Wal-Mart is the only corporation in the world that I know of or have ever heard of that is hated because it is successful. What do these critics want Wal-Mart to do? Fail? Start selling $300 shirts like Saks Fifth Avenue?
Of course, some of the hatred is coming from unions, which have tried but, so far as I know, failed to unionize Wal-Mart's work force. That one thing tells you that it must be a much better deal to work for Wal-Mart than its critics let on. Some of the disdain comes from leftist snobs who think they should run the lives of the peasants who work and shop there.
I am a small-town guy who has hated to see so many locally owned small businesses go under, but that's not Wal-Mart's fault. That trend started years ago with suburban sprawl (a major contributor to the energy crisis, by the way), suburban shopping malls, strip malls and all the other discounters that preceded Wal-Mart in prominence. It was caused by the American public's preference to buy based on price, rather than on service or quality. It was caused by local politicians converting the National Defense Highway System (the interstates) into suburban and urban commuter systems by routing them through instead of around the cities.
Wal-Mart is one of the best-run corporations in the world. The individual consumer has no clout with suppliers and manufacturers. Wal-Mart uses its enormous buying clout to get consumers the best price at the best quality possible. Being a supplier to Wal-Mart is no picnic, as the company is quite demanding.
It's not Wal-Mart's fault that much of its merchandise is manufactured in China. The late Sam Walton went to extraordinary lengths to help American manufacturers, but Wal-Mart doesn't control any corporation except itself. The move to China is not coming from Wal-Mart, but from greedy manufacturing corporations that love cheap and controlled labor. If your competitor is selling an American brand-name product made in China cheaper than you can buy one here, and if the customer says, "I don't care where it's made as long as I can afford it," what are you going to do?
More recently, Wal-Mart has been slammed for not providing what its critics think it should in the way of medical insurance. Well, why is General Motors flirting with bankruptcy? Why is Ford Motor Co. in financial trouble? Why, for that matter, is the federal government in financial trouble? The stinking hag in this room that everyone is ignoring is the high cost of medical service.
You can't provide low-cost health care or low-cost medical insurance for a system run by millionaire doctors and six-figure hospital administrators, and that has 1,200 percent profit margins for drugs and medical devices. The health-industry attitude is, we'll profiteer like crazy, and you people find a way to pay us. If Congress were not a bought-and-paid-for whore, America could join the rest of the industrialized world with a reasonable health-care system.
Health-care costs are one of the key factors in making American manufacturers uncompetitive. Now that the state of Maryland has presumed to dictate what kind of benefits Wal-Mart provides, if I ran the company, I'd close every store in the state and put the property up for sale. This is just one more ploy in the anti-Wal-Mart crusade.
We have reached a sick and perverted point in our culture when honesty and success bring attacks, mainly from people who either don't know what they are talking about or have a hidden agenda.
Millions of Americans who earn low wages from other employers rely on Wal-Mart to help them stretch their family budget. Wal-Mart has kept faith with those people. I've never found a dirty store, a rude employee or a defective product in a Wal-Mart store.
If you prefer to pay more than something's worth in exchange for some phony ambience or fancy label, go right ahead. In the meantime, get off Wal-Mart's back. It's one of the few entities in this country that is doing the right thing the right way for the right reasons.
May 8, 2006
Charley Reese [send him mail] has been a journalist for 49 years.
© 2006 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.