Feature

The Wal-Mart Effect: How the World’s Most Powerful Company Really Works—and How It’s Transformi

Are Wal-Mart’s cheap prices worth Earth’s demise?

Americans eat three times more salmon today than they did 15 years ago. One reason, says author Charles Fishman, is that Wal-Mart has found a way to sell salmon at a frankfurter-like $4.84 a pound. How does Wal-Mart do it? It helps that the giant retailer now sells more groceries than any other company in the world, and that the salmon it buys is from one place: Chile. In Chile, salmon are raised in underwater pens; each farm can pack in as many as a million salmon and produces the waste of a moderate-size town. Because regulation is lax, a toxic sludge collects on the ocean floor, killing other life forms. Meanwhile, a single mother in Ohio carts her Wal-Mart salmon to a checkout counter. She will bring home salmon instead of hot dogs, and her total grocery bill is 15 percent lower than it would have been at another store.

Few features of the American landscape are 'œas polarizing these days' as Wal-Mart, said Kathleen Parker in the Orlando Sentinel. Lambasted for driving down wages and pushing manufacturing jobs overseas, the world's largest company is also 'œthe ultimate model of democracy.' Its dogged commitment to the lowest prices possible means that consumers effectively 'œvote with our wallets' in favor of every move Wal-Mart executives make. While other authors have argued for or against Wal-Mart's power, Charles Fishman's fascinating book uses examples like the salmon story to help us understand something larger. The 'œWal-Mart effect' is both good and bad simultaneously, and it's changing our economy profoundly. Fortunately, it remains up to consumers to decide 'œwhat kind of country are we going to be.'

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