The Wal-Martization of America

“It’s a ticking time bomb,” said someone, speaking about the the pitiful wages that dominate retail employment in America. “At some point, do the people stand up and revolt?”

What’s interesting is that the speaker wasn’t a union organizer or one of Harry’s former comrades, but an executive for a major supplier of the retailing giant Wal-Mart, as quoted in Business Week magazine.

In a fascinating article on the Wal-Mart phenomenon, BW concedes that Wal-Mart’s commitment to cost-cutting saves consumers tens of billions of dollars a year. But as the article makes clear, there are other consequences, including:

–Poverty-level wages for Wal-Mart “associates.”

–Lobbying by Wal-Mart to influence local planning and zoning ordinances.

–Driving traditional supermarkets out of business, costing jobs and requiring shoppers to travel further.

–Limiting consumer choices in many areas to whatever Wal-Mart chooses to sell.

–Importing $12 billion a year in Chinese-made goods, contributing to the loss of US manufacturing jobs. (Wal-Mart has quietly de-emphasized its flag-waving pledge to stock American-made products whenever possible. At the very least I hope Wal-Mart makes a special effort to avoid importing goods made by child labor or prison labor.)

Even if you’re a free-market purist, these are not insignificant issues. Congratulations to Business Week for raising them.