That Awkward Sound? A Panel Of Experts Trying To Defend Walmart From Questions Asked By One Senator.

Here’s a radical idea: How about a huge corporation whose owners have more money than God (actually, more money than 40% of the American people) pays its people a living wage with medical benefits? I know, I know, just dreaming over here. But John Lennon once wrote, “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.”

Watch this senator keep the first “expert” from changing the subject not once, not twice, but three times. Charming, no?

Oh, and the “Secretary Reich” who comes in at 4:50? More great stuff from him below the clip.

Show Transcript Hide Transcript

Thank you. madam vice chair. One of the interesting aspects of discussions about the economy or income equality Inside the Beltway as opposed to back home in the real world. It's a very different tone that we hear. The idea that anybody could suggest that we are not seeing massive increases in income and wealth inequality is beyond my comprehension. If you go outside of the Beltway, there is no debate about that. The idea that anyone could suggest that today the economy for the middle class is anywhere near where it used to be is beyond comprehension, I think to the vast majority of American people. The reality that we're seeing today is that the middle class in this country is disappearing.

Medium family income is going down. We have more people living in poverty today than any time in the history of the United States of America. And as Secretary Reich pointed out, between 2009 and 2012, 95% of all new income generated in this country went to the top 1%. And in terms of wealth, the situation is even worse. Maybe some of the panelists might wanna defend the situation where the top 1% in America owns more wealth than the bottom, that the top 1% owns 38% of the wealth in this country, and the bottom 60% owns 2.3% of the wealth. Does anybody on that panel, and I will ask that question in a moment, thinks that that makes moral sense or economic sense? Does anybody think it makes moral or economic sense that one family, the Walton family, owns more wealth than the bottom 40% of the American people?

Now, in terms of government action, we have heard that the Stimulus Package presumably had no impact. Well, that wasn't true in my State, nor it wasn't true in America. By investing in our economy, in our kids, in infrastructure, according to the C.B.O., the Recovery Act, the Stimulus Bill created or sustained up to 3.6 million jobs, a 4.2% boost for G.D.P. in the first quarter of 2010, and a reduction in the unemployment rate of up to 2.1% in the last quarter of 2009 at a time we needed the jobs the most. Last point, that I wanna make and I wanna ask a question on this one, the Walton family is the wealthiest family in America. Does anybody on the panel think that they need significant welfare help?

And yet it turns out that they are the largest recipient of welfare in America because when you pay workers starvation wages, which is what Walmart does, how do the workers at Walmart or McDonald's or Burger King survive? Well, they get Medicaid for their kids and for themselves, they get food stamps, they live in government sponsored affordable housing. So I start off with my question to Dr. Winship and we'll go down the line. Do you think the Walton family, worth $100 billion is in need of a welfare from the middle class of this country or do you think maybe we should raise the minimum wage, so that those workers can earn a living wage and don't have to get Medicaid or food stamps? Dr. Winship?

Thank you, Senator. So let me start with your earlier question about, uh, defending the wealth distribution that we have.

Actually my question was on the Walton family. Do you think they need welfare?

So I would not use the word welfare, I think it's stigmatizing.

Do you think their workers, a large number of them should have to get Medicaid or food stamps?

What I think is that Walmart has the low prices, which...

Please answer my question.

I'm sorry. Repeat the question for me.

The question is, do you think the largest, the wealthiest family in this country, the Walton family, should have employees, large number of employees who depend upon government help, Medicaid, food stamps, affordable housing in order to get by or should they pay their workers a living wage and should we raise the minimum wage to make sure that they do that?
I think that we should not raise the wage above levels that's gonna cause Walmart to not hire their workers. The only way that they're able to have the prices, which benefit low income people more than people up on the income distribution, is by paying wages that are not as high as you or I might like.
I'm hearing your question to be that the middle class of this country to increase taxes would be subsidizing the wealthiest family in this country who are paying an adequate wage. Secretary Reich, what's your take on that?

Senator, I do not think that tax payers in this country ought to be subsidizing the wealthiest family in this country or any company and any corporation that is paying its workers so little that those workers, in order to have a decent living, have got to rely on food stamps, Medicaid, subsidized housing, and so on. That is a corporate welfare of the worst kind but more broadly, let me simply say that Walmart is the largest employer in the United States. It is paying its workers. If you include its part time workers, on average, $8.80 an hour. Now, compare that to 1955 when the largest employer in the United States was General Motors and it was paying its workers in today's dollars, $37 an hour.

That's a huge point. I wanna go... I don't have much time. Dr. Kearney and Dr. Mathur, they could answer the question. Should the tax payers in this country be subsidizing the wealthiest...

Thirty seconds each.

Thirty seconds is fine.


So I don't think we should be subsidizing Walmart but I think workers have a choice about where they want to work. If they choose to work at Walmart, you know, that is their choice and we should not decide for them whether it's a good choice. The program subsidizes workers. You know, these are poverty programs that, you know, benefits go directly to workers. So, you know, if you think that they are creating jobs and people are able to work and earn enough benefits to survive, I think it's a good thing.

Dr. Kearney?

When Walmart came to Washington, D.C, the number of job applicants per job, there were more than dozens of people willing to take each job. I think Walmart is a brilliant innovation and I have no beef with the Walton family. It would be great if people could move up the wage distribution faster at Walmart and aspire to management positions and better positions for themselves and for their children.

OK, thank you. Next, Mr. Campbell.

There may be small errors in this transcript.

This clip was part of a longer hearing by none other than Sen. Bernie Sanders, Independent from Vermont. Go Like his Facebook page if you're so inclined. And one of his guests here was former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich. Here's more great stuff from him.

Mar 11, 2014

Flash Video Embed

This video is not supported by your device. Continue browsing to find other stuff you'll love!

In case you were wondering what matters to us, it's your privacy. Read our updated privacy policy.

Hey, Internet Friend. Looks like you're using a crazy old web browser, which is no longer supported. Please consider upgrading to something more modern—for a better experience, and a safer time online. We only want the best for you.

Download Google Chrome, and try it for a week. Don't think about it, just do it. You'll thank us later.