"Unless you’ve been residing in a national wildlife refuge, you probably hear a lot about Wal-Mart," begins The United States of Wal-Mart, by Denver writer John Dicker. Being anti-Wal-Mart is so popular these days, it can be hard to separate the good criticism from the bad. But Dicker’s book clearly qualifies as good. It is a viciously funny, irreverent and well-researched look at the discount giant and the country it increasingly feeds, clothes and employs.
Making it clear that there is more to Wal-Mart’s
ascendancy than the decision "to Wal-Mart or not to Wal-Mart,"
Dicker finds a culprit in the "cult of the low price." This allows
Wal-Mart to survive in a love-hate relationship with its customers,
many of whom object to its negative impact on their communities,
yet can’t get past the fact that shopping there saves them
But Dicker does more than harp on Wal-Mart’s
destruction of Mom-and-Pop stores and prosperous small towns. The
chain, he points out, which still has its base in rural America, is
now set on penetrating the urban frontier. This puts the urban poor
in a unique situation. When Wal-Mart sets up shop in areas where
employment and affordable food and clothing are both in short
supply, it may serve as an actual beacon of hope in a bleak
economic situation — not simply the change for the worse that
middle-class activists decry.
Dicker also has an original
suggestion for local activists determined to fight the discounter.
By putting politics aside, he says, and focusing on more mundane
concerns — such as a proposed store’s effect on traffic
— they might be able to counter the corporation more
effectively than they can with impassioned pleas for social
The book stands out among the emerging
anti-Wal-Mart literature because it refuses to be a liberal rant
against globalization or a nostalgic memoir of a small-town,
pre-Wal-Mart America. Rather, it presents a more nuanced
understanding that better reflects the complex world Wal-Mart hopes
The United States of
softcover $12.95: Penguin/Tarcher, 2005
A refreshing take on Wal-Mart vs. The World
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