Monday, March 07, 2005

Wal-Mart’s wage slaves

In today’s New York Times letters, William Seay notes that if Wal-Mart increased its workers’ pay from about $10/hr to about $25/hr, the prices of Wal-Mart’s merchandise would only need to be increased about 12% to compensate the corporation’s bottom line.

I do not doubt his numbers, but off the top of my head, wouldn’t that put their prices in line with those of most other merchants, and lose them most of their customers?

Economics is a lot like thermodynamics: there’s no free lunch. Wal-Mart has gotten to its dominant position by exploiting desperate people, people who had no other options but to work for any wage offered, substandard or otherwise.

I think back to a report that the Church of Scientology was convicted in Italy, on a charge of “deceiving gullible people” and wonder if that’s not exactly what American business is all about: deceiving the economically gullible.

Extreme efforts go into convincing Americans that they are inadequate, and surveys show that no matter how much money people have, they never think it’s “enough” and thus is born Wal-Mart’s customer base. When the only benchmark of value is an item’s cheapness, of course a company like Wal-Mart will take over the marketplace.

Every dollar spent at Wal-Mart is a dollar spent in support of the economic slavery of their workers, just as every dollar spent on a gas-guzzling vehicle is a dollar spent in support of the deadly economics of crude oil.

In a nation where most adults don’t bother to vote, dollars are the real ballots, and every dollar spent supports values of one sort or another. Support local businesses, or some distant corporation that cares not one whit what lives of desperation their workers lead? After all, there’s plenty more where they came from.

Is this the description of a great society? Is it really our intent to guarantee economic misery to Wal-Mart’s workers?

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