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I was having a discussion regarding Wal-Mart, and happened to mention that most objectivists are in favor of the company and its expansion.

I myself am unsure on how Wal-Mart treats its employees, but I was told that the company delivers poor wages, treats them poorly, and is becoming too powerful. What is the defense for Wal-Mart, who is appearently so powerful that it can "treat their employees however they want?"

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That their employees are free to leave and work elsewhere. That they voluntarily choose not to simply demonstrates that the workers themselves consider being a Wal-Mart employee over all the other opportunities open to them in their town, their city, their county, or their state.

Tell the person that if he wants to hire them at 'better' wages, and treat them 'better' (whatever that might mean) he is free to do so.

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Employment exists because of business. It is created by the business. Therefore, a business should be free to set whatever terms and conditions they like with employees, as long as the employees agree to these terms and conditions voluntarily. Walmart doesn't kidnap people and make them work as slaves - they offer certain wages and certain conditions and employees choose to work there. A company can choose to pay its employees way above market price and provide them with cars and accomodation or whatever, if the organisation thinks that it is in their self interest to do so. But it is their decision, not ours and certainly not the government's.

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is becoming too powerful

The key issue here is the difference between economic and political power. Ayn Rand wrote about this at length, and I would recommend that you read “Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal” for a proper understanding of the difference between political and economic power.

This is from an ARI op-ed by Ed Locke:

Economic power is fundamentally different from political power. Economic power consists of incentive and reward. It entails voluntary trade. Microsoft cannot compel anyone to deal with it — it can only state the terms under which it is willing to offer the products it has created. If Microsoft is willing to license its products to computer manufacturers on the condition that they not feature Netscape’s product, that is a trade. The manufacturer is free to refuse — and to accept the consequence of not being able to provide its customers with Microsoft software. Freedom of trade does not imply that every trader will always get his way; it means that he is free to decide whether or not to accept the terms of a trade.

By contrast, political power — the power exercised by government — is the power of physical coercion. There is no trade and no choice involved. Political power simply forbids productive activities under the threat of fines or imprisonment.

Btw, my Dad is proudly boycotting Wal-Mart despite all my vociferous protestations. He is a reasonable person on most issues, so whenever I hear anyone else criticize Wal-Mart, I’m reminded of him and tend to get pretty riled up. I now make it a point to shop there as often as possible.

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I suppose someone should mention that all Objectivists are in favor of the companys freedom to expand... not most.

To be technically correct, Objectivists are by definition in favor of Wal-Mart’s freedom to expand, just like any other business – but not necessarily in favor of their expansion as such, since they may (incorrectly, I’d say) think that there are superior retail chains.

I bring this up because I often encounter people who think that I support businesses unconditionally, which is not true. They are many businesses whose freedom I support unconditionally despite being deeply opposed to their actual practices (like AT&T, Sun, & SCO)

While the equivocation of the difference between political and economic power rejects the difference between force and persuasion, the above rejects the difference between bias and objectivity. These are two of the most common evasions committed by leftists.

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Exploitation: when someone works for terms and conditions that I would not accept.

When someone asserts that Wal-Mart "exploits" its employees, keep in mind what he's saying.

GC: I am one of the people who doesn't enjoy the Wal-Mart experience, from the mongoloid greeter at the front door "welcuh t'wahmot", to the crowds of low-income people with their screaming brats, to the lines at the checkout, etc. But I fully support your right to shop their, and I think Wal-Mart is worlds ahead of every other retailer in efficiency.

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Whether you like Wal-Mart or not, you are affected by it nonetheless. The wholesale cost of consumer goods has decreased markedly thanks to Wal-Mart's demanding "exploitation" of its suppliers, who, of course, are free to not work with the giant retailer. Those who crow about Wal-Mart and pine for the mom-and-pop establishment would do well to remember the premiums garnered by limited choice of venue and limited selection. There's a reason why they do $250 billion in business annually and have consistent revenue growth: look beyond the numbers and you see millions of people voting their support with cash and debit card. Oh, and the 1.3 million employees suggest that maybe people want to work for them. In the end, I think a lot of the animosity towards Wal-Mart is pure envy.

I love Wal-Mart and shop there as often as I can in addition to subscribing to their great DVD rental business.

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I love Wal-Mart too, for many reasons. But I would like to share my favorite reason/joke that I always tell everyone. It goes a little something like this: Wal-Mart is great. It’s the only place that you can get a bag of chips, some underwear, fertilizer, a TV, and a new set of tires all in at the same time. It has everything a man needs.

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They are many businesses whose freedom I support unconditionally despite being deeply opposed to their actual practices (like AT&T, Sun, & SCO)

Sorry for asking an off-topic question, but do you mean Sun Microsystems? If yes, which of their practices are you opposed to, and why?

Just being curious...

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Sun chooses to "compete" via lawsuit and legislation.

I agree with you, but find your description of the problem to be unclear.

There is nothing wrong with filing lawsuits or supporting legislation, so long as the laws/legislation in question is moral. It is not that Sun competes using lawsuits and legislation that is the problem, but that they use immoral laws/legislation when doing so.

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  • 8 months later...

I've been curious about something for some time now. I noticed that Wal-Mart is starting to get pretty big over in China.

I've also done some research on where Wal-Mart acquires it's product from. I know the internet isn't always the most reliable source, but after searching numerous pages,( I just googled it) it seems that 95% of all products sold at Wal-Mart are made in China.

If this is true, and China is getting fat off what we sell over here. Isn't that expanding their communist nation, and allowing for more expansion for certain areas, such as their military? I mean even selling 10% of Chinese merchandise would better their endeavors, wouldn't it?

Thoughts? I hope I'm flawed in this and just jumping the gun.

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I've been curious about something for some time now.  I noticed that Wal-Mart is starting to get pretty big over in China.

Questions for thought and further research:

1. Why focus on Walmart? Nearly every major corporation in the world is eager to be part of the largest market in the world -- largest, in terms of population.

2. Your subtitle mentions welfare states. Walmart is based in the U. S. -- itself a welfare state, aided by the taxes Walmart pays. Walmart is a victim, but like most businesses it sees controls and taxes as just a cost of doing business and pragmatically plows ahead.

3. Why do you say China has a communist government? To me it looks more like the usual mixture of fascism, national socialism, and welfare statism -- with a layer of old Marxist bromides -- combined with a growing de facto free market. The regime is losing control of the population, in some ways.

4. According to news reports I have seen over the last few years, some U. S. and European companies are doing more than just selling Chinese products in the West. Worse, they are selling military or related civilian technology directly to the Chinese government, allowing them to build weapons which someday may be directed at the U. S.. Isn't that a lot worse than selling Chinese-made t-shirts? To me it is.

Edited by BurgessLau
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China is no longer a communist state. It's still very much authoritarian, but it is moving towards freedom at a steady pace.

Plus, there is no practical way to avoid buying things produced in China. They are everywhere, and sometimes it's literally impossible to find certain products which were NOT manufactured there.

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This is an interesting question of moral sanction v self-interest.

As a primer however, we should keep in mind that after aquiring the capitalist and formerly British Hong Kong in 1997, and especially upon obtaing membership to WTO China is indeed moving toward a free (whatever that means these days) economy.

Never the less, for kicks and giggles, to better serve our purpose lets assume that China is a communist nation.

The goods produced in China are purchased for a reason: they're cheap. A business like Wal-mart chooses to buy 95% of its goods from China because due to they're massive work force and the technology imported from Japan, China can produce items more cheaply than in the United States. From a free market perspective this is an obvious incentive, he who can produce what I need more cheaply will get my business.

But does the free market incentive apply to those who reject capitalism? Would following a principle of self-interest in this case be a santion? And if so, how do we morally weigh the consequences?

(Am I allowed to ask a question or do I have to start another thread?)

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Would following a principle of self-interest in this case be a santion? And if so, how do we morally weigh the consequences?

(Am I allowed to ask a question or do I have to start another thread?)

I thnk the question is appropriate in this thread, as implicit in the subject of the first post.

The first order of business should be to define sanction; then to explain why sanction is an important issue; and lastly to show how these issues apply to Western countries -- EU, Australia, Canada, and the U. S. A. -- doing business with mainland China.

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I honestly hate Wal-Mart. No, it has nothing to do with anti-corporate rhetoric, I just don't like it because Wal-Mart provides horrible service, doesn't bother to put anything in the right place, kids run up and down screaming and crying like crazy as if their parents suddenly disappeared when there right by you and you always find some of the strangest people there.

:)

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I honestly hate Wal-Mart....  horrible service,...

Then you hate WalMart's "product", but not the corporation. That's perfectly fine -- not a philosophical issue anyway. I'd bet many Wal-Mart shoppers would love to shop elsewhere (say, Nordstrom?) if they got the same price.

Like US airlines and phone companies, Wal-Mart has understood that many, many consumers want things cheap, if at the cost of quality. The good thing is that a company the size of Wal-Mart gets such discounts when it buys that it can offer comparable goods cheaper than the competition.

Sorry to take this a bit off-topic, but I just had to post when I saw an "I hate Wal-Mart" remark.

For the record, I hardly shop at Wal-Mart myself (mainly because the closest one if miles away), but I love the company.

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I don't think Wal-Mart gets most of its products from China. I think most clothes are still from other countries, though that will be changing as tariffs become more favorable. Very little food, paper, or cleaning products are from China. Movies, music, and videogames are generally not made in China, except some packaging. I suspect most electronics products and toys are made in China, as well as many miscellaneous manufactured products.

I've tracked China's economy and political situation for many years. The culture is generally collectivist, interspersed with occasional lone-wolf-ism. I'd describe the political system as authoritarian-nationalist, rather than totalitarian. The economy is fascist, with a vast and inefficient state run sector that employs most "workers" and an efficient non-state sector that with a smaller share of assets and employees, actually produces the most. The economy is rife with corruption, because the party and party members and local officials use their power to collect as much as they can from whatever production or assets are in their domain. My understanding is that China's export sector creates much of the economic value in the country, as it combines inexpensive labor with foreign supplied capital and machinery to create a global cost advantage. I suspect that the rest of the economy will be vulnerable as most emerging economies are, to a weak, corrupt, and inefficient financial sector, coupled with politically driven and state-distorted real estate and construction boom.

I think that many misunderstand the Chinese economy's trend towards less repression. While it is less repressive to allow Chinese officials to convert state property to their own defacto personal property, and run it to maximize their own incomes, I would not call this capitalist, or freedom. Objective business law is still far far away. I recall rebelling against people who spoke of "cowboy capitalism" in Russia in the mid 90s, because semi-anarchy mixed with corruption is far from capitalism and an economy based on property rights. I don't think there is a very strong trend in China towards a property rights based economy or individual rights based political system. There are some modest moves towards property rights, but keep in mind that sometimes the Chinese government tells foreigners what it thinks they want to hear. The test of respect for property rights will come during bad times, not current boom times, and even now there is constant exception making based on power.

Is there a long run danger to becoming dependent on China? Yes, because the China's government is fundamentally unstable, and supplies could someday become disrupted. And China's government is likely to remain hostile to the concept of individual rights, and sees itself as a potential counterbalance to American dominance in the world. American companies dependent on Chinese business have long been used to influence American political decisions towards the China line, and I expect this to grow. And the Chinese government will divert some of the new wealth towards improved weapons, increasing its influence in the world, etc. In the long run, Western companies will probably indirectly finance a government in China that will prove to be a threat to America's global dominance.

My most optimistic hope for China is that it could become a second-class country, too distracted by its own internal problems to cause much trouble for the rest of the world, growing by converting its ill-employed peasants into useful manufacturers. China would need an intellectual/moral revolution to become much more than that, because its underlying culture is much more collectivist/altruist than the West.

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But does the free market incentive apply to those who reject capitalism? Would following a principle of self-interest in this case be a santion? And if so, how do we morally weigh the consequences?

Following a principle of self-sacrifice in this would be a sanction to altruism, collectivism, and statism, in that it's self-sacrifice! Better to pick the alternative which may or may not be a sanction (it's not), and certainly isn't self-sacrifice.

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