One of the least attractive aspects of American society is the noxious, zero-sum notion that people who amass great wealth do so by oppressing the populace at large and their employees in particular.
Thus, John Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie – who drove down the price of oil and of steel rails respectively about 80% in the thirty years to 1900, contributing mightily to a 66% surge in American per capita GDP – are universally reviled to this day as “robber barons.”
In just this toxic tradition, Wal-Mart – which some years ago was estimated to be saving the average American household something like $2,300 a year – is the company the elite most loves to hate today. Their paroxysms of “progressive” rage have only intensified as the Walton family (collectively the richest in the world) has moved back into majority ownership of the company. (It accomplished this by the nefarious means of simply declining to sell into Wal-Mart’s robust and ongoing share repurchase program.)
If you ask me, this hatred simply wouldn’t be possible if Mr. Sam were still alive. And if you care to read one of my all-time favorite books, I suspect you’ll come to agree with me.
Late in 1991, when it became clear that Sam Walton was going to lose his fight with multiple myeloma rather sooner than later, he engaged the great editor John Huey as his co-author, and in a matter of months produced Made in America: My Story.
In his own unmistakable voice, the man who was with the arguable exception of Henry Ford the greatest entrepreneur of the twentieth century tells of his rise from the humblest beginnings to undreamed-of fortune by offering the working class families of America (and then the world) the best possible products at the lowest possible prices every day. In the process of becoming the wealthiest man in the country by relentlessly driving down Americans’ cost of living, he made thousands of his employees rich, too.
Even after Mr. Sam was gone, Wal-Mart continued to develop a model of sourcing goods from China and other low-cost countries through an extremely sophisticated logistics operation, and retailing the goods at rock-bottom prices in massive out-of-town stores. This was a radical reinvention of retailing, to the point where McKinsey calculated that Wal-Mart alone accounted for a substantial portion of the surge in American productivity in the period 1995 – 2000.
Sam Walton intuitively knew that whatever lowers living costs raises living standards, leaving the consumer money he can divert to the consumption of more goods and services and/or into savings and investment. Thus Mr. Sam practiced one of the bedrock principles of a truly free society: the greatest good for the greatest number of consumers.
But unlike Carnegie and Rockefeller, who were perceived as villains well within their own lifetimes, nobody ever hated Sam Walton. And in Made in America: My Story we rediscover why. It’s because he was that most genuinely rare individual: a great and a good man.
© 2014 Nick Murray. All rights reserved. Reproduced by permission. Nick highlights new books, articles and research findings in the “Resources” feature of his monthly newsletter, Nick Murray Interactive. To download a sample issue, visit www.nickmurray.com, and click on “Newsletter.”