Attention Walmart Shoppers: Greed Is Good

Yes, yes. Come one, come all. Bring your children and grandchildren and poverty wages down to your nearest Walmart to take part in, and bear witness to, the stampedes and mauling of your fellow Americans.

It’s an American tradition, after all. Whether you’re clobbering an old lady with a less-than-accidental elbow-jab to the ribs, or forcing your way to the front of the line by pretending there’s someone up there waiting for you, rest assured that by the time the weekend is over, you will have reportedly participated in the continued decline of western civilization.

Within this mosh pit of consumerism– there will be winners and losers, but mostly losers by the measure of capitalism.

There will be disappointed faces leaving stores empty-handed, unable to recognize that supply-side economics has failed to meet their demand for a $38 blu-ray player, a 32″ flat screen for $98, and that set of towels that are evidently this year’s hottest gift idea? To you, I say, “it’s not your fault.”

It’s not you. Your failure to acquire the perfect bath towel, or afford an X-Box One might leave you feeling inadequate and unable to compete in the crush of the crowd that has only gotten larger and more desperate in recent years as supplies never meet demand in what is Exhibit A in the fallacy of supply-side economics. And this continued failure of Reaganomics is only creating more fear and distrust of each other, as a recent poll indicates, ”Americans Don’t Trust Each Other Anymore.”

There’s no single explanation for Americans’ loss of trust.

The best-known analysis comes from “Bowling Alone” author Robert Putnam’s nearly two decades of studying the United States’ declining “social capital,” including trust.

Putnam says Americans have abandoned their bowling leagues and Elks lodges to stay home and watch TV. Less socializing and fewer community meetings make people less trustful than the “long civic generation” that came of age during the Depression and World War II.

University of Maryland Professor Eric Uslaner, who studies politics and trust, puts the blame elsewhere: economic inequality.

Trust has declined as the gap between the nation’s rich and poor gapes ever wider, Uslaner says, and more and more Americans feel shut out. They’ve lost their sense of a shared fate. Tellingly, trust rises with wealth.

Crime rates fell in the 1990s and 2000s, and still Americans grew less trusting. Many social scientists blame 24-hour news coverage of distant violence for skewing people’s perceptions of crime.

Can anything bring trust back?

Uslaner and Clark don’t see much hope anytime soon.

Thomas Sander, executive director of the Saguaro Seminar launched by Putnam, believes the trust deficit is “eminently fixable” if Americans strive to rebuild community and civic life, perhaps by harnessing technology.

After all, the Internet can widen the circle of acquaintances who might help you find a job. Email makes it easier for clubs to plan face-to-face meetings. Googling someone turns up information that used to come via the community grapevine.

But hackers and viruses and hateful posts eat away at trust. And sitting home watching YouTube means less time out meeting others.

It just so happens there’s a free-market solution to all our fears and distrust of one another:

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This is corporate America’s America.

I reluctantly accompanied a friend to a Walmart Black Friday sale in the Northwest suburbs of Chicago. I’m good in crowds and know how to navigate around, and through, the bargain-seeking hordes, so I was both security and moral support for the event.

A $178 HP laptop is how real America gets by. Add it to our accumulated life assets of a microwave oven, a television, an alarm clock, telephone, and you might get a grand total of $300 in trade-in value. Who needs a raise in the minimum wage with these depreciating assets pumping up such an impressive and enviable net worth?

What I witnessed wasn’t so much a distrust in each other(not including the seemingly nice guy who casually cut in front of us, or the girl who called my friend a “bitch” under her breath for not getting out of her way fast enough), but a collective desperation. Like a Social Services waiting room with less intrusive forms to fill out and a few more bucks in their pockets. People were still helping each other find the right line to stand in, or pointing them to the workers handing out store vouchers. People sharing their stories with one another of the insanity of it all. Communicating face to face, and even heart to heart.

When the underpaid store clerks, some wearing “Volunteer Security” vests, began to unwrap the $2 DVDs, the crowd that had gathered all around the store began to push toward the center. No one was trampled, but the sight and sounds of that many people clamoring for a bargain could best be described as a less-than-orderly mob. They weren’t throwing Cabbage Patch Kids to the crowd, so the euphoric buzz of consumer hopes quickly wore off.

I eventually went to my car to wait for my friend to pay for her cheap goods. I sat in my car right out in front of the store for what seemed like an hour. As I watched the faces of the people entering and leaving the store, I saw whole families coming in and out. I saw the father of an Indian, or Pakistani family racing his four kids through the parking lot and seen on his face the face of every smiling father in the history of fathers in one instance. His young daughter was running with them, but she turned back for her mother who was obviously not one for running, opting instead to let her ‘boys be boys’. I was piggy-backing their moments. There were African American families, Asian families, Europeans, women and children– young and old. I saw smiles and an overriding sense of brotherhood every second I waited outside. This is America– the real America. The America the polls and right wing politicians tell us is unworthy of relief and therefore greed is the only way to survive. The America the media wants us to believe is growing more and more distrustful of each other.

As I was sitting there I noticed a young woman looking for someone coming out of the store. She eventually waved for me to roll down my window and asked me if I had jumper cables because her car battery was dead. My first instinct was more cautious than suspicious. My second was, “yes and yes.” As I pulled around to her car, we first had to push her out of the spot to get to the engine. Five people of different races and backgrounds– Black, White, Asian, Hispanic– all rushed over to push the car and save the day.

When we parted ways, we all sort of peeled off and nodded to each other like the end of Oceans 11, as if to say, “This is the America we know.”

This entry was posted in Guns, Poll, The Economy, The Media, Unions, Walmart and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.
  • stacib23

    Okay, I admit it – the $178 laptop almost got me.

  • Mike_Norris

    I was at a Walmart in Longmont, CO. I took a brief break for chaos from the serenity I was enjoying in Estes Park. I did manage to leave with a $98 tv that I merely had to stand in line for to get a wrist band. I was only in line for about ten minutes to get an opportunity to leave with one of the 72 tv’s in stock. I have to say that the people in the line were orderly and well behaved. It was only when the seventy-two wrist bands were given out that all hell broke loose. Even though people were still being given a coupon that guaranteed they would get a tv for ninety eight bucks that wasn’t good enough.

    One woman in particular was screaming at an assistant manager that she demanded a tv at six o’clock. The poor guy was trying to explain that the line began at 4:30, the wristbands were gone, but she still had a chance to purchase a tv for the sale price–to no avail. Once she started yelling at the manager, other people joined in attempting to make the case that the sale started at six, not four thirty, so therefore he had no right to hand out wristbands to people who arrived early and “cut the line” for a tv. As ugly and chaotic as this scene was, it got even uglier.

    I simply waited there at the tv stack and played poker on my phone–and waited–as instructed by store personnel. And then it happened–the plastic wrap was removed from the tv’s. I have never seen anything quite like it, but people were crawling over the top of each other to get to those tv’s–wrist bands be damned. Finally, the young asst manager that had been abused by the woman previously, literally threw himself into the fray and announced that he was radioing the front of the store to shut down the registers. He made it clear that if you had a tv and no wristband, you were had. He had to get uniformed security to get the tv’s back on the stack and maintain order.

    I left with a tv–and other cheap trinkets–but also with a strange sense of guilt and despair. I had witnessed my fellow Americans at their worst behavior. And I left the store with things that are merely temporary. I told my wife that I will never participate in the Black Friday spectacle again. If this is the real America, then I don’t want to be part of it anymore.

    • muselet

      Words cannot express how happy I am not to be working in retail.

      –alopecia

    • Churchlady320

      Well you were a part of it only better behaved. But your very presence fed the beast, so it won’t go away.

  • D_C_Wilson

    There is absolutely nothing you can do to make me go shopping on Black Friday. Nothing. I’m convinced it’s all an experiment set up by anthropologists to see how fast 2 million years of evolution can be undone and reduce people to howling monkeys fighting over a cache of bananas. All that’s missing is the throwing of feces.

    Oh wait.

    http://articles.sun-sentinel.com/2012-12-06/news/sfl-paper-towels-20121205_1_patrol-car-deputies-emergency-lights

    • Mike_Norris

      Jeezus…It was worse than I thought.

    • ninjaf

      WTH?

  • muselet

    I was never impressed by Robert Putnam’s argument that America is falling apart because we don’t participate as much as we once did in banal social rituals, and I’ve seen no reason to alter my opinion. I think Eric Uslaner has the better argument (but then I would, wouldn’t I?).

    Your experience in the parking lot of Wally World and the poll aren’t really at odds with each other. We Americans really don’t trust each other, as groups. Democrats don’t trust Republicans, conservatives don’t trust liberals, rural folk don’t trust city-dwellers, and on and on and on.

    Individuals, though, tend—subtle emphasis on tend—to be polite and helpful and kind and generous, as long as no one gets between them and that Doorbuster Special they have their eyes on.

    So the key would seem to be getting us to see one another as individuals. A little bit of openness and a sense of wonder would help, too.

    And perhaps it’s time to revive Anne Herbert’s advice: Practice random kindness and senseless acts of beauty.

    –alopecia

    • http://www.msadesign.com/ Michael Spencer

      This is an excellent observation that applies to humans in arenas other than shopping. We trust each other individually but not in groups. A little googling reveals sociologists know all about this phenomenon.

      Traveling in the mideast I met only kind people with no hint that my light skin was an issue.

      And finally, witness the fall of the iron curtain: at least one explanation understands that individuals were finally fed up with the collective policy – that of the government– taking things into their own hands they made sensible decisions.

      • Churchlady320

        There is a reaction against corporatism both state and private. People do want some say over their lives. In the Eastern bloc it was the state – in the Western world it is corporations. Either way you have less and less choice over how you live. I spent some time in Poland after the end of Russian control, and the press of economic change was toward employee ownership – cooperatives – that were immediately under challenge from western capitalist financing. Some coops have survived, but many have not as the corporation replaced the state. The pressure from either side erodes self sufficiency, autonomy, self direction, and both are equally grim in their lack of respect for the large body of people who, unfettered, probably could make pretty good choices for themselves and their nations.

  • Arcnor

    I wonder how long it’ll be before Full-Contact Shopping is a recognized, televised sport. Anybody want to help me come up with rules? I think “no weaponry” would be a good start.

  • 1933john

    All I know is that I don’t want to die in a Walmart!

  • Churchlady320

    While a lot of this is sickening, there is a missing part – and that is WHO is doing the shopping, waiting endlessly in line, expressing desperation. Oh we can riff forever on the ‘fetishism of commodities’ or at least our obsession with materialism – but if you look at the pictures, it is mostly people who are living on the edge, the men and women who WORK at places such as Wal Mart.

    I deal a LOT with homeless people – they are our neighbors. There are others who are ‘homed’ but very poor.They have constant worries about so many things – and every last man jack of them has one desire – to be middle class. They want what WE have. Home, warmth, disposable income, a few extras to enjoy. They cannot afford it as it now stands, and this, especially for the housed, makes for desperation. Getting that large screen TV for $88 instead of $799? Priceless. You may insist they don’t “need” it – but if YOU have it, well then…

    I can point fingers forever (and do at the women who tased each other – even I am not THAT blind to stupid) or I can mourn that what once was taken for granted now is wanted with desperation. And since I live in comfort, not at all on the edge, and since I can satisfy most every material want, I am trying to figure out how we stopped being middle class and started being poor as a NATION.

    It’s not just ‘fetishism’ to want something nice – it is what the American Dream promises. Work hard and you can have food on the table, a comfortable home, friends over to watch the game on your large screen TV – those are NOT stupid things because the rest of us have all that. But work hard and STILL only get barely past poverty? That is disgusting and rather than being snide about the people in those lines we really need to ask the Waltons and stockholders of Target and Best Buy why their new spectator sport is not that far from the gladiators in the Coliseum.

    Pay people better, pay them according to the wealth they make for the company, and you will not see these lines any more because Black Friday won’t be anyone’s ONE chance to make a middle class life in America.

    • Kitty Smith

      There’s one thing that always makes me pause when I hear someone harping on the “evils of consumerism”.

      A while ago, on… Pandagon I think, on the old site, someone mentioned watching a show about consumerism, and one of the people on the show was a poor person who noted that consumerism started being an evil once the poor people got nice stuff.

      Ever since then, it just came to me that a lot of these cheap goods? Are really the only luxuries the poor might be able to enjoy. I mean, it’s easy to disdain the black friday mess as a bunch of greedy, bargain-obsessed morons when one is already comfortable, but yeah…

      Between that realization, and the fact that not only is America unhealthily obsessed with suffering and of the belief that if you’re poor you deserve to suffer… I can’t help but think that “the evils of consumerism” is rooted in a very, VERY bad place.

    • mrbrink

      Nicely done. You put people who are already distressed into an unusually stressful situation by design and you’re not only inviting trouble, you’re quite literally manufacturing it– socially and economically. Misery farmers. So you better buy another gun and hoard as much gold and wealth as possible!

      And while a few people having nervous breakdowns over a 32″ flat screen across the country is newsworthy to the purveyors of greed and distrust, it pales in comparison to the specific, memorable acts of generosity, kindness and sincerity that is happening in these lines and in these parking lots all across the country.

      We who leave the mosh pit of economic despair with our cheap goods in tow already know that we’re a little crazy, but most of us also know that the billionaires and corporate media who are continually pulling the strings on all this are the reigning champions of psychotics and they made us this way.

  • 1933john

    This from Harper’s Weekly,

    “On Black Friday, thousands of Walmart employees and union supporters staged protests to demand annual wages of at least $25,000 for the 825,000 workers who make less than that amount and supplement their incomes with an average of $1,000 annually in Medicaid and food stamps. “The protest is sad,” said a Southern California shopper, “because Walmart has good prices.” Police arrested a man dressed as Santa Claus outside an Ontario, California, Walmart; a shopper stabbed and pulled a gun on another shopper during a dispute over a parking space outside a Claypool Hill, Virginia, Walmart; police pepper-sprayed one shopper and ticketed another for spitting on a stranger’s child at a Garfield, New Jersey, Walmart; a police officer was hospitalized for injuries sustained while breaking up a fight outside a Rialto, California, Walmart; and a bomb threat led police to evacuate a White Plains, New York, Walmart. “Black Friday is the Super Bowl of retail,” said Walmart U.S. CEO Bill Simon. “We ran a play that only Walmart could deliver.”