Walmart Changed the World 50 Years Ago, But Did It Change For The Better?

I certainly agree with this recent Time Business article on 10 Ways Walmart Changed the World since the first Walmart store was opened in Rogers, Arkansas on July 2, 1962 (four thousand, four hundred stores ago). But I’m not sure all of the changes created by the world’s largest private employer are for the best.

Let’s start with this nice and succinct quote from the article:

      Walmart’s relentless drive for efficiency has bankrupted companies, put downward pressure on wages and upset a retail culture that some believe was less efficient but more personal and aesthetically pleasing.

It may be the story of American capitalism at its finest, but is that the story it wants to bring to the rest of the world as it continues its rapid (or is that rampant) international expansion?

Now, while everyday low prices, supplier partnership, data driven management, supply chain connectivity, focus on decentralized management, and sustainability are good things; and while better selection is neither good nor bad in and of itself; the suburban sprawl it generates is bad for the environment, the relentless drive for efficiency is an accelerating factor in the outsourcing of American jobs and stagnant wages for North American employees is making us poor, and the creation of an overconsumptive (& disposable) culture will make it almost impossible for true sustainability to creep into our culture.

From a simplistic perspective, 6 changes for the better compared to 3 for the worse would appear to be a balance in Walmart’s favour, but it’s not how many good deeds and how many bad deeds, it’s the extent of the damage of the bad deeds that matters. And the extent is pretty bad when we look at things from a modern perspective.

First of all, as the article notes:

      The selection that Americans began to demand required bigger stores that could only be built on the outskirts of small towns or in the suburbs of large cities.

Thanks largely to Walmart, we began to sprawl so much that your average big American city is now sprawling into the next big American city. That’s why we have Mega-Regions where it’s hard to determine where one city ends and the next begins. This is about as un-green as you can get. There’s a reason that San Francisco, Vancouver, and New York are the greenest cities in North America. (See Metropolis.) Why? For starters, the bigger the city, the more gas we have to use to get around because public transportation covers less and less. Plus, we need more resources to distribute power, water, communications, and everything else we need to live.

In the last 10 years, the US economy has last over 4 million blue-collar jobs, mainly as a result of manufacturing job losses, which is largely due to outsourcing. Outsourcing accelerated by Walmart in its pursuit of the lowest possible cost.

But this doesn’t pale in comparison to the creation of the overconsumptive and disposable culture it has created. Thanks to Walmart, we not only want to buy more, because some products have become so cheap, relatively speaking, that we don’t even think about buying them. And, more importantly, because some products have become so cheap, we don’t even think about repairing them when they break, even if they repairable. As a result, we now generate more waste per capita then one would have ever thought possible even a few decades ago. Without Walmart, something else might have come along, but the reality is that Walmart came along and Walmart did the damage.

Any differing opinions?