<warning: Rant mode on>
I believe folks are seeking a simple target for a complex situation. Wal-Mart is but a symptom of a much larger issue. True, it is the symptom that most folks see, so I guess it is understandable that they point their fingers at the convenient symptom. But the disease causing the Wal-Mart symptom is like most diseases, very complex and not given to simple cures like “kill the wal-marts”.

The world is changing and the rate of change is increasing daily. Better to try to understand what is happening.

To believe that a company will go into a third world country and pay first world wages is naïve. They will of course pay low wages, but they will be higher than the wages otherwise available. Yes, people will work in sub-standard conditions, but look at the conditions at other available jobs. Of course we see it as deplorable. But here is the difference, we SEE IT. If it were not for the involvement of large corporations like Wal-Mart and others, these folks would continue to labor, pounding brass into bells.

Rather than shunning wal-mart or similar companies, we need to pressure them to use their influence to increase the working conditions in the countries where they purchase their goods. We need to use them as change agents. We need to reach through their corporations to the people working at the other end. Large businesses have rendered most governments (including ours) impotent. The change agents in the world are now businesses and we must learn how to influence their behavior.

The common reply is that we should bring those jobs back to our country. Do you really want your kids making shoes? Do you really want a large portion of the world’s population to continue to live at the bare subsistence level? We need to export those jobs. We need to use those jobs as a way to raise the living conditions in the poorer places on this planet.

But we need jobs. We need to get the economy rolling again. I am from Maine, and I am sorry to say that Maine, in many respects, is like a third world country. The labor-intensive woods industry has passed into history. The shoe manufacturers have left and many folks are without work. People are without any meaningful healthcare. Children are living below the poverty level. Bring back the shoe industry? Harvest the few remaining forests into clearcuts? Sorry to say that looking back will not solve the problem.

But, one might say, jobs are only one facet of the issue. We can’t shop anywhere but at Wal-Marts. All the local shops, with their diversity are gone. It is not like it was in “the good old days” when we could go into a local hardware store and get what we needed.

Yeah, well, I worked in one of those local hardware stores. I am 66 now and I lived through what many of you call “the good old days”. Not what I call ‘em. First, your selection of stuff was far inferior to what is available today. You had to make do with what was available or do without. Well you could travel to another store, right? Yes, perhaps in the next town. Took about an hour to get there and it probably stocked the same stuff cause they both got it from the same distributor. It got really interesting when you needed a special part. Usually you had to write a letter to some far off manufacturer. They would eventually reply with a quote. Then you sent them a check. They waited until it cleared and then sent you the part by parcel post. In due time (perhaps several weeks since the process started), you would get the package, only to find out it was the wrong part and the process began all over again. A much-needed piece of equipment sat idle thru the only month it was needed.

And working in that store. Well true, the owners did their best to make your life reasonable. But reasonable then would mean working with hazardess materials without proper protection. We use to stack dynamite in boxes to the ceiling in the back room. I hate to think about what else was in there. And wages, well, no hospitalization, no paid vacation, no nothing. You work, you got a very small wage and that was all. The owner had no responsibility to you. You got hurt, sorry, but if you can’t work, you don’t get paid.

It is “The end of the world as we know it. (TEOTWAWKI)” Not in the way most folks mean the phrase, but it is TEOTWAKI, none the less. Better get used to it cause it ain’t gonna go back to what it was.

Folks complain about loosing the shopping diversity of “the good old days”. Look around folks. I see a far larger diversity around me now than I ever did before. Thai food, Futon stores, stores dedicated to things that I did not even know existed. Does this mean it is all for the good? Of course not. But...The way it is, is the way it is.

Jobs, yeah, we need ‘em. But we need better jobs than making shoes; cause the competition for those jobs will mean very low wages. And the folks that want those jobs are not going to go away.

So what do we do? Wish I knew. But I do know that TEOTWAKI is here and we better see it clearly for what it is. There is no guarantee that we will continue to have the good fortune we had in the past.

<rant mode off>

...........From Nomad.........Been "on the road" since '97