Save the Planet: Shop Walmart
Published on: September 14, 2010
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  • Peter

    So, you’re ‘getting down,’ Mr. Mead.

    More credit to you.

  • AdamS

    This makes sense if and only if externalities are internalized. If Walmart et al are paying for the carbon they pump into the atmosphere, then competitiveness is totally good. But if polluting is still cheaper, then low prices may well not be green.

  • Lea Luke

    Hey, I like Walmart too, but it is a fallacy to suppose that the cheap prices made possible by low-wage labor in China helps poor working families in America more than the upper-middle-class.

    Trade with China forces real wages down in America and by definition that means after taking into account changes in the costs of consumer goods.

    This doesn’t mean that trade is the only thing driving real wages down in this country. Immigration and new labor saving technologies also contribute.

    But it does mean that old-fashioned tariffs may be the only practical way to protect American workers from low-wage competition overseas.

    (In theory redistributing the pie with a graduated consumption tax and wage subsidies is a better way to go because it captures the gains of trade. But so far we haven’t figured out how to implement those policies. Tariffs we know.)

  • Jules Mopper

    What a garbled mess. The key, unarticulated idea is that capitalism is and will continue to harm the environment unless people are made to pay the costs of the environmental degradation they cause.

    It’s not enough to hail the magic of the market and then tack on some nice words supporting regulation. The “magic of the market” will make those guys dump as much of their sludge as possible long as they can get away with it, unless prices or laws force them to change. Expect wailing and gnashing of teeth from the business community.

    And let’s not get started on the health care thing. No industrialized country utilizes market forces to deliver health care. Every industrialized country imposes universal cost controls, if not resorting to a “socialist” medicare-for-all model. The reason is simple: how much is your life worth? As your Capitalist physician, this will be the size of your bill, if I can get away with it. Fair market price, wouldn’t you say?

    And, this is all ignoring some of the deeper questions the post ignores. For example, the Invisible Hand has created a culture of consumption in America; this is of questionable sustainability. Similarly, the cult of eternal economic growth, growth at meaningful rates, may find its prophesies dashed as population growth flattens out even as resources deplete. Seriously, 12 billion people all living an industrial lifestyle? There is only so much fat to trim.

    Anyway, I actually have a certain affection for Wal-Mart myself. It was during a period of unemployment, when I was terrified of destitution. Under the fluorescent lights, the sign spoke to me: “Always low prices.” Always. My heart was touched: a sacred pledge between myself and a grasping, borg-like corporate behemoth, that no matter how dirt poor I became, Wal-Mart would always – Always – do its best to give me the lowest prices possible, so that I may survive. No, I’m not being sarcastic.

    Of course, the trade arrangements that allow Wal-Mart to offer me such blessedly low prices are also the trade arrangements that, by giving the Chinese massive amounts of currency that fueled the housing bubble, for barest starters, have damned huge swaths of the middle class to poverty. Oops.

  • Dave

    Overall, a fine op-ed. You lost me a bit on the third to the last paragraph. Most Wal-Mart workers are part-time workers and they value the job opportunity. No one is holding a gun to their heads forcing them to work at Wal-Mart. These people know and understand the benefit package, and most importantly, accept it for what it is. For many, its a resume builder or entry level retail.

    I really doubt retailers like Gap or Best Buy offer health care to the part-time workers either. In fact, part time workers at most government agencies don’t receive heath care benefits.

  • Skeets

    Your story should be flipped, the fact that Walmart treats its workers and its suppliers workers like crap is the real story. The fact that you benefit with cheap socks when clearly you can afford to pay a bit more in order to give these people a better life is the real story.

    Even a unionized Walmart would not help the situation. The chain would merely force its suppliers to come in even cheaper in order to maintain its profit margin.

  • BenV

    What is green about shipping products halfway around the world? Less pollution would be created if products were manufactured closer to markets. That means things that Walmart sells should be made in the USA. Now that would be green. Of course that is just what Sam Walton did when he was alive. Remember all the made in USA signs and ads that Walmart used to have?

  • WillyG

    Skeets, how do you treat Walmart’s workers? Do you pay them more?

  • JB71

    “Hey, I like Walmart too, but it is a fallacy to suppose that the cheap prices made possible by low-wage labor in China helps poor working families in America more than the upper-middle-class.”

    Why? Do you figure that higher prices would somehow benefit poor families? That paying more for lower-quality food would improve their health?

    The convoluted thinking that requires WalMart to be evil; that sees inefficient, poorly stocked, minimum-wage paying, minium manned mom&pop shops as more ‘real’ and ‘sustainable’ than large stores that employ hundreds with a fair selection of goods all under one roof is simply delusional.

    Have you EVER been poor? Trying to scrape by on an irregular minimum wage job, balancing eating, paying insurance, paying utilities, and paying rent, with roomates in about the same shape? Looking for the cheapest possible groceries, because THAT, at least, was one place you could reduce your costs? Thinking it’s a big purchase to even buy a new pair of pants for your job or a shirt for a job, and looking at the cost for a shirt and a pair of pants at Sears and going “Damn – I could eat for a week on that”?

    Don’t like WalMart? Don’t shop there. Spend your money elsewhere, drive around like crazy trying to find everything you need. Spend your money in the local grocery store that always smells like spoiled milk and meat, with higher prices for lower quality produce. Stay away from the chains, at all costs!

    And keep looking down your nose at the folks who shop there. Eventually they’ll understand just how they’re being taken advantage of, and willingly sacrifice money, quality and convenience for the sake of feeling ‘elite’.

    Or not – and they’ll see you for the posturing fools you are.

  • Tim McDonald

    I like WalMart too, and overall the article was mostly accurate, but you made one glaring error.

    It is NOT greener for parts to be made in China, with little to no regulation such as the Clean Air Act and the EPA regulations on waste water management and myriad other regulations designed to keep the environment clean and safe. Not to mention the energy cost to move the product from China to the US.

    And those regulations are why I strongly favor an import tax against countries who do not have both environmental and safety regulations equalling those in the US. Because without said tariff, the US will never be able to compete, and there are some things that are greener to make at home.

  • Claude Hopper

    My daughter and son-in-law work at a wally world distribution center. Both are long term employees and are quite satisfied with their situation. They have decent salary and medical coverage. Of course, store workers have fewer benies, but overall, their situation is not as dire as many writers claim.

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  • FloridaSteve

    Why don’t folks ever go after the restaurant business who treat their workers FAR worse than Walmart ever did. Could it be because there is no restaurant-mart behemoth?

    And Skeets, have you ever worked at Walmart? there are as many reasons for folks to work there as there are folks working there. But not one of them is forced into it. By and large they have an enthusiastic work force that is happy to be there.
    This is still America. If you want to make a better life for yourself then shut up and do it. Get an education. Make smarter choices. Think ahead about the consequences of your decisions. Rewarding people who don’t want to do this by punishing walmart is hardly the answer.

  • Dave

    Outstanding! The absolute poetic irony of this piece is that as the economy continues to doldrum along, more and more consumers will be forced to choose lower cost instead of locally grown/produced. I used to be rabidly anit-WalMart because they were a huge chain, global behemoth, etc. and killed mom-and pop-stores with high prices.
    On a vacation, we were in a depressed area and the low prices at WalMart had improved the standard of living for the locals.
    Competition in the market is good. It really has to gall the greens that while there are loads of Big WalMart Trucks on the road, the carbon emissions per pound or merchandise are quite probably the lowest in the industry. You just can’t argue with efficiencies of scale.

  • Dave

    per pound OF merchandise…

  • Anym_Avey

    “Frustration free” packaging only works in three scenarios:

    1. The item is sold principally by e-tail outlets, and thus there is no risk of five-finger discount.

    2. The item can be clipped into a reusable anti-theft container (some small electronics and storage media, typically).

    3. The item can be locked up until the customer requests to examine the product.

    Option (1) pretty much excludes all B&M sales of said product packaging unless it fits into (2) or (3). Option (2) requires more capital investment at the store, and both (2) and (3) require a higher level of human involvement and slow down the checkout process. For this reason, expect ultrasound-sealed plastic doom wrappers to persist for a long while yet.

    Meanwhile, I believe you overlooked another area where Walmart’s ruthless cost-reduction focus leads to “greener” practices: Many newer Walmart and Sam’s Club stores are constructed with numerous skylights, which permits a large portion of the artificial lighting to be switched off during daylight hours.

  • Adam Garfinkle

    Can’t ride with you on this one, Walter. I take your points about the efficiency (and “greenness”) of economies-of-scale operations. But, but…..

    But, first, as a Burkean type by instinct, I like the diversity and personality of mom-and-pop operations. Diversity is good and ultimately diversity is efficient, as it is in nature. Walmart-style operations can get to a point where they become oligarchical, and that is bad. They can drive so much competition out of business that they can shape what products are and are not offered as well as price. I think that is happening, and I think that is bad for innovation at a basic level.

    Worse, perhaps, are the tax incentives local governments give Walmart to locate in their area. This is just asking for more corruption than we already have, which is a lot.

    Second, as a recent book has noted, bargains are not cheap. Bargains drive away craftsmanship. Americans are deeply confused over the value of material things. This is a time, I dare say it, when the Frankfort School’s understanding of Marxian fetishism is something worth revisiting. (I don’t expect much general sympathy on this point, but I don’t care.)

    Third, as other comments have noted, Walmart and related mass-import retailers play a major role in the dangerous imbalances in capital flows that have so distorted the U.S. economy and helped cause the crash. They are some part of the reason why the real earning power of the American middle class has been eroding, and, as Bob Reich insists, that gets cyclical: When we can’t buy, we can’t employ. I have some sympathy for the idea that if Americans are poorer they will stop buying crap they don’t really need (like jet-skis), but not much sympathy. I would much rather people make the right choices out of enlightened thinking than economic duress. But the real point inheres in the question: Does Walmart at al help more people than it hurts? Does keeping down prices trump the harm done to the base of middle-class employment, or not?

    Put another way, is a small Midwestern town, say, better off with a Walmart, a Lowe’s, etc., because people can make their money go further, or is it worse off because partly thanks to Walmart and its import-intensive methods, people have less money in the first place because their good or “good-enough” jobs have disappeared? I think not.

    And finally, Walmart accelerates creative destruction to the point where the very demography of the country gets affected. Screw the green stuff; I think that Midwestern town is worse off mainly because that Walmart induces change in its socio-economic profile that is too deep and rapid for the mini-society of that town to cope with. We almost instinctually privilege economy over society nowadays, or conflate the two as if the latter has no independent reality without the former. This was not so for most of American history, and I personally regret that it is so today. I think the life of that town has independent and irreducible value to the culture, whether it is getting incrementally richer or poorer.

    The real question, for me then, is this: Would Edmund Burke like Walmart? I think he would not.

  • Engineer

    Bravo, Dr. Mead. The green argument for Wal-Mart boils down to getting from here to there for less, and you correctly highlight the prospects of e-commerce and reduction of product content to pure data. All of this flows directly from Smith’s Wealth of Nations, appropriately updated for the technological conditions of today. You also highlight that monomaniacal pursuit of profit invites abuse and needs government oversight. The gist of the comments above suggests that they think this was underplayed in the column. However, this also was anticipated by Smith in his Theory of Moral Sentiments, society is more than just the wealth creation and consumption, but also covers the notions of right and wrong and mutual obligations towards our fellow men. The point you make, perhaps too gently, is that imperfect as the capitalist model may be, it will be far superior to the alternatives. I suppose the ecological wreckage of the former communist world has receded enough from our memory that people put hope before experience than politicized command mechanisms largely isolated from popular political audit will deliver superior results.

    Again, bravo, Dr. Mead.

  • Jim

    I can afford to pay more for the many products I buy at Walmart. But why should I?

  • Steph Houghton

    “The reason is simple: how much is your life worth? As your Capitalist physician, this will be the size of your bill, if I can get away with it. Fair market price, wouldn’t you say?”

    This just shows you to be both a historical and economic illiterate.

    When we had a free market in medicine did prices rise to this level? They did not.

    Does economics explain why not? It does.

    It your reasoning reguarding health care pricing, exactly the same as the “reasoning” behind the iron law of wages? it is. Was the Iron Law shown to be wrong by both history and economics. It was.

    Reading advice: Capital and Interest by von Bohm-Bawerk

  • RanDomino

    Shipping crap halfway around the world is clean! Manufacturing heaps of cheap plastic crap that breaks constantly is efficient! Replacing high-wage manufacturing jobs with stocking and check-out busy-work helps the middle-class! SPIN!! SPIIIIIIIIIIN!!!

  • daniel

    Once again, a conservative putting spin on their derp to justify their me-first behavior.

  • FatSean

    Um, you seem to forget the impact of China’s lax environmental policies…

    No, you didn’t forget, did you.

  • Steve D

    It’s not that Mom ‘n’ Pop stores are rapacious, it’s that they can’t utilize economies of scale as well. But the reason I don’t lament their passing is their service sucked horrendously. If you were a regular, great. If you weren’t, you waited until they were through socializing. I’ve seen it happen. I deliberately patronized a Mom ‘n ‘Pop store, but after I got ignored once too often, I said “screw you” and went to the supermarket.

    Another point worth raising is that once societies reach a certain level of prosperity, their population growth levels off. Ironically, materialism may be the best way to limit population.

  • Lea Luke

    “Why? Do you figure that higher prices would somehow benefit poor families?”

    No, I figure that without imports from China higher real wages would more than compensate for the higher prices. Real wages are computed in terms of real purchasing power.

    It’s not me figuring though. This is standard textbook trade theory. See Caves and Jones.

  • Buck O’Fama

    Wal-Mart has done more for poor people than any ten liberals, at least nine of whom are almost guaranteed to hate Wal-Mart.
    -Thomas Sowell

    And now, maybe the environment too!

  • wes george

    A very brave stand, Dr. Mead. The kind of honest writing that cuts through all the PC genuflections most of your peers deem appropriate in polite company.

    It seems so obvious that only the continuation of the capitalist, free market project based upon harnessing the power of accelerating technological innovations can hope to offer a future for humanity or our planet. Yet, this is utter heresy to the Greens who demand a return to collectivist, centrally controlled economic solutions, all of which have been shown to fail in the pass.

    The values of the Enlightenment, the tools of rational inquiry, all our civil liberties based upon concept of private property have pulled us up from peasants to free individuals in the last several hundred years.

    You should explain to the doubters here how we got from the 16th century to shopping at Walmart and why we are better off now than then, because, seriously, the Greens are unaware that we are any better off shopping at Walmart than tenant farming before enclosure. Then outline the stark socio-economic organizational choices we face for our future.

  • G. A. Hyland

    How does switching to cheaper materials benefit the environment? This stuff is not made to last and soon finds its way into landfills, driving consumers back to Walmart for more of the same. A huge selection of low priced goods leads consumers to do just what you did – load up the trunk and the back seat with stuff, hooked on the lure of low prices.
    Being ‘ruthlessly cheap’ does not mean buying the cheapest stuff available, but buying less stuff, period.

  • JB71

    It’s not me figuring though. This is standard textbook trade theory. See Caves and Jones.

    Theory vs. Reality. Hmmm…..

    Wonder which one wins?

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  • Lea Luke

    “It’s not me figuring though. This is standard textbook trade theory. See Caves and Jones.

    Theory vs. Reality. Hmmm…..

    Wonder which one wins?”

    When in doubt, trust the laws of supply and demand.

  • boqueronman

    Here is the contrarian view of this issue from today’s Market Ticker blog entry by Karl Denninger. The para below represents one entry in his proposed “winning political agenda.” Many of the others are equally out-of-the-box.”

    “Enact wage and environmental parity tariffs. We cannot have a solid middle class without manufacturing being it’s base, and we cannot import 90+% of everything we consume that is manufactured. So long as multinational corporations can find a slave labor encampment that allows them to dump toxic waste into the air and water, they will – it’s the profit motive stupid! The only way to stop it is to make it unprofitable, and that means exercising the just and lawful power in The Constitution to lay and impose tariffs. If we really care about employees and the environment then we care about them no matter where in the world they are. If these standards are not worthy of enforcement everywhere then we need to shut the hell up about them here and let the manufacturing take place here under the same conditions that it now happens there.”

    Well put! As a believer in free trade and one who is cognizant of the cheaper the price the bigger the economic benefit to the mass of consumers, I am also aware that we must make steps to improve the business environment, including for manufacturers, if we want to return to a stable economy that rewards real productivity and growth. We live in interesting times.

  • Lea Luke

    boqueronman: “So long as multinational corporations can find a slave labor encampment that allows them to dump toxic waste into the air and water, they will – it’s the profit motive stupid!”

    That’s correct. Corporations play by the rules of the game. They really have no choice if the want to stay in the game.

    But as for the rules themselves, those are made by govenments. When Clinton signed Nafta and Gatt, I sincerely believe he had no idea what the long-range consequences would be. So he took the advice of guys like Samuelson and Krugman, who, as trade economists, were in a position to know better.

    Samuelson is gone now, which will be good for the profession, while Krugman has yet to issue his mea culpa. Though he has made a few hints.

  • JohnR22

    Walmart is terrific. It provides relatively high quality goods for the lowest possible price. It’s a boon, and primarily a boon to the poor. It’s only elitest snobs who look down their nose at Walmart…and the people that shop there. Bill Maher is a perfect example; endless sneers at the rubes, stoooopid voters, cheese-doodle gobbling hillbillies.

  • Stephanie

    Look into and write about how WalMart treats its suppliers to pass off those “low prices” to you. If you are going to Wal Mart so you can buy more – than you are buying too much “stuff”.

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  • jchenn

    Walter,

    Normally I agree with you. But if you knew more about Walmart’s China connections I’m not so sure you’d be enthused. The basic process goes something like this: Walmart issues an ultimatum to its suppliers – move to China a cut costs or else. And so they do – out go American jobs. Meanwhile, China operates (temporarily) below market price, destroying whole industries. Gradually the cost of living goes up in China and so do prices. Unfortunately, the industries don’t return to the U.S. Gradually American’s have no manufacturing base. We become a nation of consumers. We don’t do much, produce much or understand how stuff works — but we do like to buy the stuff and that should be enough, right?

  • Yep

    Western environmentalism; export the pollution to China.

    The problem with forcing the middle class to adopt a ‘clean’ Chinese standard of living is that they, unlike the Chinese, still have a vote. Any politician thought responsible for enabling this will cease to govern; the US middle class is all done trading in their standard of living for your environmental morals.

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  • jrp

    Production will always go to the least costly producer.
    This is a fact of free markets.
    Government must make the regulations to limit pollution, set minimum employee benefits ,impose tariffs and subsidies.
    As a Republic, we have entrusted this to our elected officials.
    Quit complaining, Vote your desires and stay involved politically.

  • georgechapogas

    i do not give a damn about the planet. however i can tell you that walmart has helped the poor more than all the do good programs have combined. they are first on the scene at any natural disaster. finally, walmart should run the country so we can rid ourselves of these self absorbed self agendized bozos on both sides. walmart for president!!!!

  • I love Walmart. Shop there 2 or 3 times a week.

    If snobby liberals want to turn their noses up at Walmart and spend 30-50% more on the same things … they’re free to do so … but is that really a wise use of your money?

    All for a little pride. C’mon!

  • Lorenzo DeLuca

    Walmart sells junk that the chinese gladly supply because they know whatever they sell is completely disposable and we will only buy more of it next year. How using disposable income to purchase disposable goods aids the planet I do not know. we would use far fewer resources if the goods we purchased had a longer life span. In this respect Walmart is the enemy of the planet. By relentlessly selling us cheap chinese junk they harm our economy as well. But all is not lost after they buy well made european goods they use their savings to buy US bonds.

  • Jules Mopper

    Dear Steph Houghton,

    Thanks for engaging with me in a discussion of the costs of medical care.

    So, my understanding is, that during the earlier days of modern medicine, the costs of medical care were constrained by customs and mores among physicians. It was a given that a reasonable fee would be assessed, but the relationship between doctor and patient was more personal, and ethics overrode economics.

    Recently, those ethics have substantially broken down, especially when the hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, device manufacturers and insurance companies are thrown into the mix. While these different forces work against each other, each trying to get the biggest slice of the medical spending pie, the pie itself has been growing enormously.

    The fact is that the American healthcare system costs more than twice as much – that is total healthcare spending per capita, calculated by the OECD – as the systems of France and Germany, which are widely considered to be the best systems in the world.

    That is, widely considered outside of the bubble of disinformation we call the US, where decades of disinformation, financed by reactionary billionaires, has left people believing that we have the best healthcare system in the world, even though all credible estimates show we’re mediocre. And yet we pay twice as much.

    And those prices keep going up. Just check this out:
    http://www.kff.org/insurance/upload/7692_02.pdf
    Healthcare has gone from 7.2% of GDP in 1970 to 17.6% in 2009. Of course, part of that is the graying of the population and the increases in life expectancy and treatments possible, but those factors are even stronger in France and Germany, let alone Japan, where they are just as technologically sophisticated and are significantly grayer, yet pay much less.

    So how do you account for the disparity? Obviously our system is very complex, but at the end of the day, it comes down to the fact that demand for medical services is very high, and totally inelastic. So the medical sector of the economy keeps expanding its costs as quickly as our culture and political system will allow.

    Thus my point stands: since healthcare costs began obeying economic laws, they have been obeying economic laws, rising as fast as their little fat legs could move them, because of the nature of the demand for healthcare, which is large, growing, and almost perfectly inelastic. This is simple, first semester neoclassical economics, complicated by all the moving parts in our healthcare system, but essentially correct.

    As for your Austrian economics stuff, I listened to a bit of the Von Mises Institute’s “Economics 101” podcasts, and was not impressed. It struck me as another Reaganite exercise in selective logic coated in a thick varnish of resentment. I was so put off by the “Professor”s sarcastic sneering at bureaucrats, academics and even mathematics (!), that by the time he was advocating getting rid of fractional reserve banking, I felt I’d heard enough.

    And as for the Iron Law of Wages, I’d ask your local Wal-Mart worker why they make as much as they do. Hint: it’s a damn Socialist law that tramples on the Liberty of our Brave Entrepreneurs and Coercively Reduces them to Slavery through Tyrannical Theft embodied in a Minimum Wage Law!

    I don’t mean to mock you, personally. I’m mocking the ideology the Oligarchs have created, which I fear you may have fallen into, not that I know you from Adam. But I’d advocate that everyone, even Professor Mead, not make an existential commitment to specific policies or practices. Even visions of ideal or future societies shouldn’t be seen as anything more than the intellectual manifestation of the moral intuition that should be our guide: a simple byproduct, not a plan. Once any of us makes an existential commitment to specific policies or ideologies, we rapidly lose our usefulness to our fellow humans.

    At least, that’s how I see it.

  • winston

    The Chinese junk argument like the Japanese junk argument in the 70’s. So predictable of American protectionists . This Nation needs Wal-Mart.

  • georgechapogas

    to be more specific, the chinese junk argument is the same argument over paid union hacks made about japanese junk 50 years ago. it is exactly the same arguments that caused the usa to become post industrial productive. useless workers, and lazy managers and ceos wanting their profit guaranteed. compete or go away with your mouths shut, because economic arguments made by these protectionist fools are just hot air. in the end, nothing will stop better, cheaper, faster, more reliable. everything these ant farmers have dones has destroyed things. like the the auto industry, the steel industry and the education industry. good job. walmart for president!!

  • John Corn

    The article is a garbled mess, ranging from a tribute to Walmart’s relentless pursuit of efficiency to deliver ever lower prices and not much increased profits, to an enviable sustainable record; to the standard liberal litany of low wages, anti-unionism and limited benefits (tell me of large companies which are NOT off-loading or trying to off-load healthcare.)

    However, Jules Mopper comments, “The key, unarticulated idea is that capitalism is and will continue to harm the environment unless people are made to pay the costs of the environmental degradation they cause.” The US has a cleaner environment today than any time since the mid 19th century and under capitalism. And who has paid for this cleanup? It is our capitalistic system, NOT the government, although their regulations have provided the framework and the enforcement, not run amok in too many cases. Hey Jules, have you tried a romp through the former Soviet Union and its satellites lately? How about North Korea or the manufacturing portions of other dictatorships. Sorry, you don’t know of what you spew.

  • Brad S

    Unbelievable. Mead’s ability to think critically is on par with Rush and Sarah. It’s tough to even know where to start with so many of the shallow talking points he introduced in this article.

    “Walmart’s … focus on reducing prices is driving producers … to cut the costs of production: to switch to cheaper materials, use less packaging … The result is a steady and inexorable decline in humanity’s impact on the environment for every unit of GDP.” Are you serious? You focused on one thing that was good: less packaging. Cheaper materials means things break/wear out, contain lead, etc. Decline in humanities impact on Earth? By using cheaper goods, we 1) consume MORE 2) replace these cheap goods more often. These include more shipping, more packaging, more caloric output, more carbon emissions, etc etc etc. Again, I don’t even know where to start as you leave so many rabbit holes open enabling his argument that “Walmart is green” to be easily destroyed.

    “…given the political cluelessness … and anti-scientific knuckle dragging from environmentalists on subjects like the use of GMOs in agriculture, it’s likely that a world run by Walmart would be both richer and cleaner than a world run by Greenpeace.” Again Mead, have you began to think deeply about this? Long term studies of GMOs on the environment and human body has not yet been done. The scientific community does not know what negative impact GMOs may have on the land/body. How about you give us a scientific, non partisan, tested against it’s peers study that GMOs are not harmful. It does not exist. You state as fact what is not fact. Do not venture down roads where your argument is nothing more than a flashy slogan (as Palin/Rush do). The world does not know the finality of GMOs on land/body. However, numerous studies indicate that GMOs are harmful to land/body. However, these studies are inconclusive because GMOs are too new to provide scientific proof.

    “It is … more efficient to have consumers come to one store for all their needs rather than having them drive all over creation — to the farmer’s market for the local rutabagas, to the small appliance and notion store for the toaster…” Again Mead!, where is your critical thought! Think brother…think. Dig deep no matter how difficult it may be. DRIVING is not the issue. The automobiles on the roads represent a painfully small proportion of the carbon emission problem. What DOES create a large carbon emission and harms the Earth to a point of non-recovery are large farms that grow corn and soy (NOT practicing crop rotation) that feed cows which infect the meat (as cows are not supposed to eat soy and corn) and are then pumped full of antibiotics which negatively react to the hormones that are already in the cow to make them bigger to then be fed to the consumer at Walmart (remember, a large % of the corn and soy we see across the bread basket are not grown for human consumption). Is this green? The massive amount of caloric output for this process is devastating to the planet and the human body. This is just one example of dozens that tears apart your argument Mead…but as of now you have stopped reading because you won’t allow to think outside the box and perhaps, just perhaps, you are wrong. (nevermind the fact, by the way, that farmers markets employ more people that large farms, practice crop rotation, do not use (mostly) pesticides because they don’t need pesticides because they don’t buy products from the Monsantos of the world which require their pesticides to be used with the GMO seeds they sell.

    “Chinese workers bicycle to work or take public transportation rather than tooling around the burbs in SUVs; they don’t take long vacations or buy big gas grills; they eat less meat, buy fewer airplane tickets and generally have less of a ‘carbon footprint’ than their American counterparts.” My God, you have fallen so far off the deep end. They bike because China pays them slave labor wages because Walmart demands a cheaper product. Think just a little Mead. They don’t take long vacations (and middle Americans do???) because they can’t afford to. They don’t eat meat because…well, that’s a good one…but what does that have to do with Walmart? They will eat less meat regardless of Walmart…and so, what you are saying, Americans will stop driving

    “Ultimately, the low prices on more and more goods from smart retailers like Walmart is going to help the United States rebuild its economy. It’s cheaper than ever to start up a business when you can go to Office Depot and Staples for every business need at 40% discounts from the prices…” What new business are going to be magically created? A paper supplier? Suddenly paper is being sold at what stores? Used where? How? Oh, and is this paper being sold recycled?

    I’m tired…

  • Siegmund W.

    “…Walmart has offloaded the health care costs of its employees onto state, federal and local governments” because it is wholly legal to do so. If government at any level did not want this, then there would be laws, rules and regulations to see this stopped. The simple fact is that governments at the statte, federal and local levels all want Walmart employees are THEIR customers for healthcare, because they and only they can stop this. They don’t because customers for government mean some folks needing the government like some shoppers need Walmart. Want to change things? Stop the government healthcare programs and watch the “market” change.

  • Jack Kalpakian

    So what would be wrong with having a nice bus route to Walmart and maybe a bike lane or two? There also cargo bikes that can carry your shopping home.

    The typical American city is flat, grid based and perfect for bikes … sorry, I forgot, bikes are a conspiracy against America, aren’t they?

  • John Barker

    In my town, Wal-Mart helps non profits become more effective by donating money and executive talent. Like any other human organizations, they are not perfect, but who is?

  • Jules Mopper

    Hey John Corn,

    We’re confusing phenomena here. I was saying that, within a free market system, the costs of environmental damage have to be internalized in order for market forces to routinely cause environmentally friendly business decisions, rather than as things stand, where it’s basically chance whether a business decision is good for the environment.

    You seem to be talking about the phenomenon where rising national income leads to environmental protection. This is a very real and important phenomenon, but the original post was talking about the impact of business decisions on the environment, not how having an economic system that works leads to a population that is rich enough to care about the environment.

    And, frankly, I don’t see how you can minimize the importance of government action in helping clean up the environment. Clean air act, endangered species act, and on and on, legislation and regulation are the means by which environmental protection is achieved.

    Moreover, it seems totally possible that a relatively poor nation with an effective government could similarly protect the environment, despite its poverty. After all, environmental damage is a product of human actions, which can be constrained by enforced policies. In this sense, all capitalism does is make the creation and enforcement of these laws or policies more likely. Which is very important, of course, but we need to keep the mechanisms of environmental protection in mind.

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  • jrr

    Walmart also accounts for a big chunk of China’s GNP; it’s a well coordinated three-prong strategy to keep Chinese wages low and its currency depressed, for the benefit of American consumers. Yes, Walmart makes it possible for a household with modest means to afford a good lifestyle. But Walmart is also synonymous with unwanted and wasteful consumption and low-quality consumer goods. I don’t need 20 shirts at $10 a piece – would rather have 10 quality ones at twice the price. I am not happy with a $119 Hoover vacuum cleaner whose on-off switch broke in one year – wouldn’t it be nicer if Walmart can sell the old fashioned Electrolux that may cost three times as much but will last a lifetime? I was recently in a south American country on vacation and was surprised to see the local shops carried no goods made in China – most stuff was locally made. The citizens of that country are quite happy without the Chinese dumping their stuff!

  • Dick Pickett

    No mention of Nixon’s visit to China?

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  • Ryan

    Wal-Mart cannot exist without subsidies, period. Here’s a few examples of all the ways our tax money helps Wal-Mart bring down our standard of living:
    -Oil subsidies that make this argument of “efficiency” that you propose to seem real, even though it is not
    -Welfare and Healthcare subsidies to the urban poor that it employs (yes, even full time employees)
    -Infrastructure assistance from local governments (the local governments that still welcome Wal-Mart)
    -Natural subsidies that the natural environment absorbs and deteriorates due to the poor ecological treatment in China

    Have I been poor you ask… well, I moved out of my house and went to college (which I paid for myself), just as my parents went into the poor house. My father worked for a unionized grocer distributor who couldn’t compete with the wages that Wal-Mart non-unionized distributors. Turns out, those guys made 60% less than the average unionized worker (just a few dollars over minimum wage) and almost half when you monetize benefits like pension and healthcare.

    So, yeah… I just missed experiencing poor and my parents are still recuperating from the aftermath that Wal-Mart created from what used to be a respectable blue-collar industry of grocery distribution that my father had 20 years of experience in. Kinda difficult to start over at 50 yrs old… but Wal-Mart doesn’t care, they don’t pitch in to programs to mitigate the hurt, or programs to keep adversely affected from losing their home… now do they?

    While Wal-Mart can save a poor family a couple hundred bucks on this and that, it disproportionately hurts the retail and grocery sector employment to the tune of thousands and even tens of thousands of dollars per year in an urban economy.

    Wal-Mart might be OK in the rural setting where wages are low to begin with (but so is the cost of living… but Wally Co isn’t going to adjust for cost of living, now is he?).

  • David

    Keep in mind it’s not Wal Mart driving prices down–it’s consumers! Wal Mart is looking to meet the demands of consumers who INSIST on getting the best value. Consumers will refuse to pay “more for less” which is often the case at “mom and pop” stores. I too try to patronage at the local stores but the service is variable (at best) and the prices are always higher. I don’t mind paying a higher price if I’m getting better service. But when the service is bad and the price is high, shopping at places like Wal Mart and Lowes is just less hassle.

    BTW–the “buy american, save jobs” didn’t work for the UAW so I’m guessing “pay more, save jobs” probably won’t work either.

  • I like to shop at Walmart, too, for similar reasons. I dislike the people I will be making life harder for by shopping there anyway. I just bought a laptop there for fifty dollars less than I could have gotten it anywhere else.

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  • madmilker

    on Wal*Mart’s China web page!

    “Wal-Mart China persists in local procurement which provides more job opportunities, supports local manufacture industry and promotes local economy. So far, 95% of merchandising sold at Wal-Mart China store are local products by which Wal-Mart has established business relations with nearly 20,000 suppliers. At Wal-Mart, we treat suppliers as partners and would like to develop with them. In 2008 Wal-Mart won the Supplier Satisfaction published by Business Information of Shanghai for five consecutive years.”

    5% foreign in China…

    That doesn’t support American exports and American jobs.

    Remember what Lance Winslow wrote in that article “The Flow of Trade in a Global Economy”….

    “Now let us look at Wal-Mart again; you buy a product there, 6% goes to the employees, 10-18% is profit to the company, 25% goes to other costs and 50% goes to re-stock or the cost of goods sold. Of the 50% about 20-25% goes to China, a guess, but you get the point. Now then, how long will it take at 433 Billion dollars at year for China to have all of our money, leaving no money flow for us to circulate? At a 17 Trillion dollar economy less than 40-years minus the 1/6 they buy from us. Some say that if we keep putting money into our economy, it would take forever, but if we do not then eventually all the money flow will go. If China buys our debt then eventually they own us, no need to worry about a war, they are buying America, due in part to our own mismanaged trade, so whose fault is that? Not necessarily China, as they are doing what’s in the best interests, and we should make sure that trade is not only free, but fair too.”

    Think for a moment about George Washington….yes the man that is on the US dollar bill….How do you think George feels being sent overseas in return for all that foreign so-call cheap items and being left in a foreign bank because the American worker doesn’t make anything for the foreigners to buy. Cheap items didn’t make this great union of 50 states the greatest place on the face of this Earth…..the American worker (union and non-union) did.

    You can’t have a strong country without having a strong currency and you can’t have a strong currency unless you keep it floating around within your 50 states. This is why the store with the star in the name puts 95% China made items in their stores in China….to keep their “yuan” in their country helping the nice people there. And with only 5% left for all the other 182 country’s that make stuff including the United States of America….that doesn’t produce very many jobs outside of China.

    Being an old person myself and knowing how it was back in the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s in this union of 50 states….I look at George each time I pull him out of my billfold and make a promise to send him out for items made in America so after floating around helping each hand he touches just maybe one day he will shake mine again.

    Fifteen cargo ships pollute as much as 760 million automobiles.

    $9 billion a year in hidden taxes to all American taxpayers to clean fish from ballast tanks of ships…

    think about all those facts the next time you pull that George out of your pocket….

    Retail makes NOTHING…

    Governments only make MORE DEBT…

    It’s time for less of those two and for America to get back to what it does best….MAKE STUFF..

    cause George Washington on that dollar can’t help anyone in the United States of America if he is being held in a foreign hand.

    Made In America is the only way out of this mess cause foreign made put US here.

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