Sunday, May 07, 2006

Wal-Mart: The High Cost Of Low Price

An alternative title for this should really be: The High Cost of Externalizing Costs. Though they don't delve into a discussion of the idea of "externalizing costs", they really should. Most conservatives and libertarians rarely discuss this, and probably don't even know of its existence. The ones that benefit from this sort of corporate welfare certainly aren't going to bring it up in a public forum. In any case, I think anyone who even dabbles in politics of any sort should know about the concept of externalizing costs. To talk about "capitalism" and "free markets" without this is missing a lot.

Although they don't explicitly talk about the issue of externalizing costs, it does get mentioned, and two facts really stick out: due to Wal-Mart not supplying enough pay or a cheap enough health plan, they externalize the costs of health care to the American taxpayer to the tune of $1.5 BILLION dollars. That's a subsidy for Wal-Mart. Besides that, there are also subsidies nationwide of just over a BILLION for Wal-Mart. So, this is what Chomsky talks about when he talks about the "real economy" and "tough love" - the rich get the "love" (protectionism and subsidies from the taxpayer), and for everyone else, "tough" (free market).

Also interesting was the very end where they list all the places that Wal-Mart got rejected by citizens opposed to them building in their area - it was a LOT. When they were protesting against one being built in an area in Denver, the impression I got from the media was one like, "who are these guys, and why on Earth would they want that? Unheard of!" - when in fact, a responsible media could have discussed how many times it has happened elsewhere.

A nice touch was the juxtaposing of real Wal-Marts commercials with some facts overlaid on the screen at the same time. Some footage of Jon Stewart's Daily Show and SNL skits helped add some levity as well.

It was pretty interesting, if a little short. There are so many issues to talk about that it's hard to cover them all in depth I suppose, but touched on were:

1. The death of the mom & pop shops (covers a small town before & after a Wal-Mart opens and tracks a few local businesses)
2. The illegal union crushing tactics they use, including the hotline and jet they use to respond. Keep in mind that Wal-Mart is the world's largest employer, so of course, this is going to have serious effects.
3. China workers' daily lives, along with some footage in other countries, as well, and they talk to a man who used to check the facilities in other countries. A very interesting interview that was.
4. The workers here, and their lack of healthcare, their forced non-paid overtime, including talking to former managers and how they changed their hours to lower numbers to avoid overtime. Each store is budgeted with less money than it costs to pay people to cover all the work necessary to run the store, by design, apparently.
5. Local activism in California - in this case done with a Christian perspective - calling on Wal-Mart to act like the Christians the family is supposed to be.

To be fair, I have not yet looked at the special features, so I'm not sure what's on there.

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