Wal-Mart and Voting Turn-out

I read a fascinating article in the Guardian entitled ‘Questions for the New World’ by Andrew Simms. In it he was questioning some of our society’s values.

Britons work harder than medieval peasants!
Simms pointed out may interesting things including that modern Britons work harder than medieval peasants! He said that according to Medieval economists, peasants had to work only up to 150 days a year to feed their families. Anything up to a third of the year was covered by religious holidays. Whereas today, some people – especially those at the top and bottom of the jobs market – are working 48 or even 60 or more hours a week. And all of us in full-time work do so for at least 225 days a year.

Why do fewer people vote when there is a Wal-Mart nearby?
Most interesting was the study of the big supermarkets and the effect they have on society and local community. His eye-catching heading was “Why do fewer people vote when there is a Wal-Mart nearby?” As a Christian, I am interested in topic of community and have watched the spread large supermarkets and out of town shopping centres with suspicion.

I will quote much of what Simms said here, but recommend to full article to you. The link is at the bottom.

When two economists, Stephan Goetz and Anil Rupasingha, carried out a detailed study in the US of the links between Wal-Mart and “social capital” – the community cohesion and mutual support that makes neighbourhoods work – they were astonished to find that the presence of a Wal-Mart nearby brought the voting turn-out down.

Other measures of social capital went down too. They found that communities that gained a Wal-Mart during the decade had fewer local charities and local associations such as churches, campaign and business groups per capita than those that did not. But why?

It seems that by crushing smaller businesses and losing the local knowledge and relationships they embody, the supermarket economic model – used by its UK subsidiary Asda, and widely copied by rivals such as Tesco – cuts the threads that hold an engaged community together. Big supermarkets, often lured by grants into regeneration areas, have not acted as useful anchors but instead have competed, often unfairly, with the surrounding businesses – sucking money out of the local economy.

Governments have mistaken being “big business-friendly” with being pro-enterprise. And supermarkets have not only killed the rich diversity of producers, suppliers and shops that are essential to a resilient economy, they are also dissolving the glue that holds communities together.

See the full article here.

Andrew Simms is policy director of nef (the new economics foundation) the award-winning UK think-and-do tank, and head of nef’s Climate Change Programme. His latest book is Ecological Debt: Global Warming and the Wealth of Nations published by Pluto Press.

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