I got my author copies of the book today.
It looks good – the cover is the tipped over shopping cart/trolley that I posted a couple of posts down. The colour (turquoise with a touch of grey, if that makes any sense) works, and I like the image a lot.
The book is a trade paperback size (6" by 10") and its 240 pages are in a well-spaced, good sized, easy to read font (Stone). There’s a continuity between the cover and the inside – the fonts for the headings are repeated on the cover, and the star that is used as a separator between sections is used again on the cover (a reference to Wal*Mart). There’s even a shade of grey inside, used for the chapter numbers, which gives a slightly classier feel.
I hadn’t seen the index (done by yours truly) in final form before, and it looks fine. I didn’t end up putting any of those Easter Eggs in that you see in some indexes (eg, No Logo has an index entry for "index, puzzling self reference to" on page 437 (or something) which is, of course, the page the index entry appears on). Still, there is something oddly personal about indexes – there can’t be too many that have all of the following index entries in them:
Dirty Pretty Things
focal point effect
Qin, Emperor of China
Ulysses Unbound (Jon Elster)
van der Waals, Johannes
And as a bonus, there is a great review comment on the back from Jim Stanford, Canadian Auto Workers economist, Globe and Mail columnist, and an energetic commentator in many places. Here’s what he has to say:
Conservatives dress up their destructive policy prescriptions in the language of ‘individual choice.’ Tom Slee’s paradigm-busting book shows there are other, better ways for society to make choices. Marvelous and timely.
Now that’s a lot better than "uneven" from the other day.
I keep meeting really, really nice people who just think Walmart is evil on a stick. Spent last night with 12 people from the church who by word and by deed have shown consistent care for those who have less than we do…but who absolutely despise Walmart.
You sir, know well how Walmart’s fierce determination to push their suppliers for ever lower costs … is the very force that makes them go to ever more distant workers to do the job…and in so doing they push the frontier of real poverty further into the hinterlands of China. You sir, know well that as selfish and greedy as Sam Walton may have been, his model is doing what Mother Theresa could only dream of doing. Go to the poorest areas where mothers sometimes have to choose which child to feed… and tell them why “the richest corporation in the world” should be paying people in Guangzhou and Shanghai higher wages instead of undergoing the difficulties of bringing a new plant to their province and allowing their children initial access to some part of the world-wide cornucopia we rich folk take for granted.
Every time I go to China I see the frontier pushed back further…most Chinese are 4 to 5 times richer than they were 30 years ago and it’s hard for you and me to understand what it means to move into a world where your kids have dependable calories and some vegetables…and then a bit more protein and a bike which enables many more opportunities…and then a fridge and better schooling…. and yes, then a TV and all the good and bad that can mean. What if new Beethovens, Lech Walesas, and Marie Curries are born unnoticed in backcountry China or Haiti or Ruwanda and the world will never receive their gifts?
Have you asked yourself why you favor the poor of America, over the more poor of Guangzhou…. and the poor of Guangzhou over the more poor of Harbin?
PS If you send me a review copy of your book I promise to send a very spirited review to the far corners of the world. Wouldn’t you love to see your efforts covered in the Chinese press?
Dave – Thanks for taking the time to post your comment. It is clear that we both want the same things, and it is clear that you have more experience of what is happening in China than I do.
It is also clear that we disagree over several things:
– from what you write, it seems as if you think that Wal-Mart, and others like them, left to their own devices, will be enough to pull poor countries into prosperity. I don’t agree. China’s growth has many sources (many would say that it started before China’s integration into world trade) and many contradictions (there are persistent reports of people being driven off their lands). If I look for a model of what happens when you let companies drive the development of a country, I see somewhere closer to home, such as Honduras or Guatemala. They’ve had free trade (or close to it) for ages, lots of exports, and no problems with “labour flexibility”. Yet their standard of living for many people remains, of course, terribly low.
– I don’t actually think Wal-Mart is entirely evil. The book is about a way of thinking, rather than about Wal-Mart per se (you can read the first chapter, should you be interested, at http://www.tomslee.net/excerpt.html). The best book I’ve read on the company itself is “The Wal-Mart Effect”, which explores both the positive and negative effects Wal-Mart has had on those who come into contact with it.
– I do think that Wal-Mart’s consistent opposition to unionization, to any form of organization or independent representation for its workforces, is guaranteed to lead to exploitation and abuse. I have zero faith in the ability of the market alone to provide improvements for living standards, if employees are unable to act in their own interests.
– Similarly, the contrast between Wal-Mart’s obsessively detailed knowledge of its stores’ operations and its consistent claims of ignorance of what happens at its contractors workplaces is an indication of its priorities. I don’t care how poor someone is, workplaces where people can be maltreated demand improvement, and Wal-Mart is not pulling its weight.
As for a review copy, if you provide me with contact information and where such a review may appear (my e-mail address is in the sidebar) I’d be glad to pass the request to the publisher.
Tom, I agree we seem to have largely the same goals and I read your first chapter. You are an engaging writer and thinker with pretty darn good wings…if you know what I mean? You also seem to be a soulful guy. So it is disappointing that instead of trying to address my main question…instead you challenge me with: if the Walmart model is so great, why has it done so little for the Guatemalans and Hondurans?
Tom, nowhere did I speculate that WalMart,”left to their own devices,” could get it’s suppliers building in every poor country regardless of the local laws and institutions.
Meanwhile, I said I HAVE SEEN his (Walton’s not Teresa’s) model operating in China and the results can only be described as breathtaking. Enough to make a grown man cry.
But Tom doesn’t cry for the people of Harbin. At least not in this way. You didn’t attempt to answer my main question of why the nice liberals I meet at church, or the brilliant film-makers at Front Line, or for that matter the author of “No One Makes You Shop at WalMart” …why they all favor the poor of America, over the more poor of Guangzhou…. and the poor of Guangzhou over the more poor of Harbin? When the lady at the church says: ” but WalMart is the richest corporation in history, they can afford to pay workers much more” she doesn’t envision how such a policy would play out into less jobs for Harbin and less chance for the model to ever arrive in Guatemala City or Niger, where my best friend works. What supplier wants the troubles of building in the hinterlands if he can’t get much lower costs? Would you want to move your family to Harbin?
Mother Teresa prayed that lots of opportunity might make its way into every home in every country but she had no way to make it happen. Yet, every time one of WalMart’s purchasing agents tightens the screw a little tighter on one of their suppliers…. the guy may say on Front Line what a demonic creep the purchasing agent is…but he then has to get more willing to build where people are so desperately poor.
I have seen estimates that international corporations generally pay about twice the prevailing wages in most poor countries, so that they can get dependable and pliant workers…do you know if these estimates are about right?
And poor, poor Jack of Whimsley! If Jack and other citizens of Whimsley are free to buy thru Target and Home Depot lots of things from the hardworking and upwardly mobile people in Harbin and Shanghai and Mumbai…. and then he finds that the local May Co bites the dust and Ace hardware is struggling…. and Robert’s Fine Men’s Shop is still open but only by dint of Robert’s grim determination and ability to pay himself nada…Tom, you conclude that: “But contrary to what MarketThink would have us believe, the picture that emerges is not a pretty one: it is one of growing disparity….”
Wrong. Tragically wrong. Imagine yourself explaining to an average Chinese family that they need to go back to being 1/4th as rich as they are today…. give up the bike, the cell phone, the elevator that works, the better schooling, the fridge, the large healthy kid or kids who are all alive…
You can only say it is not a pretty picture if you EXCLUDE FROM YOUR ANALYSIS all the foreign workers. The people who were formerly so poor that their 4 year old child (later my wife) had to wait in line several hours a day almost every day for the family’s ration of rice or oil or coal…so poor that I was consistently playing center in pick-up basketball games(think about it) …so poor that over 50million of their compatriots died of starvation or for want of inexpensive medicines.
Why would someone like you who authentically cares about the poor exclude the poorest of the poor? It can’t be just because they are so far away and out of sight? If you are a caring person, they too are part of Whimsley!
Do you really think that pasting on your concern about the working conditions in foreign factories….changes any of this? I have been in many Chinese factories..(well, I am not your average tourist) and have seen many people’s photos of their workplaces (well I did get married there) and heard lots of stories about regular folk at work. And I have seen the working conditions of friends and relatives before the multi-nationals came to town….. there is really no comparison.
Few factories have air conditioning and many have very poor ventilation. The hours are long and the work boring and the pay seems paltry to rich westerners. But compared to plowing behind a borrowed water buffalo with mosquitos and malaria and hepatitis and lots of dung…well lots of dung if you can afford it…..or compared to doing tiny embroidery that’ll make you blind after a few years…. Tom, with all your talk about respecting the choices people make why are you dropping the ball here? Cause they are just poor folk?
None of the nice women at the church’s “social justice” meeting who were discussing WalMart were even aware that much of China and India have seen an historic escape from poverty…. but you are.
Tom, how the heck did you get on the wrong side of possibly the most important debate in human history? Damn it, there are still over a million kids dying of malaria every year and we need your help to stop it. Most of Africa is so besieged by disease and corruption and socialists that the very idea of progress has become alien. .
all the best,
PS We have a cabin in Estes Park, CO… right at the foot of Rocky Mountain National Park and I’d love to have you come use it if possible…
My plan to send reviews of your book to Chinese newspapers and magazines is not backed up by existing relations with any of them , but I do have a way to get the review translated well and I think they might find your analysis both interesting and vexing. Seems worth a try if you have an extra book available.
you say above:
– “I do think that Wal-Mart’s consistent opposition to unionization, to any form of organization or independent representation for its workforces, is guaranteed to lead to exploitation and abuse. I have zero faith in the ability of the market alone to provide improvements for living standards, if employees are unable to act in their own interests.”
–surely, Tom, with all your long nights of studying economics….if you are sufficiently determined, you can make sense of the above. You can say that what happened in China was not due to “the market alone”. And as the average worker in China is now much more than 5 times richer than before, you have an out by pointing to various “exploitation and abuse” …but why would you want to take such an out?
I absolutely agree that the rise of living standards in China is one of the biggest changes in the world over the last 25 years or so – I’m no fan of golden-age pastoral poverty. Also, that among many other things, Wal-Mart and other export-led industries have had a part to play in this rise of standards.
I don’t want to “take the out” of looking only at the dark side of Chinese industrialization. And I acknowledge that export industries – yes, including Wal-Mart – can be a force for good.
So where does that leave us? Well, when it comes to rights, surely still on the side of those pushing for free unions as opposed to the fake ones that seem to be in place there; and when it comes to taking over land for industrialization, surely still on the side of those who protest it?
With your experience of the country, I’d be interested to know what you think of the “Blood and Treasure” weblog – a sample post is here: http://bloodandtreasure.typepad.com/blood_treasure/2006/09/rebels_tyrants_.html
hello, i’m spamilka