Wal-Mart's Katrina Heroism: "Above All, Do The Right Thing," CEO Told Managers Before Katrina Struck

A paper written by Steven Horwitz, an Austrian-school economist (we’re still not quite sure what that means, other than it’s considered slightly controversial), recounts Wal-Mart’s relief efforts after Hurricane Katrina (PDF) and points out that private businesses, along with the Coast Guard, did far more than any “official” government agency in providing immediate, on-the-ground assistance to victims. His argument is that something as complex as a relief effort is more efficient when it’s decentralized and involves private businesses. Horwitz has also, separately, supported the idea that Wal-Mart should win the Nobel Peace Price. Hey, we told you his school of economics was controversial.

Horwitz describes how, in the hours before Katrina struck, Wal-Mart’s CEO laid out a ground plan of autonomy to store managers to do what they felt was best—in effect, giving them permission to take fairly radical actions that in other circumstances would have been considered criminal:

Another element of Wal-Mart’s successful response was the great degree of discretion that the company gave to district and store managers. Store managers have sufficient authority to make decisions based on local information and immediate needs. As the storm approached, CEO Lee Scott provided a guiding edict to his senior staff and told them to pass it down to regional, district, and store managers: “A lot of you are going to have to make decisions above your level. Make the best decision that you can with the information that’s available to you at the time, and, above all, do the right thing.”
 
In several cases, store managers allowed either emergency personnel or local residents to take store supplies as needed. They did not feel the need to get pre-approval from supervisors to do so. A Kenner, Louisiana employee used a forklift to knock open a warehouse door to get water for a local retirement home. In Marrero, Louisiana employees allowed local police officers to use the store as a headquarters and a sleeping place as many had lost their homes.
 
In Waveland, Mississippi assistant manager Jessica Lewis, who was unable to reach her superiors to get permission, decided to run a bulldozer through her store to collect basics that were not water-damaged, which she then piled in the parking lot and gave away to residents. She also broke into the store’s locked pharmacy to supply critical drugs to a local hospital.

Now about that peace prize thing—Horwitz says that consequences are what matters, not intention:

To the extent that Wal-Mart (and market capitalism more generally) have both encouraged people to deal with each other on the basis of voluntary exchange rather than force and have raised the standard of living so greatly, especially of the poor, they have made the world a more peaceful place. And in the long run, their contributions to peace are probably far greater and longer-lasting than the politicians and social missionaries who normally get the Prize.

Whaddya think of that? Do the good deeds of Wal-Mart, intentional or not, outweigh any damage it causes?
 


Update 2:50pm:
Stephen Horwitz, the author of the Wal-Mart paper, wrote in to clarify a few points.
Thanks for linking to my study on Wal-Mart and Katrina. I’ve been reading the comments section and rather than post myself, I thought I’d email you with three clarifications/corrections that you can either add yourself or tack to the end of the entry or just ignore. :)
 
1. I do NOT work for Wal-Mart. I sometimes shop there though. I’m a college professor at the opposite end of the country from the Gulf Coast and equally far from Bentonville. [He's a professor of economics at St. Lawrence University in New York.]
 
2. The wikipedia entry on Austrian economics is pretty good explanation of what the school of thought is about: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Austrian_School
 
3. The 1112am commenter about what an Austrian economist supposedly said about 20-30% unemployment etc, is simply false. Nor does Austrian economics say everything should be “left to corporations.”

“Making Hurrican Response More Effective: Lessons from the Private Sector and the Coast Guard during Katrina” [Mercatus] (PDF document)
 
RELATED
“The Case for Wal-Mart Winning the Nobel Peace Prize” [The Austrian Economists]
“In Wal-Mart we trust” [National Post] (Thanks to Chris!)
(Photo: Brave New Films)

Comments

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  1. skitzogreg says:

    Forgive me for actually liking Wal-Mart. Low prices and community involvement mean more to me than false negative stories and corporate conspiracies.

  2. lookoutscout says:

    By “community involvement” do you mean running locally owned stores out of business and depressing area wages? Or do you mean paving over greenspaces and ruining local ecosystems? Because when I think of “positive community involvement,” it somehow doesn’t involve poverty and urban sprawl.

  3. jmuskratt says:

    I’ve heard several apocryphal stories involving WM after the storm. Namely, the one where they had dozens of 18-wheelers loaded with ice that were parked on the side of I-10 because FEMA wouldn’t let them through.

    Given what was reported about Wal-Mart, and what was reported (and that I personally observed) with FEMA, it doesn’t sound all that unlikely.

  4. Juliekins says:

    That is kind of amazing. I had no idea this went on. As a geek, I have always admired Wal-Mart’s IT department/infrastructure (it’s truly spectacular if you’re into that kind of thing) as well as their skill at logistics. (There’s also plenty about WM that I don’t like, so you can just backspace over that “fangirl” comment you were writing.) I’m not sure this outweighs everything bad they’ve ever done, because they’ve done a lot of really bad shit. It does, IMHO, build back some karma points in my book that they allowed their managers such wide discretion in helping people through a nearly incomprehensible catastrophe.

    On the other hand, it’s pretty fucking sad that corporations like Wal-Mart come out of this looking better than the federal government.

  5. skitzogreg says:

    @lookoutscout: By community involvement, I’m talking about how if it wasn’t for Wal-Mart, many low income schools would be without essential educational materials. They also donate to many research organizations and provide scholarships in some areas. I’m no environmentalist. “Paving over greenspaces” is natural expansion. Whether you love or hate Wal-Mart, if Wal-Mart didn’t pave the way for new stores and offices to be built some other company would. I look at the larger scheme of things, but I do understand, however, that I don’t care too much for the environment that much.

  6. John Whorfin says:

    What is america going to do when another incident of this magnitude occurs?

    Probably the same response as we saw last time. A city tore itself apart and brought out the worst in humanity while we watched it on TV.

  7. Verklemptomaniac says:

    Stopped watch, twice a day, etc.

    Regardless, Wal-Mart did right on this one, and for that they deserve credit. Does this mean the private sector is better at responding to disasters than the government? Not really; it shows that that the private sector is better when the government is run by people who believe that government doesn’t work (and then set out to prove it.)

    Remember that, back in the Clinton years, FEMA was considered a model federal agency.

  8. Falconfire says:

    @lookoutscout: Funny but I have yet to see a Wal-Mart in the North East area, that wasnt a Bradley’s or Caldor, or some other out of buisness department store company who’s building had laid vacant for 5-15 years.

  9. jmuskratt says:

    @Verklemptomaniac: It’s been my experience in the rebuilding that the government (at all levels) has only succeeded in getting in the way. All it needs to do are three things: 1) oversee the insurance industry such they don’t fuck the policyholders too savagely; 2) put defrauding contractors in jail (or rather, under the jail, or in a vat of acid, I don’t care which); and 3) maintain law and order.

    We can handle just about everything else on our own.

  10. differcult says:

    @lookoutscout: Walmart is always the biggest check every year for an organization I run. As for putting smaller business in the gutter, that is THAT CITIES PLANNING AND ZONING FAULT. They should have not zoned the area they way they did, placing a walmart far enough away from a CBD or SBD normally stops this fake problem.

  11. SkokieGuy says:

    Yes, if these actions are true, they deserve applause, and they are in no way reduced by other issues Wallmart most certainly has.

    If a convicted rapist out on parole saves a drowning victim, is his actions any less heroic than the exact same actions performed by a Priest?

  12. hubris says:

    Good on Wal-Mart for doing this. There were also plenty of OTHER people who did things like this. The clusteruck that was FEMA should be placed squarely where it belongs: the federal government. That doesn’t mean you throw the baby out with the bathwater.

    Also, Wal-Mart doing this means that they’re HUMAN BEINGS; it doesn’t wash away all the other truly shitty stuff they do, like leaving harmful chemicals outside their stores when it rains so that they drain into local water supplies, or screw other companies by artificially lowering prices.

    Sun shines on a dog’s ass every once in a while.

  13. deserthiker says:

    “Do the good deeds of Walmart, intentional or not, outweigh the damage it does?”

    In a word, NO.

  14. hubris says:

    @SkokieGuy: Did he try to have sex with the person drowning?

  15. petrarch1608 says:

    these people who dis wal-mart obviously haven’t lived paycheck to paycheck. Wal-Mart helps the poor people of this county by keeping prices low. There’s a great Penn & Teller Bullshit episode about wal-mart.

  16. hubris says:

    @SkokieGuy: And yes, yes they ARE. You can’t screw people left and right and sideways and then do a good deed and be like “hey, we’re cool now, right?”

  17. TheUncleBob says:

    “She also broke into the store’s locked pharmacy to supply critical drugs to a local hospital.”

    That’s a wow. As a lowly cog in the huge machine that is Wal*Mart, in such a situation, there isn’t much I wouldn’t have considered doing to help out… But I would have been scared as hell to do this one. Bravo to this person – I would have collapsed under pressure to make this decision.

  18. savvy9999 says:

    WalMart succeeded here where government failed b/c like it or not, at the topmost levels, extremely competent people run WalMart.

    When total retards like Brownie and Nagin and Blanco and Bush are put in charge of government, it’s doomed. Change the culture of incompetence and cronyism, and we all get better government and services as a result. Garbage in = garbage out.

  19. whatdoyoucare says:

    Let me guess, Mr. Horwitz is actually employed by Walmart. (Remember a few years ago when it was discovered that one “movie critic” was actually someone from a Hollywood studio writing the “reviews” for his companies movies.)

  20. TheUncleBob says:

    @omerhi: The priest or the rapist?

    Sorry…

  21. eightfifteen says:

    “His argument is that something as complex as a relief effort is more efficient when it’s decentralized and involves private businesses.”

    When the relief is run by this administration, sure, I can go along with that, but not when it’s run by a real administration.

  22. Chad LaFarge says:

    Government is terrible at almost everything it does except collect taxes. That applies to both major parties. We’ve forgotten that the job of the Federal Government is 1) highways and infrastructure 2) national defense. Local’s get law enforcement, and I like libraries, but beyond that let competitive capitalism do what it’s good at: finding a better/cheaper way to fix/make/destroy/kill things.

    Maybe Wal-Mart did right on this because people give them such a hard time for their success (see above posts), maybe they did it because of a corporate conscience… I don’t care. They did it, they did a great job at it, and God bless ‘em for it.

    What great challenge did FEMA face under Clinton? Saying that a (mostly) untested entity was great under one guy and terrible under another is a little partisan, don’t you think? Besides, didn’t LA authorities do a lot to break the process down there? Weren’t we waiting for permission from Gov before we could send forces in? Didn’t the Mayor drop the ball on evacuating his constituents?

    I’m just sayin’…

  23. Wimpkins says:

    @skitzogreg:

    Nice avatar.

    “Mac-Daddy will make your files…jump, jump.”

    I stole that.

  24. SkokieGuy says:

    @omerhi:
    Walmart is not seeking a pass for their other egregious behavior. Walmart is not commenting on these actions. The OP refers to an independent Australian researcher who is praising Walmarts efforts during Katrina, specifically as contrasted to our own government’s totally inept response.

    I am not suggesting, and I don’t think anyone else is suggesting that somehow Walmart’s sins are now cleansed. On Consumerist we all thoroughly bash Walmart and most often deservedly. All the more reason to give praise on the (rare) occasions when it is deserved.

    My comment is that YES, Walmart is deserving of praise for bypassing typical corporate policy and empowering employees to take courageous and unprecedented actions that saved lives and helped during truly desperate times.

    If we trash this one extraordinary instance of heroic actions on the part of many Walmart employees, would we prefer that they do nothing exceptional in the future the next time an area is hit with a catastrophe? I think this behavior should be applauded LOUDLY and encouraged.

  25. @savvy9999: @omerhi: I am sorry, but where was the LOCAL government in Katrina? I hate when people blame the federal government for stuff like this. If there is a fire in your town, do you call the government/National guard in, or local firemen? If there is an Earthquake, who provides assistance first? Your LOCAL government and first responders. What about the Coast Guard? They’re federal, and were able to mobilize faster than most any other Federal agenicies, due to them having extremely mobile equipment. They saved many people who were left hanging due to the local governments total lack of activity. What about the local governments letting buses sit in lots to be flooded and thus un-usable? Storm tracks are not very predictable sometimes, and you can’t mobilize units to each place where landfall may occur, as some may get stuck where they are, and unable to provide assistance. So you let local government, who being on the coast, should have plans in effect provide first responses, then you respond to the area that needs it. Local gov screwed the pooch, which left more people in trouble/in need of assistance, which then overwhelmed the governments back up response. OK, you can start flaming me now for not caring about black people.

  26. BStu says:

    I applaud Wal-Mart for doing the right thing, but frankly the contest was rigged. The problem with the government response to Katrina wasn’t that government response is inherently inefficient. The problem was that THIS government’s response was inept. FEMA under Clinton was far more organized and effective in responding to natural disasters big and small. This is a classic case of Republicans breaking the government and then using that as proof that the government doesn’t work. Its like the child who destroys a toy with wanton carelessness and then whines, “see, its no good.”

  27. Mr_D says:

    @Chad LaFarge: Actually, I’d argue that the government isn’t even good at collecting taxes. Why else do we have this huge ‘tax season’ where everybody’s scrambling to do the government’s work for them, telling them how much we overpaid or underpaid in taxes?

    And I think Verklemptomaniac’s FEMA comment referred to the fact that a ‘model’ government agency screwed up so horribly (maybe that’s what they’re supposed to do?). At least that’s the way I took it.

  28. Solidgun says:

    IF this was posted yesterday, i would have had a good laugh, but I think it was a decision that would not have made too much difference in the end. I know the CEO announced it lower level employees, but this would only speed things up as in the end, they would have done what seemed suitable at that breaking point.
    But it was still nice to have had it announced to speed things up during these hard times.

  29. EllenRose says:

    As far as I can tell, people get down on Wal*Mart because they aren’t the kind of place that sells free-range coffee. But they would, if the kind of people that are into free-range coffee shopped there.

  30. Redwraithvienna says:

    The Austrian school of economics says basically that the government should keep out of everything besides the most basic tasks and leave everything to corporations.

    One of the main proponants once statet that he wishes for a 20 – 30 % unelmpoyment rate cause that would break the power of theunions …

    its pretty strong stuff and i am not sure that it would be a better world if all of there ideas were used.

  31. bigdirty says:

    @Falconfire: Look at Rte 1 and 130 in NJ – West Windsor, East Windsor, Hamilton, One of the Brunswicks all had new Wally-World construction over the past decade or so, while several Bradlees, Caldors, Jamesways, etc still sit vacant.

  32. savvy9999 says:

    @Git Em SteveDave: Easy hoss– I explicitly mentioned Nagin, to reference the local government that failed also. As little more than a populist whiner, he was and is no better or competent than Brown or Blanco or the myriads of others who completely f’d up the evacuation and the subsequent non-rebuilding of the Gulf Coast.

  33. Chad LaFarge says:

    @petrarch1608:

    Thank you for that tip… great video. I had no idea.

  34. Inhocmark says:

    @EllenRose: That was so perfectly put.

    In a business that sets out to make money, you don’t get that far addressing the needs of people who aren’t in your core constituency.

    There are plenty of negatives about Walmart, but as this story (and some of the anectdotes in the comments) confirm…There’s also some positives.

  35. giggitygoo says:

    It’s funny how a lot of people don’t seem to want WalMart to ever do anything good. No matter what you think of WalMart, don’t you want to see companies act like this during a disaster? Shouldn’t you give credit where it’s due for this particular action, even if you don’t like others? I guess not if you’re a hate filled ideologue who’s so bitter that you would prefer that your favorite target (no pun intended) hurt others rather than help just so you have another talking point for DailyKos or Digg.

  36. humphrmi says:

    @Chris Walters: Conglomerist is shuttered; Consumerist is back. Perhaps you didn’t get the memo.

    Just kidding, kudos to WM no matter what other people here say. You get smacked for doing things wrong, you get thanked for doing things right.

  37. dorkins says:

    @lookoutscout: Didn’t you see the South Park about that?

    It’s funny, I had an officemate who was very concerned about looking professional, even when it came to buying a bag to bring to the office (business casual). She loved Wal-Mart for their clothes!

    BTW, hope we’re aware of the Katrina Myths: [article.nationalreview.com]

    “virtually all of the gripping stories from Katrina were untrue. All of those stories about, in Paula Zahn’s words, “bands of rapists, going block to block”? Not true. The tales of snipers firing on medevac helicopters? Bogus. The yarns, peddled on Oprah by New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin and the New Orleans police chief, that “little babies” were getting raped in the Superdome and that the bodies of the murdered were piling up? Completely false. The stories about poor blacks dying in comparatively huge numbers because American society “left them behind”? Nah-ah.

    “an ubiquitous media chorus claims simultaneously that Katrina was Bush’s worst hour and the press’s best. That faultless paragon of media scrupulousness Dan Rather proclaimed it one of the “quintessential great moments in television news.” …

    “But in the race to prove the federal response incompetent, the “real journalists” missed some important details. As Lou Dolinar exhaustively documents, the National Guard did amazing work in New Orleans. From the Superdome, the Guard managed some 2,500 troops, a dozen emergency shelters, more than 200 boats, 150 helicopters (which flew more than 10,000 sorties moving 88,181 passengers, 18,834 tons of cargo, and saved 17,411 survivors), and an enormous M*A*S*H operation that, among other things, delivered seven babies.”

  38. azntg says:

    As much as Walmart gets a bad rap (and rightly so, in my opinion), I’m willing to believe that they did a better job than our very own federal government. They really bungled this one up badly enough to make all private efforts look like the work of professionals.

  39. RandomHookup says:

    @Git Em SteveDave: I’m not defending the NOLA govt response, but one of the things that happens in a major disaster is that the local responders are crippled/nonexistent/victims themselves. It’s tough to keep your police and fire dept. running if they have lost their homes, don’t have facilities to work from and are stretched absolutely too thin to be effective.

  40. hubris says:

    We can applaud Wal-Mart’s efforts without putting blinders on to their other activities. Bravo to Wal-Mart for doing this. Doesn’t mean I will not buy anything from them.

    There is more than enough blame to go around in Katrina, from the federal level to state to individuals who didn’t evacuate when they were told to and then bitched and moaned when shit happened.

    But, in the context of Katrina, bra-fucking-vo to Wal-Mart for its efforts to help during that hellish episode.

  41. AMetamorphosis says:

    @lookoutscout:

    WELL said !

    Walmart has no problem employing thousands of people at poor wages and no health insurance.

    I’m sure they could afford this for the good publicity it desperately needs.

  42. rachaeljean says:

    This doesn’t exonerate them from all the work they need to do, but in of itself is pretty magnificent behavior. Kudos to Wal-Mart for doing the right thing. :) I might just get all warm and fuzzy next time I am there to save my precious few pennies on deodorant!

  43. wellfleet says:

    @EllenRose: You obviously don’t shop at Wal-Mart. I live in Arkansas, steps from Wally HQ, and get to see all the innovations they roll out, like certified free-trade and certified organic coffee. Because of its buying power, they are now pushing Clorox’ new brand of green household cleaners (the toilet bowl cleaner is great), and compact fluorescent bulbs. Wally can persuade big companies to make cleaner, greener, better products. The new Sam’s Club in Fayetteville, AR, is a model for their future stores. The fridges have motion sensors so the lights only come on when someone is standing in front of them, they harvest rainwater and channel it back through the native plants they landscaped with… the parking lot is made of recycled materials…
    If anyone can lead the revolution, it’s them. Like them or not, Wally is always the biggest name and the biggest check at any charity event I’ve ever participated in.
    And, when a week’s worth of groceries at Wally cost me $100 and the same items at Harp’s cost $145…

  44. Trai_Dep says:

    …Only after the GOP destroyed a well-lauded FEMA and turned it into a mockery. Using this logic, once the DEA erroneously shoots both a kid’s parents dead, Dickensian orphanages are superior for raising children.

  45. smartmuffin says:

    Yet again the private sector puts big government to shame. And to think the answer so many propose to these problems is to give government MORE power and MORE control.

  46. BalknChain says:

    I genuinely appreciate the fact that the commenters over here view Wal-Mart’s actions instead of just the whole image. The actions listed in the post are commendable. The Gawker tone is getting a little ugly on a Wal-Mart post over there.

  47. dirk1965 says:

    The PEOPLE of Texas did more than Wal-Mart ever dreamed of doing for the Katrina victims. We opened up our homes, churches, and school gyms so they would have a place sleep. We also donated tons of food and clothing on top of that. No… Wal-Mart shouldn’t get the Nobel Peace Prize… The State of Texas should!

    People need to get over Katrina. Yeah, the Government should’ve done more, but in the long run its the people that should at least TRY to help themselves instead of relying on someone else to do it for them. Many Texas Gulf Coast cities have been devistated by hurricanes in the past, yet have you ever heard them ask for help the way the Katrina ‘victims’ have? That answer would be NO!

  48. Sudonum says:

    @Git Em SteveDave:
    And where would they have moved the buses to where they wouldn’t get flooded? Were they supposed to park the buses along the streets and clog the evacuation routes? Who was supposed to move the buses, the bus drivers who were evacuating their own families? As you stated in your post, you don’t know where the storm is going to hit so you don’t know where to stage the first responders. Including buses that could possibly used for evacuations.

    You know what happened to my neighborhood during Katrina? The Jefferson Parish Government told the pump operators to evacuate the city so they would be safe, and then come back after the storm, even though they volunteered to stay. After the storm the operators could not get back into the parish due to roads and bridges being out. So as a result my house flooded because the pumps were not operating. They could not pump the rainwater out of the storm drains into Lake Pontchatrain. They were damed if they did and damed if they didn’t.

    The point of this post is that Walmart was able to get ice and water into the city well before the federal government was. And I am sick and tired of the Bush apologists making excuses for the way the feds handled this situation. Were there positives in the midst of all the negatives? You bet, the Coast Guard is one of the federal, state, and local agencies that did an outstanding job. As did the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.

    And your fire analogy is way of the mark. Katrina was a lot worse than a building being on fire. Katrina was a disaster of biblical proportions, affecting three states. Mississippi and Alabama had the same logistical problems, however none of them had a city as large as New Orleans hit by the storm. Hell, prior to Katrina I don’t believe any of them had a city as large as New Orleans period.

    The bottom line, the Federal Agency specifically created and designated to respond to, and alleviate suffering after a natural disasters like this failed. Miserably. A lot of the people stuck ALL along the Gulf Coast have Walmart to thank for their very lives.

  49. There is a Department of Homeland Security office inside of a Wal-Mart distribution center, because they are the only ones big enough to handle certain emergencies. That is pretty scary.

    I still put Wal-Mart at the number 2 spot on my most evil company list, right behind Monsanto.
    They are the leaders of Genericana. Making the entire country look the same. Putting small businesses out, and moving factories to China.

    If Jeffrey Dahmer helped an old lady cross the street (and then didn’t eat her after she got to the other side), it still wouldn’t change the fact that he was a serial killer.

  50. Canoehead says:

    FEMA’s primary mission is to write really big checks to help in the purchase of emergency shelter and fund rebuilding. They almost never have much of a presence in the first 72-96 hours of a disaster – that is all local and state (ask Floridians). Witness the fact that Katrina actually hit Missippi harder than Louisiana, yet despite widespread devastation and propoerty damage, Mississippi dealt with the storm a lot better – local and state (including National Guard) authorities responded well and saved lives, FEMA came in later and bought trailers, food etc. – remember, they don’t have assets like truck or choopers, they rent or buy what they need in the circumstances. Wal-Mart owns literally maga-tons of food, supplies, trucks etc – frankly it would make sense for FEMA to coordinate more with them, since there is no point in FEMA buying a bunch of stuff before a storm hits and then pushing the stuff so far forward that it is destroyed or trapped by the storm (but of course, the further back it is kept, the longer it takes to deliver). Walmart, on the other hand, already has its assets located everywhere – some stores may be destroyed by a storm, but the odds are that others will be intact and convenient. All the feds would have to do is to guarantee that they would pay for any supplies documentd as given away as relief.

    I would also note that although FEMA’s response on the ground was not nearly as bad as reported, and that the geography of New Orleans made the mission particularly difficult, FEMA and DHS’ top echelons in Washington fell down completely. They basically had no idea how well or how poorly the folks in the field were performing.

    Finally, the lying of the New Orleans “authorities” (snipers, roving bands of armed bandits, etc) and the yellow journalists that repeated and amplified these claims made things much harder for FEMA and other relief agencies, as they all demanded armed escorts to deal with the non-existant threats before they would move convoys. That the crying Governor took a while to allow Federal Troops and Guardsmen from other States to enter LA didn’t help either -but can you imagine the outcry if Bush had unilaterally usurped the power and authority of a female, Democrat governer and simply declared federal marshall law (which, IMHO, should have been done anyway, since lives are supposed to be worth more than politics).

  51. @EllenRose: Maybe my joke detector is off, but did you mean Fair Trade Coffee?
    The image of free range coffee is cracking me up. Little coffee beans free to leave their cages and scamper out in to the pasture to eat grass.

  52. CPC24 says:

    @John Whorfin: More than one city was affected by Katrina; parts of Mississippi had much more damage than New Orleans. Yes, New Orleans was flooded, but cities like Waveland were washed away.

    For once, the media couldn’t attack Mississippi for its “racism”, because all the racial tension was somewhere else. Mississippians were too busy helping each other.

    FWIW, I’ve been to both MS and LA in the past few months and even though you can still see damage, they’re both doing much better.

  53. Ghede says:

    @SkokieGuy: Show me on the doll where Wal-Mart touched you.

  54. BalknChain says:

    @suburbancowboy: Is ADM on your list too? Scary stuff between them and Monsanto involving soy beans.

  55. stageright says:

    These things are not the good deeds of Wal-mart. corporate was not involved in any of these decisions (or things might well have been very different). These were the good deeds of the local people that lived in the area that happened to work at Wal-Mart. They were told that they could make decisions as they saw fit, so they made good, kind decisions rather than making Wal-Mart decisions.

    Wal-Mart central, on the other hand, decided that they may as well bless the “good deeds” since they were going to happen anyway and reap good PR rather than prosecuting and firing people, and getting bad PR.

    Wal-Mart does nothing that doesn’t benefit Wal-Mart’s bottom line. Just ask Hillary Clinton – she helped make it that way.

  56. csdiego says:

    Austrian school of economics = free-market extremism. They claim to be the ultimate scientists, but they use the most primitive types of economic models and then say that if human behavior doesn’t actually fit those models, too bad: it should. IMO they are more ideologues than scientists.

    Anyway, everyone else has already said it: just because WM did better than the Bush administration doesn’t mean business is more competent than government. That’s like saying that the IRS is more efficient than a snack stand run by a kleptomaniac alcoholic.

  57. Chad LaFarge says:

    @dirk1965: No disrespect intended, as I do appreciate the generosity the people of Texas, and here in MO, and all over the US showed (and yes, mostly Texas), but isn’t that just what Wal-Mart did: they opened their property and gave away food, supplies and services to people in need?

  58. SavageATL says:

    By “community involvement” do you mean running locally owned stores out of business and depressing area wages? Or do you mean paving over greenspaces and ruining local ecosystems? Because when I think of “positive community involvement,” it somehow doesn’t involve poverty and urban sprawl.

    Y’all I have to respond to this for a few reasons. I live near a brand-new Wallyworld where Avondale Mall used to be in Decatur. In my area there are NO locally owned stores to run out of business or at least none worth running out of business. To buy something simple I have to drive at least 10 miles to get to a decent store. Plenty of locally owned stores survive by providing better service, a better selection or a different selection than what is available at Wallyworld. Try shopping in some of those local businesses and you’ll discover why they go out of business. Like Sears or Kmart, go there to see why they’re doing so badly. Those local businesses generally pay lower wages with no chances of advancement v. Wal-Mart. No one makes a living wage as a cashier. Anywhere. And as for paving over greenspaces and “ruining” local ecosystems, I’d like to see a local ecosystem that’s been “ruined” by a Wal-Mart, they’re not Love Canal, so stop being so dramatic. Our Wally world is a former mall that was abandoned 5 years ago and was a total eyesore. No greenspace paved. I’m delighted that I finally have an inexpensive place to shop and sure the jobs are low wage but if you’re a local teenager without transportation, it’s a great opportunity.

    Y’all, Wal-mart is a store and a business engaged in turning money into more money by exploiting its capital. It isn’t supposed to do anything beyond that and you can’t blame it for destroying the planet or give it credit for saving the earth. And held up to any govt agency, of course they’re going to do better, they prepare every day for the basic tasks of distributing goods in large quantities against serious competition for razor thin margins and making a profit at it. What governmental agency faces competition? What governmental agency faces the problem of attracting and retaining customers (arguably, welfare) but of course a for-profit business will always do better than government at what it has day in-day out experience at doing.

  59. alangryphon says:

    Okay, I was there, I lived through it, and I learned how to put a roof on my house. Walmart was definitely a life saver. Faith based groups sent people from all over the country to help out. And, as a Louisiana resident, I learned that local government does make a difference, a lesson that is reinforced every time I drive through Mississippi. Apparently, FEMA does an okay job in the areas where local people and local governments were willing to step up to the plate. I never thought I would have to envy Mississippi.

  60. DylanMorgan says:

    I find it interesting that in all the commentary about how horribly the government managed things, no one has mentioned the report’s contradiction in saying that the Coast Guard did well.

    Just to clarify, the Coast Guard is not a private corporation or volunteer organization, but an honest-to-god branch of the military! One that also falls under the umbrella of the DHS!

    I guess at least one government agency did well.

    As far as Wal-Mart goes, I give them half-credit for their enlightened self interest-opening up to the needy likely allowed them a hefty tax write off for charitable donations, and probably helped reduce facilities damage from looters.

  61. Sudonum says:

    @Canoehead:
    In August of 2005 Bush could not have imposed “Federal Martial Law” without the consent of Congress.

    From [en.wikipedia.org]

    “In United States law, martial law is limited by several court decisions that were handed down between the American Civil War and World War II. In 1878, Congress passed the Posse Comitatus Act, which forbids military involvement in domestic law enforcement without congressional approval. The Military Commissions Act of 2006 possibly rescinds these limits by suspending habeas corpus, but the law is not clear on whether it applies to U.S. Citizens. Since, USNORTHCOM [5] has increased its direct involvement with civilian administration.

    The National Guard is an exception, since unless federalized, they are under the control of state governors. [6]. This has now changed. Public Law 109-364, or the “John Warner Defense Authorization Act of 2007″ (H.R.5122), was signed by President Bush on October 17, 2006, and allows the President to declare a “public emergency” and station troops anywhere in America and take control of state-based National Guard units without the consent of the governor or local authorities. Title V, Subtitle B, Part II, Section 525(a) of the JWDAA of 2007 reads “The [military] Secretary [of the Army, Navy or Air Force] concerned may order a member of a reserve component under the Secretary’s jurisdiction to active duty…The training or duty ordered to be performed…may include…support of operations or missions undertaken by the member’s unit at the request of the President or Secretary of Defense.” [7] The President vetoed the Defense Authorization Act of 2008 on December 27, 2007.A provision in the 2008 defense authorization bill would have repealed this section of PL 109-364. [8]“

    The fact that most of Louisiana National Guard troops were serving in Iraq at the time also contributed to the tensions between Blanco and Bush at the time. And also the fact that most of their equipment was overseas and not available for other first responders to use as well. Would it have made a difference if the LA Guard was not deployed to Iraq? Everyone one of us has our own opinion based on our feelings about the war.

  62. cef21 says:

    I am not an economist, but my recollection of the Austrian School is that it centered on the idea that distributed decision making, informed by the profit motive, is more likely to produce a good outcome than centralized command-and-control.

    There’s a relatively famous economic essay, called “I Pencil” that starts out saying no one person knows how to make a pencil. It starts with mining the ore from the ground for the brass band, selecting and milling the right kinds of trees, the adhesive used to attach the eraser, the eraser itself and so on. From start to finish, tens of thousands of people are involved in the manufacture of that single pencil, some of whom may not even know what a pencil is. The point was that there’s no centralized “ministry of pencils” which coordinates all this — it’s all accomplished through the price system.

  63. MissTic says:

    So the take away here is that Wal Mart should run our healthcare instead of the govt.
    :-)

  64. dirk1965 says:

    @Chad LaFarge: It’s very possible that Wal-Mart did what is being stated, but we sure didn’t hear about their involvement… at least until now. I totally agree that a lot of other States helped with this tragic event, so I didn’t mean to leave them out.

  65. Chad LaFarge says:

    @DylanMorgan: Are you kidding? It’s not considered a good investment to spend piles of money only to get back about 15%. People act as if a tax deduction is “free money”, or even “even money”… it isn’t. You seem to be trying terribly hard to find ways that they might have profited from this. They certainly earned some good will, but I think that’s as far as it went. Now they have go back to abusing their employees and pray for another catastrophy to make up for it again (PLEASE note the sarcasm here).

    Many have commented above on the good work of the Coast Guard. They were outstanding in their roles. BZ to a government agency that did well :).

  66. dancinhomer says:

    I realize this doesn’t compare to Katrina by any stretch of the imagination, but when Oklahoma got hit by that awful ice storm last December, we were without power and in well-below-freezing temperatures for over a week. Our local Wal-Marts did an amazing job getting food, chainsaws, sterno, batteries, camping gear, etc. available to our community when we really needed them. Did they make money off what they sold? Absolutely.

    But they were there when we needed them. My doctor makes a profit when he cures me, too. I don’t think either qualify for sainthood, but I’m glad they’re in the business they are and that they are good at what they do.

    I like Wal-Mart because I can buy better quality groceries there than I could otherwise afford. I also get my vitamins there, as well as casual clothes for my family. If need be, one Wal-Mart run takes the place of going to a hardware store, a department store, a grocery store, a health food store (yes, they sell health food at Wal-Mart) a pharmacy… and if the mood strikes, I can have a Subway sandwich and get my oil changed while I shop.

    If someone comes up with a better store, I’ll go there. But for now, I think Wal-Mart is as big as they are because they are good at what they do.

  67. ecwis says:

    @dirk1965: I don’t know why you didn’t hear about it but I certainly did.

    [www.washingtonpost.com]

  68. Canoehead says:

    @Sudonum: Call the Waahbulance – your city was built below sea level, has been run in a massively corrupt fashion for at least a hundred years. Your Democrat Mayor and Democrat Governor massively screwed the pooch and your mad because the Feds didn’t bail you out immediately? How about the LA National Guard unit that set up its HQ below sea level, so that they spent the first 36 hours after the storm rescuing themselves? Or were the Feds supposed to assume total local imcompetence as a given? A lot of New Orleans folks are like a drunk who goes out, gets wasted and then drives into a tree – and is upset because the ambulance is a bit slow.

  69. nerdbert says:

    Anybody who thinks FEMA under Clinton was great didn’t live through Andrew. I did, and their response stunk almost as badly as Katrina when they did anything other than cut checks. But they didn’t try to run everything after Andrew, thankfully, like they did after Katrina.

    “On the other hand, it’s pretty fucking sad that corporations like Wal-Mart come out of this looking better than the federal government.”

    You ever work for the Feds? I have. Once in, you can’t be fired unless you do something criminal. The best case scenario is that incompetents get shunted off into meaningless paperwork shuffling. The more typical case is that they’re promoted to management where they can do less damage during normal operations, but that means that during non-routine situations they flounder.

    Walmart, on the other hand, is famously efficient and doesn’t put up with failure or incompetents — they don’t have to deal with Civil Service regulations.

  70. Badgz0r says:

    @dorkins: Oh, right, because the NATIONAL REVIEW is a straight-laced, UNBIASED place to hear the national news, and they always base all of their news on FACTS. Riiiiight.

    I’m not saying that journalists across the country weren’t busy hamming it up – for God’s sake, watching the news for longer than five minutes during that fiasco would have been akin to overdosing on sensationalism – but the NRO (some of whom I can only describe as “Federal Fanboyz”) is not exactly the bastion of truth you’re making it out to be.

  71. ecwis says:

    @Canoehead: Just wondering, have you ever been to New Orleans?

  72. Glaven says:

    I can never understand the insistence that Wal-Mart pay everyone some magic wage. They often hire people with no job experience whatsoever; do they have some obligation to pay them $15/hour right off the street?!

  73. BrockBrockman says:

    First WalMart lets the brain-damaged lady keep her money, now this report? Next thing you know, Consumerist will be sponsored by WalMart!

    I know, crazy talk. I get carried away sometimes.

  74. zara_h says:

    Between this post and the one where W*M didn’t make that poor brain-damaged lady pay up after all, I’m starting to worry that Hell is actually freezing over.

  75. Zaos says:

    Sorry i like wal-mart, the “mall” stores can all rot for all i care. Wal-mart and kohls get my money because they are me, im not from some family that i was given everything and i have $400 pieces of clothing on like you shop for at rich places that complain about wal-mart.

    i work for a living and im working OT right now to make up for the time i can’t afford to use pto to go to the doctor right now.

    Wal-mart, ‘you my only friend’

  76. Sudonum says:

    @Canoehead:
    Nagin is not a democrat, he ran against, and defeated, the democrats candidate during his first term, when Katrina hit. He was the “Pro-Business Candidate” who was going to clean up City Hall. And he was doing just that when the storm hit, then he went crazy.

    And who said anything about whining or being mad because the Feds “Didn’t bail us out immediately”? I simply stated the fact that Walmart was able to get help to those affected before the Federal Agency, who’s sole reason for being is to assist disaster victims, was able to. As this post pointed out.

    Can you give me a citation for the LA National Guard unit you speak of?

    As to you “drunk behind the wheel” analogy, it doesn’t apply. As I’ve stated MANY times on this blog. The Federal Government, with OUR tax dollars, built the levee system that was designed to withstand a Cat 3 hurricane. The Army Corp of Engineers built the levees using outdated maps. They admit that the reason for the flooding was because they did not build the levees to the specifications they themselves required. Many people, Republicans and Democrats, black and white alike, built their lives and livelihoods based on the assurance from the Corp and the Feds that the levees were strong enough to withstand what Katrina dished out. The “Corrupt Locals” had nothing to do with the levees.

    Personally, I had flood insurance. My insurance worked exactly like it was supposed to. I had a check in my hands, that covered all of my INSURED losses within a reasonable time of filing a claim. I’m not whining about a damn thing except for all the assholes out there who don’t know what the fuck they’re talking about when they speak on Katrina.

    Here is the link to the ACE that states the levees were sub-standard: [www.usace.army.mil]

    Here is the link to the NOAA that shows the intensity of Katrina when it made landfall: [www.katrina.noaa.gov]

  77. melbo says:

    I never realized Walmart had a heart…Maybe its time to let a corporation officially run America. Walmart for ’12.

  78. razremytuxbuddy says:

    Those individual Walmart store managers did a great service to their communities, which I believe they would have done regardless of what the Walmart CEO told them to do.

    On the other side of things, the Walmart corporation profits from nearly every local and regional catastrophe. We have all seen throngs of purely generous citizens pour into Walmart and buy water and other staples in mass quantities to donate to relief efforts. Walmart makes its usual profit on each item purchased for relief efforts; I’ve never seen Walmart offer discounts on those sales. It’s Walmart’s right to charge regular price for all of its merchandise, but in profiting from the community’s generous response to a disaster, Walmart is a taker, not a giver.

  79. cuiusquemodi says:

    @nerdbert: I don’t mean to defent FEMA or Bill Clinton, but Andrew was in August 1992. Not only was Clinton not president, he wasn’t even president elect.

    @razremytuxbuddy: And if it weren’t for Wal-Mart’s supply chain and infrastructure, the supplies would be more expensive. Wal-Mart’s existence is a discount on those sales, regardless of what prices they charge the rest of the time.

  80. petrarch1608 says:

    @razremytuxbuddy: “I’ve never seen Walmart offer discounts on those sales. It’s Walmart’s right to charge regular price for all of its merchandise, but in profiting from the community’s generous response to a disaster, Walmart is a taker, not a giver.”

    hey did you even read the article????

  81. ecwis says:

    @Sudonum: I think people get a false perspective when they don’t actually live or visit New Orleans. They think everyone is complaining and wants a bailout but that’s not true for the majority of New Orleans citizens. As you point out, it’s crucial to realize that the worst part of Katrina was when the levees gave out, not the actual hurricane.

  82. civicmon says:

    This was an interesting paper. I have to admit, WalMart’s delivery and supply infrastructure is impressive.

    I also will give credit where credit is due and that’s the fact that Corporate gave the managers the OK to do what’s right vs. making them contemplate what they should do. That manager who used a bulldozer to clean out their store was a bit drastic but it goes to show that an asst. manager was thinking with their heart vs. their heads and worried about someone giving them grief for it.

    As stated in the paper, WalMart is a business and that is to make money – if they can swarm into a disaster area and sell their goods to those who need them at the same price that they would pay in a store across the state, they’ve done a good service in my world since during hurricanes and other disasters, cash is king and price gouging is endemic. Having a company that can supply goods at the same price in New Orleans as in New Hampshire is making money, but being fair and supplying those who need those goods the most the ability to purchase them without paying an insane price.

  83. Well, hurricane season is coming up fairly soon down here in New Orleans, and hopefully the WalMart on Tchoupitoulas will go for a peace prize. Send Alex down to take some pictures!

  84. ecwis says:

    @defeatism: I’m hoping to go there this Saturday. Maybe I’ll bring along my camera…

  85. ginnylavender says:

    I have been suggesting for some time that the government should contract out FEMA duties to WalMart. They can get the job done.

  86. boxjockey68 says:

    pitiful.

  87. dirk1965 says:

    @ecwis: I don’t even read my local paper, so I’m surely not going read the Washington Post. But thanks for going out of your way to try a prove something that “I” didn’t read or hear about. Phfft!

  88. Mr. Gunn says:

    I do personally know someone who drove a forklift through the Walmart warehouse door to get water for Ochsner hospital. What he actually said, though, was not “can I break into your warehouse?” but “I’m breaking into your warehouse and will make it up to you later.” To their credit, they said go right ahead.

    With this and the dropping of their claim against the brain-damaged woman, they’re getting all kinds of good press lately.

  89. Kiamat says:

    It’s just another illustration that proves few entities are completely good or bad–Wal-Mart included.

  90. ViperBorg says:

    @skitzogreg: Screw the little mom and pop stores, huh? I mean, seriously, who wants that kind of individual attention when shopping, right?