Gary Weiss, Forbes
What troubles me about Wal-Mart’s India move concerns the potential for social disruption.
There are 12 million people working in retail in India, ranging from operators of boutiques to the fellows who sell “cold water” on the streets of Delhi. I think the water guy and the kid selling fresh coconut juice in Mumbai don’t have much to worry about (avoid the water, but try the coconut juice, by the way). What troubles me are the “organized retail” shops, which are often run by the same family for generations.
What happens to their businesses and what happens to the markets–or bazaars as they are known in Farsi-derived Hindi?
In India, “Main Street” is not a street, but a bazaar. Delhi alone has dozens, ranging from Old Delhi’s Chandni Chowk–a real bazaar in the Middle Eastern sense of the word–to roadside hovels to upscale markets like the two in Greater Kailash. In Central Market, a sprawling shopping district in South Delhi, you can get a suit made, order world-class opticals, buy dates from Saudi Arabia or, for that matter, buy pretty much anything else you could want.
The merchants are competitive with each other, usually, and Delhi shoppers will go from shop to shop, bargaining for a better deal.
In other words, the bazaar is an institution, a way of life. And, in the view of a growing number of people in India, it is endangered by Wal-Mart.
The opposition comes from quarters that are, I suppose, predictable: some elements of the ruling Congress Party, trade unions, the Communist Party and, of course, the merchants themselves.
The rhetoric has been remarkably similar to what you usually hear when a big-box store comes to a small town. “We believe Wal-Mart is going to ruin this country and millions of people will lose their jobs,” one anti-Wal-Mart organizer told Reuters.
The difference is that when people lose their jobs in India, they sometimes starve.
I think the opponents to Wal-Mart in India have a point.
It’s easy to view such opposition as politically motivated or the griping of people opposed to progress. But then I think about a family friend, now in his 40s, who as a boy used to work in his father’s parchun store, selling dried beans, rice and spices along the train tracks leading south out of Delhi. His father ran the store before him. Today he is one of the leading real estate developers on the outskirts of Delhi.
I tend to doubt that he would be in that position if he had spent his youth mopping up aisle 9 at the Greater Kailash Wal-Mart.
Admittedly, I am tilting at windmills here. The Indian government, responding to the protests, is launching an inquiry into the social and economic effects of big-box retailers moving into the country. But I am sure Wal-Mart is inevitable. The march of progress cannot be impeded. The small merchants of India will have to compete, or be crushed.
Globalization must, ultimately, triumph. After all, as one supporter of the deal once pointed out to me–what about outsourcing to India depriving Americans of jobs? Don’t get all sentimental about a few million Indians losing their jobs, he told me.
He’s right, I guess. But somehow the thought of that comeuppance, or all that economic efficiency, can’t make that knot in the pit of my stomach go away.
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Is Wal-Mart the beast of Revelation 13:16-17?
He also forced everyone, small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on his right hand or on his forehead, so that no one could buy or sell unless he had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of his name.