The past is prologue
—William Shakespeare (The Tempest)
In 1936, Mississippi Gov. Hugh White successfully pushed through the state legislature his answer to President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal so despised by southern states.
Mississippi could grow and prosper through his landmark “Balance Agriculture with Industry” program, according to Mississippi native Joseph B. Atkins, author of the little-known but important book Covering for the Bosses. The book is an examination of how newspapers in the South refused to give fair coverage to labor unions in their attempt to gain equitable working conditions for workers first in the textile mills and later the automobile industry.
According to Atkins, White figured he could attract industry to Mississippi through the then-radical concept of offering attractive tax incentives and promises of low wages—and, of course, no unions.
The program, Atkins writes, eventually became a model for the entire South and today, Mississippi, in the latest rankings of the best states for business, can be found sitting firmly in….47th place among the 50 states, ranked ahead of only (in order) Kentucky, Louisiana, and West Virginia. In fact, the South can lay claim to six of the bottom 10 spots in the national rankings. They also include Arkansas (42nd) and Alabama (45th). Tennessee was only slightly better at 38th. Virginia (10th) and North Carolina (15th) were the only southern state in the top 20. http://247wallst.com/special-report/2016/02/17/the-best-and-worst-states-for-business-2/
So what went wrong with White’s grand scheme for Mississippi? Simply put, the same thing that doomed Louisiana, Alabama, Arkansas and Tennessee to the bottom one-fourth of the heap. They gave away their tax bases while at the same time condemning their citizens to lives of low wages and poor benefits. And Wal-Mart was first in line to fully exploit the plethora of incentives, be they the 10-year property tax exemptions, Enterprise Zone initiatives or some other inducement.
Wal-Mart, described by Wall Street Journal writer Bob Ortega in his book In Sam We Trust as “an amoral construct with one imperative: the profit motive.”
In October 2005, Atkins writes in Covering for the Bosses, that an internal Wal-Mart memo was leaked which revealed the true, impersonal attitude of the corporate office toward its 1.3 million American workers, 30 percent of whom are part-time workers.
In her memo to Wal-Mart executive vice president M. Susan Chambers complained of the costs of long-term workers. The company, she said, spent 55 percent more on them than on one-year workers even though “there is no difference in (the employee’s) productivity.” She said because Wal-Mart pays an associate “more in salary and benefits as his or her tenure increases, we are pricing that associate out of the labor market, increasing the likelihood that he or she will stay with Wal-Mart….The least health, least productive associates are more satisfied with their benefits than other segments and are interested in longer careers with Wal-Mart,” she said.
In plain language, she was advocating throwing older workers to the curb in favor of newer, lower-salaried workers.
Yet Wal-Mart has shoved its way to the public trough, securing some $100 million in economic development subsidies from the state in 20 cities from Abbeville ($1.67 million) to Vidalia ($1.65 million), from Shreveport ($6.3 million) to New Orleans ($7 million), from Monroe ($3.9 million) to Sulphur ($1.8 million).
Nationally, estimated annual subsidies and tax breaks to Wal-Mart and the Walton family total $7.8 billion per year. This for six Walton heirs whose collective net worth of $148.8 billion is more than 49 million American families combined. http://www.americansfortaxfairness.org/files/Walmart-on-Tax-Day-Americans-for-Tax-Fairness-1.pdf
A congressional report estimated that each Wal-Mart store in America generated an average of $421,000 in Medicaid, SNAP and public housing costs to taxpayers. That’s in addition to the estimated $1 billion taxpayers anted up in local and state government subsidies to have a Wal-Mart in their communities. Wal-Mart workers, who earn less than $10 an hour (about $18,000 per year), are offered a family health care plan with a $1,000 deductible costing $141 per month.
And remember that warm fuzzy “Made in USA” advertising campaign of Wal-Mart in which Wal-Mart in 2013 said it was starting a 10-year plan to increase spending on U.S. made products by $250 billion? Well fuggeboutit. It didn’t happen and last October, the company removed the “Made in the USA” logos from all product listings on its Web site after the Federal Trade Commission caught the company (gasp) lying. http://fortune.com/2015/10/20/walmart-made-in-the-usa/
Instead, much of its merchandise, clothing in particular, comes from third-world sweatshops where workers are paid pennies per hour in wages and children work up to 20 hours per day to make the clothing we purchase from Wal-Mart. https://www.dosomething.org/us/facts/11-facts-about-sweatshops
And here’s a real eye-opener.
In her book Cheap, author Ellen Ruppel Shell reveals a dirty little secret most consumers are unaware of: name-brand clothing sold at Wal-Mart aren’t quite what consumers think they are. “Discounting dilutes brands, making it less certain that they are a mark of quality,” Shell writes. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/19/books/review/Shapiro-t.html?_r=0
Hundreds of brands “slice and dice their offerings for various markets, selling different products in different types of stores for different prices under the same brand,” she said. “Chains such as Wal-Mart, Best Buy, Target and Home Depot have items manufactured ‘to their specifications,’ meaning that the brand name is almost devoid of meaning.”
That means a television with a model number available only at Wal-Mart is not really a Sony or a Samsung, for example, but a Wal-Mart television.
“Brands have become an end in themselves,” she writes. “…It is not the brand alone that entices discount shoppers; it is the high value we link to the brand versus the low price we pay that is so seductive.”
In recent years, Louisiana taxpayers have subsidized the construction of Wal-Mart stores in two affluent suburbs to the tune of a $700,000 tax credit. A tax credit is a dollar for dollar reduction of a tax liability meaning a $1 tax credit reduces one’s taxes by a full dollar. Bear in mind, these subsidies were Enterprise Zone projects. The Enterprise Zone program is designed specifically to lure business and industry into areas of high unemployment in order to help economically depressed areas. Instead, one of these stores were built in St. Tammany, one of the most affluent communities in the state.
Likewise, $330,000 in Enterprise Zone tax credits were awarded in 2013 to Lakeview Regional Medical Center in St. Tammany Parish for an upgrade to its facilities which created a grand total of five new jobs.
As far back as 2012, then-Secretary of the Department of Economic Development Stephen Moret said the Enterprise Zone program no longer fulfilled its purpose. http://www.nola.com/politics/index.ssf/2012/12/louisiana_economic_development_1.html
A Legislative Auditor’s report agreed, saying that 75 percent of new jobs, 68 percent of new businesses and 60 percent of capital investments were made outside the EZs. http://app1.lla.state.la.us/PublicReports.nsf/92629A33AAE8C55F862579EB0072ACEB/$FILE/00029DFA.pdf
That’s because unlike other states, Louisiana’s Enterprise Zone program allows the generous five-year tax breaks for retail establishments, businesses whose salaries traditionally are at the low end of the pay scale. Those include, besides Wal-Mart, chain stores like Walgreens and Raising Cane’s chicken outlets.
“Most of the projects are larger companies investing in relative affluent areas in Louisiana today,” Moret said in something of an understatement. He said that fact alone underscored the importance of making changes to the program.
Were changes made? No. In fact, in 2013, the year after his comments, the state awarded EZ tax credits totaling $19.6 million for projects that produced 4,857 new jobs which in turn generated about $10 million in state income taxes, or a net loss of more than $9 million to the state.
Meanwhile, Atkins quotes author Bill Quinn as saying Wal-Mart “has done more to stomp out Middle-class America than all other discount houses put together.”
Yet, the official policy of Louisiana has been to continue to give generous tax breaks to a company that underpays its employees, deceives customers into thinking they are “buying American” when in reality, they are propping up third-world sweatshops whose workers churn out second line brand names under slave-like working conditions.