Sunday, December 1, 2013

The United States of Greedy Bastards


One has to wonder whether old Sam Walton is rolling over in his grave today given the tarnishing the brand of his legacy, Wal-Mart by his heirs, their crappy management team and ongoing dismal public relations. The bruises from the scrums in the Black Thursday/Friday moshs pit are days from healing yet the chain has become the avatar of all that has gone wrong with American capitalism in the era of greed. The internet and You Tube are chock full of tales, pictures and videos of unruly shoppers run amok and it seems like the worst are the ones that were taken in various national Wal-Mart stores. I have run across more than one in which the chronicler of the marauding hordes was the one who was ejected from the premises, cast out as a heretic while the assailants behind the bargain day bashing were allowed to stay and buy more Chinese made crap lest the greatest shopping day of 2013 suffer any diminished profits.
Black Friday has become more of a national embarrassment each year, this year finally the last lines were crossed when the the big box stores and other retailers defiled Thanksgiving Day.

I have seen many comparisons between the hordes that descended on Wal-Mart and Target and a zombie apocalypse along the lines of the AMC television series The Walking Dead and they are spot on. We are not yet to the point where there are drunken hooligans ripping the entrails out of any what stand in their way between the $98 HDTV doorbusters special at Wally World and the checkout line but there is that certain dead-eyed, relentless glare of the undead evident in many of the You Tube videos but they move much faster.

It would likely pain the dearly departed Mr. Walton to see this today in the global retailer that bears his family name. Not that Sam wasn't a union hating big businessman (I have seen few who weren't) but there was a certain type of pride that comes from building a business from scratch the traditional American way rather than in just inheriting it and trashing the brand in the name of obscene profits. Engaging in foreign bribery, hell that's just the way that we roll anymore in America and the country's largest employer is like others using the practices to grease the rails for incursions into non-domestic markets. Lying, cheating and bribery have become the tools to succeed in American business, if you really have the political juice one can likely even procure NSA surveillance information on your competitors. It used to be that unscrupulous business practices were a scarlet letter of shame but have come to merit exalted status for job destroying CEO's who then have hagiographies churned out by the state-corporate media that encourage even more to adopt that type of behavior.

In the race to the bottom line it is the American worker and economy as a whole that get trampled. Even before the implosion of the housing bubble and the worthless derivative toilet paper that it was converted to - and subsequently reflated by a 2009 change in the mark to market accounting rules and then purchased by the Federal Reserve it was the plague of offshoring jobs that was setting us all up for the big fall. While Americans spent the early part of the century cowering after the September 11, 2001 attacks and the corrupt government's ongoing demagoguery and fear mongering for political gain the looting spree began as jobs were sent to India and other countries offering fewer regulations and a cheaper workforce, it was the greatest act of labor arbitrage in history and those jobs are never coming back. The waves of downsizings, restructurings and jettisoning of 'human capital' cut a swath through the American work force and as a result drove many who once had decent jobs into low-paying, thankless retail and service jobs - a good many at Wal-Mart. I wonder how Sam would have felt about that as it used to be that when he was alive the stores not only stocked a lot more products but they were festooned in red, white and blue and "Buy American" signs but this was back when we still actually had a domestic manufacturing base.

Wal-Mart was targeted by labor protests this weekend as well over their lousy pay and dismal work conditions. They really do treat their employees like crap but I find it hard to come down on big blue smiley when many others do exactly the same and worse at least at Wal-Mart there are such heartwarming gestures to the poorly paid that some stores held food donation drives for employees. Fast food goliath McDonalds has come under some criticism for it's McResource line that offers their serfs such sage advise as returning or selling their holiday gifts for extra money, breaking their food into smaller pieces to not feel hungry and to even get advice on how to apply for food stamps from the federal government. In fact both Wal-Mart and McDonalds employees are some of the biggest recipients of government aid it really speaks volumes to how low that we have fallen when two of American's most recognized global corporations are getting such attention for all of the worst reasons.  

While I am a libertarian (although one who has progressive leanings)  I have somewhat conflicting feelings over the role of unions that with truly free markets and a real version of capitalism where the best succeed and the worst allowed to fail, so totally unlike our ongoing government's bestowing of special treatment on zombie banks and too big to fails that are an abomination in that when the entire system has failed perhaps this time the protesters have it right. In the end all that matters is the the pigs can keep eating and the Obama administration continues to fill the trough to overflowing with the endless Wall Street bailouts while giving nothing to Main Street save a corporate scam of a health insurance reform plan. Talk about loosing the vampires to feed.

With the latest wave of reports on sales including this one from Bloomberg that retailers saw a drop in sales on actual Black Friday with the turkey day openings but in an ominous sign for the greedy bastards more people are choosing to just avoid the melees altogether. Amazon online sales were well up this year as the more sane shoppers just did their shopping from home therefore avoiding being mugged under the flourescent lights. The expansion into Thanksgiving did score a hit though with the more hard core types responding positively, nothing like a post-feast rampage to work off some of those calories. It is a dead certainty that given the enthusiastic response that big blue smiley and others will open even earlier come next Thanksgiving as the corporate state continues to wage war on family tradition.