Without a doubt, Wal-Mart has become one of the most popular – and controversial – retail stores in America. While many retailers are posting massive losses, Wal-Mart manages to stay ahead of the game. However, the retail giant has not gone without its share of criticism. In the article, “In Praise of Wal-Mart,” Jeremy J. Siegel examines some of the criticism and then points out why some of this criticism is misguided. There are a number of important points covered in the article.
The first area covered is the heavy criticism that has been levied against Wal-Mart over the years. This criticism centers on its lack of union representation, its low wages, lack of healthcare, and damage to “mom and pop” shops throughout the United States. The article, however, goes on to rebuke some of these statements by pointing out the wages are higher on average than what would be earned elsewhere, the generally overall positive working environment, and the great desire from many to work at Wal-Mart.
Another major benefit of Wal-Mart that is pointed out in the article is the low cost of the items it sells and the overall effect on the economy. A simplistic look at the Wal-Mart phenomenon would center on trying to define Wal-Mart as good or bad. Really, the issue is much more than that. Specifically, Wal-Mart is a symbol of goals and needs. For some, Wal-Mart is a godsend. For others, Wal-Mart represents a number of political and ideological differences.
Those that benefit from Wal-Mart’s presence will sing its praises while those that do not while hamper it. Ultimately, whether or not Wal-Mart is a good or bad business model will depend on one’s outlook. For example, for consumers that need a reliable source of low cost or discounted items, Wal-Mart remains a very positive company. When a person overspends on a product or service they lose all the opportunity costs associated with the excess spending. This adds up over time. A dollar here and a dollar there can lead to less clothing or food for one’s children.
As such, the presence of Wal-Mart in a community has numerous benefits for such individuals. Some also may complain about the concept of “sweat shop” labor that Wal-Mart affiliates with in the third world. Honestly, it is difficult to look at this type of labor and not become angry with what appears to be the exploitation of local workers. However, it is also important to point out that the economic advantages available to people in the third world are so limited that such “poor” jobs still present a viable form of employment.
Even the NT TIMES columnist Paul Krugman has pointed this out and he has not always been a huge fan of rampant capitalism and globalization. No, poor working conditions are hardly something to praise but when they are the only alternative to starvation their presence becomes somewhat understandable. For those they may be in need of better employment benefits, Wal-Mart may prove problematic. When an employee needs medical expenses taken care of they will probably not be all impressed with an employer that is delivering below expectations.
Therefore, they would certainly sympathize with any attempts to reform or re-evaluate Wal-Mart’s business practices, unionization policies, and other employee related matters. So, is Wal-Mart a net positive or net negative for the United States? Again, this answer will depend upon where your personal goals and ideologies exist. However, it is difficult to fault a company that has earned huge profits, maintained a loyal customer base, and helps keeps prices low. Obviously, no company can please everyone and Wal-Mart has also shown that it is not even necessary to do so.