July 20, 2005

THE NEW NEW LEFT VS. WAL-MART

Why Wal-Mart is good: We've heard all the horror stories about the retail giant. They're just not true (STEVE MAICH, 7/25/05, MacLean's)

There's a place on the western edge of Cleveland that encapsulates the story of the city -- its proud industrial past, its slow depressing decline, its hopes for a brighter future. But the battle now being waged over that patch of land tells an even bigger tale.

It's called the steelyard flats, a 130-acre plot of barren wasteland at the intersection of Interstates 90 and 71, in what was once the heart of Cleveland's thriving steel industry. The site has sat idle since 2000, when LTV Steel went bankrupt. The finishing mill was torn down, and the shells of a few remaining buildings have been crumbling here ever since. The place is now littered with discarded scrap metal, concrete and junk: a dozen old tires here, a shattered TV there.

Soon, however, this site will also be a symbol of renewal. In May, work began on what will be the first big-box shopping centre in this city of 500,000 people. It's called Steelyard Commons, and will include a Target store, a Home Depot, a Staples, plus restaurants and smaller businesses. It's expected to bring close to 2,000 jobs to the city identified as the most impoverished urban area in the U.S. in the 2004 census. Unemployment here runs at 11 per cent -- roughly double the national average.

But there's a problem. Wal-Mart Stores, the world's biggest retailer, will be the anchor tenant of Steelyard Commons, and that has transformed this place into another front in North America's most bitter retail cold war. Wal-Mart's critics say the company destroys local economies, putting small competitors out of business; that it abuses workers with low wages and paltry benefits; and that it drives urban sprawl and all the environmental damage that goes with it. And so, a coalition of labour leaders, activists and city councillors have banded together, vowing to keep Wal-Mart out even if it means killing the whole project.

It's a divisive political standoff that's been mirrored in communities throughout North America over the past few years. To the project's advocates in City Hall, this is just the kind of development Cleveland so desperately needs. Aside from precious jobs, the mall will spin off US$3 million in property taxes annually, US$1.8 million of which will go to the city's struggling school system, plus US$700,000 in local payroll tax. It will also give city residents a place to shop near home, rather than travelling to the suburbs. Officials estimate local residents spend US$4 billion a year in retail shops, a third of which currently goes outside the city. If ever there was a Wal-Mart that deserves support, they say, this is it.

But that's just the point: Wal-Mart isn't engaged in a series of messy local zoning disputes. It's at war with a well-financed, well-organized opposition, determined to fight it on every front. From Los Angeles to the Saguenay, from Hartford, Conn., to Vancouver, a broad array of activist groups and unions have launched protests, lawsuits and ad campaigns, all aimed at discrediting Wal-Mart, halting its growth, and unionizing its workforce.

Like most wars, it's about money and power, and the first casualty is truth. Because even after all the scrutiny and analysis of the Wal-Mart phenomenon, most of what we've been told -- about worker abuse, destroyed small-town economies, crushed suppliers and greedy management -- is wrong.


Mr. Malanga's book is excellent on this topic too.


MORE (via Mike Daley):
-Store Lobby: WAL-MART COMES TO WASHINGTON (Clay Risen, 07.14.05, New Republic)

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 20, 2005 12:45 PM
Comments

Unions are slowly dying. They no longer serve their members (assuming they ever did), but are merely fighting for their institutional imperative, to exist. This "killing small town economies" is an obvious falsehood. Some Mom and Pop shop owners will go under, but only because Wal Mart serves their customers better. These centers become a boon for small business: everything from Starbucks to fast food restaurants to nail salons will pop up around them.

What is killed is a 1950s Norman Rockwell, Main Street small town atmosphere that was dead or dying anyways. Many of these concerned activists are wealthy suburbanites pushing their aesthetic nostalgia on the rest of us, especially the working class people. Who do they think shops at WalMart? If WalMart was truly the enemy of the working class slob, they would not shop there.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at July 20, 2005 1:40 PM

Robert,

You are quite right as usual. However, I think it should be pointed out that many of the professional anti-WalMart activists are part of the permanent America-hating class, the sort who like to bash in the windows of a Starbucks to protest globalization. These people have an agenda, and it has everything to do with destroying America and precious little to do with preserving a Norman Rockwell-version of small town America. They are nihilists, incapable of telling you what they are for now that the Berlin Wall has fallen. However, their identity is as completely wrapped up with the notion of America=The Great Satan as that of the most benighted Iranian mullah.

They don't care about us working class slobs who shop(or would shop if one were nearby) at Wal-Mart. To them, we are the Lumpenproletariat, if we are White we are Archie Bunkers, if we aren't we are merely ignorant savages waiting to be led to the socialist version of paradise by some Ivy League liberal arts major pukka-sahib or bwana.

Posted by: bart at July 20, 2005 1:49 PM

working class "slobs" act against self-interest in myriad ways: eating at mcdonalds, voting republican, depending upon FOX for news...

bart: wall-mart is never nearby.

Posted by: lonbud at July 20, 2005 3:56 PM

lonbud: you just have to know where to live. There's a wal-mart super center 1 mile from my house, another 1 mile from my work, and two more within 10 miles.

Posted by: David Rothman at July 20, 2005 4:27 PM

sorry to hear that, david.

Posted by: lonbud at July 20, 2005 4:46 PM

How does it profit a slob to pay more for merchandise than a competitive marketplace would charge?

Posted by: Robert Duquette at July 20, 2005 4:57 PM

Same way it benefited the farmer on a collective farm - theoretically.

Posted by: Luciferous at July 20, 2005 5:30 PM

Mr. Duquette:
Well, DUH, it's not about buying good products at everyday low prices. It's all about ideological purity. Here's a handy list of priorities for buying goods and services the Lefty way:
1) Is it eco-pure? Number One with a bullet. If the label has the prefixes "eco" or "bio" several times on the label, go for it.
2) Was it made by happy workers, making a liveable wage and living in harmony with Our Nature Pals? I once worked at an organic dairy and belive, me hippie bosses can be just as evil as the regular ones. But if you're a proper goodthinkful Liberal, it's not about indivduals it's about the greater social collective.
3) Was it produced locally? How much eco-harm was caused by shipping that super-cool handmade Yanamamo poncho all the way here from Brazil? Sure, they may have made it with with "equal exchange" but that container ship probably shredded some innocent fish on the way up, and maybe you had just better think about that, Mister.
4) Is it inconvenient or worthless in some way? If it somehow makes your life less enjoyable, then you can say you're suffering for your ethics. It's kind of like offering up your pain to the sufferin' souls in purgatory, but with Gaia instead of God and the environment instead of souls (I have a theory that environmentalists are just wannabe Catholics). For example, if your Yanamamo poncho is incredibly scratchy, then that can trump the shredded dolphins from the container ship. This, by the way, is the genesis for my idea of bringing back the hair shirt as a hippie fashion accessory. "Hair shirts! They're not just for King Henry II anymore!"

Down around items 14 or 15 is "How much does it cost?" and "Does it work well?" If that seems a little backwards to you, then you're just going to need some time at our "re-education centre."

Posted by: Governor Breck at July 20, 2005 5:42 PM

lonbud. You do understand, don't you, that you are free to shop and live wherever you want.

You are free to pay several times what it's worth for organic veggies, unpasturized milk, fertilized eggs and coarse bread made from virgin twigs. You can purchase undyed wool in Vermont and order stuff made by modern day Incas in Peru or fashioned by monks in Lhasa.

In the winter, instead of heating your living space with clean burning oil or gas, you are free to foul the atmosphere with your wood burning stoves.

Rejoice, because we're all lucky enough to be living in a free country, you too are free.

Posted by: erp at July 20, 2005 6:50 PM

Walmart in Cleveland has turned Liberals in the form of the school system, against the Left (the New, New Left) in a most delightful way. As this article points out, Walamrt means $1.8 million to the Cleveland public Schools per year, much to much to pass up even to appease their close cousins in the hate Walmart crowd.

Even a card carrying Marxist can't get between a heard of AFT Cleveland chapter union members and their next contract - Perry

Posted by: Perry at July 20, 2005 7:04 PM

erp: i 'preciate the freedom here in the land of milk & honey. i also 'preciate the taste of the organic veggies i buy at the local farmers' market (veggies grown within 20 or 30 miles of where i live and shop) --even if they cost more than the pesticide-laden, waxed 'n preserved variety available to me at my not-quite-so-nearby wall-mart supercenter. i do. i appreciate the wonderful range of choices available to all of us here in america.

i just don't understand why or how anyone would choose (or think it's better or smarter to choose), say, an avocado from Chile just because the magic of globalization makes it "cost less" than the one from my farmer neighbor up the road.

or why i would drive 15 miles to buy my tires from sam walton's heirs just because i can get them for a few bucks less than i'd pay my buddy bill, who owns the tire store around the corner.

sometimes cheaper prices are only the beginning.

Posted by: lonbud at July 20, 2005 7:16 PM

Ah, liberalism, the notion that the poor should be price gouged for the sake of upper middle class store owners.

Posted by: oj at July 20, 2005 7:30 PM

oj--

lonbud is obviously upper middle-class, so it's class solidarity in his case.

Posted by: Brian (MN) at July 20, 2005 7:36 PM

I've got a particularly nice Wal-Mart mere blocks from my new house, and they're building a new one even closer to where I grew up. It's great--there's no way I could afford to furnish said new house without it.

How odd that the same lonbud who laments the decreasing purchasing power of the dollar in one thread scoffs at it's increasing power in another.

Posted by: Timothy at July 20, 2005 7:46 PM

You have to assume his family owns a string of bodegas, where they jack up prices on ghetto-dwellers.

Posted by: oj at July 20, 2005 7:46 PM

somehow, i don't imagine this is a blog from the 'hood. you folk's solidarity with the ghetto-dwelling poor is a steaming pile of enumclaw's finest fertilizer.

congrats tim. i hope you can hang in there on that mortgage payment during the coming swoon.

Posted by: lonbud at July 20, 2005 8:06 PM

lonbud,

Avocado farmers generally would starve if they had to rely on me for business. However, were it ever to possess me to buy avocados, I would try to pay the lowest price for the quality(to the extent avocados have quality) that I could find.

There are 2 Wal-Marts within a 10 minute drive of my parents' house. Florida, unlike NJ, does not feel a need to squelch competition.

As far as tires are concerned, I buy them from someone who gives me decent service. Given the circumstances, that might be Wal-Mart or Costco or it might be the guy who does my servicing generally. It is a business not a political decision.

I don't know about other people here, but I am the product of a ghetto, although not a predominantly Black one, and am immensely proud of same. I was taught from childhood that money matters, and that I shouldn't waste it unnecessarily.

Posted by: bart at July 20, 2005 8:40 PM

lonbud, Buy your tires and your vegetables anywhere you want. That's the difference between free trade and collectivism. Choices.

Posted by: erp at July 20, 2005 9:03 PM

What are you talking about lonbud? I live in a Hmong/Vietnamese/Mexican neighborhood, although that doesn't give me any special moral authority. Lots of Wal-Mart, Target, and Kmart shoppers (and bodegas too). People like my mother-in-law really don't give a damn about the obsessions of wealthy white cultural leftists.

Posted by: Brian (MN) at July 20, 2005 10:51 PM

"Wal-Mart's critics say the company destroys local economies, putting small competitors out of business;"

This is not an argument for keeping Wal*Mart out of the flats. The local economy was destroyed years ago. This is Cleveland, not rural anywhere. Its the opposite of rural and small town.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at July 20, 2005 11:40 PM

bart: and with that childhood lesson about money and waste you draw what conclusions from the current state of affairs?

have your wall-marts in the flats, y'all. just keep 'em there.

brian: if that's the case, what are you doin' on the internet, dude?

Posted by: lonbud at July 21, 2005 12:27 AM

"steaming pile of enumclaw's finest fertilizer."

Check it out:

"Enumclaw is located in western Washington State, approximately 45 miles southeast of Seattle, and beautifully situated in the foothills of Mount Rainier."

Photos make it look like a nice place.

I assume that lonbud is a Seattlite, which explains more than we want to know.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at July 21, 2005 12:36 AM

lonbud,

That government will inevitably waste money.

Sometimes, they waste it on keeping artificial countries united, and sometimes they waste it on saving snail darters and spotted owls, putting lumberjacks out of work and being unable to find similarly remunerative alternate employment. And often government wastes peoples' money trying to squelch the people's liberty as with gun control laws, hate speech codes and laws illegalizing private behavior among consenting adults. Sometimes the government uses the peoples' money to condemn middle income and working class housing so that a politcally well-connected developer can get a windfall--see Kelo v City of New London. And sometimes the government uses taxpayer funds in order to preserve existing businesses and individuals from competition. All manner of government action is designed to benefit preferred businesses or preferred ethnic groups so we are presented with crap like the Microsoft litigation or Affirmative Action. And government also wastes taxpayer funds to send 6 year old children to live in a tropical Gulag.

Government wastes tons of money. So, we need to reduce the size of government if not effectively eliminate most of it. I'm glad, lonbud, that we agree.

Posted by: bart at July 21, 2005 5:36 AM

i just don't understand why or how anyone would choose (or think it's better or smarter to choose), say, an avocado from Chile just because the magic of globalization makes it "cost less" than the one from my farmer neighbor up the road.

Do you think that, maybe, your farmer neighbor down the road might sell some of his produce to consumers in Chile, or China, or Sri Lanka for that matter? What is up with this fetish for localism? As a personal preference I think it's fine, but why portray it as a social good? Your side talks all about global class solidarity, but when it comes to economics its always look ot for your homies and screw the foreigners.


or why i would drive 15 miles to buy my tires from sam walton's heirs just because i can get them for a few bucks less than i'd pay my buddy bill, who owns the tire store around the corner.

Good for you, but what if you don't have a buddy in the tire business? My experience with "shop where you live" is that it often is an excuse for patronizing people who shouldn't be in business. My father would always take the car to the local garage down the street. The owner was a rude jerk who wouldn't interrupt a conversation he was having with his mechanic just because you walked in the door. I never understood why my dad never though to take his business elsewhere.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at July 21, 2005 11:37 AM

Timothy, a 'particularly nice Wal-Mart'?

They're all the same.

Wal-Mart's fine if you want crap from China.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at July 21, 2005 4:04 PM

Everyone does.

Posted by: oj at July 21, 2005 4:44 PM

The Wal-Mart I was referring to is nestled into the side of a rather wealthy suburb (I live on the other side of the freeway). You're as likely to find businessmen in suits as you are to find immigrants. They keep it much cleaner and well organized than, say, the one up north on the Indian reservation.

Posted by: Timothy at July 21, 2005 5:12 PM

Timothy,

The one on Atlantic Blvd just over the bridge from the beaches in Jacksonville is excellent. And the prices even on the foodstuffs, which are generally not the product of Chinese slave laborers, are much better than in local supermarkets for the same stuff. I have seen others in less swanky areas that are just a nightmare though.

Harry,

Wal-Mart is a discounter. If you know your prices and you can recognize quality, it can be a tremendous deal. I don't know where you shop but the Target, the Sears, the Kohl's, the JC Penney's, the K-Mart, the Home Depot, the Macy's and the Staples near me in NJ all have mountains of Chinese manufactured products.

I'll pay $4.99 for 7 pairs of Hanes underwear in a Wal-Mart over paying $6.99 for 3 pair for the same underwear in a K-Mart or Target any day of the week.

Posted by: bart at July 21, 2005 5:55 PM

the thing that puts me off wal-mart is all the mutants roaming about.

Posted by: cjm at July 21, 2005 9:52 PM

cjm

What do you do at the Post Office or the DMV? :)The crowd in the bleachers at a Yankee game reminds one of the 'Island of Dr. Moreau.'

Posted by: bart at July 21, 2005 10:34 PM

yankee stadium as the house of pain, i like it :)

the dmv is a once every 7 years ordeal, ameliorated by a reservation system that the proles refuse to make use of.

Posted by: cjm at July 22, 2005 2:10 AM

Tremendous deal?

You bought a barbecue grill for $29 that rusted out after one season, and because of the artificially low value of the renminbei, China got a lien on your grandchildren's earnings forever.

Crap from China is never cheap.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at July 22, 2005 2:47 PM

You used to pay $49 for the same junk.

Posted by: oj at July 22, 2005 3:13 PM

like i been trying to tell you, oj --the dollar ain't what it used to be.

Posted by: lonbud at July 22, 2005 6:44 PM

lonbud;

Thank Reagan.

Posted by: oj at July 22, 2005 6:50 PM

No, I paid over $100 for a fine piece of American ironmongery and I've used it for over 15 years and it's good as new.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at July 23, 2005 3:33 PM

Three families have grills for the same as you paid for one.

Posted by: oj at July 23, 2005 3:48 PM
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