"Is Walmart Good for America?"
I recently came across a PBS documentary entitledIs Wal-Mart Good for America and decided to give it watch. In this documentary, Hedrick Smith analyzes whether or not Wal-Mart is “healthy” for the American economy. While Smith presents both sides of the argument, through statistics and interviews, it is quite obvious that he holds a bias against the Wal-Mart organization. The documentary seems to follow a specific formula, in which Smith reports sales statistics, marketing innovations, and other facts to remind the audience just how successful and powerful Wal-Mart is as a retailer. Just when you start to envy the company for its apparent accomplishments, Smith is quick to subtly attack Wal-Mart’s underlying monopolistic strategies. From foreign manufacturing to the sly nature of “opening price-points”, Smith reveals all - and with strong bias.
While I agree with Smiths point of view, I do recognize that he employs several strategies in his report to portray Wal-Mart and its’ representatives in a negative light. When interviewing Ray Bracey, Wal-Mart’s vice president for federal and international public affairs, it seems to be edited to make Bracey seem very secretive and hesitant in revealing Wal-Mart’s motives. In reading Bracey’s full interview from the PBS website, it is apparent that he is still indefinitely defending Wal-Mart, but the documentary obviously picked out specific phrases and answers in order to make Bracey seem like a bad person.
Beyond that, Smith also puts a huge emphasis on how Wal-Mart exploits its’ manufacturers. The documentary pointed out that manufacturers used to have all the power of retailers, but Wal-Mart has effectively reversed the balance of power. Wal-Mart has become so big that it has the power to control manufacturers through unrealistic demands, often forcing American manufacturing companies to shut down or move overseas, specifically to China. John Lehman, a former manager of six different Wal-Mart stores, also revealed how Wal-Mart holds “reverse-auctions”, putting manufacturers in high-pressure competitions to present the cheapest offer on a product. Lehman also seemed happy to reveal the scam of Wal-Mart’s “opening price-points”. The opening price points are the biggest bargains which are posted all around the store, and they are designed to catch your attention and get you into the mindset that everything in the store must be at bargain prices, which is often not true.
While some people argue that Wal-Mart is good for America, representing the archetype of “American Capitalism”, I find it hard to take sides with such an organization. As consumers, and more importantly as Americans, I believe that we have a certain responsibility to be aware of how our merchandise comes to be. While many people revel in cheap prices, they should take a step back to look back and think about why they are getting such cheap products. Many large companies such as Wal-Mart turn to foreign manufacturers for their goods. Foreign factories are notorious for mistreating and severely underpaying their workers, and all at the same time, putting morally bound American manufacturers out of business. Every time someone buys something from Wal-Mart they should be aware of what they are supporting. While that is easier said than done, I believe people should at least be aware of basic marketing strategies, manufacturing exploits, and economic conditions.
Throughout the documentary, the Wal-Mart representatives tried to convince viewers that they were all about creating a higher standard of living for consumers by providing cheaper goods. Contrastingly, Wal-Mart is actually destroying jobs for American manufacturers and is attempting to replace them with non-skilled retail labor. While some consumers may be saving in the short term, jobs are being destroyed and hundreds of thousands of workers are being exploited in America and overseas to satisfy the needs of the monopoly that is Wal-Mart. The key to a successful economy is competition, and Wal-Mart doesn’t leave much room for competitors.