Re: Walmart et al

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Hey Heebie, you should use parentheses more.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 11-18-13 2:56 PM
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Yeah, a surprising number of totally straightforward labor-organizing procedures are illegal, or else are impossible because it's legal to fire everyone who considers organizing.

This is also one of those cases where everyone benefits from familiarity with what things are like in other countries.


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 11-18-13 3:02 PM
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I'd successfully boycotted Walmart for ages until I recently broke my prohibition on sending Rowan cash and have been doing just that through Walmart, since that's the only mechanism he has set up to get anything. It's genius that Walmart gets its hooks into a tiny town like that, and it's hard to imagine many young people in that sort of place organizing against something that employs their family and friends and is the place they get their steel-toed boots and fast-food uniform pants and shelf-stable groceries, just to take some examples I've bankrolled in thr last few months.


Posted by: Thorn | Link to this comment | 11-18-13 3:04 PM
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Our local charity monster did the same thing.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 11-18-13 3:05 PM
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Dumb question - are the strikes in other countries (all I ever remember hearing about are public transit strikes) generally considered to be effective? As in, maybe they are and maybe they aren't, but does public opinion take the form "Solidarity!" or "This is a fucking nuisance!" or (undoubtedly) somewhere in between?


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 11-18-13 3:05 PM
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it's hard to imagine many young people in that sort of place organizing against something that employs their family and friends and is the place they get their steel-toed boots and fast-food uniform pants and shelf-stable groceries, just to take some examples I've bankrolled in thr last few months.

That feels very much like an owe-your-soul-to-the-factore-store kind of situation.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 11-18-13 3:06 PM
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One of the other places I've seen this points out that the total Walton family wealth is $150 billion.


Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 11-18-13 3:11 PM
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Walmart has 2M employees.
Net income last year was $17B.
That's $8500 per employee if it's all given to them.
So let's say they make a cool $9B net income, they can give everyone a $4000 average raise (and they'll probably get more post-tax income than $9B because the money spent on wages would reduce taxes they currently pay.)


Posted by: SP | Link to this comment | 11-18-13 3:19 PM
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For the sake of argument, I wonder how for many years you could pay all associates, say, $45K strictly out of the Walton's personal wealth. Maybe leave each Walton with one billion for funsies. I don't know how many associates there are.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 11-18-13 3:21 PM
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This says two million employees. So say 50K, that makes $100,000,000,000 in wages per year. So about a year and a half. STILL, obviously those people weren't formerly earning zero and obviously some of that money would flow right back into Walmart.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 11-18-13 3:24 PM
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Wiki says 80% of the 2M are associates. At $45k/year, that's about 2 years you could pay them all with a pot of $150B.
According to corporate filings, they spend ~$120B/yr on operating expenses (everything except the cost of the merchandise.) Any idea how much of that is compensation vs. depreciation, etc.?


Posted by: SP | Link to this comment | 11-18-13 3:31 PM
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Looting the Waltons will at least tide us over until we come up with a better plan. Like the sequester in reverse.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 11-18-13 3:38 PM
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The average "full-time" employee makes $25K. So if we're only subsidizing them up to $45K, we can loot the Waltons for over four years.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 11-18-13 3:40 PM
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Our local charity monster did the same thing.

Wow . . . that article has a completely appropriate amount of venom.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 11-18-13 3:41 PM
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it's legal to fire everyone who considers organizing

IANALaborL but I'm pretty sure this is not true. Of course what's legal and what companies like Walmart can get away with are two different things.

It's Walmart's fault that I spent four+ hours of my Sunday yesterday sitting in the airport. Bastards. But this stuff is pretty bad, too.


Posted by: potchkeh | Link to this comment | 11-18-13 3:41 PM
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Dumb question - are the strikes in other countries (all I ever remember hearing about are public transit strikes) generally considered to be effective?

Not at all a dumb question!

Answer:Not very effective.

You can google Greece everyday if you want to watch a process, pretty much a constant street demonstration. Banksters and social democrats just vampirize a little more slowly and quietly.

They get results in China, and other places where production matters.

Probably find some stories about Brazil if you look.

("The Coming Revolution" will start with a twitterblast, and 2 billion will relax in their cubicles and light up and chug down til Capital surrenders. Sers. Like an anarchic party. Like...Occupy in situ. The tribes will not be gathering.)

it's legal to fire everyone who considers organizing

So disorganize. Everything.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 11-18-13 3:48 PM
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If the Walton's $150B makes a 7% ROI, and in addition we use the net profit that accrues to them as 50% shareholders, to bring everyone's income from 25k to 45k we can loot them for... look, it's Halley's Comet!


Posted by: SP | Link to this comment | 11-18-13 3:49 PM
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I wonder what their ROI really is.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 11-18-13 4:02 PM
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Investments in politicians can easily return an ROI anywhere between 50% and 20,000%.


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 11-18-13 4:05 PM
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I see isaylegs is all bent out of shape. Presumably by morning he'll have realised the answer is to give Walmart more of whatever it wants.

The best thing John Prescott ever did was the planning regulation that basically killed new big box shopping in the UK, about five minutes after Walmart bought in.


Posted by: Alex | Link to this comment | 11-18-13 4:07 PM
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It's pretty disgusting. Also disgusting that the official "holidays" are not actually holidays, just days that government workers get off and by increasingly-disregarded custom others did too.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 11-18-13 4:12 PM
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Employees shall have the right to self-organization, to form, join, or assist labor organizations, to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing, and to engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection. . .

That's the first part of Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act. Per Section 8, it's illegal to interfere with employees' exercise of their Section 7 rights. But most of the time employers get away with it, or they're punished with a slap on the wrist a couple of years after they commit the violation.


Posted by: Bave | Link to this comment | 11-18-13 4:14 PM
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11: I read that as more like $90B in actual operating expense; I think the before-tax profit is also in the $120B.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 11-18-13 4:15 PM
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This looks intriguing: "Worker Centers Offer a Backdoor Approach to Union Organizing:
Community Groups Aren't Restricted by National Labor Laws Governing Unions." (Sorry for the WSJ headline, but the article is interesting.)


Posted by: torrey pine | Link to this comment | 11-18-13 5:41 PM
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I was a unionist because I believed in capitalism. The failure of capitalism has also made me suspicious that unionism is the solution.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 11-18-13 8:14 PM
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The failure of capitalism has also made me suspicious that unionism is the solution.

If you find the answer to that, tell Sam Gompers. If you're looking for the answer, ask Eugene Debs.

Oh fuck, too late!


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 11-19-13 2:49 AM
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The word "unionist*" is giving me some cognitive whiplash here but I can't think of a good alternative, partly because it seems obvious to me that unions are a great idea for workers. Being against them seems like being against clean water, or perhaps vaccines would be a better ... analogy ... Ok, I'll get my coat.

*Can't remember now what English writer it was who remarked that it would not go down well to address the licensee of an Irish pub as "landlord". Nowadays them's no longer fighting words, though.


Posted by: emir | Link to this comment | 11-19-13 4:08 AM
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The word "unionist*" is giving me some cognitive whiplash here

British English (and I would imagine Irish English as well?) uses "trade unionist", presumably for exactly this reason...

There's the same problem, of course, with "Republican", which to an American would mean "demented political extremist who supports torture and thinks the answer to every policy issue is to blow stuff up", but over here means something completely different.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 11-19-13 4:41 AM
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Here's a page from the TUC's official "find your union" site: http://www.worksmart.org.uk/unionfinder/industry.php?mar=27


Posted by: Alex | Link to this comment | 11-19-13 5:13 AM
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Dumb question - are the strikes in other countries (all I ever remember hearing about are public transit strikes) generally considered to be effective?

It depends very much, but the cleaners strikes in the Netherlands of a few years ago were cleverly organised (strike model imported from the US even) to put pressure on highly visible employers (railways, public office buildings) to win concessions for the whole branch and force the users of cleaning services to take ownership of how these services treated their employees.


Posted by: Martin Wisse | Link to this comment | 11-19-13 5:15 AM
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25,26:This ain't 1880 Chicago, and you ain't Samuel Gompers.

The way I figure, at a first easy attempt, is that with multiples of the population of 1880, and no loss of individual initiative, if we don't have a Gompers or Heywood or Lewis, it's because current material and social conditions are radically changed, and unions are no longer viable. You might be able to create a local instance, but you can also create a family farm as an exercise in nostalgia.

And I don't really view this as a right-wing or corporate or neo-liberal suppression. Didn't stop Bill Heywood. Workers have more agency than that, and social conditions are created in a dialectic.

In Japan...ok, in Japan they have tried to organize precarious workers (which are many of us now, including at Walmart) with very little success. What has helped a lot is the creation of aid and service sites, small places providing databases of legal options for individuals. This ain't so great, in that it is a cost-shift and a time consumption. Part of precarity is the labor time expended by the worker in getting employed and remunerated.

Historical materialism doesn't move backwards. Unions make about as much sense as bowling leagues. Ain't gonna happen. Look at the socialities we are currently creating, and try to use them.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 11-19-13 5:47 AM
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27, 28. In Britain of course you can be a republican and a unionist at the same time without any difficulty, which may cause cognitive dissonance in Ireland.


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 11-19-13 5:53 AM
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Or indeed in America.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 11-19-13 6:15 AM
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28: yes, of course, though I think of "trade unionist" as someone actively involved in their union, whereas I thought "unionist" above meant "believer in unions' being essential".
Republican is definitely a dirty word, unless in the British small-r sense (and don't mention Cromwell to me, either).


Posted by: emir | Link to this comment | 11-19-13 6:20 AM
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a href='http://alicublog.blogspot.co.uk/2013/11/and-then-de-blasio-made-out-with.html'>Oh, hey, bob. Heightening the contradictions? Hope they gave you a good per-word rate.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 11-19-13 6:21 AM
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a href='http://alicublog.blogspot.co.uk/2013/11/and-then-de-blasio-made-out-with.html'>Oh, hey, bob. Heightening the contradictions? Hope they gave you a good per-word rate.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 11-19-13 6:21 AM
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I think of "trade unionist" as someone actively involved in their union, whereas I thought "unionist" above meant "believer in unions' being essential".

Good point. I'm not sure we have an equivalent, in that case. Probably didn't need one until recently, any more than Americans need a word for "republican".


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 11-19-13 6:26 AM
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I like to yank my friends' chains by calling myself a republican, and then complaining that they couldn't hear the distinct lower case r when I said it.


Posted by: Jasper Fnorde | Link to this comment | 11-19-13 6:54 AM
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I wonder what their ROI really is.

Wal-Mart's ROI* seems to be in the general area of 17-19% in recent years.

*Which isn't what you asked about


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 11-19-13 6:59 AM
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I'd successfully boycotted Walmart for ages.

I was thinking about this. I can feel all self-righteous that I am spending my money at Costco and not at Walmart. But really, I was doing that long before I knew Costco does generally well in terms of corporate responsibility and Walmart is Satan's retailer because Costco is also awesome and Walmart makes mme feel like I need a bath. Continuing my normal consumer habits isn't really making a difference for anyone but me.

What could make a difference? What if we all were super organized and actually go to Walmart on Thanksgiving and buy so much stuff that all the people who normally buy so much stuff can barely get through the lines? And then go back on Black Friday and return all the stuff?


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 11-19-13 8:39 AM
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What if we all were super organized and actually go to Walmart on Thanksgiving and buy so much stuff that all the people who normally buy so much stuff can barely get through the lines? And then go back on Black Friday and return all the stuff?

You would be indistinguishable from my students who gleefully plan their shopping onslaught, filled with intricate details of what gets returned under which circumstances in order to secure the best deal ever on a flat screen TV. There is an extensive mythology of The Dude Who Paid Less Than You'd Ever Believe built around Black Friday.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 11-19-13 8:56 AM
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40. Elect effective DAs, agitate for prosecutors with spines. WalMex paid bribes, and no individual in US management is likely to be punished as a consequence. It's pretty clear that US management knew or should have known, the General Counsel of WalMart international reported inside the company and resigned in 2006 because management didn't care enough to respond.

RJ Daley would destroy businesses that didn't play along by showering them with inspectors, much the way that Texas is now shutting down clinics. The same tactic (detailed enforcement of existing laws) could be applied now.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 11-19-13 9:14 AM
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whoops linkfail in previous comment


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 11-19-13 9:16 AM
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This is not to mount any kind of defense of WalMart, just an observation.

My...errmmm....some people I know who are very plugged in with the senior executives at WalMart report that those guys truly, sincerely believe that their company is the best thing that ever happened to poor people in America. The way they see it, as real incomes have stagnated in the last three decades, the one thing that has given the bottom half of the income distribution any growth in purchasing power at all (apart from unsustainable consumer credit) is the lower cost of merchandise engineered largely by WalMart. When John Edward told his story on the campaign trail of the little girl who couldn't afford a winter coat, it seemed off-key and anachronistic precisely because winter coats are vastly cheaper in real terms than they were in the 70's. The "Save Money, Live Better" slogan is a 100% accurate representation of how management perceives the company's mission. So I have heard, anyway.


Posted by: Kevin Rudd | Link to this comment | 11-19-13 9:49 AM
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^s


Posted by: Kevin Rudd | Link to this comment | 11-19-13 9:54 AM
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Great. The wonder of the human mind is its resilience. For instance, management can stop paying bribes in order to open more stores, and also allow their clerks to organize, both while simultaneously believing anything they wish.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 11-19-13 10:00 AM
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35, 36: Probably safe to assume that the Manhattan Bob McManus and the Dallas, Texas Bob McManus are different people.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 11-19-13 10:07 AM
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44: I don't doubt that the senior management at WalMart drink their own Kool-Aid, but so do a lot of people in power who are screwing the less fortunate. There are plenty of Republicans who honestly believe that the best thing that could happen to a person on welfare is to be forced to take a shit job as the first step on the road to bootstrapping themselves into the middle class.

I bet that WalMart senior management view employees as effectively enemies in the grand quest to bring low cost stuff to the masses.


Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 11-19-13 10:08 AM
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48 last: Nah, WM senior management views themselves as very unusually (relative to most of corporate America) connected to the needs of their rural working class customers and employees, with some plausibility, as a very high percentage of them rose through the ranks. They also believe that Chairman Walton gave to them infallible techniques for running a happy company where people who otherwise couldn't get work work a few hours at a time, and people like them have a chance to succeed, and most of their employees agree except for a few whiners and agitators. I mean, this is all nonsense, but it's sincerely believed.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 11-19-13 10:20 AM
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There is an extensive mythology of The Dude Who Paid Less Than You'd Ever Believe built around Black Friday.

I find this oddly fascinating.


Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 11-19-13 10:21 AM
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WM senior management views themselves as very unusually (relative to most of corporate America) connected to the needs of their rural working class customers and employees, with some plausibility, as a very high percentage of them rose through the ranks.

Heck, I'm willing to believe that they are unusually connected to the needs of rural and working class customers. There are real benefits to being the target market for a well-run company, and I believe that Wal Mart delivers those benefits. Which just goes to emphasize the difference between what a for-profit company is likely to offer, compared to what one could get from favorable public policy. . .


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 11-19-13 10:31 AM
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some people I know who are very plugged in with the senior executives at WalMart report that those guys truly, sincerely believe that their company is the best thing that ever happened to poor people in America. The way they see it, as real incomes have stagnated in the last three decades, the one thing that has given the bottom half of the income distribution any growth in purchasing power at all (apart from unsustainable consumer credit) is the lower cost of merchandise engineered largely by WalMart.

Hell, plenty of rural and working class people truly and sincerely believe the same thing.


Posted by: urple | Link to this comment | 11-19-13 10:41 AM
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They're responsible for some part of the lowering of living standards wherever they set up shop, but they also get more than their share of the blame and attention for the effects of the last 40 years of redistribution.


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 11-19-13 10:54 AM
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They're responsible for some part of the lowering of living standards wherever they set up shop

I'm really not sure this is true, once increased purchasing power (and, especially in rural communities (and doubly-especially pre-internet), dramatically expanded merchandise selections) is factored in. I'm sure it's true in some communities, particularly those that previously had active small local retail business communities, but "wherever" seems like a real overstatement.


Posted by: urple | Link to this comment | 11-19-13 11:01 AM
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Why did the catalogues weaken long enough for Amazon, etc., to seem so new? Did they get complacent? Did they need a threshold rural population that we dropped below twenty years ago? That seems too recent, but I know a reasonable number of rural people who grew up on Montgomery Ward or Sears catalogues. Did satellite towns and off-farm employment make big-box stores more accessible?


Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 11-19-13 11:19 AM
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I think the Walmarts of the world were what crippled the Montgomery Ward and Sears catalogues. Montgomery Ward and Sears catalogues were wonderful when they were literally the only way for certain populations to buy a wide variety of goods (without travelling to the "big city" to shop), but most people don't like waiting weeks for delivery. Especially not when you can go get the same thing cheaper from Wal-mart.

Amazon delivery is much faster than the catalogues of old.


Posted by: urple | Link to this comment | 11-19-13 11:26 AM
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54: Hmm, "wherever" was an exageration. I still believe on average they function to make most people poorer, but I'm basing that on prejudice and half-remembered papers. Not perhaps the most reliable sources.


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 11-19-13 11:28 AM
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Speaking of organized labor, an interesting profile of the policy director of the AFL-CIO by Lydia DePillis.

Damon Silvers still remembers the pickles. In 2011, at a roundtable discussion in Durham, N.C., the President's Council on Jobs and Competitiveness showcased biotech firms that weren't planning to hire anybody, remnants of the textile industry, and an artisan pickle maker. Silvers, the policy director of the AFL-CIO, concedes that the jobs council was celebrating some wonderful entrepreneurial people. But really, he says, it was evidence of a collapsing industrial economy and a president who seems to have given up on pushing a comprehensive progressive agenda.

"If we become a society of a handful of biotech engineers working for companies that are going to move jobs overseas and the rest of us are fighting for jobs stuffing pickles into jars, that's not the kind of place you want to live," he says.

. . . .

Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 11-19-13 11:31 AM
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Having been raised in a family that did much of its shopping in the Sears or Montgomery Ward catalogs, the idea they were somehow a proto-Amazon seems wrong. For one thing, I was only able to buy books only twice a year during my childhood. Waldenbooks was a rare treat.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 11-19-13 11:32 AM
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One of our rituals as kids was to mark up a catalog (Penney's I think) with all of the things we might possibly want for Christmas--their Xmas version*. I'd select like 30. I don't think anyone in the house bought them that way, however.

* Ha! And here's many of the toy pages from what looks to be the complete 1966 catalog. Midday nostalgia hit (although a few years past my prime catalog-marking days).

.. and then there were the Bumpuses next door ...


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 11-19-13 11:38 AM
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We always drove a mall to do Christmas shopping, but I think everybody did this. It was two hours to a shitty mall and three and a half to a good one.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 11-19-13 11:44 AM
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54, 57 -- There's certainly some (good but not decisive) evidence that WM has been a net destroyer of jobs and a significant net reducer of wages, also here, and, given that they're also an extremely low wage employer, the increase in purchasing power through lower prices to the consumer alone would have to (I think) be pretty overwhelming to make up the difference in most locations. Surely 54 is right that "wherever" is an exaggeration but it may not be a huge one.

There's also a prior question of whether it's reasonable to simply net out being able to buy, e.g., cheaper socks, vs. job loss, destruction of local retail, etc.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 11-19-13 11:46 AM
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Amazon delivery is much faster than the catalogues of old.

While it was getting established, Amazon delivery was like everyone else's, though -- from a few warehouses through the mails. How could that be faster than calling up Sears and putting in an order? Because of paying with checks instead of credit cards?

No books in the Sears catalogues is an example of the long tail that Amazon/the web do so well. But did the physical stores accessible to people who had been shopping with catalogues have long-tail merchandise? I don't remember Waldenbooks all that fondly.

DId Wal-mart took over the market for cheap necessities, so the catalogues were doing ever more poorly and couldn't supply obscurer merchandise, so online stores got a foothold?


Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 11-19-13 11:49 AM
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62: There's no question that Walmart is an evil stain and a huge net negative for society. But it's hard to believe they "lower living standards" wherever they're set up, especially when we're talking about very rural areas (which is where they were concentrated for their first few decades). They were introducing consumer goods in places that literally didn't have them. And you can't meaningfully lower average retail wages in rural communities that have no real retail sector to speak of.

It's their 1988 and after growth into the suburbs of larger towns and cities where they did their real damage. But they were already a huge company by that point.


Posted by: urple | Link to this comment | 11-19-13 11:58 AM
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How could that be faster than calling up Sears and putting in an order?

I have no idea why, but Sears was very slow to delivery by the 80s. I gather they used to be faster.

DId Wal-mart took over the market for cheap necessities, so the catalogues were doing ever more poorly and couldn't supply obscurer merchandise, so online stores got a foothold?

I don't think that cheap necessities were something catalog companies every did. As far as clothing goes, I think on-line stores got a foothold because in much of the country selection was shitty otherwise.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 11-19-13 12:01 PM
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They were introducing consumer goods in places that literally didn't have them. And you can't meaningfully lower average retail wages in rural communities that have no real retail sector to speak of.

They certain introduced a greater variety of consumer goods, but they weren't putting stores in places where there wasn't already a near by downtown filled with previously existing stores.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 11-19-13 12:03 PM
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I'm not disputing that Walmart destroyed America. I'm just clarifying that a lot of people benefitted along the way (other than just Walmart executives).


Posted by: urple | Link to this comment | 11-19-13 12:04 PM
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I'm not sure it really worked that way. Retail was shitty for a long time in rural areas, but so was internet. I expect that online vending got it's biggest early bump from people in places like NYC/DC who are (a) in front of a lit computer all day and (b) don't have time or energy to waste on going out to the malls in the suburbs.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 11-19-13 12:05 PM
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68 is probably right. I was out of the rural area before the internet really hit.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 11-19-13 12:08 PM
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they weren't putting stores in places where there wasn't already a near by downtown filled with previously existing stores

I suppose it depends on what you mean by "downtown". (And "filled".) Their first store was in Rogers, Arkansas, which had a population at the time of about 5,000 people. Sure, there's probably a general store, and a grocery, and a pharmacy and a hardware store. Etc. But not much else, and certainly nothing with the selection of a Walmart.


Posted by: urple | Link to this comment | 11-19-13 12:10 PM
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I lived the first 18 years of my life in a town of about 5,000 people. There were three grocery stores, two general stores, three pharmacies (one in a grocery store), two hardware stores, two farm supply stores, a gun store, and a couple of furniture/appliance stores. Nothing matched the selection of Walmart, but there were hundreds of jobs involved.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 11-19-13 12:15 PM
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And about ten bars.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 11-19-13 12:17 PM
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Walmart is standing in for a whole bunch of changes, the world has changed even without that company's unique cutting-edge innovations.

Ceteris paribus conditions are not obvious-- for instance, companies that sell incredibly shitty clothing very cheaply (Old Navy, H+M) that looks OK for only two or five wearings, these basically did not exist in the US until the 90s. Technology advances also-- from the link in 60, a battery-powered tape recorder cost about as much then in real terms as an ipod does today.

I would be really interested in reading about the inventory control databases various large retailers have used through the decades, but it's a legitimate trade secret. K-mart's is I think still broken. Writing a new one from scratch is IMO a huge competitive advantage.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 11-19-13 12:19 PM
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52: Most trades unionists that I talk to like to grumble about the percentage of union members who vote Republican.

71: I think it depends a lot on the town. Pace that 13 Americas map that was going around, your 5,000 person town that is 2 miles from a fancy liberal arts college is a lot different than your 5,000 person town that used to have 25,000 before the plant closed down 10 years ago.

I dunno, I've always found Wal-Mart vile, and only shopped there twice when I was in college (in a 3,000 person tertiary college town that still had a shoe store, a book store, a work-clothes store, a hardware store, at least one large supermarket, and lots of boutiques and what not). But for a lot of people, it's just way more realistic to buy there than drive an extra hour or two to get to Target or Costco or whatever. Plus then there's Sam's Club in the bigger markets. That draws lots of urbanites who would turn up their nose at shopping at regular Wal-Marts. And yet, Sears/K-Mart still hangs on.


Posted by: Natilo Paennim | Link to this comment | 11-19-13 12:23 PM
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Walmart is standing in for a whole bunch of changes, the world has changed even without that company's unique cutting-edge innovations.

In much discussion, sure, but the net-job loss/net-wage-reduction stuff linked to above tries to account for some of those factors.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 11-19-13 12:27 PM
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This is a somewhat interesting read on the history of the catalog and "mail order" history (but scattershot on t statistics--I require charts and/or tables, dammit). Some points--they ays only about 1% retail sales in the '60s, grew to about 3% by 1990 and mention the rise of general-purpose credit cards through that period as a big enabler (something I would not have thought of).


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 11-19-13 12:27 PM
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To the OP, I just don't know anymore. The US left, such as it is, is still undercut by unchallenged white supremacy (of which call-out culture is just the most recent ironic example). There are a lot of people doing really sincere, high-energy organizing work -- Occupy Homes, IWW, various worker community orgs, SEIU, Unite-HERE, scattered Greens and Socialists and what not. It's hard to make much of an impact with your one little sledgehammer against the giant apartheid wall of US-hegemonic multi-national/post-national capitalism though.


Posted by: Natilo Paennim | Link to this comment | 11-19-13 12:28 PM
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Huh. You grew up in a much more bustling town of 5,000 than I did.


Posted by: urple | Link to this comment | 11-19-13 12:30 PM
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78 to 71/72. Although now I'm wondering if my town actually may have been a lot smaller than 5,000. I never counted, and the town's Wikipedia page doesn't list population.


Posted by: urple | Link to this comment | 11-19-13 12:31 PM
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78: It was a county seat and the largest town for over an hour in any direction.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 11-19-13 12:31 PM
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And in today's edition of "They Only Call It 'Class War' When We Fight Back": http://www.alternet.org/state-rep-smashes-homeless-peoples-stuff-sledgegammer


Posted by: Natilo Paennim | Link to this comment | 11-19-13 12:35 PM
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81 makes me want to smash something with a sledgehammer. Christ, what an asshole.


Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 11-19-13 12:58 PM
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Until WWII or so, Sears invested a lot in infrastructure for fast shipping. The Seattle building used to have a rail spur running *through* it. (Sadly, I don't believe Amazon ever moved into that building, although Starbucks did.)

Stormcrow's link (thank you!) is pretty terse about everything until the 1980s, but suggests that urbanization undercut the catalog companies in the 1950s and 1960s. Cute factoid: the origin of mail-order sales to Aldus Manutius' catalog. I've never had an Amazonian mention that to me.

lw, Zola's _Au Bonheur Des Dames_ has a lively description of their paper-slip tracking and databasing system. A competitive advantage, as you say.

Odd niche: seed and start catalogs. Vital for mental health in dark winters, almost all now with online versions, and very poorly databased. I would love to search for `fragrant, zone 8, mid-sun, 12-24 inches' and usually can't.


Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 11-19-13 1:00 PM
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`fragrant, zone 8, mid-sun, 12-24 inches'

Try OK Cupid and maybe give up a bit on the size-queen stuff.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 11-19-13 1:06 PM
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83.1: So did the Mpls distro center/retail store (headquarters of the catalog division). The warehouse part (which was remodeled in the 1980s, I believe) is still a warehouse, though only for trucks, and the offices are a health insurance company, loft apartments and some other various offices, with the retail part being a mini-mall space for micro-businesses and restaurants. The food court area rivals the Lake St. Target and the Lake St. YWCA as the place where the elite meet to eat and greet in S. Mpls. The last time I was there to meet a friend I saw 4 other people from various social circles I am part of.


Posted by: Natilo Paennim | Link to this comment | 11-19-13 1:23 PM
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83.3 Thank you.

Both Griffo and Eric Gill were apparently monsters, while the designers of Comic Sans and some of the most hideous Monotype fonts were apparently great people.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 11-19-13 1:25 PM
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Ben Franklin!

In 1744, Franklin published "A Catalogue of Choice and Valuable Books, Consisting of Near 600 Volumes, in most Faculties and Sciences," whose title page laid out the terms of sale for the titles he offered, which ranged from treatises on law and philosophy to works of poetry. His sale was to start at 9 a.m. sharp on April 11, and would last for three weeks "and no longer." Terms were cash only. Notably, the printer, publisher and postmaster allowed people outside of town the opportunity to purchase the books, as well: "Those Persons that live remote, by sending their Orders and Money to said B. Franklin, may depend on the same Justice as if present. [emphasis added]"


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 11-19-13 1:30 PM
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Startling, now, to have the number of physical copies of the books be strictly limited.


Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 11-19-13 1:40 PM
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ISTM there is some extent to which Walmart did create value for consumers by making logistics a lot more efficient. But the majority comes out of people's pockets elsewhere - not just through their own low wages, but through the ripple effects they create by squeezing their supply chain, other companies emulating them, etc.


Posted by: Minivet | Link to this comment | 11-19-13 2:12 PM
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Speaking of pickles, and Wal-Mart: Wal-Mart and pickles. (The article's 10 years old, so probably everybody's read it, but still.)


Posted by: x.trapnel | Link to this comment | 11-19-13 3:34 PM
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I've met W/erner V/ogels, A/mazon C/TO. He uses the word "selection" (presumably because Auswahl in German) about every other sentence. "Scale" and "platform" more often.


Posted by: Alex | Link to this comment | 11-19-13 3:54 PM
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He uses the word "selection" (presumably because Auswahl in German) about every other sentence.

The equivalent German word is actually Sortiment. You might find the phrase "Grosse Auswahl an..." in an advertisement for a retailer, but never in management-speak.


Posted by: knecht ruprecht | Link to this comment | 11-19-13 5:05 PM
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Amazon delivery is much faster than the catalogues of old.

IT'S A LOT HARDER TO WIPE YOUR ASS WITH AN OLD AMAZON CATALOGUE. I BET YOU JUST BUY TOILET PAPER, YOU SPENDTHRIFT WHIPPERSNAPPERS!


Posted by: OPINIONATED GRANDPA | Link to this comment | 11-19-13 9:33 PM
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A facebook friend (someone I know from HS) just wrote "I will be boycotting Walmart indefinitely if possible! They make me sick. This honoring Black Friday adds of other companies starting tomorrow is WRONG beyond words!!!! I hate that store to begin with... Now my dislike runs even deeper! BOOM!"


Posted by: Thorn | Link to this comment | 11-22-13 7:23 AM
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That seems kind of strange.

"I was fine with exploiting workers, but starting the holiday shopping season early is something I just won't tolerate."


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 11-22-13 7:39 AM
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"I was fine with exploiting workers, but starting the holiday shopping season early is something I just won't tolerate. BOOM!"


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 11-22-13 7:44 AM
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She clarified in the comments, "I never shop there either but I will literally boycott and put out bad press now! It's not right ! Small business is important to our economy and to our community! Walmart stands for greed! Wow... I never posts rants on FB but it seriously makes me so mad!"

So maybe she did already care about workers and other problems. (BOOM!)


Posted by: Thorn | Link to this comment | 11-22-13 7:46 AM
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I like our new Target because it is less greedy than Walmart by a measurable amount and because it has an escalator for shopping carts.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 11-22-13 7:49 AM
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I only shop at local artisanal big box stores.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 11-22-13 8:10 AM
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I only go to the corporate farmers market. Monsanto has a neatest little booth.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 11-22-13 8:15 AM
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One of our main downtown landmarks is a big box store from the 19th century. Was bought by The Bon in the 50s, which was in turn eventually bought by Macys. Closed in 2010. Everyone wants to see something in there, but it's just not working out so far.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 11-22-13 8:22 AM
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Closed in 2010.

Thanks Obamacare.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 11-22-13 8:33 AM
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