While not being a fan of Wal-mart (it has been over fifteen years since I last set foot in one), I do understand that the company is a bellwether of the national economy. That's why today's report from Bloomberg is so disturbing. Bloomberg has secured an email from Jerry Murray, a Wal-mart vice-president, that said February was off to the slowest start that he had seen in seven years. Murray lamented, "Sales are a total disaster."
My own personal grievance with Wal-mart is that it single-handedly swallowed up America's small businesses - the stores that used to line every Main Street in America - hardware stores, five-and-dimes, clothing emporiums, and grocery stores - leaving significant holes in our communities and in our hearts. But I know that era of history is over. Today everything has been taken over by bigger and bigger companies that fight ferociously to not pay their workers a living wage or show them any respect. Wal-mart is just one among the many. That is the world we live in.
Everyone, except me, goes to Wal-mart to save a few bucks and gaze in hypnotic awe at all of the wonderful things which they suddenly must have. Going to Wal-mart has become a national obsession. It is one way that families spend their "quality" time together, a reward for kids doing their chores, a convenient excuse to get out of the house.
But Jerry Murray says business is tanking. What's up with that? The government says that the job market is growing, albeit painfully slow, but the unemployment numbers are scandalously unreliable because they fail to take into account people who have given up on finding jobs. And the jobs that are out there are minimum wage or less, seasonal, and less than reliable sources of long-term employment.
The real problem is government. One party has won the presidency for the past two elections, and the other party has made it a holy mission to block the President from getting anything done. The Republicans won't pass jobs bills, they won't vote to raise the minimum wage, and they keep seniors living in a state of fear with veiled (and unveiled) threats about cutting their Social Security and Medicare. The only people that the GOP has not been terrorizing are the extremely rich (whom they refer to as "middle class"), and large corporations that they like to call "small businesses."
The Republicans think they can wreck the economy and then lay all of the blame at the feet of the President. They pulled that crap for most of the past four years, and it didn't sell. The President handily won re-election over their "small businessman," multi-millionaire Mitt Romney. It didn't work then, and it is not going to work now.
Wal-mart is losing business. Payroll taxes have gone up thanks to inaction by Republican members of Congress - and people know they are to blame - leaving consumers with less money to spend. The federal government is about to go through a massive spending cut that will kick the slats out from under the struggling economy, and Republicans fantasize that the Democrats will be blamed. They won't. Republicans want to force Democrats to sign onto their austerity measures - cutting the social programs that literally give millions the ability to survive with some dignity - but the Democrats are proving tougher than anticipated.
So uncertainty rules - and uncertainty keeps people out of Wal-mart.
The Republicans in Congress need to be very careful about what they pray for because they just might get it - along with the credit for the whole mess. Mr. Speaker, we are smarter than you think.