Shares of Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer of disposable flotsam, are very likely a part of my vast portfolio of blue-chip stocks. I can’t say for sure. I don’t have time to read financial statements. I have no interest in the month-to-month vicissitudes of my fund holdings. I just know the stock market is going up and I’m getting richer every year. Just like Wal-Mart.
Up until last week, things seemed to be churning along swimmingly. Workers at Wal-Mart stores put in a full day’s work and went home with around $60 and the smart people who manage them went home with more. Stasis achieved. Then, for reasons that aren’t entirely clear to me – I suspect it had something to do with keeping up appearances and delaying a pitchfork rebellion — the executives who decide such things determined that $7.25 (the federal minimum) isn’t actually a “living wage.” So they’re giving 500,000 employees an unprecedented gigantic raise to at least $9 an hour. Workers who put in an honest day of labor will take home more than $70 now!
Now, I’m just a lowly shareholder and they’re America’s chief middleman between slave labor and the marketplace, so who am I to complain? But as a shareholder I actually do have a right to complain. One share, one voice.
So I would like to formally alert Sam Walton’s heirs, who are worth a collective $140 billion, that they’re acting recklessly, wantonly, heedlessly, and needlessly. They’re putting the “needs” of the drones ahead of those of us at the top of the pyramid, the ones whose profits are inextricably tied to the impoverishment of the less clever ones who do the actual work.
Sure, it’s going to be great to tell the media that Wal-Mart is now paying their human resources more than they’re required by law. But what no one (except me) has the guts to say is that they’re effectively paying their shareholders and managers and board members less than they’re able to.
That’s not right. It’s not responsible stewardship of capital and it’s not the American Way.
I have half a mind to sell off all my Wal-Mart stock (if I have any). Next quarter’s results might be OK. They might even be nicely profitable. Hooray. But if the company had been a little more circumspect with the raise-for-everyone mantra, profits could have been even higher and shareholders like me even happier. Instead, we’ll just have to wait for all those lost dollars to “trickle up” back where they belong.