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The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

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Bailey: Shame on you, Walmart

By Ben Bailey

I once saw a hilarious statue representing the “Trickle Down Theory” — an economic theory stating that by giving tax breaks to the wealthy, they will be able to create more job opportunities in return, thereby benefiting the economy. The statue showed a big businessman urinating on a smaller worker.

Too often, this is the case. However, Reagan, Clinton and Bush have all incrementally decreased taxes placed on the wealthy. The question needs to be asked: Even if we are creating jobs, what type of jobs are we creating? How beneficial are they to their employees?

This question was answered recently when Wal-Mart sued one of its employees for medical expenses. The employee, Deborah Shank, was T-boned by an oncoming semitruck and now has no short-term memory. She was covered by Wal-Mart’s medical insurance, which promptly paid her medical expenses, and everyone lived happily ever after, right?

Sadly, things are never that simple. A clause in Shank’s contract with Wal-Mart states that the company can recoup money if the employee wins money for damages in a lawsuit. The compromise is suing Shank for $470,000.

Wal-Mart isn’t doing anything illegal, but it isn’t being too ethical either. Currently, Jim Shank is working two jobs trying to support Deborah Shank’s medical expenses. He also recently divorced Shank so that she could receive more government funding.

The $470,000 is chump change for Wal-Mart, whose net sales in the third quarter of 2007 was $90 billion. However, for Deborah Shank and her family it is a hard hit-hard enough to stop her from receiving the needed medical care related to her condition. The family also has other financial obligations, such as Jim Shank’s medical expenses for prostate cancer and his son’s education.

The story of Deborah Shank and her family is heartbreaking. Although Wal-Mart “recognizes” the extremity of the story, it isn’t budging on the funds it has requested. With stories like this, we must stop to wonder what type of wealth or economy we are supporting. How much is it really benefiting the average American?

The answer is — not very much. In fact, trickle-down theorists make claims that don’t hold water with economic theory or empirical evidence. The fact is, tax incentives don’t appear to make the wealthy work any harder. Therefore, more jobs aren’t created and the economy isn’t benefited.

So who does benefit? Well, the rich of course, or, in Shank’s case, Wal-Mart. If Wal-Mart and other big businesses are so anxious to address legality, it is time to start taking a little more off the top of their income. Where could the money go? I don’t know, education that would help Shank’s son, or maybe even universal health care. That way people like Deborah Shank’s husband won’t have to try scraping for pennies in the excrement.

Note: Since I wrote this article, Wal-Mart did decide to drop the suit. This is more likely the result of negative press coverage than the conscience of a big corporation. The fact remains that Wal-Mart still tried collecting the money through two court repeals and many pleas from the family.

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