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27 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Insight into American economics, politics and culture
"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...
Published on October 4, 2009 by Malvin

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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Verbose writing
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...
Published 8 months ago by Tara F.


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27 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Insight into American economics, politics and culture, October 4, 2009
By 
Malvin (Frederick, MD USA) - See all my reviews
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"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. Wal-Mart's gendered division of labor, where men were elevated to management and women served as clerks, placated a rural workforce steeped in the patriarchal traditions of the small family farm; while the ethic of customer service played on Christian values of cooperation and sacrifice. Importantly, Ms. Moreton brilliantly shows us how Wal-Mart's celebration of the family as economic unit has become central to our collective understanding of how capitalism has adopted itself to a postindustrial world.

Ms. Moreton also discusses how Wal-Mart endowed Christian colleges and universities to promote entrepreneurialism as a peculiar kind of messianic calling to students interested in spreading the gospel of free enterprise to a non-believing, post-communist world. Wal-Mart progressively became ever more influential in government and business circles where its growing success seemed to validate the Washington Consensus policies of deregulation and tax cutting. Indeed, Wal-Mart's iconic status in American society was confirmed when its success in Mexico served as a propaganda tool that the Clinton administration used to turn public opinion decisively in favor of NAFTA.

Ms. Moreton seeks neither to praise or vilify Wal-Mart but to explain; in her account, Sam Walton does what any good capitalist would do. Wal-Mart ruthlessly squeezed American suppliers while importing more and more goods from China to decrease its costs; its 'Buy American' marketing campaign was effective brand-building; its hostility to organized labor ensures a reliable labor force to fuel expansion; and so on. Therefore, to the extent that many Wal-Mart workers today feel the company is no longer like the 'family' Sam Walton championed, Ms. Moreton suggests the current economic crisis represents the greatest challenge yet to Wal-Mart's unique blend of Christian culture and capitalist free enterprise.

I highly recommend this outstanding book to demanding readers who are interested in gaining profound insight into American economics, politics and culture.
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28 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Making The World A Better Place, 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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Intelligent and thought-provoking, November 1, 2013
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This review is from: To Serve God and Wal-Mart: The Making of Christian Free Enterprise (Paperback)
Ever wondered why the Wal-Mart crowd is SO socially conservative, and thus persistently a group that votes against their economic self-interest? Why so many of the male Wal-Mart consumer crowd is so virulently anti-abortion rights? This book casts some of the breadcrumbs one needs to follow that path.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Verbose writing, October 31, 2013
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This review is from: To Serve God and Wal-Mart: The Making of Christian Free Enterprise (Paperback)
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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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars fine scholarship, October 1, 2010
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sam (Dardanelle, AR, United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: To Serve God and Wal-Mart: The Making of Christian Free Enterprise (Paperback)
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
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating account, July 6, 2009
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E. Scarborough (South Bend, IN USA) - See all my reviews
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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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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting read, January 30, 2013
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This review is from: To Serve God and Wal-Mart: The Making of Christian Free Enterprise (Paperback)
I had to read this for a college course and then do a report/analysis of the book. Learning about the history of Wal-Mart and their owner was pretty interesting. She explains how it started as a one stop shop in an Ozark town and how it grew into the behemoth it is today. Definitely check it out if you are interested in the origins of the Wal-Mart, but also how Christianity and the Republican party play a role in that as well. It gets a little slow towards the end of the book, but pretty solid overall.
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27 of 45 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Cultural deconstruction of Wal-Mart, August 12, 2009
By 
Robert J. Crawford (Balmette Talloires, France) - See all my reviews
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This book is full of assertions about Wal-Mart that I find rather subjective. There is no way to prove or disprove that this is true.

Wal-Mart, in Moreton's view, is a bizarre amalgam of cultural forces that came together in the Ozarks. First, it represents a kind of populism - independence from the control of Northern capitalists and bankers - that is also based on offering low prices to the masses. Second, it is a secular substitute for the church (not a Christian company but "following scripture") that acts much like an Evangelical mega-church, from its corporate rituals to the appearence of its aisles. Third, it is a stand-in for "family" with its friendliness as well as its lack of a living wage for women (who are "contributing" to the family not as independent feminists but dependent mothers). Taken together, it is a new kind of capitalist synthesis that mimics the Evangelical Christianity of its rural customers. That is about it for the ideas. There are some additional details about scholarship programs and the "meaning" of so many students majoring in business, but they contribute little to the central idea. The description also basically stops in the mid-1990s, over 10 years before what I am researching, i.e. Wal-Mart's efforts to become a more ethical company since 2006.

When I read these kind of things, I often think of a friend of mine who remarked on a complicated psychological interpretation. "Yeah," she said, "it might be that way but it might not be that way." The bottom line is, so what about the ideas - what use are they? I can see none for my current purposes, though you would think there would be a natural fit with the company's new concern for ethics. This is very disappointing to me. Moreover, the author avoids addressing the issue of whether Wal-Mart's christian culture is a massive hypocrisy, given its alleged labor practices and behavior in the global markets, as many lefties charge is the case with the self-proclaimed moral superiority of the Evangelical right.

That being said, the book is very well written, far better than one can expect from similar cultural deconstructions. The author is also erudite and explores some interesting history of the Ozarks. Thus, if you enjoy this kind of interpretation of cultural ideologies, I would recommend this book. But if you are interested in how the company operates in a more practical way, forget it.
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9 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars cargo cult america, July 17, 2009
Today Wal-Mart is America's largest retailer and largest private sector employer. How did it get this way, and how did it start out?

Sam Walton was born to a higher middle class family. They made a living repossessing the mortgages on family farms. and occasionally farming, when subsidies and government contracts for crops were up. Federal redistribution programs had given a lot of folks farms, then provided work for folks to loan farmers money and repossess the collateral.

After college and the war, Sam's in-laws gave him the money to start a store. It was easy to get started back then. intense popular revolts against chain stores made it easier for guys like Sam to get started.

Sam was careful to build his early stores near military bases, county seats, and other areas that enjoyed the federal redistribution of wealth from the industrial north to federal programs. He was a smart guy.

As America degenerated from an industrial economy to Cargo Cult there was trouble in paradise. Inflation rose as oil addiction and imports rose. Sam helped keep wages low by encouraging his managers to stop being jerks to their wives at home. The family farm was becoming obsolete: it was harder to find employees who grew up doing farm labor, but also had a decent K-12 education. So Sam tapped into this new version of Christianity called "servant leadership" to recruit and cultivate better managers.

As the new christian clique grew its academic and ideological leaders began subscribing to Austrian Economics School theories, or at least the best Austrian School slogans. Finally it came time to vote on NAFTA. Wal-Mart pushed NAFTA hard. Skeptical Congressmen and pundits were flown to the first Wal-Mart in Mexico, where they marvelled at Mexicans buying tools and socks made in Arkansas and South Carolina. They threw their support to NAFTA!
The trip should have convinced them there was plenty of trade without NAFTA. Instead it convinced them NAFTA was necessary. NAFTA was the critical inflection point. After this point whenever you listen to a Wal-Mart executive talk, you would be listening to a man without an honest bone in his body.
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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating!, March 19, 2012
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This is a great book! I attended a book talk on it before it was even published, and I am happy it finally came out, so that I could read it. I plan to use it professionally.
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To Serve God and Wal-Mart: The Making of Christian Free Enterprise
To Serve God and Wal-Mart: The Making of Christian Free Enterprise by Bethany Moreton (Paperback - September 7, 2010)
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