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Walmart: The Face of Capitalism Out of Control…

November 29, 2013
2013 - 11 -29 - Walmart 20

a Walmart demonstrator, Lakeside, Colorado (just w. of Denver). One of 500 who showed up to protest Walmart’s treatment of its employees; a part of demonstrations nationwide…

Earl Butz: Man of the People.

Forty odd years ago, the nation was blessed with a Secretary of Agriculture named Earl Butz. Butz was a visionary of sorts – not the sort I am particularly interested in, but still. Butz came to us from the great state of Indiana. He grew up in the 1920s when that great state had the nation’s largest Ku Klux Klan contingent of several hundred thousand dues paying members. His lifetime bigoted remarks against Catholics and the pope are very much in line with the KKK’s virulent anti-Catholic views of that decade. His kinship to the KKK (I don’t know if Butz or family members were in it – but his thought patterns resonate with KKK detritus) was expressed in another way. While claiming to represent the small farmer, the “little man”, no man served mega-corporate interests in America as thoroughly and faithfully as Earl Butz, who was, until the day he died, a dyed in the wool reactionary and unrepentant racist. 

Tis one of the ironies of history, that the very people whose livelihood he worked so hard to undermine and destroy, American small farmers, loved and respected Butz to the end. But then, one of the things that has long made the United States the great nation that it is, is the fact that so many people vote and work against their own self interests. Nothing like it really, anywhere else in the world.

But what was it that Butz saw, looking to the future from the vantage point of the mid 1970s?

He saw an untapped global market for American agribusiness, not so much those small and medium sized farms, but the mega-farms, the Con Agras and the like whom he served like a dedicated corporate alter boy in the Catholic Church that he so despised.

He saw that the country was headed for a long period of eroding wages, de-industrialization and that the glory days of the post-war U.S. economic miracle were about to stall into a long term period of permanent crisis, economic polarization between rich and poor, cuts in social programs and he accepted these changes as gracefully as any dyed in the wool neo-con (even though we didn’t use that term in those bygone days).

Did Butz know that China would become the source of cheap manufactured stuff dumped on the United States? Maybe. He was there when  Nixon, with the help of Henry Kissinger made his famous opening to China. Did he know that an obscure Arkansas-based retail store, Walmart – at the time – a la Woolworths – would emerge as the nation’s (and the world’s) leading retail giant with global sales reaching close to $500 billion by 2014? Maybe. Perhaps he was already impressed with how Walmart founder, Sam Walton, had even back then come up with a winning formula of slicing his employees wages and benefits, buying the cheapest manufactured stuff possible to produce a winner?

After leaving office, a true patriot, he was convicted of tax evasion for withholding some $148,000 in taxable income from his 1978 tax return. For this he spent 25 days and jail and was placed on five years’ probation. A forerunner of Rush Limbaugh, Glen Beck and their merry band of right-wing media idiots, Butz made a number of classic remarks in his day. Among my personal favorites, his support of massive use of fertilizers and concomitant attack on organic foods:

“Before we go back to organic agriculture, somebody is going to have to decide what 50 million people we are going to let starve.”

Profound words from the man as responsible as any for the fact that now one in three U.S. first graders are likely to contract Type II diabetes!

He also had thoughtful things to say about the nation’s housewives:

Speaking before members of a farm credit association in Champaign, Ill., in 1973, he said that if housewives did not have “such a low level of economic intelligence,” they would understand that the price of everything had gone up and “you can’t get more by paying less.”

But “the Earl Butz moment” came during the 1976 presidential campaign when he was stumping for Republican candidate (and sitting president) Gerry Ford.

As reported in a 2008 NY Times obituary on him, “Mr. Butz made a remark in which he described blacks as “coloreds” who wanted only three things — satisfying sex, loose shoes and a warm bathroom — desires that Mr. Butz listed in obscene and scatological terms.”

Although in a fairer society, Earl Butz should have been indicted, that remark did cost him his job. He was fired by Ford and left public office in disgrace. A genius at digging his self-inflicted hole that much more deeper, he defended that remark by asserting that ““the use of a bad racial commentary in no way reflects my real attitude.” Then what does?

Earl Butz understood that with wages dropping and profits soaring nationwide, that the American people would find themselves in a deepening structural bind over the years to come. His solution: knock out the small and medium sized farmers by eliminating the farm subsidies which helped keep many of them afloat and give a more open field to the big guys. the man who ushered in the era of 1000 acre corn forms had a way with words. His advice to small farms – whose livelihoods his policies devastated – was like Butz himself, simple and direct: get big or get out. Then take the subsidies previously given to small farmers and offer them to the corporate farms to subsidize agricultural exports. Between 1995 and 2005 alone, $51 billion of federal subsidies went to subsidize cheap corn.

It would result in higher meat prices (and it did) as fewer agricultural giants controlled larger (more than 90%) of food production,  but cheaper corn  based shit food and – with the flood of cheap imports – cheaper manufactured products also resulted. Bigger farms, a lot of corn syrup and poorly manufactured goods from the Third World was Butz’ version of heaven. Thus a plan for feeding “the new America” was born. Cruel? You betcha? Effective? Worked like a charm. Thus did Walmart enter the scene and take advantage of the new socio-economic realities to make one of the biggest financial killings in America’s sordid corporate history, done of course, with God and country in mind.

To be continued..

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