Friday, July 07, 2006

The Wal-Mart Effect by Charles Fishman - 4

Wal-Mart could be more like Southwest Airlines.
Southwest Airlines isn't just cheap, it's fun. Wal-Mart isn't just cheap, it's joyless, when not downright vexing. Wal-Mart takes its duty to lower prices so seriously, there's no room for any other attitude, for them or us, except duty. Even without doubts about wages, suppliers, local businesses, American jobs, and quality, Wal-Mart has done such a superb job of austerity from start to finish that austerity is all that's left.
Fishman asks some very important questions about Wal-Mart:
Do we value cheap merchandise more than good factory jobs?
Do we value the convenience of buying everything from eggs and eyeglasses, Levi's and lawm mowers in a single place more than charming main streets with local shopkeepers?
Do we value the freedoms of a business to decide where and how to serve its customers more than the responsibility of a local government to safeguard the shape and character of a town?
In a democracy, do we want a single company to have the reach and power that Wal-Mart has - a power that right now is accountable to no one?
Do we value the "rules" of economic fair play as they happen to be written right now more than our ability to recognize and manage a totally new kind of economic power?
An insight into Wal-Mart corporate behavior:
The source of almost all of Wal-Mart's troubles can be traced not to some evil conspiracy spun out of the home office, but to the slogan printed right on every Wal-Mart bag: "Always low prices. Always." The second always is in italics and underlined, just so there is no confusion about the mission.
It is remarkable that almost all of Wal-Mart's behavior - even the bad behavior or the seemingly diabolical behavior - can be explained by taking Wal-Mart at its word. It really is all about "always low prices."

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