Wednesday, December 07, 2005

THE NATIONAL REVIEW Offers A Flimsy Defense Of Wal-Mart

When William F. Buckley was the Editor of THE NATIONAL REVIEW, he was able to pen some editorials of great eloquence that masked a flat logic that defended antilabor and antiunion positions that lacked sound reason or morality. With far less eloquence, current NATIONAL REVIEW Editor, Rich Lowry has offered a morally flat defense of the business practices of Wal-Mart while slamming the film, WAL-MART:THE HIGH COST OF LOW PRICES.

It is by no coincidence that the documentary about Wal-Mart is being viewed in many churches accross the U.S., as there are many moral issues involved in the business practices of Wal-Mart.

The antiunion and antilabor viewpoints of the far right, and their mouthpiece publication, THE NATIONAL REVIEW, object to many of the moral and ethical labor reforms and improvements that American labor and unions have achieved, often with the strong support of progressive churches in America.

The American labor movement and labor unions have succeeded in laws against child labor, as well as either laws or labor contracts with individual companies that have achieved a eight hour work day, health insurance, pensions, paid sick leave, fair treatment for women, racial and ethnic minorities and for persons with disabilities, higher wages, overtime pay, job safety, paid holidays, job security, severance pay, paid vacations as well as family and medical leave. By contrast the antilabor and antiunion editoral by Rich Lowry, "Fear And Loathing At Wal-Mart" on December 6, 2005, offered justification for the largely nonunion, low wage efforts of Wal-Mart by justifying the ethics of the low prices they offer against the morality of the social harm that is caused by low paying jobs that often fail to provide decent living wages or provide basic benfits such as health care to their employees.

In the editoral, Rich Lowry claimed that only 5% of Wal-Mart employees receive Medicaid public health benefits. Yet in order to qualify for this very low income public health insurance, in Florida for example, a worker at WAl-Mart would have to have a income less than $1,737 per year with only less than $2,000 in titotal personal assets including their automobile, clothes or other personal items. The fact that even 5% of Wal-Mart employees receive this very low income public health insurance is proof of at least 5% of Wal-Mart employees living at a low income level barely above that of homeless persons. In total, 52% of all Wal-Mart employees do not have Wal-Mart provided health care benefits. And many of these persons rely on other state public health programs for persons with low incomes other than Medicaid. Those that can afford it with the low Wal-Mart wages, attempt to purchase private health insurance if they can afford. But other Wal-Mart employees go without any health insurance, either privately purchased or publicly funded. Yet the NATIONAL REVIEW editorial denigrates any critical or moral basis by the Wal-Mart film to falsely portray Wal-Mart as a "welfare queen".

And in it's defense of of Wal-Mart, Lowry seems to rely almost solely on the "benefits" to American consumers of low Wal-Mart prices. Yet the high moral and social cost of these low prices is ignored in the NATIONAL REVIEW's weak defense of Wal-Mart.

Lowry is willing to offer that "Wal-Mart jobs are poorly paid compared to unionized jobs", yet no mention that retailers such as Wal-Mart whose shelves are filled with high profit, low priced items often produced in China have come at the expense of up to 30 million higher paying often unionized jobs in America. In China, the official minimum wage is supposed to be 40 cents an hour. But many factories, including those owned by American entrepreneurs or contractors are often well known to instruct company managers on ways to avoid paying this wage, and many Chinese are actually paid as little as 24cents an hour in Chinese factories.

But many Chinese workers daily work in factory or workplace safety conditions that even India finds deplorable. The air is so polluted in 500 Chinese cities from lax air pollution laws regarding factories, that for children, simply breathing air has the same health damage consequences as smoking two packs of cigarettes a day. Many Chinese factory workers develop health conditions such as "brown lung" by breathing so many poorly contolled toxins that would be sharply limited in American workplaces. A toxic chemical spill in a Northern Chines city has left 2 million residents of this city without any source of clean running drinking water for two weeks now. And to fuel the energy and raw material needs of China's massive cheap export machine to flood the shelves of Wal-Mart and other American retailers with the low cost goods that the NATION REVIEW is quick to defend, China has the world's most dangerous mines. Last week 161 Chinese miners, with 42 still missing lost their lives in a coalmine collapse. One estimate is that as many as 20,000 miners lose their lives in China each year.

In some countries, the cost of low cost goods to supply WAl-Mart or other major American retailers is even higher. In some countries such as Vietnam, many children live in factories producing high profit low priced goods.

In some cases, the consumer does not even save money. Only corporate profits are enhanced by child labor. Nike was famous for charging $90 or more dollars for some shoes, produced in Vietnamese factories by children for pennies a day who were hit and beaten by company managers when they failed to produce or made production quality mistakes. While paying these low wages, NIKE paid millions of dollars to company CEOs and management and to sports figures such as Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods to promote these high profit, cheaply produced goods made by Vietnamese child labor. It was only after some very negative reporting by some of the moral wrong of child labor abuses that NIKE felt public pressure to reform these high profit abuses of child labor that some labor reforms by NIKE were finally made. But many other goods still flow onto American store shelves produced by child labor, or even by forced labor, by lesser known but equally terrible exploiters of child or forced labor from many foreign lands.

THE NATIONAL REVIEW editoral ignored all of these issues, instead looking to justify the practices of large high profit retailers such as Wal-Mart almost solely claiming a benefit to American consumers of low prices. Last year the U.S. trade deficit totalled more than $666 billion dollars. It is a full 54% higher than the total of U.S. exports, which means that more and more of American finances flow overseas each day. And China was able to take full economic advantage by undervaluing their currency, the yuen, by valuing this currency against the American dollar, which undervalues their products by a full 40% against competing American produced goods. Other responsible world nations value their currency by floating it on world currency markets. But the Chinese method of currency valuation was solely intended to help flood the American marketplace with their high profit goods made with terrible workplace safety and lax water and air pollution standards. Such unfair currency, wage, workplace safety and pollution standards have allowed China such a clear advantage that virtually every major American textile manufacturer has been driven to financial bankruptcy or to moving their operations to China in what is known as job "outsourcing".

The short sighted logic of THE NATIONAL REVIEW to cite low priced products as an advantage to American consumers has overlooked the high cost to exploited Chinese and foreign workers as well ignored the seeds of economic destruction for the wellbeing of the American standard of living as low wage service jobs quickly replace more and more former high paying American factory and labor jobs.

The NATIONAL REVIEW has failed to recognize that the argument is not entirely with Wal-Mart itself. It is the deep problems of globalization that is undermining the American standard of living, in which megacorporations such as Wal-Mart become vendors for cheaply produced goods that undermine America in a manner that is highly destructive and morally objectionable on many grounds.


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