One day my neighborhood bank was bought out by a larger bank. The paintings that hung behind the tellers and in the little offices were replaced with advertising posters, and the little common touches that I so enjoyed disappeared. Since then, the bank that bought my bank was bought by another bank which was then bought by another bank, and so the story goes.
You can look at the insurance industry, your local pharmacy, the flower shops, the Mom and Pop variety store--and see that small and independent is being replaced by big and corporate. More and more I don't think this is good. Perhaps because I'm an entrepreneur myself, I believe in small town principles and locally grown businesses. So much of what I purchase--no matter what it may be--is made and imported from China. I don't think this is good either.
Wal-Mart has been at the epicenter of large versus small. While it's true their prices can't be beat, the displacement of independent businesses, American made products, and down town Main Streets is a fact. I don't think this is good either.
I'm not pointing this out to point fingers. In fact, to quote an economist,"Wal-Mart probably doesn't set out with the purpose of destroying lives and wrecking the American economy. The company is trying, in a bigger way than has ever been tried before, to achieve three contradictory goals: pay its workers enough, make its merchandise affordable to almost everyone, and increase value for stockholders. In doing so, it has been both a wild success and an utter failure. In its ultimate inability to satisfy all three goals simultaneously, Wal-Mart mirrors the economy at large."
The following information dates back five years, but it still illustrates how Wal-Mart deals with trade offs among the interests of workers, customers, and shareholders--and how those trade offs domino off each other:
$23,000,000: Average annual compensation for Wal-Mart CEO, 2000-2003
$9.68: Average hourly living wage as defined by 22 of the U.S. cities and towns that passed living wage ordinances between 2000 and 2004
$8.00: Approximate nationwide average hourly wage for Wal-Mart employees .
$6.25: Starting wage for a cashier at the Wal-Mart Super Center in Salina, Kansas, 2003
$12,192: Income earned by a newly hired cashier working 40-hour weeks (more than the 32-hour company-wide average) for a year, with no weekdays off, at the Salina Super Center
$13,994: Minimum annual expenses for bare existence faced by a single cashier with children 4 and 12 who lives in Salina, Kansas
$0.23: Average hourly wage at 15 Chinese factories making clothing, shoes, and handbags to be sold at U.S. Wal-Mart stores, 2001
$420,750: Annual cost to U.S. taxpayers of a single 200-employee Wal-Mart store, because of support required for underpaid workers -- including subsidized school lunches, food stamps, housing credits, tax credits, energy assistance, and health care
45%: Decrease in annual sales of Levi-Strauss clothing from 1996 through the first half of 2003, largely because of competition from less expensive jeans sold at Wal-Mart
6%: Sales increase in the third quarter of 2003, just after Levi-Strauss began supplying jeans to Wal-Mart
60: Number of U.S. clothing factories operated by Levi-Strauss in 1981
2004: The year in which Levi-Strauss planned to close its last two U.S. plants and stop manufacturing jeans, importing them from overseas instead.
Do what you may with this information. Myself--I've decided to make a pledge to support independent artisans and companies and buy handmade, whenever possible, for the rest of the year. I'm looking to Etsy and other resources for the presents I buy and the goods I need.
It's not much, but it's something I can do. And I feel good about it.