The True Cost of Things- Why Walmart S.U.C.K.S. (Senseless Uneducated Consumerism Killing Society) By Richard Baynton
The day Wal-Mart came to town, the townsfolk were downright joyful about it. A huge, brand new, job-providing, property tax paying mega-store planting itself on the edge of the community. And did I mention huge? And amazingly low prices, too! Get the kids! Let’s go shopping!
And they did. Suddenly that $25 widget at the downtown hardware store could be had for a mere $14.95. Incredible! Film developing at the local camera shop was way too expensive now. Prices at the market down the street? Forget about it! Too high compared to the brand new superstore. And the convenience! Food, car batteries, electronics, books, beer, clothes, jewelry, and more, and more, and more… The local unemployed lined up for the new jobs, thrilled at their fresh prospects for a steady paycheck and the self-respect society confers on those with a job. So what if it pays only minimum wage, with minimum benefits . . . it’s a job!
The vast parking lot overflowed, the “deals” crowded like cornucopia in consumers’ carts, and all was well in their world.
Well, sure, there was that “Going Out of Business Sale” sign that appeared in one of the downtown store windows. But only one . . . well, maybe there were two or three after awhile. But no worries. It happens, you know, very sad to see them go, but after all, their prices were always a bit high, so it’s no wonder they went under. The independent bookstore, a fixture for 30 years—the store that people had deeply woven into their life stories—gone. The owners–your neighbors, your friends– moved away, disheartened and disillusioned. The hardware store, that ancient edifice, the old paradigm of personal, knowledgeable customer service—gone. Same with the sporting goods store. One by one, the downtown core, the heart and soul of the business community, dying away. And gradually, as stories of fear and financial failure from friends and acquaintances spread through the town, people finally began to wonder. How did this happen? Why are there no jobs anymore with decent wages? Why are the lines at the unemployment office growing even longer? Why have I lost touch with so many people I used to see downtown every week and share the local news with? Why do I have to drive all the way to the edge of town on a busy stop & go street just to buy something I need?
Too late. This town, this community of decent, hard-working people, was addicted, and they didn’t even know it. Having sold their souls to Wal-Mart’s company store for a cheap consumer high, their fate was sealed. They never realized they were degrading themselves, their friends, their families, and their community—just by going shopping.
The mega-store, the so-called Big Box store (Wal-Mart being the biggest of them all) comes to town with a Big Plan. The plan usually works because “consumers” (known locally as “people”) are so predictable. They want to buy things cheaper. What could possibly be wrong with guaranteed lower prices? Let’s shop!
The Shadow of Low, Low Prices Almost every dollar spent super-shopping immediately leaves town for corporate headquarters out-of-state, never to re-circulate again in the local economy. Life blood lost.
Wal-Mart is so powerful, it usually gets its way through sheer economic force. It can under-price local businesses because it coerces suppliers to cut their costs in order to get the contract with them. As a result, manufacturing jobs fly to places like China, where girls and young women in sweatshops slave under horrific conditions for next to nothing, so Americans can buy cheap clothing & widgets 10,000 miles away. What a deal! The local hardware store, bookstore, sporting goods store, bakery, electronics store, music shop, toy store, food market—all closed through lack of local support because Americans chase those guaranteed lower prices. The local factory—you know, the one that used to manufacture widgets, that used to employ 100 local people at family wages with benefits; the one that was part of the town’s identity? Closed. More life blood lost. Money is the blood of a local economy, and this community is bleeding to death.
And guess what? Your job at the local supermarket is about to be sucked dry, too. You see, Wal-Mart doesn’t pay its employees what you get paid, nor does it give the benefits you receive. So, to remain competitive, your employer has just lowered your pay and cut your benefits! Don’t like it? Not gonna stand for it! Fine, they say. Go try to find anything better in this dying town.
The cycle affects everyone in the community. Everyone is sucked into the downward spiral. And that sound you hear? Yes, indeed, it’s a sucking sound. Wal-Mart is a parasite on the town body. Like a giant tick, it attaches itself to the side of a community, digs in and begins to suck the money out. It entices local folks with goodies at prices unheard of. Like innocents entering an opium den, people succumb to the illusion of prosperity, not realizing the enormous price to be paid soon after. Everything sinks to the lowest denominator (or is that dominator)—wages, prices, products, and services. Until most people have to shop there, because either they can’t afford to do otherwise, or there’s no other widget stores left.
Maybe that $14.95 widget wasn’t so cheap, after all.
Every purchase is political. Every purchase affects the environment. Every purchase is your conscience. Every purchase is a vote. Every purchase is a prayer. Every purchase matters. Buy local. Buy little. Buy organic. Live in the world you want to create. Create the world you want to live in.
Richard Baynton is a co-founder of Alternatives Magazine. He lives in Eugene with his family and can be reached at [email protected].