Does Walmart Make Small-Town America Stupider?

Peter Lawler, in his Big Think column called “Rightly Understood,” asks if Walmart is really “change we should believe in?” Here are his conclusions:

1.  It is good news that Walmart “has become a catalyst for change on the environmental front.”

2.  He asks if human beings live better lives as “social beings” after Walmart comes to town.

3. Walmart is good for consumers

4.  When Walmart comes to town “Main Street” closes down.  Locally-owned stores disappear.  He adds: “Main Street is sometimes eventually revitalized, but hardly ever as a retail district.  It becomes a fake-historic place full of restaurants, coffee shops, etc., and so not a real center of the social and economic life of the community.”

5.  Walmart makes a small town stupider.  Locals are “pretty much stuck with doing what they are told” by the store “brains” who live and work in some “undisclosed location.”

6.  Walmart is boring and predictable.  Shoppers who go to Walmart “in general are getting stupider or more easily satisfied.”

7.  Walmart holds ordinary citizens “hostage to the impersonal forces of globalization” because localities do not have the power to keep Walmart out.

Amen.  Thanks Peter Lawler. I find this conservative critique of Walmart to be quite compelling.

One thought on “Does Walmart Make Small-Town America Stupider?

  1. I am in complete agreement with Lawler on point #3; all too often Walmart's critics ignore the beneficial consequences for consumers. I would intensify his point by noting that Walmart's benefits are actively progressive in the sense that lower income consumers spend a much larger percentage of their income on basic, weekly purchases than wealthier consumers. By offering lower prices and forcing competitors to do the same, Walmart is a boon to poorer consumers.

    As much as I agree with point 3, Lawler's 4th point smacks of bourgeois smugness. He simply assumes the superiority of “quality service and personal touch over affordable convenience.” That's easy to say as a comfortably middle class academic. Customer service and intimacy may be goods, but they are luxuries as well. I am bothered when politicians and NIMBY activists unite to prevent the working classes from having access to “affordable convenience.”

    Point six baffles me. God forbid that lower class consumers might have to endure architectural boredom. Surely it would be better to return them to the older, prettier, and more expensive way of doing things. They'll thank us in the end. I promise.

    Point seven seems exaggerated given Walmart's well-publicized failures to get approval to place stores like NYC and, most recently, in DC. Even without the hyperbole, Lawler engages in some funny little euphemisms like “Localities” and “a particular way of life.” Let me cheekily reword it for him: “Interest groups usually just don't have the power to keep Walmart out in order to ensure that wealthier residents don't have to shop with poor people.”

    There was a point that he could've made on the topic (and even connected it to Marx); all too often, the zoning debates become clashes between Walmart's lobbyists and astroturfed “citizen's” groups sponsored by its market competitors (a la Target). No matter who wins these face offs, crony capitalism is shown to be alive and well. Perfectly true, although I would suggest this as an argument for less authority for zoning boards rather than more.


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