Cameron Geiger, who runs the hilariously-named U.S. Replenishment Division at the world's largest retailer, might start looking at his own employees, whose crappy average $8/hour paycheck has shrunk even further thanks to the rising price of food and medical care and the demise of the two-year payroll tax holiday. Walmart workers are also Walmart's best customers. What's earned in Walmart is spent in Walmart. And the world's biggest retailer just had its worst quarter in seven years.
So, does this mean that the Walmart honchos are going to replenish their workers with a pay raise to make up for that dent in their paychecks and get them spending again? Of course not. The workers have simply been directed to just try even harder to make those unaffordable cheap items fly off the store shelves into the hands of penniless big spenders. According to Bloomberg,
Wal-Mart’s Geiger in his e-mail urged employees to improve business by "fixing something that could really make a difference to our performance." He quoted Tim Yatsko, the company’s executive vice president of global sourcing, saying:“We need to ‘stop the stupid.’”
Wal-Mart U.S. CEO Bill Simon said during a Feb. 1 officers meeting, the minutes of which were attached to Geiger’s e-mail, that the troubled economy leaves little room for internal errors.
“In an environment like this, we can’t afford to hurt ourselves,” Simon said, according to the minutes. “Self-inflicted wounds are our biggest risk and our toughest enemy.”Of course, nothing is being said about healing their self-inflicted wound by raising that abysmal hourly wage. It might have the horrifying result of inspiring other corporations to do the same, even without the unlikely passage of the excessively stingy $9/hour minimum suggested by President Obama. No. Walmart's solution, according to the correspondence, is to grab the ever-shrinking piece of the meager consumer pie all for themselves by whatever means necessary. Who knows -- they may even figure out a way to reduce hours and wages even more and have their lawyers write a whole new tome of corporate welfare legislation. When they talk about "everybody suffering" in their emails, they are not talking about their workers or their customers. They are talking about their business competitors, such as those other go-to shopping centers for the indigent -- the Dollar Store franchises.
Walmart has always had a ready, willing and able partner in the Obama Administration. The Justice Department recently announced there will likely be no criminal prosecution for violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act of those involved in that Mexican bribery scandal. Michelle Obama has long been a booster of the retail gulag's various greed-washing campaigns for hiring vets and stocking their shelves with healthier food, ignoring its anti-union stance and gender discrimination. And President Obama is now set to appoint Chief Walmart Greed-washer Sylvia Mathews Burwell as his chief budget officer.
The defacto policy of the neoliberal Age of Obama will continue to be: Work hard for less. Always the low standard of living. Always.
Meanwhile, the income gap between the richest of the rich and the rest of us is growing ever wider. The top one percent's share of the pie has risen by 11% since the recovery, and stagnated or shrunk for everybody else, according to a study by economist Emmanuel Saez of UC Berkeley. From the New York Times:
Excluding earnings from investment gains, the top 10 percent of earners took 46.5 percent of all income in 2011, the highest proportion since 1917, Mr. Saez said, citing a large body of work on earnings distribution over the last century that he has produced with the economist Thomas Piketty of the Paris School of Economics.
Concern for the declining wages of working Americans and persistent high levels of inequality featured heavily in President Obama’s State of the Union address this week. He proposed raising the federal minimum wage to $9 from $7.25 as one way to ameliorate the trend, a proposal that might lift the earnings of 15 million low-income workers by the end of 2015.Of course, the Walmart heirs themselves are getting richer by the minute. They now have as much wealth as the bottom 42% of Americans combined. Josh Bivens of the Economic Policy Institute calls them "Exhibit A" in the national scandal of extreme income inequality.
In 2007, it was reported that the Walton family wealth was as large as the bottom 35 million families in the wealth distribution combined, or 30.5 percent of all American families.
And in 2010, as the Walton’s wealth has risen and most other Americans’ wealth declined, it is now the case that the Walton family wealth is as large as the bottom 48.8 million families in the wealth distribution (constituting 41.5 percent of all American families) combined.
It’s hardly a surprise that the economic circumstances of the Walton family and that of most Americans are moving in opposite directions, but some have attempted to quibble with the use of this particular statistic by noting that nearly 13 million American families have negative net worth—meaning that they have outstanding debts greater than the value of their assets. This is a bit of a strange objection—of course, many American families have negative net worth, but this is an economic reality, not a statistical fluke.Walmart relies very heavily upon those negative-net worth customers. One of the reasons the retailer is experiencing such a setback this quarter is that IRS tax refunds (including for those struggling consumers qualifying for the earned income tax credit) have been delayed due to the manufactured feckless cliff crisis and other glitches.
And how about the other phony crisis known as the Sequester, which is designed to make poor people share the sacrifice with the military industrial complex? Congress is dealing with it by blowing town for an entire week for an extended Presidents Day seven-day weekend. The president and the missus will be taking their own separate vacations, golfing and skiing respectively.
So that should answer the burning question I know has been on all your minds lately: Where are all our politicians? Where's all our money?