Wal-Mart’s Path of Destruction


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Utilitarian minds make their decisions based on which perceived outcome brings the most good[1] . That bears the question to how one can choose between two separate decisions that both have positive and negative benefits. An extreme and very common example of a utilitarian situation is if a person would be willing to take the life of one person in order to save 100 others that would perish if he did not follow through with the killing. A much more real example involves the retail giant Wal-Mart and their growth and effect on the American economy. Are lower wages more important to the consumers than a declining small business sector and sub-par working conditions for the Wal-Mart employees? Between the years of 2000 and 2005 Wal-Mart added over 1,100 stores and in 2004 their net sales were up to $276 billion[2] . An even more amazing stat is that in 2002, 82 percent of United States households purchased something from a Wal-Mart[3] . So what seems to be the problem if a majority of the population buys these goods that save them money for other and possibly more important expenses? The problem is that Wal-Mart comes into small towns and shuts down local businesses while at the same time treating their employees poorly and keeping their wages at miniscule rates. Workers fear standing up to the national giant for they squash any unions that attempt to come together and have shown they’re not against firing employees who disagree with the Wal-Mart way[4]. Wal-Mart’s destruction of local economies and poor working conditions for their employees greatly outweighs the good they do through offering low-priced consumer goods to the public. Their consistent attempts to stop unionization and keep benefits at a minimum for their workers is an injustice to the employees that are a necessity for Wal-Mart’s short and long term success.

Wal-Mart employs more people than any other private United States employer and prides themselves on creating new jobs in every community that builds a new store or superstore. What is not necessarily noticed by their loyal consumers is that they are guilty of, “forcing workers to work off the clock, not paying overtime premiums, and stealing break and lunch times[5] .” Other workers that spoke at the national Jobs with Justice Conference stated that they can barely afford medicine for the children and in one specific case a worker had to pull out his own infected teeth because he could not afford dental care with the Wal-Mart hourly rates for full time workers[6] . The amazing number that stood out to me is that for all of the marketing that Wal-Mart does when it comes to promoting the jobs they bring to struggling communities, they only pay out an average hourly wage of $8.81 that computes to less than $15,000 dollars a year in Wal-Mart’s fulltime 32 hour work week[7] . While they say that they are decreasing the unemployment rate, they are not helping the poverty rate since their workers, especially families with two or more members in the house, are living at an uncomfortably low-level of income. This forces these men or women to find other jobs in order to survive at a more steady income. Protestors organized outside of a Phoenix Wal-Mart center to show their displeasure with working conditions on Black Friday in 2012. One woman was screamed at by a person driving by to get a job to which she responded, “I have two[8] .

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The unrest with workers is boiling over, but the employees have had little success in creating any change. One organization is making a push to get Wal-Mart to bend to their desires. Organization United for Respect at Wal-Mart, OUR Wal-Mart, has made major efforts to keep the Supercenters out of major urban areas such as Washington D.C., New York, and Boston. It does not seem that New York will happen due to the effect it would have on neighborhood businesses and union supermarkets, but Washington D.C. and their local coalition, Respect D.C., are trying to work a deal where the minimum wage for workers would rise to $11.75[9] . The addition of unions into the deal is where Wal-Mart strongly disagrees for they have never dealt with unionization in America, even though in all other countries where their supercenters exist they coincide with unions[10] . These big cities, although attractive to the retail king, are not necessary for their hold in small business areas is present and still growing.

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Exeter, Pennsylvania is a small town of 6,000 that is right next door to my hometown of West Pittston. A few years back there was a major decision to make by the town council about whether they should allow Wal-Mart to build one of their supercenters along the main strip in town. Wal-Mart stated that they “would bring more than 400 new jobs and $275,000 in total tax revenue to the West Side borough[11] .” Although appealing, the normal Wal-Mart worries came to light. Would small businesses disappear? Would town traffic become an unforeseen major issue? Thankfully for the small business owners, councilmen sided with them and turned down the offer from Wal-Mart. They felt that the good that comes from having Wal-Mart in town is greatly outweighed by the current businesses in town that have showed loyalty to the area for generations. The revenues that come from taxes immediately does not match up to the effect the town will feel when businesses shut down and people begin working at Wal-Mart for sub-par wages and no benefits.

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Why do towns allow this monster to come in and destroy the businesses that have been there for so long? It relates back to the killing one man to save one hundred men scenario from the introduction. Although not directly related to Wal-Mart, it sheds light on people’s actual feelings towards utilitarian thinking. Dr. Daniel Bartels of Columbia University and Dr. David Pizarro of Cornell University conducted studies to see the percentage of people that actually have a utilitarian outlook on life. Their results to the killing scenario were quite startling for 90% of the people they asked would refuse the utilitarian act of killing one to save 100[12] . This could mean that a majority of people are not truly weighing the full goods that can come from multiple scenarios. They are avoiding the harder decisions and taking the easy way out without realizing the full consequences of what they are doing. The tough decision to rely on a smaller local economy that is steady, but has little chance of much growth, is being thrown by the wayside for the easy decision to take the corporate giant that will quickly boost the economy and most likely push the other small retail and food businesses right out of town. Classical Utilitarians, Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill feel that, “we ought to maximize the good, that is, bring about ‘the greatest amount of good for the greatest number’[13].” When making the decision to allow Wal-Mart into an area that has yet to feel its immense effect, people are only seeing the short term benefits and ignoring the long term destruction of the local economies down to the point where people will struggle to find many other retail or food distribution businesses outside of the Wal-Mart. I feel that it is very clear to see how unethical Wal-Mart acts and the impending doom to small businesses that follows after their appearance. The true utilitarian way of thinking is making decisions that are based on maximizing good, and not having Wal-Mart in a town brings more good to the full local economy than having them come in and drain the businesses that lasted the tests of time.


[1] “The History of Utilitarianism,” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, March 27,2009

http://plato.stanford.edu/enteries/utilitarianism-history/

[2] Bill Quinn, How Wal-Mart is Destroying America (And the World) (Berkley, California: Ten Speed Press, 2005) xi

http://books.google.com/books?id=T60y6jF7Xk0C&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false

[3] Quinn, xi

[4] Jenny Brown, “Whose Walmart? OUR Walmart! Labor Notes,” September 2011. http://search.proquest.com/docview/888589515?accountid=9784

[5] Brown, 2

[6] Brown, 2

[7] Brown, 2

[8] Jeff Moses “Wal-Mart Protests Spark in Phoenix,” Industrial Worker, January 2013 http://search.proquest.com/docview/1326769058?accountid=9784

[9] Brown, 3

[10] Brown, 2

[11] Andrew Staub, “Big Box, Small Borough: Wal-Mart Debate Divides Exeter,” McClatchy – Tribune Business News, April 4, 2010

http://search.proquest.com/docview/458327465?accountid=9784

[13] “The History of Utilitarianism,” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, March 27,2009

One comment on “Wal-Mart’s Path of Destruction

  1. Pingback: Working At Walmart Essay Resouces | GEOM 4 ME

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