The Wal-Mart Effect

When India’s first Wal-Mart opened this summer in Amritsar, the response was mixed, with detractors fearing that big-box stores would eventually crowd out India’s fabled "wallah" culture. What no one remarked on, however, was that Wal-Mart’s debut in a country is a bellwether for future growth. Indeed, Wal-Mart has started operations in 15 countries since ...

579144_InBox_walmart2.jpg
579144_InBox_walmart2.jpg

When India's first Wal-Mart opened this summer in Amritsar, the response was mixed, with detractors fearing that big-box stores would eventually crowd out India's fabled "wallah" culture. What no one remarked on, however, was that Wal-Mart's debut in a country is a bellwether for future growth. Indeed, Wal-Mart has started operations in 15 countries since 1991, and 13 of them have had boom economies, with an average of 4.4 percent annual growth since Wal-Mart arrived. Over the last five years, the economies of Wal-Mart countries outside the United States have grown 40 percent faster than the world average. So what's going on? Does the ability to buy giant bags of Froot Loops at cut-rate prices inspire economic growth? More likely, Wal-Mart is simply a smart, cautious investor. "Wal-Mart chooses to go places with a sizable middle class," says Nelson Lichtenstein, a historian who just published a book on Wal-Mart's rise. And Wal-Mart's attention to middle-class growth could pay off for the company in the future.

The portion of the global middle class that lives in the developing world should rise from 56 percent in 2000 to 93 percent in 2030, according to the World Bank. Next up for the Wal-Mart effect, Lichtenstein says: Russia and Eastern Europe. Picture the new global bourgeoisie outfitted with cheap hibachi grills, extra-durable puppy toys, and energy-efficient minifridges, and you've got a glimpse of the coming Wal-Mart revolution.

When India’s first Wal-Mart opened this summer in Amritsar, the response was mixed, with detractors fearing that big-box stores would eventually crowd out India’s fabled "wallah" culture. What no one remarked on, however, was that Wal-Mart’s debut in a country is a bellwether for future growth. Indeed, Wal-Mart has started operations in 15 countries since 1991, and 13 of them have had boom economies, with an average of 4.4 percent annual growth since Wal-Mart arrived. Over the last five years, the economies of Wal-Mart countries outside the United States have grown 40 percent faster than the world average. So what’s going on? Does the ability to buy giant bags of Froot Loops at cut-rate prices inspire economic growth? More likely, Wal-Mart is simply a smart, cautious investor. "Wal-Mart chooses to go places with a sizable middle class," says Nelson Lichtenstein, a historian who just published a book on Wal-Mart’s rise. And Wal-Mart’s attention to middle-class growth could pay off for the company in the future.

The portion of the global middle class that lives in the developing world should rise from 56 percent in 2000 to 93 percent in 2030, according to the World Bank. Next up for the Wal-Mart effect, Lichtenstein says: Russia and Eastern Europe. Picture the new global bourgeoisie outfitted with cheap hibachi grills, extra-durable puppy toys, and energy-efficient minifridges, and you’ve got a glimpse of the coming Wal-Mart revolution.

<p> Michael Wilkerson, a journalist and former Fulbright researcher in Uganda, is a graduate student in politics at Oxford University, where he is a Marshall Scholar. </p>

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