Main Street” is Americana. Literally, it’s the primary road in a town, but culturally it’s much more than that. Main street is synonymous with mainstream, but it also evokes core American ideals like fairness — that the rules are the same for the “average Joe” as they are for wealthy corporations.
In recent years, Wal-Mart Stores (WMT) has tried to appropriate “Main Street” into the names of various lobbying campaigns it’s funding. First, it was the “Alliance for Main Street Fairness,” a Wal-Mart-led coalition to impose price controls on payment fees.
Now the company is behind the “Main Street Energy Alliance,” a group of companies who are working to convert the government’s ethanol quotas into a weapon against their competitors.
Claiming the mantle of American values is utterly ordinary in politics, but there’s several reasons to draw attention here.
- First, to correct any benefit of the doubt for Wal-Mart, which despite its rich history as a success story of American capitalism and entrepreneurship has fallen behind in the Internet age, a dynamic that may explain the company’s turn to Washington cronyism.
- Second, to highlight the particular, self-serving policies that Wal-Mart has wrapped itself in the American flag to justify, despite the harm they are causing to consumers and the larger economy.
- Third, simply to note the depth of cynicism for a company to cloak its efforts to tilt the playing field in its favor as “main street” — a concept that stands for literally the opposite of what Wal-Mart is engaged in.
It wasn’t always this way. The story of how the late Sam Walton transformed the “Walton’s 5 & 10” in Bentonville, Ark., into what was at one point the world’s largest company is inspiring. At its best, Wal-Mart was the champion of low prices, tirelessly pushing for ways to cut costs to produce value for its customers.