“The real problem is not that we are different, nor that we disagree and have conflict. It's that most of us automatically view conflict as something negative rather than as a tool God can use to help us better understand ourselves and one another.

--Robert Ricciardelli”

Monday, November 20, 2006

On Walmart

If you ask me whether I agree with Walmart’s health insurance and pay practices, I would say no. Does that mean I think it is their responsibility to make health insurance available to their employees? I would say maybe—it would depend on the plan and what it means Walmart will have to pay for it.

(…WOW!!!...I can hear the collective gasp of air preparatory to vilifying such a remark. Let the air back out…slowly…and I’ll explain…)

We live in a nation driven by the stock markets. Don’t believe me? When was the last time you know of where planning was carried out to five years—and accomplished? I think the truth is more like this: our market driven economy has us focused no further out than the next quarter. Corporately, that translates to the next earnings report. And, that relates back to productivity, and cost.

Wages and benefits are generally the highest costs of any business. Limiting those costs is the easiest way for business to drive the profit margins. If costs go up, generally profits go down. If profits go down, the stock value goes down. And, when stock price begins to suffer, there is actually an trend among Americans to assume there is something wrong with the company, and we go somewhere else.

So, back to Walmart. Everyone knows Walmart is the leading retailer, at low costs. Because of their ruthless marketing efforts, prices have been driven down annually among their competitors—creating similar wage and benefit issues there. You see, along with their low prices come other related issues: underpaid workers who have no health insurance. To solve those issues, prices would have to go up—in order to avoid the possible outcomes of suffering stock, and maintaining the next quarter’s earnings.

The goal of every company is to make a profit. The goods or service involved is only the means of obtaining said profits. The more regulations limit the ability of companies to make profits, the more those jobs will go somewhere else. (…can everyone say “India”…)

The real issue is not what Walmart will or won’t provide for the company employees. It is important. But, it is not the real issue. The real issue goes back to our focus on life. We Americans view life with only a short-term focus. A great example is the situation in Iraq. At the start, President Bush warned it would take years, and cost a lot. But, before the end of the first year, the American media, politicians, and people were already saying it had taken too long and cost too much. American politics is another great example. We really only think in terms of the next two years politically. Why do you think Americans only remember the latest scandal? And not those 3-4 years before in the other party?

Our selfish, microwave society tends not to think beyond personal comfort. Personal comfort is always short-term in focus. It deal with “NOW.” As individuals and a society, we don’t really know how to deal with long term problems. For most of us, the longest term plan we ever had to create was getting through college (…well…those of us who thought our way through it anyway…) Some of us may have thought out our mortgage. But, given our highly mobile corporate world and the creative mortgages available to get a low payment, probably not. Those low payments are coming back to haunt a lot of homeowners because they didn’t think about possible long term consequences of a low up-front payment.

Those low payment options came about when lenders found ways they could make more money—driving up the corporate profits. The mounting unpayable debt, however, will bite consumers and providers alike. For example, what will happen now that the real estate bubble seems to be collapsing? And, it was all created for the sake of the next quarter’s earnings…

So, I see the Walmart situation as merely a symptom of a larger problem. Legislatively, the Walmart problem can be fixed in the short term. But, we would only be treating a symptom. What are we going to do about the real, larger, problem?

Until we the people learn to think long term, and consider the long term consequences of our actions, nothing will change. It won’t change in our homes. It won’t change in Washington. And it won’t change in corporate America.