Comments on: How Alice Walton has improved America A slice of lime in the soda Sun, 26 Oct 2014 19:05:02 +0000 hourly 1 By: traducere daneza romana Mon, 29 Sep 2014 13:53:16 +0000 Generally I don’t read post on blogs, but I wish to say that this write-up very forced me to try and do so! Your writing taste has been surprised me. Thank you, very great post.

By: Jweb Tue, 20 Dec 2011 16:44:13 +0000 I noticed Mr. Goldberg wrote another article today on Alice Walton. I sent him the following after the first article.

I read your article about Alice Walton and the new Crystal Bridges Art Museum and have to say your research is either lacking or you just have a problem with the Walton family and Wal-Mart. It is easy to jump on the bandwagon that paints the Walton’s and Wal-Mart as an evil empire, rather than look at the many good deeds the family, Wal-Mart and their foundation does for the general public. I realize this is just an opinion piece and you can simply write your view, but I believe it is irresponsible to continue to fuel the flames against this family and the company. Actually, if you were any sort of real journalist, you would actually write something that doesn’t cater to popular opinion. For full disclosure, I grew up in Arkansas and lived there until I was 26. I worked for the Walton family bank for 7 years and knew many of them personally. It was the best job anyone in my family ever had and had my husband not been transferred to Los Angeles, I would still be working for them. I now live in Chicago and work for one of the largest banks in the country.

As to some of your statements, I take offence that you believe it is a moral tragedy to build a billion dollar art museum in a recession. First, do you not think it created much needed jobs? I can tell you that it did, especially for those in construction, a business sector that has suffered considerably during the recession. Maybe you should reach out to some of those contractors who were hired to build Crystal Bridges and get their take on it. Second, were other billionaires on financial lockdown? Given my position, I first hand witnessed the upper 1% continue to build extravagant homes and spend significant sums on art (it was a buyer’s market, after all), but for their own personal collection. I also witnessed them tightening their belts by way of cutting back on their philanthropic giving. Ask anyone who works for a non-profit and they will tell you their major donors were no longer major. I commend Alice and the foundation for giving tremendous amounts of money throughout the recession. While the Walton Family Foundation did give $1.2B to build the museum in 2010 (which created both short term and long term jobs), they gave another $276M to education and conservation programs. With the museum built, the vast majority of those grants will go back to education and conservation like it did in 2009 when the foundation gave $327M to such programs. I do believe only the Gates foundation can claim more.

As far as the building itself, yes, it is indeed a beautiful building and you are right in stating it is the handsomest building ever built by Wal-Mart money. That is because Wal-Mart has never felt the need to build some grandiose monstrosity to flaunt their success, as so many of these enormous corporations feel the need to do. They don’t waste revenues on such extravagances; their buildings are for function, which should make shareholders happy. When companies build such lavish buildings, they are shouting, “Look at us! We are so successful and powerful, we just had to show you by this outlandish display of wealth!” Quite simply, it is nothing more than textbook megalomania. They could have contributed that money to charity.

It is also funny you take a jab at Wal-Mart for selling foreign goods. Did I miss the memo that Target only sells American goods? Or Amazon? Or any other major department store, for that matter? Also, working for Bloomberg, you should know that foreign trade is extremely important to the American economy and without it, the cost of goods would be exorbitant (think of all those foreign manufactures for GE and Apple). It is unfair and quite frankly, irresponsible, to make such a statement. You only fuel the flames of a deeply divided political state that at this point in time, needs more compromise than agitation. Your comments suggest that it is even a possibility to sell only domestic goods, which you well know is impossible.

When you speak of values and the paintings that are the antithesis of the Wal-Mart spirit, I would like to share with you a bit of my own story and suggest you reconsider what you believe to be values. As I said, I grew up in Arkansas. My mother was a single mother who worked for a small diner that did NOT have to pay the state required minimum wage because of the “tip exemption”. At that time, between 1973 and 1995, minimum wage for the state went from $1.20/hour to a whopping $4.25/hour – and my mother made less. Now, if you are working at Morton’s or a high end restaurant, you can make a decent living off of tips. However, if you’re working at a small town diner that serves a 60 cent hamburger, tips don’t amount to much. If my mother received a 50 cent tip, that was high; a $1.00 was almost unheard of. It was not enough money to live on and we lived with my grandmother for 8 years out of necessity. Also, the restaurant did not have to provide health insurance and my mother made just enough to not qualify for Medicaid; all medical expenses were paid for in cash. Needless to say, we were on a very tight budget. So to us, Wal-Mart was the greatest place ever built. We could buy clothing and home goods for a fraction of the cost and a loaf of bread for $.85, instead of $1.10 at the local “mom & pop” store. Which as a side note, the owner of the “mom & pop” in town was the only man who could afford a Cadillac, send his children to the University, and actually take a real vacation (not camping 2 hours from home). To this day, I don’t have a lot of sympathy for the mom & pop retailers of the world. Wal-Mart has done more for the lower 50% of this country than most any person, company or government entity, and a lot of us owe our sheer survival to them. Where my mother could save her tips, they went toward my college education. Literally, nickels, dimes and quarters paid for my education and I went to the cheapest school in the state. After graduation, I was hired to work for the Walton family bank and I made more in one week than my mother made in a month. Wal-Mart’s values was to always to provide the lowest cost and everything about their business model is driven by this mission. Having the lowest cost items means that you support the poorest families, allowing them to stretch their dollars farther. I, for one, am a fan of Wal-Mart’s values.

On your comments about the paintings in the museum and the seeming contrast between the work and the family values, I ask you this: Since when did an art museum have to hold the values and beliefs as the artists exhibited? By that standard, you should walk around the Guggenheim and ask that they take down at least half of all of the works. The Guggenheim fortune was built with old inherited wealth created by gold mining, which exploited workers and their environment, all for their own financial success. In fact, I believe most artists would have related more to Sam Walton with his creativity and vision, as well as his desire to help the poor (including starving artists). I’m beginning to think your issue might be that the museum was built in lowly Arkansas, built by a man of little to no means.

On your point about the inequality of women, I certainly do agree there is a disparity in pay between men and women. But to be fair, that is a national problem and almost every corporation in this country is guilty of it. Even this well regarded bank that employees me discriminates against females in both pay and upper management. It is not fair to only call out Wal-Mart alone on this. This company also does not offer coverage to part time employees, as great majority of companies do not.

My final point is in regard to your statement about how Wal-Mart made its money. Wal-Mart was so successful, not because it undercut its employees as you suggest, but by streamlining distribution, creating better technology and simply out-maneuvering the competition. Wal-Mart, particularly Sam Walton, revolutionized business as we know it. Wal-Mart paying employees’ minimum wage is what all companies pay their non-skilled labor. But when Sam and the family managed Wal-Mart, those employees also received stock options. My uncle worked for Wal-Mart for 25 years as a truck driver. At retirement, he received over $350,000 from options – 10 times what he had personally saved for retirement. There are many others who benefited from options as well: secretaries, shelf stockers, and cashiers received significant sums from options, well more than what my uncle received (there was a very memorable stocker that retired with $1mm). There were also those that took what little savings they had and bought additional stock with it, with many of them having 10’s of millions in Wal-Mart stock by the time they retired. Everyone in the company wanted to keep costs down, regardless of what they were, because they had so much to gain on the future success.

So, the next time you want to write an opinion piece, you should consider choosing a topic that might actually make people think and consider that there are multiple sides to every story. As a few suggestions, you can look within your own piece.

1) National pay inequality between men and women, and the fact that women stopped gaining ground in high level executive positions and government in 2006.
2) Large companies sitting on trillions of dollars that could be deployed for goods, buildings and jobs, but are not.
3) Wealthy families that contribute little to none to charity (a shame list would be great and a mile long), yet spend their dollars lobbying for regulations that would benefit them to the great expense of others.
4) Corporate mismanagement and fiscal irresponsibility.
5) The long term affect of low minimum wages and the exemptions.
6) Health care for people who do not qualify for Medicaid.

By: TheUSofA Tue, 20 Dec 2011 07:55:12 +0000 Pretty sad Felix. I suppose the ends now justify the means.

To actually title this piece, How Alice Walton has improved America???

I mean really. I expect willful blindness from the cheap sloganeers, but from you Felix?

I’m too, along with MANY are with Jeffrey Goldberg on this and here’s his new piece:  /at-wal-mart-a-microcosm-of-u-s-inequal ities-jeffrey-goldberg.html

By: Auros Wed, 14 Dec 2011 19:27:58 +0000 “Walmart saves money for poor Americans — while it might not be a great employer, there are many more poor Americans than there are poor Walmart employees. From a financial perspective, Walmart has been a decidedly positive force in terms of bringing down the cost of living for those on extremely limited budgets.”

I just don’t buy this argument. Wal-Mart, through its direct labor policies and its lobbying, depresses the wages of ALL low-skilled workers and undermines safety net programs that help out even mid- and high-skilled workers when they have a run of bad luck. The benefits they provide by sharing SOME of the savings they generate through logistics (most of which flow to shareholders) are almost surely outweighed by their negatives.

By: Podunk Wed, 14 Dec 2011 17:17:18 +0000 Thanks for the reminder about Crystal Bridges. It’s been sold out when I’ve checked before, and had neglected to go back to check. Looks like I’ll be able to get in over the holidays.

It has been a bit stunning to read the comments critical of her choice of how to spend her own money. (Note: the Waltons have also contributed to several great libraries in the area and to efforts to alleviate poverty in the Arkansas and Mississippi delta regions.) There is a long tradition of wealthy patrons buying artworks, and it’s nice to see them made publicly available. While it is a shame for NY that the Waltons have kept strong ties in NW Arkansas and choose to display the artwork here, it’s not like there aren’t a few decent art museums in NY already.

As for efforts to help with problems in developing countries, it should be noted that the Wal-Mart innovations in supply chain management have allowed greater manufacturing inputs from developing countries, helping to bring millions of people out of poverty. No amount of charitable giving by the Waltons could match the benefits of establishing these sustainable trade patterns for the developing world. Yes, that leads to less low-end manufacturing here, but if you’re really concerned about the health and well-being of humanity as a whole, rather than just the extremely rich (in relative terms) Americans, there is no better way to lift so many out of poverty than to give them sustainable jobs by buying stuff from them and investing in factories that will employ them.

By: MarvDanielson Wed, 14 Dec 2011 12:29:10 +0000 “looking a gift horse in the mouth”? Cold, Felix, cold. You can’t blame Goldberg for David Bradley’s wealth. Nor his children for wanting a pony. I suppose all the little Salmonses are getting coal in their stockings this Christmas.

By: leoklein Wed, 14 Dec 2011 07:15:14 +0000 I’m with Jeffrey Goldberg.

By: dedalus Wed, 14 Dec 2011 02:58:22 +0000 You’re applying different standards in your evaluation of the influence Alice Walton can wield.

On the one hand you’re not “convinced” — a high standard to meet — that “Walton [could] really help Wal-Mart’s workers earn more money and get better healthcare.”

But OTOH you believe that something mystically beneficial will befall those who will view the artwork to hang in her new museum — though you offer no evidence for this and appear to be applying a much lower threshold of criteria for believing it, versus the threshold you want met to be convinced that she could positively impact Walmart employees’ financial wellbeing.

Imho her money would be better spent by, for instance, funding construction of new/more libraries or extended library hours, than by building a new $1bb museum.

What happens in museums that doesn’t happen at much less cost & to much greater effect by reading? Wouldn’t her goal — presuming that its not to build a monument to herself — be better achieved by making sure Arkansas’ public libraries were always open late and were well-stocked with the so-called Great Books?

I’m with Jeffrey Goldberg.

By: masaccio Wed, 14 Dec 2011 02:02:48 +0000 Alice Walton and her creepy kin are the moving force behind the attack on the Estate Tax. They did nothing to earn those riches, but they don’t want to pay taxes when they go on to their great reward in the sky, which will no doubt be a heavenly Versailles lined with money and gold.

By: Marcum Tue, 13 Dec 2011 23:24:51 +0000 Wow! I swear to GAWD the last Felix Salmon post I read before taking him OFF my RSS reader was “Bordeaux data-points of the day”. Who gives a rats patootie about Alice Walton taking a punch.