Monday, June 04, 2007

But Honey I Have To...



That’s what my wife says to me when I give her the evil eye after finding a Wal-Mart shopping bag in her car. I don’t shop at Wal-Mart. I have one simple reason. Wal-Mart doesn’t have a union. Not one. But as usual, my wife is right. There isn’t any other place to shop. And the truth behind that statement is bigger -- and more dangerous -- than I ever considered.

The Wal-Mart Effect by Charles Fishman is probably the most important book I’ve read in a decade. If the previous book I read (A World Transformed) was the longest 566 pages I’ve ever read, the 283 pages of this book were the fastest. I flew through it. It’s great -- and easy -- reading. You should definitely read it.

I really like Mr. Fishman’s style. There are more little factoids in this book than you could ever hope to remember.

”Wal-Mart’s scale can be hard to absorb. The company isn't just the largest retailer in the nation and in the world. For most of this decade, Wal-Mart has been both the largest company in the world, and the largest company in the history of the world.

”Wal-Mart is as big as Home Depot, Kroger, Target, Costco, Sears, and Kmart combined.”

”Wal-Mart is now the largest corporate employer in Mexico. From doing no business at all in Mexico fifteen years ago, Wal-Mart is now the nation’s largest retailer and the largest grocer in the country -- bigger than its next three competitors combined. Wal-Mart is the largest retailer in Canada. Wal-Mart is the second largest grocer in England.”

”Perhaps the most dramatic was the revelation that in Georgia, 10,261 children enrolled in the state’s insurance program for the poor children has a parent who worked at Wal-Mart. The employer with the next highest number of children was also a retailer, Publix Super Markets...”


I hope that last one brought you up short. Don’t think this book is a “Bash Wal-Mart” book. It isn’t. The genius of this book is that Mr. Fishman brings these little factoids into focus. Sharp focus. The point behind that last one was that Publix has to compete with Wal-Mart. Remember ? Wal-Mart is now in the grocery business. In the compete-or-die world of unregulated capitalism, you either compete (keep your employee costs down) or die (remember Winn-Dixie and Piggly-Wiggly ?) If Wal-Mart does it, chances are, you’ll have to do it too. Or go out of business.

If you’re in the grocery business, clothing business, plant nursery, music, sprinkler, gadget, any kind of business -- either selling or supplying -- you have to deal with Wal-Mart. And that is what this book is about. The Wal-Mart Effect touches virtually everything.

” That kind of dominance at both ends of the spectrum -- dominance across a huge range of merchandise and dominance of geographic consumer markets -- means that market capitalism is being strangled with the kind of slow inexorability of a boa constrictor. It’s not free-market capitalism -- Wal-Mart is running the market. Choice is an illusion.”

I told you my wife was right. She has no choice.

You need to buy and read this book. Try not to buy it at a Wal-Mart.

Don Brown
June 4, 2007

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