Acworth, Georgia is way too far north in Cobb County to use Marietta's Big Chicken
as a landmark. You used to be able to give directions by telling people to look
for the Wal-Mart Supercenter on North Cobb Parkway. But pretty soon you won't
even be able to do that, because there will be a second Wal-Mart Supercenter on
North Cobb Parkway, just three miles away.
Statewide, we've already got 93 Wal-Mart Supercenters, 19 regular-sized Wal-Marts,
21 Sam's Clubs and nine distribution centers. We've got Wal-Marts out the wal-zoo.
Some people are whining about having Wal-Marts back to back in Acworth. They
complained that they didn't get to object to the City Council about the big
new store. Well, too bad for them! This is a new America. People don't count.
The land in Acworth already was zoned for big-box retailers. Wal-Mart just
strolled in and fired that mother up.
In other communities, the company might not have it so easy, because a lot
of ordinary Americans have awakened to the locust-like nature of Wal-Mart. The
stores swoop in, kill off mom-and-pop businesses, and empty small town centers.
Meanwhile, to save every last nickel, the boys in Bentonville force their contractors
to set up operations in China. Then, Wal-Mart merrily abandons stores when they
grow old, leaving them behind like used condoms on the roadside.
The formula works like a charm. Wal-Mart now rakes in nearly a quarter of a
trillion dollars annually in sales and plans to triple in size.
Just last month, the Supreme Court helped the company clear a hurdle that might
have gotten in the way of that growth by ruling that the government can take
your property to make way for a new Wal-Mart or Home Depot. Some conservative
commentators tried to paint the court's action as a "liberal" decision.
The hell it is. It is a pro-corporate decision. It benefits big business. And
just in case you haven't been paying attention, big business and big government
have merged under President Bush.
That kind of teamwork isn't always in America's best interests. PBS recently
re-ran its "Frontline" special about Wal-Mart, showing a mass company
meeting that was as red-white-and-blue as the Republican National Convention.
But if you look beyond the flag-waving, you can see that Wal-Mart regularly
ditches patriotism in its ruthless drive for the bottom line, like the time
it sided with the Chinese against a Tennessee TV maker who accused China of
dumping TVs in the United States.
The problem with Wal-Mart and other giant corporations sending so many American
dollars to China is this: The mobsters who run China's government aren't necessarily
our friends. A Chinese general said last week that his country is prepared to
nuke us if we interfere with its potential takeover of Taiwan, according to
the Financial Times. And even without nuclear war, China is crushing us in economic
warfare. Its foreign reserves are on track to top $1 trillion next year. China
is going to own our sorry, credit-card-addicted asses.
What really makes me sick is the way Wal-Mart preys on governments here at
home. The flag-waving company, based in Arkansas, has become the welfare queen
of Georgia. There are 51,821 Wal-Mart employees -- or "associates"
-- in the state, or 1.15 percent of the total civilian work force of about 4.5
The funny thing is that, while Wal-Mart has 1.15 percent of Georgia's work
force, in 2002, children of its employees made up more than 6 percent of all
the kids covered by PeachCare, the state program that provides health care coverage
to the children of the working poor.
Of a total of 166,000 children covered by PeachCare, 10,261 had a parent working
for Wal-Mart in 2002. And Wal-Mart's numbers are way out of line when you bring
other companies into the picture. The No. 2 company on the list, Publix, had
only 734 children of employees on PeachCare. The average PeachCare recipient
costs $1,274 a year. If you multiply that by Wal-Mart's 10,261, you get a total
of more than $13 million in health care costs borne by Georgia taxpayers.
"That is a type of reverse welfare or corporate welfare," says former
Gov. Roy Barnes, now an attorney in Marietta. "I provide insurance for
my employees. Why shouldn't [Wal-Mart] be providing it?"
A union that represents retail workers recently blasted Wal-Mart's deadbeat
approach to employee health care at a state Capitol news conference. The United
Food and Commercial Workers International is among the many unions whose organizing
efforts have been swatted aside by the retail giant.
"The Wal-Mart model is to save as much money as it possibly can for the
consumer, but it's saving money on the one hand and taking it out of their pockets
on the other by forcing folks onto state-funded programs," says Steve Lomax,
president of UFCW Local 1996. "They're asking taxpayers to pay for what
employers normally pay."
Lomax argues that many Wal-Mart workers simply can't afford the company's health
care, which can cost up to 10 percent of their salaries.
Wal-Mart spokesman Nate Hurst directed me to a statement on the company's website.
It calls the UFCW's comments part of a "smear campaign."
The company notes that it offers eight different health care options with premiums
starting at less than $40 a month for single coverage and $155 per month for
family coverage. It also claims to have a track record of getting employees
off Medicaid, the government's health coverage program for the poor.
But the fact remains that Wal-Mart associates seek PeachCare benefits in grossly
State Rep. Stephanie Stuckey Benfield, D-Decatur, introduced a bill earlier
this year to make the state keep records of the employers of people whose kids
use PeachCare. That would help track the extent to which companies are using
the taxpayer-funded program for their own corporate welfare.
She couldn't even get a hearing on the bill this year but hopes to bring it
to light next session. In the meantime, she says, she's shopping at Target and
Costco -- two companies that offer better insurance plans for their workers.
Wal-mart is doomed. That's my theory, anyway. Wal-Mart's "warehouse on
wheels" philosophy won't survive the coming oil crisis. Soon, perhaps as
early as this fall, the world will have gulped up half its oil. On the down
slope after "peak oil," we'll encounter enormous economic strife and
more oil wars like the one in Iraq.
"Wal-Mart and its imitators will not survive the oil market disruptions
to come," says James Howard Kunstler, author of The Long Emergency: Surviving
the Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Century. "It will only
take mild-to-moderate disruptions in the supply and price of gas to put Wal-Mart
and all operations like it out of business. And it will happen."
People like Kunstler and me might want to savor the sweet justice of a Wal-Mart
collapse. But an energy catastrophe also would mean human suffering on a grand
Even now, with the peak oil theory out in the open, our leaders seem incapable
of grasping a future that differs in substantial ways from the glorious present.
They aren't capable of seeing what's coming.
The irony is that, if Kunstler's right, we may return to the small-town life
that we allowed Wal-Mart to destroy in our mad dash to save money on cheap junk
from China -- junk we didn't need in the first place.
If he's wrong, and Wal-Mart does triple in size, I guess Georgia taxpayers
will have to cough up three times as many tax dollars to pay for the medical
expenses of the children of Wal-Mart associates.
But who knows? By then, we might all be on acupuncture.