Sunday, February 20, 2011

Wal-Mart: You Get What You Pay For

Everybody wants to save money, right? Everyone wants to find the best deals to help maximize their hard earned dollars, especially in this time of financial crisis. Wages are stagnant, inflation is here (or coming), fuel prices continue to rise, and it's difficult to find a good paying job, that can support one person living on their own, let alone an entire family. The financial state of our country (the USA) and other nations around the world, didn't happen over night. Over time we have slowly allowed the erosion of US manufacturing and the ability to get high quality goods, because we have valued price over standards, consistency, and availability.

One of the better examples of this is Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart, as you all know, is the place to purchase damn near everything you need to get by in life. They offer up savings. They help you stretch your dollar. They employ a lot of people. That all sounds great, but when you look at what it's come at the expense of, maybe we are not getting such a good deal.

Now, I'm not going to argue with anyone who says that without Wal-Mart, we wouldn't get to laugh at people like this;

But, to the point, Wal-Mart is a big reason why manufacturing jobs are leaving our country.  I want to make sure that I'm understood. Wal-Mart is not the ONLY reason. But, it's a pretty big part of it. Our government has, for years, allowed US companies to expand into other countries and open up shop. That's all well and good, until they started shutting down manufacturing in the US. The bottom line is bigger if you can pay people less, not deal with unions, and get around environmental policies. So, why not make the goods in another country and then bring them back into the USA to sell to us? Allowing that to happen, without taxing these companies vast amounts, is a slap in the face to consumers and the working class alike. As I've stated in other posts, our politicians re-election campaigns are funded by many of these major companies, so why would they bite the hand that feeds them? Why refuse the perks and gifts that lobbyists bring? Why let a company put money into the campaign of an opponent? There really is no choice. It's a matter of the foxes running the hen house. 

Here is where Wal-Mart comes in. Most people do not realize that Wal-Mart actually dictates price points and space standards to manufacturers. If you want to sell your product at Wal-Mart, you must submit every bit of data about it to the Wal-Mart corporation for study. Wal-Mart will then let you know what changes are needed to be able to sell that product in their stores. Control is no longer in the hands of the manufacturers or even the consumers. It's up to Wal-Mart. It's their company, they can do whatever they want in regards to what they sell, right? Sure. They SHOULD have that right. But, because they have the right, doesn't make it right. Here is an example;  remember when anti-perspirant used to come in boxes? Wal-Mart was unhappy with the way they took up space on their shelves and with the prices. So, they required companies to get rid of the boxes. The producers did so. Now, that's not necessarily bad, but it simply shows the power that Wal-Mart has over how products are sold.

Another example is the Levi blue jean. An American brand. A brand that once stood for uncompromising quality. The Levi jeans that are cheap and available at Wal-Mart are not the Levi jeans we were buying at Sears or JC Penny years ago. Wal-Mart would not allow Levi to sell in their stores, because they were not priced "right". Levi was struggling financially and if they wanted to survive, they needed to be in Wal-Mart. So, they made changes. Levi-Strauss came out with a "signature" series of jean. They are made with lower quality material than other products from Levi. So, the customer satisfaction and the good name of Levi was thrown out the window. Levi had to compete, so they lowered their standard. You got a pair of jeans with the name Levi on them and you got 'em cheap? Good for you. But the only thing "Levi" about those jeans is the name. 150+ years of quality down the tube, so we could save $10. In 2003, Levi shut down all of their manufacturing in the USA and now the jeans are made in Latin America and Asia.

Wal-Mart is one of those companies that loves to talk about "Buy American!". How have they done in that regard? Poorly. VERY poorly. How can we buy American if all the products are made in China or Taiwan? If we expect t-shirts for 5 bucks or shoes for $12.99 it's not possible. For all the talk about the American way and pride in the US worker, Wal-Mart sure does do a lot of importing of goods. In the early 90's Wal-Mart was importing 6 billion dollars worth of products from China. By 2002, that number had risen to 12 billion dollars. By the year 2004, Wal-Mart was importing 18 billion dollars a year and that was 10% of ALL the goods imported from China for the entire United States.

The bottom line is, Wal-Mart wants to give you a bargain. In and of itself, there is nothing wrong with that. But, remember, it's coming at the expense of our nations workforce. Large corporations and companies don't need help in screwing us over, but that's just what Wal-Mart does. They want us to buy everything from them. And we seem to have agreed to do that. Demanding low prices has forced companies to make cheaper products and to have them made in other countries. Many of the people (or kids) making the products bought at Wal-Mart are working on slaves wages, under terrible conditions, and at the expense of water supplies and clean air. We are buying from Wal-Mart despite the fact that it's running us out of jobs.

How many people, realize that there are no more televisions made in the USA? RCA, Zenith sound American, but they are not. That's an entire industry where jobs could be had, but there are none. Radio Flyer wagons. Remember those? Almost every kid had one. Well, by 2004 they had moved all production to China. Up until 2010 Dell made computers in the USA. But they couldn't keep up with the competition, so they shut down their largest manufacturer in North Carolina and shifted the jobs to Asia. Mattel toys is located in California, but closed their last American manufacturing plant in 2002 and now over 60% of their products are made in China (as of 2007).

Wal-Mart is so big and so much a part of our culture now that it's not likely to change. We expect double cheeseburgers for a buck, radio headphones for $3, cola for 75 cents a two-liter, TVs for under $200, blue jeans for under $25, $10 DVD players and 10 gallon tub of peanut butter for $5. How many of us have stopped to think about why we are paying such low prices? We probably don't do that enough. We can't have high quality and high standards for pennies. We can't have valuable, good paying jobs when we expect to buy everything at a minimum price. We are Wal-Marting and voting our way into another economic depression. Think about the BP disaster last spring. The oil companies want record profits to put in the pockets of their shareholders. That's why they are in business. And we, the American public, want $1 a gallon gasoline. Everybody can't have everything they want. If we want cheap gas (and by the standards of the rest the oil purchasing world, we don't pay very much) then we have to accept that corners will be cut to bring that to us.

Here is what a leading sociologist, Gary Gereffi, from Duke University had to say in 2004;

Right. Well, Wal-Mart is a big part of this buyer-driven model of the world economy that exists today, but it's so much bigger than all of the other retailers together that Wal-Mart is almost single-handily shaping access to U.S. demand. It's really become the paragon company for the buyer-driven global economy. It's got the fate of many U.S. industries in its hands, and it's because Wal-Mart is able to make these concentrated decisions about where goods are going to be produced around the world. And if it wants to shift goods from different offshore locations, it can do it.

You can read the entire interview (which I highly recommend) by clicking on this link;

Somewhere down the line, we have to give up quality of life, quality of the products we consume, and the quality of our nations strength in manufacturing, commerce, independence, and work force for those low, low prices. If you want a $5 t-shirt or a $10 DVD player, you simply have to accept that it's going to be made with cheap materials that are put together by people making $5 a day, while 1 in 10 of us don't have a job and  about 2 or 3 of the other 9 are struggling getting by on wages that have been stagnated by a slow down in consumption of quality goods, quality jobs, the want for politicians to retain power, and record bottom lines for large companies and major corporations.

I could go on with more. More about how Wal-Mart is running "mom & pop" places out of business, especially in rural towns. More about how they manipulate their employees hours and benefits to maximize the corporations bottom line. More about how small towns are having to rely on Wal-Mart as the only large scale employer. More on how much environmental damage is done so we can buy salmon and other fishery products on the cheap. More about how Wal-Mart takes out life insurance on its' employees.

Please, don't just take my word for it. Do some research. But, we are being price cut into poverty, as a nation and as a people. We need to regain our souls, sense of purpose, and sense of pride. Do your part and research what is really going on behind the scenes. FOX, CNN, MS NBC, and the major media outlets are not going to do anything to expand your awareness of what is happening to our way of life. You must expand your own awareness and consciousness. You must chip away at family and friends. Help them to see, even if it's in baby steps, just what is happening. This is no conspiracy theory. It's the truth. And the truth is just below the surface of our daily lives.

OK,  there's, I'll leave you with just one more thing......


Sorry, I meant to give you some links to read. Here you go;