Alligators 'n Roadkill

Alligators 'n Roadkill
On The Road


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Walmart: A (quick) study in Love/Hate

Everyone is entitled to be stupid, but some abuse the privilege”. - Unknown

Why are some folks so upset with Walmart?  You know, I get so tired of these whining idiots who make claims like, “Walmart has ruined many small towns,” or “Walmart is responsible for making China what it is today.” Where do they get these silly ideas? Are they totally ignorant of modern history? Where were they during the sixties, seventies, and eighties?

First, let’s keep in mind that each and every generation, from the beginning of time, has seen change of one kind or another, and pinned responsibility in the wrong places. More recently, while folks my age pretty much agree that growing up in the fifties was an idyllic period in history, we are just as wrong as all the generations that came before us (‘cause we all know that the ‘Good 0l’ Days’ only exist in the memories of us old folks). And, as for the death of small town America, that was written way back at the beginning of the Industrial Age, and anyone who continues to deny it today is simply foolish.

The death of small town America was starting to be obvious as early as the sixties, and the death of Downtown America was evident at the same time. But, what really caused this? You certainly cannot blame Walmart, because they were not only not the first store of this kind, but the first Walmart did not open until 1962, the same year as the first Kmart and the first Target. At the same time, we saw, across the country, the establishment of a myriad of similar stores – Govmart, Globe, Fedmart, Grants, Woolco, and many others. These stores took over the retail spot earlier occupied by variety stores, such as Woolworths, S. S. Kresges, and so forth.

Variety stores, also referred to as ten cent stores, ‘the five and dime,’ or simply ‘dime’ stores, got their popular name because most of the items for sale in them only cost five or ten cents. They had much more class than today’s ‘dollar’ stores, but their merchandise was much the same quality, and variety. If one wanted clothing, one went to J. C. Penney, or to the local department store (another dinosaur). Auto parts were found (at least in my part of the world) at Western Auto, a great chain, also an extinct species. Groceries were purchased at the local food store, or maybe at Safeway (wow, I think this chain still exists).

What killed off all those dinosaurs? Competition, plain and simple. And, it was not Walmart alone. Here’s how it happened, and how it keeps on happening:

As for Walmart selling nothing but stuff made in China, I’m not going to cite any facts or figures for you, but I am going to tell you this: (applying logic, here’s how it goes) – you, the American consumer, demand decent quality for a fair price, no? Walmart, as a purveyor of goods, for a profit, realizes that they need to be able to offer you what you demand, right? How the hell are they going to stay in business if they don’t show a profit? And, how are they going to show a profit if they cannot provide you, the consumer, with what you demand?

So, they search the world over, looking for good products at a fair price. Actually, for Walmart, they no longer have to do much searching, since most decent manufacturers now bring their product to Walmart, hoping that it will be acceptable to their buyers, who after all, are looking for whatever you demand.

Now, don’t try to tell me that you disagree with any of this, because you know this is how it works. It is most certainly not the fault of this particular retailer (or any other retailer, for that matter) if the best products, for the best prices, happen to come from China. If you must blame someone, blame the Republican Party, the GOP, and big business (as in the owners/stockholders of major brand names). They are the ones who decided, beginning way back in the sixties and the seventies to start exporting work, from first our heartland, to our southern states, and borders, and then, overseas, first to Mexico, and then, very quickly, to Asia. Read your history!

I remember this happening and watching it happening right in front of all of us. We lived in El Paso, Texas, from 1970, until 2004. First, in the late sixties and very early seventies, large American manufacturers began to relocate their factories to places where they could find cheaper labor than they had in Indianapolis, Sheboygan, St. Louis, Erie, Gary, Rolling Hills, or wherever plants used to be. They found cheaper labor, and all kinds of tax breaks and other incentives from communities and even States located along the U. S./Mexico border, and in many southern states. I remember the excitement as Hallicrafters (a major supplier of radio communications equipment during WWII) came to El Paso. (I actually worked in their factory for more than two years, as an electrical technician). Then, Tonka Toys, then many apparel manufacturers came to town to join those who were already there (Farah had one of the world’s largest manufacturing facilities right along I-10). Lee Jeans, Levis, Wrangler, and many others also set up shop.

But, a funny thing happened. Once these big names arrived along the border, it did not take long before they realized that even cheaper labor was right there across the border. So, one by one, those who were able to do so, began to move their manufacturing to Mexico, and today El Paso, once a major manufacturing center, is nothing more than a great big warehouse for all the finished goods that cross the border from Mexico every day. And, of course, once these big names set up shop in Mexico, it did not take long before they heard the call of even cheaper labor over there in Asia, and guess what? Mexico has a good number of empty factories, now also, just like we do.

Who is to blame for this? NOT Walmart, folks. They, and others like them, only try to make you, the consumer, happy. We can’t hope to successfully boycott them (and, frankly, the very idea of trying is absurd). Hell, they even have their own subculture today. Haven’t you heard of, and seen those pictures of ‘Walmartians?’ Of course you have.