Mark’s post below notes, quite rightly, that Walmart is a Janus-faced problem for liberals. On the one hand, it helps the people we (at least me) care most about as consumers, but may (I think this is more complicated) hurt them as workers. Mark suggests that liberals need to keep hammering Walmart on their own internal policies. I think that’s true where unionization is concerned, although this may be a pipe dream, given how deeply complete managerial autonomy is in the Walmart model. But I’m actually not quite as bothered with Walmart’s relatively low wages ane meager benefits, in and of themselves. Walmart works disproportionately in lower-income areas, so we should expect their wages to be lower, and I do think there’s an argument that, because the company hires so much through the ranks, that it is actually a force for good social mobility-wise.
What really bothers me about Walmart is what Mark hints at, which is its relative non-support for broad egalitarian policies that would arguably be in its own interest. This is a question that a fantastic graduate student at Yale, Nicole Kazee, has been looking at what she calls “Walmart welfare”. Employers like Walmart would/do actually benefit disproportionately from welfare state policies like universal health care, wage subsidies (like EITC), child care, education and literacy programs, etc. (as we all know, Walmart is already relying considerably on Medicaid) To the degree that things like this are paid out of progressive income taxes, they would actually have very little impact on Walmart’s bottom line (although they would impact its owners) while providing a substantial subsidy to their cost of doing business.
So, I’m not sure how much energy I would actually devote to beating up Walmart on things it can only do relatively little on without drastically changing its business model. If I were advising liberal strategists, I would encourage them to think of Walmart as a potential ally as a matter of cold hard self-interest, not simply because they’d like to do something to get liberals off their backs (which will inevitably only lead to symbolic action). I would try to put together Walmart executives with the better, more creative liberal social policy folks to talk about welfare state expansions and how they might be designed so as to attract the support of Walmart. Esp. with a changed Congress coming up, who says Walmart wouldn’t be interested in listening?