Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Wal-Mart has taken a lot of flak lately over a corporate memo that suggested reducing the cost of employee health care by forcing cashiers to perform physical labor, which would presumably prevent unhealthy people from applying for jobs. I don't see why this would surprise anyone. They've achieved their success by lowering costs through coercion; it's a bit disingenuous to express outrage when that tactic is turned on their employees.

I like John Maxwell's books. I've read several, and I agree with everything he's written except this:
The founder of Wal-Mart, Sam Walton, has been called many things, including enemy of small-town America and destroyer of Main Street merchants. ... The truth is that Walton was a small-town, Main Street merchant of the type he is criticized for displacing. The only difference is that he was an excellent leader who was able to solve problems and change rather than go out of business.
That's a crock. The difference between Sam Walton and his fellow Main Street merchants was greed. It wasn't enough for Walton to own a successful shop; he had to put the other merchants out of business. It wasn't enough that he conquer one town; he had to conquer every town. Walton was competitive without ethic or compunction. He was driven by greed.

Walton's brand of capitalism is to free trade what the Soviet Union was to socialism. The truth is, any ideology gone unchecked is indistinguishable from tyranny. The line between ambition and greed is crossed when you forgo decency. Walton's golem has no decency.

The American dream is a noble ideal -- to own a business, to build something from nothing and contribute to society. It's also an impossible challenge: More than a million new businesses are founded every year, and more than eighty percent of those businesses fail within five years. If you can start a business, buy a house, and put your kids through college, you've achieved success. If you can do it without bankrupting your neighbor, you've accomplished decency.

Wal-Mart doesn't try to earn customers. It tries to eliminate alternatives. In fairness, at least its tactics are forthright. It doesn't want to be the best company; it wants to be the only company. I don't find that admirable. I don't find it respectable. And I don't shop there.