Wal-Mart Changes Everything

Sep 02, 2004

By George Anderson

According to the historian Nelson Lichtenstein, a professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, Wal-Mart is the “business template” for the modern economy.

“In each historical epoch a prototypical enterprise seems to embody a new and innovative set of economic structures and social relationships,” said Professor Lichtenstein. “These
template businesses are emulated because they have put in place, indeed perfected for their era, the most efficient and profitable relationship between the technology of production,
the organization of work and the new shape of the market.”

Wal-Mart, says Professor Lichtenstein, has changed the relationship between vendor and distributor, established wage standards for an entire industry, altered land zoning practices
and, because of its influence beyond U.S. borders, conducted diplomacy with other nations.

“In short, the company’s management legislates for the rest of us key components of American social and industrial policy,” he said.

Moderator’s Comment: Do you agree with Nelson Lichtenstein’s assessment of the Wal-Mart’s influence on business and society?

This from an article in today’s New York Times, “It (Wal-Mart) is the nation’s largest company, representing 2.3 percent of the gross domestic product
and employing 1.5 million workers. Its prowess and buying power are breathtaking: it is the largest trucker in the nation, the third-largest pharmacy, one of the nation’s largest
grocers, and its overall sales are greater than those of Target, Sears, Kmart, J. C. Penney, Safeway and Kroger combined. Microsoft and Intel sales are a tenth as large.”

As Susan Strasser, a history professor at the University of Delaware, said, “Wal-Mart has come to represent something that’s even bigger than it is.”
George Anderson – Moderator

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