Consumers are responsible for consumerism

Well if your logic is that I pay less whereever I shop because of competition with Walmart you are partly right. But on the other hand, I pay more in taxes because of the social services the low-wage economy requires.

It requires a larger scheme of cost-benefit analysis. And like I’ve said at least once, it’s a) probably been done before at least once on these boards and b) isn’t the topic of this thread.

[continuation of hijack]Oh, and I should have added that’s it’s really tendentious to call Global Insight’s reports “independent.” They are commissioned reports, done for Walmart and endorsed by them (as your own link demonstrates), and the validity of the reports has been contested on multiple grounds.
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That’s sort of true, but the cell phone is different from what I am referring to in one important way. It is replacing a technology that has already become ubiquitous in our lives the telephone. So it’s really just an upgrade on something we already use.

The thing about things such as corsets is that their function is purely social. It is conspicuous consumption for its own sake, required not because of its utility but because of an imposed shame if you could not afford one. It existed purely to signify that you were not a member of the classes lower than those who could afford corsets. A cell phone isn’t purely a status symbol, it serves a function besides just status.

That’s debatable, but since it’s not the topic of this thread, I would be happy to debate it in another (or here if the thread is hijacked later on).

Bad example. The same argument could be made for an automobile or washing machine or even electricity. They were once luxury items that have become a necessity because of the power and convenience they provide. Sure there is a “consumerist” aspect to cell phones. Some people “need” an iPhone or Blackberry Storm. But in our highly mobile fast-paced society, it is more than just about keeping up with the Joneses or need for acquiring stuff. Not having a cell phone would place many people at a serious disadvantage in terms of being able to effectively communicate.

Depending on exactly where you draw the line on what constitutes forcing people to work someplace, this isn’t accurate.

Regarding many miserable small-time employers, it might be true that people choose to work there for reasons of competition. But Wal-Mart has developed and exercised a systematic way of displacing other stores and picking up the displaced employees whose options have diminished specifically because of what Wal-Mart has done, at least according to some sources. Wal-Mart’s success may be somewhat the result of efficient operations, but it is also the result of thuggish employment practices that are so pervasive they even cause trouble for local governments. Which is why I haven’t shopped there in 15 or more years, and refuse to give them any money. The several people I know who complain about Wal-Mart’s practices still shop there, and suggest that there is noplace else they can get what they want, or noplace else whose prices are nearly so low. So far, there isn’t anything I wanted or needed that Wal-Mart has and nobody else does. And, while their prices are low, they’re still higher than buying less junk is.

Those are valid arguments, Napier. Still, people working at Wal-Mart are frankly working there for a reason: they don’t have specialized skills or education and supply/demand dictates that since they work in such a job that can be staffed by virtually anyone without significant training, the market is going to say their jobs aren’t worth that high of pay.

I know that Wal-Mart has a terrible tendency to enter a town and destroy small businesses, and that sucks. But at the same time, it’s not like those working at Wal-Mart have no escape or alternatives. Hell, I can barely go a commercial break without seeing a number of technical/vocational schools advertising their services. If people working at Wal-Mart want higher wages, maybe they should aspire to do more than just work at Wal-Mart. At the heart of it, Wal-Mart is a business that just wants to maximize profits. They can’t do that by simultaneously slashing prices and giving employees raises. And one reason Wal-Mart is reluctant to change their position is because there are always people lining up to work the jobs for whatever wage Wal-Mart deems sufficient. In that light, there seems to be little sense for Wal-Mart to want to raise wages.

And also, people with low incomes usually have the highest availability of financial aid when it comes to institutions of higher learning… So I feel in many cases, it’s their own fault for not applying themselves to get the training or education to get a job that pays a decent wage.

A problem is that our economy is changing and many high paying old jobs in fields like manufacturing or professional services (law, engineering, scientific R&D, IT) are being outsourced and the biggest growth in jobs in the US is coming in low wage fields in the service sector. I’m having trouble finding the article, but the most job growth was expected to occur in low wage jobs in service and medical fields.

If I gave you black skin and dropped you off in Alabama in 1820, no matter how hard of a worker or how much education you had you wouldn’t be able to make ends meet. The reality is environment plays a role in how you end up financially. Those same walmart workers making low wages would be upper middle class in suburbia in the 1950s due to manufacturing jobs.

Plus I know a retail manager who works at another big box retailer. She says she gets a lot of people with more advanced educations going through the job where she worked.

I think it’s more their sheer size the impact on the economy, both locally and more broadly. Part of this is aesthetic: I’m not saying this includes you personally, but I imagine the reason many New Yorkers would rather die than live in a town like, say, Bakersfield, is the image of a giant box store centered on a many-acres sea of asphalt, and the utter lack of walkability and car-freedom this type of enterprise furthers. Now, I don’t know much about the retail business, except that it presumably has never been able to pay its workers terribly well, so I don’t want to unfairly single out Walmart in this regard. So it does stand to reason that any retailer needs and depends on a customer base which, in general, is better paid than its own staff. In other words, they need middle and higher earning families to come in and buy much of what they offer for sale. Walmart’s pressure on vendors, IMO, is a significant factor in the rush of manufacturing jobs offshore. In a way they’re pulling the rug out from under their potential higher-end customers by encouraging the elimination of their jobs.

Also they homogenize their merchandise to the cheapest level. Back when stores like Sears or JCPenney were considered the low end, you could buy a cheap pair of jeans say, usually their store brand. Or you could buy genuine Levis if you wanted to spend more money. Walmart offers only the cheapest alternatives, as if to say a poorer consumer who wants to buy the more expensive article, perhaps by cutting back elsewhere, doesn’t matter enough to care about. As a poorer consumer, I would want to be able to choose the sorts of things on which I am willing to spend a little more, or a little less.

Supply and demand in a free market may seem to dictate that, but there is little reason that free market forces should be able to dictate much. It’s our world, and we can legislate change if we think it wise.
Consider that it is the legal system that punishes property crime and therefore enforces the idea of property, which is nothing more than a license to punish other people who try to use your stuff. It is government that provides a system of legal tender for all debts public and private. This is a big complicated manmade system, but it isn’t necessarily natural or inevitable.
Society used to work on the premise that might made right, and people strong enough to, were allowed to do anything they wanted. But this is in the barbaric past, and we have justice, which prevents this kind of abuse.
The abuse, however, has just moved up by one layer of abstraction. People who can gather together enough economic power can move other people around like pawns, ruin their little towns, decide whether they can visit doctors, and more. And they have the governments and legal systems to help enforce their will. Economic influence on government is so completely tacitly acknowledged that nobody doubts it.
I’m very smart and fairly motivated and positive in attitude, but as far as I know these are genetic and/or established by early environment and are in no way a reflection of how deserving I am of rewards. Similar to Wesley Clark’s point, we don’t all get opportunities to aspire to more than Wal-Mart, let alone to succeed at it.
A hallmark of the intense and ever-increasing consumer economy is the idea that it produces a kind of fairness, where people get what they earn, what they deserve. Ayn Rand explained this pretty cleanly in her small book Capitalism: the New Ideal (hope I remembered the title right), and some of Alan Greenspan’s writings when he was so in league with her do too. A further hallmark of this intense consumer economy is the exuberance of the rich and successful. But this has gone way beyond satisfying needs, and for some time has created more needs than it has filled. We are so caught up in this we can’t even think straight. I have 100X more crap than I can lift here with me, not counting the house, the barn, and the cars.
So, it’s our system, and we can arrange and rearrange it as we see fit, and we should be seeing how abusive it is. I don’t know of a replacement for capitalism. As far as keeping people busy and feeding and housing them, it is lousy, but every other system is worse. Regulation and redistribution are important balancing elements, and we should have more. I guess if that gets too weakened, there is still revolution…

Yeah, that’s a very interesting documentary. There’s also a part in it that describes a deliberate tactic of equating free market capitalism with democracy and freedom in general which has turned out to be extremely effective in the US to the point that that even moderate socialism can be described as anti-freedom, anti-democratic and anti-american and people will take it seriously.

I can’t but notice that a lot of people single out Wal-Mart but have no apparent qualms with Target. The card that everyone has in their back pocket is the line about worker’s rights and insurance, but I honestly don’t think their arguments against Wal-Mart would change an iota even if that wasn’t an issue. To me, much of the Wal-Mart hate is a thinly-veiled (and probably unconscious) class argument.

Do you mean that people who say they hate Walmart because of low wages or (as Spectre said) because of homogenized, cheapened goods actually hate Walmart (if they knew their own hearts) because they hate working-class people or working-class culture?

If so, what evidence do you have for that theory?

Stuff White People Like was a hilarious blog from a year or two ago:

:smiley: I thought it was funny and relevant.

All the “free market” dictates is that you may sell your goods and services for as much as you can and you are free to buy goods and services for a cheaply as you can find.

The basic tenant of economics is that there is “no free lunch”. You can enact legislation that attempts to alter natural market forces, however, you do so at the expense of something else and often there are unintended consequences. If you force wages higher, goods will cost more. If you force rents down, owners are less inclined to maintain their properties and developers are less inclined to develop new ones.

Except that it is easier said than done to “arrange and rearrange” the system. The fundamental problem of any system that tries to circumvent the free market is that those who have the power to shape the market, whether it is government or big business or some combination of both, will typically shape it to favor their own interests.

I firmly believe that people’s interests are best served by having choices. Choices between where they can work, what jobs they can work at, and where they buy their goods and services from. I don’t think they are served by being forced into a single choice either by government or big business.

Of course there is economic influence on government. Our government is by the people for the people. When the people can’t find work or can’t pay for goods or services they need, they petition their government for help. Your “little town” is just as reliant on the local corporate headquarters to run their company competantly as they are for the local government to run the town competantly. Probably moreso. The difference is that the company is not responsible to the town like the government is. They are responsible to their shareholders. The company will move its operations to wherever it makes the most economic sense.

The town only exists because there is some economic incentive for people to congregate at that location - natural resources, talent, cheap labor, transportation hub and so on. Since the industrial revolution, the trend has been movement away from small self contained small towns towards large-scale urbanization.

Msmith537, I think I agree with most of what you say. If you are arguing against legislative control of business, I didn’t hear it. If it’s unclear, I wasn’t thinking about how to make the economy more productive, I was thinking about how to reduce the harm it does many people.

One of your statements is confusing, though - “You can enact legislation that attempts to alter natural market forces…” Are you talking about legislation attempting to cause the market forces to change, like increasing taxes on tobacco to try to reduce consumption? Or are you talking about legislation that attempts to alter the outcomes of market forces, like labor laws about health insurance? And what are “natural” market forces - the tendencies of the marketplace when there are laws that the market likes, like those that establish currency and punish debtors, but no laws that the market dislikes, like those preventing pollution and unsafe toys? What would a “natural market” be?

Right, Napier. These kinds of debates really come down to what kinds of interventions we like and what kinds we don’t. Capitalism doesn’t develop and never has developed in a legal or governmental vacuum.

DrCube, my personal favorite “Stuff White People Like” thing is watching The Wire. But Walmart hardly lacks for white customers!

I think, Cagey is right that if there is bias against Walmart by its detractors it’s on class grounds rather than race. But there are so many good reasons to dislike this company that haven’t got a thing to do with either…

A “natural market” as I mean it would be essentially a market where buyers and sellers were free to buy and sell their products without restriction. Note that it may not necessarily be a “perfectly competetive” market (lots of buyers and sellers). Left to their own devices, some industries tend to form natural monopolies (like the cable company).

As for my comment, my point was that when you ennact legislation that changes the market in some way, it may have unintended consequences. For example, after the Enron / Arther Andersen fiasco a few years back, they enacted Sarbanes Oxley (SOX) in an attempt to improve business practices and reporting standards. Well, the problem is that it has create a regulatory environment so complex that companies need to hire even more accountants and consultants to help them navigate the rules. So the question is do these rules actually benefit the economy by reducing fraud and shady accounting practices? Or is SOX just a jobs program for accountants and management consultants that creates unnecessary costs and reduces the competetiveness and flexibility of American firms?

But surely you can’t mean that the nonsense that went on at Enron is acceptable? It was fraud. If what you say about SOX is true then the answer is to simplify the regulatory standards–not to reintroduce the laxness that made the Enron scam possible.

Look what deregulating the financial sector has made possible just lately!

I’m just saying that my theory is that many anti-Walmarters have some unreasonable prejudice against Wal-Mart that they are unable to articulate, so they just find some reason to explain it. For many, it’s the worker’s wages/benefits thing, for others it’s the “cheap junk” argument, for others its the “giant corporation” argument, and for others it’s the “killing and mom and pops” argument. Every single one of these arguments can be leveled against dozens of corporations, grocery stores, mass merchandisers, etc. but for some reason aren’t. I think that it’s because Wal-Mart is not fashionable and its customers are perceived to be low-class, low-cultured, and uneducated-- unlike other companies like for example, Apple, Target, and Ikea. I believe there’s a social pressure for certain classes and social groups to hate Wal-Mart, and so people who fall under those umbrellas hate Wal-Mart out of an (unconscious) need for belonging and to represent the ideals of their in-group members.

I’m sorry Cagey but what you’ve just written is, IMO, based on some very faulty assumptions.

You’re assuming that people who say they hate Walmart because of low wages/benefits, and/or dislike of “cheap junk,” and/or dislike of giant corporations, and/or dislike of killing mom and pops, don’t actually hate any of those practices but only claim to hate them in order to explain some other “unreasonable prejudice” against Walmart of which they are not wholly conscious.

Your reason for this theory is that if people truly hated these practices they would also hate Apple, Target, and Ikea. But that’s only one possible explanation for this alleged disparity–and a rather far-fetched one at that.

For example, Apple is not not only not a store, it’s also not the dominant player in its market (Microsoft would be a better analogy–and is there any shortage of people who hate them?). Apple also works very hard to portray itself as a company whose products should appeal to non-conformists–and it can do this precisely because it is not the dominant player in its market. Walmart would have a truly uphill battle trying to steal that page from the Apple marketing playbook!

Target and Ikea are not as ubiquitous as Walmart and even the relatively ubiquitous Target doesn’t have quite the same impact on mom and pops because of a different strategy of where stores are located. You are right, however, that Target pays workers only marginally better than Walmart does. For a number of reasons Target has–and can have–better PR than Walmart. One reason is doubtless that Target sells goods that seem less like “cheap junk” to a lot of people who shop there. There may well be an element of classism in this distinction. That is, just as Apple presents its identity as non-conformist, so Target goes out of its way to appeal to well-heeled middle-class consumers, presenting its wares as chic and urbane.

But insofar as it’s true that many critics of Walmart are middle-class identified and can therefore be taken in by Target’s middle-class marketing strategy, it doesn’t mean that the anti-Walmart sentiments of these people are illegitimate and not really about low wages or cheap junk or mom and pops at all. It means that some people, simply because they really like what Target has to offer them as middle-class identified consumers, haven’t bothered to get the facts about Target’s employment practices, etc. The middle-class identification with Target doesn’t obviate the genuine dislike of low wages: it merely reveals the hypothetical person in question to be an inconsistent and under-informed political consumer.