I’m about to make an argument on a premise that not many people agree with me on. I guess that’s a pretty silly idea but hell, I’m doing it anyways. I wrote a post not long ago encouraging people to be more selfish. You can read it here. But the general gist of it is that selfishness is not synonymous with greed and that if one is truly concerned with oneself, then they will inevitably help everyone more than someone who strives for selflessness. An analogy would be to giving an employee a higher wage so they can come to work without hunger and therefore, be more productive. Sometimes, I understand that this is not the case, that to the employer, the benefit of satiety is minute in comparison to the cost of feeding. But I argue that this is a dynamic stage, not a homeostatic one. I believe from fundamental logic of thermodynamics that an economy can reach equilibrium unless restrained by external interference. Of course there will be unemployment but there will be less than if restricted by regulation.
So here I go. Grant me that initial premise and you may realize this one. Or maybe the combination of two seemingly faulty premises will help with acknowledging that I may not be a quack after all.
Walmart is actually an awesome corporation. There I go; I said it. I know I’m not the first one and I imagine (I hope) I won’t be the last. Why is Walmart awesome despite the overwhelming hatred for it and its customer base to be, shall we say, less than classy and occasionally inbred? Walmart is great exactly because it is as selfish as it can possibly be.
Let’s address each misconception one by one.
1. Walmart runs the mom-and-pop stores out of business. Walmart didn’t really do that though. Mom-and-pop stores were fading out a long time before Walmart. Their inefficiencies stare you in the face with their high prices and the fear of being alone in a smelly store with a creepy clerk. But let’s say Walmart is the culprit, hypothetically speaking. Walmart does something for cheaper-they are more efficient. They throw away less of their inventory-less waste. This means Walmart helps keep stuff out of landfills, how cool is that! They centralize shopping-allow for less transportation efficiency (less gas, less atmospheric pollution). They centralizing heating and air conditioning under one roof-less pollution. So where would you rather shop, all over the frigging town in several crumbling, stinky stores with creepy clerks in downtown economic failure or in the safety of a single, well lit store with lower prices than the alternative. What a dream to imagine small town America staying stagnant and falling behind the rest of the world into a pit of poverty and economic depression. I’ll take the tacky glaring lights of the supercenter.
2. So we can blame this on the relentless advancement of all economies globally? When are we going to accept sustainability? That’s a good question. But in my wrestling with the idea of economic stagnation, returning to Amish-like agriculture and contenting ourselves with staying put on planet, without modern technology, I realized that that life really sucks. I can hold in my hand a device which can supply me with near infinite amounts of information. I can access more knowledge and understanding, more questions, theories, speculations, answers than I can ever imagine. I essentially get to escape the mundane existence of birth, struggle, and death to explore my own biology as well as galaxies, stories, and other people’s lives. We wouldn’t have that with stagnation. Someone could propose that we will never know when to stop, that this is all great but when do we accept it? I pray to human curiosity that we never do. I guarantee you that many people marveled in a similar way, as I do to an iPhone, at an encyclopedia from the 1800s or even the coliseum of ancient Rome. They wondered, when do we accept it and kick back? They criticized development. And I’m so goddamn happy that they didn’t have their way. And while I can imagine that things are different now, that we ARE actually causing ourselves harm with this quest for knowledge, I doubt that hypothesis is right.
3. Walmart exploits children in sweatshops. Take out the word exploit, replace it with employs and you bet your ass they do. No doubt about it. Compared to our society in which a child is in school and learning awesome stuff, yeah, those sweatshops suck. But that is not what we are comparing it to. What we are comparing it to is starvation, homelessness, disease, crime, and death. So when you shop at a company that employs children for a dollar a week, you are charitably giving your rich ass’s money to a poorer nation, flooding their economy with money, helping them to catch up to our wealth. Instead you could shop “made in america” for a higher cost and keep that money here, you greedy bastards. Or you could fight to ban sweatshops internationally and act to increase the cost of goods from those struggling economies so much that it isn’t worth the cost of transporting them all the way around the globe. That way they could never compete and we would end up keeping our money anyways. That is greed my friends, not selfishness. Selfishness would be wanting dirt cheap clothes from a kid in India. I’m wearing some right now. Would I have paid more for them had I seen the labor? Probably. But I couldn’t, not many of us can, and only a few can afford to pay more. So with those prices hidden behind that veil of ignorance, we buy cheap stuff and in turn, help save starving children. Way to go Walmart-keep stocking your shelves with clothes from sweatshops and helping reduce global poverty. Taking the money from the man and giving it to the weak-that’s some straight up Robin Hood justice right there. No wonder privileged Americans don’t like it.
4. Walmart reduces employment in a town and its employees are tortured. Every time I’ve gone into Walmart I’ve seen some fun, friendly, sometimes inbred looking folk smiling away at me. They don’t seem unhappy-go ask them. I have and they usually say, “It’s a job.” If we could have our pick, get paid to play all day, or get paid to work, which would we choose? But once again, those are not our options. The options are, be jobless and die, or get paid to work. With respect to the reduced employment, that is true, no doubt. But if Walmart didn’t do it, someone else would. There is no sense in having an employee for a stationary store when you could have an employee monitoring the stationary aisle and the sporting goods aisle.
5. Walmart fights to keep unions from forming so they can torture their employees more. So, unions are companies, just like any other. They charge dues, they have management, they have revenue and profits and look to increase both of them. If a union forms, Walmart’s prices go up, less consumers means less revenue. Less revenue means less capital to open more stores, less stores means less employment-a bunch of people get laid off and are jobless and die. Now I know they don’t really die but they’re going to suffer and be indirectly pissed off about the formation of a union.
6. Walmart pays its employees too little. Here’s a fun little misconception. If minimum wage were abandoned, wages would stabilize to satisfy the cost of living. If you inflict a minimum wage on a population, the prices of goods merely rise, increasing the cost of living. They are near directly proportional, at least for the lower classes. If Walmart raises its wages and salaries, their prices, the goods that their employees often buy, goes up. Or more labor is exported internationally and we lose jobs in the US and more people die here. Once again, I know they don’t die, but it still sucks to get laid off because someone else (most likely wealthier) said you weren’t getting paid enough.
The fact is, Walmart is an inevitable outcome. There is no fighting it other than through government regulation. Besides, the consumers did the talking. If Walmart were really so unpopular, it wouldn’t be here. My college town of Blacksburg, Virginia fought a Walmart opening within the town limits. You know what happened? People drive 15 minutes to the Walmart down the road to buy all their stuff because they are in college and can’t afford mom and pop’s inefficiencies. All that money leaves Blacksburg and is pumped into nearby Christiansburg which is thriving as Blacksburg starves, clinging to a vague sense of nostalgia. I found this article in the Virginia Tech paper and there is no better rebuttal than the first comment of the article. It saddens me to watch such self-inflicted doom. It is a community that is so blinded by its reminiscings of small-town feel that it refuses and combats something that would surely bring wealth to the community. The fact is, there is no perfect solution. But the way I see it, acting in one’s own self interest benefits everyone. If everyone just took care of themselves and stopped worrying about everyone else, I imagine more people would have jobs, there would be less poverty nationally and globally, and there would be less unjustified propaganda-fueled hatred for superstores.