Thursday, November 17, 2005

Widening the lens...we are all in this together

This weekend I had the opportunity to see the documentary, Wal-Mart, The High cost of low prices. It is an interesting film and it certainly leaves you feeling like Wal-Mart is a very greedy corporation who in their mission to provide low prices has created a monster that is taking over the world.

At the end of the showing, the group of 50 or so adults in the room began to discuss it and there was the expected venomous comments against large corporations. Wal-Mart, while perhaps the extreme of corporate greed certainly is not alone. Many other corporations have defiled the environment, run rough-shod over communities all for the sake of ever-larger profits (recall Enron). Wal-Mart, with more stores nationwide and an international influence with both stores and factories that supply cheap goods is an easy target to pick on.

But I would have to suggest that we widen the lens and take a broader look at the whole picture. Wal-Mart is a symptom not a cause of the problem. Wal-Mart in fact, is only acting out an inevitability of a system that is predicated on one core issue: a consumer economy. Bottom line is that we like to buy stuff. Or perhaps I should say, we have been enculturated into a culture that has convinced us that we are "consumers" instead of citizens. We all know it is our responsibility to 'consume' because when we stop consuming the economy lurches to a halt and then, oh, my gosh...what happens after that? As we head into the Christmas shopping season--don't you feel a pressure to get out there and do your part? We watch the TV newscasters report day after day whether or not we're going to have a good holiday buying season and thus a "strong economy". In the back of everyone's mind is the thought--if consumers don't buy, businesses don't do well, if businesses don't do well then people lose their jobs and when people lose their jobs then they can't buy and gosh, then it just keeps on spiraling down! No one wants to go there!

While Wal-Mart, the High cost of Low prices movie does force us to think about where we shop (big corporate or small local store) it doesn't force us to confront the even bigger issue--and that's that we consume way too much! Yes, we want cheap prices and for that we're willing to allow a Chinese factory worker to make $.18 cents/hr. Long before Wal-Mart took over the world, the American consumer has been accepting and expecting low prices. Blindly we have allowed our factories to shut down and ship out to India and China--while decimating our own small town factories and the communities around them. Was it Wal-Mart that made this happen or all of us?

Bottom line is that we're all in this together. Wal-Mart gives us what we want--cheap prices and we give Wal-Mart what it wants--our money. We're both addicted to each other but ultimately we are all going to have to confront our consumption. We could all stop buying from Wal-Mart tomorrow and bankrupt them within 6 months. We might feel good that we've toppled the greedy giant--but will we then stop shopping? No, and so another Wal-Mart will arise to fill the vacuum. It won't be long until we discover we've created another monster.

Until we are all willing to look at the core issue--massive consumption at the expense of our environment, the community and life--toppling Wal-Mart is but a temporary feel good. We must take responsibility for designing a world beyond a consumer economy. That's the movie I really want to see!

No comments: