Too Mutch

...a safe place to dance with ideas, play with theology, and re-create a life implicated by God

Monday, February 19, 2007

N8's Questions

My compadre NateDog asked a couple of good questions I'll try to answer, though I have to be honest. My motivation is waning tonite...

1. After doing a bit of research, N8 learned that Walmart adds more jobs to a community than it forces out. The research my book shares says is this. Initially, there is a flurry of new jobs--almost all of them created by the 300 or so jobs at the Walmart that is opening. After 5 years, the net benefit of jobs is down to 50 retail jobs. And some additional research shows another 20 jobs are lost to local wholesalers that have been squeezed out. 5 year difference--30 retail jobs. Plus, 4 local retailers have closed down completely, while others have had to lay people off.

But maybe you want to argue "well 30 is still a positive number!" Two additional points need to be made. 1) we haven't considered the loss of supplier and manufacturing jobs. And there are plenty of those being lost. Sure, other companies are taking advantage of China's labor, but Walmart has perfected it and has been a huge catalyst. 2) what kind of jobs are the 30? Low end retail jobs. No benefits. Lower wages. Forced overtime without pay. Being locked in a store beyond your work hours. Is this good for a community?

In the end, a community can expect to maybe 300 Walmart jobs, which are not the worth writing home about. 270 jobs have been lost from the community, likely from retailers that provided a better working environment for their employees--better wages, flexible schedules, better hours, more benefits. Hmmm?

And there is more. Because Walmart pays less and offers fewer benefits (even when they offer health benefits, it is only for the employee, not the family), it really ends up being a financial drain on the community. Fishman reports in his book that one study demonstrated that while the poverty rate in America was dropping from 13% to 10.7% on average, counties that had a Walmart found that their decrease was 10% less than a county that did not have a Walmart. So, we have to ask ourselves, are "Always Lower Prices" worth 30 mediocre jobs and a higher rate of poverty among our community?

It complicated isn't it?? I haven't fully decided how best to live in light of what I'm learning. N8 also asks if there is anything positive we can say about Walmart. Absolutely. The article I posted this weekend seems to indicate that they are taking some positive steps. Are they real steps? For the sake of this world, I hopes so. Hasn't Walmart done a tremendous amount to increase efficiency? It can't be stressed enough that Walmart has wielded its power for the good of the retail, manufacturing and supply trades. The book does cover a number of stories to demonstrate the positive and negative Walmart effects.

I highly recommend the book. Then, maybe you'd like to read another book with me called, "The Small Mart Revolution"--a book about how small businesses are finding success in the face of the big box stores.

How will you decide what to do?
Is it about...
economic savings?

It's complicated. Please commit with me to NOT burying my head in the sand.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Wal-Mart Weekender

I've really been getting some good questions come my way...which helps how I shape the next couple of posts which are designed (hopefully) to help us wrestle a bit with philosophy of economy, spending, etc. with the example of Walmart, b/c it is just crazy to think about the effect Walmart has.

Some of you have told me that you boycott Walmart. Others used to boycott, but no longer do. Well, here's some weekend reading that might help...or confuse...some of that thinking.

The first is an article in the current issue of Sojourner's magazine. You can find it here. you'll have to complete a free registration form that takes about 20 seconds.

The second is an article my Dad sent me a few days ago. Walmart and sustainability? Here

Happy reading.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Walmart--Show Me the $$

Do the economic benefits justify shopping at Walmart??

Certainly, there are lot$ of reasons to shop at Walmart. One stop shopping--assuming the shelves are properly stocked. Great exercise--by the time you have found everything on your list, you've certainly covered some serious terrain and toned your upper body maneuvering the cart through hairpin turns. Maybe all this shopping has you feeling a bit famished--stop into McD's or Subway for a lil' somethin' somethin'. And yes, you can save some sweet moula--even more than selling that new line of polymer cookware and food storage.

How much sweet moula? In 2004, Walmart shoppers spent $124 billion on groceries alone. Should that food have been purchased at other typical supermarkets, it would have cost $146 billion (roughly 15%--a conservative estimate). That's 22 B's. That's a lot of B's no matter how you slice it.

Let's say you are a family of 4 (except I can't think of one family of 4 who reads my blog!), with an annual income of $52K. If you spent $125/wk or $500/mo on groceries at Walmart, they'd end up saving $900/yr...or 7 weeks of free groceries. Who doesn't want free groceries for almost 2 months??

But here is the rub. What are we doing with that $900? Saving it? Putting it in an IRA? Sending an under-privileged neighbor to summer camp? Probably Not. We are probably spending it...and most likely while we are are Walmart.

We have a nearly untreatable virus...most of us do anyways. I do. We want more and we want it cheaper. I want a nicer car, a bigger TV, better coffee, more express lanes, and on and on. And I love getting it for the cheapest price around. It has been a slow growing virus, but it is one that has found its way into nearly every thread of American/Western life. Walmart is certainly not responsible for this, though it has played its part--Always Low Prices. "Buy it, why don't you? It's cheap. The cheapest anywhere. Trust me." And often we do. We buy more than we need. There's one example in the book about Vlasic pickles being sold at Walmart for $2.97 a gallon. A FREAKING gallon of pickles. Who, besides vendors at baseball games, needs to buy a gallon of pickles. Well, who cares. They are only a little more than the 1/2 gallon. It's a great deal. Then we eat half the gallon and throw the rest away. And sleep soundly.

We dream of more. And cheaper, please.

Some of my own conclusions @ this point...
· Paving money is not a good enough reason for me to shop at Walmart. When I admit that I probably don't really SAVE all of those saving and recognize the waste associated, it just doesn't make enough of a difference to shop there for the economic benefit.
· Plus, there are several other serious questions not yet addressed. Is Walmart FOR people? Is Walmart Pro Earth? Does Walmart diminish the creative and entrepeunerial spirit of small business owners? Do communities wither or thrive when Walmart comes to town? Let's keep asking questions, shall we?
· I will say here something that REALLY needs to be said. Some people must shop at Walmart. They NEED the $900/yr to survive and to try to make ends meet. For those that are "working the system" to survive, I champion you. I hope to have the kind of steadfastness you have to embody to make it.
· My call is for those, like me, that have a choice to communicate with our money--vote with our credit cards and check books. Let's ask ourselves if we are shopping responsibly and with strategic inentionality. Let's consider buying less and spending more...and somehow find a prophetic vaccine for the virus that has affected our culture. Let's concern ourselves less with spending thriftly. If you are going to shop, SHOP BOLDLY!

(since my last post, I've gotten some good questions I'll try to address soon, plus an interesting article my Dad sent me about Walmart initiatives that would be Creation-sensitive)

Monday, February 12, 2007

Wal-Mart: Benevolent or Malignant?

I grew up during the BOOM of Wal-Mart. My family loved Wal-Mart. We shopped there for all sorts of stuff. We killed time there. We ran into our neighbors and friends there. I can remember when Wal-Mart broke into the grocery business. The Supercenter. The super-heros of retail. That's what we all thought, anyways. Wal-Mart has saved us a lot of money...and a lot of time. Sam Walton and his hard-working southern angels have somehow--miraculously--saved us.

However, we now find ourselves asking if the super-hero wasn't really the villain. Here is what author Charles Fishman of The Wal-Mart Effect says in response to the question, "What is the Wal-Mart Effect?"

It's an amazing question. It's hard to know even what kind of question it is: A political question? An economic question? A moral question? A values question? The question is really shorthand for a whole set of larger questions...Is Wal-Mart good for America or bad? Is Wal-Mart itself good or bad? When we spend our money at Wal-Mart, are we helping companies and the economy and factory workers along with ourselves? Or are we just adding drops of acid to the corrosion of the very system we value?

This, essentially, is the daunting question that Fishman sets out to investigate. And he does a remarkable job of engaging the reader with great stories and helpful information, without tipping his own hand one way or another. One thing I appreciate about the way he writes is that he does not allow us to consider only half of the issue. He doesn't just throw around popular rhetoric about this super-hero / villain. He gives you all you can handle about the positive and negative implications of this retail giant. No simple apologetic. Complex. Multi-layered. Just how we like our economic, moral, and political issues.

Maybe you are not impressed with Wal-Mart and its gerth. Maybe you are a Michigander and see Meijer competing pretty well with Wal-Mart. Here are some of the rather interesting tid bits from Fishman's book to wet your appetite and to get you thinking a bit.

  • Back in the early 1990's, every bottle of deodorant was sold in a box. Today, you can walk into any store and see that deodorant now comes in the flesh. Wal-Mart told its suppliers to get rid of the box, saving 10M a year--half to you and half to Wal-Mart.

  • Wal-Mart entered the grocery business in about 1990 and mastered it, becoming the #1 grocer in America and now the #2 grocer in Britain. They accomplished this in less than 10 years against supermarket chains that had been masters of their domain for over 50 years. The savings? 15% on average. That's $900/yr for an average family of 4.

  • It's all based on volume. Sell more. Create the taste for more. The average person spends 2G's per year at Wal-Mart. Their profit is a mere $75.

  • How big? Bigger than Home Depot, Kroger, Target, Costco, KMart, and Sears combined. Each year Wal-Mart sells more by St. Patrick's day than Target sells all year long.

  • Wal-Mart is almost solely responsible for taking salmon from delicacy to affordable, common meal @ $4.84/lb.

One thing is clear. If I shop at Wal-Mart, I will save money. But is that my only grid? Is this the only filter I have for deciding what I buy and where I buy it? What about issues of justice and morality? Can we hear the cries of the factory workers here on US soil? Can we hear the cry of the ocean floor wasting away because of the fish farms? Will I spend more of my money because I choose to support a company that pays its employees fair-er wages?

What is my filter? What is my grid?

I'll explore some of these questions and issues in my next couple of posts. I'd love your questions and feedback.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Something I Hate

Once again, I pull up to the laptop with IPA in hand...just before midnight...sporting my reindeer PJ pants...and relaxing in the chair that has been sewn to the carpet so it cannot be moved upstairs. I'd like to offer you something from either The Holy Longing or The Wal-Mart Effect, but I need some time to put that together. I'll come to that tomorrow or Wednesday. Tonite, I'm feeling a bit more contemplative. Bear with me tonite and tune back in later this week for something more juicy.

We lost our soccer game tonite. In fact, we've lost most of them. I HATE LOSING. For lots of reasons. Enough reasons that I probably need a counselor to walk me through them...likely several months worth of sessions. Here are some of the reasons I can come up with on the spot:

  1. I hate being on the short end of popularity...the winners get the attention.

  2. I hate that I can't get to sleep because I'm replaying mistakes in my head.

  3. I hate that others on my team are losing when they might be used to winning.

  4. I hate that I'd almost rather not play than lose.

There's just a few. These are the ones I'm willing to publish on Al's Internet experiment. The truth is, it's really not simply that I hate losing. What I am coming to realize is that I hate (in a righteous anger sort of way) that I hate losing so much. I'm bothered by my hang ups noted above. It frustrates me that winning and popularity and achievement are so vital to my broken soul.

I contemplate this tonite because of recent events. While defeat courses through my veins and inhibits sleep, a friend of ours from seminary was at the hospital with her dad most of the day today touching him and talking to him for the last time as he lay losing a long fight with cancer. We stopped on our way back from Milwaukee today to be with her and her husband for a couple of hours. They (and not I) have reason to lose sleep because of a loss.

We were in Milwaukee this weekend to visit good friends. Actually, great friends, because "good" friends would not warrant a visit to Milwaukee, WI!! Our friends in Milwaukee have good reason to be angry. While I stew about losing a [choice word] soccer game, they wonder why finding a company of friends who will "do life and ministry" with them is so hard to come by. They give themselves away to the care for their beautiful daughter, to academic pursuit, and to cutting edge ministry to the poorest of the poor in Milwaukee. They break themselves and bleed all the time. Yet, so far they have lost out on community. They should be angry. What was that I was angry about again...a 4-2 final?

So, here's to perspective. I'm sure I'll continue to struggle with being competitive and hating to lose games. I'm sure I'll feel some sort of responsibility to make my teamates happy. But tonite (and hopefully more nights to come) I'll lose sleep over something else. Tonite, maybe the thought of Sara holding her dad's hand for the last time will keep me tossing and turning. And with any luck, I won't be able to get the DeFranza's out of my mind...broken for them...wishing they could find a community of people to journey with.

Well, my IPA is nearly done. It's time to sign off and head to bed. Here's to being haunted by the thoughts of my friends. May I find a way to have the same passion for them as I do this game that means nothing more than an hour of exercise and a day of feeling OLD. Lord Help Me.

I hate that I hate losing so much. Yes, Lord Help Me.