The Trap Monday January 9, 2006, 4 comments

Before the long and unfortunate labour dispute in the National Hockey League, the game was facing a serious problem. Through careful statistical research, and man-years of trolling through videotape replays, an incredibly defensive system of play was developed which almost (but not quite) guaranteed victory. It was called “The Trap.” The Trap was effectively a practical representation of the mathematically most correct way to play the game.

While The Trap was spoken of in sneers and jeers by those who despised it for its systemic perfection and for the way it slowed the fastest game of ice down to the point of boredom, even coaches who hated it were forced to adopt it in order to have any chance of success. Watching a game between New Jersey and Ottawa was like watching paint dry, except slower. Many claimed The Trap was destroying the game, but everyone had to follow suit merely to remain viable.

Fortunately, the labour dispute which cost the league a year of hockey also gave it the chance to change the rules enough to break The Trap, and while there’s debate about the merits of many of the new rules (penalty shot anyone?), the destruction of The Trap was a smashing success.

All of that, of course, is preamble for the fact that I read a book this weekend.

The United States of Wal-Mart by John Dicker is an interesting look at the worlds largest corporation. I won’t go into the details of Wal-Mart’s successes, or the hundreds of statistics the book presents, but I will suggest that everyone go to their public library and give it a read. For most people, it’ll take about a day to read.

Wal-Mart’s strategy for dominating the marketplace is virtually identical to The Trap in hockey. By carefully monitoring massive amounts of retail information, Wal-Mart has hit upon a strategy that mimics, in three dimensional reality, a mathematically perfect way to play the game of commerce.

While it is not difficult to see that Wal-Mart’s strategies often reduce the standard of living in communities in which a Supercenter opens, and that the company is driving manufacturing jobs overseas in the pursuit of lower per-unit prices, it is incredibly difficult (as the book states) to explain to someone who makes minimum wage how a $25 DVD player could be a bad thing.

Lets face it. Wal-Mart is the ultimate expression of our capitalist, free-market system. They’ve perfected it. And, just like in hockey, competitors are forced to follow suit or perish. Mostly they’re perishing, because Wal-Mart is so very good at the game.

Nothing short of a change to the rules will stop the Bentonville juggernaut. Nobody is forcing people to shop at Wal-Mart. The market is, as it’s supposed to, voting with its wallet, and Wal-Mart is winning. They will continue to win. The formula for the game has been found, and honed to perfection.

In commerce as in hockey, The Trap is destroying the game.


Captain Purple Monday January 9, 2006

As a friend so nicely put it; “Wal-Mart, prolonging America’s misery.”

Jeff Monday January 9, 2006

Dude, walmart is the devil. I refuse to go into that godforsaken place.

Daniel Wednesday January 11, 2006

I generally consider Wal-Mart not significantly more diabolical than any other large-scale business, and it’s kind of debatable just how truly diabolical any business is…or isn’t. Flip it ‘round: if you were an investor in a company, and they noted in the quarterly report that they’d found out a more efficient business model, a way to remove layers of inefficiency, you might want to kick someone in the mouth if they decided not to follow it.

Granted, we need limits, which really aren’t limits but just a greater information of what constitutes the business model and its efficiency (e.g. it may be efficient within the narrow constraints of the supply chain itself, as an abstract, and in the short term; but degradation of the business’s region and working population has to be included in the definition at some point). And given that it was reported just yesterday that the average top executive in today’s Western corporate culture makes about 400 times that company’s average salary, in whose interests are those gains in efficiency? Probably not the company at large.

But a demonization of Wal-Mart actually obscures just how it mirrors our social systems in general. A Wal-Mart can’t thrive in an incongruent culture. Throwing fire upon Wal-Mart only does us a disservice&em;we won’t see our own problems.

And it’s worth mentioning that few other venues offer up such a variety of mullet for the happy mullet watcher.

chris Wednesday January 18, 2006

mmmmmm… mullets

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