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Change and Walmart–Part 2

So my previous post on Walmart being change that’s, on balance, bad for us as social beings was one of my most popular and, apparently, least controversial.  That’s because many so-called liberals and many traditionalist or “Agrarian” conservatives (followers of Wendell Berry and such) unite in being anti-capitalist and anti-libertarian and anti-globalization.  The post got a point across that I’ve been trying to make over the months:  Being a conservative is not being a libertarian, including not being automatically for whatever the free market brings. 

So this routinely excellent conservative blogger did me the favor of reorganizing the ideas in my post to make them even more clear, and then concluded that my conservative case against Walmart is “compelling.” 

But I only meant it to be semi-compelling–a kind of “lawyer’s argument” that should generate a case in the other direction.  I had to search hard to find a critic of my case (usually that’s no problem at all!).  I found a good one in the comments section of the blog mentioned above.  Here’s a taste what the man says:

I am in complete agreement with Lawler on point #3; all too often Walmart’s critics ignore the beneficial consequences for consumers. I would intensify his point by noting that Walmart’s benefits are actively progressive in the sense that lower income consumers spend a much larger percentage of their income on basic, weekly purchases than wealthier consumers. By offering lower prices and forcing competitors to do the same, Walmart is a boon to poorer consumers. 

As much as I agree with point 3, Lawler’s 4th point smacks of bourgeois smugness. He simply assumes the superiority of “quality service and personal touch over affordable convenience.” That’s easy to say as a comfortably middle class academic. Customer service and intimacy may be goods, but they are luxuries as well. I am bothered when politicians and NIMBY activists unite to prevent the working classes from having access to “affordable convenience.” 

To highlight the main points:  Walmart benefits people who are relatively poor and can’t afford luxuries.  It’s progressive in forcing prices down, helping people stuck with using most of their incomes on basic needs.  Lawler doesn’t shop at Walmart (it’s true, I hardly ever go there) because he’s a smug, bourgeois, comfortable, middle-class academic who can afford not to shop there, who can afford to amuse himself by paying more to be flattered by the personal servants found at more aesthetically pleasing places. 

It would be possible, of course, to take this line of attack even further: Lawler, as a bourgeois academic with tenure, has an easy job with flexible hours.  Plus he’s not caring for a large number of kids.  So he can take his sweet time shoping here and there, going for totally organic this or that at little shops or stands at inflated prices.  The case against Walmart is bourgeois bohemian elitism.

Last night my wife and I ate dinner with a very affluent and sophisticated (but also down-to-earth) couple at (of course) a chain Japanese restaurant (Rusan’s–pretty darn good) that’s come to our Southern, Walmart town.  The wife remarked that she hated Walmart.  The husband said he loved it, and that he’s proud that Rome (GA) is a Walmart town. 

Real men (if I may be so sexist) are proud to shop at Walmart (and Home Depot).  It’s the sensible thing to do.  Most everything you need to fix up the house, maintain your own car, and all that can be found there.  Real men who do real chores (the chores the Agrarians romanticize) don’t care about the aesthetics of some store.  They pour their imaginations and creativity into the families, their homes, (sometimes) their jobs, (sometimes) their cars, their churches, and their hobbies (like hunting and fishing and flying one’s own plane). 

So one reason I rarely go to Walmart is that I’m not so “manly” when it comes to chores and so forth.  If I want something done right, I have to hire someone to do it (and being a middle-class academic I can usually afford to do that).

What I said about Walmart in the previous post remains true to a point.  But real conservatives don’t go so far as to say that the average American has been reduced to a proletarian cog-in-a-machine.  Nor do we take Heidegger or T.S. Eliot so seriously as to really believe that America has been a techno-wasteland that continues to grow.  (Nonetheless, we learn from Heidegger and especially Eliot, knowing that their instructive exaggerations need to be taken seriously, just not as the whole truth.)


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