Wal-Mart's "Buy American" Program Just a Memory
by Last Night in Little Rock
Get the creeps when you walk into a Wal-Mart store? I do. It feels un-American to buy there, and I'll tell you why.
Wal-Mart is the biggest corporation to have been created in the U.S., making it by sheer growth. Even with Exxon/Mobil's price gouging during Katrina, Wal-Mart still came out on top of the Fortune 500 list this year. Wal-Mart pays cash for everything it buys: Products, land, construction of buildings and stores. It is flush with cash. Far more than the normal American can even imagine.
Today, we see Wal-Mart apologize, noted here on TalkLeft, for some minor employee linking "Planet of the Apes" DVDs with "black oriented" movies. Just stupidity, or is it the air in Bentonville, Arkansas? Sam Walton should be spinning in his grave.
Frankly, Wal-Mart has gotten so big that it is the 600 pound gorilla of American business. No, it is really the $27,000,000,000 gorilla.
Wal-Mart was the vision of Sam Walton. He changed retailing in the entire world. Before he died, he was big on "Buy American," and it appeared in signs in the stores and on TV ads. Economy in saving store and distribution costs was his genius. (So was closing all mom and pop stores when Wal-Mart came to town. More about that later.)
But, Sam Walton's "Buy American" vision was lost long ago. It left when he died.
Now, in the hands of his $on$ and other corporate $hill$, "Buy American" is long gone. Instead, it is "Buy Chinese" to wring out every penny; hundreds of millions of pennies a day. According to China Business Weekly and American RadioWorks, in 2004 alone, Wal-Mart spent $18B in China. Wal-Mart probably is one of China's top ten trading partners, larger than all countries except the U.S. It may even be the biggest.
Companies that regularly do business with Wal-Mart have branch offices in Bentonville, just to be able to kiss Wal-Mart's big blue and gray a$$. It is necessary to play ball with the gorilla and do its bidding.
Wal-Mart is no longer the good corporate citizen it appeared to be. That's just my opinion. I could be wrong.
- Wal-Mart is the subject of many an unflattering book, and now a DVD documentary. Consider, for example, How Wal-Mart is Destroying America and The World and What You Can Do About It published in 2000 and Wal-Mart--The High Cost of Low Price released in late 2005. They paint an unflattering picture of Wal-Mart.
- Wal-Mart extorts tax breaks from local governments that other local businesses do not get. Wal-Mart comes into town, drives out the local mom and pop stores, wire transfers its bank deposits to Bentonville daily so the money never stays in the local economy, and then, a few years later, it consolidates four stores into Supercenters, leaving the original empty store fronts along with their own. (Wal-Mart has its own real estate company.)
- Wal-Mart knowingly hired illegal aliens, and got its Bentonville offices searched by the FBI.
- Wal-Mart is the subject of numerous class actions, one involving 1.6 million women employees and former employees complaining about the "glass ceiling" (class website here; MSNBC story here) that reportedly threatens many other employers, or so they say.
- Two weeks ago, an Oakland, CA jury awarded a class of employees $172 million for being denied lunch breaks for years, in violation of state law.
With all this litigation, one would think that Wal-Mart's legal team is huge. One would be right: Wal-Mart's house counsel's legal team is by far the biggest law firm in Arkansas. The current house counsel, Thomas Mars, is doing his best to get Wal-Mart out of the trouble that a gorilla its size invariably gets itself into. Before him, Wal-Mart was the U.S. champion civil litigation discovery abuser in stonewalling discovery demands and hiding documents. At least he is doing the right thing. Managing the legal affairs of the gorilla is not easy.
It is also the subject of a PBS show about how its employees are getting by on minimum wage and welfare while its executives in Bentonville just get richer. Numbers 6 through 10 on the Richest Americans List are Walton heirs, and three live in Bentonville. One lives in Texas because there is no state income tax.
Is it the air in Bentonville, or just the culture? Bentonville exists because of Wal-Mart. It was Sam Walton's home, and he built the home office there, and it never left. Bentonville is the county seat of Benton County, Arkansas. Arkansas is a Red state. Benton County is the Reddest county in the state: Virtually all public officials there are Republicans, and some are neo-cons. The
Sheriff brags on his website that the jail rules included the Ten Commandments until an inmate sued because of the "no other gods but me" part that seemed to cross some line the sheriff couldn't understand. Byar v. Lee, 336 F.Supp.2d 896 (W.D.Ark. 2004). (They brag that the inmate got only $1 in damages, but they leave out that the attorney did quite well in the civil rights attorney's fee award paid by the county.)
Let's go back to what started this rant: the "Planet of the Apes" website posting. Consider the source. Benton County is "lilly white." Benton County's 2000 Census data from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock shows that African-Americans in 2000 were 00.45% of the Benton County population. (Hispanics outnumber African-Americans 21.4 to 1 in Benton County.)
Benton Co. population: 153,406
American Indian, 2,531
Two or more races, 9,044
Hispanic Origin, 13,469
It is a little hard to be respectful of diversity when one seldom sees people of color in the community.
Sam Walton was a simple man who appreciated his poor roots and the people who worked for him. He had simple basic values of "Buy American." Even when it was first learned that Sam Walton was a billionaire, he still lived in the same house in Bentonville and drove the same old pickup truck to work.
I read somewhere years ago that a shirt could be made in the U.S. with union labor for just a few cents more than making it overseas. Would you pay just a little more to keep American workers working? As posited in Wal-Mart--The High Cost of Low Price, Wal-Mart workers could have health insurance for a few pennies more on the purchase price. Will the Walton $on$ and $hill$ allow it?
No. Making money is all today's Wal-Mart is concerned with. Squeeze every penny out of every purchase, no matter how. Today's Wal-Mart is not Sam Walton's Wal-Mart. (As an important aside, however, Sam's no saint. After all, his leadership took killing off small town America mom and pop stores to a whole new level. That seems un-American in itself.) Current leadership is into consolidation and making rural Americans drive 40 miles one way to buy something made in China.
I hope they save enough to pay for the gas to get there.
"Buy American" is just a memory of an old, discarded advertising slogan, tossed into the dust bin of forgotten and now useless values as we bow to the Almighty Dollar; a memory dying with Sam Walton. Wal-Mart will never return to it, and the rest of America may not, either, all thanks to Wal-Mart's economic influence.
Wal-Mart is not the only offender; just the biggest. When you go into Wal-Mart, think of the money going to China and not staying in the United States.
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