Sunday, August 22, 2004

Is it immoral to...

So I was in Wal-Mart the other day picking up a few items with my mother. In no particular hurry, she started to walk towards one of the store's new automated check out lines - the kind where you scan the items yourself, and then pay (with either credit card or with cash).

I asked her if she saw any problem with using the automated check out line, instead of one of the more traditional ones staffed by a Wal-Mart "associate." She said she didn't. I told her that I thought it a bad idea to use the automated lines because it helped the behemouth Wal-Mart to avoid hiring more - or keeping their current - employees, jobs that are despretely needed by many in our local community. Recognizing my point, we waited patiently in a traditional line and were rewarded in our endeavor by a meaningful conversation with the "associate."

Now some may say that because it is more effecient and costs the store less, the automated lines are the high moral course to steer (they do, after all, allow the store to pass along less costs to their consumers, assuming this is what they are doing). While this may be true, it rings hollow to those who need jobs - those blue collar people trying to feed and house their children. Besides, I think Wal-Mart has a little extra dough it can spare.

My point: every choice we make - whether it be a selfish use of your time rushing through an automated Wal-Mart line - matters. Its consequences may not be direct and in your face, but
they are there nonetheless.


At 7:52 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Does Wal-Mart really have extra cash?

How do we know that we're not forcing Wal-Mart to close more stores by doing what you advocate? Isn't it the "behemouth's" efficiency that creates the jobs in the first place?

At 11:38 AM, Blogger jsm said...

I just got a Costco card. According to this Slate article, they have great labor policies:

I did apply for the $10 rebate they offered on the microwave I bought online instead of mailing it in. I hope I doesn't put a post office worker out of a job.

At 2:21 PM, Blogger Lost In NY said...

Going by that logic, Wal-Mart's peak effeciency would be a totally automated system with no cashiers. Just how many jobs do you think this would create or get rid of?

There is a balance out there between effeciency and jobs, and the right answer is somewhere where the most external costs (i.e. social costs of the unemployed as well as the increased cost of goods that a less than perfectly effecient company has) are internalized and the burdens are spread throughout society.

As for the Costco example... You kept an internet IT man in business, even if you did take from a postal employee. And since I'm sure your internet costs your more than 37 cents a month, you are presumably giving more of your means. The question then, becomes whether or not you did it to selfishly save money or because you consciously wanted to promote the internet business route as a forward looking social mechanism (as opposed to the post office).

But kudos to you if you joined Costco (as compared to Sam's) based in part on how they treat their employees. That is exactly the kind of social conscious endorsed by the social gospel.

At 3:02 PM, Blogger jsm said...

Well, there's a Costco three miles from where I live and I have no idea where the nearest Sam's is. So I can't pretend that I was being altruist or anything.

But if I kept the internet IT guy in business by using the the online rebate form, wouldn't you be keeping the automated check-out people in business by using the self scan machine? Can't you play that type of game with everything?

At 4:19 PM, Blogger Derek Knight said...

I dig the self-checkout lines at Kroger (if I'm only picking up a few things) because they're terribly efficient. The self-check at Wal*Mart, however, is all sorts of screwy. The darn thing is always convinced that I've put an unscanned item in my bag or, more often, it has the wrong weight for a specific item in it's database...It takes forever to complete even a simple transaction and I've seen people (sadly) attempting to "Self check" entire cartloads of groceries.

I don't think that corporate policy is going to be influenced by whether I go to the busy checker at register 15 or check out myself, Wal*Mart is going to do what's best for their bottom line regardless of what people think, say or do.

At 6:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't comprehend making a blogger account, but I'm Ray , in New Orleans. Anyway, THANK you for yor comments on using the automatic non-human checkout, and the impact it has on taking jobs from people who need them. Even though I don't normally shop Wal*Mart (I thoroughly dislike many of their practices and the way they shut down other people's businesses), my local grocery store also has automatic check outs. I'll stand in line and smile and chit-chat with Ruby or Shandra or one of the other women trying to earn enough to feed the baby or supplement her retirement or whatever.

I only just recently discovered your blog, but I will definitely be back. I like the way you think.

At 11:03 AM, Blogger jj said...

Good to meet you Ray! And welcome to the site.

At 2:24 PM, Blogger Pissed Off Girl said...

There are too many intracacies in this issue to deal with them all at once. But here are a few questionst that come to mind:

Given Wal-Mart's reputation for treating their employees badly (Wall-Mart has more civil suits pending than any other corporation), which is worse: using an automated checkout machine or shopping at Wall-Mart at all?

What about self-checkin kiosks at airports? Are those better or worse than supermarket self-checks?

I could continue, but I've confused myself enough. It just seems there are more important things to worry about in the grand scheme of things.


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