We are all guilty of it. Some more than others, and some rather in excess. We have all found ourselves rummaging aimlessly through Wal-mart for some great deal so we can spend money and accumulate more stuff—often when we don’t even have the money to pay for it. That, as Charles Fishman would claim, is the Wal-mart Effect—one of the many obvious or pernicious ways in which Wal-mart, the largest company in the world with virtually its own global economy, impacts our everyday economics, expectations, and understandings of what is and isn’t possible, and what is and isn’t attainable, its price both known and unknown.
In this highly detailed, thoroughly-researched, and even-handed book, Charles Fishman goes to great lengths to reveal the various ways in which Wal-mart influences not just the millions of people directly connected to Wal-mart such as vendors, employees, consumers, and transporters, but also those who choose (consciously or by circumstance) to interact with them. As a company with 3,811 stores at the writing of this book, approximately ninety seven percent of the population lives within twenty-five miles of a Wal-mart. Fishman’s theory maintains that we all are affected in some way by the manner in which Wal-mart conducts business.
Fishman’s style effectively brings the listener in through a variety of tactics, from having the listener consider something like deodorant and spacing within a Wal-mart store to how individual vendors maintain love/hate relationships with the Wal-mart. All of his research is painstakingly gathered since Wal-mart itself maintains a wall of silence about so much of their practices and numbers. But the one single truth of Wal-mart is that it always produces “low prices;” however, Fishman questions the cost economically, socially, legally, even environmentally, of relentlessly pushing vendors to make cheaper and cheaper products, often resulting in more inferior products. Despite some repetition of facts or quotes and the elaborations provided during one section, much of what Fishman says makes one think twice about how we as consumers conduct ourselves - not just with Wal-mart but as participants in a system that can be extremely exploitative of others less fortunate.
Alan Sklar brings listeners through this audiobook with grace, poise, and emphasis that have come to be his trademark in performing nonfiction texts. Navigating through such a complicated text can overload the listener, but Sklar vocally structures each sentence so that understanding comes easily. His deep voice maintains a soft element to it that can be soothing as he relates the information. Voice shifts happen several times within this audiobook, though within seconds Sklar’s voice returns to its normal sound.
In a world in which we become ever more interdependent and where we are quickly learning how the consumption of our wants and needs directly or indirectly affects how people in other parts of the world live, The Wal-mart Effect reminds us that just because it’s cheap for us doesn’t mean someone else isn’t paying the price. While Fishman does highlight some of the more positive interactions and experiences with Wal-mart, listeners will still be more suspect of the superstore.