Wednesday, 12 February 2014 15:10

Mike Rowe Touches the "Third Rail" of Retailing: Walmart

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Mike Rowe, the popular host of Dirty Jobs on the Discovery Channel and frequent voice behind ads for Ford, Caterpillar, Motorola, and Lee’s Jeans, learned how thin his popularity is among some of his fans when he touched the "third rail" of retailing: Walmart.

In his voiceover of Walmart’s ad appearing during the Olympics, Rowe announces the retail giant’s plans to buy $250 billion worth of American merchandise over the next 10 years to put up for sale in its stores. What could be wrong with that?

Last Sunday Rowe spent most of his day responding to those who found lots of things wrong with that:

Kevin: Walmart is the last [company] I would ever think you would do anything for! Why?

Rowe: That’s easy. Walmart has committed to purchase 250 billion dollars of American made products over the next decade. In essence, that’s a purchase order made out to the USA for a quarter of a trillion dollars. That means dozens of American factories are going to reopen all over the country. Millions of dollars will pour straight into local economies, and hundreds of thousands of new manufacturing positions will need to be filled.... Isn’t this the kind of initiative we can all get behind?

Walmart, the largest retailer on the planet, with more than two million employees working in over 11,000 stores generating gross revenues approaching half a trillion dollars annually, got there by finding out what customers wanted to buy and then offering it to them at competitive prices. There is only one possible way Walmart can make such a promise: that American manufacturers will offer the best deals to Walmart’s customers. Rowe spent his Sunday afternoon articulating that simple fact to his naysayers:

Romeapple: It’s hypocrisy. Walmart’s products are all made in China. Walmart contributes to those empty [American] factories. What’s so “powerful” about an ad that makes absolutely no sense?

Rowe: That’s not entirely accurate, Romeapple. There’s a lot of merchandise currently in Walmart that’s manufactured right here in the USA.... But let’s assume ... that Walmart did get every single item from China. Wouldn’t you like to see that change? Watch the ad again. Walmart is promising to buy 250 billion dollars of American made stuff and put it on their shelves. Whatever else you might think of the company, can you really root against an initiative like that?

Let me ask it another way. Do you really think America has any hope of reinvigorating our manufacturing base without support from the biggest retailer in the world?

Rowe is behind the curve here, but makes the valid point that Walmart swings a large hammer. According to a report from the Institute for Supply Management released in January, American factory purchasing managers said new orders for goods were the highest since April 2010. Walmart is likely turning a simple fact of life — jobs are coming back to America — into a press release.

But some of Rowe’s former fans aren’t buying it:

Pat: I am uneasy about trusting Walmart to do the right things to better serve this country and its people.

Rowe: They have to make good on it, because if they’re blowing smoke, their detractors will eat them alive. I believe this thing is going to happen.... Walmart is going to buy a quarter trillion dollars of American made goods in the next ten years and put those goods on their shelves. The only question is whether or not Americans will support that effort.

If they do, we just might be looking at a stimulus that actually stimulates something.

Rowe’s contrast of Walmart’s action with the federal government's talk is spot on. The government doesn’t have one single dime to spend on "stimulus" that it hasn’t forcibly taken from someone else. Walmart doesn’t have a dime that it didn’t earn by offering a customer, via the free market in an unforced transaction, a better deal.

But Walmart is greedy, rapacious, self-serving, evil, etc., etc. Rowe’s response to that canard could have come right out of Henry Hazlitt’s Economics in One Lesson:

Rose: I want "made in America" too but make you’re sure on the side of the WORKER not the corporate greed side ok Mike? Love ya.

Rowe: Love ya back, Rose, but no thanks. You offer up a false and dangerous choice. The world is bigger than “Workers vs. Bosses,” and so is this campaign. Remember, Walmart thrives because a majority of Americans like to shop there. Like Apple, Discovery, Ford, and Facebook, Walmart does not exist for the purpose of employing people. No successful company does. Walmart’s first order of business is to serve their customer. Ultimately, the customer calls the shots. Not management. Not labor. Jobs are just a happy consequence of that success.

Former fan Sean accused Rowe of selling out to the evil empire:

Sean: I thought you were good person. But I just saw your AD that WAL-MART paid for. You’re a corporate suck, Rowe.

Rowe: Well hi there, Sean. From “good person” to corporate suck in 60 seconds! That’s gotta be a record! Let me explain something. Better sit down, as the truth may shock you. Ready? I make my living on commercial television. Not television. COMMERCIAL television.

That means I appear in television shows with commercials, paid for by corporations. I also produce television shows with commercials, paid for by corporations. I sometimes narrate television shows with commercials, paid for by corporations. And occasionally, I appear in the television commercials themselves, also paid for by corporations.

No matter what your job is Sean, if you work in commercial television, the money all flows from the same place. And no — it’s not the advertisers or the corporations that pay the bills. It’s you, Sean. The viewer. Just like the customer in a Walmart, the viewer on the sofa programs the airwaves by deciding what to watch and what to buy. In other words, you’re the boss.

Then Rowe stepped out of his role as kindly father explaining how the world works to his young naïve son, and scolded Sean (with tongue in cheek) for being part of the problem with Walmart and with any company successfully providing goods and services to its customers:

Rowe: Don’t get me wrong — I would never imply that your decision to watch a Corporate Spectacle like the International Olympic Games on a Global Network owned by one of the largest Conglomerates on Planet Earth makes you a “corporate suck.”

But I might wonder — given the purity of your own position — why you ever liked me in the first place?

Rowe then touches a sensitive issue: Part of the reason the employment rate is so low is not because employers aren’t hiring. They’re trying to hire but they can’t find qualified people who are willing to work. Here’s Rowe on that:

I know that the labor participation rate is at historic lows. I know that millions are out of work. But I also know that I’ve seen Help Wanted signs in all 50 states. Even at the height of the recession, the employers I met on Dirty Jobs were all hiring. They still are. And they all told me the same thing — the biggest challenge of running a business was finding people who were willing to learn a new skill and work hard.

As his Sunday wore on, Rowe became less forgiving in his responses, especially to those who weren’t buying his argument. He heard back from Sean:

Sean: [You] should have never done this ad due to the fact it came from Walmart. I like the message, but Walmart is one of the reasons a lot of manufacturing was lost in the United States....

Rowe: Step back for a minute. Look at what’s happening here. Walmart has just promised to do something you claim to want them to do. How do you react? Do you encourage them? Do you support them?

No. You hold fast to the party line. You lash out. Our country is falling apart around us, and you criticize me. For what? For doing a voiceover on a commercial that celebrates the dignity of hard work? I realize you’d prefer it if Costco was pushing this campaign forward, but guess what — they’re not.

Rowe is assuming here that Sean knows that Costco has supported Democrats more than 96 percent of the time, while the hated Walmart has supported Republicans 67 percent of the time. But Rowe wasn’t finished with Sean:

Rowe: Seriously Sean, do you and all the other detractors really want to see this campaign fail because it’s coming from a retailer whose policies you don’t approve of? Do us all a favor — try to get over it. Try to get over your disappointment with me. Try to get over your disappointment with Walmart. Try to get past your issues with the messenger, and take another look at the message:

A quarter trillion dollar commitment to American made products. 250,000 new jobs.

Really — what’s not to like?

Thanks for the lesson in how the real world works, Mike Rowe. Thanks for touching the third rail and creating the opportunity to promote the message of the free market that the mainstream media loves to ignore and that so many get wrong.

Photo of Walmart sign: AP Images


A graduate of Cornell University and a former investment advisor, Bob is a regular contributor to The New American magazine and blogs frequently at, primarily on economics and politics. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .'; document.write(''); document.write(addy_text4381); document.write('<\/a>'); //-->\n This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


  • Comment Link sirald66 Monday, 30 June 2014 12:39 posted by sirald66

    That somebody is shifting to American products on the shelves is a positive.

    But Mike is taking the position that Walmart should no longer be criticized for their predators practices against communities, workers, suppliers and countries. He is being disingenuous in his promotion, but understands he was hired for a job -- to shill; to not bite the hand that feeds him.

    Mike is ignoring that qualified unemployed people are in abundance. It is corporations that are seeking the most qualified for the least money. In other words (as usual), they want much more for much less. That leaves workers unable to maintain a healthy living, let alone a better one.

    Walmart is playing the AMERIKA! card. The resentment that the public has against outsourced jobs is the very thing Walmart is highly culpable to.

    Until Walmart confesses its sins, this is just another cynical profit ploy.

  • Comment Link Michael Dalene Saturday, 15 February 2014 17:40 posted by Michael Dalene

    PS: Hard to buy anything "Made in the USA" when they are few are far between. Reagan sold the idiots of this nation "a Bill of Goods" that sold Industry down the tubes and with it America, and the idiots of this country sucked it down like a prostitute earning a 'trick.'

    To add insult to injury--- our "Great Supply Economy" was shipped off to India and other parts unknown and for jobs that couldn't be exported they imported laborers to do them--- aka, immigration, legal and otherwise!

    As for Americans not willing to work: Most of the jobs ask for 'qualifications' that are far in excess of what is required and often counter-productive. WHO THE 'F' NEEDS A HS DIPLOMA TO PUMP GAS? Who needs a 2-year college/tech degree to change a light bulb or replace a switch or 5 years experience doing so?

    Look at some of the BS qualifications being asked for, then look at the money offered? I have seen job ads for State Certified Millwrights after a 4-year apprenticeship with AT LEAST 3 years experience offering a whole &16/hr...

    As far as I'm concerned any qualified Millwright with those Quals that would accept the job for that pay should have their throat cut... $48 an hour should be the minimum they would accept... and in this age--- THAT ISN'T ASKING MUCH AT ALL! If you think it is, then you are either an idiot yourself or one of those living off the backs and sweat of others!

    IDIOTS: It's perfectly fine for a CEO to make $100/mil a year and pay their workers $10/hr., but how dare a Worker ask their boss to settle for a lousy $50-mil/yr and pay a decent, living wage for the first time in 2 generations.

  • Comment Link Michael Dalene Saturday, 15 February 2014 17:24 posted by Michael Dalene

    Growing up I noticed the "competition?" between cities for businesses, then it grew to competition among County governments, then States--- now it's progressed to Countries... None of this "competition" befits the workers, or even the taxpayers- since concessions to "get their business" usually cost more than any benefit either short or long term.

    If jobs are "coming back" to the US it only shows that either we have sunk so low that we will whore ourselves out for a meal or that other nation's are FINALLY waking up and seeing what we as a nation are too stupid to see- or admit: That the corps are out for number one and every person in every nation doesn't mean jack-s8ht too them!

    GLOBAL COMPETETION IS A JOKE as defined in the current Communist Era. Anyone that thinks different is either "reaping the temporary harvest of their Evil betrayal" or simply a moron... the greater majority- as proven by those profiting, are among the group entitled "MORON."

    America may have lost it's Middle-class, but its Moron-class has skyrocketed to historically unprecedented record numbers.

  • Comment Link Nora Thursday, 13 February 2014 02:41 posted by Nora

    Spread out over the period, that's not a lot of "investment" in America for Walmart, who is largely responsible for impoverishing all the mom and pop competitors to the point of extinction. The terrible way they treat their employees is another black eye for them, and then there is the reality of the situation that Walmart was negatively impacted by the boycott millions of us participate in, of their lousy Chinese merchandise and their callous attitude. As their profits continued to spiral, they realized they had to change their tune to try and attract a few customers back by altering their business model of squeezing suppliers and dictating to manufacturers what they will pay for their stuff. The bottom line is what prompted this shift, not an attack of conscience, but the fear of continually decreasing profit. If you consider that they take out life insurance on their employees and make themselves the beneficiary, the proper perspective is to continue to view Walmart as NOT a great example of free market capitalism. It's more like cornered market capitalism. They are just another "too big to fail" fascist corporation who is doing exactly that, despite the "too little too late" attempt to woo the purchasing public.

  • Comment Link Tionico Thursday, 13 February 2014 00:00 posted by Tionico

    funny thing, everyone bashes WalMart because they carry goods made in China. OK, fine.. they do. Now, if you are an honest person, head on down to your local Home Depot, Kohl's, Kitchen Kaboodle, Apple store, Target, walk down any aisle and start picking up items, check for country of origin. Make a tally of how many in China how many in USA. Do it, and stop your whining. What you will find will make a liar out of you if you spread the story that WalMart sells stuff from China. Yes, they do.. but so do ALL the others. SO, now, what is the REAL difference with WalMart? It ain't Chinese goods, so look deeper.

  • Comment Link William Jarett Wednesday, 12 February 2014 22:08 posted by William Jarett

    Walmart drove the "outsourcing" of the supply chain while their competitors remained tied to "old fashioned" notions like loyalty to their suppliers and the communities they did business in. Sam Walton burns in Hell, having learned first hand that he couldn't fit through the eye of a needle!

  • Comment Link TC Wednesday, 12 February 2014 18:54 posted by TC

    Have you never heard of someone changing their mind and increasing the bid?
    Walmart is bidding on America.
    I shop at Walmart every chance I get.
    Don't get me wrong. There are a lot of things I don't buy at Walmart,
    but a lot of things I do.
    America is a country built on capitalism.
    Capitalism is what raised civilization from the gutters, I will support capitalism
    wherever I find it.

  • Comment Link rprew Wednesday, 12 February 2014 17:03 posted by rprew

    "Rowe announces the retail giant’s plans to buy $250 billion worth of American merchandise over the next 10 years to put up for sale in its stores. What could be wrong with that?"

    Well for starters, what about this from Reuters on January 15, 2013: "NEW YORK, Jan 15 (Reuters) - Wal-Mart Stores Inc will buy an additional $50 billion in U.S.-made goods over the next decade in areas like sporting goods and high-end appliances in what the world's largest retailer called a bid to help boost the U.S. economy."

    Notice this this promise was made A YEAR AGO.
    Notice that it is a promise for $50 billion, NOT $250 billion, over TEN YEARS!

    That is an average of $5 billion per year... chump change.

    Walmart spent $25 billion in China in 2006 alone. How much was it in 2013?

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