Saturday, June 25, 2005

Somewhere in sands of the desert
Today was, locally, the hottest day of the year, so I decided that it would be a fine time to build a sandbox for my son. Sure, I could have plunked down $25 for a vacuum-formed turtle or ladybug, but I wanted to give him the real thing, hand-made and painted. Sixteen square feet of gritty paradise, a place to get away from the travails of the 17-month-old grind.

Due to previous over-buying, I had on hand a stock of suitable lumber, so I got lucky there. I had to spring for paint and, of course, sand, neither of which I had in suitable quantity or variety.

Now, I know as well as you do that Wal*Mart is a blight upon the land, but I was faced with few options. The only other source nearby charges $3.75 for the bag of sand that's $2.25 at WM, and an equivalent gallon of paint is $10.99 vs. $7.48.

I'm not thrilled about it, but my finances are finite, so to Wal*Mart I went, knowing as I did so that I was fostering the death of the middle class and the out-sourcing of US manufacturing jobs, not to mention the squashing of local retailers and the undeniably negative influence that Wal*Mart has on the labor force as a whole. Sure, I saved about $22.00, but that's a small comfort if I'm contributing to the downfall of society. Or at least to the fast-approaching extinction of part of it.

Many (many, that is, outside of the mainstream media) have noted that Dubya's idiotic and regressive tax policies have shifted a disproportionate burden onto the middle class so that the wealthiest 1% (the whale-poop on the ocean of society, to riff on commenter Shark's imagery) can become even more obscenely wealthy. In essence, they (Dubya et al) are saying "It's up to you, noble middle class, to foot the bill and right the wrongs. God speed!"

A similar rallying cry has sounded re: Wal*Mart and the (quite lengthy and justified) litany of complaints against its abhorrent business practices, including, but not limited to, child labor violations, alleged discrimination against women, and abyssmal heath care policies. We on the lower rungs of the economic ladder are exhorted to shun Sam Walton and his progeny, whatever the cost or impact. But lately I've been thinking that the effort to form a grassroots campaign against the biggest retailer in the universe may be misguided.

Shlubs like me don't shop at Wal*Mart because we like seeing the Greeter or because we relish the thought of 18-hour work days in China. We shop there because we have to make ends meet and because sometimes the local Mom-n-Pop just doesn't carry a tile grouter and a punch bowl and a hundred-pack of diapers and a car battery all under the same roof, and our time is limited.

It seems therefore unreasonable to condemn the poor fool with few options when one could instead condemn rich fools with many options. If the beleaguered middle-classer can't fund the bulk of the tax bill, can he be expected to pay higher retail just so that he has less money?

The big problem isn't a myopically self-destructive middle class; it's a far-sighted ruling class fully aware of what an unfettered beast like Wal*Mart will do if allowed to run unchecked and all-too eager to let that happen.

No, I don't like it. But there's sand in the box, and sometimes that's all we can be sure of.

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