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A Wal-Mart Christmas for a Wal-Mart Country

Posted on Nov 18, 2008
Flickr / Brave New Films

By Marie Cocco

    Merry Wal-Mart, America. 

    It is going to be a Wal-Mart Christmas. This is what all the facts and figures tell us, and what Wall Street analysts tell us after they’ve pored over the monthly retail sales reports, each bleaker than the last. In their odd half-emptiness, this is what the shopping-center parking lots tell us, too.

    It is definitely not going to be a General Motors Christmas.

    This doesn’t depend on whether Congress and the Bush administration manage to rush cash into the coffers of GM and other Detroit automakers. It is not going to be a General Motors Christmas because we long ago stopped being a General Motors country.

    What were we like then?


Square, Site wide

    Well, we were a country in which, if you were working class, you were not feeling betrayed and you didn’t necessarily feel inferior to, say, the people who sold stock on Wall Street. They could only sell stock if you made a product that backed up that stock. This was nothing like those deals in which nobody can tell what’s exchanged except paper and false promises.

    Your employer recognized your skills and experience with a healthy, middle-class paycheck. You knew your family’s health was protected by good insurance, that your spouse could rely on a decent pension after you were gone and that your children might win a company scholarship to attend college—or get a job at the plant, an option in which there was no shame.

    Wages for production workers in the Big Three automakers averaged $67,480 in 2007, according to the Center for Automotive Research. The companies provide health insurance, directly or indirectly, for 2 million employees, dependents, retirees and employees of some suppliers.

    Some people look at that number—$67,480—and see an outrageous union giveaway, the supposedly definitive reason that taxpayers should not bail out Detroit. These same people do not necessarily complain about the bad business decisions auto executives made. Nor do they seem to link the current credit crisis—inextricably connected to the unspeakable greed among the top guns of Wall Street—as a direct cause of the industry’s current woes. It is.

    But just until now, the reasoning went, these executives took risks and that’s what makes America work!

    Now America is not working very well and so we are going to have a Wal-Mart Christmas.

    The giant discounter is the only store where hard-squeezed consumers can afford to buy anything, and so it has kept posting sales gains amid the retail bloodbath. “This is the kind of environment that Sam Walton built this company for,” Wal-Mart chief executive H. Lee Scott Jr. told analysts recently.

    He should know. Because Wal-Mart has done so much to create this environment.

    Long before the stock market meltdown, the foreclosure crisis, the credit crunch and everything else in the cascade of bad economic news that swamps us, there was the income crisis. And the health insurance crisis. And the crisis in whether employers follow the labor laws, or routinely break them.

    Here is what Wal-Mart’s 2008 annual report says: The company is a defendant in “numerous cases” for alleged violations of wage and hour laws. Generally, they involve employees who say they were forced to work “off the clock,” who were denied meal and rest breaks, or who claim the company simply found other ways not to pay them for hours they’d worked. 

    Wal-Mart also is ensnared in the largest gender-discrimination lawsuit ever, with women claiming they were paid less and denied promotions and transfers that men received. It also faces environmental charges from federal and state prosecutors who say Wal-Mart has flouted hazardous waste disposal and other laws. 

    In June, the National Labor Relations Board found that Wal-Mart illegally fired an employee for union organizing, and determined that the company had illegally threatened employees with a loss of merit pay during a unionization drive.

    The company that is now the biggest private-sector employer says the average hourly wage of its workers is $10.86. Wal-Mart has said it considers a 34-hour week as full time, though it declined to respond to my questions about this and other employment issues. Assuming the full-time week is 34 hours, a full-time Wal-Mart “associate” averages $19,200 a year. That’s about $2,000 below the 2008 federal poverty level for a family of four.

    So, it is going to be a Wal-Mart Christmas. Because we have become a Wal-Mart country, and we are all laid low. 

    Marie Cocco’s e-mail address is mariecocco(at)

    © 2008, Washington Post Writers Group

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By Erica Torres, April 7, 2009 at 2:46 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Where do I start? My love and I are a young couple. He is 22, I am 23. We came to BAMC (Brooke Army Medical Center), Fort Sam Houston, Texas, not on the best of terms. We reccently moved into a two bedroom apartment. We only have enough furniture for a one bedroom apartment so decided to get a futon for the extra room. Easy enough right? Nope. We thought about it and decided on Wal-Mart… online ordering so they would deliver. If they brought it to me, I could put it together. It finally gets here and I’m thrilled, this is the last step in putting our new home together. Well what do you know it’s defective. Oh boy! I messaged and said they could give me $15 back or we could take it either to the store or to the post office. Hmmm… well BOTH those options involve Matthew and myself working to rectify the situation we DID NOT create. Have I mentioned yet that Matt lost his legs (yup both of them) during Operation Iraqi Freedom? Neither one of us can move this thing… no way!! So fine, online they can hide. No face to face contact makes it easier to say you’re on your own. I get in touch ( or try to anyway) with the general manager at our local store. She is not available although everyone wants their own version to my problem. Then she doesn’t even have the common courtesy to call me back herself. Wal-Mart prides themselves so much on helping vets and supporting their troops… well here we are!! Then they have the nerve to be like uhhh well doesn’t he have any friends. Hello!!!!! I’m not sure he has a friend around here who has all their limbs.. again we don’t know a lot of people here, we weren’t stationed here by choice and we did not create this. Now I am disappointed, unsatisfied and there IS NOTHING ANYONE CAN DO FOR US!

not a lot of relevance here but no one else will listen!

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By RegularJoe`, November 20, 2008 at 10:48 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Louise, as a conservative I consider myself something of a guest here, and I don’t wish to be ill-mannered; but there’s no point in having these discussions if we aren’t factual and reality-based.  I’m having a hard time applying those adjectives to your point of view:
>> Goodwill provides gainful employment for folks
>> who could not find training or employment anywhere
>> else….Supporting them is supporting some of the
>> most successful “help to self-help” programs in
>> this country! ....


>> Nothing would please me more than to be able to
>> join a cause that will bring Wal-Mart to finally
>> provide a decent income and benefits to their
>> employees.

Perhaps you can point me to information that shows that Goodwill employees are better paid or receive better benefits than Walmart employees—many of whom “could not find training or employment anywhere
else”?  I’m prepared to be convinced, but I’m extremely doubtful.  And, of course, all of the other people who gain employment from Walmart—manufacturers, distribution centers, truck drivers, etc. don’t benefit when we shop at Goodwill (Goodwill has some similar roles to fill, but they employee nowhere NEAR as many people—and, again, I suspect pay not nearly as much).

I’m not down on Goodwill, mind you; re-using is an environmentally and economically responsible thing to do, and I buy used goods—from Goodwill or other sources—whenever it is feasible (example: the keyboard I’m typing this on, I bought used!)  But I’d argue that Goodwill employees are probably benefiting less from their employment than are Walmart employees.

Do you know of any evidence to suggest I’m mistaken?  Without such evidence, I’m not sure I see any reason to get all misty-eyed over the wonderful, virtuous and pure Goodwill Industries, while scowling at the EEEE-VIL Walmart.

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By Louise, November 20, 2008 at 10:18 am Link to this comment

Back before I lost my primary source of income, I did shop mom and pop. In fact I have been mom and pop, well mom anyway. My comments are directed to those who think, now that their incomes have shrunk, they have to shop at Wal-Mart!

Goodwill provides gainful employment for folks who could not find training or employment anywhere else. Even if I really don’t need anything, I’ll make a trip to Goodwill when I go shopping to pick up some little thing or other. Same goes for the Salvation Army, St Paul and Deseret Industries’ stores. Supporting them is supporting some of the most successful “help to self-help” programs in this country! And in times of crisis, an excellent choice for shoppers with little money to spend.

However, if those choices did not exist, I would rather dumpster dive than shop at Wal-Mart!

Nothing would please me more than to be able to join a cause that will bring Wal-Mart to finally provide a decent income and benefits to their employees. But I think they’ve passed the tipping point. No doubt in part by taking advantage of the greed that feeds Wall Street, the stupidity that led congress to de-regulate everything and the non-producers who collect their dividends. So until the day when fair once again means fair, I will continue advising anyone who cares to listen, how to survive without Wal-Mart!

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By RegularJoe, November 20, 2008 at 8:44 am Link to this comment
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Louise, has it occurred to you that if you only by items ON SALE from MomNPop, Inc, you’re making things tough on them?  They don’t make much money on those sale items, after all.  If they are, and if they’re such paragons of virtue, why don’t they just charge Walmart-level prices to begin with?  Also, have you ever worked for a Mom and Pop business?  You think they provide benefits to their employees?  Fuggedaboutit.

As for Goodwill, I’m all for it—our local Goodwill prices things WAY too high, but in other places we’ve lived we were regular Goodwill shoppers.  But to complain about Walmart’s abuse of the vaunted American Worker, then explain that your solution is to buy secondhand?  I don’t see how that helps American workers (other than the guys at Goodwill—and how much do you reckon THEY get paid?) any more than buying from Walmart.

Walmart is every bit the knee-jerk bogeyman for the left that Communism is for the right.  The difference is that we have tens of millions starved, tens of millions more killed outright, and billions living in misery due to Communism.  What’s Walmart done to stack up against that?

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By Anita, November 20, 2008 at 8:09 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

In this country we often get what we deserve. Wal-Mart is one of them. 20 years ago when companies started sending all the decent paying manufacturing jobs over seas this day was in the making. The cost of doing business for corporations went way down, but the prices of their products stayed the same or went up.
It doesn’t take a genius to see that sooner or later the working stiffs wouldn’t be able to afford their products. The chickens have come home to roost.

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By Louise, November 20, 2008 at 6:10 am Link to this comment

“Assuming the full-time week is 34 hours, a full-time Wal-Mart “associate” averages $19,200 a year. That’s about $2,000 below the 2008 federal poverty level for a family of four.

So, it is going to be a Wal-Mart Christmas. Because we have become a Wal-Mart country, and we are all laid low.”


Not in my house, because I understood years ago the “Wal-Mart model” was going to lead to the destruction of the “American model.” And here we are.

Wal-Mart is as responsible for the economic crisis we find ourselves in as any one of those greedy mortgage bankers you care to name.

Wal-Mart has over-seen the birth of a nation full of consumers reduced to a choice between them, or the small more expensive mom and pop store, if you’re lucky enough to still have one in your community.

Well I will watch for sales, and you know what? Freddy’s will have the same brand-name products at the same price in those weekly sales. And so will the few mom and pop stores still around. Just need to watch and wait.

And if that fails, I’ll shop at Goodwill, where you can find “gently used” name brand clothes, and just about anything else you want for a fraction of what even Wal-Mart offers.

Besides, Wal-Mart is fake. The “leader items” they offer, to sucker you into the store may be top name-brand, but everything else was manufactured in a foreign land, and often as not, is nothing but a cheap imitation.

And for those special gifts, like high-end electronics and toys, I’ll shop They have great deals too!

Just need to watch and wait, just like I watch and wait for the big blue box to collapse under the weight of it’s own greed.

Sooner or later it will happen, because a work force living in poverty can not sustain a national economy!

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By RegularJoe, November 20, 2008 at 5:06 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I think some of you need to do more research.  The car companies and retail outlets—especially the budget places like Walmart—are HUGE supporters of Uncle Sugar providing health care.  If their employees get free healthcare, they save a fortune; and in the case of Walmart, one of the big complaints people make against them goes away.

FWIW, I’m a conservative believer in capitalism, and am NOT in favor of government-provided healthcare, and AM a fan of Walmart.  I don’t have time to look up the numbers, but I suspect Walmart probably employs a million or more people directly, and indirectly is responsible for many, many more.  A lot of those people are entry-level workers, high school kids, people with very limited skills—for whom $10+ per hour isn’t bad money at all.

I’m somewhat amused that some of you who have never been in a Walmart, or haven’t been in one for years, or only twice in your life are such experts on the merchandise they carry and the prices they charge.  There are times when they don’t charge the lowest price, though they usually do in my (extensive) experience.  As for Chinese or other foreign-made goods, they’re as good as any store in that regard, and better than most.  And Dollar General??  I’m surprised they don’t just get it over with and accept Chinese currency!  EVERYTHING in that store (and Big Lots) is right off the boat from China.

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By yellowbird2525, November 19, 2008 at 9:39 pm Link to this comment

should have seen it when Hillary let go all the long time White House staff, hired new & let them only work 39 hours; so they could NOT get health benefits.****; freely give, & receive; local recycle groups as well; local “cafe” groups; post while out & about & list good “grocery” deals;*****learn how to clean using vinegar & baking soda & hydrogen peroxide which vinegar & hydrogen peroxide used 1 after the other in spray bottles kills e coli, salmonella, & is stronger & more effective than clorine or any other toxin ever made. Buy cattle grade baking soda, in 50 lb bags, & split with others; $2.40 for 10 lbs should last you a year; 1 T in warm water, makes great shampoo & will not harm & kill you; same of vinegar is best conditioner on market;; I believe dental care; better than anything you can buy at Walmart. At thrift stores, like Salvation Army, find brand new items for pennies; many still with tags on them. GIVING for Christmas the way it is so commercially now was all set up by retailers to get your $. Best thing anyone can give & all love to get is home made cookies, breads, pies. Buy flour & put into food saver; seal a meal bags; generic bags cheap on ebay; will last for years; make own mixes & do the same; get dehydrator & dry foods, seal away; last indefinetly & NO CHEMICALS inside of them; can even dry meats folks; MERRY CHRISTMAS!

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By armand agresti, November 19, 2008 at 7:06 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The business community,is basically un american.

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By JustTheFacts, November 19, 2008 at 11:11 am Link to this comment

I saw this coming years ago and I was labeled a “conspiracy nut”, one day people will listen…not to me, but my sources…The plain-as-day “Writing on the Wall”. This company telegraphed its intentions, but people had their heads rammed up their consumer driven asses…I called this “Class War” 12-15 years ago.

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By tjm308, November 19, 2008 at 8:50 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I’ve been in Wal Mart twice in my life (I’m 60) because they sold a replacement ink cartridge I could only get there.  Once it was available somewhere else I stopped going there.  Thirty-four hours is full time????  This means that Wal Mart will does not pay over time—- forget that law’s title—- anything over 40 is time and a half.  Less that 40 not a full time employee.  Any of these people have health insurance.

Even Sharonsj – who has few choices seems to agree with me. 

AND, I agree with Jeanine. 

I feel Wal Mart led the charge in providing Chinese made products and destroying American jobs – and Wal Mart shoppers are to blame for falling in behind their banner. They failed to demand American products.  I want it cheaper, cheaper, and cheaper meant Chinese labor. 

Buying at locally owned and operated?  All they have are made in China products. Think I’ve exaggerated??  Go look.  My brother owns a furniture store and 30 years ago started off selling NOTHING but made in America furniture.  Over and over again he heard “Wal Mart” is cheaper.  Now many of his products are exactly what is sold at Wal Mart – and SEARS and (insert company) and his American suppliers no longer exist. 

HEY< let’s move all manufacturing to Indonesia and be done with it – they’re cheaper than Chinese AND also are earth polluters and use child labor.  When we no longer manufacture ANYTHING what do we do??  Work at stores selling the same thing to each other??

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By dissenter, November 19, 2008 at 8:00 am Link to this comment

i don’t know about in the USofA but in Canada where I live, my experience as a seasoned shopper has shown that Walmart does NOT have the lowest price…I have shopped at Zeller’s on the same day as shopping and Walmart and found all the prices less than Walmart.  Yesterday I heard Paul Borgese promoting his book on CBC radio “Fear Selling: How You Can Sell Faster by Tapping Into Your Prospects Deep-Seated Emotional Needs”, at the same time as Benny Hinn was selling his televangelism by exploiting the flock’s fear of the unknown and retribution…but I digress…the point is that in my opinion advertising like Walmart’s also exploits people’s fear of not being able to “afford” to live…this advertising tendency to portray a “retail” outlet as some kind of salvation for the working class…or middle class as is the case, it seems to me, with an outfit like Costco, who purport to have lower prices but when one researches the claim and then compares with other business, the price is found to be the same or higher, especially if you take the fee you have to pay for the “privilege” of shopping…case in point, I priced out small refrigerators and found Costco’s fridge to be more expensive than the same one at other stores even with the discount coupon and at the other stores you don’t have to pay them so you can shop there.  Costco is perhaps the epitome of “Fear Advertising” in that it seems to invite the masses to their “gated” shopping experience where supposedly you are safe in their arms after you have paid them a fee for the protection of their warehouse and you can then stock up and be safe (hoarding…another allusion to the fear of economic collapse…you will have more stuff than you could ever use in a lifetime, and all those fools who failed to “join the club” will just have to starve in the dark…hmmm, perhaps the greed of the stock market could also be seen as a very high level form of hoarding?)

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By Kris Knight, November 19, 2008 at 7:07 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

of the season, folks!  The point it NOT retail.  And even for those NOT interested in the spiritual point, the point is to give from your hearts and be creative.  That includes homemade gifts, gifts of your time and skills, gifts from things you don’t need or want anymore but someone else might enjoy, and also secondhand gifts.  Another idea is to pool your monies as a family and donate to some good cause, which could even be another family in dire need.  BE CREATIVE!  REMEMBER THE REASON YOU ARE FEELING THE NEED TO SHOP DURING “THIS SEASON”!  OBLIGATORY GIVING IS NOT GIFTING…REMEMBER THAT.

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By Jeanine, November 18, 2008 at 1:45 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)


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By ZachP, November 18, 2008 at 1:14 pm Link to this comment

If the National Health Insurance Act is passed, Detroit would no longer have health care costs…neither would any other company.  That would surely increase their efficiency, and hopefully lead to more jobs.  I wonder if they’re pushing for it?

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By troublesum, November 18, 2008 at 12:23 pm Link to this comment

Rats are known to survive in conditions that kill most other species.

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By Sharonsj, November 18, 2008 at 9:39 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I am a weekly Wal-Mart shopper because I’m elderly, on SS, and can’t afford to shop around because I’m in a rural area; I still have a 40-mile round trip to get to Wal-Mart.  Since late last year, their prices have gone up considerably, especially for pet food.  While upper-class people now shop at Wal-Mart, more of us now go to Dollar General.  The only reason Wal-Mart still makes a profit is (1) it screws its employees and (2) Americans are getting too poor to buy at better stores.  However, I still try to buy locally.  I don’t Wal-Mart to be the only place left standing.

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By GW=MCHammered, November 18, 2008 at 9:10 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Ain’t just Wally World. Workers in Convalescent Centers and Assisted Living Centers don’t fair any better: low pay, over worked, few to no breaks, with state inspection notification made days in advance so centers can bring in extra labor to ‘look good’ on paper. Some vocational schools are just as dysfunctional. The whole ‘slave labor -n- lower prices’ model is not only marred, it’s disastrous.

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By coloradokarl, November 18, 2008 at 8:45 am Link to this comment

Buy your Christmas gifts from the locally owned and operated shops in your area.
Eat at the locally owned and operated restaurants .  WE THE PEOPLE HAVE THE POWER !!!  Use it and prosper. Lose it and its indentured servitude for your kids!

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By Dead World Dweller, November 18, 2008 at 8:25 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

As long as this culture embraces the idea of “getting the most for the least amount of effort” this situation will persist.  You can moralize that management is corrupt but in reality, rank and file union members are operating in the same manner. Unions routinely vote to limit benefits to new members so that the current ones don’t take loses.  It’s the same idea – just different scale.  Me first.

We need something akin to chivalry - some code of conduct that is more important to us than “the best deal is the one that comes closest to approximating something for nothing.”

Everyone is looking for a deal in our culture - from our cars to our wives.  This is a predatory attitude.  This works when there are not a lot of predators.  Unfortunately, we have too many predators for this to be sustainable anymore.

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By Fahrenheit 451, November 18, 2008 at 7:22 am Link to this comment

Wallmart is blood sucking scum.  They are the antithesis of a “healthy” corporate economic model.  But they are the corporatista model of the future.  Slavery is back with a slight modification of style.  Pay enough to survive (barely) but not enough for empowerment.  This next economic “adjustment” will ensure enslavement of the masses.  You’ve bought the farm and don’t even know it!
Wallmart is the future and “Blade Runner is the Model”.

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By Purple Girl, November 18, 2008 at 6:46 am Link to this comment

Everytime the Big Brass suck the last drop out of the Big 3 they look to the Union to cover the costs- rarely middle & upper mgt ( How many Million did GM’s CEO take down last year…How many Rank & file could have been employed JUST on that?)
Do you think it was the Unions fighting tooth and nail to derail Healthcare coverage for All american citizens? Esp when every time contract bargining comes up they lose one more coverage?
Who are the Cronies of these Health provider and Insurance Corps CEO’s, certainly Not Mr Blue collar.These CEO’s don’t want to fuck their Golf Partners!
Do You think it was the guy on the line who said ‘Hell No we don’t want to build Fuel efficient Cars or research any alternatives to Oil’.
I am Outraged that the Big 3 DARE to blame the Unions for their Fiscal and Technological Irresponsibility. The Unions Built you MF’ers’!!!And they have given and given time and again to keep you solvent!
It is these Greedy Dumbasses Who REFUSED to change the way they did business SINCE the ‘70’s. Kept US addicted to Oil (Oil Royals ‘Pushers’) and Scraped every innovation you got your hands on….How long has the electric car been sitting on the Shelf Boys, 20 yrs, 30 yrs..More?
What proves just how Stupid they are…The Up surge in a middle class is WHY they are able to now be called a ‘Multinational Corp’, to be the worlds largest Auto makers…The Middle Class was born from the Auto Union workers to begin with…Fuck heads! When the Auto worker works, they not only provide jobs for ancillary industries, but BUY SHIT from their own industry and others not even associated with it (Textiles)!!!
What REAL Economist Does Not Understand this relationship within an economy…You have to have Consumers willing and ABLE to Buy!
Greenspan and his cohorts should be hung. Not Only for intentionally kneecapping American Workers and citizens with the ‘Trickle Down’ Scam, thus derailing our economy and nearly the rest of the Worlds…..But also because ‘Trickle Down’ is Innately UNAMERICAN. Why did we Revolt from the English Monarchy? Because ALL money was confiscatd and retained at the Top and was only released to the lower classes as needed in a TRICKLE!
Trickle Down is the Well known Economic Strategy of Monarchies and dictatorships! It’s Irrelevant if they Possess a ‘family Crest’ or a Logo, the means and ends are Exactly the Same! Trickle down has been the attempt to revert US back to a Caste System.What’s the Current disparity between the wealthy and the middle class income Now? The chasm has grown expotentially wider every Decade since Nixon.
WE have been watching the steady Reinstituition of the Feudal system,But to accomplish it they MUST destroy any collective power (aka Unionization). Thus they consistently fail to allow for cost of living increases (or relatively little next tot he White collars & Top brass). They vilify them as the root of all ‘evils’ and do nothing when the cost of necessary items goes up ( Oil/Gas/ Food/ Home heating).‘A lean and hungry’ worker is easier to shortchange and abuse.Supply & Demand- Cut jobs, increase unemployed labor force, decrease cost on wages & bennies, Increases in the Bottom line which increases Bonus’ at the top.
Ya Don’t need a PhD in economics to figure out the impending doom of ‘Trickle Down’, De Unionization and Unskilled Peanut paid labor on the Economy. Nor do you need a PhD in Logic to figure out this trend has been Man made and Intentional (Forethought & malice..TREASON)

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By thebeerdoctor, November 18, 2008 at 6:10 am Link to this comment

In reference to the former middle class American way of life: “This was the way it was, before rock and roll, before television, previous, previous, previous… just a closer walk with thee”
Van Morrison

For more holiday cheer, check out:

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By ecd4me, November 18, 2008 at 5:58 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

There is truth in what you say, but bottom line is Detroit has to produce cars at prices Americans can pay. In the 1950s the median price of a new American made car was about 6 months of the median annual wage. Many millions of workers now cant afford the cheapest model Detroit sells, which isn’t even made in America. This is an issue that must be addressed, along with the brain dead management culture in these companies.

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By mike112769, November 18, 2008 at 5:43 am Link to this comment

Wal-Mart is cancer to America.

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By godistwaddle, November 18, 2008 at 3:35 am Link to this comment

It is obvious that whatever “bailout” the Detroit automakers get from Washington, there will be a concerted effort to break the unions.

In the history of the universe, there has never been a Republican whose motto was not:  Screw the workers!!

Dems have, because of campaign money, bought into this mantra.

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