Prologue to the Wal-Mart Debate
by Heather Larrabee and Ari Armstrong, December 12, 2005
Larrabee Defends Anti-Wal-Mart Film
I hope this finds you well. We met when you were a panelist for the "Vision For America" conference we organized last fall. I recently read one of your editorials where you mentioned Jason Bosch and the Wal-Mart film and I had an opportunity to watch it on Friday night after a long week of work.
I don't know if you've had a chance to see the film as well, but I was absolutely bowled over by its power and depth of analysis, and as someone who I perceive enjoys analysis, I think it's a "must-see" for you. I went in not really knowing what to expect and was both challenged and saddened by the facts laid out against Wal-Mart. I encourage you to view the film and to decide for yourself if, in fact, it indicates, "...capitalism is bad and people are pawns of corporations. For instance, one graphic at ArgusFest.org shows a giant Wal-Mart monster smashing people's homes and stealing their money. Because, as is obvious to elitists on the left, people couldn't possibly work for or shop at Wal-Mart by free choice because doing so improves their lives."
Some of the major themes covered include Wal-Mart's facilitation of employee applications for state services including Medicaid and Section 8 housing -- given that full time employees make around $13,000 a year and can't make ends meet (this costs states billions of dollars a year); the erasure of small businesses and depletion of local resources nation-wide (surely something you don't believe in); the receipt of obscene amounts of tax subsidies; environmental malfeasance and more.
Ari, please see the film at your earliest convenience -- I think the gravity of threat and true cost that Wal-Mart presents to our communities is something you'll both be intrigued by as well as concerned about. Please let me know if I can get a copy to you.
Armstrong Defends Wal-Mart, Suggests Further Discussion
Dear Ms. Larrabee,
Simply put, a film that depicts Wal-Mart as a Godzilla-type monster that smashes people's homes is not a serious documentary. (Similarly, Michael Moore does not produce serious documentaries, but merely propaganda pieces. [See my discussions about Moore's films on Columbine and the terrorist attacks.]) There are also (older) "documentaries" out about how the Moon landing is a fabrication and about how the Earth faces impending doom from global cooling. Have you watched those, too?
You claim that Wal-Mart encourages employees to sign up for welfare programs. To the extent that's the case then I agree it's a problem, but it's a problem created by Congress, not Wal-Mart.
You claim that Wal-Mart puts "small businesses" out of businesses. I do not doubt that this is sometimes true. But that's only because people prefer to buy higher-quality goods at lower prices. There is nothing inherently good about "smallness" in business. Instead, the purpose of business is to provide the goods and services that people want to buy. If you are familiar with the concept of economies of scale, then you understand that, in some industries, larger business structures are able to provide goods and services more efficiently. (Diseconomies of scale also naturally limit the size of businesses.) There are and always will be niche markets for small businesses to compete on the basis of better service, more specialized knowledge, more specialized products, more discriminating selections, etc.
You don't offer specific examples of tax subsidies going to Wal-Mart, and I suspect that you inappropriately conflate tax subsidies with tax breaks. However, obviously I oppose any and all government subsidies. I also oppose discriminatory taxation, but I think the solution is to reduce everyone else's taxes, not increases Wal-Mart's taxes.
Nor do you offer specific examples of how Wal-Mart allegedly hurts the environment, and, as you suspect, I am skeptical of the claim. Instead, Wal-Mart enormously benefits the human environment by enabling people to more easily and inexpensively buy the goods that enhance their surroundings.
The claim that Wal-Mart poses a threat to our communities is simply ridiculous. It is the product of deep-seated antipathy toward capitalism and free markets per se. Your credulity is unfortunate.
Consider this analogy. If a documentarian created a piece about hospitals that focused on every lawsuit, every botched surgery, every death, and every unhappy customer, you might get the impression that hospitals are terrible places that threaten human life. If, on the other hand, you examine also the good that hospitals do, you might reach a different conclusion about the relative benefits of hospitals.
I'll make you a deal. If you see Why Wal-Mart Works: And Why That Drives Some People Crazy, and send me your written report about it comparing it to and contrasting it with Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price (for publication on my web page at http://www.freecolorado.com/), then I will view both films and reply in detail to your report.
Please also let me know whether I have permission to publish your original letter on my web page.
Sincerely, Ari Armstrong
Larrabee Agrees to Exchange, Raises Concerns
Thank you for your detailed and prompt response. I would be happy to view and to review both films for your website, documenting my critiques and analysis.
Second, in an effort of brevity, I simply outlined a few points for your quick consumption--you have attempted to disect them in such a way that assumes evidence and details are neither available, nor forthcoming ("Nor do you offer specific examples of how Wal-Mart allegedly hurts the environment, and, as you suspect, I am skeptical of the claim.") This is not the case and I look forward to the opportunity in my written critique of both films to address your concerns of accuracy related to the points raised in my original email to you.
Last, while I understand your assumption about the category of documentary the Wal-Mart film is, based solely on its cover art, I wonder if you would agree with me that one of the great benefits of our first amendment rights, and that of capitalism itself, are the values we place on creativity and ingenuity. If the creators of the Wal-Mart documentary sought fit to have a colorful, satirical, and logo-recognizable graphic on the cover of the DVD, surely you wouldn't begrudge them creative license to promote their film, as other films are promoted, in an interesting and eye-catching way. Cover art alone cannot be a logical determinant of whether something is a "serious" documentary or not -- how on earth could that determination be made, given that all art is subjective? I'm surprised at the leap in reason there.
At any rate, feel free to post whatever you'd like of my original letter, and let me know how I can arrange to view the copy of Why Wal-Mart Works: And Why That Drives Some People Crazy.
Armstrong Addresses Concerns, Anticipates Further Discussion
Obviously people have a right to put whatever covers on their books and videos they wish (though of course copyright violations and libel may be actionable), just as I have the right to criticize them.
I left open the possibility that you can provide more specific evidence about alleged environmental harms of Wal-Mart. I hope that you'll do so. In turn, I expect you to appreciate the fact that my initial evaluation of the "High Cost" movie is not based "solely on its cover art," but rather on that in combination with a wide range of material I've read about Wal-Mart, that specific documentary, economics, and related issues. The cover is merely a graphic illustration of the bias involved. Just as you expect me to allow you the opportunity to bring forth more evidence, so I expect you to grant me the same opportunity.
As for the viewing of the movies, I was supposing that we could both figure out how to do that on our own. I'm tempted to suggest that we arrange to watch both videos together, back-to-back. However, the problem with that approach is that we may both want to go back and re-watch particular scenes of the movies, and that would be difficult to do together. So I suggest that we both view the videos on our own, then conduct the written exchange. I'll give you the opportunity to have the last word, so long as your closing statement is short and it doesn't bring up important new issues. Please note that I expect to draw on references outside those two documentaries, and you may wish to do so as well. I look forward to reading your analysis.