Friday, November 28, 2008

Wal-Mart and the Crisis of Capitalism

Certainly, Wal-Mart will incur legal liability for the death of one of its employees in the stampede at the company's Nassau County store this morning. This tragedy is not the first time the company has seen shopping stampedes, and given the combination of increasingly crass commercialism amid the frenzy of low-priced bargains, Wal-Mart may indeed be criminally negligent not to have corporate crowd-control detachments in place for Black Friday openings.

That said, there's plenty of blame to go around in
today's New York melee, not least of which should focus on the unruly mass of bargain-hunters lining up in front of the store. Indeed, initial reports indicate a violent mob mentality had taken over the crowd of shoppers, some of whom who had broken through plate-glass windows just before the store opened its doors. Pictures of the stampede can be seen, here.

Of course, like all things in American life these days,
the tragedy is already being politicized, and Wal-Mart's being excoriated for its corporate practices:

I've hated that store and what it stands for for a really long time, probably since I lived in Fayetteville, AR, which is pretty close to the epicenter of evil that is the Wal-Mart headquarters in Bentonville. So it should come as no surprise that I hold Wal-Mart largely responsible for the the tragic events at one of their stores on Long Island this morning.

But this story is bigger than just Wal-Mart. This is a story that really shows just how desperate people are getting to continue the lifestyles they've become accustomed to during the last two bubble economies. We've spent the better part of my adult life being told that we, as a nation, can have it all: a strong economy built on outsourcing manufacturing, offshoring profits, and processing, slicing up and securitizing debt. We're told we can have the brand new cars, the huge house in the exurbs or the loft in the city (or both), all filled with the latest gadgets, because we've found yet another way to beat the system. And when, as is inevitable, the system beats us, we don't want to admit it, so when a company like Wal-Mart (and they are far from alone - they're just the trendsetter as the largest) says that if you show up at 5:00 a.m. on the day after Thanksgiving, we'll give you one more hit of what you want, we shouldn't be surprised when the public reacts the way it did.
This author makes the obligatory statement, "oh sure, responsibility should be shared, of course," then continues to rail away against "capitalist exploitation" with the classic anti-globalization rants of today's neo-Stalinist left:

Shopping on Black Friday (which has a slightly different meaning to a lot of people now, I think) has been a tradition for quite some time now, but every year, the stakes get higher, and the early shoppers get more desperate. That someone died today wasn't surprising - the only surprise was that it hadn't happened earlier. For crying out loud, the Sawgrass Mills mall opened at midnight, and there were over 30,000 people there in the first two hours.

30,000 people, all chasing a limited supply of deals.

And the deals are all lies, because we never actually get to see the real cost of any of these items. We don't hear about the labor conditions the people who make this stuff have to work under. We don't see the polluted groundwater or the carbon emitted into the air. We especially don't see the damage being done to our own economy as we continue down this road of unsustainable debt. We just see cheap plasma televisions and Coach bags and trample people in order to get to them.

Desperation makes otherwise reasonable people into monsters, and I'm afraid we're only seeing the beginning of the desperation.

Compare the anti-capitalism of this essay with the lead article at the current International Socialist Review, "Capitalism’s Worst Crisis Wince the 1930s."

Then contrast these structural interpretations with the individual-level analysis at the Anchoress, "
Black Friday and Love."

Humans make choices, and moral responsibility goes both ways. Rejection of mass-mob consumerism will do more to reform capitalism than a wave of corporate malpractice lawsuits, and that's to say nothing of leftist hopes for bringing about the proletarian revolution.

8 comments:

Transsylvania Phoenix said...

Great blog, very informative and well written; it is already added to my blogroll list.
Regards from the neighboring Downey CA.
Transsylvania Phoenix

JD said...

Wal-Mart sucks.

CKAinRedStateUSA said...

Wal-Mark sucks? Now there's a HUTA comment.

Of course, it's the institution, not the mob at the front door that's to blame, right?

Please. Enough of the liberal/leftist tripe.

People have lost their moral compass, have become animals it seems. And no longer does Thanksgiving mean much of anything, execpt the day before a ultra-hyped shopping day.

Perhaps newspapers and radio and television are culpable, too.

After all, they run the commercials that hype the day-after-Thanksgiving-Day shopping orgy.

BTW: The crisis in capitalism currently resides in Washington, D.C., and in, among other places, Wall Street.

Grace Explosion said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Grace Explosion said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Philippe Ohlund said...

I am sad to hear about the death of one of Wal-Mart's employees, in the shopping stampede at the company's store.

But anyway, in times of crisis, trust capitalism.

Maybe the theology of crowd control could help at mass gatherings like this.

I remember I read that during Pope John Paul II’s funeral, some Priests told of non-stop hearing of confessions from five o’clock in the afternoon until six o’clock the next morning.

The mayor of Rome said that not one serious crime was reported in the city during the days when millions were waiting up to 26 hours to view the body.

Maybe the theology of crowd control can explain who or what made crowds of four or five million behave themselves so well during the handful of days surrounding John Paul II’s funeral?

Grizzly Mama said...

I've been in crowds like that before - the mob becomes almost one seething mass with its own mind and it's almost impossible to extract yourself from it. I hate big crowds. You never know when it'll get ugly. I've always managed to work my way out in the past, but its very scary.

That being said, it is a shame that so many people out there don't care about anything or anyone as long as they beat them to the deal. Where were these people raised?

quakerdave said...

"Commie socialists takers thought they'd be getting entitlements. So they shoved everyone out of the way and killed people in a stampede thinking they'd take from their neighbors.

"Sound like Obama supporters to me."


Man, and you call out the "netroots" for being extreme...