Monday, November 22, 2010

Invasion of the Booty Capitalists

Daniel Massey's Crain's article on Wal-Mart's astroturf efforts to generate support for its anticipated NYC invasion, brings to mind all of our discussions of "booty capitalism," over five years ago-and most recently the efforts of the Walmonster to undermine the NYC Federation of Hispanic Chambers of Commerce through the use of the inestimable Frank Garcia: "Looking to strengthen its hand in any battle against unions and elected officials over its planned entry into the New York City market, Walmart has launched an effort to win over local black leaders. Earlier this month, the Rev. Al Sharpton was among at least half a dozen prominent black New Yorkers who traveled to Bentonville, Ark., to participate in a three-day “stakeholder summit” organized by Walmart as part of its long-term efforts to brand itself as a good corporate citizen."

With all due respect to the self evident charms of Jennifer Lopez, the title of this post refers not to contemporary body references, but to the observations of Max Weber and Karl Marx: "...Weber explained that “booty capitalism” blocks the urge to search for the profits which make capitalism to develop. He argued that rational entrepreneurial capitalism, which in the West found its specific locus in industry, was handicapped in China by the ramifications of a patrimonial system in which the office and the “benefits” which accrue there from are more important than capitalist accumulation."

In this case, a patrimonial system implies an antideluvian, fuedal relationship: " "patrimonial system" is defined as any form of political domination or authority based on personal and bureaucratic power exerted by a royal household." And the reference goes on to underscore the following-whose relevance we will touch upon shortly: "Administration is under direct control of the ruler. This means it involves the employment of retainers or slaves, mercenaries and conscripts, who themselves possess no independent basis of power, that is, are not members of traditional landed aristocracy."

Hence the term, "booty," an indication that the recipients, lacking any "independent basis of power," are looking to extract some booty from the powerful lords. The idea that Wal-Mart is terming these kinds of get togethers as, "stakeholder summits," is thoroughly risible since it is the Walmonster that holds the stake-along with the front man Related-as in the case of East New York.

The retail giant is attempting to gain a purchase in NYC politics-and, lacking any real grass roots support, the best method it has is purchasing it: "They met with Walmart U.S. Chief Executive Bill Simon and participated in sessions on the company's efforts to sell cheaper prescription drugs, hire more veterans and minorities, and give employees the chance to earn college degrees. They also heard from the president of the Walmart Foundation, Margaret McKenna, who highlighted the company's charitable giving, which includes $9 million in grants to New York City nonprofits in the past three years."

All of these efforts at converting a skeptical public through the use of the cash nexus underscores the dire need of analyzing-apart from the Bentonville Greeks baring gifts-the real impacts that a metastasizing Wal-Mart in NYC would mean to the city's diverse neighborhoods and small business communities-something we have already laid out in some detail in our extrapolation from the Chicago Wal-Mart study: "The results of the Chicago Wal-Mart study provides us with a cautionary tale. For all those who promote the Walmonster in the name of economic development, these results indicate that the retail giant-unlike almost any other retailer-generates the kind of collateral damages that yield a net loss for the host community. And this analysis doesn't take into consideration what Stacy Mitchell calls, "the big box swindle;" the fact that these box stores like Wal-Mart generate much fewer local dollars than do the local competitors that they so often replace."

This is all especially compelling since the city council has staked out a claim to a comprehensive food policy for NYC. As the NY Times reports: "The report, called “Food Works,” lays out environmental, economic and health goals, some of which the Council can accomplish through legislation and many of which it cannot. The study was commissioned by the Council speaker, Christine C. Quinn."

Since the speaker wants to make food policy her signature issue-and a central feature of this has always been supermarket growth and retention-then the council needs to examine very carefully the deleterious impact that a Wal-Mart invasion would have on the achievement of greater access to fresh food. As we have pointed out, "And, as the national record shows, Wal-Mart has been responsible for the disappearance of supermarkets all over the country-with low wage workers replacing union employees. And then there's the impact on the smaller businesses in a community. Study after study has demonstrated how Wal-Mart wipes out downtown shopping areas-in effect, creating an oasis in one place and desert everywhere else."

And if the council can utilize its resources for a magnum opus on food policy, it certainly can devote equal measure to the examination of the impact of Wal-Mart in this area. By doing so, Quinn could begin to chill the efforts of Wal-Mart at divide and conquer by exposing how the trough feeders were being self serving at the expense of the greater good. Now if Sharpton, et al, were actual stakeholders in the Wal-Mart incusion, it would mean that they were real partners, and not crumb seekers whose booty was trivial in comparison to the rich bounty accruing to Wal-Mart and Related. But that's another story.

We'll give Bertha Lewis the last word on the sordid nature of this Wal-Mart bait and ditch policy: "If I were Walmart, I'd go after and try to recruit as hard as I could folks I think will lend some credibility,” says Bertha Lewis, the former CEO of Acorn who is now the president of the Black Institute. “But I don't care who they sequester in Bentonville, they're going to get a fight.”