Conservative Bargains

I was listening to the radio last week, specifically Mark Davis on WBAP in Ft. Worth, and he had a short rant about Walmart. Basically his contention was that if you were a Walmart hater ... because they put Mom & Pop's out of business or because they are adamantly anti-union or because they are cheapo employers or because they are highly successful capitalists ... then you have to ask yourself if you are really a conservative. Being a long time Walmart hater I thought I should at least review my position and reasoning on how I got there.

There is no doubt that Walmart is a success. They run a tight ship, they know their market, they know the rules and they are focused. In any competitive arena those traits are admired and contribute to an organization's success. I am sure that K-Mart continually compares themselves to Walmart, trying to emulate or undermine them. Whether it's Walmart, the Yankees, the United States or the most popular kid in class, everyone loves a winner ... but might enjoy seeing them brought down a notch or two as well.

I'm not a Walmart hater because they are successful. It's not their success I dislike, it's the way they achieve it. Simply put, I don't like the way they do business. If they were playing by the rules and simply out performing the competition that would be one thing, but that's not how I see it. I think they are unethical bullies and cheats that hide behind the markets desire for "low prices" to justify their behavior.

There are many, many examples of Walmart's less than ethical behavior with vendors and employees ... just google "Walmart" and "time theft", "vlasic", "huffy" or "tax breaks" ... but my dislike of Walmart began, like for many others, when Walmart effectively killed the downtown, family businesses in Pampa. The market determined that Walmart and "low prices" were apparently more important than whatever service or other intangibles the family owned businesses offered. I didn't like it, but apparently the consumers did so who was I to judge?

I assumed that Walmart negotiated for tax breaks, drove hard bargains with vendors and worked to keep employment costs low so that they could deliver on their "low prices" promise and I was okay with that. And then I spent some time at Walmart headquarters in Bentonville, AR and what I saw let me know that it was more than just good, clean competition that created their success, it was a culture of intimidation.

Security procedures for entering the building were very strict and included metal detectors, software scans of personal computers, confiscation of cell phones with cameras, copying of government issued ID and signing a code of conduct and release of liability. Once in the building visitors must have an employee escort them everywhere, including the restroom. Visitors are not allowed to power on any equipment or use any computer connected to their network. There was a mandatory meeting in an auditorium, basically a pep rally led by management, and if employees could not attend in person they were required to watch the video replay during their lunch break. Employees could not accept anything from a vendor, including a 25 cent Sam's Cola purchased from the break room. If an employee went to eat with a vendor they had to turn in a receipt proving they paid for their own lunch.

All of this could be seen as simply tight controls, necessary to keep costs down, and they probably work. But the interaction with employees let you know they felt intimidated, that they knew they were being watched and that zero tolerance was always in place. You might argue that if employees felt intimidated they could always go elsewhere. Really? In Bentonville, AR?

All of this probably makes little difference to Walmart except that it keeps me from shopping there in all but the most dire circumstances. And though my friends and family know my dislike of the company, I'm not sure it's really worthy of a blog entry, except for one thing ... I think it is possible to dislike Walmart and still be a conservative.

My Dad told me once that the things you dislike in others are a good indication of what you don't like about yourself. I'm thinking that's why Walmart and the labor unions are constantly at each other's throats ... they are both supremely self interested and intimidating bullies.


  1. I have one more google search for Mark Davis regarding Wal-Mart. "Eminent Domain".

    It's hardly a conservative position to enable the government to force privately held property to be transfered to another private party under the guise of increasing the tax base for the common good.

    Nor is it very conservative to invalidate the opinions of the segment of the free market who are capable of assigning hidden costs to Wal-Mart's 'low everyday prices'. Our pocketbooks may get overwhelmingly outvoted, but that doesn't negate the reasoning behind it.

    No. Disliking Wal-Mart doesn't fit in well with Pop Conservatism. But much like Wal-Mart, those folks tend to embrace conservativism when it benefits them and find convenient excuses when it doesn't.

    - Little Brother