Bob's Links and Rants

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Tuesday, September 14, 2004


The NY Times has an editorial today about that scourge of America (and now the world), Wal-Mart.
Wal-Mart, the world's biggest company, says it wants to improve its image both by doing a better job of getting its message out and by being more willing to "compromise." This new approach makes sense, given the charges that have been hurled against the company recently. But if Wal-Mart wants to improve its image, it should focus less on shaping its message and more on changing the way it does business.
As for me, I don't shop at Wal-Mart, I tell people not to shop there--in fact, I hate Wal-Mart. But I don't blame Wal-Mart, as such.

There are anti-trust laws on the books which should have prevented any corporation from becoming so large and dominating so many markets. But these laws haven't been enforced for about 20 years. I think the case of AT&T in the early 1980's was about the last time there was a court-ordered breakup of a large corporation, and the baby Bells have spent the years since recombining: Michigan Bell combined with Illinois Bell to become Ameritech, which then became a part of SBC, which seems to be pretty much the reincarnation of AT&T. The breakup of Standard Oil 100 or so years ago has similarly been undone, since we now have monstrosities like Exxon-Mobil, Chevron-Texaco, and BP-Amoco. The Clinton Justice Department took a swipe at Microsoft, without any noticeable effect that I can see.

Meanwhile, Wal-Mart has grown unfettered out of its base in Arkansas. Even back in the mid-80's, when I was working for the Alabama Hysterical Commission, we were fighting a mostly losing battle against Wal-Mart. We ran a "Main Street" program, designed to help small Alabama towns preserve, restore, and revitalize their downtown areas. The biggest threat to these Mayberry's was Wal-Mart: One yellow smiley face on the highway just outside of town could shut down two general stores, three pharmacies, a couple of clothing stores, an electronics store, and numerous others, while providing lower-paying jobs for maybe half of the people put out of work. And Wal-Mart was far less likely to be selling Alabama- or even U.S.-made merchandise, causing further layoffs and shutdowns at the small factories that employed many Alabamians.

Wal-Mart should have been broken up long ago, before being allowed to dominate so many markets and our trade deficit (I read that 20% of our trade deficit with China is due to Wal-Mart). They now control one of the least expensive but most valuable commodities in America--the politicians.

And, in case you missed it, Wal-Mart is building a new store at the site of ancient Teotihuacan, Mexico. Just what Mexico needs--a cost-cutting megacorporation undercutting local merchants and manufacturers with merchandise made at even sub-Mexican wages. The race to the bottom seems to be nearing the final lap.