July 2 2012
Wal-Mart: Is the Giant Chain Creating More Jobs for Women than the Obama Administration?
Wal-Mart has been the target of a class action lawsuit alleging (unfairly we think) that the retail giant discriminated against female employees. The Supreme Court halted the lawsuit, leaving feminists such as Martha Burke up in arms and eager to sue some more.
But now in a story in The Atlantic headlined “How Wal-Mart Is Making the World More Feminist,” there are some developments that Burke & Company would do well to consider before forcing Wal-Mart to spend more money on legal bills. The piece begins with an anecdote:
When fielding questions, C. Douglas McMillon, the CEO of Wal-Mart International, often conveys the point he wants to make via anecdote. After listening to several of them Thursday, my ever-observant colleague James Fallows noticed something. Whether a story took place in Brazil or India or Mexico, the Wal-Mart employee or supplier at its center always seemed to be a woman.
In recent years, gender has been a fraught subject at Wal-Mart, where some employees have alleged past discrimination that is still the subject of litigation. Whether or not the company is guilty of failing to equitably promote and pay women in the past, the campaign it subsequently launched to address women's issues and shore up its public image is tremendously consequential - given the company's reach, it may end up being among the biggest feminist triumphs that private industry has ever spurred, though that presumes a measure of success that isn't certain.
Wal-Mart has always been, in my opinion, a wonderful place to shop, and it’s great news that the company is promoting women. The only thing I hope is that feminist view of women as victims in need of extra help isn't enshrined in the program. It's also worth noting that sometimes companies end up spending vast amounts of capital to mollify feminists who might want to come after them with lawsuits. But let's take this at face value and say it sounds quite promising.
It's interesting that, even in a glowing article such as this one, however, certain prejudices emerge. The article notes:
[The emphasis on helping women] is fascinating partly because Wal-Mart is so often criticized for changing the culture of the American communities where it operates as an unintended consequence of its profit-seeking. Its business model is indisputably disruptive. Does its supply chain innovations and low prices leave the communities it serves better off?
I haven't studied the matter enough to offer any special insight, save that there are winners and losers everywhere. But the debate over the costs of the changes a Wal-Mart location brings is definitely present as it expands in foreign markets.
The left’s disdain for profit-seeking (unless it’s from winning lawsuits, getting book deals and engaging in other pursuits the New Class deems socially acceptable) is likely at least part of the reason is had been unpopular in some progressive quarters. Couple this contempt for profit-seeking a the notion that it's bad to have winners and losers, and you have a recipe for economic stagnation.
Nobody has been more consistent in speaking out against profit-seeking than President Obama. Recalling President Obama’s recent economics speech in Cleveland, Michael Boskin, a former economic adviser to President George H.W. Bush, writes in today's Wall Street Journal:
At times Mr. Obama suggested that the profit motive is somehow ignoble, an opinion shared by many on the far left. But every student learns in introductory economics class that the pursuit of profits is essential to a successful economy, allocating resources to the use consumers value most.
This is not exactly a new insight. Writing in 1776, Adam Smith noted, "It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we can expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest."
The president spent nearly an hour demonizing his Republican opponent Mitt Romney's economic policies and doubling down on his own failed agenda. He called for higher taxes on our most productive citizens and successful small businesses, more government spending and debt, and Washington micromanagement of wide swaths of the economy.
The president, and many on his side of the aisle, don’t realize that only if businesses make a profit can they provide jobs for women (and men!). Only asuccessful business can promote women here and in other countries.