The Ubiquitous Wal-Mart

(cc photo by Robert Stinett)

(cc photo by Robert Stinett)

A suggestion from a friend of James Fallows:

As an aside: I’ve long thought it would be an interesting commentary on the stratification in this society to have political candidates asked during a debate if they’d ever shopped at a Wal-Mart. I have to think that very few could honestly answer yes–and the higher the office the fewer the yeses. To think that a democracy’s leadership class should have no connection (other than owning stock–or, in Hillary Clinton’s case, being once on its board) to the biggest corporation in the country, how strange!Bback when the biggest corporation was GM or Exxon, even the wealthiest people likely had *some* dealings with it, even only being chauffered in a cadillac.

I think this is a much less clever suggestion than the suggester thinks. I’m about as much of an out-of-touch northeastern elitist as you’re going to find and I’ve been to Wal-Mart several times. In good out-of-touch northeastern elite fashion, it’s always been when I’m on vacation the Outer Banks or in Maine, but still I’ve been. These stores constitute a huge proportion of the retail available in the large non-dense portions of the country and anyone who travels around at all is bound to wind up in one. I’d bet that the biggest “never been to a Wal-Mart” demographic in the country would consist of very poor inner city dwellers who lack the means to drive to one but would benefit from the low prices.

Probably a better Wal-Mart related social stratification question would be to ask people if any of their friends and family work at Wal-Mart or did so recently and in what capacity. Over a million people work at Wal-Mart, most of them in low-level positions, and since the firm has a high turnover rate former Wal-Mart employees are a large fraction of the population. But they’re not randomly distributed.