- How much do we actually know about the ways the company works?
- What are Wal-Mart's relationships with suppliers like? How do those relationships affect the market and our economy?
- How much influence and control does Wal-Mart have over our national economy and the global economy?
- What does the opening of a Wal-Mart actually do to a community, particularly low-income small towns?
- Just how does it get those "always low prices"? Are those prices worth the consequences?
This book is not simply a rant against Wal-Mart. It is not some left-wing diatribe against consumerism (although ample criticism is there). It is, instead, a thorough investigation of the world's largest company, its practices, and most importantly, its effects on our economy and our lives.
Fishman makes it clear throughout the book that Wal-Mart's values are those of classic Americana - a diligent work ethic, frugality, modesty, unpretentiousness. It's is not a company so cut-throat as to be only about the bottom line (i.e., profit). No, Wal-Mart's bottom line is provide its customers with the lowest prices possible. Wal-Mart is there for the little guy, there to save him money.
But it comes with some interesting consequences. I highly recommend this book for anyone who is conflicted about Wal-Mart and about the corporate high-jacking of our culture. Whether you like Wal-Mart or hate it, this book will give you plenty to think about. The final conclusion isn't "Don't shop at Wal-Mart." Fishman leaves it up to his audience to decide what to do next. He does tell us to ask questions.
After finishing the book, I know now more than ever that I do not want to shop at Wal-Mart. Maybe as other people read this book, we will start a dialogue and find a renewed sense of creativity that will allow us to change our culture and to loosen the corporate grip of control on our lives.
For now, I will leave you with Fishman's closing statement at the end of the book and encourage you all to read it and think about it.
"Wal-Mart is not just a store, or a company, or a powerful institution. It is also a mirror. Wal-Mart is quintessentially American. It mirrors our own energy, our sense of destiny, our appetite for bigness and variety and innovation. And Wal-Mart is not just a reflection of American society. It is a mirror of us as individuals. In a democracy, our individual ambivalence about such a concentrattion of economic power, even when that power is ostensibly on our side, is a signal. Both as individuals and as a society we have an obligation to answer the unanswered questions about Wal-Mart. Otherwise we have surrendered control -- of our communities, of our economy, of some measure of our destiny -- to decisions made in Betonville [Arkansas, the Wal-Mart headquarters]." Charles Fishman, The Wal-Mart Effect, page 247.