Monday, November 26, 2012

The great Walmart debate

Posted By on Mon, Nov 26, 2012 at 11:55 AM

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With another Black Friday (er, Thursday) in the books, the national media has Walmart on the brain, but this year it’s not just stories of deal-seeking grannies elbowing their fellow citizens out of the way. With nationwide protests over Walmart’s labor practices, the talking heads are taking stands — is the retail behemoth an economic force for good or an exploitive villain?

After an interesting discussion on MSNBC’s "Up With Chris Hayes," Reason's Peter Suderman gave a 17-point Twitter defense of Walmart (basically, he argues low prices for low-income folks is good; Walmart’s labor practices ain’t that bad). Kathleen Gier of The Washignton Monthly, meanwhile, counters that because Walmart is so big and its “ideology is so passionately anti-labor, it has been one of the driving forces in our economy that has been disempowering and immiserating American workers and accelerating economic inequality.” The Atlantic’s Jordan Weissmann is similarly harsh but lays the blame on all of us as consumers. Ezra Klein at the Washington Post takes the middle road:

Whether Wal-Mart has been, on net, “good” or “bad” is a complicated question to frame and a devilishly tough one to answer. Soon, I’m sure, the question will be whether Amazon.com has been good or bad. I wish I had a definitive answer. All I’m certain of is that Wal-Mart has been — and Amazon.com will be — economically transformative.

Were the protests a success? Depends on who you ask. Gier called it a “rousing success” while the Daily Beast’s Megan McArdle labeled it “underwhelming.” Strike organizers claim that protests took place at more than 1000 Walmart stores and hundreds of workers walked off the job; Walmart officials call this “grossly exaggerated” and claim that less than 50 employees took part, about the number that missed their scheduled shift last year.

Matthew Yglesias at Slate suggests that workers and unions have too much at stake to mount an action that would move the needle:

To create a situation in which politicians fear creating a bloody massacre, the workers have to be motivated and prepared to risk a bloody massacre. That's a high bar.

What say y'all?

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