Charles M. Madigan wrote an op/ed piece in the Chicago Tribune Tuesday complaining about Democrats deciding to take on retailer Wal-Mart. He starts out telling us about a couple of jobs he had that paid little for the amount work he did and the other negatives that came with it. Of course he makes the tired claim:
It paid a pittance, created an immense amount of sweat and made the drinking man thirsty.
The strange thing about these jobs is that I was happy to have them at the time. They put money (and at the fast-food place, stolen pieces of fried chicken for the walk home) in my pocket.
Also, those were the jobs available.
Then Madigan tries to give us an unemotional lecture on retail economics. He writes:
Work is honorable. I would love to see people make more money. I would like them to have comfortable lives, nice homes and, most of all, relief from money troubles.
Wal-Mart probably does too, so they would have more to spend.
The problem is that has nothing to do with the retail business.
The company is in a strong position in most of its locations because, I am sure, it is the only show in town for lots of people who are eager to work. It has crushed its challengers.
That spells relatively low wages.
Is that right or wrong?
The marketplace doesn’t make decisions like that. No one got rich working in a mom-and-pop corner store, either, so we should shed the notion that something noble has passed. Low-wage jobs are still what they have always been, low-wage jobs. The nation runs on these realities. Go read up on coal mining. People risked their lives for a couple of bucks a day, if they were lucky enough to get work.
Madigan is right. The desire to have people make more money and have unfettered lives has nothing to do with the system of retail business. It is just that – a system. It doesn’t control our lives, we control it. There is the human factor.
The humans who run Wal-Mart make the decision to move into a small town, undercut the local businesses in prices, and become the only game in town. That is their business plan. They manipulate the consumer and the system for their own ends.
The profits go to the owners – the shareholders. They spend money from their advertising budget to pretend they care about the community. The Wal-Marts of the world only care about the bottom line. Period.
I would have more respect for Wal-Mart if it played on a level playing field. The last time it did was back in the 1950’s when Sam and his wife Helen were “mom and pop” store owners in Arkansas and a large discount chain moved in. It seems they became rich….