Thursday, March 12, 2009

Why We Need Walmart - Warts and All

The Poet asked me to blog about WallyWorld a couple of weeks ago, when she forwarded me this undercover piece by a person who actually went to work at a Walmart. The article basically says that, despite what Walmart's opponents say online, working there sounds stunningly like working in just about any other retail place. It's dreary, dull, hardly inspiring and tough to make a living working there, but Walmart is not exactly like a labor camp.

It took me a couple of weeks to figure out what I wanted to say more broadly when I came across this piece in the Times. Remember that during the White House's Health Care Fiesta they were claiming that tons of cost savings could come from electronic patient records? Well it looks like Walmart has beaten them to the punch, and in a fight between the Federal government and Walmart, we have plenty of evidence to suggest Walmart would wipe the floor with the Feds.

Mrs. Fundman and I shop at Wally World at least once every couple of weeks. The produce blows, and I'd sooner chew on shoe leather than purchase any fish from a Walmart. But if we are out of spaghetti sauce, canned tuna, dairy, pasta, or Mrs. Fundman's Soy Breakfast Hockey Pucks it's the only place to go. Packaged stuff is so much cheaper than any place else. How do I know this? Well partially through comparison shopping, but partially through simply observation. I just look at who is shopping there.

The store is full of immigrants (or my town has a miraculously successful Spanish program in its public schools), African Americans, and working Moms who benefit from the prices and the ability to make one trip to shop for everything. Anyone who's a parent understands how friggin important it is to be able to save time and not shop at three or four different places. When you drive a Lexus SUV, have "domestic employees" at home and send your kids to boarding school you may not understand the appeal of Walmart. When you work for a living and try to raise a family you do.

Oh I've heard the claims from the left that Walmart destroys local "Mom and Pop" businesses and hurts minorities by not offering health insurance and underpaying people and they don't do the union thing, and blah, blah, blah. Lower middle class folks, older people, poorer folks who cannot afford to eat tofu, organic beet chips, free range mushrooms, or buy hydroponic toilet paper, environmentally friendly free trade toilet cleaner, or enjoy Turkish llama cottage cheese need Wally World and the savagery that it inflicts upon other retailers to drive down prices. "Mom and Pop" usually means "Boutique" these days, and Walmart eats Boutique for lunch.

And THREE YEARS before President Greenie won office, lookie who was putting solar energy panels on their new stores to save money? That would be Walmart. And who sells tons of organic foods each year? Wallyworld.

But thinking more broadly, going to Wally World is like flying Southwest Airlines or seeing people at McDonald's order a Latte. It's about democratizing quality of life. You, as a lower middle class consumer, can do much better saving money at Wally World and do more with it. The same goes for Southwest Airlines. No more long bus trips and lost time. Both of them have improved the lives of a lot of people. And you don't have to look into a Starbucks and wonder what Cappuchino tastes like; you can afford one for a buck fifty at Mickey D's.

Which is not say they are a panacea. I wouldn't want to work at Wally World now even though they are now being called "innovators" in providing health care. McDonald's still grosses me out foodwise. But all of them, and Southwest too, provide opportunities for folks who aren't rich and affluent to enjoy more of the conveniences and luxuries of modern life. They do it by playing fairly through markets, not relying on government subsidies or handouts to fight the competition. So don't be surprised if Walmart and its ilk continue to be at the forefront of innovation and cost saving in a lot of surprising areas. Now if they could just sell a decent piece of Tilapia......


  1. Well done, and thank you.

    --the Poet

  2. My pleasure - I forgot to mention that I've now taken to buying wine there once in a while. If I know the bottle the prices are not bad.