The People's Republic of Walmart: how late-stage capitalism gives way to early-stage fully automated luxury communism

#1

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2019/03/05/walmart-without-capitalism.html

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#2

Would’ve been nice to have clues like this before the biosphere was doomed… Maybe we can salvage some of humanity’s dignity, at least

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#3

Having first-hand experience of Amazon’s system, I can tell you that the amount of both waste and shortage involved is staggering. And the corporation rides on the back of under-paid, zero-benefit seasonal employees who can’t afford to buy the goods they’re shipping. And those goods are made in factories in China by exploited workers as well. So fuck this premise.

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#4

Done right, communism would avoid/actively manage issues that capitalism does not (well, not very well). Tragedies of the commons and externalisation of many costs/impacts.

Given that Walmart, Amazon and co all derive profit from said tragedies and externalisation, yeah - fuck this premise.

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#5

So the book is comparing Wallmart to the USSR, right? In one respect the two are indeed comparable: all the money went to the few in power and the common folk were suffering.

Real communism was nothing like the utopian it was meant to be. It served as a blueprint for Orwell’s 1984. But if the book means to prepare us to a return of that kind of communism, they are probably right.

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#6

we are now surrounded by companies and organisations that are as large or larger than the USSR at its apex, which undertake breathtakingly efficient allocations of goods and resources, and all without markets, running as command economies.

Brilliant! I never looked at it this way, but it recasts “market capitalism” as “what if the internet was made out of carbon-paper triplicate?”

Also, you have two upshots. Isn’t that a Class I misdemeanor?

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#7

Isn’t this the consumerist-driven dystopia that was portrayed in Wall-E? Buy-More is right around the corner.

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#8

It’s that we can imagine something as efficient and convenient as Walmart or Amazon without CEOs, shareholders or exploited workers, bringing all the bounties of late-stage capitalism without its pathologies.

Do the authors propose how this would work? Because from the outside it appears that Walmart and Amazon are so successful precisely because they make their profits on the backs of exploited workers. In fact, WalMart’s entire business model (and Amazon’s catalog fulfillment business model) is predicated on the basic idea that employees on the bottom rungs of every business they interact with - not just their own - are not yet exploited enough and there are more pennies you can squeeze out of them. I’ll have to read the book to see how the authors suggest that this wouldn’t be a problem in an economy based on the same kinds of ideas. (It certainly was a problem for Soviet Russia, which much like Amazon and WalMart depended on the exploitation of the workers on the bottom rungs to enrich the party members at the top.)

(Corporations have always shown that the command-and-control economy could be very successful if the folks in power were given absolute authority up and down the chain - this is not a new 21st century innovation as the Rail Barons and Steel Barons of the 19th century could give Bezos and the Waltons a run for their money. IMO this is why the capitalists of the mid 20th century were deathly afraid of Communism - they knew how they operated their very successful businesses, recognized the game and the players in Leninism and Stalinism, and really had no faith that democracy or markets were a better model. The thing they forgot was that businesses fail all of the time, and in a command-and-control economy when you fail, you take everything down with you. In a well regulated market model you have massive redundancy and so one failure of management doesn’t take down the whole system. Of course in a poorly regulated market model you get exactly the same problem and we call it “too big to fail”. )

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#9

If the benchmark is “breathtakingly efficient allocations of goods and resources” I’m not sure whether I would include the Pentagon in the list.

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#10

A great example of that is the empty shelves at whole foods after the Amazon takeover, which I saw pictures of on this very website…

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#11
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#12

How much of the efficiency of wal mart or amazon is created at the expense of resources - both human (low wage workers replacing local business owners, outsourcing manufacture of goods overseas to places with even worse working conditions) and environmental (fossil fuels in delivery vehicles, cheap products made with non renewable resources)? In an ideal green world can we use technology and economics to overcome those things?

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#13

Ahhh. . . but if the workers owned the means of production at Amazon. . . .

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#14

the efficiency, so breathtaking

#15

“…an alternative: bright green, high-tech societies where markets are useful tools for solving the odd problem, but where allocation is primarily accomplished by the preferred means of Jeff Bezos and Sam Walton, but to the benefit of the many, not the few.”

Seriously? Why does the “preferred method” always seem to remove the power of citizens to protect themselves? It bothers me greatly that the debate has devolved to a simplistic battle between socialism (not something even Bernie advocates) and unfettered free markets, with no protection against runaway greed and collapse; but if you believe a magically benevolent oligarchy is the alternative, I have a bridge for sale.

It seems to me the most stable periods in our economy and world have been when sensible limits have been put on capitalism and where we citizens have invested in and empowered ourselves in ways we choose, as we have every right to do.

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#16

Though you have to admit, the shelves in the grocery stores that Amazon has taken over look an awful lot like the shelves in the old USSR grocery stores.

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#17

Opposite People

by Fela Kuti

Them go show o, them go show
Them go show themselves clear clear
Them go show o
Them go show o, them go show
Opposite people
Them go show themselves clear clear
Them go show

Them go show!

Anywhere them dey
Anywhere them dey
Them go show themselves
Opposite people

Everyone dey dance
Dey dance for enjoyment (Dey dance!)
Everyone dey talk
Dey talk for communication (Dey talk!)
Everyone dey hear
Dey hear for ideology (Dey hear!)
Everyone dey think
Dey think for him progress (Dey think!)

Now now but look am, him don show himself
Opposite people
I say look am, him don show himself
Opposite people
I say look am, him don show himself
Opposite people
I say look the thing him don show himself

Everyone dey dance, him go push
Everyone dey talk, him go shout
Everyone dey hear, him go sleep
Everyone dey think, him go drink

Everyone dey dance (Him go push!)
Everyone dey talk (Him go shout!)
Everyone dey hear (Him go sleep!)
Everyone dey think (Him go drink!)

See, him don show himself

Him go dey shakara
Him go dey katakata
Him go dey shakara

Him go dey shakara!
Him go dey katakata!
Him go dey shakara!

Them don show themselves
Opposite people
Them don show themselves

Him go dey shakara
Him go dey katakata

Him go dey shakara
Katakata put am together

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#18

Would love to buy this from someone other than Amazon, or is the premise that buying this from Amazon will get me that sweet sweet socialism that I’m looking for?

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#19

How are Walmart and Amazon command economies? Walmart does decide what to sell and how to price it; but those decisions are very much market-driven: they sell what people will buy. Nobody buys it, it won’t be on their shelves for long. Amazon is pretty much an ecommerce platform more than a retailer. Many of the sellers on that platform are not controlled by Amazon at all: Amazon just gets a cut for hosting them and providing other services. They too are driven by and live or die by the market.

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#20

Just out of interest - what is the power of citizens to protect themselves?

I don’t think it has although the US political sphere would like everyone to think so.

I don’t think that’s their argument. I think their suggestion is something far more complicated and less practical.

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