Is Walmart Change We Should Believe in?
Peter Lawler is Dana Professor of Government and former chair of the department of Government and International Studies at Berry College. He serves as executive editor of the journal Perspectives on Political Science, and has been chair of the politics and literature section of the American Political Science Association. He also served on the editorial board of the new bilingual critical edition of Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, and serves on the editorial boards of several journals. He has written or edited fifteen books and over 200 articles and chapters in a wide variety of venues. He was the 2007 winner of the Weaver Prize in Scholarly Letters.\r\n\r\nLawler served on President Bush's Council on Bioethics from 2004 – 09. His most recent book, Modern and American Dignity, is available from ISI Books.\r\n\r\nFollow him on Twitter @peteralawler.
1. I was glad to learn from BIG THINKER Daniel that Walmart has become a catalyst for change on the Green or environmental front. That's good news, because what that corporation's brains decide to do makes a big difference.
2. But someone might say that the most important issue might be "social ecology." When Walmart comes to town, do human beings live better as social beings?
3. Walmart is surely, on balance, good for consumers. The stores have a huge variety of stuff at mostly low prices--including, of course, cheap prescription drugs. Walmart might be understood as a blessing for a large American family, especially if both parents have to work. Almost every imaginable need can be efficiently satisfied with one stop.
4. Still, when Walmart comes to town (meaning relatively small town), "Main street" closes down. Locally owned stores--such as hardware and grocery stores--go out of business. People just don't make the choice for quality service and the personal touch over affordable convenience often enough. Main Street is sometimes eventually revitalized, but hardly ever as a retail district. It becomes a fake-historic place full of restaurants, coffee shops, etc., and so not a real center of the social and economic life of the community.
5. So Walmart makes small-town America stupider. The brains of the store are at some undisclosed location, and specific orders are issued to the locals, who are pretty much stuck with doing what they're told. American brainpower is centralizing in the cities. And a Marxist might even say that the sticks are being proletarianized. Marx says that the development of capitalism saves people from rural idiocy (by forcing them into the cities), but he forgot to add it would make the remaining rural people more idiotic.
6. Walmart is a central part of the drab homogenization of country into depressing strip malls. Major urban areas and fancy bourgeois bohemian towns are semi-exluded, but ordinary America is getting increasingly boring and predictable from the perspective of the consumer. From that view, even consumers in general are getting stupider or more easily satisfied.
7. Localities usually just don't have the power to keep Walmart out to defend a particular way of life. So someone might say that Walmart is a main vehicle holding ordinary Americans hostage to the impersonal imperatives of globalization.
I could say more about the case for Walmart, but I thought I'd add a bit of balance to BIG THINK by pushing the case against.
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