a discussion of union representation be deflected into a complaint about overpopulation.With most of the world composed of peasants, with the exigences of high infant mortality, pervasive disease and malnutrition, need for large families to work the land to compensate, destruction of the viability of the small farm due to capital investment in giant agribusiness and the resultant increased cost of agricultural inputs, and people crowding into urban areas from rural areas, without employment, maldistribution of the world's available foodstuff, the essential but ignored lesson of levelling off of population in countries that have attained relative affluence such as in Europe, Japan, North America, countries which of course control the terms of trade, in agriculture and raw materials to the detriment of the peripheral peasant economies - what relevance can attach to a call for "women's education" as a cardinal or essential solution?

Cheers, Ralph


Ralph Johansen - 12/12/2003


---------------
Hardly out of proportion, in fact sorely neglected given the vast preponderance of the labor force who are waged, salaried and unrepresented, and left to shift for themselves, one by one, against powerful employers.
---------------


---------------
What union labor representation in the US could do to affect wages and employment, here and elsewhere, as well as to otherwise affect global demographic realities, is to provide an organized coherent response through which to make common cause with workers everywhere - especially as wages and working conditions are clearly a race to the bottom as opposed to a rise to the top.
---------------


---------------
It boggles to see a discussion of union representation be deflected into a complaint about overpopulation. With most of the world composed of peasants, with the exigences of high infant mortality, pervasive disease and malnutrition, need for large families to work the land to compensate, destruction of the viability of the small farm due to capital investment in giant agribusiness and the increasing cost of agricultural inputs, and people crowding into urban areas from rural areas, without employment, maldistribution of world available foodstuff, the lesson of levelling off of population in countries that have attained relative affluence such as in Europe, Japan, North America, the same countries which of course control the terms of trade in agriculture and raw materials to the detriment of the peripheral peasant economies - what relevance can attach to a call for "women's education" as an essential or cardinal solution?

Cheers, Ralph


Barbara Cornett - 12/12/2003

According to your argument Bush should be getting paid minimum wage since he has no marketable skills either. Lets pay the inarticulate moron every penney he's worth. I'm all for it.

According to Barbara Ehrenreich in her book "Nickle and Dimed" working at WalMart requries a high level of skill and it is demanding and hard work that an intelligent person like her found challenging. So what you say about walmart workers not having skills is wrong.

Their labor is not worth much because there are a thousand more just like them waiting to take their jobs the minute they leave. It is the vast labor pool that creates a situation which keeps their wages down.

How much money would WalMart make without these employees? WalMart is totally dependent upon its workers who are the ones generating its wealth by their labor. They absolutely deserve to be paid a living wage. Anyone who supplies the skills necessary for the job required is skilled enough.

The pay of workers at WalMart should be tied to the salary of its CEOs. The idea that WalMart and other businesses like it are doing workers a favor is corporate propaganda. This class of working people not only does the work at WalMart but also represents the class of people who shop there and stimulate the economy.
If these people were paid fair wages they would have more money to spend for rising costs that would result from the end of sweatshops and criminal activity of union busting.

You may as well argue that black slavery was acceptable because it kept plantations in business which in turn fed and housed the slaves and therefore was for their benefit as well as the consumers of cheap cotton.

There is plenty of money available to pay fair wages and give decent benefits to workers but that money goes directly into the hands of the Waltons rather then being distributed in a fair way among all the people who make WalMart successful so prices would probably not need to be rasied if not for their greed and avarice.


J. Bartlett - 12/12/2003


Your normally shrewd libertarian instincts have gone to sleep this time, Jesse. Low wages are only part of the reason for the " phenomenal" "affordability" of Wal Mart. Of great importance also are low transportation costs, which, to a significant degree, reflect massive U.S. taxpayer subsidy of low density land use and petroleum-fueled sourcing and distribution which, in turn, result in a governmentally-engineered competitive edge for the sprawl-based business such as Wal Mart. Were it not for this massive market interference and distortion, Wal Mart's share of America's retail trade would surely be much lower.


Jesse Lamovsky - 12/12/2003

Wal-Mart employees are unskilled and, quite frankly, aren't worth a whole heck of a lot on the labor market. Why should they make more money, and why should they be allowed to unionize? The reason Wal-Mart has been such a phenomenally successful enterprise (along with K-Mart before it, and Woolworth before that) is the quality and, most importantly, the affordability of its merchandise. This is a store that caters mainly to lower and middle-income people who can't afford some of the other retail stores. Raising wages (artificially) may "improve the lives" of Wal-Mart's 1.4 million unskilled employees, but it would screw the millions of other people who benefit from the store every day- the customers. If wages are raised for Wal-Mart's unskilled employees (just about all of them), the higher operating costs will be passed directly to the customers.If the customers stay away, profit margins fall. If profit margins fall, stores close. Guess who ends up getting tossed over the side? The employees, and their inflated salaries. Everybody loses.

And what "public outcry" is Mr. Batchelor speaking of? Has he poked his head into his local Wal-Mart this Christmas season? The one around here is packed, as usual. There may be an outcry against Wal-Mart from the same anti-capitalist element that periodically sets out to "get" some evil corporate monster, but there's no outcry from the customers. They continue to benefit from the quality and low prices of goods offered by Wal-Mart. The trade-off for the low cost of items is the low wages garnered by Wal-Mart employees. But Wal-Mart employees are not underpaid. They're getting what they're worth for the quality and skill level of their labor.






David Salmanson - 12/12/2003

What you are not accounting for is the psychology of shopping. One reason why Wal-Mart rakes it in is because of impulse buys and the sense of shoppers (even if it is not true) saving time by getting all their shopping done at once. Study after study has shown that people do not shop in their best interest. My favorite example was the study that asked people if they would drive an extra 10 minutes to save 5 dollars on a car. Most said no. But when later asked if they would drive an extra 10 minutes to save 5 dollars on a 10 dollar item they said yes. For all the benefits of catalog shopping, it does not satisfy most shoppers consumerist desires/fantasies.


Bob Batchelor - 12/11/2003

Hello. You both make wonderful points about labor, both here in the U.S. and globally. To answer Ralph's question, the reason I couldn't go into Wal-Mart's (and big business in general) opposition to unionization is that for an op-ed essay, 800 words is the maximum allowed.

I think one could fill books with the anti-union efforts of Wal-Mart and other large corporations and I look forward to reading those books as writers take them on.

Have a great day!

--Bob


David Salmanson - 12/11/2003

Harold raises many good points but is confusing two separate issues. Suburbanization (read: sprawl) is driven by one set of policies, but rural town death is driven by another. The former is based largely on highway building, shifted spending priorities of the federal government, redlining practices, etc. etc. (and I would also look to Origins of the Urban Crisis as well as Crabgrass Frontier for information on this process). Rural town death is driven by subsidizing agribusiness at the expense of family farms and, of course, cultural elements such as satellite tv showing images of goods, things, people, unavailable on the Great Plains. These are not connected processes except in the most general sorts of ways. (ie: both have to do with shifting federal spending, gaining new economies of scale which put less efficient operators out of business, etc). The next step in this discussion is urban Wal-Marts, but let's leave that to another day.


Oscar Chamberlain - 12/11/2003

As I said, I am no fan of Walmart, and as has been pointed out by you ans several others US economic and development policy has greatly encouraged sprawl.

It has also weakened our rural economies so that Walmart and other such firms become a "good" or at least a lesser evil. In particular we have long had a policy hostile to agriculture (except for agribusinesses).

I want to see those policies changed, but until they are, this is what we are going to get.


Harold Q. Williams - 12/10/2003


I have no doubt that big box mall and strip mall stores, when placed carefully and in coordination with the wishes of local communities, have "saved" many small towns in the manner described by Oscar and David, to the satisfaction or at least tolerant acquiescence of some tens or perhaps even hundreds of thousands of inhabitants of those towns. Meanwhile the much bigger taxpayer-subsidized juggernaut of the sprawl industry has turned much of our landscape into a sterile wasteland of freeways, parking lots and traffic jams, significantly lowering the quality of life for hundreds of millions of Americans. There are less wasteful and less costly ways of using land. Go to western Europe to see some of them. For the homebound, a solid historical account of America's suburbanization is Kenneth Jackson's "Crabgrass Frontier". If you don't want to move to Scottsdale, Arizona, and you don't want it to move to your neighborhood either, the status quo is not evolving with your preferences in mind.


Pablo Erlichman - 12/10/2003


Have no fear, there are plenty of historians writing the history of American labor unions. Indeed the subdiscipline "labor history" consists mainly of labor union history - an out of proportion emphasis given the fraction of the U.S. labor force actually unionized over the past 200 years.

The grim reality is that while unionization in America might temporarily protect some U.S. jobs and wages (e.g. at Walmart), it would do nothing to overturn global demographic realities. The longe term trend of wages and employment in the developed world will improve when women in Africa, Latin America and East Asia are given opportunities for education, as an alternative to producing babies at an unsustainable rate. That, unfortunately, is a history yet to have happened.


David Salmanson - 12/10/2003

I have seen Wal-Marts save towns. People were driving 120 miles round trip to Albuquerque to shop local retaillers be damned. Most of them had closed up shop anyway. The opening of a Wal-Mart in one of the dying small towns saved it as it now became the destination for many of those driving to Albuquerque. Other businesses serving those rose up. Conveniently positioned near a highway off ramp, it also attracts a few tourists driving through looking to buy sunglasses, picnic baskets, batteries etc. that they broke/lost/forgot on their trips. Some of these folks will ask the greeters where a good place to eat is and get referrals to local resturants. It may sound counter-intuitive but Wal-Marts can save dying towns.

The New York Times had a great piece on dying rural towns and it wasn't because of Wal-Mart. Any of the towns they talked about would love to have a Wal-Mart or any national chain store that might attract people.


Ralph Johansen - 12/10/2003

Appalling, but it reflects the world we live in.

Not one of the discussants on this subject, nor the writer of the piece giving rise to this discussion, has mentioned Wal-Mart's furiously anti-union policies. No one has brought up the history of smashing workers' organizations, of government support to opposition to the right to organize, of the fact that giant companies like Wal-Mart screen prospective employees for union sympathies, and when faced with an attempt to organize, intimidate and fire workers, spy on them and call them into small groups and lecture them on the benign working conditions and the strictures of the company's competitive environment [ignoring huge profit margins in no weay passed to workforce], trash unions and their high-paid executives [when the company brass are paid astronomically more than union officials],even sometimes offer slightly improved benefits, wages and working conditions -- until the threat of worker organization abates.

And then the company rules and the employees are left to shift for themselves, one by one.

Who researches and writes on the contours and the history of all this? Apparently Not anyone on this list.


Barbara Cornett - 12/10/2003

Times have changed. The government used to realize the important role that business played in the US and worked with business to make our country stronger and better but generally speaking it also kept business in line and recognized that this is a nation of, by and for the people.

Today business has taken over our democracy and our government and everything is done of, by and for business without regard to the people.

I have an aunt who became 90 years old this past October. When she graduated from a local religious two year college she left our small town and moved to Chattanooga where she went to work at Woolworths. She was able to rent a small house and pay all of her bills and have enough money left over to send home enough money to buy a week's worth of groceries for her parents and 6 sisters.

Contrast that with the condition of today's walmart workers who can't even buy a week's worth of groceries with what they are paid.

Whatever benefits walmart shoppers get from low prices is on the backs of extremely poor people who live in other countries as WalMart is guilty of using sweatshops.

The Waltons represent people who are among the richest in the world and yet as Mr Batchelor pointed out they have invented or created nothing. They use wage slaves and are guilty of breaking the law by preventing their employees from forming unions. They have more money then a thousand people could spend in 10 lifetimes.

The pro-business republicans complain about democratic social programs but the fact is that taxpayers have to pay for the medical care of walmart employees. That means the real welfare goes to the rich Waltons. Walmart is the perfect symbol for the crimes and outrages of today's corporations.

Walmart is no woolworths.


Oscar Chamberlain - 12/10/2003

I live in a city of 8000 in north western Wisconsin. For geographic reasons that I don't want to summarize now, we have Walmart, KMart, Shopko, Menards (think "Home Depot"), Office Max and a regional big place called "Farm and Fleet" (not to be confused with "Fleet and Farm." Really)

I dislike Walmart et al. They do all the bad alluded to above. However, when my father first visited me here, he looked at Walmart and said something to this effect: "You know these stores have helped save small towns."

My Dad's a smart man. While he lives in Scottsdale AZ now, he grew up in the Texas Panhandle abouth 60 miles from Amarillo; so he knows something about small towns. So once I made sure that the comment was not an early sign of senility, I considered it more carefully, and realized, darn it, that he had a point.

Discount stores like Walmart act as destinations. Obviously that can help a place like my city some, even though it is on the fringe.

More subtly though, and perhaps more important, they help support not simply the cities they are in but also neighboring smaller places.

They do this by lowering the cost of living and by increasing what might be called the variety of the mundane.

Whether we like it or not--and I don't--that last point matters a lot to most people. Older people like myself (darn, I hate that phrase) may enjoy the peculiarities of the local pretty good store. Younger people, however want the sense that the wider world is within reach. They want a bit a variety. This allows a bit, at an affordable price, a fairly short drive (say 30 minutes for a number of nearby communities and farms) away.

People with young families need to keep their costs at a minimum. As with the group above, being within a half-hours drive of a discount store that helps, and that makes it a bit easier to stay in the area.

Oddly enough, I suspect that tourist businesses in nearby towns get hurt less than you might think. Iin part that's because if there is a Walmart in one location, it's less likely that they will locate 20 miles over. This lets merchants in those towns capture a lot of convenience business.

In short these stores may hurt communities by encouraging sprawl and pulling businesses out of downtowns, but they may also help to hold people within a region.

As far as increasing wages are concerned, one must remember that exisiting local retail businesses won't want to pay higher wages either. So keeping it out Walmart does not help that much. In fact, in many small towns, any competition like that may put a low-end floor on wages.

Now this does not mean that all the bad Walmart does is inevitable or even necessary. We just had a large supermarket decide to remain close to downtown and expand there rather than move to the freeway fringe.


In part the City provided some incentives, but in large measure it indicated a corporate culture that was not hostile to a little bit of compromise. They are doing very well, and their continued existence helps mantain the downtown at its current (admittedly borderline) viability.


Adrew Todd - 12/10/2003

E: Bob Batchelor, Will Wal-Mart Last Forever?
http://hnn.us/articles/1845.html

(pseudonym) Cram, Good idea, but not likely
http://hnn.us/comments/25534.html

Sir:

"Cram" is mistaken in thinking that a Wal-Mart is the last word in efficient distribution of goods. Wal-Mart is analogous to the big three television networks, before the advent of cable, VCR's, and the internet. Back then, every good-sized city had an art movie house, and one could go there to see non-mainstream fare (e.g.. Australian movies in the 1970's), but of course it was neither cheap nor convenient.
Think of a Wal-Mart store as a technological device, a package warehouse, operated by human clerks and human customers. I would argue that this store is a comparatively obsolete technological device, compared to the kinds of warehouses used in the best mail order practice. It tends to have a greater reliance on moving objects, and less reliance on moving information. Precisely because the giant store brings the customer into the store, and into the aisles, as a kind of pseudoemployee, the giant store has much less freedom to use robotics. If you view a store as essentially a device for slinging parcels around, naturally, humans get in the way. Precisely because a Wal-Mart is huge, there cannot be one on every street corner. This means that the customers must spend time traveling to the Wal-Mart, and once there, spend time navigating the bowels of the store. If you put a reasonable valuation on the customer's time, Wal-Mart's net
(delivered) price is not necessarily so attractive.
The characteristic giant structure of mail order is of course the express company, e.g.. UPS, Fed Ex, and the post office. At present, it appears that their full-scale sorting automation is still largely confined to parcels which approximate the size of letters, but they are working outwards. Mail order has always been highly competitive, in the sense that the customer could glance back and forth between two or more catalogs, comparing definite offers. The internet merely accentuates this tendency.
Similarly, mail order has traditionally favored small vendors, who could achieve economies of scale with a limited range of goods, in which the responsible management could be expert. The limiting factor of mail order has mostly been the shipping. More precisely, since a truck can haul goods for hundreds of miles in a few hours, the limiting factor has been the sorting and final delivery. Hence automation in the mail handling process is transformative.
Wal-Mart is in the curious position of the human who tries to imitate a machine. He finds that real machines are better at being machines than he is. Wal-Mart is not invincible. One can seriously doubt whether Wal-Mart can go beyond the package warehouse model. The firm's growth has mostly come at the expense of substantially similar firms, as Batchelor points out.
Local retail trade is moving towards services. Services do not have strong economies of scale. A small shopkeeper who lets himself get into a business where Wal-Mart can compete is probably a bit incompetent.
Probably the single most ubiquitous type of commercial establishment is the restaurant. Even the restaurant chains rely on franchising rather than outright ownership. Franchises mostly concentrate on obtaining the most traffic-intense locations (*), but they remain chronically vulnerable to very small entrepreneurs. One does not run a restaurant on the basis of trying to serve everything to everyone.
A garage mechanic I used to know recognized that the automakers were in the process of absorbing the repair process through greater reliability, more electronics, longer warrantees, and increased leasing rather than sale. By the time the automaker is done with a car, it is likely to be five years old or more, and worth only a small fraction of its selling price.
To stay in the automobile business, the mechanic would have had to find the money to become a full-fledged dealer. So he tore down his garage, and built a yogurt parlor instead.

Andrew D. Todd

(*) For example, our local McDonalds occupies a small pocket of commercial space which has become surrounded by the inexorable growth of our university's engineering and medicine campus.


Jerry West - 12/10/2003

-
I think that you are right, Bob. Wal-Mart could be a force for social change should it be inclined to do so, but the chances of that happening are probably next to nil.

We would be better served as a society if, rather then waiting and hoping for companies like Wal-Mart to become responsible citizens, we just brought in legislation favoring small businesses and cooperatives over the less democratic and socially beneficial large corporate model.


C.R.W. - 12/9/2003


but at any time down the road?...

If McDonalds is a valid precedent then forever might end sooner than you think...


Bob Batchelor - 12/9/2003

I would like to thank the early commentors for providing their insightful thoughts on the essay I wrote.

Obviously, what I'm suggesting is that Wal-Mart not act so typically corporate. The odds of this happening -- so small that a line couldn't even be set. However, given the size and scope of the company, I do believe that Wal-Mart could fundamentally change corporate America (for the better) if it chose to do so.

I don't think Wal-Mart is invincible. Like all other companies, its image matters, as does its public relations efforts. Target and CostCo may not seem like serious opponents at this point, but retail history shows that change can occur quickly, given the right circumstances.

I think we have the right to ask global corporate powers to do more than just make money. Most CEOs would shudder at this notion, but why not strive for higher goals?

Thanks,
Bob


Cram - 12/8/2003

While I would really like to agree with this article, the fact of the matter is that Wal-Mart is unlikely to pay its workers any more than they have to. It is in absolutely no danger from any competitor and would gladly see those who dispise it triple in number so long as their profits continue to expand. Of course, Wal-Mart wants to have a good reputation, but people who hate what is happening is still going to patron the store so long as the prices are better. This is the nature of our economic system. Do you think people really have no idea that many of their goods are made by slaves in sweat shops? Of course they do, and they hate it... but don't want to pay more for a legitimate product. I don't blame them, that is business.

I have friends who refuse to shop at Wal-Mart for some reason or another and guess what? Their reward is higher costs for their shoes and socks, because Wal-Mart isn't going anywhere. If and when Wal-Mart is toppled by some other store (Cramart stock on sale soon), you can pretty much bet that it will be on the same foundations as Wal-Mart, cheaper prices for goods and services.


J. Bartlett - 12/8/2003


Bob Batchelor's useful but superficial analysis is rather vague about why so many Americans "hate Wal-Mart". Most "haters" probably have rather "vague" feelings themselves, and I highly doubt whether the sheer size of the company has much to do with it. How many of us could not afford to shed 2.3% of our weight or material possessions, or even a hefty multiple thereof (by switching to more expensive mom and pop shops) ?

The imprecise "destruction" of "small-town America" is not, in fact, some historical inevitability revealed by Newt Gingrich, Rush Limbaugh or Michael Eisner. Nor is opposition to mindless and ugly urban sprawl some kind of hippy delusion or diabolical liberal plot of the type so often fantasized by many of HNN's juvenile comment posters. Read the insightful works of James Howard Kunstler or check out http://www.kunstler.com for more details.

Subscribe to our mailing list