Reviewed by Sudhirendar Sharma
30 Nov 2011
Current debate on foreign direct investment in ‘big retail’ is driven by a conviction that large chain retailers boost employment and expand the economy. In growing economies like India, big retail is further tagged to lowering of inflation alongside remunerative prices for farmers by elimination of middlemen. It is one political stone that kills many dissenting birds.
The reality is far in contrast to the tunnel view that politicians and planners hold dear. Multi-brand retailers like Wal-Mart squeeze profit out of local communities and load them with numerous hidden societal costs. It is a colonization of the kind that impinges on local self-reliance and dispersed ownership. In broader sense, big retail undermines democratic self-governance.
Big-Box Swindle is by far the most authentic indictment of big retail. In her incisive analysis, Stacy Mitchell has laid bare hidden dimensions of mega-retail proliferation in the United States. Big-box retailers squeeze the middle-class, fuel suburban sprawl, undercut local businesses and strip citizens of an enriched community life.
Using real-life examples from 49 states, Mitchell contends that mega-retailers are fueling many of America’s most pressing social, environmental and economic problems. Studies reveal that communities, where a larger share of the economy is in the hands of locally owned businesses, have lower rates of crime, poverty and infant mortality.
While taking a well-researched dig at big retail, Mitchell also provides inspiring lessons from places that are turning the tide. ‘Buy Local’ and ‘Break the Chain Habit’ campaigns are encouraging local businesses in several states that, taken together, provide a detailed road map to a brighter, prosperous and sustainable future. Across US, two-hundred big retail projects have been halted by such groups since 2000.
Prodigiously researched and lucidly written, Big Box Swindle is a must read for those who draft public policy. Any policy decision that doesn’t take into account the arguments by Stacy Mitchell is likely to be unconvincing and inconclusive.
Big Box Swindle
by Stacy Mitchell
Beacon Press, Boston
318 pages, $15