Bill McKibben to join the conversation at ACMEVermont's REEL ACTION "Wal-Mart" screening


November 18, 2005
Please circulate widely.

Bill McKibben to join the conversation at ACMEVermont's REEL ACTION "Wal-Mart" screening.

Friday, November 18 at 7:00 pm at Waitsfield's Valley Players Theater on Route 100.

Background: Global retailer Wal-Mart corporation is the single most profitable business in the world. Five members of the Walton family are listed among this year's ten richest Americans. But what are the economic, social, and political trade-offs that accompany doing business with the planet's largest retailer? Independent film director Robert Greenwald (who gave us "Uncovered" and "Outfoxed") explores life behind the scenes at Wal-Mart in an effort to reveal the "high cost of low price."

Friday, November 18: Waitsfield's Valley Players Theater; 7:00 p.m.

(Co-sponsored by and a fund-raiser for WMRW 95.1 f.m.)

For more information about ACMEVermont, visit

For more information about WMRW 95.1 fm, visit

Excerpt from "Wal-Mart: What's A Bargain Worth?" by Bill McKibben

First printed in the April 2005 issue of Vermont Commons ( (Permission to re-print granted, provided previous sentence and web site are included).

To read or access the whole article, please visit:

Wal-Mart: What’s a Bargain Worth? by Bill McKibben

Let us begin by treating Wal-Mart with utter respect, by giving credit where it is due. In the course of a few decades it has become the mightiest retailer the world has ever seen. In 2002 it sold $224 billion worth of goods. It is bigger than Target, Sears, J.C. Penney, Safeway, and Kroger combined. It sells more toys, more furniture, more jewelry, more dog food, more flowers, more film, more aspirin than anyone in the world. Were it a country, Wal-Mart’s economy would be the seventeenth or eighteenth largest in the world?larger than Saudi Arabia’s.

And it opens a new store every forty-two hours. It is very eager to open a slew of them in Vermont, currently one of the least Wal-Marted states in the Union. From St. Albans to Bennington, Wal-Mart has its unblinking eye firmly fixed on our state.

The story of its growth is simple. It has achieved its position through one cardinal virtue: Lowest Prices Always. And it has done that in turn by becoming almost unbelievably efficient. It is the acme, the epitome, the zenith of efficiency, unlike anything humans have previously witnessed. If it is successful, there is no question that it will bring Vermonters lower prices. There is no question that it will save us some money at the cash register. How much? The only estimate I’ve seen comes from a UVM economist and Wal-Mart enthusiast named Art Woolf who calculated that it might be as much as $36 million annually. I think that’s a gross overestimate, but let’s take it as gospel truth. That works out to $58.14 apiece.

So the question becomes: is it worth it? What are the costs of going ahead and trying to grab that $58.14?

I’m going to describe what I see as the costs across several different categories. Some will seem far away, others are much more obviously close to home. All reflect Wal-Mart’s enormous efficiency and scale?a scale that so dwarfs the small size of our state that it becomes a central, overwhelming fact. Any of the Big Box stores are out of scale with Vermont; a K-Mart or Costco would be no better. But it’s Wal-Mart that has announced its plans, so it can serve as a useful reference point.

Let’s begin by talking about jobs. For a while, in its early years, Wal-Mart prided itself on being a Buy American store. That is a boast it no longer makes, because now it is just the opposite. Ten percent of all American trade with China goes through Wal-Mart, for instance. Indeed, the Princeton economist Paul Krugman explained recently how crucial it has become in driving the transformation of the American economy. “One of the things that limits or slows the growth of imports is the cost of stabling connections and networks,” he wrote. “Wal-Mart, though, is so big and centralized that it can all at once hook Chinese and other suppliers into its digital system, so Wham, you have a large switch to overseas sourcing in a period much quicker than under the old rules of retailing.”

To imagine what that means to any Vermonter working in a manufacturing industry, consider the example of, say, socks. Their production was centered in the American south in recent years, but now those jobs have all but disappeared. Carolina Mills, for instance, shrunk from seventeen factories to seven in the last three years. Why? Because, in the words of one company executive, the company couldn’t compete with low-wage Chinese workers even “if we paid our workers nothing at all.” The items we still make are vulnerable as well. Tombstones from China are now undercutting the Barre product, even though that means shipping chunks of rock halfway around the globe.

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