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Posted: 10 Apr 07, 22:39 Edit this post Reply to this post Reply with Quote

I recently watched a Penn and Teller: Bullshit! (a show that will make you think critically on many issues) episode concerning criticism against Wal Mart. Of course, they debunked this criticism as mostly bullshit. But why all the hatred against Wal Mart, anyway? It's true, in the eyes of many people, Wal Mart is synonymous with evil.

http://walmartwatch.com/
http://www.walmartmovie.com/

I would like to take this time to surmise as to the reasoning behind this, as well as other related issues.

First of all, there has been a recent social mindset concerning corporations in general. The words "corporate" and "greed" are almost inseperable. It is similar to how lawyers and the wealthy, or even the United States itself, are often the targets of many criticisms, jokes, etc.

I believe this has psychological roots in that we tend to dislike people we deem to be "overprivileged." This can be seen when we criticize famous musicians for being "overrated," or "talentless." We do not sympathize with people who are well off, and are quick to jump at their errors. It can even be seen in your local high schools, where disdain for "preps" can be derived from fabrications as "conformity" or "snobbishness," even when none are present. It is interesting to note that it is socially acceptable to scorn those who are socially/economically/successfully more privileged than yourself and your peers.

It also takes roots in the disdain for those who have the ability to affect our lives. That is, the government, our superiors, our parents, and firms we do business with. Despite how well or poorly these parties perform, hatred for them is uniform. For example, when an item is priced above what we would like to pay for it (which is generally exorbitantly low), we are quick to blame it on corporate greed, rather than the economy, inflation, the Fed and interest rates, oil prices, the housing market, sub-prime mortgages, etc. We are not very good at seeing the big picture, and rather tend to focus our views to the simplest solution.

Now Wal Mart is almost symbolic of "corporate America" (which is unjustifiably given a negative connotation). We too easily forget that corporations do not exist to serve the board of directors, or even stockholders. They exist to serve us, the people. If we did not want something that a corporation provided, and if we were not willing to pay for it, the corporation would dissolve in a heartbeat. However, it is far easier to tack on a word like "corporate greed" to describe any faults we see in a business.

Wal Mart is also ubiquitous. No matter who you are, or where you live, you will be affected by Wal Mart. Like I stated, people do not like this. Perhaps protesting the creation of new Wal Marts is essentially our human reaction to resisting being influenced by something (i.e. Wal Mart).

Sure, there are actual arguments behind why Wal Mart is bad, but many of them simply do not hold water, and even more of them are nonsensical and contradictory. However, realizing that people are slaves to human nature, I have come up with this brief conclusion. I implore you for your questions/comments/criticisms. I would like to seriously discuss the validity (or invalidity) of my claims.


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Posted: 10 Apr 07, 23:33 Edit this post Reply to this post Reply with Quote

I think a lot of the problem comes from the image that Wal-Mart has based on it's shoppers. People see the people in Wal-Mart who, let's face reality, are not the brightest shining example of humanity. (except in a college town, where the students shop there because we are all broke).
If someone buys into the stereotype that the only people who shop at Wal-Mart are fat, ugly, stupid rednecks, they don't want to be guilty by association. So, they will condemn Wal-Mart based on this evidence, as a way of proving how "I'm not them! I can't even be compared with them!"
That's not the whole issue, but I think it's part of it. Feel free to disagree if you wish.
BTW...I saw commercials for that show...and it looked interesting. Is it any good, or is it completely skeptical propoganda? (yes, skeptics have an axe to grind as well) Raising doubts about things is good...vehemently opposing things makes me wonder if there isn't another motivation behind it.


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Posted: 10 Apr 07, 23:38 Edit this post Reply to this post Reply with Quote

I liked Bullshit! It was fun and it made me think which is always fun.

That's true though. It's like the whole 'let us bash that emo chap up because someone else doesn't like them'. It's a band wagon thing, I think. Not that I have ever experieneced the Wal-Mart experience. Hooray!?


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Posted: 11 Apr 07, 00:29 Edit this post Reply to this post Reply with Quote

CMU HistoryGirl wrote:

I saw commercials for that show...and it looked interesting. Is it any good, or is it completely skeptical propoganda? (yes, skeptics have an axe to grind as well) Raising doubts about things is good...vehemently opposing things makes me wonder if there isn't another motivation behind it.


I love the show, it's among my favorites (along with the Adventures of Brisco County, Jr.).

Penn and Teller are very opinionated, and make no effort to hide that. However, the show offers viewpoints and criticisms that may be elusive or unobvious to most of us.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bullshit%21

You really have to watch the show for yourself, but don't take what is said as the truth. Many episodes focus on controversial or scientific issues, like gun control, and the legalization of drugs and prostitution (to which they take the Libertarian stance of anti-gun control and anti-victimless crimes). Do your own research. From personal experience, I find that I almost always agree with them after examining the topic.

Of course, when they debunk pseudoscience, the supernatural, and the like...such things are obviously bullshit, and the show's purpose is merely to expose such practices.

CMU HistoryGirl wrote:

I think a lot of the problem comes from the image that Wal-Mart has based on it's shoppers. People see the people in Wal-Mart who, let's face reality, are not the brightest shining example of humanity. (except in a college town, where the students shop there because we are all broke).
If someone buys into the stereotype that the only people who shop at Wal-Mart are fat, ugly, stupid rednecks, they don't want to be guilty by association. So, they will condemn Wal-Mart based on this evidence, as a way of proving how "I'm not them! I can't even be compared with them!"
That's not the whole issue, but I think it's part of it. Feel free to disagree if you wish.


That's true. But I feel that the people who criticize Wal Mart customers do not claim to have a moral high ground. Those are the people I was aiming at - those who believe Wal Mart victimizes people, communities, employees, etc, as seen in the two links provided. My argument is that these "atrocities" are merely excuses used to justify human nature's impulses.

Those that stereotype customers are obviously ignorant, and generally do not have legitimate arguments that would rally people against the corporation.


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Posted: 11 Apr 07, 01:15 Edit this post Reply to this post Reply with Quote

Why does the American public have favorable images of certain parts of "Corporate America" and not other parts?

A good documentary about WalMart:
http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/walmart/




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Posted: 11 Apr 07, 03:13 Edit this post Reply to this post Reply with Quote

Zeni wrote:

Why does the American public have favorable images of certain parts of "Corporate America" and not other parts?

A good documentary about WalMart:
http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/walmart/



I watched the first three chapters and took some quick notes as I watched. These notes may be true, false, or somewhere in between. Either way, I'll just post them to provide a source for discussion.

Chapter 1
-A pull system creates value by giving consumers what they want. It creates efficiency in production and the economy, as manufacturers no longer produce unwanted goods.
-Pull system created by advances in information technology, where retailers have more complete information on consumer behavior.

Chapter 2
-Rubbermaid - If a company can no longer meet consumer needs (whether those consumers be Wal-Mart or Wal-Mart customers), it becomes obsolete. Company history is irrelevant.

Chapter 3
-Globalization - if someone else can do it cheaper, better, or more efficiently, they therefore should do it; otherwise, inefficiency and waste ensues.
-If China has an economic advantage to supply goods to the United States, at a price cheaper than domestic products can afford, there is nothing wrong with going to China to obtain these products.

=======

I'll watch the rest some time, but now it's late.


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Posted: 11 Apr 07, 07:32 Edit this post Reply to this post Reply with Quote

Personally I consider Ford and GM a far more evil corporation.

http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20070405/ts_alt_afp/usautocompanyford_070405173516

This is just sickening. Makes me not even want to buy any car from GM. Besides they're shit cars where you will have to spend tons of money getting them fixed after owning a brand new one for a couple of years.


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Posted: 11 Apr 07, 11:35 Edit this post Reply to this post Reply with Quote

I don't have time to re-watch that documentary either, but one point I do seem to remember.

WalMart began to make decisions based on its needs, not necessarily the needs of the consumer. It forced producers to go overseas (especially smaller producers who had little leverage) so that costs were cheaper for WalMart and it could undersell the competition. This decision not only meant changing the playing field in WalMart's favor, but it also forced producers to eliminate American facilities (and American jobs) in favor of overseas production. (we can then argue the regional economic effects of lost jobs versus the small amount of savings for *certain* group consumers of a *certain* brand of socks)

Now, to throw out a historical argument:
"if someone else can do it cheaper, better, or more efficiently, they therefore should do it; otherwise, inefficiency and waste ensues."

Doesn't that, in effect, benefit producers and not consumers? The whole idea behind the Progressive Movement, for instance, was based on efficiency of production, but this often came at the expense of labor. Seems similar to today, whether it is moving jobs overseas or employing people just under full-time in order to cut down on medical insurance expenses.


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Posted: 11 Apr 07, 13:31 Edit this post Reply to this post Reply with Quote

Correct me if I'm wrong on any of this, but what I understand is this:

Actually, ALL of Wal-Mart's decisions are based on ITS needs. That is exactly what creates efficiency in free markets. Since Wal-Mart is 100% dependent upon its customers, it is the customers who benefit from this. Some people don't understand this basic principle, and believe that corporations are somehow in complete control of consumer behavior.

Most economists support globalization of the economy. This is because some countries are more proficient at certain things than others, giving them a comparative advantage. That is, they could manufacture or service cheaper, better, or faster. By allocating tasks to those who are more suited for it, wealth and efficiency is created in the world economy.

Therefore, I would argue that moving jobs overseas is a GOOD thing. They can do it better, and it not only improves the economy here, but there as well.

You can argue that there are poor working conditions and poor pay for workers, but most times, working in sweat shops and the like is far preferable to the alternatives these workers have. Every economy has to start somewhere and develop. As countries like China accumulate capital and wealth, they will industrialize and quality of life will improve.

Economic efficiency ultimately not only benefits producers, but also consumers and everyone else. That is because the aggregate economic development increases, and the standard of living for everyone goes up. Consumers benefit from lower prices, producers benefit from selling to consumers, and laborers benefit from low unemployment.

Now, when factories close down and jobs are "lost," they are not really lost. In the aggregate, unemployment will remain the same or even go down as technological and economic advances take place. What is actually being done, is inefficiency is being eliminated. Having workers perform jobs that could better be done elsewhere is wasteful. When factories close, these workers move onto new jobs where they can actually add value to the economy.


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Posted: 11 Apr 07, 15:14 Edit this post Reply to this post Reply with Quote

"When factories close, these workers move onto new jobs where they can actually add value to the economy."

To which economy? The national economy, or perhaps the state economy, but not the local economy, especially when we are talking about smaller towns in the US.

And herein lies some of the problem. You mention the benefits that globalization gives to the US, and certainly if you are employed in specific industries, that would be the case. But negative effects, like the loss of jobs, also have a regional or local impact. A plant shuts down and that worker has to find a new job. Now, you might be right that there is an equal job somewhere else in the US, but you have to take into a account the intangibles of finding and moving to that job, not only on the individual but on the community he/she is leaving.

One of the criticisms of WalMart and Big Business in general is the homogenization of America at the expense of localism. This is an important factor in the American mindset, which no matter how counterproductive to economists it might be, has great influence in how we people think.




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Posted: 11 Apr 07, 15:20 Edit this post Reply to this post Reply with Quote

"Actually, ALL of Wal-Mart's decisions are based on ITS needs. That is exactly what creates efficiency in free markets. Since Wal-Mart is 100% dependent upon its customers, it is the customers who benefit from this. Some people don't understand this basic principle, and believe that corporations are somehow in complete control of consumer behavior."

In the 1880s/1890s, railroads competed fiercely for traffic, whether from individuals traveling or carrying freight for farmers, factories, and industries especially located in the east. To compete, they undercut and lowered prices, which benefited these consumers. However, to make up the difference, railroads overcharged other consumers where they had no competition, notably on the Plains.

Not all decisions of a free market benefit consumers. When the above example proved inefficient, as you might say, railroads formed pools of joint ownership to control rates, which further alienated consumers. Only government regulation reined this in.



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Posted: 11 Apr 07, 15:56 Edit this post Reply to this post Reply with Quote

Zeni wrote:

"Actually, ALL of Wal-Mart's decisions are based on ITS needs. That is exactly what creates efficiency in free markets. Since Wal-Mart is 100% dependent upon its customers, it is the customers who benefit from this. Some people don't understand this basic principle, and believe that corporations are somehow in complete control of consumer behavior."

In the 1880s/1890s, railroads competed fiercely for traffic, whether from individuals traveling or carrying freight for farmers, factories, and industries especially located in the east. To compete, they undercut and lowered prices, which benefited these consumers. However, to make up the difference, railroads overcharged other consumers where they had no competition, notably on the Plains.

Not all decisions of a free market benefit consumers. When the above example proved inefficient, as you might say, railroads formed pools of joint ownership to control rates, which further alienated consumers. Only government regulation reined this in.


This is true, but I personally believe that the government should play an important role in the free market. This is especially true in oligopolistic industries, like the railroads you mentioned. The negative impacts of an unregulated free market are not only obvious, but they are historically proven.

The government should settle contract disputes, obviously, but it should also enact policy which promotes competition when it is threatened. So I believe that as long as this is the case, Wal-Mart is not a threat to consumers.

And thanks for taking the time to discuss this with me, Zeni.


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Posted: 11 Apr 07, 16:02 Edit this post Reply to this post Reply with Quote

Zeni wrote:

"When factories close, these workers move onto new jobs where they can actually add value to the economy."

To which economy? The national economy, or perhaps the state economy, but not the local economy, especially when we are talking about smaller towns in the US.

And herein lies some of the problem. You mention the benefits that globalization gives to the US, and certainly if you are employed in specific industries, that would be the case. But negative effects, like the loss of jobs, also have a regional or local impact. A plant shuts down and that worker has to find a new job. Now, you might be right that there is an equal job somewhere else in the US, but you have to take into a account the intangibles of finding and moving to that job, not only on the individual but on the community he/she is leaving.

One of the criticisms of WalMart and Big Business in general is the homogenization of America at the expense of localism. This is an important factor in the American mindset, which no matter how counterproductive to economists it might be, has great influence in how we people think.


That's true, and is one of the criticisms of economics that presents a good point. Modern economic thought is geared mostly to long-term progress, and often ignores or understates short-term problems. Aggregate prosperity can often overshadow troubles at an individual level.

And finally, your last paragraph potentially trumps all economic logic. Many people seem to enjoy their local, hometown way of life. However, I do not believe this is true for the majority of the people. I don't think the economy would move itself in the direction it was headed if MOST people wanted to retain the lifestyle of the past.


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Posted: 11 Apr 07, 16:41 Edit this post Reply to this post Reply with Quote

"Many people seem to enjoy their local, hometown way of life. However, I do not believe this is true for the majority of the people. I don't think the economy would move itself in the direction it was headed if MOST people wanted to retain the lifestyle of the past."

Then why do retailers like WalMart and Target make a big show of connecting to the local community? Besides donating money to local causes and school districts, why do they always let the Girl Scouts or Boy Scouts sell their cookies in front of the store?

I do think most people want local control; it's just that most people also fail to see the changes as they happen and only have regrets later.

Take the radio/TV industry, for example. At first, consolidation promised big things and consumers (or at least those people that cared) bought in to the idea. But what's been exposed lately is the Clear Channeling of America: less choices, less local control, more backlash. If you want a good example of how, in at least this case, media conglomeration is a potentially deadly thing, then just google "minot ammonia clear channel" and you'll get an idea.

An interesting debate, MM, and a welcomed change form the usual politics/religion/world evil debates that appear on QZ. Cheers for the thread.


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Posted: 11 Apr 07, 17:18 Edit this post Reply to this post Reply with Quote

"Then why do retailers like WalMart and Target make a big show of connecting to the local community? Besides donating money to local causes and school districts, why do they always let the Girl Scouts or Boy Scouts sell their cookies in front of the store?"

Well, people certainly like that local, hometown feel, but I think if you gave people the choice between the convenience of big box retailers and shopping malls, rather than only small businesses, people will choose large retailers. Small businesses are still prevalent everywhere, although big business does make it more difficult for them when they are direct competitors (but may benefit them if they are not).

What big businesses are trying to do by connecting with the community is making an effort to give people the ability to eat their cake and have it too, as best they can. Corporate social responsibility is not only a moral cause, but consumers will tend to trust and shop at a socially responsible store, as well.

"I do think most people want local control; it's just that most people also fail to see the changes as they happen and only have regrets later.

Take the radio/TV industry, for example. At first, consolidation promised big things and consumers (or at least those people that cared) bought in to the idea. But what's been exposed lately is the Clear Channeling of America: less choices, less local control, more backlash. If you want a good example of how, in at least this case, media conglomeration is a potentially deadly thing, then just google "minot ammonia clear channel" and you'll get an idea."

I'm not quite sure the regrets are legitimate, though. I mean, when you can only have one alternative or the other, there will always be some regret to decide which one you prefer. It's hard to say which alternative would result in the least regret, though.

But you may be right, as there are always several movements in small towns bearing these sentiments. It also goes back to my former suggestion that people want to believe that they are controlling their life, and do not want outside sources to impact it, whether negatively or positively.

I just think you have to consider that the majority of people will probably be dissatisfied regardless how history would have turned, so it is simply best to be objective and only consider the objective consequences, like those of the economy, rather than subjective ones, like sentimentality.


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