Let me start out by saying that I am not completely anti-capitalism. I think if a business is run well, with a product that people want to pay for, that business should prosper and grow.
I also believe that employers should act responsibly toward their employees. Share holders and CEO's may have their place, but a few should not be allowed to become wealthy on the backs of the many people struggling just to survive.
I think what WP said about walmart representing the worst of what America is is true. We (as a large "powerful" nation) have the capability to do so much good, yet we have 37 milllion citizens who live below the poverty line (that's as of 2004 so it is probably even higher today). Again, as of 2004 46 million Americans were without health insurance. We as a nation seem to be closing our eyes to the people right here on our own soil who are not making it, and it is only going to get worse if we continue living the way we do.
Do I blame walmart for all of these problems? No, but I do believe that Walmart and other big box stores (yes, I do think other big box stores are also bad, but walmart is the biggest, and therefore the "baddest") share a large part of the problem. Getting rid of all the big box stores would not solve everything, but it would be a good start.
What's Wrong With WalMart?
In 2004, there was a report released by the Committee on Education and the Workforce (of the US House of Representatives). The report said that low wages at walmart end up being subsidized by federal taxpayers because the walmart wage is not a living wage (and I would say that this applies to any store which does not pay a living wage).
"A typical Walmart Store with 200 employees cost federal taxpayers $420750 per year...in the following ways:
$36000 a year to pay for free and reduced lunches for walmart families
$42000 a year in housing assistance
$125000 a year in federal tax credits and deductions for low income families
$100000 a year for additional child tax credits
$108000 a year for federal health care costs of moving into state children's health insurance programs
$9750 a year for additional costs of low-income energy assistance
Now, I completely support government programs to help those who are needy, but I don't support big businesses getting wealthy while employees are being supported by the government. You might say that the employees should get more education and find better jobs so that they didn't have to work at walmart. I would tell you that that is a very egocentric view of the world. You or I, or anyone reading this post might be in a position where getting a good education and looking for a decent paycheck is standard. That's just what we do, because that's what our parents did. That's the kind of life we were taught to work for. Not everyone is so fortunate, so to apply our natures onto everyone is not realistic. Not everyone lives the kind of life where higher education is considered. You live the way you are taught to live, and very few people have the wherewithal to overcome their lifestyle-imposed limits.
Walmart sells cheap stuff. The cheap stuff has to come from somewhere. According to a frontline PBS documentary, As the single largest customer to most of its suppliers, Wal-Mart openly uses its bargaining power to negotiate lower prices from suppliers. Specifically, in its negotiations with suppliers, Wal-Mart requires that prices go down from year to year. If a vendor does not comply with Wal-Mart's request for reduced prices, they risk having their entire brand removed from Wal-Mart's shelves in favor of a lower-priced competitor or a less expensive store brand. This can put pressure on suppliers to shift jobs to factories in third world countries or reduce the quality of the product. Here's an interesting article on walmart's effect on US manufacturers.
We love to buy cheap stuff. The cheaper the better. We shop around to get the cheapest price on our food, our clothes, and everything else we buy. I myself am guilty. I love a good deal. It scares me a little though, that for a "good deal" we are destroying our economy. I will not shop at walmart. I try to limit shopping at any major big box (except costco, because they are responsible employers).
I encourage everyone to shop locally. Support the small locally owned businesses, sure you may not be able to buy as much, but at least you'll be able to sleep at night (and your pajamas will be much better quality).