By Ray Molzon
HANCOCK -- One of the greatest pleasures of living in "God's country" is the escape from all the hustle and bustle so omnipresent in our modern world. Mind you, this escape is
relative, as there are some striking similarities between the cities up here and the ever-sprawling
suburban complex spread out from sea to shining sea. Driving down M-26 the other night, I noticed the pattern that can be found along the main highway of
practically any town of decent size: bright and flashy signs screaming for attention, too many restaurants (usually fast food)
catering primarily to people living on thinly-stretched budgets, a handful of giant buildings housing anything from fresh produce to the latest innovation in pop entertainment, an absence of sidewalks reminding everyone that you're no one without a motorized vehicle. And, of course, the key to this temple of consumerism, a looming Wal-Mart hovering above the horizon.
Our own Wal-Mart is currently being metamorphosed into a Super Wal-Mart, with the final stages already upon us. After its completion, consumers will be able to fulfill practically all of their shopping needs with just one trip to the store. Not only that, but the prices they pay for their goods will be practically unbeatable. Who could ask for
more? I could, along with countless others who protest the very principles under which Wal-Mart operates.
For starters, there is always the question of quality. I've been told time and again that you get what you pay for, and my Wal-Mart shopping experiences have been no exception to this rule. One is probably safe buying the well-known brands, but anything else is like bringing a wad of cash to Vegas: you might luck out, but the odds are stacked against you. My last purchase there, done in a moment of weakness, was a pouch of stale tobacco and a set of four glasses, which will undoubtedly be broken before the year is through.
But there's certainly nothing wrong with selling cheap crap if people are willing to buy it, right? If there were no negative consequences associated with getting these wares into the hands of the consumer, I would have to say yes. Unfortunately, the reality of the situation is too brutal to ignore. At this point I could spout off a list of numbers and statistics showing just how much of an evil empire Wal-Mart has become in the span of one generation, but these are all readily available with a quick search over the Internet.*
Why so cheap?
Allow me to interrupt the flow of the article with brief praise for the television show,
South Park. This series expresses humor on many levels, which may be a turnoff for those who do not care for the low-brow sort of humor. Nevertheless,
its satirical components are more than needed in this homogenized melting pot of ours. An episode from the last season dealt with the Wal-Mart
The question was posed, "Dad, how come Wal-Mart is able to sell everything so
"It's simple economics, son. I don't understand it at all."
The simplicity behind such cheap goods is so horrible that otherwise good people must attempt to ignore it. As with any capitalist venture, labor is a necessity. Throughout much of the Industrial Revolution, it was assumed by many that labor could be bought without any regard for human values. Alas, those workers actually expected to be paid wages that would allow them to live comfortably, along with many other workers' "rights" which became a reality only after years of civil unrest coerced governments to enact some nominal reforms. The last couple of decades have seen a reversal in concessions granted to the majority of the workforce, with Wal-Mart being just one player in this game. The brunt of their associates receive subsistence wages with a minimal amount of
Despite their "Buy American" sales pitch, most of their products come from overseas, where the toothless labor laws are more to their liking. The labor laws here have little meaning to Wal-Mart, with anyone trying to form a union being quickly dispatched and entire stores being closed should a group of workers decide to form a bargaining unit. Sometimes they are fined by the government, though never enough to discourage their behavior.
While Wal-Mart has been instrumental in the erosion of labor laws over the years, they are certainly not alone. Practically any large corporation has countless transgressions under its belt. This is to be expected when a society allows the drive for profit to supercede any sense of compassion or humanity. We are often told that unbridled capitalism is synonymous with democracy, yet the results are none too convincing. Some of the greatest abuses have been committed under the guise of honest business, something most people would find inexcusable.
Yet another facet of South Park which I adore is the moral inserted into every episode, something exceedingly rare in today's television. At the end of the above-mentioned episode, the town learns that it is within their power to destroy the destruction caused by the store, simply by refusing to shop there. It is such a simple solution, one that doesn't require the government to step in with more unwieldy rules. If you don't like the practices of a certain company, don't give them your money. This is how a "free market" is supposed to work, by allowing the businesses that refuse to cater to the consumer's desires to die off. An outside observer would quite rightly assume that the majority of Americans actually approve of the way Wal-Mart and other corporations conduct business. If that is true, then any progress of which we are so proud is virtually
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|Note: Views expressed by our guest columnists are not necessarily the views of Keweenaw Now.
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