Mark Hyman chastises New York Teacher magazine for running an approving article on Jack Powell, a sometime substitute teacher who recently decided to give up shopping at Wal-Mart.
Hyman claims his disdain is based on the fact that Powell has decided to go on food stamps to help feed his partner and two children rather than pay the cut-rate prices at Wal-Mart. According to Hyman, this makes Powell the public “burden” he claims Wal-Mart employees are.
But Powell said nothing of the sort. Powell *did* say that he doesn’t want to support Wal-Mart, given the mega-retailer’s history of predatory business practices that undermine local entrepreneurs, rely on sweatshop labor, and don’t include offering a living wage or health insurance to many of their employees.
And in fact, it’s true that Wal-Mart employees are forced to seek public assistance at a significantly higher rate than employees of other major retailers.
Hyman claims (without any evidence) that Powell’s stand was “inspired by union bosses.” (Apparently for Hyman, that would make Powell’s actions seem underhanded.)
But in the article Hyman refers to, Powell never mentions the word “burdensome.” Perhaps that’s because he doesn’t object to Wal-Mart because their workers are a “burden” to society, but because the corporate giant’s actions are unethical. Hyman projects his own values onto Powell and assumes that one could only think Wal-Mart should provide adequate healthcare coverage to keep employees from burdening the rest of us.
But some of us (and I’m guessing Powell would fit into this category) don’t feel the working poor are a collective burden that the rest of us carry around with us. On the contrary, it’s the business practices of some companies, including Wal-Mart, that are the burden. If you’ve read Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed, you know that the working poor (and this includes a lot of Wal-Mart employees) generally work their butts off to make ends meet, but are often not rewarded for their efforts with anything close to a livable wage, affordable housing, or health care of any sort. They’re not the burden; the burden are those that consider exploitation in the name of profit acceptable.
And what about Powell himself? Hyman calls him a burden because he’s on food stamps. But millions of hard working people doing necessary jobs are on food stamps. Hyman says Powell is a “welfare case” by choice. But let’s think about Powell’s choices: he educates children as a part-time substitute teacher, bikes to work whenever possible, is raising two-kids in a two-parent home, and spends most of his professional time touring the country doing educational and entertaining shows at schools, libraries, and local concert halls as one member of the Zucchini Brothers, a three-man band that performs for children.
Food stamps or not, this guy is certainly giving his fair share and more to the social good.
But in Hyman’s bizarre algebra, one’s contribution to society is based on the amount of money in one’s bank account. In this, Hyman is much like the rest of his conservative brethren, for whom the successful entrepreneur is the ubermensch all citizens should aspire to be and pay homage to.
And that goes a long way in explaining why, for Hyman, a Wal-Mart executive who maximizes profit by paying workers a pittance is a hero, and a guy who rides a bike, teaches school, and entertains children is a burden.
And that’s The Counterpoint.
Hyman Index: 5.80