Walmart – the Face of Twenty First Century Capitalism

Book Report

Lichtenstein N. Wal-Mart, The Face of Twenty First Century Capitalism: New Press, 2006. Print.





Wal-Mart – The Face of Twenty First Century Capitalism


Wal-Mart – the Face of Twenty First Century Capitalism is edited by one America’s most excellent labor historians. The book marks a determined effort to scrutinize the full scope of Wal-Mart’s operations in business, its effects on the social scene, and its role in the American as well as, the world economy. The book is based on a conference held in 2004 by leading business analysts, labor leaders, historians, and sociologists. The conference immediately drew the interest of national media. Profiles were subsequently drawn in the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, as well as the New York Review of Books. Typically, books concerning Wal-Mart either eulogize blindly the budget behemoth or criticize it for its elimination of beneficial legislation in regard to labor practices, along with other things. This book fails to do either.


The book comprises of twelve selections that are separated into three categories. These include “A Global Corporation,” “Working at Wal-Mart,” and “History, Culture, Capitalism.” The authors include labor and social historians, anthropologists, economists, management specialists, and union leaders. On the whole, the papers are academic in nature and incorporate graphs, charts, tables, as well as footnotes. However, they are interesting and accessible and present insight into the world’s leading company. The book provides scrutiny of the numerous sectors that Wal-Mart occupies in people’s lives as well as the increasingly global economy. The book is extremely recommended for scholastic libraries.

At the beginning of the 21st century, Wal-Mart overtook all its rivals as the world- changing economic institution in contemporary times. Even in a country of shoppers whose chief burning metaphysical objective is to find their stuff, the domination of the big-box retailer that is Wal-Mart is a big astonishment. The enterprise that originated from Arkansas is currently the 30th biggest economy on the planet. It is also China’s 6th biggest export market, the chief customer to Bangladesh, and the biggest private employer in Mexico. It is proven that Wal-Mart’s single day sales surpass the total gross domestic product of approximately 36 nations.

Contributions to the book are an anthology of essays from sociologists and historians who anticipate depicting that this leviathan has thrown the world economy into an innovative hyper-retail quagmire whereby big businesses and conglomerates stalk the world, fighting off regulations as well as, standards of fair labor. Indeed, facts demonstrate that businesses of the scale of Wal-Mart generate their own economic power turfs, consequently reducing wages and twisting market access and manufacturers’ prices wherever they go.

However, an essay by Strasser Susan explains that, Walton’s homegrown empire is actually the most recent in the American custom of merge and squeeze. The genealogy of Wal-Mart is traced to the Frank Woolworth’s innovations of cost control and the Richard Sear’s popularization of mail order in the late 19th century. It is also traced to the 20th century sudden increase of chain stores and discount houses. Even prior to the emergence of retailer gigantism, centrally coordinated enterprises drove off independent merchants and substituted locally based businesses with national corporations. Numerous market analysts have been keen over the collapse of the small-town self-regulating entrepreneur for several generations.

According to Moreton Bethany, the reality of the matter is that, the success of Wal-Mart relies on the managers’ abilities to suckle life out of the convectional red-state ethics. The corporation’s Human Resource practices thrive in exploiting the labor force and employees’ traditional principles, in order to sustain the Wal-Mart family.

The question begs whether Wal-Mart is a curse or a blessing for America. The essayists acknowledge that Wal-Mart has its remarkably positive aspects. Its policy on everyday low prices is alleged to reduce families’ expenditure by approximately $600 per annum. Several analysts credit Wal-Mart sustaining a restraint on the inflation rate of U.S. According to a survey conducted by McKingsley & Co, 25% of the productivity gains in the U.S economy from 1995 through 1999 were attributed to Wal-Mart. The analysts also acknowledge the fact that Wal-Mart employs approximately 1.33 million U.S citizens mainly in the economically miserable communities.

However, the essayists do not predominantly focus on Wal-Mart’s achievements, but rather focus on the costs of its retailing style. The essayists allege that, Wal-Mart holds the American economy at ransom through its paltry health-care coverage, as well as, low wages that throw costs on the American tax payers. While money spent in the Wal-Mart stores by its clients would eventually circulate in the local economy, a great amount of the finances vanish into the international-market stratosphere. The book also highlights how Wal-Mart’s style of retailing damages metropolitan landscapes, disfiguring traditional downtowns as well as increasing the average drive times per household, pollution, and sprawl.

An essay by Rathke Wade proposes a Wal-Mart Workers Association which would campaign extensively for better workplace conditions, through rallying politicians and the public to the cause for equity in labor instead of focusing barely on isolated collective bargaining accords. According to essayist Bell Clement, probably Americans could be influenced into making an alternative choice. For instance, in Germany, the company concurred into improved workplace conditions thereby it is yet to record any tangible profits. This is while shoppers in America continue to take their dollars to the uptown hyper mart, without minding the bona fide costs. Wal-Mart is criticized for its supposedly melancholic obsession with profits, but it is criticized also for practicing a careless process whereby employees are promoted into the senior management positions. While the supporters of the Wal-Mart class action proceedings malign Wal-Mart for its assumed prejudice, none has received above-normal profits through offering employment to the ones against whom Wal-Mart allegedly discriminated.

According to Karjanen, Wal-Mart is a vital component of the forerunner of a social revolution. The essayist alleges that structural and spatial inequalities are increased when mega retailers transforms regional economies. Karjanen asserts that Wal-Mart is a component of a structure that generates an hourglass economy where growth takes place typically at the top and bottom of the wage scale. However, this is intricate to interpret, particularly since another essayist, Hoopes, alleges earlier that little is known concerning the Wal-Mart workforce. Like other essayists, Hoopes, in the book unconditionally believes that remuneration is determined by the munificence of the employer, but not by competitive conditions. According to Hoopes, Wal-Mart is able to employ managerial influence to squeeze labor out of its employees.

Furthermore, the temporal assessments have little to say concerning labor force participation trends. Karjanen criticizes Wal-Mart as a medium in an international supply chain that cannibalizes less important rivals, but a new study by Russell Sobel and Andrea Dean found no statistically vital effect of Wal-Mart’s entry on small-firm employment or self-employment.

Regrettably, economic analysis is this book discharged out of hand. Disregard the economic structure short-circuit discussion and, since the essayists are dealing with unambiguously economic subject matter, it may be compared to restraining language by disregarding some pages in a dictionary. This generates double speak, and it is inappropriate. Regrettably, it seems to be the modus operandi in regard to Wal-Mart criticism. Colorful argumentative literature may be entertaining and useful, but it should not be a substitute for vigilant economic way of thinking.


In conclusion, the essays are found to be conflicting in their discussions of discrimination and profits. First, the essayists sustain that Wal-Mart is a paranoid profit-maximiser, especially alert to the bottom line. Secondly, they allege that Wal-Mart is blinded by custom and prejudice that it would apparently forgo healthier business practices, and, consequently, profits, with the aim of indulging a taste for prejudice. These observations are contradictory. Wal-Mart can only be seen as either a profit-maximiser, or not. However, there are cases in which prejudice can endure in equilibrium, but this would occur in situations in whereby the clientele are keen to pay more for prejudice. While the book serves as a constructive catalogue of information and a foil for the financially viable mind-set, the valid motivation to criticize Wal-Mart, its aggressive quest of subsidies, are offered little thought, and the political limitations Wal-Mart faces are hardly analyzed. If there is a need to criticize Wal-Mart, it is deficient to allege that Wal-Mart offers low wages and fail to provide more information. It is prudent to demonstrate that the markets whereby Wal-Mart operates in are not aggressive. Therefore, in this regard, if patterns are to be claimed, then such patterns require being clearly identified.

Works Cited

Lichtenstein N. Wal-Mart, The Face of Twenty First Century Capitalism: New Press, 2006. Print.

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