In the interests of full disclosure so that my readers will know exactly where I am coming from: I despise Walmart and haven’t set foot in one in over a decade. I’m not a big fan of many large American corporations, of course, but Walmart is on a very short list along with McDonalds of nationwide retail chains I will not patronize under any circumstances.
The reason for my boycott of Walmart is that beyond my sheer disgust with the ugly stores, the low employee wages and crappy merchandise made in China, I have seen with my own eyes the destruction the company helped wreak upon the formerly vibrant downtown business district of my hometown. As recently as the 1980s, you could still go downtown in Freeport, Illinois, and shop at locally owned businesses along the two-block pedestrian mall, and then grab a bite to eat or take in a movie, all without returning to your car. I even worked as a sales clerk for a little mom-and-pop unfinished furniture store along the pedestrian mall for about a year when I was in college. Okay, so it wasn’t exactly a Norman Rockwell painting, but my job was far more pleasant than being a clerk at a big box store.
Then around 1990, Walmart built a store on the outer edges of the city, and today downtown Freeport is a ghost town full of empty store fronts, cracked pavement and no hope for the future. It is a pattern that has been repeated all over the country, and the fact that there has been so little protest, even among those whose towns have been blighted by this menace, just shows how sick our consumerist society has become.
There were national retail chains before the rise of Walmart, of course, but none ever operated with the ruthless efficiency, disregard for the common good and sheer cold-bloodedness of the Monster from Bentonville, Arkansas. A common phrase among peak oilers and others outraged about Wall Street abuses these days is, “privatize the profits and socialize the losses.” Well, that’s been Walmart’s corporate strategy from the beginning. It is a perfect corporate psychopath of the kind that makes the Citizens United Supreme Court decision ruling that corporations have the same “free speech” rights as citizens and ability to donate to campaigns such a hideous abomination sounding the final death knell of American representative democracy.
All of which brings me to a recent story that was highlighted the other day by Dave Cohen of the outstanding Decline of the Empire blog. I urge you to read Dave’s post in its entirety, but I just wanted to highlight this little tidbit:
Upon closer inspection, the Forbes list reveals that six Waltons—all children (one daughter-in-law) of Sam or James “Bud” Walton the founders of Wal-Mart—were on the list. The combined worth of the Walton six was $69.7 billion in 2007—which equated to the total wealth of the entire bottom thirty percent!You read that right. The six Walmart heirs collectively control as much wealth as do the bottom 30% of the U.S. population, which amounts to approximately 100,000,000 people. And because corporate campaign cash completely dominates America’s electoral system nowadays, a trend that was permanently locked into place by the aforementioned Citizens United decision, that effectively means that our new “one dollar-one vote” reality has placed at least as much political power in the hands of those six individuals as possessed collectively by the 100,000,000. But it is actually worse than that. Presumably, the 100,000,000 use nearly all of what little resources they do have just to survive. Which doesn’t leave a whole lot of money left to donate to campaigns, assuming the impossible—that they could ever unify into a cohesive political block. In comparison to this, control by the “1%” looks downright egalitarian.
BTW the new 2011 Forbes 400 has the inherited worth of these six Waltons at $93 billion.
So effectively, this political "new math” in modern America is that 6 people have more power and influence over our so-called “leaders” than do 100,000,000. Some might scoff at that last sentence and say that surely no politician would ever risk standing in opposition to so many voters on behalf of so few. To which I would assert that only means they haven’t been paying attention to how the 6 having been using their influence, as reported by Think Progress:
Not only have the Waltons gathered a fortune equal to that of the bottom third of the country, but they spend it lobbying to cut their own taxes. For years, the Waltons have been supporting efforts to cut the estate tax, the tax levied on inheritance. Conservatives intent on cutting this tax — which they’ve brilliantly dubbed the “death tax” — led to President Obama agreeing to a “compromise” last year that lowered the rate and increased the tax-free exemption, giving a senseless tax break to extremely wealthy families.And there you have modern day America in a nutshell: government of the rich, by the rich and for the rich. Where if you don’t have at least a six figure check you can drop in campaign coffers of the politicians, you have no influence and no ability to effect change. This sad state of affairs is what lies at the very heart of the motivations of the Occupy movement. So the next time you hear some dimwit criticize the protesters for “not having a message,” you can show them the facts above and reply that this is all they should really need to know.
According to the Congressional Budget Office, “for the 1 percent of the population with the highest income, average real after-tax household income grew by 275 percent between 1979 and 2007,” while it grew by just 18 percent for the bottom 20 percent of the income scale. In a given year, the richest ten percent of the country takes home about one quarter of total income. But Congress still saw fit last year to give a tax break to the very richest families, who have collected fortunes that dwarf anything the rest of the country will ever see.
Bonus: My thanks to 1960s pianist/comedian Tom Lehrer, whose song, "New Math," inspired the title of this blog post