This is not the American way. Efforts to fight big chains like Wal-Mart are not either. The counterfeit Americanism of the far left and parts of the paleoconservaitve right has nothing to do with America’s core values: free competition, free access to property and markets, and minimal government interference with economic development. Now businesses, big and small, have resisted this model, seeking various forms of priviledge [sic]; but the rhetoric of free markets and small government has long been championed by the middle classes as a whole. These views have been the antidote to European-style socialism. This historically-grounded economic freedom was the banner of resistance to FDR’s New Deal. It is also the reason that all of the anti-Wal Mart hysteria is wrong-headed and un-American. ~Chris Roach

I am often puzzled how people can in the same breath talk about America’s core value of free competition and invoke Wal-Mart as the standard-bearer of that value.  Surely any behemoth company itself is most interested not in free competition, but like all firms it is interested in limiting competition.  The concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a relative major corporations that grow ever larger and take over more and more markets has nothing to do with free competition.  To look back to the town near my own alma mater of Hampden-Sydney, Farmville, I remember distinctly seeing just in the four years that I was there the final death of all of any Farmville downtown shops that competed in any direct way with the services provided by the Super Wal-Mart that seemed to dominate the space of the town like a castle overlooking the lord’s holdings. 

At the time, young college student that I was, awake at all hours, the 24-hour Wal-Mart seemed like a boon to a young urbanite like myself stuck out in the boonies of Southside Virginia.  It occurs to me now that the people who lived in the town might have had different views of the matter.  In any case, the coming of Wal-Mart was not some simple introduction of new growth and money-saving opportunities, but caused a measure of dislocation in the town and, more than that, has now wedded the town’s future fortunes  much more closely to the continued presence of that Super Wal-Mart. 

I don’t know if it is “counterfeit Americanism” to find troubling or objectionable the considerable dependence of the well-being of a town on the unaccountable decisions of one corporation that has no stake and no real attachment to the place, but I would suggest that there is nothing terribly consistent with the listed American “core values” in this development.  We do well to be wary of the road to state serfdom and advocate going in the other direction, but we make a great error if we think that road to corporate serfdom does not lead in the same direction and does not eventually meet up with the other road.  The masters of both use fear of the other to aggrandise their power.  The state tells you, “I will protect you from exploitation, give me power (and money)!”  And so you do.  Then the corporation says, “I provide you services and represent your freedom from government interference, so give me money (and power)!”  And so you do.  At no point are you concerned that the corporation generally supports what the state is doing and vice versa, or that some of the money you give to each one goes towards empowering and influencing the other.  If the two parties are, as Mr. Buchanan’s memorable phrase had it, “two wings of the same bird of prey,” the state and corporations in state capitalist political economy are the talons of the same bird. 

The Hamiltonian juggernaut has triumphed, and in one of the bitter ironies of American history it has convinced Americans that bank rule and the moneyed interest are friends of liberty and that dependence on these interests is emancipation.  In all of this the dream of liberty and independence, an independent and self-governing people, is nowhere to be found.  Hamiltonianism and indeed “the American System” itself are certainly American in origin, so I will not engage in the mistaken rhetoric of declaring them un-American, but it is not at all clear that they are in the best interests of the commonwealth or the institutions of the Republic.  It has never been clear since the original system behind them was first concocted in 1789, and there is a long line of American patriots who have made credible arguments that this system is the enemy of a free Republic.

And while some did frame opposition to the New Deal in terms of economic freedom, and still others on constitutional grounds, the most vociferous opponents were the oligarchs of yesterday’s corporate giants.  We do not necessarily have to bow either to FDR or to J.P. Morgan; the choice does not have to be between Social Democracy and Wal-Mart.  An economic regime where landed property was widely diffused and securely held, where economic independence was a plausible reality and not an electioneering slogan, where direct taxation of any kind would not subvert the rights of the smallholder but public authority would not walk hand in hand with corporations would provide a means out of this false dichotomy.