The Wal-Mart Manifesto
The retail giant's CEO says his company pays workers handsomely. He doesn't want you to believe him.
By Timothy Noah
Posted Thursday, Feb. 24, 2005, at 9:14 AM PT
H. Lee Scott Jr., the chief executive officer of Wal-Mart, argued in a speech yesterday in Los Angeles (click here to listen to it) that Wal-Mart is a force for good in the economy. Scott is hardly the first corporate chairman to echo "Engine" Charlie Wilson's claim that what's good for General Motors is good for America. And many independent observers have noted that Wal-Mart's relentless downward pressure on overhead has been a boon to American consumers. (In a recent New Yorker column, James Surowiecki took this further, arguing that the retail economy has become a sort of dictatorship of the consumer, and that Wal-Mart, which earns only pennies on each dollar of sales, is merely doing what it must to stay alive.)
What's fairly new in Scott's speech (a related ad campaign was launched last month) is Wal-Mart's rising on its hind legs to tell the world that it is good to its employees. I'd thought it was a settled matter that Wal-Mart had achieved its miraculously low prices by squeezing its employees. Not so, said Scott: