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To Serve God and Wal-Mart: The Making of Christian Free Enterprise Hardcover – May 31, 2009

ISBN-13: 978-0674033221 ISBN-10: 0674033221 Edition: 1st

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 392 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press; 1 edition (May 31, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674033221
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674033221
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.5 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #791,790 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The world's largest corporation has grown to prominence in America's Sun Belt—the relatively recent seat of American radical agrarian populism—and amid a feverish antagonism to corporate monopoly. In the spirit of Thomas Frank's What's the Matter with Kansas? historian Moreton unearths the roots of the seeming anomaly of corporate populism, in a timely and penetrating analysis that situates the rise of Wal-Mart in a postwar confluence of forces, from federal redistribution of capital favoring the rural South and West to the family values symbolized by Sam Walton's largely white, rural, female workforce (the basis of a new economic and ideological niche), the New Christian Right's powerful probusiness and countercultural movement of the 1970s and '80s and its harnessing of electoral power. Giving Max Weber's Protestant ethic something of a late-20th-century update, Moreton shows how this confluence wedded Christianity to the free market. Moreton's erudition and clear prose elucidate much in the area of recent labor and political history, while capturing the centrality of movement cultures in the evolving face of American populism. (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Review

This brilliant book could well become one of the most talked about nonfiction books of 2009–certainly among those who helped bring in the Obama era and likely among their opponents as well.
--Nancy MacLean, author of Freedom Is Not Enough: The Opening of the American Workplace

A fascinating portrait of the interconnections of commerce, spirituality, and government in modern society. Moreton treats Wal-Mart as a great whale of a corporation that gathered religious and political significance as it traveled from Bentonville, Arkansas, throughout the US, on to Mexico, and to every corner of the globe.
--Walter A. Friedman, Harvard Business School

Startlingly original, creatively researched, and forcefully argued, this beautifully written book tells a compelling story about a crucially important player in modern American life.
--Bruce J. Schulman, co-editor of Rightward Bound: Making America Conservative in the 1970s

To Serve God and Wal-Mart is a landmark study. Moreton's subtle blend of economic and cultural history compels us to rethink the history and geography of modern America. Revelations abound on every page.
--Jean-Christophe Agnew, Yale University

Moreton unearths the roots of the seeming anomaly of "corporate populism," in a timely and penetrating analysis that situates the rise of Wal-Mart in a postwar confluence of forces, from federal redistribution of capital favoring the rural South and West to the "family values" symbolized by Sam Walton's largely white, rural, female workforce (the basis of a new economic and ideological niche), the New Christian Right's powerful probusiness and countercultural movement of the 1970s and '80s and its harnessing of electoral power. Giving Max Weber's "Protestant ethic" something of a late-20th-century update, Moreton shows how this confluence wedded Christianity to the free market. Moreton's erudition and clear prose elucidate much in the area of recent labor and political history, while capturing the centrality of movement cultures in the evolving face of American populism. (Publishers Weekly 2009-03-16)

[A] probing and nuanced study of the latter-day evangelical romance with free-market capitalism...Wal-Mart's folksy illusion relied in part on making store workers feel like family; in particular, on making female workers feel valued as wives and mothers. Moreton does an excellent job of digging beneath Wal-Mart's carefully imagineered vision of the rural good life. She not only recounts labor abuses such as the company's notorious failure to promote and reward women but also stresses how the company appealed to white Americans' feelings of entitlement...Its workers and the customers they served--often "friends, neighbors, and loved ones"--were the same: white Ozarkers nostalgic for a wholesome, more homogeneous, and largely imaginary yesteryear, for a past in which the best opportunities were reserved for people like them.
--Maud Newton (Bookforum 2009-06-01)

Like all historians who love their craft, Bethany Moreton is a gifted storyteller, and this book offers readers an engaging account of how a discount five-and-dime store conceived in the rural American Ozarks became the template for service work in the global economy...[An] impeccably documented and eloquently argued narrative, which will interest historians, sociologists and general readers...Her most significant contribution is to offer an explanation of the paradox that political pundits have pondered in recent years: why many middle Americans prioritize conservative social issues ahead of government policies that would presumably be in their economic self-interest. Moreton's careful, sometimes wry historical analysis demonstrates that when "values voters"--with many Wal-Mart workers surely among them--eschew economic benefits such as unionization, they do so out of allegiance to a radically new set of moral market priorities. The subjugation of the self to the global corporation, ironically, embraces a deeper set of ideals about the supremacy of family, the morality of self-reliance and the evangelical justification of free enterprise. To Serve God and Wal-Mart shows just how deeply entrenched these ideals are in the world's largest retailer, offering an intimate portrait of both the contradictions and conquests of the new service economy.
--Rebekah Peeples Massengill (Times Higher Education 2009-05-28)

Fascinating...With verve and clarity, Moreton offers something more distinctive: a compelling explanation of how Wal-Mart captured the hearts and pocketbooks of so many Americans.
--Steven P. Miller (St. Louis Post-Dispatch 2009-06-07)

Bethany Moreton's To Serve God and Wal-Mart: The Making of Christian Free Enterprise views the company as product of its region, showing that its success has depended on a bizarre reconciliation of Northwest Arkansas's uneasy cocktail of anti-corporate populism, racial homogeneity, evangelical Christianity, and free enterprise...The mega-retailer is significant not only as a business success story but as an ideological triumph for the right. Bethany Moreton charts this triumph brilliantly.
--Liza Featherstone (The Big Money 2009-06-22)

Bethany Moreton's pathbreaking study, To Serve God and Wal-Mart: The Making of Christian Free Enterprise is an invaluable asset for apprehending how we got here. Her new book chronicles Wal-Mart's role in mainstreaming evangelical and free market values even as it became the world's largest public corporation and the nation's biggest private employer. A critical appraisal of how religion, politics and economics were interwoven in post-Vietnam American culture and society, To Serve God and Wal-Mart is also a bracing reminder that we, among the most materialistic people in the world, have turned a blind eye to the impact of material conditions on our actions, attitudes and beliefs.
--Diane Winston (Religion Dispatches 2009-06-21)

Walton made the cheerful, down-home, everyone-pulling-together family-farm values of his early frontline retail workers a hallmark of his emerging behemoth while earning their loyalty through policies, like flexible scheduling, that respected their "home duties."...To understand the lingua franca of today's workplace--with its talk of networking, entrepreneurialism, leadership, community service, and, above all, PR and communications--this book is indispensable reading. After all, we all live in Wal-Mart World now.
--Catherine Tumber (Boston Phoenix 2009-07-07)

Why are the people who are harmed the most by big business conservatism often the same people who are its most vociferous supporters? Bethany Moreton seeks to answer that question in her fascinating book, To Serve God and Wal-Mart. Not just some mainstream, shallow outsider's screed against rural American culture and politics, Moreton's book instead is an academic exploration of the social, political and religious upheaval in the post-WWII South that transformed blue-collar Democratic-voting white farmers into the religiously conservative suburban base behind Reagan-era corporate expansion...It'd be a mistake to discount Moreton's book because of political prejudice. Her work isn't a denunciation of rural rubes, but is instead a story of an energetic and creative people adapting to economic crises. The impulse to community that drives the success of Wal-Mart is no sin, but the exploitation of this impulse by corporations like Wal-Mart is damnable.
--Jay Stevens (Missoula Independent 2009-07-24)

[A] deeply researched account of the ideological underpinnings of the company's rise...[It] makes for compelling and provocative reading, complicating any simplistic view about why many Americans are enthusiastic about Wal-Mart, even as it seems to grind down wages, stamp out unions, advance a desolate model of exurban life, and eviscerate the small towns in its path.
--Rob Horning (popmatters.com 2009-07-20)

Much of what we learn from Moreton's book...raises serious doubts about whether the corporation's influence has been positive on balance. But in the process of describing the downside of Wal-Mart, [she] offers penetrating insights into why the chain has been so phenomenally successful...Moreton offers a gracefully written and meticulously researched account of why people not only have been willing to work for the company, but often have also developed fierce loyalty to it...Economists have long recognized the attractions of flexible working arrangements to some segments of the labor force. But Moreton also offers more novel observations about the lure of Wal-Mart. She explains, for example, how the company invoked the fundamentalist Christian teachings embraced by many of its employees to fashion a working environment that induced them to work contentedly for low wages and paltry benefits...Moreton argues that Walton and his fellow executives quickly recognized the economic advantage of weaving specific strands of the Ozark region's fundamentalist belief system into their corporate strategy...Moreton's book answers important questions about why workers have been willing to accept Wal-Mart's austere compensation package.
--Robert Frank (New York Times Book Review 2009-08-02)

Full of detailed and important information and gives a very good insight as to how the sunbelt states set about their development after the second World War...For those interested in the Southern Christian psyche it's a valuable reference.
--Noel Smyth (Irish Times 2009-09-07)

Essential reading for understanding not just Wal-Mart, but also America's general political and economic trajectory.
--David Moberg (In These Times 2009-09-25)

Moreton provides both a bird's eye view of the corporation's history and the in-store perspective of a great many interviewed employees. Her wide-lensed analysis includes in its focus aspects as divergent as the sleepy Ozarks of the early 20th century, the turbulent Latin America of the late 20th century and the network of conservative free market fundamentalists who dutifully prepared the way for Wal-Mart's meteoric rise...To Serve God and Wal-Mart can be seen as a case study, a scrutiny of the all-too-familiar larger phenomenon, that strange conflation of metaphysics and economics, where the Dow Jones average moves in mysterious increments according to unknown and unknowable vagaries, and the individual is sacrificed on the altar of corporate profit. Is this how a merciful God distributes His favor? Or could it be that religion is being used in that old familiar way, to legitimize exploitation otherwise abhorrent?
--Matthew Pulver (Flagpole 2009-09-09)

This is a history in equal parts of Wal-Mart and the world that Wal-Mart has made...Moreton reveals Wal-Mart's extraordinary capacity to develop cultural solutions for the very crises that its business model produced. Her prose is extraordinarily lucid and often provocative, and presents the subject in a manner that will hold interest for both scholars and general readers...To Serve God and Wal-Mart should become a standard text in business history courses, and deserves to be widely assigned--in whole or in part--in a broad range of undergraduate and graduate courses on the history of the twentieth-century United States...In performing a deliberate inversion of more conventional approaches to business history, To Serve God and Wal-Mart greatly enriches our understanding of both Wal-Mart and the Sun Belt service economy.
--Angus Burgin (Enterprise and Society)

Moreton charts the fortunes of Wal-Mart, the world's largest corporation, and analyses its collusion with the evangelical Christian movement. Hers is a thought-provoking general account of the effect "a Christian service ethos" has on American attitudes towards the free market. (New Statesman 2010-02-22)

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Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

28 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Malvin VINE VOICE on October 4, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"To Serve God and Wal-Mart" by Bethany Moreton is an exceptionally erudite account of the economic and cultural conditions that fueled the rise of the service economy's paradigmatic corporation, Wal-Mart. Ms. Moreton, who is an Assistant Professor of History and Women's Studies at the University of Georgia, brings to light an heretofore underappreciated aspect of the Wal-Mart story with professional, scholarly precision. Ms. Moreton's narrative about how the world's largest corporation emerged from the relative economic backwoods of the Ozarks is an uniquely fascinating American story that should appeal to an educated audience.

Ms. Moreton's astute ethnography and history explains how the Ozarks were ripe for the kind of homegrown corporate success that Sam Walton was uniquely capable of delivering. For decades, the region had resisted encroachment by eastern chain stores and was ideologically predisposed to using state assistance to advantage locally-owned enterprises in the name of independence and populism. Ms. Moreton explains that the flood of federal dollars unleashed in the postwar period for military bases and other projects in the sunbelt provided unprecedented opportunities for Ozarks entrepreneurs, including the mercurial Sam Walton. After gaining control of this relatively insular market, Wal-Mart could and did expand nationwide, and then beyond.

All of this would not have been possible, Ms. Moreton asserts, without an accompanying ideology of work that was specifically suited to Ozarks culture.
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28 of 36 people found the following review helpful By David Shores on June 13, 2009
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This is an exceptionally thought provoking book. Using the growth of Wal-Mart as a frame of reference, the author explores a wide variety of cultural changes that influence the way we see the world.

One cultural change is the so called "feminization of men". Instead of being authoritarian family leaders, many husbands have learned how to joyfully participate in "feminine" activities such as cleaning house, cooking, shopping, and rearing children. The author accurately describes the role of the Promise Keepers organization in redefining the relationship between husbands and wives.

Another cultural change is the globalization of modern society. In the 1930s the Ozark region (northern Arkansas and southern Missouri) was one of the poorest parts of the United States. Wal-Mart, the "biggest company on the planet", has its headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas. How this area moved directly from being an agrarian society to becoming a major player in globalization (without first becoming "industrialized") is an amazing story. The author describes a number of factors that caused these changes.

The author also explores the "missionary" influence of Wal-Mart on Central America and South America. The world's largest Wal-Mart is located near Mexico City. Like all of the other changes, there have been major obstacles and successes.

Since the author is a professional historian, she provides extensive references that support her narratives. Since I am an amateur, I like movies that illustrate the cultural changes. The so called "feminization of men" is very well illustrated in the movie "Fireproof". Major obstacles and successes involved in blending cultures are dramatized in the movie "Gran Torino"

I applaud the author's achievement in writing this book. I look forward to reading her future books and I believe that her insights will help make the world a better place!
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful By sam on October 1, 2010
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I live and teach in Arkansas, although most of my life and education have been in other regions of the country. No single book has given me more insight into the region in which I now live. I can attest to the author's statements about the culture and values of this region based on my daily experience here in WalMart country. Her judgments ring true. I didn't find the book overly tendentious and, in fact, some of the interpretations she makes strike me as almost too generous.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful By E. Scarborough on July 6, 2009
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Well-written, informative, and extensively documented, this book is a fascinating account. Moreton weaves together a great deal of history, dealing not only with Wal-Mart's development and growth but also the geo-political, religious, cultural, and economic contexts that supported the business enterprise. The author's scholarship is admirable and her writing style captures and holds a reader's attention all the way.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Tara F. on October 31, 2013
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While Moreton's "To Serve God and Wal-Mart" is an interesting read, there are several problems with the text. Firstly, it seems to ignore the entire picture of production.consumption and materialist economics. Instead it focuses on a specific moment in capitalist consumption, which I found to be incomplete and short-sighted. Second, she uses a lot of statistics and information in the text, but when I check her citations, the information in the original study did not support her argument; therefore, I did not trust her explication of outside source information. Third, the basis of a substantial part of the text, Wal-Mart moms, problematically emphasized the nuclear family. Finally, I found the writing to be confusing. She uses strings of multi-syallabic words, which create nonsensical sentences. Her writing frustrated me for its overly wordy style. She could have easily cut down on these unnecessary words and instead filled the space with better supporting evidence for her argument.
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