Politics Magazine

George Packer and Walmart Americans

Posted on the 23 February 2013 by Erictheblue


I like the stable of writers at The New Yorker magazine, but every so often one of them lets fly a linguistic fart that smells just the way described by right-wing critics of the "media elite. " Yesterday, for instance, in a post about "two Americas"--Apple Americans and Walmart Americans--George Packer was in the middle of making a good point about how the higher payroll taxes now in place are killing Walmart's bottom line when he plucked out of thin air what seems to him like the kind of low salary earned by a Walmart shopper.  Here's the passage:

Last week, Bloomberg News reported that Walmart's sales in the first days of February were abysmal.  In intermal e-mails that were leaked, one corporate vice-president described the situation as "a total disaster," while another asked, "Where are all the customers?  And where is their money?" 

The executives answered their own question. Their customers’ money—some of it—has gone back to the government, in the form of the two-per-cent increase in payroll taxes that took effect with the new budget deal on New Year’s Day. That deal supposedly allowed the economy to avoid going over the “fiscal cliff,” and its aversion was a source of much relief in Washington and on Wall Street. But there turned out to be, if not a cliff, at least a gulch still embedded in the deal. It’s amazing how little attention the payroll-tax increase got at the time—maybe because so few of the players and observers involved could imagine how much difference fifteen dollars out of the weekly paycheck of someone earning forty thousand dollars a year could make.

Forty thousand dollars?  I think Apple Americans are uninformed about the facts of life in Walmart land.  Half--half!--of all American jobs pay less than $34,000 per year, according to the Economic Policy Institute, and a quarter pay less than $23,000.  Where do the people working these jobs buy clothes, food, household goods, and firearms?  Meanwhile, the people atop the income pyramid are drowning in their own money. 

If you wanted to make fun of Packer, you'd say that he considers what Walmart shoppers consider a pretty decent income to be pretty pathetic--so low you are condemned to Walmart.  There's another interpretation.  Some liberals are so out of touch that they don't comprehend how strong their case is.

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