Story about Wal-Mart founder's treatment of his employees

The American Prospect reviewed a couple of books about Wal-Mart, and included this charming anecdote about Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton
Around the time that the young Sam Walton opened his first stores, John Kennedy redeemed a presidential campaign promise by persuading Congress to extend the minimum wage to retail workers, who had until then not been covered by the law. Congress granted an exclusion, however, to small businesses with annual sales beneath $1 million -- a figure that in 1965 it lowered to $250,000.

Walton was furious. The mechanization of agriculture had finally reached the backwaters of the Ozark Plateau, where he was opening one store after another. The men and women who had formerly worked on small farms suddenly found themselves redundant, and he could scoop them up for a song, as little as 50 cents an hour. Now the goddamn federal government was telling him he had to pay his workers the $1.15 hourly minimum. Walton's response was to divide up his stores into individual companies whose revenues did not exceed the $250,000 threshold. Eventually, though, a federal court ruled that this was simply a scheme to avoid paying the minimum wage, and he was ordered to pay his workers the accumulated sums he owed them, plus a double-time penalty thrown in for good measure.

Wal-Mart cut the checks, but Walton also summoned the employees at a major cluster of his stores to a meeting. "I'll fire anyone who cashes the check," he told them.

The "values" of Wal-Mart, the largest private-sector employer in the U.S., are shaping our national economy -- and that's a very bad thing. (Via WashPost)


  1. Christ, this guy would have to personally crack a whip while raping a child and negotiating profits from genocide to be a bigger dirtbag.

  2. I’ve worked for people like this, and when you talk to them, invariably they truly believe they are in the right.

    They also blame the workers for not having any other options. “If they were worth more, they would make more.”

    I worked for one guy who would always daydream out loud about putting parking meters in the employee parking lot.

  3. The cool thing is, he could never get away with that in this day and age: if someone tried that now, they would have a wrongful termination suit you could fricking retire on.

  4. Sam Walton was a complete jerk and he instilled a basic corporate culture that was an amazing combination of douchebaggery and cultism. My favorite example (which is so timely) ishow Wal-Mart managers were proud that right after 9-11 they scooped up within hours a near monopoly on American flags made in the US. That was their primary action after 9/11. Not helping out in any way like some companies did. Getting a monopoly on flags.

    The truth though is that slowly Wal-Mart has been getting better with its corporate culture. Things aren’t nearly as bad as they were even ten years ago for their employees. On the other hand, a lot of that improvement has been due to lawsuits, new legislation, and public pressure.

  5. Solution: EVERYONE cashes their checks at the same time. Let’s see him fire everyone and try to run the stores with no employees.

  6. Is Walmart still encouraging their new employees to sign up for welfare since their not being paid a living wage?

  7. Walton wasn’t a nice guy, but WalMart haters need to face one fact — as someone who grew up in a rural place (coal mining area, but no mining happening anymore), the WalMart supercenter opening was a godsend. People could guy decent stuff and grocery items SUPER cheap. When a majority of your community is on a fixed income (disability, pension, unemployment, SS, SSI), stretching those dollars as far as they can helps a lot. Sure, it sucks to be a WalMart cashier, but a HUGE number of people can stop buying the “pretty much 100% fat” bacon from Sav-a-Lot and start buying better quality stuff thanks to Wally World. Seriously. They DO cut as many corners as possible to stay cheap, and that includes scrimping on their workforce, but an untold number MORE are able to live better. I’ve seen it with my own 2 eyes, which is why I can never get on board with WalMart hate.

  8. @#11 Tripp,
    You need to get a clue. Step one would be to learn the definition of the word “myopia”.

    As someone else who started in the backwoods and saw WM come along in 1975 as a short-term blessing that later turned out to be a long-term rape of a small town of 25K, I can say you’re flat out wrong. You’re part of what’s skewed with this society right now: short term thinking.

    People got along fine before WM came along. Most of us have parents and grandparents who had *much* less than we have, but they survived, often with much larger families to feed.

    They knew that being poor meant you didn’t own a DVD player (or comparable indulgences of the day). Instead you worried about true essentials. All WM has done is rape the now so that everyone can have cheap crap that they want but don’t actually need. All at the expense of the long term good.

    There are plenty of WM documentaries which can educate you on the reality.

  9. They DO cut as many corners as possible to stay cheap, and that includes scrimping on their workforce, but an untold number MORE are able to live better.

    They do huh? Seems like a nasty race that leads to the bottom for all, if you ask me. Those are the same excuses that city politicians make for courting Wal-Marts: “Hey, we neglected your neighborhoods and businesses to the point of collapse but now here’s a Wal-Mart to fix everything.” It’s pretty easy to then paint any opposition to the bottom of the barrel (walmart) as “hate” rather have to own up to the fact that you’ve let poor people twist in the wind.

  10. You should also be aware that this is going on right under your noses, all over the country…

    I quit a job in Chicago last December where the owner was employing a staff with a 6 out of 7 ratio of non-documented to documented workers. We figured the last fraction was there to put a legitimate face to the establishment.
    As this face, I was not only meant to serve tables, but to answer phones, keep the help in line, do inventory, and sign paperwork such as health inspection reports. I was getting paid the minimum wage for servers, $4.50 an hour, and since this was during the latest economic decline, he was considering garnishing our tips as well, putting up a “Starbucks” defense when we protested.
    After earning the Illinois food service certificate for this guy, I figured it was about time for a raise. When I politely confronted him, he called me a “greedy m*****r f****r”, and said workers like myself were the cause of his poor sales. Needless to say, I didn’t get the raise.
    It wasn’t until after I quit that I found out the minimum wage had risen two months after my hire date, and was due to raise again soon. I think he may have thrown that missive from the Department of Labor in the trash when we weren’t looking.

    I’m really saddened by what’s happening in our country; with all the latent racism rearing its ugly head this last year, along with the scandals involving church leaders and politicians, banks and real estate brokers. I’m starting to believe that hypocrisy is the foundation for the American Dream.

  11. The corners Wal-Mart cuts though always seem to bite me for every purchase I make. It seems like everything I buy from Wal-Mart has one fatal flaw. IE: A vacuum cleaner that keeps the brush running when the hose is disconnected. It blows dust everywhere when I need to spot-vacuum. It suddenly makes sense why it’s on sale at Wal-Mart. Tupperware that microwaveable, freezable, and has an air-seal, but it’s porous, something not found out until repeated use like the vacuum cleaner. A shower rod that extended, I used it for hanging clothes, and it broke after three times.

    What I’m trying to say is that Wal-Mart is a supply of low quality that will keep you coming back for more replacements. And that isn’t how we should run our lives. If a town is desperately rural, I’d like to think that they’d get desperately creative.

  12. I think that #11 may have a valid point. While there are serious problems with Wal-Mart it does seem to genuinely help a lot of people. It is easier for people who have better incomes to be snotty about this sort of thing but Wal-Mart is very helpful to a lot of poor people. That’s why the shop there. Unfortunately, these issues, like so many issues are not so clear cut.

  13. In the history class I’m taking (just a basic one), we’ve just been studying Social Darwinism. Sounds like Mr. Walton was a firm believer.

  14. This is why we need unions. I have boycotted Wal-Mart for a long time now, and continue to do so. Buying at Wal-mart is shooting yourself in the foot. Every purchase at Wal-mart, is a step towards a future of poverty.

  15. I have been unemployed fourteen months. I need to watch my spending, but there is no freakin’ way I will ever spend a cent at a Walmart even now when I could really use the “savings”.

    I watched them destroy the economic fabric of two small towns. I refuse to contribute to their coffers.

  16. @#12 bbonyx
    +#16 JoshuaZ

    Those useless things, like DVD players, computers, cheap reading materials, music, $4 prescriptions for those without insurance. Things that promote culture, education, and health. Don’t get me wrong, a publically funded library or clinic could do it better, but Don’t try to say cheaply availible goods have no worth.

    Personally, I hate the company. Family issues with their treatment of my wife and father-in-law despite years of service, so I know the issue. My wife won’t shop in one anymore because it makes her feel dirty.

    But it’s not just about bashing the bastards. The question is how can we get local reform to win out over corporate interest?

  17. When Walmart came to KFalls, OR in 1990 or so (crushing the downtown core where you used to be able to go to the little clothing shop, the pet shop, the hobby store), there were ‘made in America’ signs all over the building, and flags proudly flying. As I learned a few years later when I worked for a company that made space heaters, American companies could not always afford to sell to WalMart. They demanded low low low prices, and regularly supplemented those by charging vendors fees for not filling orders, not shipping on time, even on the truck not arriving at the scheduled time. Many American companies decided WalMart was not worth dealing with. But that’s ok, because they just took down the made in America signs and got everything cheaper in China anyway, where people can work for a few dollars a week. So I don’t care how poor you are, is that what you want to support? Your hard earned money going to crappy Chinese products, while WalMart builds an American society that has no room for advancement, where you can never get ahead.

    Now I am poor. I’m a small business owner who competes with WalMart, both in sales and in simply trying to get product (my supplier says ‘you can have what’s left over after we fill our WalMart orders’). Meanwhile WalMart often sells product for less than we can buy it for direct from the manufacturer. We have very little money to spend while we’re fighting to keep our business afloat, hoping to build it on customer service – the one thing WalMart cannot provide. I will NOT shop at WalMart. WalMart is killing the American dream for all but the very few people at the very top.

  18. tripcook – When a majority of your community is on a fixed income (disability, pension, unemployment, SS, SSI), stretching those dollars as far as they can helps a lot.

    so does keeping those dollars in town, circulating

  19. @15 I can attest that, at least in one case, you are exactly correct. An old roommate of mine belonged to a family that happened to own a company that manufactured, along with other household detritus, cheap mops that were sold at Wal-Mart; the kind with the rubber plastic sponge at the bottom and the little plate on a fulcrum to squish the dirty water out. Anyway, he gave us a couple of them when we moved in to our apartment (presumably, I thought, so that we could mop simultaneously – very democratic). I was wrong. It was because they broke. Consistently. When papa came around again a few months later, over drinks, I gave him a hard time about the quality of his mops. He laughed his ass off – they were designed to break. The big thing with Wal Mart isn’t the functionality of the products that they provide, he said, but how cheaply the manufacturer is willing to give them the products in return for an optimal shelf space in the store to ensure that they will experience a rapid turnover. You live out in the sticks, you buy a shitty mop, it breaks, you have to go back to the same place to buy another mop because the mom & pop store went out of business. My beers were paid for with broken mops.. and broken mop-dreams.

  20. Tripp and Joshuaz: Wal-Mart has a pattern of squeezing out small businesses, especially in rural areas (even those that have been established as a cornerstone of a town for many generations.) This happens everywhere they go, time and time again. It is so bad that property values immediately decline in each small town they expand into. Ask the banks that do the appraisals.

    Wal-Mart does this by having their goods produced in sweatshops around the globe where people (and even children) work incomprehensible hours for pitiful wages and in hazardous conditions with no ability to redress their employer if they lose life and/or limb in their toil. How is this good for poor people? Oh, you meant only poor “Americans?” Even within the US, their thug-like union busting techniques are legendary, keeping people from organizing to get a higher wage or benefits. There have been thousands of cases where they work folks here in the US for one hour a week less than what qualifies as full-time just to keep them from gaining the benefits federally mandated to full-time workers. And this is for people trying to support whole families. Go work somewhere else? -No longer an option in areas where the economy has been depressed by Wal-Mart becoming the only game in town, squeezing out all the locally owned competition. The list of such abuses goes on and on.

    Their record on environmental abuses is just as shameful, to say the least. And these are just a few examples of their appalling practices, which are numerous and documented extensively for any who bother to look into it. Nothing justifies what small benefit, if any, they have ever provided in the short-term.

    I for one will continue to boycott the evil bastards for as long as they exist.

  21. If you need to buy cheap, go to Costco, they treat their employees much better. For fresh fruits and veggies, you can’t beat local farmers/farmers markets.

    WalMart is evil. And they’re proud of being evil.

  22. Even having worked for them, and experienced first-hand the absolute bulls**t they’re capable of, I’ll still shop at a Wal-Mart. When it comes right down to it, I don’t have enough money to go to my local grocery, pay twice as much– and ignore the fact that the service is poor, the food is often expired, and the selection is pathetic.

    Aside from my money staying local, what benefit is there for me?

  23. The best action a person can make to get rid of places like walmart is to just not shop there. Voting with your wallet is the most effective vote you can make. If everyone agrees walmart sucks, they will either go out of business or have to change their ways. No ‘reform’ or government intervention required.

  24. @ 14 BBONYX

    I have to agree with you that todays society seems to make you think your “essentials” some how extend beyond food, clothing, and shelter, but that is much more a problem with culture rather than WM. I’ve seen people buying food with food stamps while spending money on scratch tickets, and quarter beggars who have cell phones.

    IMHO, WM has made things people have already convinced themselves they need (like dvd players and flat screens), more accessible. That’s a reflection of our society more than WM taking advantage of people. They have to see that stuff on TV and in ads to crave it first. I can def see the pros and cons of WM, but I can’t justify that particular argument.

  25. It really pleases me when I don’t have to play devil’s advocate for you people. I’ll happily let someone else be the voice of dis-impassioned optimism for a change and instead join in with the hooting and the throwing shit.

    BOO! Wal-Mart’s longstanding policy of cheap goods is gradually corrupting America’s moral fibre by inflating our standard of living! We should all be paying more for less! It wrecks local economic systems by leveraging its economy of scale to sell equivalent goods at a price point unprofitable for mom and pop stores! Its treatment of minimum wage employees makes me feel guilty for enjoying its variety of goods at such low prices! It fails to properly defer to current ecological fads! J’Accuse!

  26. concurrently, the supreme court is arguing that corporations should be given the right to free speech, identical to an individual, without any restrictions. Think how much BS Walmart can bring to bear on these issues. this is going to get a whole lot worse before it gets better. I also refuse to shop at Walmart, but I understand why people do so.

  27. We should just make minimum wage $10, or $100, or hell $1,000 00 per hour. Then everyone would be rich and nobody would have to shop at Wal Mart. I cant believe all the greedy people who want to keep Min wage any less. And Good for Wal Mart, pressing for a mandated health coverage that they already provide to most of their employees. I cant imagine small businesses will have any problem paying for that. But then again screw businesses. Im all about the workers. We should pool our money and lobby to the govt for better rewards for employees. There is no way we could be out influenced by the donations of large corporations. Besides, politicians have nothing but the good of the people in their thoughts at all times.They would never pass legislation that favors those large donating corporations. Yep its jerks like the Waltons selling inexpensive goods to people who otherwise couldnt afford them. And the gaul they have not to sell top quality merchandise at those low prices. Why, if they just charged more money they could pay their employees more. I never liked consumers anyway. This whole article is just chock full of such brilliant economic insight it makes me want to cry.

  28. Back in late 1984, I got a job at a local Dairy Queen after walking out of my first job at Showbiz Pizza place, where I had been a team leader until new owners decided to roll the store back to the 19th century in the way they ran it. I had been married for a year, and, due to my walking out, took a hell of a pay cut.
    The gentleman who ran the local DQ franchises hired me and talked about making me a manager eventually, however he was still going to pay me the base $3.35 that minimum wage was at the time (and would remain well into the 1990’s). However, he had some stipulations; if I chose to quit without giving him considerable notice, he would cut my pay to less than $2.95 an hour for the last week. He got away with this by deliberately closing the stores for weeks if they got too profitable. Keep in mind, he had something like a total of five stores; he knew the local tax and labor laws in Florida like the back of his hand, and he found ways to skirt around them.
    I worked for a month there, and yes, my last pay check was at $2.95 an hour. A few years later, while he was opening up that very DQ, he was gunned down. The crime is unsolved, but a former employee is suspected (no surprise; he had made many enemies).
    Bottom line is, there is this mindset that employees are no more than parts, cogs and gears, in a mechanism that exist solely for profit. It seems to me that the poorer the products that are being sold, the worse these types are. That old Sam was like that is no surprise. This mindset is especially prevalent here in the South, though I’ve encountered elsewhere. Wal-Mart is making some changes, and yes, due to my current financial status, I do shop there from time to time. But I never feel right about it, and I look at the hourly employees with a real degree of pity.

  29. I never understood this? What is the best way to keep your workers happy and the unions out? Pay them a living wage and treat them well. I really can’t wrap my mind around this me first, profit at any cost mentality? Same with recycling. I live in the sticks in Florida, very conservative area. After we moved here I noticed that no one recycles (we were one of the two houses on our street.) So, let’s say you don’t believe in global warming, you’re not concerned about taking care of the planet or you think the rapture is coming so why recycle? Well, it’s the best way to keep land fills small and manageable and that’s something that effects all of us in the same way. Easy…er, not so?

  30. Wal-Mart is notorious for driving smaller, independent stores out of business. But a few years ago, they introduced, in some American test markets, that very concept – a smaller, neighborhood type store. So, first they drive out the small independents, then they come in with what appears be a nice little Mom & Pop. And all the money goes to the same damn place.

  31. If the price at Wal Mart seems low, you get what you pay for.

    Boots bought from Wal Mart were 30% cheaper than the “identical” boots from another local store, but wore out within a month. They leaned on the supplier to cut corners and make their product cheaper, so what they sell isn’t really identical. Their replacements from the local store are still going strong two years later. The same story with kettles and coffee makers. It’s hard for local stores to compete when the products they are selling aren’t even on a level playing field. And for years, they were known to sell censored or edited music and videos that weren’t marked as such.

  32. “Aside from my money staying local, what benefit is there for me?”

    1) Knowing that you are not feeding the monster that fucked you, for starters.

    2) Knowing that you are probably getting better quality goods.

    3) Knowing that you can most likely find better help in selecting your goods by more knowledgeable people who might not hate their jobs. (There is a reason their aprons have “Hi how can I help you” on the back, as that is the direction most often pointing toward the customer.)

    4) Knowing you are not helping to rape the environment as much as you assuredly are in supporting W-Mart.

    5) Knowing that you are not supporting a bloated behemoth crushing all attempts at organizing against their labor practices.

    The list goes on far longer than I have time to type for your benefit. And if the above doesn’t convince you alone, I don’t know what will.

    BTW, their prices aren’t as good as someone generalized above, stating they pay twice as much elsewhere. I know because I have to visit a W-Mart once a year, as some members of my family insist on buying X-mas presents there, which I promptly return. Though I can’t get a refund, I exchange it for gas. If they just got me a gift card, I wouldn’t have to ever set foot inside.

  33. @33- and that is why Walmart exceeds so well at killing local small businesses. Its not that Walmart kills off all the businesses, it primarily kills off the ones trying to compete against it on it’s level (cutting corners, underpaying employees, carrying shoddy product). If the choice is between a local store carrying shoddy goods at an exorbitant rate, and Walmart, even I would pick Walmart. This is where Walmart wins.

    In communities where this is not the normal or usual business practice, I haven’t seen Walmart gain a foothold. That is because the big W doesn’t know how to compete on quality or other factors that don’t figure into having the lowest bottom line.

    I don’t like Walmart’s business practices, but that doesn’t excuse other small retailers from running their own slipshod businesses, bilking their customers and employees, and generally being a bunch of avaricious pricks. A lot of Walmart’s detractors seem to forget this factor in their criticisms of the big giant, but there are plenty of small retailers who aren’t any better.

  34. Terry Pratchett does a bit about how the rich stay rich and the poor stay poor because of the class of goods they can afford. Sam Vimes reckons he spends more on boots than Sybil (his rich, nobleborn wife) does on her general expenses. Because before he married her, he could only afford to buy boots that wore out immediately, and therefore kept on buying boots every few months. Sam has got so he LIKES his bad boots, because he can tell where he is in the city by the cobbles under his feet, but still notes that this principle holds true for most things poor people can buy.

    “quarter beggers who have cell phones” – is it possible the cell phone is a pre-paid cell phone or an old cell phone. Just because somebody has tangible goods doesn’t mean they are trying to scam the system. People brought this up when the homeless guy took a pic of Michelle Obama serving in a homeless shelter, and a buncha folks jumped all over homeless people for having cell phones. (Which, you’d have to have if you were trying to get a job and didn’t have a home. GAH.)

    While we’re on the subject of Walmart, let’s not forget how they pressure towns into using eminent domain laws to clear out local competition and people who don’t want to sell property to them. (Although, googling shows me that at least one town used eminent domain laws to fight back against Walmart. Whee!)

  35. RIPLEY: It’ll breed. You’ll die. Everyone in the … fucking…. (searches for the word, then spits it out) … Company. Will die.

    GEDIMAN: Company?

    WREN: Weyland Yutani.

    WREN: Our Ripley’s former employers. Terran Growth conglom, had some defense contracts under the military. Before your time, Gediman — they went
    under decades ago, bought out by Walmart. Fortunes of war.

  36. I live in Quebec, where we have one of the highest minimum wages and one of the toughest labor codes in North America,and we also have Walmart.

    After a recent holiday in the U.S. we were quite surprised to see how much cheaper it was to shop at Walmart, especially for grocery items. More to the point, we were shocked at how expensive it was to shop in a supermarket. Most things (except junk food and booze) were on average 30% higher than what we are used to paying at home.

    In Quebec, it is seldom cheaper to buy at Walmart than at other places, especially for groceries.

    Can this be explained by our labor laws and high minimum wage? Maybe. But we also have large national grocery and hardware chains with their own distribution networks, often have unionized staff that make over $15 an hour, and yet still manage to be competitive against Walmart.

    For me the big issue with Walmart in the US is there is no serious competition both in sales and for employment.

  37. In the early ’90’s I bought some baseball cards that Wal-mart had managed to get an exclusive on at one of their stores and have felt guilty and unclean about it ever since.

    I do not and will not shop at Wal-mart. And anyone who says they are anti-Walmart but can’t resist the deals are hypocrites worse off even than the fools who aren’t able to realize that there’s anything wrong with supporting the Wal-mart concept in the first place.

    Those who cry “elitist” at the anti-Walmarters should understand, it’s not that Wal-mart sells crappy goods cheap that bothers me.

    It’s that they sell crappy *Chinese* goods cheap. And that then anyone who wants to try and compete has to sell crappy chinese goods themselves. By the time you’re done, you have a huge trade imbalance, not to mention a country which is no longer able to manufacture.

    Shit, buy a crappy mop if that’s what you want. That’s none of my business. But when you cripple the fucking economy doing so, that’s when I start to get pissed.

  38. If someone was breaking into my neighbors houses and stealing their food, buying it at low prices would still be morally reprehensible even if I were broke and starving.

    Shopping at a store that violates labor laws and screws employees out of wages, then “passes the savings on to you” is nothing more than getting second-hand benefit from stolen goods.

    I’m not only to darned proud to steal, I’m to darned proud to save money because an employer is stealing form his employees.

  39. @#44–

    No, I don’t think it’s really “knowing” any of these things. It’s much more like,

    1) Knowing that I’m paying $2 more for every gallon of milk my kids drink, despite the fact that it comes from the same dairy up the road.

    2) Knowing that my local grocery won’t have pita bread, and has actually confessed to not knowing what pita bread is.

    3) Knowing that I’ll have to make additional trips to an auto supply, clothing, and feed store, wasting my time and gas, which…

    4) Feeds some other corporate monster like Shell Oil, etc…

  40. Last year driving through the deep south I could invariably predict when we’d be seeing a Walmart ahead. All I had to look for was closed shops and empty parking lots in the business center of whatever small town we were driving through.

    If more than half the shops were open–no Walmart for 50 miles.

    My family thought I was psychic.

  41. This article is not biased at all. Nope, not one bit.

    At the risk of sounding like I think Everything Is Better In Japan (it’s not), I spent a few months in Kyoto and was impressed with the shopping. Local businesses and large chains coexisted side by side. It was pretty cool.

    I don’t know what economic and political conditions have created that situation. I don’t know if it’s sustainable or feasible for the U.S.

    However, I don’t see big-boxes going away any time soon. Nor do I see articles like this as particularly helpful. Whether we like it or not, Walmart is here. Cursing its ancestors is not a very useful response.

  42. Day Vexx: Sure sounds like justification to me. $2 more per gallon? Really? Are you talking about convenience store prices or normal supermarket prices? Down here in Texas, Milk is about $3.65/gal. at most places. Cheaper if on special. Last I looked, W-Mart had it for $3.50/gal. Wow.

    They do have competitive prices on gas at the local W-mart but I would rather give my money to Big Oil, actually, and often do.

    If you live somewhere that it’s appreciably further away to drive to a local supermarket, auto parts store (they have a huge assortment of that stuff at grocery stores around here) than W-Mart then they already have you beat by closing down the competition. And judging from your justifications, you’ve already been conditioned to live in the W-Mart world so you are welcome to it. Knowledge of pita bread is so rare that it is worth supporting economic world domination.

  43. “An anecdote about a book reviewed by the American Prospect? This passes as squid ink pasta?”

    I was hoping so.

    “An anecdote about a book reviewed by the American Prospect? This passes as a Harley Earl tailfin design?”

    In some circles it might.

    “An anecdote about a book reviewed by the American Prospect? This passes as a gamma ray burst fewer than 10 light years from Earth?”

    Unfortunately, yes. Start making final arrangements.

  44. So, I know this guy.

    This guy is American.

    This guy is also an inventor.

    This guy invented something that, when you look at it, you smack your head and think “Why the hell didn’t /I/ think of that?”. It’s pretty bleeding obvious, and incredibly simple, but beautiful, elegant, aesthetic and something that every home ought to have (IMNSHO). I’ve had the privilege of seeing the original of the invention.

    Someone, shortly after this fellow started selling his simple and beautiful invention, hired a Chinese manufacturer to make several. hundred. thousand. units. of a cheap-ass knockoff of this guy’s invention. They pretty much resembled and functioned similarly to this guy’s invention, but were not durable, were not elegant, were not beautiful, and there was no real way to tell what materials these knockoffs were made of. The inventor was a hippie, and cared about the environment and kid’s health and aesthetics. He was getting complaints from people who bought these crap knockoffs and thinking they were the ones he made.

    The knockoffs were sold exclusively through Wal-Mart.

    He sued Wal-Mart for violation of trademark and patent, for royalties and to remove the crap knockoffs from the market. That was filed over ten years ago. Currently, the lawsuit is still ongoing, as Wal-Mart files delays and motions to dismiss and discoveries and all manner of avoidance tactics at every available opportunity. He’s been advised by his attorneys that Wal-Mart never, ever settles and always drags out lawsuits in order to discourage lawsuits and to bankrupt the people suing them.

    Legalistically, their legal strategy seems to be highly similar to Scientology’s.

    I think you might be able to guess whether I patronise Wal-Mart.

  45. A Kinks klassic, updated for the 21st century:

    Excuse my shoes they dont quite fit
    They’re a special offer and they hurt me a bit
    Even my trousers are giving me pain
    They were reduced in a sale so I shouldn’t complain
    They squeeze me so tight so I cant take no more
    Theyre size 28 but I take 34

    I’m on a low budget
    What did you say
    I’m on a low budget
    I thought you said that
    I’m on a low budget
    I’m a cut price person in a low budget land

    I’m shopping at WalMart and low discount stores
    I’m dropping my standards so that I can buy more.

  46. @32: have you been to a farmer’s market lately? the idea that that stuff is cheap is pure nonsense – it’s at least as expensive as Whole Foods, if not more so.

  47. Did you know that Stephen Hawking would not not be alive today if he’d been born under Britain’s socialized medical system? It’s true. Pass it along.

    The Sam Walton story doesn’t even make sense. If the employees agreed not to cash their checks, were they issued new checks at the old, pre-minimum wage rates, or were they simply not paid? Perhaps Sam developed a shadowy parallel paycheck syndicate: one check for show, the other for cashing…

    Ah, but it’s just a blog. No worries. Try the pasta, it’s delicious.

  48. @Cunning #64:

    The Sam Walton story doesn’t even make sense. If the employees agreed not to cash their checks, were they issued new checks at the old, pre-minimum wage rates, or were they simply not paid?

    I believe the checks there were told not to cash were the huge ones for all the double back pay they’d been owed, which would’ve been a tidy sum. He probably sucked it up and started paying them the normal rate, but he didn’t want them getting all that back pay they were owed.

    The pasta is especially delicious with a dash of reading comprehension.

  49. I skimmed 65 comments looking for a criticism or debunking of minimum wage laws. I don’t think I saw one, except for #39 NICOBAN, who resorts to sarcasm: “We should just make minimum wage $10, or $100, or hell $1,000 00 per hour. Then everyone would be rich and nobody would have to shop at Wal Mart. ”

    Actually this is one of the standard thought exercises to help understand minimum wage. Why don’t we set it to $1,000 an hour? Wouldn’t that make everyone rich?What’s wrong with that logic? Imagine various levels above the current level, and then imagine levels below the current level. What happens at the different levels? Specifically, draw a curve of the number of people employed at each setting of the minimum wage level. Right now (random google) half of full-time people make above about $13/hr.

    Another exercise: why don’t all employers pay all employees the minimum wage and no more? The law allows it, why don’t employers take advantage of that? What prevents employers from lowering wages when they’re legally allowed to? Do you think employers would continue to pay more- than- minimum wage if the minimum wage were lowered to zero? That is, would some people still have wages greater than zero?

    Extracting a the value of the minimum wage from someone who wouldn’t otherwise earn that much, is a specialized technology that large companies can better afford to perfect. That means that minimum wage gives large companies an advantage over small companies.

    Similarly, any sort of labor-related regulation (safety, insurance, unions…) increases the overhead of having an employee. But large companies can afford the kind of bureaucracy and procedure that streamlines that overhead. Every regulation is a win for big companies over little companies, procedure-driven companies over companies working on common sense and personal relationships.

    Obviously Walmart existed before they paid minimum wage. They have efficiencies and attractions to consumers and employees that don’t relate to regulation. But their success can’t be explained by imagining you can make a profit out of pure meanness.

  50. Wal-Mart’s power lies in the fact that most people will shop for the lowest price, no matter what.

    If you want Wal-Mart to change, change that.

  51. 11

    Communism and Capitalism both fail for the same reason: Greed. With Communism its the government and with Capitalism its the Corporations. Its funny how total opposites are sometimes indistinguishable.


    In Britain its health for ALL, not just for those that can afford it. How many Stephen Hawkins have died because their parents can’t afford the insurance. And don’t forget, we still have private healthcare.

    To all, never believe a politician until what crap falls from their mouths can be validated, but not by another politician or statistician or consultant!

  52. @Futurenerd

    Actually with all that you missed the most important part. The reason you don’t set the minimum wage at some stupidly high value is greed.

    If tomorrow everyone was making $50 an hour, well in a weeks time the economy would correct for that. Milk would now be $12 a gallon, bread $10 a loaf. The general baseline price for all goods and services would rise, because we could pay for it.

    It also doesn’t take into account the idea of a fixed amount of currency. (Unless your the government and you just keep pulling it out your ass and raping the tax payers…) Were would all this excess money just come from to pay everyone more?

    I find it amazing everyone just “hates” Walmart. They are so evil.. wahh wahh wahh…
    Really? It doesn’t bother anyone that society has created the ability for Walmart to live and thrive? That I see 8 year old kids with cell phones nicer than mine? If anything it’s the materialism of our society that has destroyed it more than a simple Walmart. And it’s not made in China either. I could go to Walmart find 1000 products that are identical in UPC and model codes to the ones being sold at any other major retailer in the country. Out side of food I doubt 10% of what people buy is made in America. If you want made in the USA it is going to be more expensive. If you want quality then you have to pay for it, period.

    Frankly I think high school home-ec should be brought back. It should be there to teach kids how to shop, what to look for, how to save, how to real in the “real” world. Where they are going to have shitty jobs and not get what they want.

    I wish there as an easy answer, but much of history proves that only a major social/economic event will fix any of this (or destroy what is left).

  53. Aside from grocery items (which, in Canada at least aren’t any cheaper at Walmart- and is mainly TV dinners and other stuff to avoid) Walmart is just crap products. Remember that the $30 Noname DVD player will need replacing next year while the $50 Toshiba bought somewhere else will not. CHeaper stuff breaks sooner which means you buy it twice as often (or more) and wind up with less money in the long run.

    Not to mention all the extra waste generated by buying cheap, easily breakable and often plastic crap from Walmart.

  54. What saddens me the most, is the lack of mom and pop toy stores. There’s Toys R Us, Walmart, London Drugs, Superstore, etcetera…. but all of the independently owned and run Toy Stores, that had real character, all shut down because of these companies.

    And no, those lame-ass ‘educational’ toy stores don’t count. I dream about going on a road trip across Canada/The US to find small, dusty mom and pop toy stores not ruined by this trend. And yes, this dream includes finding old stock on the shelves from my childhood.

  55. @71 I can’t speak about the quality of products sold at Walmart, but over here in Germany Lidl and ALDI have perfected the art of selling low-priced discount stuff(*) (with ALDI actually having a good track record in regards to treating their employees). And their cheap DVD players/Computers/etc do not actually fall apart after one year. My wife’s bicycle still works after 10 years of use. The paper shredder I use quite often is still going strong after three years, happily shredding paper and cds. My deep frier is five years old and heats up fast and fine, all moving parts still fit. Even the denims I buy from them don’t really wear out sooner than the ones I get from the clothes stores.

    *) Then again, Walmart got its ass handed over here and had to leave the German market. Apparently not competitive enough. :-)

  56. Thanks a load for publisizing the WalMart serfdom. & to hell with those who applaud the Lords of the Stores for innovation. No-one gets that rich that fast without exploitation. Please, I’m begging you, help publicize a current intimidation campaign in Maryland. Walmart is required to provide health insurance for its full-time employees here, based on the size of the company. (It’s the largest private employer in the state.) The Hagerstown store is #1 in profits nationwide, with sales approaching $1 MILLION per DAY. (Really!) They are now abusing full-timers with brutal daily shift changes in an attempt to get them to quit, while part timers get any hours they want. They are firing people for going to the doctor, including at least who had a heart attack. They are retaliating against anyone who dares to use the so-called ‘open door policy’ to complain. The average customer is illerate, just look at them, so a boycott would probably be ineffective. What we need is a nationwide super- embarrassment campaign.
    & NO – I don’t work there, but have friends that do. PLEASE Twitter, Facebook, Blog, anything to get the word out.
    Thank you for anything that you can do.

  57. #68 Takuan: “I think people will choose good over evil, if given the chance.”

    With most things being equal, yeah, I’d agree with that. But convenient evil trumps slightly inconvenient good a lot of the time. That’s the original sin. That apple was *right there*.

  58. The funny thing is, Walmart ain’t all that cheap. the Save-a-lot in my town carries plenty of produce and other staple items for much much less.
    I’ve not gone as far to get a percentage comparison, but every time I go to either or and spend the same amount of money, just eying the size of my pile of food booty is pretty telling.

    Also, While I earn a bit more than minimum wage (a whole 95 cents more) And I work full time at a job (locally owned small business) I enjoy, I still fall way below the poverty line (and therefore qualify for government assistance such as food-stamps). What I don’t understand is, I preform as a cog in the local economy as a worker and a buyer, why is it that I (and all other workers) am not considered as anything of worth? Because we’re all interchangeable? I don’t know – but it seems like a high form of hypocrisy that the government basically admits that the minimum wage it enforces isn’t any where close to a living wage. Why not? I would much rather just fulfill my contract with my employer and be justly rewarded & make a decent living than take the government up on their offer (I have been on food stamps in the past, but am not now – i just live within my meager means)

    I’m certainly not against social programs, but it just makes more sense to me that the small business i work for should be supported better to provide the jobs they do. Why add the goddamn middle man to further complicate everything?

  59. worker as interchangeable cog is arguably an American invention. Talk to some older Europeans or Asians and compare.

  60. oh, and I’m quite convinced now that the real opposition to universal health care in the USA is driven by those who want immobile, slave labor, not so much the insurance companies who after all will always make out somehow.

  61. Oh, yes, Takuan, Ebenezer Scrooge was actually a Native American. Him and the King of Belgium, they lived right around the corner from each other in Seattle. I used to go to their potlatches on Thursday nights. All the great industrial robber barons were actually Americans, despite the accents.

  62. RoseLucile,
    Small businesses are nostly exempt from providing healthcare to their employees under the new healthcare reform packages being considered. If I understood the President’s speech correctly, large corporations, like Walmart, will be required to purchase coverage for their employees(though it should be more affordable than it is in the somewhat monopolistic system we have today.)

    Now, if big corps. like Walmart have to raise their prices so that they can afford to cover their employees, fine. Maybe the small businesses will have a better time competing. Don’t you think?

  63. and good old JP himself
    “Early years
    J. P. Morgan in his earlier years.

    Morgan entered banking in 1857 at his father’s London branch, moving to New York City the next year where he worked at the banking house of Duncan, Sherman & Company, the American representatives of George Peabody & Company. From 1860 to 1864, as J. Pierpont Morgan & Company, he acted as agent in New York for his father’s firm. By 1864–1872, he was a member of the firm of Dabney, Morgan & Company; in 1871, he partnered with the Drexels of Philadelphia to form the New York firm of Drexel, Morgan & Company.

    During the American Civil War, Morgan was approached to finance the purchase of antiquated rifles being sold by the army for $3.50 each. Morgan’s partner re-machined them and sold the rifles back to the army for $22 each. These guns were defective and were known to blow the thumbs off of those who used them. While it became a scandal, the military knew it was buying back its own guns and Morgan never even saw the guns, acting only as a lender.[citation needed] Morgan himself, like many wealthy persons, avoided military service by paying $300 for a substitute.[2]

  64. What Did You Learn in School Today?
    Words and Music by Tom Paxton

    What did you learn in school today,
    Dear little boy of mine?
    What did you learn in school today,
    Dear little boy of mine?
    I learned that Washington never told a lie.
    I learned that soldiers seldom die.
    I learned that everybody’s free.
    And that’s what the teacher said to me.
    That’s what I learned in school today.
    That’s what I learned in school.

    What did you learn in school today,
    Dear little boy of mine?
    What did you learn in school today,
    Dear little boy of mine?
    I learned that policemen are my friends.
    I learned that justice never ends.
    I learned that murderers die for their crimes.
    Even if we make a mistake sometimes.
    That’s what I learned in school today.
    That’s what I learned in school.

    What did you learn in school today,
    Dear little boy of mine?
    What did you learn in school today,
    Dear little boy of mine?
    I learned our government must be strong.
    It’s always right and never wrong.
    Our leaders are the finest men.
    And we elect them again and again.
    That’s what I learned in school today.
    That’s what I learned in school.

    What did you learn in school today,
    Dear little boy of mine?
    What did you learn in school today,
    Dear little boy of mine?
    I learned that war is not so bad.
    I learned of the great ones we have had.
    We fought in Germany and in France.
    And some day I might get my chance.
    That’s what I learned in school today.
    That’s what I learned in school.

  65. and the great philanthropist
    “1892: Homestead Strike
    The Homestead Strike

    The Homestead Strike was a bloody labor confrontation lasting 143 days in 1892, one of the most serious in U.S. history. The conflict was centered around Carnegie Steel’s main plant in Homestead, Pennsylvania, and grew out of a dispute between the National Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers of the United States and the Carnegie Steel Company.

    Carnegie left on a trip to Scotland before the unrest peaked. In doing so, Carnegie left mediation of the dispute in the hands of his associate and partner Henry Clay Frick. Frick was well known in industrial circles for maintaining staunch anti-union sensibilities.

    After a recent increase in profits by 60%, the company refused to raise worker’s pay by more than 30%. When some of the workers demanded the full 60%, management locked the union out. Workers considered the stoppage a “lockout” by management and not a “strike” by workers. As such, the workers would have been well within their rights to protest, and subsequent government action would have been a set of criminal procedures designed to crush what was seen as a pivotal demonstration of the growing labor rights movement, strongly opposed by management. Frick brought in thousands of strikebreakers to work the steel mills and Pinkerton agents to safeguard them.

    On 6 July, the arrival of a force of 300 Pinkerton agents from New York City and Chicago resulted in a fight in which 10 men—seven strikers and three Pinkertons—were killed and hundreds were injured. Pennsylvania Governor Robert Pattison ordered two brigades of state militia to the strike site. Then, allegedly in response to the fight between the striking workers and the Pinkertons, anarchist Alexander Berkman shot at Frick in an attempted assassination, wounding Frick. While not directly connected to the strike, Berkman was tied in for the assassination attempt. According to Berkman, “…with the elimination of Frick, responsibility for Homestead conditions would rest with Carnegie.”[26][27] Afterwards, the company successfully resumed operations with non-union immigrant employees in place of the Homestead plant workers, and Carnegie returned to the United States. However, Carnegie’s reputation was permanently damaged by the Homestead events.

  66. This is another reason I am really looking forward to Peak Oil. One of the things that allows Walmart to exist is their leverage with the truckers who are their supply lines. That same leverage is something Walmart could never, ever, get with the freight rail companies. The freights are an obnoxious oligopoly, but their workers are union, well trained, consciencious, and they will never flatten your car on the highway because they’re hopped up on speed trying to make a deadline with a Walmart run.

  67. There are a couple of other issues that have not been mentioned in regards to W-M. I live in a midwest area that has some of the richest farmland in the world. After W-M has gobbled up the market in small communities around the state, driving out local businesses, they close their stores as unprofitable and consolidate into Super Centers. These Centers, like their smaller-town counterparts, are as like as not to be on the edge of the community, in our case on farmland. They then demand (and get) every zoning variance that could possibly apply but ALWAYS landscaping variances so they can dig up every sizeable tree for acres around and replace a few of them with twigs. The city and state governments (you and I) then have to pay for new access roads and traffic lights and lose even more farmland. A huge cheap building is thrown up and everything is asphalted over by non-union labor and voila! no more corn, no more soy beans, no more trees….and there never will be again. Just a ring of rot that moves farther out when the cheap building starts falling apart in 15 or 20 years. But look on the bright side, your kids and grandkids will be able to buy $10.00 big-screen TV’s made by Chinese children and only pay $60.00 for a box of cornflakes. Oh, and does it matter that our great big, diverse country all looks the same now?

    Next, has it escaped everyone’s notice that virtually every poisonous or potentially lethal recalled product from beef patties to peanut butter to pet food to car seats to even an obscure brand of toothpaste all have a common denominator: they were all stocked by W-M.

    W-M and it’s business practices is destroying the very fiber of this country…cheating workers world-wide, customers world-wide, even most stockholders, but the Walton heirs are doing very well, thank you, always on the top billionaires list. And occasionally they are even seen throwing gold coins to the peasants.

  68. Note another thing not directly caused by Walmart but caused in part by them (see topperlove’s post (#95)).

    Because of the product related deaths, and product recalls (mostly lead tainted products made in China in 2007), the US government passed the CPSIA which causes all toy makers to have to have each type of toy they make tested at a cost of $300 to $4000 per product. For many toys and products hand made or made in small runs, this can be and often is more than the profits of a product line over the course of its lifetime, making producing them economically infeasible. For example my wife made one-off hand made puppets and toys. According to the new law, she would have to make one to sell and one to be tested add in the cost of testing — making the cost of a $200 item $800 to $4400 a 4x to 22x increase. It is hard enough getting people to pay a reasonable price due to the walmart mentality of many people.

    In addition, once you have the testing done, making any changes in the product causes you to have to re-test — making product enhancements and improvements cost prohibitive for small companies. Many handmade toys, and small niche products are going off the market because of this so that all of the toys we get are going to be made in China, in large lots — first with cadmium and then with whatever poisonous material makes the production cheaper — each time making the politicians come up with some new law or ‘solution’ probably making the situation worse.

    See: for more information.

  69. I can’t bitch too much. My mother worked at the original Wal Mart store in Bentonville, AR. She became old man Walton’s mistress. When her hands broke out in splotches, she separated from the store.
    Old man Walton paid her $200 per month as a covered on job injury for the rest of her life.

  70. Everyone wants free enterprise and competition until someone does it too well. Other corporations do some of the same things. Whether it’s Costco, Target, Sears,
    Best Buy, they all use sweat shops. Large corporations all impact small businesses. We need to do more to help small business. Small businesses employ far more than large corporations. Cities need to re-think their position when they make these tax incentive offers to corporations to come to their city.

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