Illustration: John Hendrix

Walmart is not the pinnacle of economic responsibility. Not even close.

Let’s not confuse the blanket absorption of wealth from the populace the same as sustainable, responsible business development, shall we?

I found myself reading a stream of conversation regarding Walmart on Facebook recently lauding Walmark as the hallmark of all that is good in America and how the Waltons are exemplars of what is right in business. It was linked to an article in Forbes I found so insulting I refuse to credit it with a link.

One of these water-bearers for Walmart explained how the company was well known for its corporate responsibility and its responsibility to its workers.

The conversation went on saying it was simply ridiculous to expect Walmart to pay “living wages” to its employees and that making Walmart’s employees work part-time to avoid paying any form of medical benefits made perfectly good business sense. Stop.

Just stop.

STOP talking about Walmart as if they are doing a public service by having stores. Just from what I have learned from doing my research, Walmart and by proxy, the Waltons, is the equivalent of a blue whale sifting the ocean, extracting plankton by the ton using its stores as the baleen, stripping money from the economy, while returning as little as possible to its workers and those communities.

Walmart and their disregard for a “living wage”

The straight skinny on Walmart and deplorable wage structures are public knowledge if you know where to look:

“In a recent interview, Walmart CEO Mike Duke told CNBC’s Maria Bartiromo, “The vast majority of our associates are paid more than [the minimum wage],” estimating that “less than one percent” are paid at that level.
A spokesman clarified for the Huffington Post that in fact less than one half of one percent of its hourly workers, which it calls associates, make the state or federal minimum wage.
Yet that figure leaves out the fact that the low-wage retailer relies heavily on part-time workers. And a recent survey of Walmart locations found that over half are only hiring temporary workers, not full-time positions.
And even if workers are making more than the $7.25 minimum wage floor, they may not be making much more. The company claims that full-time workers make $12.78 an hour, but an IBIS World report puts that number at $8.81.
That’s 28 percent than the pay at other large retailers. Workers make so little that they use around $1 million worth of public benefits, such as food stamps and Medicaid, at one location alone. The low pay has sparked worker strikes in protest.” [1]

While it is easy to say that Walmart should be able to make as much money as the market will bear while paying the least amount to its employees and that the company has no obligation to pay its workers any more than the market will bear but consider this:

When a corporation tells its workers they will not be paid a “living wage” what they’re saying to their employees is simple: YOU DON’T MATTER.

It’s public knowledge that the minimum wage does not afford a worker who is working full time with enough to pay for a two bedroom apartment anywhere in the nation.

By Walmart’s definition of full time as 34+hours per week, a full-time associate earns as little as $21,811 per year.
That salary, according to the Living Wage Calculator of Penn State University’s Poverty in America Project, is $13,000 less than a “living wage” for one adult supporting one child in Boyle County, Kentucky, and $26,000 less in Dutchess County, New York. (A living wage is one that enables a household to meet basic needs such as housing, food and medical care.) [2]

This means any worker who is working a minimum wage job is putting in 40 hours of work and must still find another 20 hours somewhere to actually make the money necessary to pay the rent, pay their bills, buy food, pay for gasoline and provide whatever other sundries their household may need for any particular month.

Working 40 to 60 hours a week and still often able to be eligible for social services, such as food stamps or Medicare, means this corporation has not only said to its workers they don’t matter but the company should be able to force the US government to subsidize these workers [3](to the tune of $6.2 billion dollars a year in public assistance) who do not earn enough to live on. In effect, putting money into the pockets of Walmart’s owners while taking it out of the pockets of taxpayers.

THIS IS UNCONSCIONABLE.

The Price of Doing Business?

When I was a New Yorker and was occasionally mugged, it was considered an occupational hazard. You gave the mugger the $20 you set aside for that kind of thing and no one got hurt. That $20 likely made a significant difference in the life of that mugger. Definitely not worth getting killed over.

I could accept the loss of that $20 as making a significant change to a person’s quality of life for a day or a week. When corporations undermine the social fabric of our nation by exploiting their power to allow them to pay as little as possible, they are in effect “mugging” the government and their employees.

But Walmart isn’t interested in the well-being of their employees. Walmart has even had to pay out through legal actions due to their less than effective management style:

Walmart lead the Wall Street Journal’s 2012 and 2013 lists of “Companies Paying Americans the Least.” Not content with paying miserable wages, it also has a record of cheating its employees.
“In 2008, Walmart agreed to pay $640 million in settlements of dozens of class-action lawsuits that claimed the company deprived workers of pay for time worked” ( WSJ , 11/21/12). In a separate 2010 case , it agreed to pay $86 million for “failing to pay vacation, overtime and other wages to thousands of former workers in California” (Reuters, 5/12/10). [4]

A $188 million wage-theft lawsuit in Pennsylvania has been settled recently in favor of Walmart’s employees further cementing into the public consciousness Walmart’s disdain for the social contract. [8]

With so little interest in their employees wages, it is clear the Waltons don’t understand what it’s like to live on the wages their organization pays. The money they earn does not appreciable change their overall position in the universe. But by putting, let’s just say, $15 an hour, in the pockets of their employees and giving them benefits, this would, in a significant way, change the lives of their employees significantly for the better.

Removing the desperation, the need to work 60 hours to earn what an effective living wage would provide at 40 hours. 20 hours they can put into their families, 20 hours they could put into the social fabric, keeping their children on track, keeping their households together; stabilizing both the economy and society at large, reducing stress, reducing accidents, reducing falling asleep at the wheel, heart attacks, strokes, and high blood pressure, just to name a few afflictions living a full-time life of immense stress trying to stretch resources they don’t have.

The Waltons are so rich they cannot see past their perspective on money to understand how their policies harm their employees.

You see, keeping people poor has more than the effect of making Walmart RICHER. Because statistically, they really can’t get much richer in comparison to their current wealth. This means every penny they STEAL from their employees is simply done by what could be attributed to malice, because they enjoy watching their 1.6 million employees unable to do anything but show up to their offices as miserable as possible, as stress as possible with as FEW options as possible.

I will tell you, if this is the best the richest and most powerful family in the nation can offer its workers, a life of desperate poverty, struggling to make ends meet while mocking them with less hours, less opportunities, less health care and calling this a successful business model, then all of us are screwed.

Because ultimately, every corporation in the nation will, if they grow large enough, be in exactly the same straits as Walmart one day.

Diminishing returns as their companies grow larger, with less money being spent, businesses costing more to run, expenses increasing, profits slowly declining as they become larger. With more outlets but losing profits, their only margin they can exploit effectively is wages.

Doubt this: Take a look at a projection of Walmart’s growth over the decades and ask yourself, how much money will it take to maintain the monolith that Walmart has become? Who will be paying the cost in energy, in resources, in exploited manpower, natural resources harvested, objects manufactured, toxins created from the creation of cheap products, materials shipped, products made, garbage created. Who pays this cost? [5]

All of us will. As Walmarts, McDonalds, Burger Kings and other super-franchises blanket the country it can only make the economic fabric of the nation more tenuous and fewer and fewer workers can afford to sustain these vast networks of corporations.

Take a look at this projection chart of the Growth of Walmart and Sams Club stores. (Click this link for the annual growth interactive map. [6])

What makes this worse is that this graphic stops in 2010 with 4,393 stores. In 2014 there are more than 11,000 Walmart stores in the US. What you need to see is what happens when you zoom in and look at the areas where there is a store every couple of miles, draining the economy of the areas into the coffers of Walmart, while returning far less TO those economies than they take away. It looks like an economic dragnet sweeping across the country.

Walmart wants to sell this like there is a symbiosis between the nation and Walmart’s customers, but considering how little Walmart returns to these local economies, in terms of taxes, wages and investment in the areas, this looks a lot more like parasitism.

How can Walmart make a profit dropping stores every few miles?

The real answer is… they can’t. This is the hidden horror of corporate development of chain stores, fast food franchises and any other megacorporation that resembles a ponzi scheme, or cancer cluster.

They have to keep growing in order to make a profit to skim off the top. What they don’t skim off, they use to develop a new chain of stores to fund the ever growing pyramid of costs. Each growth wave provides less profit than the last. This means they have to keep cutting costs to keep up with their expenses.

Walmart already sells the cheapest shit on the planet. It literally can’t get any cheaper. They buy in bulk, they ship in bulk, they get the best rates you can buy on cheaply made crap from all over the world (read that as mostly China).

Nothing you buy from them lasts longer than a couple of years, if you’re lucky. So there is nothing to cut there. They are already buying the cheapest land possible since the economic collapse has made real estate as cheap as it has been since Whites stole the land from the Native Americans.

So there is only one place left to trim margins: the staff. Cut their hours to part-time, reduce their health benefits, keep their wages as close to minimum wage while being able to brag that IT’S NOT minimum wage, ergo $8.81.

How long before Walmart fails to hire any full time staff? Five years? Maybe less before every store will only hire part time staff. Only their offices will have full time workers and only the executives will make any real money.

Walmart and any business that works like they do is DOOMED.

They will be able to stave of their cannibalization of themselves only by moving overseas where they can get cheaper land and cheaper workers to funnel more money to the top while they strip mine the planet making crappy products no one needs, that are imminently disposable, but not recyclable, cheaply made, but expensively sold.

Not in price. But in the social, economic, cultural and personal price paid by every employee unfortunate enough to HAVE to work there because there isn’t enough vision left in this country to realize, you cannot have a consumerist economy when no one has enough money to be a consumer.

Are you sure you want to cheer for them?

Carry water for corporations like Walmart if you like. But you cannot blame anyone but yourself when their business practices become the practices of EVERY bloated corporation needing to make profit for their board room masters, who are entirely concerned with profits, and far less than the effects of their world-spanning corporations are doing to the drones stuck working for them, too poor to buy even the cheapest of their products.

Because, Walmart’s business practices are the only way to sustain a corporation that has grown out of control without concern for the environment in which they exist in to sustain them. They have cut their staffing so much [7] they can no longer even stock the shelves in thousands of stores across the nation.

From the Concord Monitor, in Concord NH.

It is already a well kept secret they have been closing stores in areas that can no longer support the economic drain on the local economies. Walmart and corporations like it are little more than economic cancers killing the economy and calling it “market growth”.

So you’re advocating they take their business and leave the country?

This was the question asked of me when I wrote everything above it in my response to the conversation in Facebook. My answer was:

You cannot have a return on investment when no one can buy your products. It’s that simple. NO DEMAND, NO BUSINESS. You can’t square this circle without people to buy products, skipping all of the other variables I mentioned. No one to buy, nothing else happens.
If you are wealthy enough to be able to buy everything you have been buying since 2009, God Bless You. Most people are nowhere near as fortunate. Their hours are long and their dollars are short.
If the minds that are running this country cannot get their heads around the simple idea there isn’t enough money left in circulation in the hands of people who buy things at the scales needed to support their businesses:
THEN THEY DESERVE TO GO OUT OF BUSINESS.
It’s really that simple.

So when they liquidate their company, then you’ll be happy?

Sigh. At this point I was clear I wasn't making myself understood. My final volley at trying to be clear to the waterbearers for Walmart.

It’s their business practices that are unsustainable. THAT’S WHY THEY ARE LEAVING THE COUNTRY.
They are like drug addicts needing a bigger and bigger economic “hit” to sustain them. They are leaving the US for larger populations hoping this will stave off the growth issues they are having, BUT IT WON’T.
They are growing at a such a rate that what took them twenty years to achieve once upon a time, they will have the money and tools to accomplish in five. Doubling up until they simply have NO MORE NEW FRONTIERS to exploit. Then they will simply collapse in on themselves unless someone has been doing the smart thing and shutting the business down, in a controlled burn or controlled implosion.
Given business practices these days, that won’t happen. The managers of the companies will simply allow the corporation to die, liquidate what they can, take their cut off the top and let the wonders of bankruptcy deal with the ruins.
Privatizing the gains, and socializing the losses. Business as usual in the US of A.

And I realize it is a difficult concept because most of us don’t look at Walmart as the giant corporation that they are. We see them as an individual location or eight in our neighborhoods. We don’t think of them dotted across the landscape like pepper grains on a sunny side egg.

This is a problem of scale. When a corporation reaches the scale of Walmart, they are like a force of nature, with long-term, unpredictable, long-lasting environmental effects no one has ever given thought to, let alone expected to have to deal with.

Nor do I expect you as an individual who has read this far to be responsible for making change on your own.

I expect you to take the time and do a bit more research. Look at Costco, and its CEO who draws down a mere $300,000 a year and pays his workers a living wage. Sustainable corporations are possible, no, they are necessary if any of us are to have a future at all.

I expect you to consider all of the reasons we need to get corporations like Walmart who cover the landscape of our nation as a fishing net, drawing away billions in profit while returning less and less to those same communities, to do better, not just for themselves but for society as a whole.

If this isn't changed, those corporations will grow fantastically rich, their founders will have a great payday and the carcasses of their empty storefronts will litter the landscape of our once-great nation when they are unable to sustain themselves any further.

We deserve better than that, wouldn't you agree?

[1] “Living Wage Calculator Living Wage Calculation for Boyle County, Kentucky.” Mit.edu. N.p. Web. 30 Nov. 2014. <http://livingwage.mit.edu/>

[2] “Walmart CEO Claims ‘Vast Majority’ Of Workers Make More Than Minimum Wage.” Thinkprogress.org. N.p. Web. 30 Nov. 2014. <http://thinkprogress.org/>

[3] O’Connor, Clare. “Report: Walmart Workers Cost Taxpayers $6.2 Billion In Public Assistance.” Forbes.com. N.p. Web. 30 Nov. 2014. <www.forbes.com>

[4] “HEMLOCK ON THE ROCKS: Walmart, Waltons epitomize America’s class war.” Hemlockontherocks.com. N.p. Web. 30 Nov. 2014. <http://www.hemlockontherocks.com/>

[5] “Are Walmart’s Chinese Factories As Bad As Apple’s?” Motherjones.com. N.p. Web. 30 Nov. 2014. <http://www.motherjones.com/>

[6] “Watch the Growth of Walmart and Sam’s Club Across America.” Flowingdata.com. N.p. Web. 30 Nov. 2014. <http://projects.flowingdata.com/>

[7] “Wal-Mart Customers Complain Bare Shelves Are Widespread.” Bloomberg.com. N.p. 2 Apr. 2013. Web. 30 Nov. 2014. <http://www.bloomberg.com/>

[8] “Walmart ordered to pay $188 million in Pennsylvania wage theft lawsuit” Dailykos.com. N.p. Web. 17 Dec. 2014. <http://www.dailykos.com/>


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Thaddeus Howze is a California-based technologist and author who has worked with computer technology since the 1980's doing graphic design, computer science, programming, network administration and IT leadership.

His non-fiction work has appeared in numerous magazines: Black Enterprise, the Good Men Project, Examiner.com, and Astronaut.com. He maintains a diverse collection of non-fiction at his blog, A Matter of Scale. He is a contributor at The Enemy, a nonfiction literary publication out of Los Angeles.

He is a contributor to the Scifi.Stackexchange.com with over a thousand articles in a three year period. He is now an author and contributor at Scifiideas.com. His science fiction and fantasy has appeared in blogs such as Medium.com, the Magill Review, ScifiIdeas.com, and the Au Courant Press Journal. He has a wide collection of his work on his website, Hub City Blues. His recently published works can be found here.

His speculative fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies: Awesome Allshorts: Last Days and Lost Ways (Australia, 2014), The Future is Short (2014), Visions of Leaving Earth (2014), Mothership: Tales of Afrofuturism and Beyond (2014), Genesis Science Fiction (2013), Scraps (2012), and Possibilities (2012).

He has two books: a collection called Hayward’s Reach (2011) and an e-book novella called Broken Glass (2013).

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