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Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Prices [22 Mar 2006|08:15pm]

I recently watched Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price. I'm not a very big fan of Wal-Mart.

Despite the fact that I faithfully, hopelessly follow all news that has to do with Wal-Mart, I still learned quite a few (unverified) things from watching the film. The Waltons have a bunker, for example. They have collectively given less than 1% of their income to charity, where Bill Gates has given 58%. Bush's recent tax cuts gave the Walton's a $91,500 per hour break.

Some of the "facts" in the film did smack more of fearmongering than anything. For example, there is a sizeable chunk devoted to showing how often crimes happen in Wal-Mart parking lots, and how unwilling the company has been to take even modest measures to address the problems.

I can see how this illustrates that they are heartless, but I'm not sure that it is something we should spend much time on. Where were the police, for example? In no world do I intend to entrust the responsibility for public safety to the Wal-Marts of the world. I suppose there are some complicated legal things regarding parking lots, private property, etc. But still, I don't think the fact that you are more likely to get mugged in a Wal-Mart parking lot as compared to other places is really that salient of a reason to avoid the place. It also struck me as a concern only to particular classes of people. Victims of these crimes can certainly come from any class, but I'm pretty certain that the suburban or small-town Wal-Mart parking lot is still safer than many urban areas.

Unfortunately the film doesn't even make the attempt to interview anyone from "the other side", other than the corporate CEO speaking a bunch of enterprisish to a large meeting. Maybe nobody from the Waltons would consent to appear or something. While the overall tone is not at all shrill, there isn't any attempt to present possible reasons for why a human being can think it's OK to store leaking pesticide bags uncovered outside in a parking lot during a rainstorm. It's important that we hear these things, so that we know what arguments we need to answer, and so that we also realize that there are real people on both sides.

I'm glad they spent as much time as they did on the public assistance issue, showing how Wal-Mart refuses to provide usable health insurance benefits and instead encourages their employees to seek out public assistance. I think one of the more important arguments to make clearly is that Wal-Mart is only cheaper than other places because our governments give them massive subsidies.

I wonder about this genre as a whole. What is the point of doing this kind of thing as a film? There isn't anything particularly filmish about it. In fact, there are a lot of words popping up on the screen. So why not put it in a book? I guess people don't read books. But is that the only reason? They should have done more with the film medium. There are some good shots of small-town life and tough men weeping, but overall the visual impact is pretty low. They could, for example, have done a lot more with juxtaposing the source of the products with the store shelves.

The primary thing we need to do is connect the action of purchasing something at a Wal-Mart to the suffering that the company causes in order to undercut their competitors' prices.

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