The Wal-Mart Effect by Charles Fishman

General Description (from Publisher’s Weekly)
Fishman shops at Wal-Mart and has obvious affection for its price-cutting, hard-nosed ethos. He also understands that the story of Wal-Mart is really the story of the transformation of the American economy over the past 20 years. He’s careful to present the consumer benefits of Wal-Mart’s staggering growth and to place Wal-Mart in the larger context of globalization and the rise of mega-corporations. But he also presents the case against Wal-Mart in arresting detail, and his carefully balanced approach only makes the downside of Wal-Mart’s market dominance more vivid. Through interviews with former Wal-Mart insiders and current suppliers, Fishman puts readers inside the company’s penny-pinching mindset and shows how Wal-Mart’s mania to reduce prices has driven suppliers into bankruptcy and sent factory jobs overseas. He surveys the research on Wal-Mart’s effects on local retailers, details the environmental impact of its farm-raised salmon and exposes the abuse of workers in a supplier’s Bangladesh factory. In Fishman’s view, the “Wal-Mart effect” is double-edged: consumers benefit from lower prices, even if they don’t shop at Wal-Mart, but Wal-Mart has the power of life and death over its suppliers. Wal-Mart, he suggests, is too big to be subject to market forces or traditional rules. In the end, Fishman sees Wal-Mart as neither good nor evil, but simply a fact of modern life that can barely be comprehended, let alone controlled.
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Why the President Should Read This Book

Wal-Mart is the largest company in the history of the world. Is that enough of a reason? If not, I’ve got more. This book does a good job of not only giving a decent “biography” of Wal-Mart, but of showing how Wal-Mart works, and how it affects not only its own employees and customers, but the employees of its suppliers, competitors, and just about everyone else. It wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to make the case that everyone in the world, some more directly than others, have been affected by Wal-Mart in some way.

More than that, Wal-Mart is an example of what is possible with capitalism. I would say “unfettered” capitalism, but in fact Wal-Mart is quite fettered, and yet enough freedom exists that it has prospered wildly. Much can be learned from this book about economics, markets, and government involvement in the market economy. Although the author appears to have a certain bias against Wal-Mart and free markets generally, it’s not easy to pick up on, which leads me to believe he did a pretty good job of being as objective as he possibly could.