December 15, 2011. Bentonville, AR. Two days ago, a journalist who typically writes in support of organized labor published an article that ruffled some feathers among America's richest and most elite.
Author Jeffrey Goldberg reminds us that years before the Occupy movement and 99 percent cause was born, the 6 children of Sam Walton, founder of Walmart, had more wealth than the bottom one-third of all Americans combined. Today, Forbes used Goldberg's Bloomberg article attacking Walmart to point out another astonishing statistic – if you have ten dollars in your pocket, you too have more wealth than one-quarter of all Americans.
According to Forbes, the simple fact is that 25 percent of American households have $0 or below $0 net worth. So, if you have ten cents, you’re already richer than a full one-fourth of the American people. In fact, with your shiny dime, you have a higher net worth than one-fourth of the whole of the American people combined!
In his defense of Walmart and the founding Walton family today, Forbes author Tim Worstall does a valuable service by reminding us of just how poor the American people truly are. Taking the statistics one step further, it’s discovered that 37 percent of households, not just individuals, have a net worth of less than $12,000. By comparison, in 2009 the 6 children of Walmart founder Sam Walton had a combined net worth of $93 billion dollars.
Beware however, as we at Whiteout Press always try to remind our readers, statistics can be very misleading.
According to the Forbes take on the numbers, a person with a net worth of below zero, could actually be sitting pretty. The article uses the example of a recent college grad. With as much as $100,000 in student loan debt, but now collecting a six-figure paycheck from a job at a downtown firm, this subject would be counted as poverty-stricken. But by the standards of society, he or she is by no means poor. The same goes for anyone with an underwater mortgage. While this family is seen as wealthy because they live in a mansion and they could sell their home for millions of dollars, after the transaction they’d be left with a negative net worth and no home.
The Forbes author takes issue with the pro-labor Goldberg by writing, ‘I certainly don't mean that all those with negative net household value are in that situation: there are an awful lot of people who are "properly" poor in the way that we all usually understand it. But this comparison of wealth doesn't show us quite what Mr. Goldberg thinks it does.’ Jeffrey Goldberg's argument appeared in a Bloomberg article from earlier this week.
So who’s right?
Which author is the American taxpayer and independent voter supposed to believe? Do we take Jeffrey Goldberg’s side of the argument and react with outrage that 6 people have greedily horded $93 billion dollars of American wealth, more than 75 million Americans combined? Or do we take Tim Worstall’s side of the debate and dismiss the statistic altogether. The Forbes writer correctly debunks a portion of the overall pool of subjects. Indeed, many apparent rich people are actually quite poor and even more apparently poor people do in fact have a nice, secret financial cushion.
Like most, we believe in the free market system, capitalism and the laws of supply and demand. But as always, those policies must come with protective safeguards for the American people. Slavery must not be tolerated, much less profited on. Child labor, either directly or indirectly mandated, is unacceptable. Using poisonous, deadly or dangerous ingredients, in violation of US laws, is illegal. And using unethical, and often illegal, tactics to gain a virtual monopoly in one of the largest industries in the world, is not only immoral, but against the law.
Those tactics, and more, are how the 6 children of Sam Walton accumulated more wealth than possibly all 300 million Americans combined. In fact, the striking statistic that Forbes leaves out of their rebuttal is this - According to Forbes, of the top 11 richest people in America, 4 of them are the children of Sam Walton.
How did Walmart do it?
For those like this author who was at a prime shopping, and financially struggling, age when Walmart exploded out of its Bentonville, Arkansas birthplace, you may remember their first marketing campaigns. Commercials of American grandmas, rural farmers and young entrepreneurs happily laboring away to produce products for Walmart filled the airwaves. Walmart prided itself on buying its products locally. Buying tables from the Amish in Indiana or sweaters from a family-owned start-up in Texas were what Walmart was all about. In fact, buying locally meant that Walmart could save on transportation and warehousing costs. The retailer could then pass those savings onto the customer, always guaranteeing those everyday low prices.
According to Walmart’s website, ‘In his autobiography, Sam said, "… if you think about it from the point of view of the customer, you want everything: a wide assortment of quality merchandise; the lowest possible prices; guaranteed satisfaction; friendly, knowledgeable service; convenient hours; and a pleasant shopping experience. You love it when a store exceeds your expectations, and you hate it when a store inconveniences you, gives you a hard time, or pretends you're invisible."
But something happened between along the way. Today, Walmart is known for some of the lowest quality merchandise, not the highest as Sam Walton prescribed. They adhered to their goal of the lowest possible prices and convenient hours. But they quite possibly did it at the expense of the other goals. ‘Friendly’ and ‘knowledgeable’ are not two words typically used to describe Walmart associates. And worse yet - being shot, maced or raped in the Walmart parking lot aren’t generally considered ‘pleasant’ experiences.
What happened to Walmart?
As evidenced by the $93 billion dollars the Waltons now control, critics of Walmart argue that the company sold its soul for higher profits. They also argue, and have successfully won in court numerous times, that Walmart uses illegal and devastating tactics to achieve its mega-profits.
Among criticisms of Walmart are:
In closing, it would take a book to detail all the un-American activities the Walmart corporation and it’s Walton family owners have used to destroy such a large portion of the American economy and the American dream. Not surprisingly, dozens of books detailing just that subject already exists. To sum up the consensus feeling from Main Street, the AFL-CIO said at the time - "Walmart is the single largest importer of foreign-produced goods in the United States", their biggest trading partner is China, and their trade with China alone constitutes approximately 10 percent of the total US trade deficit with China as of 2004.”