Wal-Mart Wars: Moral Populism in the Twenty-First Century

Wal-Mart Wars: Moral Populism in the Twenty-First Century

Wal-Mart Wars: Moral Populism in the Twenty-First Century

Wal-Mart Wars: Moral Populism in the Twenty-First Century

Excerpt

Writing a book about economic controversies in the early years of the twenty-first century turned out to be a very tricky project. The past several years have witnessed economic events of historic proportions, including a global financial crisis, government intervention in financial firms, and reforms to the nation’s health care market that have perhaps been matched in their unprecedented nature only by the subsequent controversies they engendered. New populist movements have erupted in public life, with the Tea Party clamoring for GOP attention on the right, and left-wing groups hoping to convince Occupy Wall Street protestors that they have really been faithful Democrats all along. How does a book about Wal-Mart debates fit into our current economic landscape?

This book argues that we can use the recent controversy surrounding Wal-Mart to explore how conservative and progressive activists talk about controversial economic issues—with regard to both the nation’s largest retailer and other recent market controversies. When I became interested in studying economic discourse several years ago, the developing national debate over Wal-Mart emerged as a particularly visible and compelling case study. The public discourse surrounding the retailer produced vivid examples of competing arguments for and against Wal-Mart’s often-notorious business practices, which despite their allegedly harmful impacts on workers, the environment, and small retailers, have undoubtedly proved an economic boon for the typical American consumer. I began this research in 2005, tracking closely the developing activities of the organization Wal-Mart Watch, which declared itself to be a novel coalition of community organizations, leaders from various religious groups, and concerned citizens and activists who were united by their desire to pressure Wal-Mart to live up to its potential as a template corporation for the twenty-first century. Although held together by the glue of substantial funding from the Service Employees . . .

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