The Monday book review this week is by guest poster Melissa Eisenmeier.
Big Box Swindle: The True Cost of Mega Retailers and the Fight for America’s Independent Retailers
– by a researcher from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance named Stacy Mitchell, makes a strong case for why small businesses are better than big box retailers and how, and why those retailers are changing America for the worse. In the book, she talks about how chains like Wal-mart, Target, and Home Depot have changed the American landscape, become the most corporations, and rapidly changed our communities and economies. Big Box Swindle also touches on how such chains affect global warming, why independent businesses are often better for the economy and communities than large corporations, and third places, like Wendy did in The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap.
By and large, Wal-mart is the business most often discussed in the book, but small businesses around the nation, Lowe’s, Target, and K-Mart, among other nationally-recognized chains are also discussed.
Several parts from Big Box Swindle resonated with me. The first thing was a quote from a Nebraskan named Bob Allen, who owned a department store for 30 years. He asserted that “Wal-mart is destroying the free enterprise system.” While that might be a simplified version of things, I think it’s very true that Wal-Mart and similar big chain stores aren’t doing the country any good.
The thing that resonated the most with me, however, was Ms. Mitchell’s contention that Wal-Mart, Home Depot, and similar big box retailers create a vicious cycle of poverty, unemployment, and underemployment. She contends that they do this by destroying small businesses that pay living wages and health insurance, which means that the people who used at them can’t get jobs that pay as they used to. She also says that those people who go to Wal-Mart because they need to save a couple dollars are unintentionally furthering the cycle just by shopping there, because Wal-Mart pays their employees minimum wage, does not offer health insurance to employees, and surreptitiously deleted time from employees’ time cards to save money.
While Ms. Mitchell generally doesn’t apply this logic specifically to Amazon, I think Amazon also maintains the cycle of poverty by killing off independent businesses that pay living wages and offer health insurance.
I don’t think Big Box Swindle is an easy book to read, but I do think it is a book people need to read.