Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Letter from India: Low prices every day

Posted By on Wed, Dec 12, 2012 at 7:25 AM

WALMART WANTS IN: The Indian shopper, shown here in Chennai, is  on the radar of the Bentonville colossus.
  • WALMART WANTS IN: The Indian shopper, shown here in Chennai, is on the radar of the Bentonville colossus.

Here I sit in Chennai (Madras). I'm 10 hours from a 4:45 am plane to Abu Dhabi. 40 hours from a scheduled arrival in Little Rock for reasons not easy to explain.

An observation: India is still newspaper crazy. Maybe because poverty still holds back Internet access, if not cell phones, which I've seen beep in the hands of rickshaw drivers.

And the 10 or so newspapers I'm perusing today are shouting front page headlines about, what else, Arkansas. Or more specifically our state's gift to corporate skulduggery worldwide, Walmart. The news today is outrage from some Indian politicians about revelations of Walmart lobby spending to get into the billion-person market here. Small shopkeepers are not sanguine. Reporting includes details about powerhouse lobbying firm Patton Boggs and its ties to Indian power brokers, plus its boasts about ability to pierce the bureaucracy. (The Indian government bureaucracy is a story unto itself. Memorably, five uniformed officers inspected a double set of documents issued by other workers before we gained entry to one port. )

But money talks in India, our guides have told us. And prices are low. Almost as low as buying the Arkansas legislature or members of Congress for the likes of Internet sales tax and charter school bills and other pet Walton projects. Undercutting already low prices here will take some doing, however. Not to mention attracting customers able to risk life and limb to motor to wherever Walmart eventually builds.

Don't get me wrong, by the way. I love this country. It is overwhelming. I'll post more this weekend, but I already know my photos don't do it justice.

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