Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Is Wal-Mart Evil?

Is Wal-Mart Evil? Well, I think so, but I think most big corporations are (as I sit here on my Dell computer running Windows). Anyway, I always try to buy from the locals any time I can, but in a small town where a "super" Wal-Mart resides, there isn't a lot of competition left. But I try to get stuff at a local hardware store when I can (this cheapskate is fully aware it costs more), the only auto-parts stores left are also chains, but I go there instead of Wal-Mart for oil and windshield wipers.

The reason I bring this up is that our campus just showed a movie called Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price. I wanted to go see it, but wasn't able to. A few commentators have commented on it, or the idea behind it, already. John Stossel with "Is Wal-Mart a Problem?", was a bit of a disappointment. It was like a politician answering the question he already knew the answer for, instead of the question that was asked. The issue isn't creation of wealth, the question is, are the workers and the public treated fairly?

The public: mostly yes. We in small towns have more selection of products to chose from at lower prices than we did before. Though still not the all-encompassing selection Wal-Mart wants you to believe it has. And this selection is in one building, so I don't have to drive to TG&Y, Woolworths, and Montgomery Wards to see who has the best price or whichever options I want. The downside is that Wal-Mart started out buying American-made products whenever it could and gained a lot of support that way. Now that Sam Walton is dead and Wal-mart is the only game in town, they get everything from China. I challenge you to find 10 things American made in 10 minutes in any Wal-Mart (other than food items).

I will say that having 10 different stores, each with a local owner, or independent manager, gives a town a different flavor than one national business with a few managers that are moved around till they hit the top spot and then live in whatever town they end up in.

The workers: In a community, does Wal-Mart create jobs, lose jobs, or just re-shuffle jobs? I'm not sure. What about pay and benefits? Well, anyone who has worked for an independent company can tell you that they don't pay so well either. And if they are too small, they can't afford to pay any insurance for their employees. I have a friend that was very happy being a machinist at a local farm and auto parts store, but the owner couldn't provide insurance. So, when the machinist got married he had to quit and work for a factory in the next town that provided insurance. Not as enjoyable, but it paid more and had benefits.

I think critics of Wal-Mart assume everyone has a good job till Wal-Mart moves to town. Not true. More on this later.

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