For Thanksgiving, Walmart shows us the New America

Summary: Words have failed to convey to you the nature of the New America being built on the ruins of the America-that-once-was (for a brief period after WW2).  Let’s try pictures, pictures about Thanksgiving in the New America — at Walmart.

A Walmart Thanksgiving

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Contents

  1. WalMart shows us the New America
  2. Bad news about the New America
  3. What this story says about America
  4. About the unionization drive
  5. For More Information

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(1)  WalMart shows us the New America

Their photo (above) has gone viral. Let’s hope their headline is a joke: “Is Walmart’s request of associates to help provide Thanksgiving dinner for co-workers proof of low wages?“, The Plain Dealer (Cleveland OH), 18 November 2013 —  Excerpt:

Kory Lundberg, a Walmart spokesman, said the food drive is proof that employees care about each other. “It is for associates who have had some hardships come up,” he said. “Maybe their spouse lost a job. This is part of the company’s culture to rally around associates and take care of them when they face extreme hardships,” he said.

… But an employee at the Canton store wasn’t feeling that Walmart was looking out for her when she went to her locker more than two weeks ago and discovered the food drive containers. To her, the gesture was proof the company acknowledged many of its employees were struggling, but also proof it was not willing to substantively address their plight.

The employee said she didn’t want to use her name for fear of being fired. In a dozen years working at the company, she had never seen a food drive for employees, which she described as “demoralizing” and “kind of depressing”. The employee took photos of the bins, and sent them to the Organization United for Respect at Walmart, or OUR Walmart, the group of associates holding the strikes in Cincinnati and Dayton.

Vanessa Ferreira, an OUR Walmart organizer, said she “flipped out” when she first saw the photos taken by the Canton worker. … “The company needs to stand up and give them their 40 hours and a living wage, so they don’t have to worry about whether they can afford Thanksgiving.”

Walmart tells a story to ABC News:

“Kory Lundberg, a spokesman for Walmart, said this store of about 300 employees has been hosting a holiday food drive for a few years. “Quite frankly, a lot of people in that store are frustrated and offended that this is reported in a way besides other folks rallying around each other,” Lundberg said. Last year, he said there were about 12 people who benefited from the program. “I couldn’t be prouder of people in that store helping in a tough situation,” he said.

(2)  Bad news about the New America

The few, the proud, the very rich“, Sylvia Allegretto (labor economist), Center on Wage and Employment Dynamics, UC Berkeley, 5 December 2011 — Excerpt (red emphasis added):

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The flag of inequality
Center on Wage and Employment Dynamics, UC Berkeley, 5 December 2011

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In 2007 (the most recent SCF) the cumulative wealth of the Forbes 400 was $1.54 trillion or roughly the same amount of wealth held by the entire bottom 50% of American families. This is a stunning statistic to be sure.

Upon closer inspection, the Forbes list reveals that six Waltons — all children (one daughter-in-law) of Sam or James “Bud” Walton the founders of Wal-Mart — were on the list. The combined worth of the Walton six was $69.7 billion in 2007 — which equated to the total wealth of the entire bottom 30%t!

BTW the new 2011 Forbes 400 has the inherited worth of these six Waltons at $93 billion.

(3)  This story says so much about America

  • About the importance of local journalists (an endangered species), and how they can break a story with national impact.
  • About the ability of line managers, small cogs in massive corporate machines, attempting to help their staff — both enmeshed in brutally exploitative social systems.
  • About the growing inequality.
  • About the New America being built right now on the ruins of the America-that-once-was. Built because we no longer care about our nation, or each other.

The story of the New America has become visible to all that care to see it. All that remains is for us together to write the ending. To not act is a contribution, a gift to the 1%.

Our Walmart
Our Walmart

(4) About the unionization drive

We have forgotten about the long brutal struggle to gain workers’ rights at America, led by unions. They made many mistakes, but played a large role in the creation of a large middle class. They have decayed to a only a remnant in the private sector, and the middle class seems likely to die with them. But a few people are fighting back.

Our Walmart: the organization for respect at Walmart:

Union: bargain or beg

(4)  For More Information

(a)  The big picture, posts about reforming America:

(b)  Posts about the conflict between labor and capital:

(c)  Posts about inequality:

  1. A sad picture of America, important for us to understand, 3 November 2008 — About social mobility
  2. An opportunity to look in the mirror, to more clearly see America, 10 November 2009
  3. Graph of the decade, a hidden fracture in the American political regime, 7 March 2010
  4. America, the land of limited opportunity. We must open our eyes to the truth., 31 March 2010
  5. Modern America seen in pictures. Graphs, not photos. Facts, not impressions., 13 June 2010
  6. Jared Bernstein examines the economic impact of raising taxes on high-income households, 30 April 2012
  7. How clearly do we see the rising inequality in America? How do we feel about it? Much depends on these answers., 27 September 2012
  8. Ugly truths about income inequality in America, which no politician dares to say, 2 October 2012
  9. Glimpses of the New America being born now, 18 June 2013
  10. Why Elizabeth Bennet could not marry Mr. Darcy. Nor could your daughter., 12 July 2013

Posts about reforming America:

  1. The project to reform America: a matter for science or a matter of will?, 16 March 2010
  2. Can we reignite the spirit of America?, 14 September 2010
  3. The sure route to reforming America, 16 November 2010
  4. We are alone in the defense of the Republic, 5 July 2012
  5. A third try: The First Step to reforming America, 28 May 2013
  6. The bad news about reforming America: time is our enemy, 27 June 2013
  7. Understand our problem before you prescribe a cure for America. We’ve gone mad., 17 September 2013
  8. How to recruit people to the cause of reforming America, 5 November 2013

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18 thoughts on “For Thanksgiving, Walmart shows us the New America

  1. If the picture is for real, I feel very sorry for the Walmart manager who set it up.

    All they were trying to do is make the system a little less harsh. Regardless of whether or not they succeeded in their goal, the primary effect is to make Walmart look like a merciless employer. The best the manager can hope for from their supervisor is a permanent demotion to join the ranks of those they were trying to help. The most likely result of their attempt at generosity is to be immediately fired.

    This will serve as a warning to other Walmart managers to avoid actions that attempt to improve the plight of their impoverished workers but could possibly be viewed as damaging Walmart’s brand.

    Managers in such circumstances face a situation similar to Soviet Generals in WWII. Stalin viewed his own soldiers as expendable and set up a set of circumstances that penalized any General who attempted to protect his troops, usually by having the General immediately shot. the result was a set of psychotic behaviors that won the war but at a cost of almost unimaginable cruelty to the Soviet soldiers. It is my opinion that many of the seeds of the 1989 collapse can be traced back to Stalin’s cruelty to his own troops during the war.

    Regarding your fourth point: Unions can only succeed when the pool of potential workers is too small for management to easily replace the members of the union. This is why Unions were ineffective during periods of high immigration. Our current situation with falling workforce participation and increasing desperation in the bottom half of the economic strata has the same effect.

    Like it or not, the 1% have done a thorough job of designing the particular brand of Hell they wish to rule.

    1. Pluto,

      “If the picture is for real, I feel very sorry for the Walmart manager who set it up. ”

      The post shows Kory Lundberg, a Walmart spokesman, quoted by both The Plain Dealer and ABC News explaining the donation box. No denials.

      Good journalism, showing both sides.

    2. “The post shows Kory Lundberg, a Walmart spokesman, quoted by both The Plain Dealer and ABC News explaining the donation box. No denials. Good journalism, showing both sides.”

      Agreed…but you have to admit it *is* rather obvious (not to mention telling) that the positive spin (“It’s wonderful that Walmart employees are there for each other, and they’re upset that people insist on painting this in a negative light “) is coming from an acknowledged Walmart PR representative — what I sometimes refer to as a “Squealer”, a mouthpiece who cannot possibly be expected to ever say anything remotely critical or negative about the company even if it means bending or stretching the truth to the snapping point. In contrast, the feedback from the employee side was decidedly negative (“If you respected us enough to pay us a decent salary, maybe we wouldn’t *need* to have a food drive.”).

      Personally, I’m very much on the side of the employees…I find it insulting and offensive that Walmart evidently expects its employees to help provide for their co-workers as well as themselves when many of them aren’t earning that much to begin with simply because the company can’t be bothered to do it. Apparently, it would be an intolerable cruelty to ask the Waltons to share what would amount to a microscopic fraction of their profits with the workers who ironically have made it possible for them to enjoy such lavish wealth. This is an outrage — and it’s precisely because of disrespectful and inhumane policies such as these that I have never shopped at Walmart and will never do so, not even if you paid me to do it. The way in which many employers these days expect loyalty and respect from their employees while offering little or no loyalty or respect in return (despite the fact that it should be a two-way street) is positively sickening.

    3. Bluestocking,

      Another perspective on this, showing the plutocracy at work.

      Corps grow their power through an insecure work force: part-time, high turnover, minimum wage, no benefits. Plus massive efforts to prevent collective action by employees.

      This works only due to government welfare programs. Without food stamps and Medicaid this probably would have proved unsustainable and collapsed.

      A plutocracy is a multidimensional system: political, social, economic. It is the 1% working through their agents in the government and business.

      As I have written so often, to so little impact, it can only be fought by an equally comprehensive viewpoint — which does not exist yet on practical form (although there are many cloud castles pretending to be such).

  2. “Kory Lundberg, a Walmart spokesman, said the food drive is proof that employees care about each other. “ What a eway to put a twist on things.

    1. Robert,

      We can be more precise.

      As I mentioned above, we see here intelligent design at work in the USA. Not by God, unfortunately, but by the 1% — which is pretty much the same thing here and now.

      Corporations have a cheap work force, with part of their sustenance level wages provided by the government. With corporate taxes at multi-generational lows (in terms of actual payments, due to bold evasion and lax enforcement) — and taxes on the rich near multi-generational lows — you can see who pays for this corporate subsidy.

      As the film says, “sheep exist to be shorn”. NOTHING will change until we choose to be sheep no longer.

  3. There is something I wonder about inequality.

    First, what I do not find doubtful: The striking concentration of wealth at the top is surely related to, if not directly the cause of, the disconnect between asset prices and real economic performance implied by Larry Summers’ speech. Since probably as far back as the late 1980s, the tail (the financial sector) has been wagging the dog (the real economy). This topic seems to be too unfamiliar and/or too scary for mainstream economists to tackle. (It’s possible that they don’t see it, which would probably be because I am wrong and it isn’t there; but I think it’s more likely that it just isn’t covered by any of the models or schools of thought in the mainstream, and since it’s a politically inconvenient idea, it’s inadvisable for comfortable mainstream economists to attempt to blaze a trail in that direction.)

    Set that aside, and think about the real economy, presuming we could get it operating at potential.

    Do we have the real capacity to extend the standard of living of, say, the bottom of the middle quintile, to cover the lower two? We have the money, if we could engineer a redistribution from the top, but that’s not what I mean. One Walmart employee notes that “it is difficult for me to stock groceries that I can’t afford at the end of the day.” Money aside—imagine that whatever distribution of nominal income and wealth we want, we can specify a system that accomplishes it—can our potential real economy do otherwise? Can we produce enough goods and services to raise the standards of living of the bottom two quintiles to what middle class folks would consider a decent life without cutting into the consumption of the higher quintiles?

    Can we do it without relying on imports produced by laborers for whom a job at Walmart would be an inconceivable step up?

    I don’t know how to answer those questions. They seem to me to be important.

    1. Coises,

      I believe your comment shows a bit if confusion about the data. No surprise, as we live in a sea of propaganda designed to prevent clear sight of these things.

      (1). “The striking concentration of wealth at the top is surely related to, if not directly the cause of, the disconnect between asset prices and real economic performance implied by Larry Summers’ speech.”

      Here we are talking about concentration of income, not wealth. Very different things. We have good data on income, not so much on wealth. Also, the top quintile has always owned almost everything, giving less scope for rising inequality. Distributional changes in wealth probably result mostly from residential real estate prices, the major asset of the middle class — leveraged, to boot. The bottom quintile has net wealth of zero or less.

      (2). “Since probably as far back as the late 1980s, the tail (the financial sector) has been wagging the dog (the real economy).”

      True, but I doublet that affects asset prices much. In fact, the causality might go the other way, as rising asset prices boost the financial sector — which lives parasitically (rent-seeking) on asset values.

      To be continued…

    2. Coises,

      (3). “Do we have the real capacity to extend the standard of living of, say, the bottom of the middle quintile, to cover the lower two? We have the money, if we could engineer a redistribution from the top”

      Wow. That is 100% backwards. The increasing inequality of income results from the top few percent — esp the top 1%, even more the top 1/10 of 1% — siphoning off almost all the increased productivity of the American economy, at an increasing rate, since the 1970s.

      The news media, living in an amnesiac ignorant now, describe these things as “just happening”. That is quite false. They result from specific structural changes in corporate governance and public policy.

      * increased intellectual property rights for corporations (e.g., extending copyrights for Disney, copycat drug patents for big Pharma).
      *. Drastically lower tax rates for the rich, esp on capital gains.
      *. Corporate governance changes allowing senior corporate managers to siphon off an incredibly large fraction of profits.
      *. Similar governance changes to non-profits sending compensation of their senior managers skyrocketing.
      *. Changes to the health care system allowing corporations and high income participants to siphon off a share of the national income 1/3 to 2x that in our peer nations.

      We are being fleeced. So long as we act like sheep, that will continue. It is the great circle of life.

    3. “Wow. That is 100% backwards. The increasing inequality of income results…”

      Either I have failed to explain myself clearly, or what I’m saying makes so little sense that you cannot believe I am saying it. I’ll try to be more precise.

      I am not talking about money. Forget about the money, and think about our capacity to produce goods and services.

      Imagine that we can define a unit—call it a SOL—to measure material standard of living. By this I do not mean nominal or inflation-adjusted income or wealth; I mean the actual land, dwellings, automobiles, personal property and so forth of which individuals have enjoyment, together with the goods and services they consume, that contribute to how they live day-to-day.

      Next, suppose we have a blank graph labeled with the number of Americans on the horizontal axis and SOLs on the vertical axis. On this, we draw a curve running horizontally from zero to the current population of America and vertically from zero to the maximum standard of living experienced by anyone in America, with each point of the curve matching a number of SOLs to the number of Americans who have a standard of living no more than that high.

      Further, imagine we can compute the excess of potential GDP (if our economy were running at full employment and full utilization of productive capacity) over current GDP and express that as an equivalent number of person-SOLs (e.g., 100 person-SOLs would be enough production to elevate 100 people’s standard of living by 1 SOL, or 10 people’s standard of living by 10 SOLs, etc.).

      This excess represents an area on our graph. Imagine “pouring” that excess into the left side of the graph so that it “fills up” the lowest part of the standard of living curve, bounded by the Y-axis on the left and the curve on the bottom, forming a level surface that touches the Y-axis and the curve at the same height.

      At what point does the surface touch the curve? At what population count, and at what standard of living?

      This is equivalent to asking:

      If we could employ the capacity and willing labor our economy is currently not using in such a way as to raise the standard of living of everyone beneath some minimum level to that level, while leaving everyone else’s standard of living unchanged, what would that minimum be, and what percentage of the people would be made better off?

      At best—if we could magically make everything to do with money work however we wanted it to—what is the most we could hope to accomplish for the least well off by using all of the capacity and workforce our economy is presently wasting?

      Do I need to explain why I care? I think we need some idea as to what are the hard, physical limits that reality places on us. Perhaps there is no hope for the poor, and each of us might as well concentrate on not becoming one of them. (I suspect that is how most conservatives believe the world always has and always will work.) Perhaps we could, in principle, do so much better for so many of us that our system would be revealed as gratuitously cruel; and knowing that, we would be more inspired to change it. (I hope that is true, but it’s an empirical question to which I don’t know the answer.) Perhaps neither is true, and we could significantly improve the welfare of some, but only by diminishing that of others.

    4. Cosines,

      “I need to explain why I care?”

      Yes. Your comment appears to assume the carefully engineered current income distribution as a given.

      “I think we need some idea as to what are the hard, physical limits that reality places on us.”

      Why? What is the public policy implication of possible answers?

      If we return to the income distribution of, for example, 1980, then we might run that math for future planning.

      Since the current task is to *stop* the trend of concentrating income, your exercise seems like checking the fire extinguishers while the ship is sinking.

    5. “The news media, living in an amnesiac ignorant now, describe these things as “just happening”. That is quite false. They result from specific structural changes… We are being fleeced.”

      To be clear, I am in complete agreement with your assertions and all the points you listed. It just wasn’t what I was getting at.

    6. “Your comment appears to assume the carefully engineered current income distribution as a given.”

      In my initial comment, I wrote, “Money aside—imagine that whatever distribution of nominal income and wealth we want, we can specify a system that accomplishes it…” I keep emphasizing that I’m talking about property, goods and services that comprise the material components of a person’s standard of living, not money.

      Past a point (different for different households), more income and wealth can have no real impact on material standard of living. Then the other meaning of money in a capitalist system—the right to make decisions—predominates. For the 0.1%, the active competition with one another—and with the combined weight of the rest of us—is over the power to decide, not over material things.

      My thought experiment is about material lifestyle—most of what money means to most of us not in the top few percent; all of what money means to people we would call poor; taken for granted by, and hence little of what money means to, the 0.1%.

      “Why? What is the public policy implication of possible answers?”

      I’m not targeting policy directly, but vision. How we see our world.

      As I suggested, I think most conservatives take that phrase from Matthew 26:11, “The poor you will always have with you,” as a prediction, telling us the natural, proper and inevitable order of things.

      My question asks, even if we are unwilling to take any material comforts away from those who have them now, could we not do significantly better for those who do not have them?

      If the answer is that we could, then it shows our system to be needlessly, pointlessly cruel. That, in my opinion, poses a much stronger demand for change than that it is merely “unfair”; fairness being subjective and always subject to debate.

      The opposite result (which would require a second question to separate it from the middle ground) would be that there is (at present) no hope—if we could produce at full capacity and divide it all equally, life would suck for everyone, by what most of us consider reasonable standards. At that point, conservative logic begins to make more sense: there is a real trade-off between reducing the misery of the masses and maintaining the possibility of a truly good life as something one might achieve.

      Poor people play the lottery. We would rather have a chance at the fantastic than a small improvement in what would still be a dreary life.

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