Wal-Mart Is Good for the Economy: Reich & Semmens

Introduction

The controversy, surrounding Wal-Mart’s business practices, has remained the subject of the public’s attention for quite some time. This controversy is being concerned with the fact that according to many political activists, America’s largest retailer conducts business in a clearly unethical manner. Nevertheless, as time goes on, the sheer inconsistency of Wal-Mart critics’ claims become increasingly clear to more and more people. In its turn, this can be explained by the fact that many American journalists have succeeded in providing citizens with analytical insight into the earlier mentioned controversy. In order to illustrate the validity of this suggestion, I will compare and contrast the articles by Reich and Semmens, as such that contain rather efficient lines of argumentation, in defense of the idea that there are no good reasons to refer to Wal-Mart in strongly negative terms.

Analytical part

Both articles begin with their authors outlining the actual premise behind a controversy, surrounding Wal-Mart. According to Reich (2005), Wal-Mart’s management provides newly hired employees with only minimum wages and actively strives to prevent them from becoming unionized: “It (Wal-Mart) pays its 1.2 million American workers an average of only $9.68 an hour… keeps out unions”. In his article, Semmens (2010) comes up with essentially the same claim. However, according to the author, it is namely the fact that Wal-Mart’s expansion does, in fact, undermine the integrity of America’s small communities, which prompts many citizens to adopt a strongly negative attitude towards the company: “Wal-Mart disregards the concerns of small communities” (p. 8). After having established a discursive premise, both authors move on to expose what they believe accounts for the conceptual fallaciousness of an idea that Wal-Mart’s business activities are being counter-beneficial to the well-being of American society.

According to Reich, there is nothing utterly inappropriate about the way Wal-Mart strives to ensure its competitiveness, because the company’s business strategy is being fully consistent with the conventions of a free-market economy: “Corporations are in fierce competition to get and keep customers, so they pass the bulk of their cost cuts through to consumers as lower prices”. By coming up with this statement, Reich has proven himself an analytically minded individual, capable of discussing controversial issues without being affected by a variety of mind-clouding emotions. After all, the present state of America’s economic realities is being predetermined by the objective laws of the economy and not by people’s wishful thinking.

The same can be said about Semmens, who succeeded in bringing readers’ attention to the fact that there is nothing incidental about Wal-Mart’s commercial success. Apparently, the actual reason why Wal-Mart continues to expand the range of its presence throughout America, is that company’s managers never cease being aware of what represents the foremost principle of a free-market economy’s functioning: “In a market economy, success goes to those businesses that best and most efficiently serve consumer needs”. Therefore, it does not come as a particular surprise that Wal-Mart continues to remain extremely successful, in the commercial sense of this word. By offering the best prices on goods and services, Wal-Mart acts in accordance with consumers’ innermost desires.

A similar idea is being expressed in Reich’s article, as well. According to the author, it is in people’s very nature to look for bargains: “Many of us pressure companies to give us even better bargains”. Therefore, it is quite inappropriate to discuss the actual reasons behind Wal-Mart’s success outside of what represents the essence of people’s consumerist anxieties. Nevertheless, according to Reich, it would be equally wrong to think that these anxieties define just about all the particulars of how people deal with life’s challenges. As Reich noted it, there are two aspects to an individual’s psyche – consumerist and civil: “You and I aren’t just consumers. We’re also workers and citizens”. This is exactly the reason why people’s attitudes towards Wal-Mart appear to be heavily affected by a number of affiliated circumstances. Therefore, even though citizens do have the right to hold on to their own opinions about Wal-Mart, they nevertheless should refrain from referring to these opinions as such that represent an undeniable truth-value.

The idea that the objective nature of people’s consumerist desires contributes to the process of Wal-Mart continuing to expand the range of its operations, is also being explored in Semmens’s article. According to the author, the claim that Wal-Mart’s retailing stands in striking opposition to people’s actual interests do not hold much water. The reason for this is simple – even though the company does in fact offer the best prices, citizens are nevertheless being at liberty to do their shopping just about anywhere they want: “Customers are completely free to ignore the offerings of any business” (p. 8). Therefore, the very fact that Wal-Mart is continuing to enjoy much popularity with consumers, exposes the sheer inconsistency of an earlier mentioned claim.

Reich concludes his article on a rather neutral note while suggesting that there can be very little point in either Wal-Mart’s bashing, on the one hand, or in Wal-Mart’s praising, on the other. According to the author, when it comes to forming their attitude towards Wal-Mart, people should simply consider whether their longing “to preserve jobs and communities” overweighs their desire to have an access to “the best consumer deals”.

The conclusion of Semmens’s article is somewhat different. According to the author, there can be no discussion as to whether Wal-Mart’s business activities benefit ordinary Americans – the sheer extent of a brand name’s popularity confirms the validity of an idea that the majority of citizens do benefit rather immensely out of having an opportunity to shop at Wal-Mart. Moreover, essentially the same can be said even about sweatshop workers in the countries of a Third World, employed by Wal-Mart. It is understood, of course, that by American standards, most of these workers appear being severely underpaid. However, by the standards of a Third World, sweatshop workers’ salaries appear more than adequate: “If the ‘sweatshop’ jobs weren’t superior, people wouldn’t take them” (p. 9). By coming up with this remark, Semmens once again emphasized the sheer arrogance of the idea that Wal-Mart facilitates poverty in so-called ‘developing’ countries.

Conclusion

As it was implied in the Introduction, Reich and Semmens’s articles represent a good example of how journalists can go about substantiating their argumentative standpoints, in regards to a particular issue. The foremost features of both articles are a) objectiveness, b) factualness, c) unbiasedness. At the same time, when compared to what it is being the case with Reich’s article; Semmens’s article appears to be more straightforward to the point. This, however, only slightly undermines the validity of Reich’s line of argumentation, deployed throughout his article. I believe that this conclusion fully correlates with the paper’s initial thesis. By engaging with facts, while discussing a particular issue, journalists do help ordinary readers to gain analytical insight into the discussed subject matter.

References:

Reich, R. (2005). Don’t blame Wal-Mart. The New York Times. Web.

Semmens, J. (2010). Wal-Mart Is good for the economy. Foundation for Economic Education. Web.