Tuesday, November 15, 2005

BACKGROUND: Essay by Bill McKibben backgrounds Images showing of "Wal-Mart" movie

Greylock region movie-goers planning to attend screenings in the next few
days of the new film about Wal-Mart might find an essay by famous
environmental writer Bill McKibben (who lives in Vermont) of interest. It
is reprinted below by permission.

Expected screening dates at Images:

Thurs 11/17 at 4:30 (with Students for Social Justice at Williams, they
will provide the dvd for this screening)

Fri 11/18 at 2:30 p.m.

Mon 11/21 at 5 p.m.

Background: Global retailer Wal-Mart corporation is the single most
profitable business in the world. Five members of the Walton family are
listed among this year's ten richest Americans. But what are the
economic, social, and political trade-offs that accompany doing
business with the planet's largest retailer? Independent film director
Robert Greenwald (who gave us "Uncovered" and "Outfoxed") explores life
behind the scenes at Wal-Mart in an effort to reveal the "high cost of
low price."

Excerpt from "Wal-Mart: What's A Bargain Worth?"

By Bill McKibben

First printed in the April 2005 issue of Vermont Commons
(http://www.vtcommons.org) (Permission to re-print granted, provided
previous sentence and web site are included).

To read or access the whole article, please visit:

Wal-Mart: What’s a Bargain Worth?

By Bill McKibben

Let us begin by treating Wal-Mart with utter respect, by giving credit
where it is due. In the course of a few decades it has become the
mightiest retailer the world has ever seen. In 2002 it sold $224
billion worth of goods. It is bigger than Target, Sears, J.C. Penney,
Safeway, and Kroger combined. It sells more toys, more furniture, more
jewelry, more dog food, more flowers, more film, more aspirin than
anyone in the world. Were it a country, Wal-Mart’s economy would be the
seventeenth or eighteenth largest in the world—larger than Saudi

And it opens a new store every forty-two hours. It is very eager to
open a slew of them in Vermont, currently one of the least Wal-Marted
states in the Union. From St. Albans to Bennington, Wal-Mart has its
unblinking eye firmly fixed on our state.

The story of its growth is simple. It has achieved its position through
one cardinal virtue: Lowest Prices Always. And it has done that in turn
by becoming almost unbelievably efficient. It is the acme, the epitome,
the zenith of efficiency, unlike anything humans have previously
witnessed. If it is successful, there is no question that it will bring
Vermonters lower prices. There is no question that it will save us some
money at the cash register. How much? The only estimate I’ve seen comes
from a UVM economist and Wal-Mart enthusiast named Art Woolf who
calculated that it might be as much as $36 million annually. I think
that’s a gross overestimate, but let’s take it as gospel truth. That
works out to $58.14 apiece.

So the question becomes: is it worth it? What are the costs of going
ahead and trying to grab that $58.14?

I’m going to describe what I see as the costs across several different
categories. Some will seem far away, others are much more obviously
close to home. All reflect Wal-Mart’s enormous efficiency and scale—a
scale that so dwarfs the small size of our state that it becomes a
central, overwhelming fact. Any of the Big Box stores are out of scale
with Vermont; a K-Mart or Costco would be no better. But it’s Wal-Mart
that has announced its plans, so it can serve as a useful reference

Let’s begin by talking about jobs. For a while, in its early years,
Wal-Mart prided itself on being a Buy American store. That is a boast
it no longer makes, because now it is just the opposite. Ten percent of
all American trade with China goes through Wal-Mart, for instance.
Indeed, the Princeton economist Paul Krugman explained recently how
crucial it has become in driving the transformation of the American
economy. “One of the things that limits or slows the growth of imports
is the cost of stabling connections and networks,” he wrote. “Wal-Mart,
though, is so big and centralized that it can all at once hook Chinese
and other suppliers into its digital system, so Wham, you have a large
switch to overseas sourcing in a period much quicker than under the old
rules of retailing.”

To imagine what that means to any Vermonter working in a manufacturing
industry, consider the example of, say, socks. Their production was
centered in the American south in recent years, but now those jobs have
all but disappeared. Carolina Mills, for instance, shrunk from
seventeen factories to seven in the last three years. Why? Because, in
the words of one company executive, the company couldn’t compete with
low-wage Chinese workers even “if we paid our workers nothing at all.”
The items we still make are vulnerable as well. Tombstones from China
are now undercutting the Barre product, even though that means shipping
chunks of rock halfway around the globe.

Read the rest of the article here: http://vtcommons.org/node/170


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