Saturday, June 8, 2013

The Pleasant and Easy Consumerist Path to Hell

Several centuries worth of scuttlebutt suggests that the words: “Abandon hope all ye who enter here” are inscribed above the entrance to hell as a kind of backhanded piece of friendly advice directed to those unfortunate souls who departed the earthly realm without securing proper forgiveness  for their sins. Generally speaking Dante’s buddy, Virgil, is listed as the first source for that bit of information but since trips to the bottomless pit are for the most part one-way, confirmation is still pending.

Supernatural locales not withstanding curiously enough there is a purely terrestrial place where such a phrase does fit for those like me who would rather crawl naked on the ground through scores of fire ant mounds while covered in honey than ever go inside. What place you might ask can rival the evil abyss that sinners are condemned to spend an eternity of suffering as punishment for their earthly transgressions? That place is where you find “always low prices”, your friendly neighborhood Wally Market.

Under the well crafted, but partially true, guise of giving the hardworking consumer more for his or her buck the folks that run Wally Market have over the years built an economic juggernaut that has unfortunately come to dominate most of the American market place. This has resulted in smaller, local retail competitors almost becoming extinct and numerous American-based enterprises being forced to betray their workers with massive pay and benefit cuts or just to ship those jobs overseas so they can stay in business.

Never one to let a little bit of factual bad press ruin their operations Wally Markets spends millions of dollars annually to pay soulless advertisement agencies to make them look like they give a damn about something other than the corporate bottom line. Speaking just for myself, whenever I see a television commercial with an actor claiming how great it is to be a Wally Market worker the first idea that comes to mind are those propaganda broadcasts from North Korea showing how much their citizens love the current megalomaniacal twit in charge. Never mind that Wally Market’s wages are so low that many of those workers have to turn to government assistance costing those hard working taxpayers on average a little over a million dollars at each  store.

It is funny really; hard working taxpayers who are often upset about all those lazy bums on welfare go to Wally Market to save money. But yet Wally Market workers often have to use food stamps and Medicaid to feed their families and have some basic health care because they get paid crap. It is almost a self-sustaining loop feeding back on itself with Wally Market the only winner as yet another one of their cavernous stores are built. Down here in the glorious south there are so many of them you already cannot throw a rock without hitting one of those putrid centers of rabid of American commercialism.

There are two points of this screwed-up reality that make this all the more funnier. The first being that many people like me who despise Wally Market sometimes cannot avoid going into one of those stores or another like it. Relatively speaking some of those all-encompassing mega stores are better than the others but most generally follow Wally Market’s business model.

The second point is the often idiotic nature of many of Wally Market’s loyal customers. Few right-wing leaning affluent middle-class, and even more surprising poorer working class, folks cannot wrap their tiny heads around the fact that while yes, they are saving a buck or two shopping at Wally Market the majority of the merchandise they bought was made in China by someone working for what amounts to slave wages. That brings to mind a surreal incident where a redneck acquaintance of mine was bragging to me about the great deal he got on his new fifty-four inch, Chinese made, television who a few minutes later began bitching about that damn socialist President Obama.    

But hey, I can at least understand the fatalistic logic to buying as much cheap crap as possible to a certain degree. With good paying manufacturing jobs leaving the United States because many people want nothing more than their own immediate satisfaction like a spoil child with a mouth full of rotten teeth demanding more candy. Wally Market provides a way to keep the illusion of a prosperous lifestyle just a little longer for them and their families.

This leads me to the second of my neat little analogies that dovetails with my introduction being that the road to hell is paved with good but ultimately moronic intentions.     

From Mother Jones:

Walmart's wages and benefits are so low that many of its employees are forced to turn to the government for aid, costing taxpayers between $900,000 and $1.75 million per store, according to a report released last week by congressional Democrats.
Walmart's history of suppressing local wages and busting fledgling union efforts is common knowledge. But the Democrats' new report used data from Wisconsin's Medicaid program to quantify Walmart's cost to taxpayers. The report cites a confluence of trends that have forced more workers to rely on safety-net programs: the depressed bargaining power of labor in a still struggling economy; a 97 year low in union enrollment; and the fact that the middle-wage jobs lost during the recession have been replaced by low-wage jobs. The problem of minimum-wage work isn't confined to Walmart. But as the country's largest low-wage employer, with about 1.4 million employees in the US—roughly 10 percent of the American retail workforce—Walmart's policies are a driving force in keeping wages low. The company also happens to elegantly epitomize the divide between the top and bottom in America: the collective wealth of the six Waltons equals the combined wealth of 48.8 million families on the other end of the economic spectrum. The average Walmart worker making $8.81 per hour would have to work for 7 million years to acquire the Walton family's current wealth.
Using data from Wisconsin, which has the most complete and recent state-level Medicaid data available, the Democrats' report finds that 3,216 of Wisconsin’s 29,457 Walmart workers are enrolled in the state's Medicaid program. That figure that balloons to 9,207 when Walmart employees' children and adult dependents are taken into account. The study also looked at the costs of other taxpayer-funded programs that Walmart employees on state Medicaid could also use. Here's the tab: 

At a minimum, Walmart workers in Wisconsin known to be enrolled in Medicaid rely on at least $9.5 million a year in taxpayer funds. If the study's low-end estimate of $900,000 per store in taxpayer-funded benefits is right, Walmart's 300 Wisconsin stores could be forcing the state to provide as much as $67.5 million per year in benefits that employees of Walmart's higher-wage competitors, such as Costco, don't need.
House Democrats are pushing two pieces of legislation that would address the drag Walmart's low wages place on the economy. One would raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10; another would allow employees to share salary information, bolstering their bargaining power. A study published last year found that raising average retail wage salaries from $21,000 to $25,000 a year would create 100,000 new jobs and give a $13.5 billion annual boost to the overall economy.

Walmart has pushed back against the Dems' report. "Unfortunately there are some people who base their opinions on misconceptions rather than facts, and that is why we recently launched a campaign to show people the unlimited opportunities that exist at Walmart," Brooke Buchanan, a spokeswoman for the company, told the Huffington Post. "We provide a range of jobs—from people starting out stocking shelves to Ph.D.'s in engineering and finance. We provide education assistance and skill training and, most of all, a chance to move up the ranks."
Research suggests that Walmart could increase wages significantly and still turn a profit. But the company has worked for years to avoid doing that. An internal memo obtained by the Huffington Post in November, "Field Non-Exempt Associate Pay Plan Fiscal Year 2013," outlined how Walmart capped raises for hourly workers, lowing costs and bolstering their bottom line profits. In 2012, the company's net sales were higher than Norway's entire economic output.
The ranks of near-poor households enrolled in Medicaid have been swelling in Wisconsin since the late 1990s. Although Walmart isn't the only force driving this trend, it certainly isn't helping.


Jerry E Beuterbaugh said...

Hey, Wal-Mart does pay some of their employees a more than others, but they are expected to do the work of 3-4 in order to keep getting those higher wages. Well, at least that was the case with my wife for the month and a half she lasted as a floor supervisor (I can't remember her actual title) at a newly-opened Supercenter around 12 years ago.

Gwendolyn H. Barry said...

Mind blowing.
And still, not enough folks wake to it and walk away from them.
Being a genuine by the seat of our pants little family business, I spend the xtra $ to keep folks like myself in business. We need to support each other within our local and technoconnectiveglobal communities.
Great post Beach.

lime said...

walmart makes me sick. i stopped shopping there years ago because of how they treated folks i knew who were employees.

Mr. Charleston said...

The thing is, we have allowed ourselves to slip into an economy that is 70% reliant on consumer spending. As long as that's the case the Wally Marts of the world will continue to thrive. It's really sad because I can remember when Wally Mart was lauded for buying only American made products and respected for developing the technology that allowed them to track inventory to the degree that they could place orders directly to the factory and avoid warehousing. They are still doing that only now, the factories are in China. We're in big trouble. Check this out:

Life As I Know It Now said...

I try as much as possible to buy second hand and to shop union stores (like Kroger). I do sometimes have to go to Wally World and I hate doing that, I really do, but sometimes there is no where else to buy that certain something that I need. And with gas over $4 a gallon now in Indiana I need to stay local and as you say, those assholes are everywhere.

Susan Flett Swiderski said...

Wow, an eye-opening post. Good job, Beach Bum.

A few years ago, when I looked for an American flag, I was horrified to find that most of them were made in China. I just bought a new one last week... made in the USA. And the store I bought it at (Lowe's) was very proud of that fact. So, maybe things are changing a teensy bit. American-made products ARE available, but for a higher price. The question is: are most Americans willing... and able... to spend more to get them?

Beach Bum said...

Jerry: I heard the very same thing from a guy who worked at Sam's Club. He said that if he was caught not working to the level his supervisor's thought was proper there was Hell to pay.

Gwen: Here in South Carolina it's often very hard to stay completely away from Walmart. They are just so pervasive and since a good chunk of local businesses die after the arrival of one of those "super stores" a person often has no choice. Especially since none of Walmart's competitors are much better.

Lime: Truthfully much of their merchandise is no utter crap.

Mr. Charleston: I also remember when Walmart bragged about buying American-made products.

Life As I Know It: That is the rub! Sometimes going to Walmart is unavoidable, especially when, like me, I am rushing from place to another.

Susan: Unfortunately, a good many people only see the money they have "saved" by going to Walmart.

Pixel Peeper said...

Those are some scary numbers...

I don't know much about Costco, but I this article from last week shows how Costco differs from Walmart. So really, it can be done.

But as you said, sometimes you can't avoid the store. I don't buy a lot of "stuff" any more and I keep hoping that we'll get other choices for shopping.

Marja said...

Hi my dear friend. Hope all is wel with you.
I don't know wall mart but the story sounds familiar. My daughter worked hard in the holidays at a wall mart type. Capitalism at work.
Much easier to be in Tonga and catch your own meal in the sea and eat it with some local vegies. Oh what a delight.