My daughter came home from last night’s Catholic youth group, and I was a little dismayed to hear that the focus of of the session was watching a movie in opposition to the Wal-Mart chain. This troubles me for two main reasons. First, it seems that a church youth group’s focus should be directed to the worship of Christ as opposed to any political indoctrination. Second, the issue the movie highlighted is more complicated and inter-connected than the film would have the viewers believe. Some have suggested this particular film is quite deceptive in its attempt to get everyone onboard the anti-Wal-Mart train.
A magazine called *National Review (representing conservative Catholic political opinion), *for example, recently ran an article which discussed a movie which appears to be the same one which my daughter viewed. It interviewed sources for the movie which put the discussion in a whole new light. In one case I recall, a store owner who was featured in the film saying that he was about to go out of business was found to actually be doing much better a year later. Why? Because Wal-Mart brought new customers into the area. Economics is not a zero-sum game, after all. If people have more money in their pockets, they have more ability to spend elsewhere.
The magazine also pointed-out that some economists argue that Wal-Mart’s presence in the United States economy actually acted as a tremendous positive effect in pulling the nation out of the last recession. The poorest in our society benefit from Wal-Mart’s presence, as they can stretch their dollars so much further–shopping there for some is like actually have a larger paycheck. This has ripple ramifications throughout local (and the national) economies.
As another aside, I used to work retail shortly after being married. It was awful. No benefits–or nearly none–and very low pay. Did I picket the stores in which I worked? No, I endeavored to improve my skills and education and found better employment. Wal-Mart wages may not be great for everyone, but that’s why employees have the option to improve their state of affairs and look for work elsewhere. It is a stepping stone, not a goal in and of itself. For students and retired persons the store sometimes offers something they can’t find anywhere else–e.g. flexible hours, friendly work environment, etc.
While we all are opposed to sweat shops and unsafe working conditions, it is my opinion that this focus against a particular retail chain in a church setting is not time well spent. When the children are old enough to sit through an economics class, they will understand that the issue is more complicated than they were led to believe.
What do you think?