Saturday, April 17, 2004

The Subject was Wal-Mart

On the maiden post of Blog Meridian, I had made claims that I would at least on occasion have things to say about Wal-Mart, seeing as I shop for groceries there but am decidedly ambivalent about doing so.  Yet, nearly 3 months old and the Blog has not seen fit to offer trenchant commentary about the Benton, Arkansas, retail behemoth.  Then, this morning, I came across this article in the NY Times and thought, no time like the present . . .
The blessing and the curse of Wal-Mart, from my perspective,  is that it can buy in such large quantities that it can actually purchase its products at below wholesale.  I'm not a coupon-clipper, but the difference between Wal-Mart's food prices and those of, say, the regional chain whose store is actually closer to where I live is such that, by shopping at Wal-Mart I can save $20 or more on a week's worth of groceries.  The blessing part is easy: money is tight enough that that $20 is crucial rather than disposable.  The curse is that I know a little about how Wal-Mart treats its employees (I have had many students who have worked there part-time), and I would just as soon not support such treatment by being their customer.  There are also the larger socioeconomic issues raised by its claim to be a Good Neighbor when, in practice, its presence causes smaller, locally-owned stores to close or lay off workers, and also causes wages to go down as a result of becoming the largest retail employer in many towns. 
One of my professors at Rice once called Frank Lentricchia "the quintessential Communist with a swimming pool."  It not only got a good laugh from the class, it also drove home a basic truth: that for many of us, our politics (within which I include our ethical choices) are driven at least as much (if not more) by convenience, by how little it will cost in terms of money or time before we invest in it intellectually, as by actual conviction.  I hear myself saying--I am calling myself to task here--that I'd give up shopping at Wal-Mart if only I could afford to do so (see above).  But social protest shouldn't be the province of the economically-privileged, should it?  Of course not--if it were, it would be robbed of much of its legitimacy.
Well: NOW I have talked myself into working out a budget.
Later tonight: the Saturday film entry.

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