Kevin Williamson, writing for the National Review, has perfectly captured the sentiments I have expressed on the Bereans blog on several occasions, when he wrote that the “anti-Walmart” protesters are in reality just calling for the poorer among us to be stiffed. Williamson contrasted the elite culture, whim he labeled the “Rolex crowd,” with the common people, whom he called the “Timex crowd.” Rolex watches are made by upscale manufacturers and sold to the elites by upscale retailers as really nothing more than status symbols (He rightly points out that a simple digital watch is more accurate than an expensive mechanical one). Timex watches on the other hand are sold by lowly Walmart to lowly consumers.
The Rolexers are forever (it seems) harping on how working for Walmart is demeaning and low-paying (from the way they talk, subsistence wages—which I know is false). As Williamson points out however, Walmart’s profit margin is around 3-3.5%. But Walmart is able to sell its goods at a low price to those with low incomes, and to do so while paying decent, though not CEO-level, wages. As a result lower-income consumers can purchase reliable products they need without breaking the bank of the household budget or going without altogether. What could possibly be bad about that?
Well, say the Rolex crowd, it’s “evil” and exploitative capitalism. Notice they still use the term exploitative, some 160 years after Marx used it, as if the word itself has some magical significance. Just repeat it often enough and magically people believe something really bad is going on. I digress. The Rolex crowd of course has plenty of income, from where, we can easily see: many are actors, artists, union officials (not rank and file notice), government officials or public intellectuals of all sorts. They don’t shop at Walmart, and they don’t want the rest of us to do so either. As I said, they believe (perhaps) Walmart exploits its own employees, exploits the people from whom it purchases its stock, exploits (indirectly) people in other countries who make cheap goods, and does so to make evil profit (which, remember is all of 3-3.5%). As Williamson himself puts it, “Social justice warriors are too enlightened to let their poor neighbors pay lower prices.” So they demand that Walmart pay a minimum wage of something like $15-$20 per hour, buy only from certain sellers, and also, as a further atonement for their many sins, to become a social justice leader too by contributing money to the favorite social justice organization or movement or in some other way.
What happens then to the Timex crowd? If the Rolex crowd gets their way, we then either must pay higher prices for the “better” things in life or do without. And we would have higher unemployment because Walmart couldn’t afford those new higher wages for every employee, what with its very thin profit margin. That’s an interesting twist isn’t it. The elite who always know what the rest of us need or don’t need have then succeeded in making the rest of us worse off. But then we can always look to them for advice on what the government ought to do to help us. I am sure they have plenty and are more than willing to give it.
So let’s continue to patronize Walmart—despite its imperfections—because it is actually helping real people. As for the Rolex and $1,300 sneaker crowd, they will continue to do what they do and say what they say. Let’s ignore them and hope that most everyone else will too—for the sake of the poor at least.