In late October, federal agents committed blasphemy against one third of the libertarian trinity of Microsoft, McDonald’s, and Wal-Mart.  In a coordinated raid on Wal-Mart headquarters and 60 Wal-Mart stores in 21 states, the feds arrest 245 illegal aliens, 235 of whom were working for a subcontractor who provided janitorial services for the chain.  (The other ten had originally been employed by the subcontractor but were later hired on directly.)  Wal-Mart executives, of course, immediately denied knowing that the janitors were illegal aliens, but federal officials revealed to the Associated Press that the sting had been preceded by wiretaps, which provided plenty of evidence to the contrary.

No one should be surprised, and not simply because Wal-Mart has been investigated twice before (in 1998 and 2001) for similar violations.  Companies rarely become monopolies by following the rules, and it is hard to argue that, as the world’s largest retailer, Wal-Mart is anything but a monopoly.   The company had $244.5 billion in sales worldwide in the last fiscal year and ranks number one in sales in the United States; Forbes, which lists Wal-Mart as number six on the Forbes 500 list (it was number one last year), predicts that, at its current 16-percent growth rate, Wal-Mart’s annual sales will top one trillion dollars within ten years.  Whether it is sewing “Made in the USA” tags inside clothes produced overseas (as it did in the 1980’s) or undercutting smaller stores’ prices just long enough to put its competitors out of business, Wal-Mart is playing to win—and, like most monopolies, it’s not particularly concerned about the costs.  Going through a subcontractor to hire illegal aliens effectively minimized any penalties Wal-Mart might incur.  Those pesky wiretaps, however, might come back to haunt individual executives.

The personal wealth of Sam Walton’s heirs gives the lie to Wal-Mart’s slogan—“Always Low Prices.  Always.”  Forbes notes that, “If Sam were alive today, he would be worth twice as much as Bill Gates,” who topped this year’s Forbes 400 list with a personal fortune of $46 billion.  Warren Buffett sits in second place, while Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen brings up third.  The next five slots, however, are occupied by Waltons, and their combined wealth ($102.5 billion) nearly matches that of the first three ($104 billion).  And the Waltons only control 38 percent of Wal-Mart’s stock.  Despite the propaganda from big-market conservatives, that fortune was not made entirely on volume.  As Samuel Francis wrote a few years ago, when Wal-Mart removed Maurice Bessinger’s barbecue sauce from its shelves because Bessinger was a vocal supporter of the Confederate Flag,

My own bet is that you can find plenty of products at Wal-Mart made by slave labor, but slavery—at least the kind that really exists today as opposed to the kind that has been extinct in this country for more than a century—apparently is not “an activity with which Wal-Mart does not wish to be associated.”

The exploitation of illegal aliens amounts to simply more of the same.

Here in Rockford, Wal-Mart took root years ago, anchoring the East State Street corridor of strip malls and big-box stores with its store and Sam’s Club out by the tollway, at the corner of East State and Perryville.  A Wal-Mart Supercenter—the plus-size version of Wal-Mart with a full-service grocery store, auto center, drugstore, vision center, bakery, and photo lab, among other things—dominates the corner of Riverside and Forest Hills Road, just south of the city of Loves Park (which, together with Machesney Park, its neighbor to the north, is lovingly referred to in Rockford as “Parkansas”).

Now, however, Wal-Mart is spreading like kudzu across the Rockford area.  A cynic might argue that they are moving in for the kill, taking advantage of Rockford’s economic depression—the worst since the early 1980’s—to provide free advertising for their gospel of convenience and frugality.  The company is planning a new Supercenter on 35 acres northwest of town, at the corner of Owen Center and Meridian Road; a second store northwest of the Parkansas Supercenter; and another Supercenter on East State Street next to the current store, which will close down.  In addition, Wal-Mart is planning a Supercenter on 87 acres of farmland outside of Belvidere, the next town east of Rockford, where its full-service grocery will compete against Dal Pra Pacemaker, the only local grocer of any size remaining in the Rockford area.  (Hilander and Logli, the two leading local chains, were bought out in 1998 by Kroger and Schnucks, respectively, though they retain their local names.  Gray’s, another local chain, is an IGA franchisee.)

While the Meridian Road Supercenter will not be completed until the spring of 2005 at the earliest, Wal-Mart’s announcement has already had a chilling effect on the economy of northwest Rockford.  Eagle Foods, a Midwestern chain that has been struggling for years, declared bankruptcy this past spring and sold off its assets this fall.  Eagle could not sell its North Main Street store, however; neither Kroger nor Schnucks was willing to invest in a building that is within easy driving distance of the coming Wal-Mart.  It sits vacant, across the street from a Kmart that has been empty for three years and in front of a shuttered 350,000-square-foot factory, offering mute testimony to a struggling local economy that will not be revived by sending an increasing share of Rockfordians’ wages to Little Rock.

Eagle faced a similar problem in Belvidere.  Ultimately, it sold its state-of-the-art store there to a food distributor, which will use it as a warehouse, leaving Dal Pra Pacemaker as the only full-service grocery in town—until Wal-Mart arrives.  Tony Dal Pra was genuinely sad to see his only competition go under, but he now hopes to increase his own sales enough over the next two years so that, when the Supercenter opens, he might sink back only to his current level of business.  Wal-Mart, however, is unlikely to be satisfied with such a partial victory.

And it probably won’t have to be.  Over the last three years, Rockford has lost 20 percent of its manufacturing jobs; unemployment is hovering around double digits; our property taxes are $400 higher (on a $100,000 house) than the next highest property taxes in Illinois; and no service-sector or information-technology company is waiting in the wings to save us.  And, as G.K. Chesterton wrote, “We cannot all live by taking in each other’s washing . . . ”  Or, to paraphrase country singer Collin Raye, “I needed a new town for my new start / selling VCR’s in Parkansas at a Wal-Mart.”

Ideally (or so it has always seemed to me), you should be able to walk to your local grocer, who should be able to handle most of your daily needs.  Now, the day may be coming when being able to drive to a grocer within the city limits of Rockford will seem like a luxury.  I am sure, however, that our libertarian friends would say that I am being too pessimistic.  After all, if things are all that bad, the market will prevail, and no one will want to drive to a grocer within the city limits of Rockford anyway—because no one will be living here.