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Wal-Mart End Run Fails

Posted by Rick · April 7th, 2004 · 1 Comment

Wal-Mart may sell everything, but they couldn’t buy an election.

After a story I spotted yesterday, I was planning to do more in-depth research of Wal-Mart before writing about them. I still intend to do this, because I have heard various reports about the lies and abuses of this company — and my gut tells me that they are destructive of communities. After all, how can replacing multiple small stores servicing the needs of thousands of people per day with one large store which operates with a fewer number of people on the floor really “create jobs”?

Besides that, they’re the perfect example of something I’ve discussed frequently with friends in offline conversations. Corporations — at least as they operate today — are inimical to a sound social fabric. One of the reasons for this is that corporations have just one real goal: Bringing profit to shareholders.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with this so long as corporations are small and focused. By small, I mean not larger than perhaps $1 million in revenue per year; by focused, I mean not (like Walmart) selling everything under the sun from groceries to furniture to books to tires to appliances. When corporations become unfocused and large, they begin to drive not just a few smaller businesses out of business, but nearly all small businesses. Then we’re left with an impoverished market. No longer can we obtain a variety of items. Today, for example, I can buy any one of about six models of computer in my town — and all of them running the same operating system (Windows XP Home, yuck!). Sure, I can go to about five different stores to get them. But somehow, that just doesn’t seem like variety.

When corporations become very large, they start not just to influence governments, which is something corporations have always done via contributions to political campaigns, but they try to actually ignore them.

This is what happened with Wal-Mart in Inglewood, California. After the Inglewood City Council voted down a Wal-Mart proposal, Wal-Mart funded a campaign to overrule the city. And this isn’t the first time that Wal-Mart has tried to overpower a city. In September 2003, Wal-Mart sued Tucson for banning the Supercenters which allow Wal-Mart to destroy not just a handful of small businesses, but nearly all small businesses and quite a few larger ones (like FAO Schwartz). Two months later, Wal-Mart — which in Inglewood touted their ballot initiative as “the most direct form of democracy” — sued to stop an anti-Wal-Mart group which was collecting signatures for a vote against Supercenters. It seems the only ballot measures Wal-Mart favors are those which they sponsor.

Today comes the story that the citizens of Inglewood were not as stupid as Wal-Mart thought they were. More than 60 percent voted “no” on the Wal-Mart proposal!

This is a good move. As had been previously noted, this proposal would have forced the city to accept Wal-Mart’s proposal in spite of any impact it would have on sewage systems, traffic and other areas the city is responsible not only for creating, but for maintaining. Wal-Mart was willing to spend more than $1 million on this campaign to force the government’s hand; a fraction of that was spent by opponents.

Don’t misunderstand this blog entry. Wal-Mart is not inherently evil. It’s just a corporation like any other corporation; this is what corporations do. No one sits up in some office and says, “I’m going to get you, Inglewood! … And your little dog, too!” Corporations are run by human beings and there’s no reason to doubt that these human beings aren’t like other human beings. There’s no reason to doubt that they have good intentions, altruistic feelings and care about people. But the function of a corporation is to make money for shareholders. And sometimes making money gets in the way of doing the right thing.

This is why, while we very much need corporations for some things, their rights, reach and rise to power needs to be checked. This is why the Founding Fathers actually considered an amendment that would have limited the lives and scope of corporations.

This is why we need to consider laws to do the same.

Categories: Corporations


1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Harry // Apr 7, 2004 at 9:15 am

    Corporations are institution’s with a directive to produce ever-increasing profit for it’s shareholders regardless of the cost to anyone, or anything else. these institutions are required by thier own laws to place the pursuit of profit over people. Over concern for the environment. Over even the planet itself.

    Imbuing them with this pathological nature is a recent human achievement.

    150 years ago a corporation was merely an organized way of doing business. Today it is a global power that uses its status as a “person” to claim rights under the constitution.

    Considering the odd legal fiction that deems a corporation a “person” in the eyes of the law, the feature documentary “CORPORATON” (see link below) employs a checklist, based on actual diagnostic criteria of the World Health Organization and DSM IV, the standard tool of psychiatrists and psychologists. What emerges is a disturbing diagnosis.

    Self-interested, amoral, callous and deceitful, a corporation’s operational principles make it anti-social. It breaches social and legal standards to get its way even while it mimics the human qualities of empathy, caring and altruism. It suffers no guilt.

    Diagnosis: the institutional embodiment of laissez-faire capitalism fully meets the diagnostic criteria of a psychopath.


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