Friday, November 29, 2013

Givers and takers are reversed

   During this holiday season, there will be feasting and football and family. How much food will be available for some families is uncertain now that Congress has cut back significantly on food subsidies for the needy, but in the coming weeks, there will be ample opportunity for others to help out in food banks and through religious charities.
    Last week, it was widely reported that a Walmart store in Canton, Ohio, opened its season of giving by holding a food drive for its own employees. A spokesman for the store insisted that the food collection bins demonstrated how much Walmart “associates” care about one another.
    This Walmart store, and others who put out food collection bins at this time of year, have chosen to act in ways that reflect Walmart’s fundamental values. There is no encouragement of government to act, no major corporate contributions to the food banks that are facing incredible pressures precisely because of historic government cuts in food subsidy programs that are affecting 47 million Americans. Walmart believes in the private solution, so the Ohio store is encouraging its poorly paid workers to support one another, ensuring management and stockholders are not bothered.
    This story shines a spotlight on the fact that full-time work in America can no longer reliably put food on a worker’s own table. America has valued investing over actual work, all while cutting taxes needed to help those who cannot help themselves.
    Four members of the Walton family, heirs to the Walmart fortune, are collectively worth more than $100 billion—more wealth than belongs to the entire bottom 40 percent of Americans put together. Walmart’s chief executive officer earned $20.7 million last year.
    Analysts at the progressive think tank Demos reported last week that the cash spent by the company to buy back its own stock, a move that further enriches the Waltons and other investors, was enough to increase every Walmart employee’s hourly wages by $5.83.
    The story has generated significant outrage over the irony of a company asking for charity for its own employees. Wal-Mart spokesperson Brooke Buchanan said the company is offended at the criticism; that their actions have been taken out of context.
    The Walmart store’s actions, however, are like the wise men of the Christmas story asking for gifts rather than bringing them. It is hard to imagine a context in which that is not offensive.

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