- Paperback: 392 pages
- Publisher: Harvard University Press; 8.8.2010 edition (September 7, 2010)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0674057406
- ISBN-13: 978-0674057401
- Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1 x 9.1 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 18 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #44,778 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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To Serve God and Wal-Mart: The Making of Christian Free Enterprise Paperback – August 9, 2010
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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)
About the Author
Bethany Moreton is Professor of History at Dartmouth College.
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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.
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!