What those 'Low Prices' Cost


I’m starting to feel a little bit of sympathy for Sen. John Kerry. Not because he lost the election. His wealth, his houses, and his safe seat in the U.S. Senate are consolation enough for that. I sympathize with him for having to go through the presidential campaign dragging the paper trail of a 20-year senatorial voting record. I’m starting to realize that if I write this column long enough, like Kerry, I may find myself on the record as taking every side of some questions. But the world keeps changing, and at some point a foolish consistency is just foolish, so here comes another flip-flop.

Twelve years ago, on this page, I mounted a backhanded defense of Wal-Mart against its "small is beautiful" critics. At the time, I identified with the cash-strapped condition that made so many Americans welcome those "everyday low prices." I also pointed out that, by locating in small towns where other businesses were already dying, Wal-Mart provided a common cultural space for middle America’s multiracial proletariat. I suspected that, with Internet shopping then on the horizon, the day might come when Wal-Mart critics would look back at it with nostalgia. Also, as a Southerner with small-town, working-class roots, I had a soft spot for Wal-Mart - as I did for Bill Clinton. For better or worse, Clinton was one of us, and Arkansas-based Wal-Mart, at least in the days of founder Sam Walton, was sort of ours.

That was then. Today I’m ready to join the ranks of all right-thinking people the world over in declaring Wal-Mart an outpost of hell on earth. In fact, the PBS Frontline report that aired last November - "Is Wal-Mart Good for America?" - has me considering a personal boycott of the house that Sam built even though, where I live, that would make life very inconvenient.

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Sojourners Magazine February 2005
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