January 20th, 2013Walmart: Well Might We Rue the Dayby Joseph Pearce
I note that the thorny issue of whether we should feel comfortable shopping at Walmart has raised its thorny head on the Ink Desk. This being so, I thought I'd weigh in with my own contribution to the controversy.
A few years ago, I gave several talks to a retreat of priests, one of which was on the issues raised in my book, Small is Still Beautiful. At the end of the talk one of the priests responded that he had a good Catholic family in his parish who homeschooled their large family. He told me that they were unapologetic about shopping at Walmart and apoplectic towrds those who condemned them for it because they were struggling to make ends meet and Walmart was the most affordable place to shop. He asked me how I would respond to that family. I responded by saying that, as a subsidiarist, I respected the family's right to shop wherever they thought it most prudent from the perspective of their family's needs. If it was the only place that they could afford to shop, how could they afford to shop anywhere else? I did, however, raise a few questions that such families should ponder.
First, we all need to overcome our addiction to gadgets, to the technological trinkets that all of us feel that we cannot live without. Do we need television? If so, why? In what ways does it benefit our families, if at all? The same question should be asked of all the techno-ephemera with which we fill our lives. This is an important question. If we are not careful we will find that we are treasuring these things too much and, as Christ tells us, where our treasure is, there our heart will be also. Our gadgets might become godgets, idols of our materialism.
Why is all this relevant to our discussion of whether we should shop at Walmart? The answer is that we should get used to spending a greater portion of our family budget on essentialfinal e healthy food, and less on those things that are not essential. Such a reorientation of our family budgets might enable us to choose more freely with regard to where we shop.
Another point to ponder is the extent to which shopping at Walmart today might make our children worse off tomorrow. Walmart sources almost all of its products from China and the Pacific Rim, contributing significantly to the destruction of America's manufacturing base. If we save a few bucks today but deprive our children of a job ten years from now, it's a false economy and a myopic mistake. In order to illustrate this point, I'd like to recount a story that a parent of two young children told me. He let his children loose in the toy department of Walmart and told them that anything they could find within five minutes that was made in America he would buy for them. Five minutes later the only thing that they had found that was made in the United States was, believe it or not, an American flag (even this surprises me)! I find this exercise a little cruel on the children but it provides a valuable lesson. Myopia is not a virtue. Well might we rue the day that we sold our future by shopping at Walmart.
And one final thought to ponder. The dollar in our pocket is the most powerful vote we have. We can change the world much more effectively by spending virtuously than by voting for Tweedledumb or Tweedledumber in elections.